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This study focuses attention of the People’s party which existed for a short time in the 1890s. Despite its brief existence the party and the movement that brought it into being had a lasting effect on American politics and society.

Populism originally developed outside the political system because the system had proved incapable of responding to real needs. As the movement was transformed into the People’s party, however, much of its responsive nature was lost. The People’s party became subject to the same influences that guided the old parties and it became more concerned with winning office than with promoting genuine reform. In finding this sharp distinction between Populism and the People’s party, Mr. Argersinger portrays Populism not as a success but as a tragic failure, betrayed from within by politicians who followed political dictates rather than Populist principles.

Mr. Argersinger studies the Populist predicament in organizing a national movement in a time of political sectionalism and discovers neglected phases of Populist activity in the crucial campaign of 1896. He suggests that there may have been some validity to the charge of Populist “conspiracy-mindedness.”

Peter H. Argersinger is assistant professor of history at the University of Maryland Baltimore County.

Publication Date



The University Press of Kentucky

Place of Publication

Lexington, KY






William Alfred Peffer, People's Party, Populism, Populist Party


American Politics

Populism and Politics: William Alfred Peffer and the People's Party
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