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Toolbox Library, primary resources thematically organized with notes and discussion questionsOnline Seminars, professional development seminars for history and literature teachersThe Gilded and the Gritty: America, 1870-1912
The Gilded and the Gritty: America, 1870-1912
Topic: MemoryTopic: ProgressTopic: PeopleTopic: PowerTopic: Empire
Topic: Power: Taming the Octopus
Toolbox Overview: The Gilded and the Gritty: America, 1870-1912
Resource Menu: Power
Text 1. Images of the Octopus, five cartoons
Text 2. Standard Oil
Text 3. The Octopus in the West
Text 4. The Populist Party Platform [Omaha Platform]
» Reading Guide
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Text 5. The Pullman Strike
Text 6. Jack London, South of the Slot
Text 7. The Boss and the Reformer
Text 8. Images of Big City Politics
Text 9. Social Policy: Social Darwinism vs. the Social Gospel
Text 10. Theodore Roosevelt, The New Nationalism
Text 11. African American Strategies
Text 12. Women and Power

RESOURCE MENU » Reading Guide Link

Reading Guide
People's Party convention, Nebraska
People's Party convention, Nebraska, 1890
The Populist Party Platform [Omaha Platform], 1892

"A vast conspiracy against mankind has been organized on two continents," wrote Ignatius Donnelly in the National People's Party platform, "and it is rapidly taking possession of the world." Donnelly was referring to the consolidation of economic and political power that was victimizing farmers and workers alike. In response to this consolidation farmers formed alliances, workers unions. Although the fit was not perfect, the two joined forces in 1892 to form, in Omaha, the National People's Party. According to the populists, greed and privilege had upset the balance between work and reward. Producers, who raised crops and made products, were being impoverished, while nonproducers, who raised rates and made deals, were becoming rich beyond reason.

The Omaha Platform is the Party's founding document. Ironically, the year of the Party's founding was also the time of its greatest achievement. In the election of 1894 it lost control of Western states it had won in 1892. Fusion with the Democrats in 1896 cost the Party its identity and many of its supporters. Many of the Platform's proposals proved more durable than the Party itself; they were enacted as progressive reforms under Theodore Roosevelt and as elements in the New Deal. In the end the Party's cultural impact may have been more important than its political, for it articulated and legitimized an alternative way of seeing America, a vision more "real" because it emanated from "the people," as opposed to the "sham" version promulgated by the major parties. 3 pages.

Discussion questions
  1. How does the Platform locate itself within the American political tradition?
  2. What is the Platform's overarching demand?
  3. What values underlie the Platform?
  4. What vision of America is implied in it?
  5. How does the People's Party define itself against the two major parties?
  6. How does the union of farmers and workers, called for in the Platform, differ from coalescence of corporate power, which the Platform opposes?

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Topic Framing Question
  •  How did Americans respond to the shifts in economic and political power that occurred during this period?

Toolbox: The Gilded and the Gritty: America, 1870-1912
Memory | Progress | People | Power | Empire

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