The ideology of Texas Populism, 1886-1894
Cannon, Charles Allred
Paulson, Ross E.
Master of Arts
The relationship of Populism and ideology has been the subject of a great deal of recent historical scholarship. Historians have employed a number of concepts to define ideology in their studies, hut they have failed to agree on a mutually acceptable definition of the term. As a result, arguments of substance have often degenerated into arguments over semantics. Ideological issues have been obscured by disagreements over the meaning of such terms as oratory, values, rhetoric programs, etc. The purpose of this study is tirefold: first, to propose a definition of ideology for use in historical analysis; and second, to apply this concept to a particular historical situation. The ideology of Texas Populism functioned as a leading element in the reform impulse that dominated Texas politics in the early 1890's. The emotional language of Populist oratory provided an effective vehicle for agrarian discontent. The ideology of the movement was not simply the irrational response of reactionary farmers to changing economic conditions. The genuine economic problem's of the farmers were coupled with a growing sense of crisis about the stability of agrarian values. The convergence of these factors produced a reformist view of reality. The marginal farmer in Texas was the focus of the most severe economic pressures of the 1690's, find ho experienced the most acute sense of isolation from a rapidly developing urban-industrial environment. It was among the low-income, white Protestant farmers that Texas Populism sought its political base. The rhetoric of Populism emphasized the cleavages that set the farmer apart from society and reinforced the cultural values of the agrarian community. The evangelistic technique of the Populist orator called the farmer to participate in a holy crusade against the forces of economic and political conspiracy. The orator employed the symbols of agrarian superiority, religious virtue, and loyalty to the South to create a cohesive political movement among farmers. The program of the Texas Populists helped to define the issues of reform politics in the 1890’s. The farmers' proposals functioned as an educator of reform principles and as a source of pressure on an entrenched Democratic Party. The goal of Populist ideology was neither an idyllic past nor a quasi-socialist future. Populists asked for the preservation of what they understood to be equality of economic opportunity. If Populism in Texas contained the seeds of sour illiberalism, as some have suggested, it also contained the seeds of a continuing reform impulse.