Vote Under the Liberty Bell
through September 2012
It is late summer 1889, in the American West a severe drought devastates farm crops, ending the western land boom and bankrupting farmers. In the Midwest, a bumper crop causes a dramatic plunge in corn and wheat prices, bankrupting farmers. In the South, the price of jute bagging, used to secure cotton bales, increases 60% and railroad freight rates skyrocket, bankrupting farmers.
And, so begins the movement toward Populism.
The very essence of populism is antagonism to class legislation and to special privilege.
— Thomas E. Watson
When twenty-six year old Tom Watson entered politics in 1882 he was bent on reforming government. By the time Watson was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1890, he was actively promoting a Farmer’s Alliance agenda, stating he attacked the Democratic Party (his own) only “to reform it, not to desert the ranks.” Watson became integral to the founding of the People's Party in Georgia.
Many of the rights Americans enjoy today grew out of the populist revolt -- the secret ballot, child labor laws, the 8-hour work day, and the direct election of Senators. This exhibit explores the rise and fall of the populist movement in America. Artifacts are drawn from the Hickory Hill collection and from loans at the Kansas State Historical Society.