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320 pp., 51/4 x 81/2, notes, bibl., index

$55.00 cloth
ISBN 0-8078-2694-4


$19.95 paper
ISBN 0-8078-5361-5

Published: Spring 2002

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A Government by the People:
Direct Democracy in America, 1890-1940

by Thomas Goebel

Copyright (c) 2002 by the University of North Carolina Press. All rights reserved.




Chapter 1.

From the Revolution to the Populists:
The Antimonopoly Tradition in American Politics

Most scholars have interpreted the introduction of the initiative, referendum, and recall as a typical political reform movement of the Progressive Era. Reformers, mostly of middle-class and Protestant backgrounds, were spurred into action by the sordid spectacle of American politics during the Gilded Age. They developed a number of reform proposals designed to break the power of political machines and urban bosses, eradicate the rampant corruption of legislative bodies, make government more efficient and based on professional expertise, and purify the body politic. Among the most important reform proposals generated by this impulse were the Australian ballot, direct primary, direct election of U.S. senators, direct democracy, commission government for municipalities, and corrupt-practices acts. As the titles of many of these ideas imply, they were framed in the political idiom of popular sovereignty, defined as attempts to return political authority to the people by removing the corrupt influences that thwarted popular rule. In their effects on American politics, however, they often achieved the opposite results. As pointed out by many standard interpretations of this period, these reforms helped reduce voter turnout, disfranchised blacks in the South, and minimized the role of urban immigrant voters. In rewriting the rules governing elections in America, these reformers clearly reallocated political power to their own benefit.[1]

Such an account, however, presents a rather one-sided picture of the genesis of the direct democracy movement. It is one of the central arguments of this book that much of the impetus for the introduction of direct legislation stemmed from a specific mode of economic analysis, from a model of political economy that permeated reform communities in late nineteenth-century America. Surely, political concerns were highly important in the rhetoric of reformers. But a closer reading of their arguments clearly reveals that the initiative, referendum, and recall were primarily intended to abolish oppressive monopolies and artificial trusts in America by removing the legislative basis for their existence. Reformers moved within a powerful antimonopoly tradition in American history, the origins of which reached back to the eighteenth century. In order to fully understand the motivations and discursive strategies of the reform movement, it is crucial to situate the call for direct democracy within larger traditions of American political thought and culture. This chapter will thus outline the importance of antimonopoly sentiments as a force in American politics from the Revolution to the end of the nineteenth century.

The Political Economy of American Populism
During the nineteenth century, no other Western country industrialized as quickly as the United States. For many Americans, their country seemed the virtual embodiment of the material progress and restless spirit of the age. Most foreign observers were likewise impressed by the hustle and bustle of life in America, the boundless energy of its people, and the entrepreneurial spirit that shaped the course of the nation. But there was also a different side to the image of a nation engaged in the never-ending pursuit of material riches: a pervasive fear of the consequences of commercialization, industrialization, and modernization that manifested itself most clearly in an abiding American hostility to monopolies and corporations. Of all the Western nations that witnessed the rise of large industrial firms in the nineteenth century, only the United States also produced a strong, enduring, and politically potent antimonopoly movement. Beginning as early as the American Revolution and extending to the Great Depression, Americans were locked in a contested debate about the political and social consequences of centralized economic power. If, in the final equation, the rise of big business reshaped American society, it triumphed only after a protracted battle. And antimonopoly, more than any other critique of corporate capitalism, proved to be the most tenacious opponent big business interests had to overcome.[2]

The Populist movement of the 1890s, with its heated attacks on corporate charters, special privileges, franchises, and monopolies of all kinds, formed the most powerful eruption of the antimonopoly tradition in American history. Despite the substantial progress made in the study of Populism, we are still confronted with a highly truncated view of its larger significance in American history.[3] Populism seems to unfold in something of a historical vacuum, suddenly emerging in the 1890s to briefly light up the political landscape before rapidly disintegrating after 1896. Although some mention is usually made of such intellectual and political precursors to Populism as Jeffersonian and Jacksonian democracy, producerism, Greenbackism, and the Grange, the precise relationship of Populism to the political culture of nineteenth-century America has not been systematically explored. Instead, historians have portrayed Populism as "a political culture at odds with the mainstream of political habits and attitudes."[4] Closer inspection of Populism, however, reveals that the political concerns and the rhetoric of American Populism, if not its policy proposals, were strikingly unoriginal. In their concern with monopoly and corporations, in their denunciations of political corruption and governmental favoritism, in their calls for "equal rights to all, special privileges to none," the Populists stood squarely in an American intellectual and political tradition that stretched back to the early decades of the nineteenth century and that would continue to influence politics until well into the twentieth. They drew on a complex amalgam of ideas, attitudes, rhetorical strategies, and reform demands, here labeled populist republicanism, which revolved around a distinctive model of economic affairs.

Populist republicanism provided a model of political economy, a theory of the relationship between the political realm and the economic sphere, that endowed it with the distinctiveness and the focus needed to provide a coherent explanation of the economic problems of nineteenth-century America. At the heart of populist republicanism stood the argument that the abuse of political power caused economic inequality. By manipulating and exploiting the power of the state, private interests acquired their wealth and their monopolistic position. Although this belief informed the perception of the "revolutionary generation" of the connection between legislative favoritism and the growth of monopolies, and retained a powerful hold on Americans in the nineteenth century, modern historians have neglected it.[5] It is a belief that is diametrically opposed to much of modern economic theory, both in Marxist and liberal versions. Oligopolistic and monopolistic market positions are achieved via the economies of scale and scope, via the superior efficiency of large corporations. Because of their economic clout, these corporations then also acquire political leverage. While the role of the state was not a passive one, the state's help was not crucial in the genesis of modern industry.[6]

Convincing as this theory might sound in late twentieth-century America, it would not have swayed large numbers of Americans in the nineteenth century, including the Populists of the 1880s and 90s. In the political culture of antimonopolists, there was little that was efficient about large corporations and monopolies. In their interpretation of the rise of modern industry, financial and political speculation and manipulation took center stage. Special interests, already influential but far from dominant, acquired illicit political power and induced the state to grant them special privileges, charters, franchises, and resources, which then allowed them to exploit and tax the public. The railroads received the power of eminent domain and huge land grants, and they proceeded to fleece the public through high rates. Private banks were allowed to control the money supply, to contract the currency, and to exert pressure on creditors. Corporations used discriminatory practices to undermine their competition, while the tariff taxed their consumers via inflated price levels. In all of these instances, public power was transferred to private interests without mechanisms for public control. The objects of Populist rage might shift from banks to railroads to trusts, but the language of protest proved remarkably resilient. The real strength of Populism did not derive from the way its language and arguments offered a challenge to the American political system, but rather from the manner in which it connected to a long and rich tradition of oppositional politics in American history.[7]

In tracing the various permutations of this model of political economy, it will be argued that populist republicanism formed a remarkably cohesive language of protest acting as the most important source of reformist and radical politics in America. It was republican in its understanding of the relations between politics and the economy, in its model of political economy that seemed to offer a cogent analysis of the encroachment of inequality and monopoly upon American liberty. It was populist, also, in its confidence that the mass of the people could correct the faults in the American polity. Populist republicanism was based on the fusion of republican concerns about corruption and special privileges with the mass democracy of Jacksonian America. For almost a century, it afforded Americans a chance to frame their economic grievances in terms that harked back to the legacy of the American Revolution. Because the political economy of populism focused on the political arena as the fountainhead of special privileges obtained through corruption and bribery, most of the reforms advocated in the name of antimonopoly were of a distinctly political nature. Their common thrust was to place more power into the hands of the only incorruptible agency in the country, the people. Over the course of the nineteenth century, Americans severely weakened state legislatures, adopted the popular ratification of new state constitutions and amendments, and increasingly resorted to popular referenda to decide crucial issues. In the 1890s, some groups embraced the most radical proposal yet to break the power of corrupt lawmakers: direct legislation in the form of the initiative and referendum.

The Legacy of the Revolution
The study of republicanism, built on the pioneering work of Bernard Bailyn and Gordon Wood, has led to a new understanding of the motives and forces behind the American Revolution. No longer seen as just a liberal experiment in self-government, the revolution is now widely viewed as having been driven by a pervasive fear of corruption and the imminent moral decay of American society, and by the desire to counteract the British plot to fully enslave the American colonies.[8] Republicanism continued to be a reservoir of ideas, arguments, and rhetorical choices and conventions throughout the nineteenth century.[9] Most historians concerned with republicanism have probed its implications for political and constitutional issues. Amid the discussions about the chances for a republican form of government, these questions did indeed preoccupy the generation of the Founding Fathers. But already in the 1780s and 1790s, some observers began to argue that the growing commercialization of American society and the involvement of state and the federal governments in economic affairs paved the way for some of the corruption and aristocratic monopolies that had plagued England.[10]

According to James Huston, this argument formed an integral part of republican explanations for social inequality and a rising concentration of wealth. Within this "political economy of aristocracy," the source of oppressive economic conditions could clearly be located in those government policies that bestowed special privileges, charters, and public powers on private individuals and groups, ostensibly to promote economic development. Through the corruption of legislative bodies, elites were scheming to procure for themselves those special privileges and monopolies that would enable them to appropriate the fruits of the labors of common Americans for their own selfish purposes. Corruption, that central fear of the revolutionary generation, emerged as the crucial link in accounting for the willingness of politicians to actively support the creation of artificial monopolies.[11] The American Republic only recapitulated the mistakes that had caused so much misery in Europe.[12]

Soon after the Revolution, it became obvious that the country would be faced with the same problems of economic inequality and political corruption that the revolutionary generation had hoped to leave behind. The rapid economic development of the United States created a host of controversies about political and economic issues, especially the issue of the role of the state in economic affairs. Political scientists have repeatedly remarked on the weakness of the American state in the nineteenth century. It was primarily a state of "courts and parties," as Stephen Skowronek has written, incapable of effective regulation, dominated by the spoils system, and easily accessible to private interests.[13] It is also true, however, that American governments on the state and national level were by no means inactive. They functioned primarily as dispensers of privileges and resources. By giving away vast stretches of public land, by granting the right of eminent domain or the right to build a ferry or to dam a river, and by granting corporate charters, governments sought to promote economic development and to stimulate private industry in the capital-scarce economy of the early nineteenth century.[14] In the process, American governments often blended the boundaries between the public and private spheres, granting public powers to private individuals. It was a system of economic promotion that invited private parties to seek access to the political process in order to partake of government largesse.

One key instrument in the attempts of political elites to stimulate economic development was the granting of corporate charters. The corporation had a long tradition in Anglo-American law as a policy tool of the state. Both in England and in colonial America, a corporation was regarded as a quasi-public association of individuals endowed with public powers for the exercise of a function beneficent to the body politic.[15] By the 1830s, it was becoming obvious that a new legal definition of the relationship between the state and the corporations was emerging. Spurred on by the rapid rise in the number of chartered corporations—Pennsylvania alone granted more than 2,000 until the Civil War—a number of jurists began to dissolve the bond between the state and the corporation. A distinction was made between public and private corporations; while the former, such as a city or township, continued to be under close state supervision, a corporation chartered for purely private (that is, mostly commercial) purposes was emancipated from its dependency upon the state. The business corporation was reinterpreted as just another device to facilitate the transaction of business affairs. The social benefits inherent in economic advancement and the rise of American industry were, in the eyes of the legal scholars and judges who pushed this reinterpretation, reward enough for granting private individuals such rights as limited liability or eminent domain.[16] Yet, even if the distinction between public and private corporations had become well established by 1830s, the notion that a corporation was a creature of the state, operating under a burden of public responsibility and subject to state supervision, remained a crucial argument in "populist republicanism."

Prior to the 1830s, the republican analysis of economic trends had little political impact. Impressed with the rapid progress of their nation, most Americans supported the policies designed to promote private industry. Warnings about the rising levels of inequality and poverty found little popular resonance. By the 1830s, Jacksonian Democracy made a strand of republican economic analysis populist, linking it to popular government, universal suffrage, and egalitarianism. A mode of economic argument was transformed into a powerful political movement. Thoroughly American in its individualism, in its belief in the free market and private property, and in its conviction that a competitive system of private capitalism was most conducive to preserve the freedom and autonomy that formed the birthright of every American, populist republicanism also rendered a constant critique of political and social events in America. Caught up in the drama of the emergence of the first mass democracy the world had ever seen, populist thought and its model of political economy suggested a meaningful explanation of economic and social dislocation and became a potent weapon in the partisan strife that enveloped the American polity.

The Jacksonian Era
The election of Andrew Jackson brought to the forefront the pervasive fears about the effects of rapid commercialization on the political and social fabric of the country. Jackson's decision to attack the Second Bank of the United States was founded on growing public resentment against governmental favoritism, and it transformed a segment of the Democratic Party into a crusader for antimonopoly and placed the role of the state in the promotion of economic affairs at the center of American political debate. In his belief that the "concentration of wealth arising suddenly from financial manipulation and special privilege" was the artificial product of corruption by groups that "require grants of special privilege for economic success," Jackson succinctly expressed the mode of economic analysis at the center of populist republicanism.[17]

The use of state power and the law to concentrate wealth in the hands of the few could result in nothing less than the creation of a new aristocracy. As explained by John Taylor of Caroline, what defined an aristocracy was "an accumulation of wealth by law without industry." Arguing that "the transfer of property by law is aristocracy," the Jacksonians saw the specter of aristocracy raised everywhere as the actions of government on behalf of selected individuals and groups led to a rising concentration of wealth.[18] Nothing could be further from the true functions of government. Americans had not fought a victorious revolution only to reintroduce feudal conditions to the American Republic by allowing vicious laws and class legislation to act as regulators of individual and national prosperity and as devices to shift wealth into the hands of shrewd manipulators. Having learned their lessons about the essence of aristocracy and the economic and political foundations of feudal rule, Jacksonians were determined to not let history repeat itself. Throughout the 1830s and 40s, banking policies continued to be hotly contested in most states, pitting hard-money Democrats against Whigs and soft-money Democrats. The two parties clearly differed in their attitudes toward economic development. With the rise of a mass democracy in the 1830s, populist republicanism emerged as a widely popular political creed, centering on the role of the state in economic affairs.[19]

It is one indication of the powerful reach of populist republicanism that the antebellum labor movement supported its basic tenets and premises. A number of historians, most notably Sean Wilentz, have concentrated on two basic arguments: that antebellum workers shared in the republican language that dominated political discourse in America, but that they also used this language to express a radical critique of the emerging system of capitalism. Slowly, they began to understand more clearly the opposition between them and their employers and developed an economic theory that focused on economic exploitation and the ownership of the means of production.[20] Yet while a segment of the antebellum labor movement did indeed break with populist republicanism, most workers did not. Most historians have chosen to overlook the many connections, both in term of idea and personnel, that united reform and labor circles in this period.[21] Workers and their leaders throughout the antebellum era contended, like other reformers, that the political arena was the main source of corruption and inequality, and that the power of the ballot was the only weapon labor needed to rectify the situation. Charles Douglas, for instance, a labor leader in New England, asserted that it was "by the force of unjust laws, which the people have not made, which they never consented to, and can never comprehend, that property is gradually passing into a few hands, and is made sure to a few rich families while the mass of the people are fleeced, and made to pass their lives in toil." The remedy could only be "a radical reform—and this can only be accomplished at the ballot boxes." Political action against the monopolists and speculators that took advantage of governmental favoritism remained of crucial importance for most antebellum workers.[22] Populist republicanism, the belief that state-sponsored privileges and monopolies led to economic inequality, formed a central part of discussions about economic issues in the antebellum period.[23]

The Rise of the Populist Movement
After the controversy over slavery and the Civil War briefly relegated economic questions to a back burner, the reform politics of the 1870s centered on the twin issues of currency reform and the regulation of railroad rates. Both reform movements were rooted in the economic analysis of populist republicanism. At first view, there seemed to be few analogies between the antibank crusaders of the 1830s and the Greenbackers in the 1870s. The former had adamantly opposed the emission of paper money as a tool of idle speculators to defraud the public. Nothing was anathema to them more than the practice of local and state banks flooding the country with worthless paper notes. Under the deflationary conditions of the 1870s, when the decisions of the federal government to gradually retire the paper money issued to finance the Civil War and to demonetize silver (the famous "crime of '73" in Populist mythology) constricted the availability of money and squeezed debtors, inflationary monetary policies took on a new light. Populist republicanism proved flexible enough to accommodate a new set of economic circumstances and interests while retaining its focus on the state as the source of inequality. The severe economic recession of 1873 dramatically augmented the appeal of paper money. Midwestern farmers began to take note of the arguments for currency reform and for inflationary policies. By 1876, a national Greenback Party had been formed that would garner about one million votes in the congressional election of 1876, albeit in many places through fusion with the Democratic Party. Although the political appeal of Greenbackism declined sharply afterward, it would continue to form a key demand in the arsenal of reform politicians until the call for free silver in the 1890s.[24] Diametrically opposed monetary policies should not obscure the fundamental commonalties in the economic analysis of the Jacksonians and the Greenbackers.[25]

Whereas Greenbackism had formed a continuation of economic controversies with deep roots in the antebellum period, the demand for railroad regulation that erupted in the 1870s, usually associated with the agricultural reform movement called the Grange, represented a new political issue. Although states and communities in the West had at first eagerly embraced the new method of transportation that promised to bring them into closer contact with their markets, discontent over allegedly discriminatory rates soon erupted all across the western states. In the political universe of populist republicanism, organizations of such a monstrous size as the railroad corporations could only be regarded with apprehension and fear. With their dependency on the power of eminent domain and large land grants, they were seen as another example of government-sponsored monopolies.[26]

All across the Midwest, the Grange entered politics, usually under the name "Antimonopoly Party," and scored some significant successes in the early 1870s. Although not able to dislodge the dominant Republicans from power, the antimonopolists, often acting in fusion with the Democrats, forced the GOP to deal with the issue of railroad regulation. A number of Midwestern states, including Illinois and Wisconsin, enacted laws to lower railroad rates via legislative intervention.[27] In its campaign against railroads, the Grange clearly acted in the tradition of antimonopoly sentiment in America. One element of the Granger's Ten Commandments, adopted in 1874, reflected their position within populist thought: "Choke monopolies, break up rings, vote for honest men, fear God, and make money" was the goal of the Grange. Conceiving of themselves as independent producers threatened by the exactions of railroad monopolies and other unscrupulous middlemen, farmers turned to the legislatures for relief.[28] In the end, the agrarian crusade to regulate railroad rates achieved little lasting success as several legal decisions in the 1880s effectively insulated the railroads from legislative interference.[29]

The Populist revolt of the 1890s briefly threatened to reconfigure the American political landscape. Since the collapse of the Second American Party System in the 1850s, no third party had posed such a serious challenge to the major parties. Looking at the ground swell of economic and political discontent mobilized by the Populist movement, many historians have argued that the farmer cooperatives and the People's Party represented a radical alternative to the corporate America that was rapidly emerging in the country. Populists were not old-fashioned agrarian romantics who clung stubbornly to a pastoral past that never actually existed. Instead, they used the traditional images of republicanism, producerism, antimonopoly, and the labor theory of value to fashion a thorough reappraisal of laissez-faire economics and the emergence of a corporate economy. In place of the free market and unrestrained competition, the Populists organized in a variety of cooperative ventures to build a cooperative commonwealth. They also embraced an expansion of power of the federal government, especially in the area of the nationalization of the railroads, as a means to counter the power of big business.[30]

It seems more accurate, however, to view the Populists as the culmination of a long reform tradition and of a specific mode of economic analysis that reached back to the beginnings of the American Republic. At the heart of the Populists' political thinking remained the concept of antimonopoly. Like no other article of Populist faith, the conviction that shaped their demands was that the economic misery of American farmers was due to a system of artificial laws passed in the interest and on the demand of special interests to concentrate wealth and power in the hands of the corporations and trusts. As James Baird Weaver, Populist presidential hopeful, argued in 1892: "The corporations and special interests of every class created during the past twenty-five years by various species of class legislation and favoritism, have grown rich and powerful."[31] Not the workings of industrial capitalism nor the mechanisms of an unfettered market place, but specific actions in the political sphere was causing the growing centralization of economic institutions.

Accordingly, Populists focused their reform efforts on the political arena. While the successes of farmer cooperatives and trade unions might be impressive, only political action could "prevent the growth of a general monopoly of opportunities," as one Populist agitator argued in 1892. The contributions of Populists in the 1890s to the analysis of the political economy of privilege and corruption, and the legislative remedies they proposed, added little that was new to populist republicanism as it had evolved over more than half a century. Their novel proposals—such as the subtreasury plan, the nationalization of the railroads, and direct democracy—were not directed at creating a radically different economy, but were seen as means to restoring the economic and political independence of the American farmer.[32] What set the Populists apart was not so much their political program, shared by antimonopolists in the other parties, but their willingness to organize a third party, their belief that the Democrats and Republicans were too corrupt to be able to redeem the country.[33]

Nowhere was this attitude more pronounced than in the Populist's view of modern industry. In their response to big business and trusts, Populists focused on political corruption and legislative manipulation, with special emphasis on the interplay between legislation, privileges, and corporate power. As Benjamin O. Flower, editor of the most influential reform journal of the 1890s, The Arena, argued in 1891: "If you will subtract from our millionaire aristocracy all the wealth that has accrued from class or protective laws, or from special privileges and land monopoly, you will find how great a part the law-making bodies of our government have had in fostering wealth and producing poverty."[34] Change the laws and monopolies would vanish.

Because the railroads and financial interests targeted by the Populists usually acted in corporate form, the legal privileges of corporations emerged as central components of their arguments. In their view, corporations "had absorbed the liberties of the community and usurped the power of the agency that created it."[35] Over and over, Populist speakers reiterated that "monopolies exist by law, are chartered by law, and should be controlled by law."[36] Political corruption, law-sponsored privileges, lack of public regulation of corporations charged with the exercise of public responsibilities, private control over the currency, and corporate charters all ultimately led to the specter that haunted Populists like no other, monopoly. In the final equation, Populists contended, "special legislation builds up special privileges; special privileges build up private fortunes; and private fortunes built up by special legislation are a detriment and an insult to the community."[37]

Many historians have stressed the willingness of the Populists to embrace an enlarged vision of the role of the federal government. Calls for the nationalization of the railroads and the telegraph system did indeed form a remarkable departure from the minimalist government envisioned by Jacksonian Democrats. But the Populists were not advocates of a modern interventionist state. They had little conception of the administrative structures needed to manage a government-owned transportation system. Conspicuously lacking in their writings were discussions of the intricate details involved in nationalizing whole industries. For many Populists, a mere act of Congress appeared to be sufficient to transform the railroads from oppressive monopolies to servants of the public. Unfamiliar with modern management methods, Populists generally had little understanding of the internal operations of modern corporations. Their vision of a more powerful state remained rooted in an eighteenth-century tradition of a government that respected local autonomy and functioned without an intrusive bureaucracy. A social movement that championed the power and independence of local communities, that regarded with distrust impersonal, bureaucratic institutions, and that resented the growing concentration of power in metropolitan centers, was incapable of visualizing a modern interventionist state acting through a bureaucratic apparatus. If the Populists had succeeded in implementing their policy proposals, the federal government, as it existed in the 1890s, would have proved entirely inadequate for the tasks of managing national transportation and communication systems. In all their willingness to call upon the government to help rein in corporations and trusts, the Populists were never state-builders of the kind found in the Progressive Era.

In using old theories of corporate privileges and antimonopoly, the Populists only formed part of a much broader reform spectrum troubled by the new economic conditions. Democrats all across the South used a language similar to the Populists to protest the dominance of northern industrial interests and the exactions of monopolies and corporations. It also seems that the strength of the People's Party in the various states was conditioned by the response of the other parties to the issue of monopoly. Where the two major parties had sizable antimonopoly wings, the People's Parties remained weaker. The spread of the Populist movement was thus strongly shaped by the flexibility of the parties in adapting to a changing political agenda and a new set of political actors. The antimonopoly tradition transcended party lines and was a potent factor in the political upheaval of the 1890s.[38] In seeking better ways to rein in corrupt state legislatures, antimonopolists were constantly interested in new political devices and reforms.[39] When information about the existence of the initiative and referendum in Switzerland slowly filtered to the United States in the late 1880s and early 1890s, American reformers enthusiastically embraced direct legislation as the solution to their problems.

* * *

Antimonopoly formed a powerful component of the political culture of nineteenth-century America. Most of the critics of the unchecked expansion of industrial capitalism drew on an amalgam of ideas and concepts that located the source for inequality and poverty squarely in the political realm, in the specific privileges that venal lawmakers bestowed on private parties and that led to the creation of state-supported monopolies and corporations. Although antimonopolists were never able to effectively halt the centralization of economic power, they succeeded in sustaining a critique of corporate capitalism that resonated powerfully with many groups in American society. Antimonopoly appealed to farmers and workers alike, it was able to attract the support of small businessmen and professionals who saw themselves threatened by the rise of national corporations, and it led to the formation of a number of reform movements and third parties throughout the nineteenth century. A specific model of political economy and a language of protest that combined classical republicanism with popular sovereignty, a type of populist republicanism, emerged in the United States and linked reform movements during the entire course of the century. The advocated reforms varied significantly, with a focus on currency reform and transportation. In addition, reformers developed a series of proposals to increase the political power of the people, to transform American government into a "government by the people"—a polity based on the direct expression of the popular will. It was this tradition of popular sovereignty and majority rule that would find its most succinct expression in the development of direct democracy in the 1890s.


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