the irresistible fleet of bicycles

before bernie sanders: a 19th century populist’s run for the presidency

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james_b-_weaver

We are nearing a serious crisis. If the present strained relations between wealth owners and wealth producers continue much longer they will ripen into frightful disaster. This universal discontent must be quickly interpreted and its causes removed. It is the country’s imperative Call to Action, and cannot be longer disregarded with impunity.

 

So begins the preface to A Call to Action—the 1892 political manifesto by James Baird Weaver, the People’s Party’s candidate for president that same year.

The “crisis” Weaver was referring to got its start 19 years earlier, when post-war inflation and wild financial speculation (particularly on the part of those trying to cash in on the seemingly ceiling-less railroad industry) resulted in the Panic of 1873, which triggered industrial capitalism’s first global depression. Employment and wages plummeted as American companies defaulted on $1 billion of debt. The collapse, which would be felt for decades, left many, including Weaver, vehemently opposed to monopolies and critical of banking industry policies.

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