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As It Was: Populism Has Long History in Jackson County

Populism, loosely defined as dissatisfaction with ruling elites, has figured prominently in the nation’s political discourse over the past year, but the idea is nothing new in Southern Oregon.

At the beginning of the 1890s, Democrats in Jacksonville and Republicans in Ashland dominated Jackson County politics.  Many farmers, angered by the failure of political parties to address their economic issues, including high Southern Pacific railroad and flour mill fees, created local chapters of the national Farmers’ Alliance organization.  In Oregon and the rest of the country, the Farmers Alliance gave rise to the populist People’s Party, demanding economic and governmental reforms. 

The Panic of 1893 deepened local economic concerns that the People’s Party rode to victory the next year, gaining a mandate to reform Jackson county government and sending populist members to the state legislature in Salem.  However, when the Democrats nominated populist William Jennings Bryan as their presidential candidate in 1896, the People’s Party began to lose its separate identity.  The party broke into squabbling factions and was largely out of government by 1900. 

The potential for economic populism to affect elections obviously lives on.


Sources: "Populist." Merriam Webster. Online ed., https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/populism. Accessed 21 June 2017; Lalande, Jeffery M. "It Can't Happen Here" In Oregon: The Jackson County Rebellion, 1932-1933, And Its 1890s-1920s Background. Online ed., Eugene, Ore., University of Oregon, 1993, soda.sou.edu/awdata/030911e1.pdf;. Accessed 21 June 2017.

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Charles Ter Bush is a retired legal publishing executive and a recovering attorney.  A member of the Southern Oregon Historical Society, he enjoys learning and writing about the area.