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The 2016 Populist Uprising in Perspective: Part 3 - The History of Populism in the United States

The Huffington Post logo The Huffington Post 28/03/2016 Frank Islam
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No matter the final results of the presidential elections in November, 2016 will be forever known as the year of the uprising of the populists in both political parties.
{We examine what that uprising means in detail in this series of four blogs. In our first blog we looked at the nature of populism today highlighting the distinct differences between the two brands. In the second blog, we focused on the factors contributing to the development of each of these brands. In this blog, we examine the history of populism in the United States. In our final blog, we forecast the future of populism here.}
This is not the first populist uprising in the history of the United States. Much can be learned regarding today's versions of populism, by examining the concept and context of populism historically.
An appropriate beginning point for this examination is with a definition from a source created by the people -Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. It defines populism as "a doctrine that appeals to the interests and conception (such as hopes and fears) of the general population, especially any new collective consciousness push against the prevailing status quo interests of any predominant sector."
There are many definitions of populism created by academics and scholars. One that is especially relevant, given the current state of affairs, comes from Daniele Albertazzi and Duncan McDonnell.
Albertazzi and McDonnell define populism as an ideology "that pits a virtuous and homogenous people against a set of elites and dangerous 'others' who are together depicted as depriving (or attempting to deprive) the sovereign people of their rights, values, prosperity, identity and voice."
Populism did not spring full-blown upon the United States in 2016. Some trace its roots back to the participants in the American Revolution.
Many say its origins began with Andrew Jackson, the seventh American President elected in 1828. He was the first American President with a pedigree different from the "blue bloods" who served as the first six Presidents of the United States.

Jackson was the son of Scots-Irish immigrants who grew up in Nashville which was then the frontier. He rose to fame as a general when he won the Battle of New Orleans during the War of 1812.
Steve Inskeep points out in a New York Times article that Jackson bears a strong resemblance to Donald Trump both in terms of the base of his supporters and his style. Jackson's appeal was strongest with those living in the Appalachian states from "Mississippi and Alabama all to way to Western Pennsylvania and New York."
Inskeep observes, "Riding his fame to the White House, Jackson captured the imagination of ordinary citizens who'd never voted in such numbers before. He crushed rivals who considered him crude, barbaric and even a danger to the republic."
The similarities between Jackson and Trump don't end there. Inskeep also notes that Jackson had "wild hair" and that as "a member of the nation's wealthy elite, he ran for President as an opponent of the wealthy elites."
While Jackson and his supporters may have been a seminal force in populism in the United States, the claim for officially assuming that mantle goes to farmers in the late 1860's to the late 80's who formed movements to push back against the decline of agrarian interests here as industrialization and its interests gained the majority of power in the more urban areas and financial and political circles.
These movements culminated in the creation of a national third party - the People's Party, or the Populist Party, in 1892 and running James B. Weaver against the Republican and Democratic candidates in that year. In 1896, the Democrats adopted many of the Populist Party platform positions and ran William Jennings Bryan as a "populist-leaning" candidate for President. Jennings lost in '96 and again in 1900 and the populist movement as it was then known died shortly thereafter.
Subsequently, there have a number of third party populist movements with-out that moniker. These included the Progressive Party of 1912 headed by Theodore Roosevelt, Robert LaFollette's Progressive Party of 1924, and the Share Our Wealth (Every Man A King) movement formed by nominal Democrat, and radical populist, Huey Long early in the Great Depression to run against President Franklin Roosevelt in 1936. Long was assassinated in 1935 and this version of the populist movement ended with his death.
George Wallace ran for President in 1968 on the American Independent Party ticket, a segregationist spin off from the Republican Party. The most recent significant populist third party candidacy was that of Ross Perot in the economic tough times of 1992 and 1996.
In addition to third party movements, other candidates have attempted populist type movements within the existing parties. These movements have been, cultural, racial and/or economic in orientation. For example, Pat Buchanan ran for the Republican nomination in 1992 and 1996 and John Edwards sought the Democratic nomination in 2008.
The long story writ short here is that populism has been an itch that candidates and their supporters have been trying to scratch for a very long time in the United States. Now, in 2016, it appears the time for serious scratching has come.
What will happen in both parties as that scratching takes place is a matter of conjecture. Our assessment of where things stand and the potential consequences for the traditional parties and our democracy is presented in our final blog in this series.

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