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My father, W.F. “High” Hightower, was a populist. Only, he didn’t know it. Didn’t know the word, much less the history or anything about populism’s democratic ethos. My father was not philosophical, but he had a phrase that he used to express the gist of his political beliefs: ”
Everybody does better when everybody does better.”
Before the populists of the late 1800s gave its instinctive rebelliousness a name, it had long been established as a defining trait of our national character: The 1776 rebellion was not only against King George III’s government but against the corporate tyranny of such British monopolists as the East India Trading Company.
The establishment certainly doesn’t celebrate the populist spirit, and our educational system avoids bothering students with our vibrant, human story of constant battles, big and small, mounted by “little people” against … well, against the establishment. The Keepers of the Corporate Order take care to avoid even a suggestion that there is an important political pattern – a historic continuum – that connects Thomas Paine’s radical democracy writings in the late 1700s to Shays’ Rebellion in 1786, to strikes by mill women and carpenters in the early 1800s, to Jefferson’s 1825 warning about the rising aristocracy of banks and corporations “riding and ruling over the plundered ploughman,” to the launching of the women’s suffrage movement at Seneca Falls in 1848, to the maverick Texans who outlawed banks in their 1845 state constitution, to the bloody and ultimately successful grassroots struggle for the abolition of slavery, and to the populist movement itself, plus the myriad rebellions that followed right into our present day.