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The Tolerant Populists, Second Edition

Kansas Populism and Nativism

Second Edition

A political movement rallies against underregulated banks, widening gaps in wealth, and gridlocked governments. Sound familiar? More than a century before Occupy Wall Street, the People’s Party of the 1890s was organizing for change. They were the original source of the term “populism,” and a catalyst for the later Progressive Era and New Deal.

Historians wrote approvingly of the Populists up into the 1950s. But with time and new voices, led by historian Richard Hofstadter, the Populists were denigrated, depicted as demagogic, conspiratorial, and even anti-Semitic.

In a landmark study, Walter Nugent set out to uncover the truth of populism, focusing on the most prominent Populist state, Kansas. He focused on primary sources, looking at the small towns and farmers that were the foundation of the movement. The result, The Tolerant Populists, was the first book-length, source-based analysis of the Populists. Nugent’s work sparked a movement to undo the historical revisionism and ultimately found itself at the center of a controversy that has been called “one of the bloodiest episodes in American historiography.”

This timely re-release of The Tolerant Populists comes as the term finds new currency—and new scorn—in modern politics. A definitive work on populism, it serves as a vivid example of the potential that political movements and popular opinion can have to change history and affect our future.

248 pages | 6 x 9 | © 2013

History: American History


"An exceptional book. . . . The book, which once intervened in a fierce historiographical debate, offers a challenge to how Americans understand and discuss politics now. If taken seriously, Nugent’s book might do irreparable damage to a good deal of the prevailing nonsense."

Inside Higher Ed

"America’s fighting democratic rebels of the eighteen-nineties, the Populists, have been hammered as ignorant cranks in their own time, damned as anti-intellectual bigots by some left-leaning historians of the McCarthy era, and denounced as un-American Socialist plotters by right-wing demagogues in our own day. Walter Nugent’s thoroughly researched and readable portrait of the real people who formed the People’s Party in Kansas was a vital revisionist groundbreaker fifty years ago and its re-issue now is even more timely."

Bernard Weisberger, author of America Afire: Jefferson, Adams, and the First Contested Election and When Chicago Ruled Baseball: The Cubs-White Sox World Series of 1906

"Fifty years ago a young historian took on the kings of the intellectual world, who were immensely frightened of The People. Walter Nugent bravely “revised the revisionists”—those scholars only able to see anti-Semitism, nativism, and creeping fascism in the Populism of the 1890s. Back then, The Tolerant Populists proved to be a critically important intellectual and political intervention. And now, Nugent’s book is no mere historical document.  In the age of the Tea Party and bitter battles over the meaning of “populism,” Nugent’s master work remains a compelling historical analysis, as well as a testament of democratic hope."

Robert D. Johnston, author of The Radical Middle Class

"Historians will welcome Chicago’s new edition of a classic work on American politics and reform—a book that deserves a new generation of readers. Full of rich evidence and lively portraits of impassioned activists, Walter Nugent’s book decisively refutes the notion that Populists were reactionary and backward-looking. Rather, Nugent places them where they belong: in the grand tradition of American grassroots struggles for economic and social justice."

Rebecca Edwards, author of New Spirits: Americans in the "Gilded Age," 1865-1905

Table of Contents

Preface to the Second Edition
Preface to the First Edition
List of Abbreviations

Part One: Populism Bastinadoed, and Some Caveats

1. The Populist as Monster
2. Revising the Revisionists

Part Two: The Salad Days

3. Kansas in the Eighties
I. The Ethnic Pattern
II. Prohibition and Political Futility
III. Economic Boom and Bust

4. “Agitate, Educate, Organize!”
I. The Birth of the Alliance
II. Goodbye, My Party, Goodbye

5. The People’s Party and Other People
I. Fruits of Victory
II. A Populist Profile
III. Money Question or “Money Power”?
IV. Englishmen and Jews
V. Alien Land

Part Three: The Political Years

6. Fusion and Victory
I. An Arm-in-Arm Campaign
II. Storms in the State House

7. Populism against Itself
I. Fusion and Faction
II. Women’s Suffrage, Prohibition, and the APA
III. A Three-Ticket Race
IV. Bleak Results

8. Free Silver and “Undesirable Classes”
I. A Single-Issue Campaign
II. The Literacy Test for Immigrants
III. After Seven Lean Years

9. Denouement
I. Jingoes and Humanitarians
II. The 1898 Campaign
III. And Afterward

10. Concluding Remarks

Bibliographical Note and Acknowledgments

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