Populism in Alabama
The Populist Movement of the 1890s was a national farmers' movement. It was preceded in the 1870s and 1880s by farm organizations seeking reform: the Agricultural Wheel, the Farmers' Alliance, and the Colored Farmers' Alliance.
American farmers faced many economic problems: low prices for cotton and other farm products,
debts and mortgages, the crop-lien system, and the national money system.
Alabama farmers faced additional economic problems:
Alabama farmers also faced political problems:
- prevalence of sharecropping and tenancy;
- historic divisions between big planters of the Black Belt and Tennessee Valley and the small farmers of the Hill Country and Wiregrass;
- an emerging urban industrial society based on iron and coal;
- an emerging labor movement, especially among coal miners and the Knights of Labor;
- powerful railroads, especially the L & N and its connection with coal and iron companies.
The Alabama Farmers' Alliance entered politics and tried to capture the Democratic nomination for governor in 1890.
- Alabama politics dominated by the Democratic Party;
- Democratic political power controlled by Black Belt planters and merchants with a planter-merchant-urban industrialist coalition;
- convention nomination system of Democratic party;
- sectionalism in Alabama politics: north Alabama vs. south Alabama and Hill Country/Wiregrass vs. Black Belt.
In 1892 a coalition was formed by the Alliance-supported Jeffersonian Democratic Party, and the People's Party. Together they were known as the "Populists," and were supported by the Republican Party in their struggle with the state Democratic Party.
- Candidate was Agricultural Commissioner Reuben Kolb.
- Kolb lost, but the Alliance elected many candidates to the state House and Senate.
"Populist" Jeffersonian Democrat candidate Reuben Kolb faced "Bourbon" Democrat Thomas G. Jones in the gubernatorial election of 1892.
1894 gubernatorial election had Kolb running against William C. Oates.
- Election highlighted the sectional and economic division of state farmers and miners against planters and industrialists.
- Populists attempted a biracial coalition and both parties courted black votes.
- Kolb defeated in bitter election amid allegations of stuffed ballot boxes in the Black Belt.
In 1892 and 1894 Populists were successful in legislative, congressional, and local elections.
- This election also marked by widespread corruption and voter fraud. Both candidates claimed victory and held competing inaugural ceremonies. Oates declared winner.
Election of 1896 last serious campaign for Populists and beginning of their political decline.