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Charles Postel’s book, The Populist Vision, has provided an exhaustive explanation of the American populism during the late nineteenth century. The Populist Vision still stands out as the most convincing and gripping examination of the populist movement of all the time. After reading the book, one wonders how a writer could have the power to alter the restraints that governed a key historiographical contest.
By referring to previous works of Richard Hofstadter and Lawrence Goodwyn, the author develops a new account of populism where proponents of agrarianism reacted to politics surrounding the growth of international trade in a reasonable and comprehensible way. Postel (7) disputes the thought that populists were upright democratic intellects. He views them as individuals molded by their own generation with the aim of providing contemporary solutions to economic challenges whilst promoting classical ideas of the social ladder.
The Populist Vision
The narration provided by Charles Postel in The Populist Vision draws support from a vast volume of research comprised of newspapers, leaflets, and reports. The author begins his narration by explaining the origins of the Populist Movements, which according to his research, was stirred by the Farmers’ Alliance in the Midwest and southern region during the 1870s and 1880s.
After going through the speeches made by influential populists such as Charles W. Macune, Postel (13) notes that the desire of most supporters and leaders of the Farmer’s Alliance in the late nineteenth century was to promote technological development and a business organizational structure that would increase agricultural yields.
He appreciates the effort of farmers to device means of resolving the modern economic issues. For example, he observes that in the South and West, farmers recommended that the state should subsidize products to increase the agricultural sales in the global market (Postel 45).
Postel (276) explains why farmers were steadfast in preaching the need for education as well as vocational training during the agrarian age by arguing that it would lead to a more contemporary and industrious life. As per his observation, the farmers were aware of the importance of transforming their independent Farmer’s Alliance to a Populist Party that could speak to a greater population on the need for a just as well as lucrative agricultural competition by introducing brilliant federal policies to govern the economy.
Moreover, Postel (83) asserts that the populist thinkers discreetly preached the need for state reforms on certain issues such as currency and railroad development through Christian messages, whilst their corporate political character was still evident.
The greater half of the book analyses the Populist politics. The author asserts that the movement aspired to create a platform where politics would be used to establish reasonable, unbiased, and businesslike leadership (Postel 169).
Corruption had become the norm for most political parties and parties had failed to usher in the American people into the modern age, which established poverty. In line with the aforementioned arguments, attempts to introduce sub-treasury plans and government-licensed paper painted Populists as the pacesetters in their generation (Postel 45).
Reading through the chapters narrating issues pertaining to gender and race coupled with how they affected the Populist Movement is interesting. Postel (53) admits that women often disagreed with the Populist Movement’s position with regard to women rights.
For example, women opposed the Populist Movement’s approach on suffrage, but always supported the perception that women had the right to join and participate proactively in movements. Since populists supported most of the male farmers’ issues in relation to the economy, they got high-profile positions in the movement. A special observation by Postel (185) is that although the movement was gender biased, it was evident that they were racially biased.
As one approaches the last chapters of the book, it is apparent how Postel (227) continues with his ambitious explanation of the numerous urbanites, workers, and other groups who united with the Populist Movement to help achieve their goals. The Populist Party played a huge role in representing the interests of labor and urban activists through speaking to a broader population particularly those barred from the influential business positions (Postel 109).
His last chapter creates a platform to discuss the advocates of Populist Movement, which could be enlarged even to a book. However, it is worth noting how Postel escapes the rural stereotypes and urban discrimination that prompted some interpreters to develop outrageous perceptions and inference.
Nonetheless, certain issues emerge as one reads on, which raises some questions. For instance, one fails to understand how the locals received the Populists’ ambitions and how they responded to their contemporary ideas.
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Secondly, there is no detailed explanation of how political life of the Populist evolved as they tried to transform their ambitions into electoral veracity. Though the author has supported his writings with a huge volume of research, some of the materials are not mentioned in the bibliography. Furthermore, the author focuses his historiography on the populists, but gives little attention to contemporary works.
The little shortcomings of the book cannot negate its brilliant work. After reading this book, it emerges as the most essential writing on Populism in the contemporary times. Armed with adequate research collected from secondary and primary sources, Postel writes a book that ranks him among the best American political historians. He provides a new, legible, and insightful study of the broad history of Populism in the nineteenth century.
Postel, Charles. The Populist Vision, New York: Oxford University Press, 2007. Print.