The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 93, July 1989 - April, 1990

Book Reviews

passages as readable as possible without destroying the intent of the
original manuscript. The result is a remarkable and in-depth account
of the most turbulent era of Creek politics and a new insight into tribal
Oklahoma Heritage Association KENNY A. FRANKS
The Road to Rebellion: Class Formation and Kansas Populism, Z865-z9oo.
By Scott G. McNall. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988.
Pp. xviii+354. Preface, acknowledgments, maps, tables, photo-
graphs, notes, epilogue, bibliography, index. $49.95, cloth; $19.95,
Sociologist McNall examines "the process by which a group of people
tries actively to constitute itself as a class" and concludes that Populism
"fail[ed] to become a class for itself" (p. xiii). He contends that the
movement's rapid early growth resulted in a weak organizational struc-
ture that left the People's party unable to educate members in a move-
ment culture or to foster internal debate over party strategy. McNall
also believes that "drawing upon an ideology that was not a coherent or
consistent attack on capitalism, per se" (p. 88) likewise debilitated the
With such problems, one must wonder how Kansas became the
banner state of American Populism. The author has not, however, con-
sidered the role of the reform press, which could still claim 104 news-
papers serving 87 of the state's 105 counties as late as 1897, in establish-
ing and maintaining the very links that he claims were missing. Also,
the Southern Alliance and Populist movements in Kansas owed much
of their rapid growth to their absorption of the existing Northern
Farmers' Alliance and Union Labor party organizations. As for ide-
ology, McNall is neither the first nor the last to find everything other
than socialism inadequate.
McNall's analysis also falls into a trap common to social scientists un-
trained in history. He assumes that present-day conditions are similar
to those of the Gilded Age. Conversion to Populism, thus, becomes no
more than a way of reforming an old party that still holds the voter's
true allegiance and "participation in politics [becomes] a short-term
venture" (p. 224). This ignores the passions of the era, the penalties for
sectional treason less than a generation after Reconstruction, and the
considerably greater and more stable voter turnout that characterized
Gilded Age America.
Historians will find this book rather disorganized and at some points
even contradictory. Part, but not all, of the problem is its nonchronologi-


Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 93, July 1989 - April, 1990. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. Accessed April 1, 2015.