The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 85, July 1981 - April, 1982 Page: 221
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Palmer has set out to do what no previous historian has done: to re-
cover in all its richness the political and economic thinking of South-
ern Populists. Few Populists were equipped for sustained analysis;
thus Palmer has to patch together occasional statements to reach the
unifying assumptions behind them. This approach is necessary, but
risky. It tempts the historian to create order out of confusion by im-
posing his own ideas-a temptation that Palmer has not altogether
The complexity of Palmer's argument defies brief summary. I omit
entirely, for example, his fascinating treatment of Evangelical millen-
nialism. But at the heart of his analysis lies his identification of two
competing strands in Populist thinking: a "financial reform" tendency
that viewed expansion of the currency as a panacea, and an "anti-
monopoly greenbackism" that insisted on more radical reform of
financial institutions, landholding, and transportation. In short,
Palmer explicates in illuminating detail the familiar split between,
to put it too crudely, free silver and the subtreasury. But he also
evokes, as earlier historians have not, the common social vision that
sustained both positions.
Yet Palmer's real contribution lies in his analysis of the social and
cultural dynamics of this division. He shows how the Populists' pre-
industrial cast of mind, the weight of racism, and the ideal of a simple
market society of small producers all prevented full understanding of
industrializing America and thus inhibited effective politics. He
claims, however, that the "rudimentary class analysis" of the anti-
monopoly greenbackers enabled them partly to transcend these limita-
tions and forge a more thoroughgoing reform program, founded on a
class coalition of blacks and whites. But only in Texas and, to some
extent, Georgia did the antimonopoly greenbackers prevail. And when
the national movement fell prey to Bryanism, the Texas and Georgia
parties likewise disintegrated.
Palmer has pulled off an impressive achievement. He has made
sense of Populism and recovered its import, far more persuasively than
Lawrence Goodwyn. But he has also written a deeply flawed book.
Despite references to Jeffersonianism and Jacksonianism, he has large-
ly neglected the resonance of Populism with the broader American
tradition: with Whiggism, for example, or with Victorian anxieties
about materialism. More disturbing, he has written into the Populist
critique more than the Populists did. Populist attacks on railroads,
financial institutions, speculation, and greed become assaults on the
whole emerging "industrial order"; but it is Palmer, not the Populists,
Here’s what’s next.
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Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 85, July 1981 - April, 1982, periodical, 1981/1982; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101208/m1/255/: accessed September 25, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas State Historical Association.