Populism, Its Rise and Fall

William A. Peffer Edited by Peter H. Argersinger

Before it was "Populism," the great reform movement of the 1890s was often called "Pefferism" after its most prominent leader, Kansas editor William Peffer. Peffer's Populism, Its Rise and Fall is the only significant memoir by a major Populist figure.

The Populist movement arose as a revolt against the special privileges of industrialism and the American banking system. It spread quickly throughout the Midwest and South and reached its zenith with the founding of the People's party in the early 1890s. William Peffer chaired the national conference that organized the People's party and was the party's first U.S. senator and president of its National Reform Press Association.

“This book deserves a place in every library of Populism.

—Journal of American History

“Argersinger enhances the work by providing an informative introduction and carefully editing the manuscript. His footnotes make it easy for readers to identify the individuals and issues that appear in Peffer’s text. The republication of Peffer’s history represents a welcome addition to Populist historiography.

—Journal of Southern History
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Peffer's memoir, written in 1899 but discovered decades later, offers a unique insider's view of the Populist movement. Peffer describes the development of Populism, the political maneuverings and campaign practices of the People's party, the effect of the famous silver movement on the critical election of 1896, and the behind-the-scenes conflicts and disagreements that ultimately led to the dissolution of America's last great third party.

Populism, Its Rise and Fall includes the complete text of this singular memoir, transcribed, edited, and annotated by Peter H. Argersinger, a leading scholar of the Populist movement. Argersinger's introductory essay and extensive annotation evoke America at the turn of the century and place Peffer's memoir in the context of the times, at the vortex of the forces that shaped and ultimately destroyed Populism.

About the Author

Peter H. Argersinger, professor of history at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County Campus, is currently a Woodrow Wilson Fellow in the Program in American Society and Politics at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. He is author of Populism and Politics; Structure, Process, and Party; and articles on the political and social history of the Gilded Age.