The Limits of Agrarian Radicalism

Western Populism and American Politics

Peter H. Argersinger

As Ross Perot proved in 1992, even when funded by a bottomless bank account, American third parties have always struggled in their efforts to achieve recognition and political power. Yet even in defeat their contributions to national politics have been substantial. That, Peter Argersinger contends, was certainly true of the Populists a century earlier.

Argersinger, one of our nation's foremost historians of the Populist era, brings together in this volume some of his best and most influential essays-ranging from a study of a single election campaign to complex analyses of political organizations, legislative behavior, and government institutions. Together they amply display his consistently sharp and wide-ranging insights on this important moment in American life.

“An important and cohesive collection of well-researched and readable selections from the lengthy and influential career of one of Populism's most noted scholars, and it is must reading for those interested in the third party movement of a century ago.

—Journal of American History

“This valuable collection holds compelling interest for students not only of Populism, but also of American third parties in general.

—Pacific Historical Review
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Argersinger examines, among other things, the Populists' evolution in electoral politics, from creating a party to running election campaigns; the enormous obstacles they overcame in the process of electing a U.S. Senator; specific laws and procedures that suppressed Populism's full political participation; hard-won successes in Western state legislatures in the face of powerful enemies and numerous internal disputes; and the Populists' long-standing struggles and frustrations with the U.S Congress.

Throughout Argersinger illuminates the fundamental ways in which Populism challenged our political system and brings to life its volatile personalities, dramatic controversies, visionary programs, and enduring frustrations. (So frustrating that an Oklahoma Populist once pulled a gun on the Speaker of the House who kept refusing to recognize his request to speak to the assembly.)

Of special interest to political, social, rural, Western, and Gilded Age historians, this book provides a timely reminder of the political constraints on third parties in America.

About the Author

Peter H. Argersinger is Presidential Research Professor of History at the University of Maryland Baltimore County and the author of Populism and Politics: William A. Peffer and the People's Party and Structure, Process, and Party and editor of Populism, Its Rise and Fall.