Confronting the Modern Era
Confront Populism 04 AAs Picking Cotton Confront Populism 07 Children picking cotton Confront Populism 01 Fam Picking Cotton Confront Populism 02 Farming Oats Confront Populism 06 Gov Buchanan Confront Populism 05 Men Gather Hay Confront Populism 03 Plowing

Populism & Farmers

Besides working conditions, many poor farmers and laborers were also unhappy with the political climate during this time. 

For decades Tennessee farmers suffered under a system of high interest rates, taxes, and a declining market for agricultural products. Politicians seemed more interested in helping big industry than the everyday man.

In the late 1880s many farmers banded together to form the Tennessee Farmer’s Alliance to try and get political changes.

The alliance called for regulation of railroads, control of inflation , and a Subtreasury. The Subtreasury would allow farmers to borrow money using their future crops as collateral.

The alliance recruited both black and white farmers, although blacks had a separate group. Even so, the white supremacy establishment was uneasy about this alliance.

The alliance managed to elect one of their candidates, John Buchanan, as governor in 1890. Buchanan turned out not to be as radical as the established feared or his alliance supporters hoped.

Another party, called the People’s or Populist party was formed in 1892. They supported most of the policies of the alliance. Buchanan, who had been dumped by the Democratic party, ran on the Populist ticket and lost.

But conservative Democrats adopted many of the Populist’s party’s goals, including railroad regulation, inflation and low taxes. At the same time, they were committed to white supremacy. 

So, even thought Populists did achieve some authority in the Democratic Party, the movement in Tennessee did not become very radical. In later decades, support for the Populist movement gradually dwindled throughout the state.


Picture Credits:
  • Photograph entitled, “Family picking cotton.” This photo was taken in 1900 in Beamis, Tennessee. It shows an African American family with young children picking cotton in a field near the Beamis mill. The mill can also be seen in the background. Union University.
  • Photograph of two men and a woman farming oats. This photo was taken in 1910 in White Bluff, Tennessee. It features Elmer Woodworth, Pappy Roe Ashworth, and Fanny Woodworth standing in a field of oats. Tennessee State Library and Archives.
  • Photograph showing a man plowing with a team of mules. This photo was taken in 1880 in Wilson County, Tennessee. Tennessee State Library and Archives.
  • Photograph showing African Americans picking cotton. This photo was taken in1920 near Memphis. It features seven African Americans picking cotton. They are supervised by a man on horseback. Memphis Public Library and Information Center.
  • Photograph showing men gathering hay. This photo was taken in 1915 in Rutherford County, Tennessee. It features black and white men gathering hay while using a mule drawn wagon. Tennessee State Library and Archives.
  • Portrait of Governor John Price Buchanan by artist W. B. Newman. Tennessee State Library and Archives.
  • Photograph showing children picking cotton.  This photo was taken in Henderson County, Tennessee.  Two adults are also shown working in the background. Published in the 2005 Henderson County, Tennessee Connections: A Pictorial History by Brenda Kirk Fiddler

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