Senator William Peffer,
THE MISSION OF THE POPULIST PARTY
1893

1
THE Populist Party is an organized demand that the functions of government shall be exercised only for the mutual benefit of all the people. It asserts that government is useful only to the extent that it serves to advance the common weal. Believing that the public good is paramount to private interests, it protests against the delegation of sovereign powers to private agencies. Its motto is: "Equal rights to all; special privileges to none." Its creed is written in a single line of the Declaration of Independence--"All men are created equal." Devoted to the objects for which the constitution of the United States was adopted, it proposes to "form a more perfect union" by cultivating a national sentiment among the people; to "insure domestic tranquility" by securing to every man and woman what they earn; to "establish justice" by procuring an equitable distribution of the products and profits of labor; to "provide for the common defence" by interesting every citizen in the ownership of his home; to "promote the general welfare" by abolishing class legislation and limiting the government to its proper functions; and to "secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity" by protecting the producing masses against the spoliation of speculators and usurers.
2
The Populist claims that the mission of his party is to emancipate labor. He believes that men are not only created equal, but that they are equally entitled to the use of natural resources in procuring means of subsistence and comfort. He believes that an equitable distribution of the products and profits of labor is essential to the highest form of civilization; that taxation should only be for public purposes, and that all moneys raised by taxes should go into the public treasury; that public needs should be [666] supplied by public agencies, and that the people should be served equally and alike.
3
The party believes in popular government. Its demands may be summarized fairly to be--
1. An exclusively national currency in amount amply sufficient for all the uses for which money is needed by the people, to consist of gold and silver coined on equal terms, and government paper, each and all legal tender in payment of debts of whatever nature or amount, receivable for taxes and all public dues.

2. That rates of interest for the use of money be reduced to the level of average net profits in productive industries.

3. That the means of public transportation be brought under public control, to the end that carriage shall not cost more than it is reasonably worth, and that charges may be made uniform.

4. That large private land-holdings be discouraged by law.

It is charged against Populists that they favor paternalism in government. This is an error. They only demand that public functions shall be exercised by public agents, and that sovereign powers shall not be delegated to private persons or corporations having only private interests to serve. They would popularize government to the end that it may accomplish the work for which it was established--to serve the people, all the people, not only a few.
4
If it be paternalism to require the government to look after any of the private interests of the people, why do we not drive from our grounds as a tramp the postman who delivers our mail? If it be paternalism to bring our transportation business under public control, why do we not repeal the inter-State commerce law and restore the carrying trade to private citizens from whose rapacity the people were partially released some years ago? It it be paternalism to establish government agencies to supply currency to the people, what means the national bank act whose title reads: "An act to provide a national currency secured by a pledge of United States bonds, and to provide for the circulation and redemption thereof?"
5
All there is in the charge of paternalism lies in the fact that Populists believe that, as to these particular matters, the people would be served, more equitably and at greatly reduced expense, by public agents working on fixed salaries, than by private persons who use their business for private ends. [667]
6
It will be observed that the party deals with live issues only, and they are those chiefly which relate to the use of natural resources of subsistence and to the distribution of property and property values. This is the only party that clearly expresses a well-defined position on the "money question." It states the kind of money the party wants--gold, silver and paper; it demands that the metals be coined freely, in unlimited quantities, at a ratio of 16 to 1; that the currency shall be issued by the general government only--not by banks--and that it shall be a full legal tender.
***
7
[677] Rapid accumulation of wealth by a few citizens, as we have seen it in the United States during the last thirty years, is evidence of morbidly abnormal conditions. It is inconsistent with free institutions. It is breeding anarchy and trouble. No man can honestly take to himself what he does not earn; and if he does no more than that, riches will come to him slowly. It is only when he gets what he does not earn that his "success" attracts attention. Fortunes running into millions of dollars must be made up of property and profits mostly produced and earned by persons other than those who claim them.
8
No man ever earned a million dollars. If he was moved to [678] great undertakings, nature's God inspired him. And if, in the play of his ambition he marshalled effective forces, his equipment cost him little. To a great mind success is compensation. The value of its labor cannot be measured with money. A strong man's intellect moves as easily as a blacksmith's arm. Both are gifts.
9
The best men are content with little. Vast enterprises which move the world are maintained by contributions from the labor of the poor. Leaders do but organize and direct; the rank and file do all the rest. Apply the "iron law of wages" equally to all that work and you scale down the salaries of many useless people.  If the Republic is to endure we must encourage the average man.

Source: North American Review (December 1893), 665-678. Paragraph numbers have been added, and the original pagination appears in brackets. The asterisks mark a significant section about monetary policy that has been omitted.

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