The People’s Party and the Progressive Party emerged in reaction to what Mark Twain coined “the Gilded Age” where great industrial success of the U.S. hid the many social problems of the time and corruption in government. Each party was a response to the inequities and social injustices in society that evolved and brought light upon the time period. In the early twentieth century, Populism, and then Progressivism, used their widespread reach as parties to advocate for reform in political, social, and economic circles. While both the Populist and Progressive parties were born out of similar oppression and shared similar beliefs, some of their reformist ideals differed in focus.
The People’s Party was a political party founded in 1891 by leaders of the Populist movement. It fielded a candidate in the US presidential election of 1892 and accumulated 8.5% of the popular vote, which was a substantial amount of support for a third party. Beginning in the late nineteenth century, the nation’s farmers began to organize to defend their interests against what they perceived to be the interests of the Eastern establishment and banking elite. As the number of landless tenant farmers rose, and as the debts of independent farmers skyrocketed due to burdensome loan terms and interest rates from banks, discontent among the nation’s agrarian workers burgeoned.