Date of Award
Master of Arts (MA)
This study, based largely on the extensive use of primary source materials, including federal and state census records, state agency reports, state and local election returns, and newspaper accounts, addresses the rise of the populist movement in Ellis County, Kansas. During the spring and summer of 1890, Kansans witnessed the rise of an agrarian reform movement that would have considerable influence on their state's political future. The Populist movement, drawing support especially from the Farmers ' Alliance, sought to address the plight of farmers, and in this effort it embarked on a political program by establishing the People's party. In Ellis County, Populism won a substantial following, for conditions there proved favorable for its success. Numerous social events and the organizations that sponsored them provided residents the opportunity to discuss their views on the major social, economic, and political concerns of the community. A significant migration of residents from this western Kansas County underscored the many difficulties faced by its citizenry. The increasing cost of living in 1890, the year's crop failure, and the effects of the McKinley Tariff and of banking and rail way policies all contributed to the hardships experienced by many county residents. Added to these factors, the political climate of the county proved favorable for the success of a strong third party. Neither the Republican nor Democratic Party held an overwhelming control over the political affairs of Ellis County. Its German-Russian population, mostly Democratic in political persuasion, insured that Republican victories would not be foregone conclusions. Realizing that the national political parties had so often failed to meet their expectations, many disgruntled farmers looked for solutions to their plight and turned to support the People's party during the election campaign of 1890. It was during this campaign that the newspaper editors of Hays, the county seat of Ellis County, were forced to address the rise of Populism and the creation of the People's party. Here, George W. Sweet, editor of the Democratic Times, Harry Freese, editor of the Hays City Free Press, George P. Griffith, editor of the Republican, and W.P. Montgomery, editor of the Hays City Sentinel, were prompted to re-examine their traditional political stances. Generally, these editors supported the Populist movement as long as it remained outside the realm of politics. Once the Populists had established their own political party, however, these editors, despite the fact that the People's party addressed many of the concerns faced by the citizenry of Ellis County, expressed apprehension about the Populist movement and especially about its involvement in Kansas politics. The four editors of Hays newspapers had little or no inclination to support the People's party. Sweet initially showed signs of supporting the Populists, but his objective had been to woo them into the camp of the Democratic Party. Once he realized that the Populists insisted on following their own political road, Sweet dared not endorse them, for such a move would have admitted that the Democrats had failed to address the farmers ' demands. Hence, Sweet focused his attention on gaining support for Democrats. Freese, meanwhile, had cautioned the Populists about entering into politics. When they did, his own political convictions wavered. Though a Republican, Freese demonstrated through his editorials a growing support for the new party by the latter stages of the campaign. Although he never did endorse the People's party in the 1890 campaign, Freese, in the years to follow, did join the ranks of the Populists. The other two Republican editors, Griffith and Montgomery, initially praised the activities of the Populists, but they attacked them upon hearing of the formation of the People's party. These two editors tended to view this new party as a threat to Republican dominance in Kansas politics and as an ally of their traditional rival, the Democratic party.
Copyright 1992 Brian Tittel
Tittel, Brian, "A Tempest in Prairie Politics: The Rise of Populism in Ellis County, Kansas" (1992). Master's Theses. 2367.