Populist Convention Reunion

The People’s Party, commonly known as the Populist Party, was organized in St. Louis in 1892 and held its first national convention in Omaha that July. The party nominated James K. Weaver for president and ratified the so-called Omaha Platform, which included proposals for the graduated income tax, secret ballot, direct election of United States senators, the eight-hour day, and other reform measures. Fifty years later a Fourth of July reunion of convention attendees was proposed to commemorate the historic event.

The Sunday World-Herald of October 12, 1941, said: “The first national convention of the people’s (populist) party in Omaha, which met on July 4, 1892, marked a turning point not only in national but world affairs, and might well be commemorated by the city of Omaha on July 4, 1942, in the opinion of A. E. Sheldon of Lincoln, superintendent of the Nebraska State Historical Society. In a letter to the World-Herald Sheldon said it had been suggested that the historical society meet in Omaha next year. The society’s constitution, he said, requires it to hold its regular annual meeting in Lincoln [no longer true in 2007], but there is nothing to prevent a special meeting in Omaha to mark the famed Omaha convention of 1892.

“‘Omaha,’ wrote Sheldon, ‘ought to have a historical revival, an awakening to the important historical sites and events which distinguish the story of her development . . . . The people’s party convention which met in Omaha July 4, 1892, . . . was the great turning point in the history of America and the world. Competent historians reckon the dividing line between the old and the new in American politics [was] that campaign of 1892 and the ones which immediately followed it.’

“‘Here was formulated the celebrated Omaha platform. This document became the Bible and common prayer book of millions of people. It became the object of the most intense denunciation and attack on the part of the opposition in these United States. It became eventually the political woodyard from which subsequent republican and democratic candidates and conventions stole their most important material for their platforms and promises.’

“‘A semi-centennial celebration of the Omaha convention . . . would make Omaha a center of public interest and tourist travel for the entire nation. There must yet be living a considerable number of delegates who were there, although the great leaders have passed beyond. Their declarations and their ideals have been translated into other tongues and have animated the spirits of a new generation of people’s champions. There must be yet surviving a larger number of that first popular body guard, not delegates, who assembled at Omaha. I am sure nationwide publicity . . . would bring responses from very many men and women who were active in the events of that turning point in our nation’s history.'”

Unfortunately, the plan was not carried out, apparently because of World War II-related concerns. Sheldon noted in the April-June 1942 Nebraska History magazine (printed in 1943) that “the Great Populist convention of 1892” would have been fittingly celebrated in Omaha the previous year “but for the war.” 

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