A Democratic Party Fighter for Farmers

Now the family farm is a lost tradition, but there once were men who fought for it, especially Thomas Jefferson, who envisaged an America where that was all that existed. Tom Watson, a Democratic Party rebel from rural Georgia in the late nineteenth century, campaigned for the rights of farmers for his entire political life. At that time farmers were the victims of wild price swings due to the process of supply and demand, and many found themselves bankrupt or deeply in debt due to the natural swings of a capitalist economy. Today the government pretty much controls agricultural prices, and many large landholders make a living off of government grants where they get paid for growing nothing at all. Watson fought for such help from the government, which did not occur until long after he left the scene. As an eight year old, during the Civil War, he was dumbfounded at Union Army prisoners of war, who loudly sang the Battle Hymn of the Republic on a train taking them to confinement. This assault on the traditions of the old south was similar to other things he saw, such as his brother’s fledgling attempt to build an old style southern plantation home with large white wooden columns for the veranda. Yet Watson fought against the southern politicians who came to power after the war, including men who used inmates as free labor to enhance their fortunes. He became one of the primary leaders of the Farmers Alliance and then the Populist Party, and fought for the rights of small farmers who begged for government assistance to protect them from the cruelties of the market place. His political fortunes were limited however, and his taste for election battles was soured by how he considered being cheated out of the Vice-Presidential nomination in 1896. Late in his life, partially as a result, perhaps, of his love for alcohol, he fell in with more coarse political cronies, men who embraced racism and made no secret of their deep nostalgia for the good old days of the old south and slavery. Watson was far from alone in this feeling, however, for much of America, even well into the twentieth century, embraced racism as a tool of political power, especially in the deep south.   

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