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The populists supported Thomas E. Watson for vice president, known for attacking business, bankers, railroads; and Democratic President Grover Cleveland.
Bryan's main platform was opposition to the gold standard, as illustrated by his convention "Cross of Gold" speech.
The Populists proposed both greater government control over the economy and giving the people power over government through the secret ballot, direct election of United States senators, and replacement of the electoral college with direct election by popular vote.
The People's Party, also known as the "Populists Party", was a short-lived political party in the United States, established in 1891 during the Populist movement. It was at its strongest in 1892-96, and then rapidly faded away. Based among poor, white, cotton farmers in the South (especially North Carolina, Alabama, and Texas) and hard-pressed wheat farmers in the plains states (especially Kansas and Nebraska), it represented a radical crusading form of agrarianism and hostility to banks, railroads, and elites generally. It sometimes formed coalitions with labor unions, and in 1896 the Democrats endorsed their presidential nominee, William Jennings Bryan. The terms "populist" and "populism" are commonly used for anti-elitist appeals in opposition to established interests and mainstream parties.
William Jennings Bryan had an innate oratory talent. He gave speeches, organized meetings, and adopted resounding resolutions that eventually culminated in the founding of the American Bimetallic League, which then evolved into the National Bimetallic Union, and finally the National Silver Committee.
At the time, many inflationist farmers believed that by increasing the amount of currency in circulation, the crops they grew would receive higher prices. They were opposed by banks and bond holders who feared inflation, and by urban workers who feared inflation would further erode their purchasing power. The ultimate goal of the League was to garner support on a national level for the reinstatement of the coinage of silver.
With others, he made certain that the Democratic platform reflected the now-strengthening spirit of the silverites. With his support, Charles H. Jones of the St Louis Post-Dispatch was put on the platform committee and Bryan's plank for free silver was adopted sixteen to one, and silently added to the Chicago Democratic Platform in order to avoid controversy.
As a minority member of the resolutions committee, Bryan was able to push the Democratic Party from its laissez-faire and small-government roots towards its modern, liberal character. Through these measures, the public and influential Democrats became convinced of his capacity to lead and bring change, resulting in his being mentioned as a possible chairman for the Chicago convention.
Bryan delivered speeches across the country for free silver from 1894 to 1896, building a grass-roots reputation as a powerful champion of the cause. At the 1896 Convention, Bryan lambasted Eastern moneyed classes for supporting the gold standard at the expense of the average worker. His "Cross of Gold" speech made him the sensational new face in the Democratic party.
SILVER IN CONTROL
A two-thirds vote was required for the Democratic Party nomination and at the Convention the silverites just barely had it, despite the extreme regional polarization of the delegates. In a test vote on an anti-silver measure, the Eastern states (from Maryland to Maine), with 28% of the delegates, voted 96% in favor of gold. The delegates from the rest of the country voted 91% against gold, so the silverites controlled 67% of the delegates.
Source: Boundless. “The Populist Party and the Election of 1896.” Western Civilization Since 1700. Boundless, 08 Aug. 2016. Retrieved 22 Oct. 2016 from https://www.boundless.com/users/351690/textbooks/western-civilization-since-1700/the-gilded-age-1870-1900-20/the-agrarian-and-populist-movements-155/the-populist-party-and-the-election-of-1896-836-2030/