Mary Elizabeth Lease, Gendered Politics and Populist Party Politics in Gilded-Age America
Chapter 7: Mary Lease and the Politics of Silver, Gold, and Nationalism, 1896–1900
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Mary Lease and the Politics of Silver, Gold, and Nationalism, 1896–1900
Despite her concerns regarding the direction of the agrarian movement, Mary Lease lectured nationwide for the Populist Party in preparation for the 1896 elections. She continued to attract spectators by the thousands eager to hear her speeches denouncing wealth inequity and monetary policy, and was featured in a New York World article among “the faces that have made history in 1896.”1 Although she campaigned relentlessly, the major parties ultimately stymied Populist Party radicalism and independence. The Republican press predicted Populism’s death knell as the 1896 elections approached, routinely running headlines declaring that “Populism may die” or “Populism is dead.”2 Dismayed by such developments, Lease began her gradual drift from Populism to Progressivism and from rural to urban America. Lease’s ideological and geographic shifts did not alter her overall commitment to promoting greater government involvement in assisting citizens through the implementation of sound monetary policies and industrial regulation. In fact, her movement from Populism to Progressivism coincided with her personal evolution in reform, one that more clearly connected the concerns of urban inhabitants with those of disenfranchised, impoverished farmers. Her advocacy of such broad-based reform came at a time when more Americans were questioning the economic fairness and political soundness of laissez-faire policies and increasingly came to accept a more activist, regulatory state.
The Populist Party’s 1896 election crusade primarily involved promoting the free and unlimited...
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