In July 1892, the People’s Party held its first political convention in Omaha, Nebraska. Although the candidate nominated by the party, General James B. Weaver, placed far behind the major party candidates, the Party platform included a number of reforms that were adopted in the United States over the next generation: direct election of senators, a graduated income tax, the secret ballot, ballot initiatives and election referenda, and labor laws enforcing workplace standards. The party platform also included several proposals of a more socialistic nature that did not come to pass in the near term—for example, state ownership of transportation and communication networks. The Populists, as they came to be known, however, were essentially individualistic in their outlook, firmly in support of private property. As they saw it, individual freedoms were eroding under the ascendant system of corporate capitalism, and the role of the state was to ensure that the citizenry maintained its access to those freedoms. One of the most outspoken supporters of the People’s Party was a young writer based in Boston named Hamlin Garland. He had moved to the Northeast from the Midwest in 1884 to pursue a teaching and literary career. As his activity on behalf of the Populists increased, 1891 marked a turning point for him: he published the literary work which would solidify his lasting reputation—the collection of six short stories entitled Main-Travelled Roads, which depicted the downtrodden farmers who formed the central core of Populist support.

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