The presidential election of 1892 fell on November 8, just like this year’s. On November 10, 1892, The San Diego Union reported that James Weaver, presidential candidate of the People’s Party (also known as the Populist Party) had carried at least three county communities: Fallbrook, Bear Valley (today’s Valley Center), and San Marcos. The Populist ticket came in second in Poway, losing to Republican incumbent President Benjamin Harrison, but beating Democrat Grover Cleveland.
Cleveland was the ultimate winner nationwide, garnering 5.5 million votes nationally to Harrison’s 5.1 million. Weaver drew a bit over a million votes nationwide. But while the Populists were the losers in that election, it’s worth noting some of the planks in their 1892 platform, which included, among other things, a graduated income tax, the direct election of United States Senators, and election reforms to insure “a free and fair ballot in all elections…”
This would not be the last time that a so-called “third party” would pioneer reforms that would ultimately become law.
The Populists then were also known for fighting for the voting rights and civil rights of black farmers in the former Confederacy, literally riding to their defense in some cases against attempts by the KKK to suppress the black vote.
Within the first decades of the twentieth century, however, the People’s Party would be torn by racism and wind up supporting efforts to suppress the people it had fought to defend and embrace. That would ultimately lead to the party’s collapse and disappearance. Its followers would be absorbed into the Republican or Democratic parties, whom the People’s Party had originally challenged for their dominance.
That wouldn’t be the last time that would happen either.
Sources for this post included historic San Diego newspapers and the book, The Right To Vote: The Contested History of Democracy in the United States, by Alexander Keyssar.
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