Widespread economic distress among farmers in the South and Great Plains in the 1870s and 1880s, resulting from such problems as overproduction, declining commodity prices, inadequate credit, and transportation costs, launched the Farmers Alliance, one of the most influential agrarian protest movements in the United States. At one point three distinct organizations carried the name. The appeal of one National Farmers Alliance, the "northern" sibling organized in Chicago in 1880 and led by farm journalist Milton George, was largely limited to the Midwest. It was soon overshadowed by the far larger and more important National Farmers Alliance that originated in 1877 on the Texas frontier in Lampasas County. Despite its much greater size and geographical reach into the Great Plains, especially Kansas, Colorado, and the Dakotas, as well as to California and the South, it is commonly labeled the "southern" Alliance. The third division, which complemented the latter's evangelical drive to enlist all southern farmers, was the Colored Farmers National Alliance, also founded in Texas, in 1886.
When Charles William Macune, a country doctor, assumed the leadership of the Texas Farmers Alliance in 1886, he offered an ambitious program of economic cooperation and expansion into a new, nonpartisan national organization. Within five years, the "southern" National Farmers Alliance became the largest citizen organization of nineteen-thcentury America. When neither the Democratic nor Republican Party proved responsive to its demands for agrarian reform, the Alliance became the leading institutional vehicle for the organization of the Populist Party in 1891-92, effectively ending the Alliance's growth and influence by the late 1890s.
Charles W. Macune Jr. California State University, Northridge
Macune, Charles W., Jr. "The Wellsprings of a Populist: Dr. C. W. Macune before 1886." Southwestern Historical Quarterly 90 (1986): 139–58.
McMath, Robert C., Jr. Populist Vanguard: A History of the Southern Farmers' Alliance. New York: W. W. Norton, 1977.