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The Humane Preference in America, 1890-1900

(Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1991)

Perhaps the Wonderful Wizard of Oz holds the clue to why Populism retains its viability. In the
final analysis, blue smokes and mirrors are still as effective in America in 1990s as they were in
the Land of Oz before Dorothy’s arrival. Frank Baum’s Progressive fable truly was a fairy tale:

The Wicked Witch of the East (the money power) was not killed; nor was she even brought
effectively under control, then or later.

The Scarecrow (the farmer) did not go off to rule in the Emerald City (the nation’s capital).

The Tin Man (the laborer) did not go out West to rule benevolently over the Winkies (the area’s

The Cowardly Lion (William Bryan Jennings) may well have gone off to become King of the
Beasts in a forest (of renowned political reformers), and Dorothy may have made it back to
Kansas without her magic silver slippers.

But ironically, the Wicked Witch of the West (Populism, agrarian radicalism, and socialism) was
on her way to extinction.

As noted former Populist, looking back from the 1920s, understood all too well why that was the

“The plutocracy, “ he said, “would oppose the erection of a vigorous state until such time as it felt
strong enough to control its activities.”

Truer words were never spoken. The unfulfilled dream of Populists would remain somewhere
over the rainbow.

-- Gene Clanton

Walter Nugent:

"Clanton restores the word Populism to its proper, specific, and inspiring meaning. Here is a
brief, accurate, rousing new history of Populism--the people's party of the 1890s--in all its
antiracist, anti-imperialist, humane dimensions."

Robert W. Larson:

"A brilliant synthesis. ... Gene Clanton convincingly demonstrates that Populism was a positive
force in American history. Rich in detail, this study is as successful in revealing the movement's
impact on the nation's political process as it is in tracing the roots of its origin."

Michael J. Brodhead:

"Here is a wonderful union of sound scholarship, penetrating analysis, and passion. Anyone
wanting to understand Populism should turn to this work first."

Scott McNall:

"Clanton has provided a timely and lively overview of America's greatest mass-democratic

Robert W. Cherny:

"This is the best treatment of the entire topic of Populism since John D. Hicks's Populist Revolt

Worth Robert Miller:

"This is a well-argued study with a solid thesis and refreshing balance in its treatment of the
diversity within the third party. Clanton's contribution is in synthesizing the pertinent secondary
materials with his well-known primary research on Kansas and the Populists in the U.S.
Congress. The result is a readable and enlightening monograph that deserves the widest

Robert C. McMath:

"Clanton is at his best in analyzing Populism in Kansas and in Congress. The former reminds
us of his valuable contributions to scholarship over the years, and the latter stirs anticipation for
his forthcoming study of congressional Populism."
William F. Holmes:

"An able study that offers students an alternative to the larger works of Hicks and Goodwyn. A
scholar who knows his subject intimately and who has thought long and critically about it,
Clanton has written a concise and insightful history of Populism."

Karel D. Bicha:

"This succinct volume is the first broad-based survey of the subject to appear in more than a
decade. ... Gene Clanton has produced a book written with the passion of a Populist insider.
One must conclude that he is a Populist, one of the last of the species."

Richard Jensen:

"Clanton's essay reminds America of its roots in democracy and republicanism, as did the
Populist stemwinders he admires so unblushingly."

Robert S. LaForte:

"The reader may disagree with the book's general interpretation, but he or she will not be bored
by it. Clanton has always written in a clear, engrossing manner, and this book is no exception."
Congressional Populism and the Crisis of the 1890s

(Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1998)

Walter Nugent:

"Clanton is exceptionally well qualified to write the first serious history of the 1890s Populists--
the real Populists--in Congress. He also tell the truth: that what's often called 'populism' these
days is 180 degrees to the right of the real thing."

Michael J. Brodhead:

"Gene Clanton;'s study of the congressmen elected on the People's (Populist) party tickets will
not disappoint those who have awaited its appearance. It meets the high standards of
scholarship set by his other writings on Populism. ... Instead of continuing to bandy the word
[populist] about so indiscriminately, journalists, political scientists, and historians should study
the works of Gene Clanton and other able scholars of the movement."

Robert W. Larson:
"This volume is 'must' reading for students of Populism; its three appendixes alone, naming and
profiling all fifty Populist congressmen, make it a mandatory addition to any good library on
political reform."

David A. Jones:

"...Clanton has made a significant contribution to the history of American Populism. ... Readers
interested in American political history will enjoy this lively and insightful foray into this often
maligned and misunderstood group of democratic agitators."

William F. Holmes:

"Until the appearance of Gene Clanton's new book, no one had studied the fifty men who
represented the People's Party in Congress. ... Without Clanton's careful work, one could
misunderstand the congressional Populists. ... By addressing a previously neglected aspect of
Populism, this book advances understanding of the movement. ... Clanton's book increases
awareness of what the People's party and its leaders represented."

Robert W. Cherny:

"Gene Clanton ... has spent much of his scholarly career studying Populism, and his long-
awaited study of congressional Populism contributes significantly to our understanding of that
party. ... His conclusions contradict many of the views of Richard Hofstadter and Michael Kazin
regarding a populist 'style,' and dispute Lawerence Goodwyn's argument that Senators William
V. Allen (Nebraska) and Marion Butler (North Carolina) were Populists 'in name only.'"

James L. Hunt:

"It should not have taken one hundred years for a scholar to write a solid history of the Populists
in Congress. Fortunately, however, Gene Clanton has finally accomplished the task. ...
Clanton's work demonstrates the costs of ignoring the congressional Populists. ... Congress
was the only place where Populists represented their party on a national level. Clanton makes it
clear that Populism was ably represented in Washington [D.C.] and by doing so, he sharpens
historians' understanding of the purposes and potential of the party."

Mark Voss-Hubbard:

"The book is engagingly written, replete with telling anecdotes about colorful Populist
personalities. Clanton advances our understanding of Populism on the national stage in several
areas. Especially useful are his discussions of the movement's stances on foreign policy and
immigration restriction."
Kenneth J. Winkle:

"In celebrating Populism as a grassroots, agrarian revolt championed by political outsiders,

historians have either neglected or discounted the importance of the Populists who served in
Congress, granting electoral politics precedence over the legislative arena. Gene Clanton's
engaging study corrects this oversight. ...

Extending the argument of his previous book, Populism: The Humane Preference in America,
1890-1900, Clanton challenges the image of Populism as merely an agrarian crusade with
strictly economic goals and portrays Populists more broadly as champions of human rights.
...this groundbreaking portrait of [the] congressional Populists is an absorbing narrative
depiction of an embattled legislative minority during one of America's most tumultuous

Karel D. Bicha:

"This is a magnificent source book for political commentary in the 1890s. Clanton performed the
spadework diligently."

Bonnie Lynn-Sherow:

"This is a careful study that purposefully blends the words of these unusual politicians with their
personal histories. The result is a detailed and textured look at a generation that felt the
promise of the American experiment was in jeopardy. ...

Certainly Clanton has produced a worderful compilation of an important group of politicians and
intellectuals who were uncannily prescient about the nature of capital and labor in the twentieth
century. As William Allen White commented in 1906, 'the Populists had the germ of a great
truth ... but they were too early in the season and got frost bitten.’

It is hoped that Clanton's revival of congressional Populism is not also too early for historians to

Merle Kunz:

"Clanton brings to the readers' attention again and again the notion that agrarian populism [sic]
of the late 19th century differs in substance, form, and theory from populism espoused by
today's politicians. Perhaps that should be the basis of his next book."

Stanley Parson:

“This study provides a new and welcome dimension to the understanding of the Populist political
revolt of the late nineteenth century. ... Clanton attacks his problem in a methodical and
scholarly fashion."
Fred Nielsen:

"This is a valuable exploration of a neglected topic."

Sheldon Hackney:

“Gene Clanton has devoted his long and productive career as a scholar to understanding
Populism and its context. We are in his debt for that and for this rich study of a neglected
subject: what the Populists said and how they voted in Congress during the crisis of the 1890s.

Clanton is a significant figure in the proud tradition of progressive historians sympathetic to

Populism that leads from Vernon Louis Parrington and John D. Hicks through C. Vann
Woodward and Lawrence Goodwyn.

Throughout his energetic analysis of Populist rhetoric recorded in the Congressional Record for
the six Congresses following the election of 1890, Clanton is intent on demonstrating that,
although the Populists in Congress may have been dissidents and from relatively humble
origins, they were not the ignorant bumpkins caricatured by their major party opponents and
mainstream newspapers, nor were they Richard Hofstadter's nostalgic hayseeds employing a
paranoid style of politics, and they were certainly not the antecedents of those McCarthy-
Goldwater-Reagan right wing reactionaries who are frequently misidentified as Populists. In all
of this, the author is absolutely correct."

The comments above were of course selected by Gene Clanton for their positive value & the
reader/researcher should refer to the complete reviews for more critical observations.
A Common Humanity:

Kansas Populism and the Battle for Justice and Equality 1854-1903

(Sunflower University Press 2004)

SUP has discontinued business as of Nov. 1, 2004.

The paperback can be purchased by contacting by contacting the author directly.

Despite their difficulties, the people at SUP have done a splendid job of producing A
Common Humanity; they have my sincere appreciation & eternal gratitude. I'm
also told they were pleased to have this volume be their final production.

Released in September 2004 almost at the same time Sunflower University Press
closed its doors, this work has taken a bit longer than usual to launch. That is now
about to change. It is, of course, a bit early to post comments from reviews but several
entries are pertinent.

Paul T. Vogel, The Midwest Book Review, October 2004.

A COMMON HUMANITY "is a welcome contribution to American and Kansas political
studies.... An extensively researched focus upon a Kansas political movement, yet
written in terms accessible to general readers."

Virgil W. Dean, editor Kansas History, November 16, 2004.

Gene Clanton's "contribution to our understanding of Populism and all its implications
has been immeasurable and much appreciated here in Kansas (and elsewhere) over
the years."

David C. Flaherty, editor emeritus, Washington State University, 12/10/04.

"Readers of Thomas Frank's current bestseller, What's the Matter With Kansas: How
Conservatives Won the Heart of America, would do well to add O. Gene Clanton's A
Common Humanity: Kansas Populism and the Battle for Justice and Equality 1854-
1903 to their personal library.

In a well-researched and written volume, Clanton adds the human interest details of
how early Kansas agrarians struggled in the last half of the 19th century to overcome
the burdens of industrial monopolies and credit shortages.

Clanton, like Frank a Kansas native, points out that although the Populist--or more
correctly the People's--Party withered away with the coming of the new century, its
adherents' educational efforts laid the groundwork for the later successes of more
potent and progressive reform efforts."

Lewis L. Gould, Emeritus, University of Texas at Austin, 6 Jan. 05, as posted on

"This fascinating book represents Gene Clanton's matured historical wisdom about the
importance of Populism in Kansas during the Gilded Age. From Sockless Jerry
Simpson to the Wizard of Oz, Clanton illuminates the significant story of agrarian
discontent in this crucial state along with the leaders and issues that made the subject
so interesting and controversial. Clanton's work also provides key background for
understanding modern American politics."
Rebecca Edwards, Associate Professor, Vassar College, Kansas History (Spring 200,

"Professor Clanton tells this story well. Through extensive quotes from speeches,
letters, and editorials, he makes the era' politics come alive. ... Clanton re-creates an
era when oratory was a popular entertainment, and he shows that Populists gave as
good as they got."


James P. McGowan, in a Pacific Northwest Quarterly review, Summer 2005, wrote this:

"A lively, gritty, and sympathetic chronicle of Populist leaders in Kansas and the wave of
exuberance they road to statewide electoral successes in the 1890s....
Not exactly an apologist, Clanton nevertheless shares the Populist taste for regulation
and statist humanism and peppers his work with barbs aimed at the Right."

"Students of Populism will find much of value here. Clanton is conversant with the
leadership and politics of Kansas agricultural activism and diligently discusses the
historiography in the notes."


"If a person were to read only one book on Kansas Populism, this should be it." William
C. Pratt, "Historians and the Lost World of Kansas Radicalism,"

KANSAS HISTORY, Winter 2007/2008.


"...for this reader, Clanton's comments about the writing of Populist history since 1969
are most interesting. ... Clanton's criticisms are respectful, reflecting the long
experience of a historian who knows that disagreements are inevitable and that in
history information will always be incomplete. Instead, A COMMON HUMANITY
emphasizes the insight that Populism's failure must be understood in the context of its
always-bitter opposition. Clanton recognizes the odds were against Populist success,
but he believes the movement was--and still is--worth the struggle. An enduring hope
for Populism seems the deeper purpose of A COMMON HUMANITY."

James L. Hunt, THE JOURNAL OF AMERICAN HISTORY, September 2008.

Douglas R. Hurt,

"Gene Clanton has provided the best study of Populists in Kansas and in Congress."
KANSAS HISTORY, Autumn 2004. Comment prior to the publication of A COMMON


"While many ... own Clanton's first book, few have been aware of his new book. A
COMMON HUMANITY... His new title encompasses all the work the author has done in
nearly 40 years since his earlier classic was published. He updated the historiography
that has gone on since 1970, added two introductory chapters and refined some of his
ideas based on his own research. The result is what one reviewer said about it: 'If a
person were to read only one book on Kansas Populism, this should be it.'"***

In a rare combination of scholarly and lively writing, Clanton makes the Populist era of
the 1890s when William Allen White asked 'What's the Matter with Kansas?' come
alive. Just as White eventually changed his about Populists, Clanton can change the
minds of his readers about the importance of that time more than a century ago that still
impacts Kansans today. He challenges us to think about the past so we know how we
got where we are. ... This is a book that every library ... should definitely have on their


Kansas Populism:

Ideas and Men

(Lawrence & London: University Press of Kansas, 1969)

John D. Hicks:

"It is always a relief to find a writer of history who is willing to explore the sources fully and then
let them guide him in his interpretation. Too many books today that pretend to be history seek
out only the facts that will support some preconceived theory and ignore all the rest. ... On the
whole this is an admirable book and a notable contribution to the understanding of Populism."
Pacific Northwest Quarterly.
Joseph Gambone:

"This scholarly volume is the first comprehensive history of the Kansas People's Party. Using
the foundations of Kansas Populism as constructed by Raymond Miller, Walter Nugent, and
James Malin, Clanton analyzes the interaction of politics and ideas within the leadership of
Kansas Populism, and places it in its proper historical context. ... Kansas Populism is a
balanced and valuable contribution to the expanding Populist historiography and is assured a
significant place in the historical literature of Kansas and of Populism." Mid-America.

Walter T.K. Nugent:

"Clanton assesses Kansas Populism as a 'constructive response' to technological change, but a

'premature' one which, by appearing as part of temporary agrarian problem,'stigmatized [its
leaders] by the association" with that problem. Its 'greatest bequest,' therefore, was 'a positive
educational experience' in breaking down ideological resistance to their reforms and to reform in
general. ... The book is well done, balanced, and informative, and will become part of the
standard bibliography on Populism." Journal of American History

Norman Pollack:

"This is a significant political-narrative account of Kansas Populism, providing an overview of the

movement's course, useful background sketches of the leaders, and a composite statement of
their demographic characteristics. ... Under close inspection, Populists may not appear the
radicals one once thought, but the established major parties' opposition appears a good deal
more authoritarian than one ever suspected." Western Historical Quarterly

Peter H. Argersinger:

"A clear picture of Populism emerges from Clanton's work: a progressive, generally realistic
movement, led for the most part by sensitive, sincere men of varying ability and personality, who
attempted to come to grips with the new industrial societey of late nineteenth-century America.
While objectively revealing Populism's less appealing side, Clanton provides a correction of
many of the distortions of those historians of the 1950's who took Populism on their own rather
than its terms. ... The research is impressive and the notes are so splendid that the annotation
may prove as valuable as the text itself. ... Professor Clanton's study is a welcome synthesis...."
Wisconsin Magazine of History

Robert F. Durden:

"Kansas Populism is a detailed, chronological examination of Populism its Midwestern center.

Although it incidentally substantiates the work of Walter T.K. Nugent in absolving the agrarians
from the charges of nativism and anti-Semitism, Clanton's book is both broader in its scope and
more conventional as a history of Kansas Populism, with special attention to its leadership."
American Historical Review