Brian J. Weed

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



First Advisor

Dr. D. Jerome Tweten


Despite the number of general and specific studies of Populism, there is no unanimity of opinion on the progressive or retrogressive nature of Populist thought, nor on its specific characteristics. By examining the specific attributes of Populism through newspapers, manuscripts, and public documents, this case study focuses on the progressive or retrogressive nature of North and South Dakota Populist thought.

On the whole, North Dakota Populism fails to reveal a progressive nature. First, the North Dakota Populists lacked a viable movement. Secondly, their thought and political endeavors suggest opportunism rather than progressivism. Thirdly, the common ground of their thought discloses a provincial, dualistic point of view emphasizing the primacy of agriculture, a conspiracy of the "money power," and a simplistic faith in the panacea of free silver. Examples of nativistic, anti-Semitic, anti-Indian, and anti-Negro thought existed; yet, with the exception of nativism, these instances indicate no broad based sentiment. The North Dakota Populists, however, did protest the United States involvement in the Philippines.

In contrast, South Dakota Populism represents a progressive movement centering on the idea of humanizing American industrialism. The Populists's moral concern for a humanitarian society, however, included a qualified nativism, a period of anti-Semitism, a feeling of white superiority, conspiratorial thinking, and political naivete. Although none of the specific charges were central or pervasive in Populist thought, they formed a part of the Populists's attempt to alter the course of industrial America. The South Dakota Populists also rejected United States involvement in the Philippines.

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