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Americans were not aware of the division among populists and progressivists during the late 19th and early 20th centuries yet they were aware of the division between Democrats and Republicans. Populism referred to a particular political style, which expressed alienation and aggression and tend to hate Wall Street and bank interests. Progressivism was a movement of the college-educated urban middle class, which valued expertise and efficiency and favored government regulation and foreign affairs.

Populism in the United States was an agrarian movement of the late 19th century that grew into a Farmer-Labor political coalition. The populist movement began during the economic depression of the 1870s, when there was a sharp decline in the income of farmers at a time when their living and operating costs were rising. The farmers began to organize early in the 1870s, and, during the ensuing two decades, large numbers of them joined such bodies as the National Grange and the Farmers' Alliances. The latter were cooperative organizations that hoped to lower farmers' costs by selling supplies at reduced prices, loaning money at rates below those charged by banks, building warehouses to store crops until prices became favorable, and taking political action to achieve these goals.

By 1891 the movement had gained sufficient strength to warrant a national political party. The alliances joined with the Knights of Labor and other groups to form the People's Party, whose members were called Populists. The principal objectives of the Populists were the free coinage of silver and the issuance of large amounts of paper currency; such inflationary measures tended to raise farm prices and enable the farmers to pay off their debts, most of which had been contracted during the period of inflation following the American Civil War. The party adherents of the progressive movement (called progressives whether their party affiliation was Democratic or Republican)



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