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As a term of political description populism is one of the most frequently misused words in the English language It signals a politics of resentment mean spirited and incipiently violent As commonly employed populism appears as a term of condescension vague and formless but no less evocative in the disdain it projects In recent years this characterization has undergone full-scale revaluation in the wake of a broad array of new evidence as to who the original populists were what they believed and how they acted In the process our sense of the intricacies involved in popular politics has been deepened in ways that enrich the modern understanding of politics itself In strictly historical terms Populism refers to a third-party movement that materialized in America in the 1890s generating a spirited energy that also caused a certain alarm near the seats of the mighty The Populists engaged in a social analysis of contemporary American society that yielded a range of proposed economic reforms Foremost among them was the Subtreasury Land and Loan System which reconceptualized American banking and proposed a restructured monetary system that would fundamentally alter the power relationships between bankers and everyone else The Populist concern about concentrated capital extended beyond banks to include large-scale business organizations generally Populist reformers felt that business domination of the political process - through massive campaign contributions to friendly officeholders and persistently effective lobbying in the national Congress and the state legislatures - had proceeded to the point that the practice had begun to undermine the democratic idea itself In an effort to restructure American politics Populists formed the Peoples party which was free of corporate influence The new party polled over a million votes in
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