Gregg CantrellFeb 17, 2022
The People's Revolt
Texas Populists and the Roots of American Liberalism
Yale University Press 2020
Pundits, politicians, and scholars often use words like "liberalism" and "populism" uncritically. Dr. Gregg Cantrell, professor of history at Texas Christian University, argues that not only do these terms have specifically, historically contingent meanings, but also that one can draw a direct link from one to the other. In The People's Revolt: Texas Populists and the Roots of American Liberalism (Yale UP, 2020), Cantrell explains how the populists weren't simply racist rural men, but instead had complicated ideologies and policy views, and an expansive worldview that serves as a forbearer to 20th and early 21st century liberalism. The Texas Revolt is driven by people - Lyndon Johnson's grandfather Sam Johnson, Black activist and avowed populist JB Rayner, the Texas judge and gubernatorial candidate Tom Nugent - and Cantrell uses their stories to paint a complicated, and remarkably modern, picture of the populists and the Texas People's Party at the end of the nineteenth century. Although their political party fell apart after the 1896 election, their ideas lingered in American politics, eventually becoming the core of the mid-twentieth century Democratic Party platform. The People's Revolt convincingly shows that the populist are not what you think, and that while it's easy to kill a political party, quashing ideas is much more difficult.
Dr. Stephen R. Hausmann is an assistant professor of history at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota.