In the years immediately preceding his position as editor of the state’s official Populist newspaper, George H. Gibson lived and worked in Omaha, Nebraska. During the late 1880’s he owned and edited a monthly Temperance publication called the Rising Tide, later known as the Omaha Leader. The publication fell through after Nebraska voters failed to pass a prohibition amendment in 1890. Gibson then moved to Lincoln, Nebraska where he began work with the Alliance, the official weekly newspaper of the Nebraska Farmer’s Alliance and the People’s Independent Party.
From 1890 to 1893 Gibson worked on and off for the paper in several positions. He was an ad solicitor, contributed poetry, and even served as interim editor for three months in early 1892. When the paper changed ownership later that year its name was changed to the Alliance-Independent. In 1893 the Nebraska State Legislature appointed Populist candidate William V. Allen to the U.S. Senate, and much of the Alliance-Independent’s editorial staff left the paper for political positions in Washington, D.C. By October of 1893, George H. Gibson had assumed the role of editor. Shortly thereafter, the Alliance-Independent became the Wealth Makers.
Gibson introduced himself to readers with a brief salutatory piece on October 5, 1893. In this greeting, he emphasized his faith rather than an adherence to the principles of the Populist Party. Although he expressed hatred for monopolies, he was clearly more concerned with what he viewed as the overarching goal of the Populist Party: “to spread the truth, moral, economic and political, the truth which shall make men free.” There is no doubt, however, that Gibson identified with the objectives of the Populist Party as set forth in the Omaha Platform of 1892.
In an editorial printed on November 30, 1893, Gibson explained why he considered himself a Populist. He cited his support of several points of the Omaha Platform, often weaving his religious beliefs into his justifications for Populist reforms. Gibson was not attracted to Populism solely on the basis of the political and social changes it called for with the Omaha Platform. He believed that there were tangible connections between Populism and Christianity, and hoped that the Populist Party could institute the changes he believed were necessary to the creation of a more just society – a society rooted in Christian fellowship.
Gibson sold the Wealth Makers and gave up his position as editor in January of 1896. Gibson’s valedictory editorial, given January 16, 1896, expressed his disillusionment with attempts to achieve reform through politics. He left Nebraska later that year to begin direct work with the Christian Commonwealth Colony, a Christian utopian colony he and several others had founded in Muscogee County, Georgia. The colony published a monthly journal, The Social Gospel (from which the Social Gospel movement would later take its name), which Gibson co-edited. The colony collapsed after only a few years.
It is imperative that Gibson’s beliefs regarding the connections between Populism and Christianity be taken into consideration when examining his involvement with the Populist Party. His time as editor of the Wealth Makers was a pivotal point in the development of his ideology - it played a major role in his decision to abandon the idea of achieving social reform via political reform and turn instead to the creation a new society, built from the “ground up."
Although historical understanding of Gibson's experiences requires that historians be concerned with more than the simple question of whether he was "truly" a Populist or a Christian Socialist, Gibson's beliefs regarding the connections between the principles of Populism and Christianity reveals much about the development of his ideology and also highlights the ways that the philosophies and strategies of Populism and social Christianity interacted with and influenced one another within the context of late nineteenth-century America. Therefore, Editing Populism compares the rhetoric of Gibson during his time as editor of the Wealth Makers with that of self-declared Christian Socialist George Davis Herron in his 1894 commencement address at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and with mainstream Populism as defined by the Omaha Platform of 1892 as a means of examining how Gibson's reform ideology fit within its historical context.