The Omaha Platform of 1892
Throughout his time as editor of the Wealth Makers, George H. Gibson used the Omaha Platform of 1892 as the basis of his social and political ideology. The platform was adopted at the founding convention of the Populist Party in Omaha, Nebraska on July 4, 1892, and essentially launched the party into national politics. The platform was centered upon the idea that the people should have more control – and corporations much less control – over the government, the nation’s natural resources, land, railroads, and telephone and telegraph lines. Free coinage of silver was also a key issue, as it was intimately related to farmers’ concerns regarding interest rates and wages.
A copy of the platform was included in nearly every edition of the Wealth Makers, and Gibson’s editorials regularly stressed the merit and necessity of the reforms proposed in it. It is significant, however, that Gibson’s references to the platform were almost without exception intertwined with his religious beliefs. In his salutatory on October 5, 1893, introducing himself to readers for the first time, Gibson set out to answer “all questions I fancy you [readers] would like to ask.” Rather than assure the readers of the state’s official Populist newspaper of his steadfast commitment to the party objectives as defined by the Omaha Platform, Gibson instead deemed it necessary to emphasize his belief in God and in the brotherhood of man. He did express his hatred of monopolies, but this was prefaced by assertions that such “oppression and robbery” went against God’s law. Similarly, in an editorial on November 30, 1893, Gibson outlined the reasons he considered himself a Populist, referencing several points of the Omaha Platform, but his faith clearly provided the context for each of his political and social beliefs.
Most historians have argued that Populism was, at heart, an individualistic and capitalistic movement, interested in ridding government of monopolies and special privilege so that the producers of the nation (namely farmers) could have an equal chance at economic success. Other scholars have pointed to the similarities between Populism and social Christianity, arguing that both were motivated by economic difficulties, were humanistic in orientation, favored reform, and had faith in the ability of people to change society for the better (Pollack 1962, xx-xliv). Some have even suggested it was possible that, due to its egalitarian rhetoric, Populism had the potential to lead America in a socialistic direction (Pollack 1990, 147).
Gibson certainly recognized the ideological similarities between Populism and social Christianity. He fully believed that the creation of a Christian state was the objective of the Populist Party. Although Gibson may have attempted to inject Populism with a degree or variety of Christianity which was not present prior to his arrival, his time as editor of the Wealth Makers illustrates the many connections and similarities between Midwestern Populism and social Christianity which have hitherto been neglected by historians.