American populism

People’s Party – American populism before Trump

President Trump has been accused of populism but there’s a long tradition of this kind of politics in the United States. Take for example the People’s Party – a prime example of American populism.

I’ve been glued to the TV and social media like the rest of you watching the torture of the 2020 American presidential election. What struck me was how so many rural and rust belt communities voted for Donald Trump. To many outside the United States – this seems inexplicable. Why would poor people vote for a TV reality chat show millionaire?

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But there’s a long history of American populism that has done surprisingly well in rural and poorer areas of the country. Take for example the late 19th century People’s Party – also referred to sneeringly as the Populists – who won four states in the 1892 presidential election.

James Weaver and James Field ran for the presidency and managed to bag the electoral college votes of Colorado, Kansas, Idaho and Nevada. They got additional votes from North Dakota and Oregon. Their political platform, under the People’s Party banner, was left-leaning populism including demands for a graduated income tax, public ownership of key industries and the unlimited supply of silver coinage – sold to the government by miners of silver.

This wave of American populism brought together a number of parties and groups such as the Farmers Alliance, Greenback Party and the Knights of Labor. There was a strong influence of socialist ideas and a call for monopolies to be broken up. The influence of this strand of politics was felt in both Democrat and Republican circles – that felt obliged to acknowledge and respond to the alarming levels of support the People’s Party was achieving.

FIND OUT: Fear in history – what has scared us in the past?

This wave of American populism eventually died out. But as we know today, there have been successive waves of populism across the United States ever since. Normally viewed as something malign, it maybe should be seen as exposing the deficiencies and shortcomings of the two-party system. In ‘normal’ times, Democrats and Republicans get to divide up the political spoils only interrupted by the inconvenience of elections every four years.

But every so often, the voices of the dispossessed insist on being heard. And those voices may articulate a rational program of ideas or just be an inchoate howl of rage. The Trump phenomenon seems to be more of the latter. And some dark forces are undoubtedly lurking in the wings. Such is the nature of today’s American populism.

Jack the Ripper – what did Londoners make of him?

In recent years we’ve had endless theories about WHO Jack the Ripper was and even a commendable in-depth look at this victims – but I’m curious to know what contemporary Londoners made of Jack the Ripper.

So I’ve dipped into my huge collection of old newspapers and publications going back centuries and found a copy of The Times and Punch magazine from the year 1888. This was at the time that the Ripper was at his peak of horror.

Londoners lived in fear of this ghoul stalking the Whitechapel area of the city. But on reading The Times and Punch, I found that Victorians spent most of their time moaning about the police. They viewed the forces of law and order as completely hopeless. The boys in blue were caricatured as bumbling idiots outwitted at every turn by the criminals.

Far from being lauded for their forensic skills or ability to protect Londoners, the police were seen as next to useless. Jack the Ripper was getting away with one brutal slaying after another. And there was no sign of a conviction.

DISCOVER: A horrific day trip to Georgian London!

Indeed, as one cartoon intimates, the police were severely stretched and out of their depth. A letter to The Times has a young parson appalled that his house was burgled in broad daylight even though he lived right next to a police station. Where were the constables? Down in Whitechapel of course!

Watch my vlog above to see the reaction of Victorian Londoners to Jack the Ripper. Two weeks ago, I walked down Hanbury Street in London’s East End to see where Annie Chapman, one of the Ripper’s victims, came to a very grisly end. Today, it’s a post-war building covered in graffiti. Hard to even visualise what happened there.

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Below is a photo below of me trying to use my imagination!

Queen Victoria drug habit

Queen Victoria and her naughty drug habit

I’ve just started a new mini-vlog series on my YouTube site – Templar Knight TV – called Beardy History. It’s intended to give you bite-sized insights into the scandals and mysteries of the past. And I will often film on location for these small films. My first one is about the alleged drug habit of Queen Victoria.

It may surprise you to know that Queen Victoria had a drug habit. Well, they were different times. Apparently she shared cocaine infused chewing gum with a young Winston Churchill. She also took marijuana during pregnancy. These things were not frowned upon to the extent they would be today.

For example, the very buttoned-up Prime Minister, William Gladstone, is said to have stirred opium into his tea before making terribly important announcements in parliament. Just to give himself a little pick-me-up. And opium was openly unloaded at British docks, just like any other cargo coming in from overseas.

DISCOVER: The boy who stole Queen Victoria’s underwear!

I talk about this while strolling round the idyllic settings of Kensington Gardens a green space in London with lots of fountains. It was devised by Prince Albert who gave it to his wife Queen Victoria as a present.

Future episodes of Beardy History will deal with all kinds of topics. I’m working on one right now to help American followers of the blog find their Irish ancestors. I’m half-Irish myself and have found American relatives that I never knew I had. Thanks to the power of Ancestry.com

I’m also intending to take you round east London and share some new insights into the notorious 19th century serial killer, Jack the Ripper. But for this week, please enjoy the drug habit of Queen Victoria!

I originally discussed this topic on a TV documentary series called Private Lives of the Monarchs presented by Tracy Borman, curator of the Royal Palaces. It’s currently showing on the Smithsonian channel and I recommend it of course!

Victorian movies from the 19th century!

The idea of Victorian movies may seem weird – people in the 19th century able to watch films – and yet it actually happened!

We’ve grown up with TV and film so the idea of living in a world were there are no recorded motion pictures would seem bizarre – even more so with our smart phones and social media.

But up until the 1880s, film had never been experienced. There had been crude motion pictures using a series of slides projected on to a screen but movies were unknown. However, once the Victorians discovered the technology – there was no going back!

The dawn of Victorian movies!

Victorian movies became a staple of popular entertainment by the turn of the 20th century.

DISCOVER: Victorian slang for beginners!

Documentary and drama in primitive form developed pretty quickly. Many of the Victorian movies were purely observational – pointing a camera at people and just marvelling in the ability to capture them moving.

Here is a heap of footage of industrial workers leaving factories and mills at the turn of the 20th century, which I find fascinating. Note the youngsters who just stare at the camera as if they’re about to experience something.

London traffic seems to have mesmerised film makers with its hustle and bustle. As a Londoner myself, the presence of so many horses and what seems to be smog (fossil fuel pollution) is really striking.

Royalty got in the act and Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897 was the subject of a very long film circulated around the empire. Here is Victoria attending a garden party. She loved being the obvious star of Victorian movies.