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  • Tom Watson, The People's Politican

    An early champion of poor farmers in the shambles after the Civil War, Thomas Watson was the voice of the Populist Party. In his later years, however, he was known as a divisive and racist politician.

    Support Materials

    Discuss

    1. Summarize Thomas Watson's political views.

    2. A statue of Thomas Watson stands outside of the Georgia State Capitol building. His political legacy is described as perplexing, as he helped advocate for farmers but was a staunch racist. Should his statue continue to stand at the Capitol? Explain.

    3. Thomas Watson defended the traditional agrarian economy in Georgia and did not support the industrialization of the New South. Are there any progressive movements in your community, state, or country that meet resistance from politicians or organizations? Describe them. 

    Expansion

    1. Envision what Georgia would be like had Northern industrialization not come to the South during Reconstruction. Redraw a map of a major Georgia city to reflect what you think it would look like had the state rejected industrialization. 

    Vocabulary

    Reconstruction: the period from 1867 to 1877 when the southern states joined the northern states again after the American Civil War
    agrarian economy: an economy based on producing and maintaining crops and farmland
    regulation: an official rule or law that says how something should be done
    Populist Party: a political party aimed to represent the common folk—especially farmers—against the entrenched interests of railroads, bankers, processors, corporations, and the politicians in league with such interests

    For Teachers

    Discussion Guide

    1. Summarize Thomas Watson's political views. 
    Thomas Watson was a defender of the old way of life. He became a supporter of the Farmer’s Alliance, a statewide organization that called for better schools and roads, and changes in tax laws that would benefit farmers. Though a fierce advocate for farmers, he sought to take away the right to vote for African Americans and wanted a tax on the Catholic Church and Judaism. 

    2. A statue of Thomas Watson stands outside of the Georgia State Capitol building. His political legacy is described as perplexing, as he helped advocate for farmers but was a staunch racist. Should his statue continue to stand at the Capitol? Explain. 
    Student answers will vary. 

    3. Thomas Watson defended the traditional agrarian economy in Georgia and did not support the industrialization of the New South. Are there any progressive movements in your community, state or country that meet resistance from politicians or organizations? Describe them.
    Student answers will vary. 

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