the last two decades of the nineteenth century, work-
ing people—farmers and laborers together—organized
into powerful movements on a scale never before seen in
the United States. The Knights of Labor and the Popu-
lists were both the largest and most influential move-
ments of their day. At the most basic level, they gave
expression to grievances arising from the changing eco-
nomic, social, and political position of working people by
setting the agenda for broad public debate and providing
a platform for unified action. These powerful movements
were also the first to begin organizing seriously in the
former Confederate states, where they challenged tradi-
tional divisions of race.
Because of their size, their cultural prominence, and
their pointed critiques of the sharp economic and politi-
cal inequalities of the era, the Knights of Labor and the
Populists have long been core cases for scholars interested
in class formation in America’s so-called Gilded Age,
but there have been significant disagreements about what
the movements actually represented, specifically whether
they o√ered any real possibility for a broader alignment
of working people. To some, the sudden rise and sheer
influence of the movements has o√ered evidence that
American workers were not without their own radical
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