Any baseball fan knows of Shoeless Joe Jackson. Do you know about a politician who in the 1890’s was known as “SocklesSockless Jerry Simpsons” Jerry Simpson?

In the early 1890’s the United States was going through an economic downturn. The western farmers were unset over low crop prices, high shipping costs and even higher interest rates. They began forming groups like the Grangers and the Farmer’s Alliances to give mutual assistance. And finally, angered that the major political parties weren’t doing anything to help the plight of the farmer…these groups became the nucleus of the formation of a third party, called the Populists.

One of the farmers having a tough time was a man named Jerry Simpson. As a southwest Kansas rancher, Jerry knew the challenges of making a living by toiling the land. Hoping to be able to get help for the farmers, Jerry became involved in Republican politics. But becoming upset with their lack of action, he quickly became one of the most influential members of the Populist Party.

On March 30, 1891, Jerry declared his candidacy for the U. S. Congress on the Populist ticket. His opponents tried to label him as a backwoods hick who didn’t even wear socks. Jerry knew how to make lemonade out of lemons. And he quickly turned the insult into his advantage. He proudly started calling himself “Sockless Jerry”, the sockless Socrates of the plains. And it worked too. He not only was elected once, he was elected three times to Congress. As a matter of fact, had he not been born in Canada, and ineligible to become President, he would have been the Populist’s candidate for our highest office.

As with most third party movements in the United States, the Populist Party was short-lived. But during its life, it was able inspire the major parties to look at some more progressive ideas, such as the regulation of the railroads.

Filed under: Old West History

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