Hoisted from Other People's Archives: From Parker (1994): "The Rise and Fall of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz as a 'Parable on Populism'"
The big arguments against interpreting the echoes of the Populist Free Silver movement of the 1890s as an important part of the message sent by the author and received by the contemporary readers of L. Frank Baum's The Wizard of Oz are:
- Nobody who interpreted it such a way wrote down that they did so until the 1960s.
- L. Frank Baum was not a Bryanite Free-Silver Democrat, but a Republican.
In my view, the echoes--Silver Slippers, Greenback City, Yellow Brick Road--are much better understood as a wink from Baum to the adults reading the book out loud to his principal audience rather than as evidence of the Wizard of Oz as monetary allegory.
As always, with things Ozish, read: Martin Gardner: The Royal Historian of Oz
From: David B. Parker (1994): "The Rise and Fall of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz as a 'Parable on Populism'", Journal of the Georgia Association of Historians 15: 49-63:
...for seeing The Wonderful Wizard of Oz as a Populist allegory. Citing Gardner, Littlefield mentioned Baum's support for Democratic candidates and, of course, the torchlight parades for Bryan. "No one who marched in even a few such parades could have been unaffected by Bryan's campaign," Littlefield asserted. If one begins with the assumption that Baum was a Bryan Democrat, it is easy to read a Populist (or at least a pro-silver) message into the book.
But was Baum a Bryan Democrat?
In the summer of 1888, Baum moved his family to Aberdeen, South Dakota, where he opened a dry goods store. In January 1890, after the business failed, he bought a local newspaper, renaming it the Aberdeen Saturday Pioneer. The Pioneer was obviously a Republican paper. During the municipal elections that spring, Baum editorialized in support of the Republican candidates; after they won, he wrote that:
Aberdeen has redeemed herself... [a]fter suffering for nearly a year from the incompetence of a Democratic administration.
Later that year, Baum urged unity against the growing Independent movement:
We are all members of one great family, the family which saved the Union, the family which stands together as the emblem of prosperity among the nations--Republicanism!
Not only did Baum speak for the Republican party; he spoke against the movement that would soon evolve into the Populists.
It must be admitted that the Pioneer had been a Republican paper before Baum bought it, and perhaps he had to maintain its partisan identification in order to maintain its circulation. Furthermore, Baum's Pioneer, while clearly Republican, was quite progressive: he wrote in support of women's suffrage, alternative religions, occultism, toleration, and so on. So perhaps Baum was a closet Democrat in Aberdeen, forced to hide his true political feelings.
But that appears not to be the case. In the summer of 1896, the year of the election that would mark what has been called "The Climax of Populism," Baum published a poem in a Chicago newspaper:
When McKinley gets the chair, boys,
There'll be a jollification
Throughout our happy nation
And contentment everywhere! ￼￼￼￼￼￼ Great will be our satisfaction
When the "honest money" faction
Seats McKinley in the chair!
No more the ample crops of grain
That in our granaries have lain
Will seek a purchaser in vain
Or be at mercy of the "bull" or "bear";
Our merchants won't be trembling
At the silverites' dissembling
When McKinley gets the chair!
When McKinley gets the chair, boys,
The magic word "protection"
Will banish all dejection
And free the workingman from every care.
We will gain the world's respect
When it knows our coin's "correct"
And McKinley's in the chair!
Hardly the writings of a silverite! Michael Patrick Hearn, the leading scholar on L. Frank Baum, quoted this poem in a recent letter to the New York Times. Hearn wrote that he had found "no evidence that Baum's story is in any way a Populist allegory"...