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Bruce Palmer

SOUTHERN MERCURY. The Southern Mercury, published in Dallas between 1886 and 1907, was one of the premier reform newspapers in the country. Its origins date to 1882, when the Dallas Mercury was founded. By late 1885 the Mercury was friendly with the state Farmers' Alliance and by early 1886 was being published and edited by E. G. Rust. In August 1886, at the state convention in Cleburne, it replaced the Jacksboro Rural Citizen, edited by J. N. Rodgers, as the alliance's official journal. By late 1886 the Mercury had changed its name to Southern Mercury, altered its format from five to six columns, was eight pages long, and had a subscription price of a dollar a year. The weekly paper, published by the Texas Farmers' Alliance and edited consecutively by J. P. Burnett, L. S. Thayer, and Samuel H. Dixon, grew with the alliance. In 1887 the publisher reported a circulation of 5,460; in 1889, 30,000. Like the alliance in Texas, the Southern Mercury stayed officially nonpartisan, though it looked favorably on the reform wing of the Democratic party. During late 1890 and early 1891, however, conflict in the Texas alliance over whether to support Democratic governor James S. Hogg or turn to third-party politics led to the replacement of editor Dixon, an opponent of Hogg, by Milton Park. (Dixon's name disappeared in late 1890, and Park became business manager in early 1891, though he was not identified as editor until August 19, 1891.) Harry Tracy, a leading third-party Texas allianceman by mid-1891, had become publisher. Park remained the editor of the Southern Mercury until its demise in 1907. In early 1891 the paper joined the National Reform Press Association, an organization of editors advocating the formation of a third party. By October 1892 the Southern Mercury fully supported the People's party, although it was still the official journal of the Texas Farmers' Alliance.

Between April and late August 1891 the Southern Mercury switched to a new four-column, sixteen-page format. A subscription still cost a dollar. On becoming the official state alliance newspaper, the Mercury carried at least one page of official news: a list of state officers, the places and times of stops for any statewide speakers or lecturers, reports of local county alliance meetings, and any state policy changes. The rest of the paper consisted largely of articles, letters, and editorials explaining various platform issues. Discussion of the subtreasury (especially after early 1890), a greenback monetary system, land reform, and government ownership of the railroads and telephone and telegraph systems dominated. The paper interpreted state and national economic, social, and political events, usually from the antimonopoly, greenbacker alliance position. In addition the Southern Mercury occasionally carried items focusing on children or women, offering practical information and advice about farming, discussing events in Washington, D.C., from the alliance standpoint, and even serializing novels. Advertising in the Southern Mercury in these years usually took up between a fifth and a quarter of the column space and generally consisted of advertisements for local Dallas and Fort Worth merchants, regional agricultural-implement dealers and manufacturers, patent medicines, railroad timetables and fares, and alliance or reform books and publications.

The peak of the Southern Mercury's influence came in the years between 1891 and 1896, when it was the most important reform publication in the Southwest and one of the most important in the country. Its circulation, after dropping from a peak of 32,000 in 1888 to 26,000 in 1892, rose to 40,000 in 1895. In the summer of 1894 the Dallas Texas Advance failed. Harry Tracy had published the Advance, which had been the official Texas People's party journal for two years. Tracy merged the Advance and the Southern Mercury by the first week in September 1894, and thereafter the Southern Mercury was the official state paper of the Texas Farmers' Alliance and the Texas People's party, though it continued to be published by the alliance. The subscription price and layout remained the same in the peak Populist years. An attempt to publish the paper daily in early 1896 did not succeed. With the defeat of the Populists in Texas for the third time and the defeat of William Jennings Bryan, whom the Populists had supported for president, the party went into sharp decline. The Southern Mercury followed. Between 1895 and 1902 the paper's circulation dropped from 40,000 to 22,500. Around Milton Park and the Southern Mercury in 1896 formed the mid-road Populist group, which opposed any formal cooperation with the Democrats or Republicans. After 1896 the paper continued to reflect Park's politics. In 1897 the Southern Mercury Publishing Company, organized by Park, took over publication from the Texas Farmers' Alliance, and in March 1899 the Southern Mercury ceased to be the official paper of the alliance and the Texas People's party. Although by 1900 Park considered himself a moderate socialist and reprinted in the Southern Mercury material from Julius Wayland's Appeal to Reason, he and the Southern Mercury continued to support the national Populist tickets. By 1902 Park's efforts had led him and the Mercury to the Allied People's party, an effort to attract socialists to the populists. On May 1, 1905, Park combined the Southern Mercury with the Farmers' Union Password, the official paper of the Texas Farmers' Union, an organization resembling the earlier Farmers' Alliance and founded in Texas in 1902. The new paper, the Southern Mercury United with Farmers' Union Password, reported a circulation of 21,200 in 1906 and 1907. In 1908 it apparently stopped publication, perhaps the victim of the steep decline in the membership of the Texas Farmers' Union between 1906 and 1908.

Lawrence Goodwyn, Democratic Promise: The Populist Moment in America (New York: Oxford University Press, 1976). Roscoe C. Martin, The People's Party in Texas (Austin: University of Texas, 1933; rpt., University of Texas Press, 1970).

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The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Handbook of Texas Online, Bruce Palmer, "SOUTHERN MERCURY," accessed July 14, 2020, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/ees12.

Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
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