NPL leaders admitted to a tight hold on the organization. They suggested that their objective—“to obtain democracy”—nonetheless made the League democratic. The strength of their opponents cemented this belief even as many farmers developed a new confidence in their own clout. Tensions between the two visions—one insistent on tight control from above, the other equally insistent on expanding farmer participation in the organization’s decision-making—broke the NPL wide open. Furthermore, farmers’ emerging commitment to citizen-centered democracy belied the emerging perception that popular politics threatened the nation’s stability. Meantime, NPL leaders devised and promoted commercial enterprises without consulting the membership. Established political parties responded to the NPL by attacking the open and direct primary. Adversaries engaged in vicious smear campaigns. Fissures in the unified farmers front began to show. Failure in the 1920 election season made this fragmentation apparent. Even though the NPL did not disappear in the wake of these electoral losses, it never fully recovered.
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