Loucks was born on May 24, 1846, in Hull, Ontario, Canada. His father was a merchant, and Loucks attended the Canadian common schools. When he was 19 years old, Loucks went to work as a merchant in the iron-producing areas of northern Michigan for two years. He returned to Canada for 12 years before moving to Missouri in 1879, where he was a lumber contractor and a steamboat man. In 1884, Loucks and his family bought a two-section farm in Deuel County in the Dakota Territory.
Unfortunately, Loucks took up farming in Dakota at the end of an era of financial expansion. Prices for agricultural products were falling, and loans to purchase land, equipment, and seed were hard to obtain. Interest rates rose, and railroads, required to get grain and other products to market, charged high shipping rates. Loucks formed a farmers’ club among his neighbors to work to improve the situation. In 1885, this club and similar ones in the surrounding states gathered together to create the Northern Alliance, also known as the National Farmers’ Alliance. The following year, Loucks was elected president of the Dakota Farmers’ Alliance. He was regarded by all who met him as a good-humored man who wanted to work with others for improvements. Loucks also became the editor of the Dakota Ruralist, the newspaper of the Dakota Alliance. At the time, it was the only daily newspaper in the United States advocating socialism.
Loucks was an energetic leader who had a vision for improving the financial and political situation of the farmers. One of his first acts as president was to issue a resolution calling on the territorial railroad commissioners to force railroads to reduce their shipping rates by a third. Legislators who would not support such a move were threatened with Alliance opposition. Although some Alliance members were elected to the territorial legislature in 1886, they were often outmaneuvered by opposing political leaders.
Economically, Loucks quickly got two companies chartered to help farmers. One was the Dakota Farmers’ Alliance Company, which was a buying cooperative. Using the combined buying power of the members, the company could purchase machinery and farming supplies from manufacturers at very low prices. It then sold the goods to members for 20 to 30 percent less than the retail cost. The other company formed by the Alliance was the Alliance Hail Association. The Association provided low-cost hail insurance to farmers to protect their crops. In 1887, the first year of operation for the association, more than 8,000 farmers bought the insurance.
By 1890, the Dakota Farmers’ Alliance had 500 chapters and 40,000 members. It had created elevators for grain, warehouses for other products, and cooperatives where members could buy household items and farming supplies for low costs. These efforts often were in competition with railroads and established interests but helped force down the prices they charged. Unfortunately, the depression resulting from the Panic of 1893 caused many of the Alliance businesses to fail.
In June 1889, Loucks helped organize a merger of the Dakota Farmers’ Alliance and the Southern Alliance, leaving the more conservative Northern Alliance behind. He was elected vice president of the new Southern Alliance. Loucks supported a more radical political program that called for more government control over railroads and elevators, regulation of monopolies, fair taxation that included an income tax, prohibition of alcohol, and woman suffrage. Other political initiatives included government ownership and operation of public utilities, popular election of senators, secret ballots, and elimination of child labor. At the local level in South Dakota, the Dakota Farmers’ Alliance and the Knights of Labor joined together in 1890 to form the Independent Party and nominate Loucks for governor. The dominant Republican Party adopted many of the most popular issues of the Independent Party and campaigned hard to attract Alliance voters. Although Loucks lost the election, one-third of the voters cast ballots for the Independents.
In the spring of 1892, the Southern Alliance president, Leonidas L. Polk, died unexpectedly, and Loucks succeeded him as leader of the Alliance. He also became a supporter of the new People's Party that formed that the same year. Loucks served as chairman for the Populist convention that met in Omaha that summer. He encouraged members of the Southern Alliance to join the People's Party because he believed it offered the best opportunity to achieve the group's political goals. In some areas, Democrats and Populists joined forces (a process known as fusion) to support candidates. Loucks did not support fusion in South Dakota, which resulted in separate Populist, Democrat, and Republican tickets. The Republicans were able to win an overwhelming victory in the state. Likewise, the Populist candidate for president, James B. Weaver, was soundly defeated in the November general election in 1892.
After the 1892 election, thousands of members left both the Northern and Southern Alliances. The People's Party absorbed the remainder of the Southern Alliance. While Loucks supported this process, he was still reelected president of the Southern Alliance. In November 1893, he also became president of the new National Farmers’ Alliance and Industrial Union. By 1896, Loucks had reversed his position on fusion. Populists and Republicans who supported the free coinage of silver joined Democrats to support William Jennings Bryan for president. The coalition successfully swept the South Dakota elections in 1896, even when Bryan went down to defeat nationally.
After 1900, Loucks continued to write on reformist issues and occasionally to run for office. He was an unsuccessful candidate for the U.S. Senate in 1914 and 1924. He also published a number of books, including The Great Conspiracy of the House of Morgan Exposed and How to Defeat It (1916). He died in Clear Lake, South Dakota, on December 29, 1928.
Tim J. Watts
See also: Depression of 1893 ; Farmers’ Clubs ; Knights of Labor ; Northern Alliance ; Omaha Convention of 1892 ; People's Party ; Plains and Midwest, Populism in the ; Polk, Leonidas L. (1837–1892) ; Railroad Regulation
Hendrickson, Kenneth E., Jr. “Some Political Aspects of the Populist Movement in South Dakota.” North Dakota History 34 (1): 77–92.
Remele, Larry. “‘God Helps Those Who Help Themselves’: The Farmers’ Alliance and Dakota Statehood.” Montana: The Magazine of Western History 37 (4): 22–33.
Schell, Herbert S. History of South Dakota. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1975.