Tracy, Harry (ca. 1840–1915)

By: Bruce Palmer

Type: Biography

Published: 1976

Updated: September 29, 2020

Harry Tracy, publisher and Populist politician, was born in Georgia about 1840, moved to Texas in 1856, and went to Missouri, then Arkansas, before the Civil War. After serving in the Confederate Army he returned to Texas to farm. His Texas political career began in the late 1870s when he was a member of the Greenback party and organized Greenback clubs in Texas, including some for Blacks. By 1885 Tracy was successful enough at farming to turn the operation of his farm over to his brother Nat and become a full-time lecturer and organizer for the state Farmers' Alliance. By the late 1880s he was deputy national lecturer for the Southern Farmers' Alliance and Industrial Union. From the late 1880s through the mid-1890s he published the Southern Mercury, the official newspaper of the Texas Farmers' Alliance and later the state People's party as well. In 1891 Tracy, who was head of the state alliance's legislative committee, became the focus of a quarrel between Governor James S. Hogg and the Farmers' Alliance over the commitment of Hogg and the Democratic party to alliance reforms, especially to an elected rather than appointed state railroad commission and the alliance's Sub-Treasury plan. The quarrel contributed to the emergence of the Texas Populist party. Tracy was a frequent member of Populist state and national conventions, one of the party's most committed and effective Texas organizers. In 1900, with the party on the wane, he led a fusionist bolt from the state Populist convention and helped Democrat Marion Butler in his fight to return to the United States Senate from North Carolina. In 1902 Tracy was back at the Texas Populist convention as a delegate from Wright, Texas.

Soon after 1900 he moved to the Panhandle and returned to farming, most likely because much of the property he had accumulated before 1885 had been sold parcel by parcel to keep afloat the Southern Mercury and the Texas Advance, the official newspaper of the Texas People's party. He published both papers during the early 1890s. By the middle of the first decade of the twentieth century Tracy had become a leader in the Texas Farmers' Union. He served on most of the Farmers' Union state legislative committees, where he supported the cooperative marketing system the union advocated and worked in 1914 to get the union to endorse the gubernatorial candidacy of James E. Ferguson. Tracy's primary significance in the Farmers' Alliance, the Populist party, and the Farmers' Union was as a theorist. He was a greenbacker and antimonopolist who played a central role in the effort of the Texas Farmers' Alliance to develop large-scale agricultural cooperative ventures, which culminated in the Farmers' Alliance Exchange of Texas and the "joint note" plan designed to expand the benefits of the exchange to the poorest Texas sharecropper. Tracy served on the committee that presented the famous Sub-Treasury plan to the national meeting of the National Farmers' Alliance and Cooperative Union at St. Louis in December 1889. His acumen as an economic thinker, greenbacker, and antimonopolist, can be seen at its best in his appendix to James H. Davis's A Political Revelation (1894). Tracy apparently never married. He died at Tulia, Texas, on March 29, 1915.

Dallas Morning News, March 31, 1915. 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 entry.

Bruce Palmer, “Tracy, Harry,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed June 25, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

September 29, 2020