Farmers' movement - Encyclopedia

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FARMERS' MOVEMENT, in American political history, the general name for a movement between 1867 and 1896 remarkable for a radical socio-economic propaganda that came from what was considered the most conservative class of American society. In this movement there were three periods, popularly known as Granger, Alliance and Populist.

The Grange, or Order of the Patrons of Husbandry (the latter the official name of the national organization, while the former was the name of local chapters, including a supervisory National Grange at Washington), was a secret order founded in 1867 to advance the social needs and combat the economic backwardness of farm life. It grew remarkably in 1873-1874, and in the latter year attained a membership of perhaps 800,000. In the causes of its growth - much broader than those that issued in the financial crisis of 1873 - a high tariff, railway freight-rates and other grievances were mingled with agricultural troubles like the fall of wheat prices and the increase of mortgages. The condition of the farmer seemed desperate. The original objects of the Grange were primarily educational, but these were soon overborne by an anti-middleman, co-operative movement. Grange agents bought everything from farm machinery to women's dresses; hundreds of grain elevators and cotton and tobacco warehouses were bought, and even steamboat lines; mutual insurance companies were formed and joint-stock stores. Nor was co-operation limited to distributive processes; cropreports were circulated, co-operative dairies multiplied, flourmills were operated, and patents were purchased, that the Grange might manufacture farm machinery. The outcome in some states was ruin, and the name Grange became a reproach. Nevertheless these efforts in co-operation were exceedingly important both for the results obtained and for their wider significance. Nor could politics be excluded, though officially tatooed; for economics must be considered by social idealists, and economics everywhere ran into politics. Thus it was with the railway question. Railways had been extended into frontier states; there were heavy crops in sparsely settled regions where freight-rates were high, so that - given the existing distributive system - there were "over production" and waste; there was notorious stock manipulation and discrimination in rates; and the farmers regarded "absentee ownership" of railways by New York capitalists much as absentee ownership of land has been regarded in Ireland. The Grange officially disclaimed enmity to railways; but though the organization did not attack them, the Grangers - through political "farmers' clubs" and the like - did. About 1867 began the efforts to establish regulation of the railways, as common-carriers, by the states. Such laws were known as "Granger laws," and their general principles, soon endorsed (1876) by the Supreme Court of the United States, have become an important chapter in the laws of the land. In a declaration of principles in 1874 Grangers were declared to be "not enemies of railroads," and their cause to stand for "no communism, no agrarianism." To conservatives, however, co-operation seemed communism, and "Grange laws" agrarianism; and thus in 1873-1874 the growth of the movement aroused extraordinary interest and much uneasiness. In 1874 the order was reorganized, membership being limited to persons directly interested in the farmers' cause (there had been a millionaire manufacturers' Grange on Broadway), and after this there were constant quarrels in the order; moreover, in 1875 the National Grange largely lost control of the state Granges, which discredited the organization by their disastrous co-operation ventures. Thus by 1876 it had already ceased to be of national political importance. About 1880 a renascence began, particularly in the Middle States and New England; this revival was marked by a recurrence to the original social and educational objects. The national Grange and state Granges (in all, or nearly all, of the states) were still active in 1909, especially in the old cultural movement and in such economic movements - notably the improvement of highways - as most directly concern the farmers. The initiative and referendum, and other proposals of reform politics in the direction of a democratic advance, also enter in a measure into their propaganda.

The Alliance carried the movement farther into economics. The "National Farmers' Alliance and Industrial Union," formed in 1889, embraced several originally independent organizations formed from 1873 onwards; it was largely confined to the South and was secret. The "National Farmers' Alliance," formed in 1880, went back similarly to 1877, was much smaller, Northern and non-secret. The "Colored Farmers' National Alliance and Co-operative Union" (formed 1888, merged in the above "Southern" Alliance in 1890) was the second greatest organization. With these three were associated many others, state and national, including an annual, non-partisan, deliberative and advisory Farmers' National Congress. The Alliance movement reached its greatest power about 1890, in which year twelve national farmers' organizations were represented in conventions in St Louis, and the six leading ones alone probably had a membership of 5,000,000.1 As with the Grange, so in the ends and declarations of the whole later movement, concrete remedial legislation for agricultural or economic ills was mingled with principles of vague radical tendency and with lofty idealism.' Among the principles 1 Membership usually included males or females above 16 years of age.

2 Thus, the "Southern" Alliance in 1890 (the chief platforms were the one at Ocala, Florida, and that of 1889 at St Louis, in conjunction with the Knights of Labor) declared its principles to be: (1) To labour for the education of the agricultural classes in the science of economical government in a strictly non-partisan way, and to bring about a more perfect union of such classes. (2) To advocated about 1890, practically all the great organizations demanded the abolition of national banks, the free coinage of silver, a "sufficient" issue of government paper money, tariff revision, and a secret ballot (the last was soon realized); only less commonly demanded were an income tax, taxation of evidence of debt, and government loans on lands. All of these were principles of the two great Alliances (the Northern and the Southern), as were also pure food legislation, abolition of landholding by aliens, reclamation of unused or unearned land grants (to railways, e.g.), and either rigid federal regulation of railways and other means of communication or government ownership thereof. The "Southern" Alliance put in the forefront a "subtreasury" scheme according to which cheap loans should be made by government from local sub-treasuries on non-perishable farm products (such as grain and cotton) stored in government warehouses; while the "Northern" Alliance demanded restriction of the liquor traffic and (for a short time) woman suffrage. Still other issues were a modification of the patent laws (e.g. to prevent the purchase of patents to stifle competition), postal currency exchange, the eight-hour day, inequitable taxation, the single-tax on land, trusts,"educational qualification for suffrage, direct popular election of federal judges, of senators, and of the president, special-interest lobbying, &c.

In 1889-1890 the political (non-partisan) movement developed astonishing strength; it captured the Republican stronghold of Kansas, brought the Democratic Party to vassalage in South Carolina, revolutionized legislatures even in conservative states like Massachusetts, and seemed likely completely to dominate the South and West. All its work in the South was accomplished within the old-party organizations, but in 1890 the demand became strong for an independent third party, for which various consolidations since 1887 had prepared the way, and by 1892 a large part of the strength of the farmers' organizations, with that of various industrial and radical orders, was united in the People's Party (perhaps more generally known as the Populist Party), which had its beginnings in Kansas in 1890, and received national organization in 1892. This party emphasized free silver, the income tax, eight-hour day, reclamation of land grants, government ownership of railways, telephones and telegraphs, popular election of federal senators, and the initiative and referendum. In the presidential election of 1892 it cast 1,041,021 votes (in a total of 12,036,089), and elected 22 presidential electors, the first chosen by any third party since 1856. In 1896 the People's Party" fused "with the Democratic Party (q.v.) in the presidential campaign, and again in 1900; during this period, indeed, the greatest part of the People's Party was reabsorbed into the two great parties from which its membership had originally been drawn;-in some northern states apparently largely into the Republican ranks, but mainly into the Democratic Party, to which it gave a powerful radical impulse.

The Farmers' movement was much misunderstood, abused and ridiculed. It accomplished a vast amount of good. The movement-and especially the Grange, for on most important points the later movements only followed where it had ledcontributed the initial impulse and prepared the way for the establishment of travelling and local rural libraries, reading courses, lyceums, farmers' institutes (a steadily increasing influence) and rural free mail delivery (inaugurated experimentally in 1896 and adopted as part of the permanent postal system of the country in 1902); for agricultural exhibits and an improved agricultural press; for encouragement to and increased profit from the work of agricultural colleges, the establishment (1885) and great services of the United States Department of Agri demand equal rights to all, and special privileges to none. (3) To endorse the motto: ` In things essential, unity; in all things, charity.' (4) To develop a better state, mentally, morally, socially and financially.. (6) To suppress personal, local, sectional and national prejudices." For the Southern farmer a chief concrete evil was the pre-crop mortgages by which cotton farmers remained in debt to country merchants; in the North the farmer attacked a wide range of "capitalistic" legislation that hurt him, he believed, for the benefit of other classes-notably legislation sought by railways.

culture,-in short, for an extraordinary lessening of rural isolation. and betterment of the farmers' opportunities; for the irrigation,. of the semi-arid West, adopted as a national policy in 1902, the. pure-food laws of 1906, the interstate-commerce law of 1887, the. railway-rate laws of 1903 and 1906, even the great Bureau of Commerce-and-Labor law of 1903, and the Anti-trust laws of 1903 and later. The Alliance and Populist movements were bottomed on the idea of "ethical gains through legislation."' In its local manifestations the whole movement was often marked by eccentric ideas, narrow prejudices and weaknesses, in economic reasoning. It is not to be forgotten that owing: to the movement of the frontier the United States has always. been "at once a developed country and a primitive one. The. same political questions have been put to a society advanced. in some regions and undeveloped in others.. .. On specific political questions each economic area has reflected its peculiar interests" (Prof. F. J. Turner). That this idea must not, however, be over-emphasized, is admirably enforced by observing: the great mass of farmer radicalism that has, since about 1896, become an accepted Democratic and Republican principle over the whole country. The Farmers' movement was the beginning. of widespread, effective protest against "the menace of privilege" in the United States.

American periodicals, especially in 1890-1892, are particularly informing on the growth of the movement; see F. M. Drew in Political Science Quarterly (1891), vi. p. 282; C. W. Pierson in Popular Science Monthly (1888), xxxii. pp. 199, 368; C. S. Walker and F. J. Foster in Annals of American Academy (1894), iv. p. 790; Senator W. A. Peffer in Cosmopolitan (1890), x. p. 694; and on agricultural discontent, Political Science Quarterly, iv. (1889), p. 433, by W. F. Mappin; v. (1890), p. 65, by J. P. Dunn; xi. (1896), pp. 433, 601, xii. (1897), p. 93, and xiv. (1899), p. 444, by C. F. Emerick;, Prof. E. W. Bemis in Journal of Political Economy (1893), ip. 193; A. H. Peters in Quarterly Journal of Economics (1890), iv. p. 18; C. W. Davis in Forum (1890), ix. pp. 231, 291, 348.

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