Farmers of the Century
Furthermore, improvement in transportation allowed foreign intention to materialize, making it harder for American farmers to dispose of surplus crop. Mother Nature was also showing no mercy with grasshoppers, floods, and major droughts that led to a downward spiral of business that devastated many of the nation’s farmers. As a result of the agricultural depression, numerous farms groups, most notably the Populist Party, arose to fight what the farmers saw as the reasons for the decline in agriculture.During the final twenty years of the nineteenth century, many farmers in the United States saw monopolies and trusts, railroads, and money shortages and the loss in value of silver as threats to their way of life, though in many cases their complaints were not valid.
The growth of the railroad was one of the most significant elements in American economic growth, yet it hurt small shippers and farmers in many ways. Extreme competition between rail companies necessitated some way to win business.To do this, railroads would offer rebates and drawbacks to larger shippers who used their rails. This practice hurt smaller shippers, including farmers, because often times railroad companies would charge ore to ship products short distances than they would for long trips. The rail companies justified this practice by asserting that if they did not rebate, they would not make enough profit to stay in business. So while the railroads felt that they must use this practice to make a profit, the farmers were justified in complaining, for they were seriously injured by it.A perfect example of this fact can be found in The Octopus by Frank Norris.
In The Octopus a farmer named Dyke discovers that the railroad has increased their freight charges from two to five cents a pound. This new rate, “Date up every cent of his gains. He stood there ruined. ” The railroads regularly used rebates and drawbacks to help win the business of large shippers, and made up this loss in profit by increasing the cost to smaller shippers such as farmers. As a result, many farmers, already hurt by the downslide in agriculture, were ruined.Thus, the farmers of the late nineteenth century had a valid complaint against railroad shippers since they were severely hurt by the unfair practices of the railroads. Near the end of the nineteenth century, business began to centralize, leading o the rise Of monopolies and trusts.
Falling prices, along with the need for better efficiency in industry, led to the rise of such companies as Carnegie Steel and Standard Oil, which controlled a majority of the nation’s supply of raw steel and oil respectively.The rise of there monopolies and trusts concerned many farmers; for they felt that the disappearance of competition would lead to erratic and unreasonable price rises that would hurt consumers. James B. Weaver, the Populist Party’s presidential candidate in the 1892 election, summed up the feelings of many Americans of the period n his work, A Call to Action: An Interpretation of the Great Uprising. He wrote, “It is clear that trusts reader conflict with the Common law.They are monopolies organized to destroy competition and restrain tradeњOnce they secure control of a given line of business, they are master of the situations]They limit the price of the raw material so as to impoverish the producer, drive him to a single market, reduce the price of every class of labor connected with the trade, throw out of employment large numbers of personal effeminately increase the price to the consumerists main paeans of the trust are threats, intimidation, bribery, fraud, wreck, and pillage. However, the facts refute many of Weaver’s charges against the monopolies.
While it is true that many used questionable means to achieve their monopoly, many Were not out to crush competitors. To the contrary, John D, Rockefeller, head of Standard Oil, competed ruthlessly not to crush other refiners but to persuade them to join Standard Oil and share the business so all could profit. Furthermore, the fear that the monopolies would raise prices unreasonably was never realized.Prices tended to fall near the end of the sass’s and created what some have called “a consumer’s millennium. ” Thus, the agrarian complaints against monopolies were not incredibly valid since the monopolies did very little harm to farmers of the time. Deflation and falling prices during the late sass’s led to the most heated complaint of farmers and the Populist Party that grew out of agricultural discontent. Deflation had been running rampant during the latter half Of the sass’s, as evidenced by the drastic fall in the value of wheat and cotton.
To eight the deflationary trend, the Populists demanded a reversal of the Coinage Act of 1 873, which denominated silver. Here again, the farmers are wrong in the assessment of their problems. It is true that the country’s money supply was not adequate. United States government data from 1961 shows that though the country’s population between 1865 and 1 875 increased by nearly four million, the country’s money supply actually decreased. However, many farmers used the money supply to explain problems that indeed had very little to do with the money supply at all.This is best summed up in a quote from J. Laurence Laughlin’s article, “Causes of Agricultural Unrest.
” He says, “Feeling the coils of some mysterious power about them, the farmers[leave attributed their misfortunes to the Construction’ in prices, cause, as they think, not by an increased production Of wheat throughout the world, but by the Disparity of gold. ‘” History has shown that battle between gold and silver had little real meaning. The real battle was not between gold and silver, but instead what would be done to check deflation.William McKinley, in his 1 896 acceptance speech, said, “Free silver would not mean that silver dollars were to be freely had without cost or labor [11th would not make labor easier, the hours shorter, or the pay better. Would not make the farming less laborious or more profitable. ” Farmers did not see that the silver would just lead to more problems. These facts prove that the farmers view of silver was not sound, thus invalidating their complaints about the nation’s financial system.
The farmers of the late sass’s had many reasons for being dissatisfied with their situation.Unfair railroad practices like rebates and drawbacks hurt them severely. Yet in some cases, these farmers’ complaints were not justified. Many of the fears they had about monopolies happened in very few occasions. In fact, prices went down in the latter part of the 1 ass’s. Finally, history has proven that their view of silver as a way to end deflation and the decrease in crop values was inaccurate. The farmers of the period, though, used these issues to change the shape of American politics and bring it to face to face with the problems the country was facing.