Farming has never been considered a prestigious occupation, but one that has always been incredibly necessary. Although our nation relies heavily on the crops that come from it’s farmers, the government has a history of neglecting to protect the rights of these workers. This is most evident in America in the decades following the Civil War. Although the complaints of the farmers varied, the main issue was their deteriorating political and economic status, and they made many attempts to improve their circumstances.
Of the various problems the farmers voiced, one the most common was their constantly declining income. They blamed this on the decrease in cost for their products, because of over production and improper business relationships. The farmers also had an issue with the high interest rates they were charged to own land on the frontier, averaging two or three percentage points more than in the Northwest. Although this was a grievance for farmers, lenders may have been justified in charging extra because of the uncertainty of the harsh weather which resulted in frequent droughts, and also the financial security of many of the farmers. As James Stewart of Reed College states, “borrowers often defaulted, leaving land worth only a fraction of the loan as security…high rates of interest appear to have been compensation for the inherent risks of lending to frontier farmers”1. Another huge disturbance in the farming world was the expansion the United States Railroad. Because of the improvements in productivity this change brought along, it resulted in a decrease in the price of the products. All of these circumstances were cause for much political unrest from the farming community.
Beyond the farmer’s political issues, they also were dealing with the natural uncertainty of their business, that resulted in irregularity in their annual incomes. Famers in the Plains states experienced a series of droughts between 1870 and 1900, which caused severe hardship and loss of valuable crop. This also caused the price of the crop to increase, causing them to lose business to producers abroad. The industrialization of America had negatively affected farmers not only because the new presence of competitors abroad that hurt business, but also because it changed America from an agricultural to a commercial nation.
Change began when the farmers began to join together in an effort to improve their circumstances. They formed cooperatives, interest groups, and political parties all in the hopes of having their voices heard by politicians. The first group to form was the Patrons of Husbandry in 1860. It was founded to address the farmer’s issues with the railroad, as well as urge more cooperation with businesses in the agricultural community. Immediately following in the 1870’s the Greenback Party was formed. This party’s main goal was to increase the amount of money in circulation and lower the high credit costs farmers were paying.2 Although these groups helped the efforts of farmers, perhaps one of the most ambitious attempts came in 1890, when the independent People’s or Populist Party was formed. This was the farmer’s largest and most influential effort to change their way of life, as it was created to rival and take power away from the dominant Democratic and Republican parties. The populists made an incredible…