The Farmer's Movement of the Late 19th Century Essay

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During the late nineteenth century, the agrarian movement evolved into a political force that energized American farmers to voice their political and economic grievances like never before. Although the movement essentially died after William Jennings Bryan's loss of the 1896 Presidential election, many of the reforms they fought for were eventually passed into law. American farmers found themselves facing hard times after the Civil War. In the West, the railroad had opened up enormous opportunities. Farmers were now able to cultivate land that had previously been to far from the Eastern markets to make a profit. However, that opportunity came at a price. The farmers increasing dependence on the railroads and other commercial…show more content…
Membership rose rapidly after the Panic of 1873, peaking at one and a half million members in 1875. The chief political goal of the Grangers was relief from the exorbitant carriage fees charged by the railroads and warehouses. They created hundreds of buying cooperatives, founded banks, pushed through legislation regulating railroads, and campaigned for political candidates who were sympathetic to their cause. Their campaign for government regulation of the railroad led to their most significant victory. In 1877, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Granger cause in Munn v. Illinois. In this case it upheld the power of the states to regulate the rates of railroads and other businesses since their conduct affected the community at large. This shows a departure from the prevalent laissez-faire economics of the time and sets precedent for government regulation of business. As agricultural conditions improved, membership declined. Although few of their economic initiatives succeeded, much of their political agenda was advocated in south and west by the Farmer's Alliance. The Farmer's Alliance and the Grangers differed in that the Alliance was political from its inception. The farmers saw industrial capitalism as destructive to agrarian values. The Alliance sought to unite farmers against the new economic and political interests they felt were combining to deny farmers
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