Agrarian Discontent in the Late Nineteenth Century

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Most of the reasons concerning agrarian discontent in the late nineteenth century stem from supposed threats posed by monopolies and trusts, railroads, money shortages and the demonetization of silver, though in many cases their complaints were not valid. The American farmer at this time already had his fair share of problems, perhaps even perceived as unfair in regards to the success industrialized businessmen were experiencing. Nevertheless, crops such as cotton and wheat, which were once the staples of an agricultural society, were selling at such low prices that it was nearly impossible for farmers to make a profit off them, especially since some had invested a great deal of money in modern equipment that would allow them to produce twice as many goods. Furthermore, improvements in transportation allowed foreign competition to emerge, making it harder for American Farmers to not only dispose of surplus crop, but to transport crops period. Finally, years of drought in the Midwest and the degeneration of business in the 1890's devastated many of the nation's farmers, and as a result of this ‘agricultural depression' many farm groups, most notably the Populist Party, arose to fight what farmers saw as the reasons for the decline of agriculture. Near the end of the nineteenth century, business began to centralize, leading to the rise of monopolies and trusts. Falling prices, along with the need for better efficiency in industry, led to the rise of companies, the Carnegie Steel and Standard Oil company being a significant one. The rise of these monopolies and trusts concerned many farmers, for they felt that the disappearance of competition would lead to abnormaly unreasonable price raises that would hurt consumers and ultimately themselves. James B. Weaver, the Populist party's presidential candidate in the 1892 election, summed up the feelings of the many American Farmers of the period in his work, A Call to Action: An Interpretation of the Great Uprising [Document F]. His interpretations of the feelings of farmers during that time were head on, but the truth is that the facts refute many of Weaver's charges against the monopolies. While it is true that many used questionable methods to achieve their monopoly, there were also other businessmen out there that were not aiming to crush out the competition. In fact, John D. Rockefeller, head of Standard Oil and a very influential and powerful man of that time, competed ardently to not crush out his competitors but to persuade then to join Standard Oil and share the business so all could profit.

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