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Farmers of the late 1800's: Changing the Shape of American Politics

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The period between 1870 and 1900 was a time to change politics. The country was for once free from war and was united as one nation. However, as these decades passed by, the American farmer found it harder to live comfortably. Crops such as cotton and wheat, once the cash crop of agriculture, were selling at prices so low that it was nearly impossible for farmers to make a profit. Improvements in transportation allowed larger competitors to sell more easily and more cheaply, making it harder for American yeoman farmers to sell their crops. Finally, years of drought in the Midwest and the fall of business in the 1890s devastated the farming community. Most notably, the Populist Party arose to fight what farmers saw as the issues affecting the agricultural community. During the last thirty years of the nineteenth century, many farmers in the United States saw railroads and banking enterprises threaten their way of life; their work to fight these elements eventually led to a change in national politics.

The growth of the railroad was one of the most significant components in economic growth. However, the railroads hurt small shippers and farmers. Competition between railroad companies required some way to win business. Many railroads offered rebates and drawbacks to larger shippers who used their railroads. However, this practice hurt smaller shippers, including farmers, for often times railroad companies would charge more to ship products short distances. The freight rates were a burden on the farmers (Doc F). So the farmers grouped together forming National Grange of Patrons of Husbandry to protest these outrageous rates. Even though the farmers felt protesting the rates was a benefit for them it was actually a benefit fo...

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...at sixteen to one became the party's battle cry. They believed that this formula would create a financial system that would meet their needs by producing a controlled inflation. In 1896 the Democrats, led by William Jennings Bryan adopted the Populist platform for the presidential campaign (Doc H). The Republicans, led by William McKinley supported the gold standard. McKinley won and after his victory farm prices began to improve. The Populist party collapsed and the farmers' revolt was over.

The farmers of the late 1800s had many reasons for being dissatisfied with their situation. Unfair railroad practices, such as rebates and drawbacks, hurt them severely. Even common issues of shortage of money, drought, and mortgages were all issues that hurt farmers economically. The farmers of the period, though, used these issues to change the shape of American politics.
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