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The Agrarian Crusade, A Chronicle of the Farmer in Politics by Solon J. Buck

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Rapid growth accompanied by a somewhat painful readjustment has
been one of the leading characteristics of the history of the
United States during the last half century. In the West the
change has been so swift and spectacular as to approach a
complete metamorphosis. With the passing of the frontier has gone
something of the old freedom and the old opportunity; and the
inevitable change has brought forth inevitable protest,
particularly from the agricultural class. Simple farming
communities have wakened to find themselves complex industrial
regions in which the farmers have frequently lost their former
preferred position. The result has been a series of radical
agitations on the part of farmers determined to better their lot.
These movements have manifested different degrees of coherence
and intelligence, but all have had something of the same purpose
and spirit, and all may justly be considered as stages of the
unfinished agrarian crusade. This book is an attempt to sketch
the course and to reproduce the spirit of that crusade from its
inception with the Granger movement, through the Greenback and
populist phases, to a climax in the battle for free silver.

In the preparation of the chapters dealing with Populism I
received invaluable assistance from my colleague, Professor
Lester B. Shippee of the University of Minnesota; and I am
indebted to my wife for aid at every stage of the work,
especially in the revision of the manuscript.

Solon J. Buck.

Minnesota Historical Society.
St. Paul.


















When President Johnson authorized the Commissioner of
Agriculture, in 1866, to send a clerk in his bureau on a trip
through the Southern States to procure "statistical and other
information from those States," he could scarcely have foreseen
that this trip would lead to a movement among the farmers, which,
in varying forms, would affect the political and economic life of
the nation for half a century. The clerk selected for this
mission, one Oliver Hudson Kelley, was something more than a mere
collector of data and compiler of statistics: he was a keen
observer and a thinker. Kelley was born in Boston of a good
Yankee family that could boast kinship with Oliver Wendell Holmes
and Judge Samuel Sewall. At the age of twenty-three
he journeyed to Iowa, where he married. Then with his wife he
went on to Minnesota, settled in Elk River Township, and acquired
some first-hand familiarity with agriculture. At the time of
Kelley's service in the agricultural bureau he was forty years
old, a man of dignified presence, with a full beard already
turning white, the high broad forehead of a philosopher, and the
eager eyes of an enthusiast. "An engine with too much steam on
all the time"--so one of his friends characterized him; and the
abnormal energy which he displayed on the trip through the South
justifies the figure.

Kelley had had enough practical experience in agriculture to be
sympathetically aware of the difficulties of farm life in the
period immediately following the Civil War. Looking at the
Southern farmers not as a hostile Northerner would but as a
fellow agriculturist, he was struck with the distressing
conditions which prevailed. It was not merely the farmers'
economic difficulties which he noticed, for such difficulties
were to be expected in the South in the adjustment after the
great conflict; it was rather their blind disposition to do as
their grandfathers had done, their antiquated methods of
agriculture, and, most of all, their apathy. Pondering on this
attitude, Kelley decided that it was fostered if not caused by
the lack of social opportunities which made the existence of the
farmer such a drear monotony that he became practically incapable
of changing his outlook on life or his attitude toward his work.

Being essentially a man of action, Kelley did not stop with the
mere observation of these evils but cast about to find a remedy.
In doing so, he came to the conclusion that a national secret
order of farmers resembling the Masonic order, of which he
was a member, might serve to bind the farmers together for
purposes of social and intellectual advancement. After he
returned from the South, Kelley discussed the plan in Boston with
his niece, Miss Carrie Hall, who argued quite sensibly that women
should be admitted to full membership in the order, if it was to
accomplish the desired ends. Kelley accepted her suggestion and
went West to spend the summer in farming and dreaming of his
project. The next year found him again in Washington, but this
time as a clerk in the Post Office Department.

During the summer and fall of 1867 Kelley interested some of his
associates in his scheme. As a result seven men--"one fruit
grower and six government clerks, equally distributed among the
Post Office, Treasury, and Agricultural Departments"--are usually
recognized as the founders of the Patrons of Husbandry, or, as
the order is more commonly called, the Grange. These men, all of
whom but one had been born on farms, were O. H. Kelley and W. M.
Ireland of the Post Office Department, William Saunders and the
Reverend A. B. Grosh of the Agricultural Bureau, the Reverend
John Trimble and J. R. Thompson of the Treasury Department, and
F. M. McDowell, a pomologist of Wayne, New York. Kelley and
Ireland planned a ritual for the society; Saunders interested a
few farmers at a meeting of the United States Pomological Society
in St. Louis in August, and secured the cooperation of McDowell;
the other men helped these four in corresponding with interested
farmers and in perfecting the ritual. On December 4, 1867, having
framed a constitution and adopted the motto Esto perpetua, they
met and constituted themselves the National Grange of the Patrons
of Husbandry. Saunders was to be Master; Thompson, Lecturer;
Ireland, Treasurer; and Kelley, Secretary.

It is interesting to note, in view of the subsequent political
activity in which the movement for agricultural organization
became inevitably involved, that the founders of the Grange
looked for advantages to come to the farmer through intellectual
and social intercourse, not through political action. Their
purpose was "the advancement of agriculture," but they expected
that advancement to be an educative rather than a legislative
process. It was to that end, for instance, that they provided for
a Grange "Lecturer, " a man whose business it was to prepare for
each meeting a program apart from the prescribed ritual--perhaps
a paper read by one of the members or an address by a visiting
speaker. With this plan for social and intellectual advancement,
then, the founders of the Grange set out to gain members.

During the first four years the order grew slowly, partly because
of the mistakes of the founders, partly because of the innate
conservatism and suspicion of the average farmer. The first local
Grange was organized in Washington. It was made up largely of
government clerks and their wives and served less to advance the
cause of agriculture than to test the ritual. In February, 1868,
Kelley resigned his clerkship in the Post Office Department and
turned his whole attention to the organization of the new order.
His colleagues, in optimism or irony, voted him a salary of two
thousand dollars a year and traveling expenses, to be paid from
the receipts of any subordinate Granges he should establish. Thus
authorized, Kelley bought a ticket for Harrisburg, and with two
dollars and a half in his pocket, started out to work his way to
Minnesota by organizing Granges. On his way out he sold four
dispensations for the establishment of branch
organizations--three for Granges in Harrisburg, Columbus, and
Chicago, which came to nothing, and one for a Grange in Fredonia,
New York, which was the first regular, active, and permanent
local organization. This, it is important to note, was
established as a result of correspondence with a farmer of that
place, and in by far the smallest town of the four. Kelley seems
at first to have made the mistake of attempting to establish the
order in the large cities, where it had no native soil in which
to grow.

When Kelley revised his plan and began to work from his farm in
Minnesota and among neighbors whose main interest was in
agriculture, he was more successful. His progress was not,
however, so marked as to insure his salary and expenses; in fact,
the whole history of these early years represents the hardest
kind of struggle against financial difficulties. Later, Kelley
wrote of this difficult period: "If all great enterprises, to be
permanent, must necessarily start from small beginnings, our
Order is all right. Its foundation was laid on SOLID NOTHING--the
rock of poverty--and there is no harder material." At times the
persistent secretary found himself unable even to buy postage for
his circular letters. His friends at Washington began to lose
interest in the work of an order with a treasury "so empty that a
five-cent stamp would need an introduction before it would feel
at home in it." Their only letters to Kelley during this trying
time were written to remind him of bills owed by the order. The
total debt was not more than $150, yet neither the Washington
members nor Kelley could find funds to liquidate it. "My dear
brother," wrote Kelley to Ireland, "you must not swear when the
printer comes in . . . . When they come in to 'dun' ask them to
take a seat; light your pipe; lean back in a chair, and suggest
to them that some plan be adopted to bring in ten or twenty
members, and thus furnish funds to pay their bills." A note of
$39, in the hands of one Mr. Bean, caused the members in
Washington further embarrassment at this time and occasioned a
gleam of humor in one of Kelley's letters. Bean's calling on the
men at Washington, he wrote, at least reminded them of the
absentee, and to be cursed by an old friend was better than to be
forgotten. "I suggest," he continued, "that Granges use black and
white BEANS for ballots."

In spite of all his difficulties, Kelley stubbornly continued his
endeavor and kept up the fiction of a powerful central order at
the capital by circulating photographs of the founders and
letters which spoke in glowing terms of the great national
organization of the Patrons of Husbandry. "It must be advertised
as vigorously as if it were a patent medicine," he said; and to
that end he wrote articles for leading agricultural papers,
persuaded them to publish the constitution of the Grange, and
inserted from time to time press notices which kept the
organization before the public eye. In May, 1868, came the first
fruits of all this correspondence and advertisement--the
establishment of a Grange at Newton, Iowa. In September, the
first permanent Grange in Minnesota, the North Star Grange, was
established at St. Paul with the assistance of Colonel D. A.
Robertson. This gentleman and his associates interested
themselves in spreading the order. They revised the Grange
circulars to appeal to the farmer's pocketbook, emphasizing the
fact that the order offered a means of protection against
corporations and opportunities for cooperative buying and
selling. This practical appeal was more effective than the
previous idealistic propaganda: two additional Granges were
established before the end of the year; a state Grange was
constituted early in the next year; and by the end of 1869 there
were in Minnesota thirty-seven active Granges. In the spring of
1869 Kelley went East and, after visiting the thriving Grange in
Fredonia, he made his report at Washington to the members of the
National Grange, who listened perfunctorily, passed a few laws,
and relapsed into indifference after this first regular annual

But however indifferent the members of the National Grange might
be as to the fate of the organization they had so irresponsibly
fathered, Kelley was zealous and untiring in its behalf. That the
founders did not deny their parenthood was enough for him; he
returned to his home with high hopes for the future. With the aid
of his niece he carried on an indefatigible correspondence which
soon brought tangible returns. In October, 1870, Kelley moved his
headquarters to Washington. By the end of the year the Order had
penetrated nine States of the Union, and correspondence looking
to its establishment in seven more States was well under way.
Though Granges had been planted as far east as Vermont and New
Jersey and as far south as Mississippi and South Carolina, the
life of the order as yet centered in Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin,
Illinois, and Indiana. These were the only States in which, in
its four years of activity the Grange had really taken root; in
other States only sporadic local Granges sprang up. The method of
organization, however, had been found and tested. When a few
active subordinate Granges had been established in a State, they
convened as a temporary state Grange, the master of which
appointed deputies to organize other subordinate Granges
throughout the State. The initiation fees, generally three
dollars for men and fifty cents for women, paid the expenses of
organization--fifteen dollars to the deputy, and not infrequently
a small sum to the state Grange. What was left went into the
treasury of the local Grange. Thus by the end of 1871 the ways
and means of spreading the Grange had been devised. All that was
now needed was some impelling motive which should urge the
farmers to enter and support the organization.


The decade of the seventies witnessed the subsidence, if not the
solution, of a problem which had vexed American history for half
a century--the reconciliation of two incompatible social and
economic systems, the North and the South. It witnessed at the
same time the rise of another great problem, even yet
unsolved--the preservation of equality of opportunity, of
democracy, economic as well as political, in the face of the
rising power and influence of great accumulations and
combinations of wealth. Almost before the battle smoke of the
Civil War had rolled away, dissatisfaction with prevailing
conditions both political and economic began to show itself.

The close of the war naturally found the Republican or Union
party in control throughout the North. Branded with the
opprobrium of having opposed the conduct of the war, the
Democratic party remained impotent for a number of years; and
Ulysses S. Grant, the nation's greatest military hero, was easily
elected to the presidency on the Republican ticket in 1868. In
the latter part of Grant's first term, however, hostility began
to manifest itself among the Republicans themselves toward the
politicians in control at Washington. Several causes tended to
alienate from the President and his advisers the sympathies of
many of the less partisan and less prejudiced Republicans
throughout the North. Charges of corruption and maladministration
were rife and had much foundation in truth. Even if Grant himself
was not consciously dishonest in his application of the spoils
system and in his willingness to receive reward in return for
political favors, he certainly can be justly charged with the
disposition to trust too blindly in his friends and to choose men
for public office rather because of his personal preferences than
because of their qualifications for positions of trust.

Grant's enemies declared, moreover, with considerable truth that
the man was a military autocrat, unfit for the highest civil
position in a democracy. His high-handed policy in respect to
Reconstruction in the South evoked opposition from those

Northern Republicans whose critical sense was not entirely
blinded by sectional prejudice and passion. The keener-sighted of
the Northerners began to suspect that Reconstruction in the South
often amounted to little more than the looting of the governments
of the Southern States by the greedy freedmen and the
unscrupulous carpetbaggers, with the troops of the United States
standing by to protect the looters. In 1871, under color of
necessity arising from the intimidation of voters in a few
sections of the South, Congress passed a stringent act,
empowering the President to suspend the writ of habeas corpus and
to use the military at any time to suppress disturbances or
attempts to intimidate voters. This act, in the hands of
radicals, gave the carpetbag governments of the Southern States
practically unlimited powers. Any citizens who worked against the
existing administrations, however peacefully, might be charged
with intimidation of voters and prosecuted under the new act.
Thus these radical governments were made practically
self-perpetuating. When their corruption, wastefulness, and
inefficiency became evident, many people in the North frankly
condemned them and the Federal Government which continued to
support them.

This dissatisfaction with the Administration on the part of
Republicans and independents came to a head in 1872 in the
Liberal-Republican movement. As early as 1870 a group of
Republicans in Missouri, disgusted by the excesses of the
radicals in that State in the proscription of former Confederate
sympathizers, had led a bolt from the party, had nominated B.
Gratz Brown for governor, and, with the assistance of the
Democrats, had won the election. The real leader of this movement
was Senator Carl Schurz, under whose influence the new party in
Missouri declared not only for the removal of political
disabilities but also for tariff revision and civil service
reform and manifested opposition to the alienation of the public
domain to private corporations and to all schemes for the
repudiation of any part of the national debt. Similar splits in
the Republican party took place soon afterwards in other States,
and in 1872 the Missouri Liberals called a convention to meet at
Cincinnati for the purpose of nominating a candidate for the

The new party was a coalition of rather diverse elements.
Prominent tariff reformers, members of the Free Trade League,
such as David A. Wells and Edward L. Godkin of the Nation,
advocates of civil service reform, of whom Carl Schurz was a
leading representative, and especially opponents of the
reconstruction measures of the Administration, such as Judge
David Davis and Horace Greeley, saw an opportunity to promote
their favorite policies through this new party organization. To
these sincere reformers were soon added such disgruntled
politicians as A. G. Curtin of Pennsylvania and R. E. Fenton of
New York, who sought revenge for the support which the
Administration had given to their personal rivals. The principal
bond of union was the common desire to prevent the reelection of
Grant. The platform adopted by the Cincinnati convention
reflected the composition of the party. Opening with a bitter
denunciation of the President, it declared in no uncertain terms
for civil service reform and the immediate and complete removal
of political disabilities. On the tariff, however, the party
could come to no agreement; the free traders were unable to
overcome the opposition of Horace Greeley and his protectionist
followers; and the outcome was the reference of the question "to
the people in their congressional districts and the decision of

The leading candidates for nomination for the presidency were
Charles Francis Adams, David Davis, Horace Greeley, Lyman
Trumbull, and B. Gratz Brown. From these men, as a result of
manipulation, the convention unhappily selected the one least
suited to lead the party to victory Horace Greeley. The only hope
of success for the movement was in cooperation with that very
Democratic party whose principles, policies, and leaders, Greeley
in his editorials had unsparingly condemned for years. His
extreme protectionism repelled not only the Democrats but the
tariff reformers who had played an important part in the
organization of the Liberal Republican party. Conservatives of
both parties distrusted him as a man with a dangerous propensity
to advocate "isms," a theoretical politician more objectionable
than the practical man of machine politics, and far more likely
to disturb the existing state of affairs and to overturn the
business of the country in his efforts at reform. As the Nation
expressed it, "Greeley appears to be 'boiled crow' to more of his
fellow citizens than any other candidate for office in this or
any other age of which we have record."

The regular Republican convention renominated Grant, and the
Democrats, as the only chance of victory, swallowed the candidate
and the platform of the Liberals. Doubtless Greeley's opposition
to the radical reconstruction measures and the fact that he had
signed Jefferson Davis's bail-bond made the "crow" more palatable
to the Southern Democrats. In the campaign Greeley's brilliant
speeches were listened to with great respect. His tour was a
personal triumph; but the very voters who hung eagerly on his
speeches felt him to be too impulsive and opinionated to be
trusted with presidential powers. They knew the worst which might
be expected of Grant; they could not guess the ruin which
Greeley's dynamic powers might bring on the country if he used
them unwisely. In the end many of the original leaders of the
Liberal movement supported Grant as the lesser of two evils. The
Liberal defection from the Republican ranks was more than offset
by the refusal of Democrats to vote for Greeley, and Grant was
triumphantly reelected.

The Liberal Republican party was undoubtedly weakened by the
unfortunate selection of their candidate, but it scarcely could
have been victorious with another candidate. The movement was
distinctly one of leaders rather than of the masses, and the
things for which it stood most specifically--the removal of
political disabilities in the South and civil service
reform--awakened little enthusiasm among the farmers of the West.
These farmers on the other hand were beginning to be very much
interested in a number of economic reforms which would vitally
affect their welfare, such as the reduction and readjustment of
the burden of taxation, the control of corporations in the
interests of the people, the reduction and regulation of the cost
of transporation, and an increase in the currency supply. Some of
these propositions occasionally received recognition in Liberal
speeches and platforms, but several of them were anathema to many
of the Eastern leaders of that movement. Had these leaders been
gifted with vision broad enough to enable them to appreciate the
vital economic and social problems of the West, the Liberal
Republican movement might perhaps have caught the ground swell of
agrarian discontent, and the outcome might then have been the
formation of an enduring national party of liberal tendencies
broader and more progressive than the Liberal Republican party
yet less likely to be swept into the vagaries of extreme
radicalism than were the Anti-Monopoly and Greenback parties of
after years. A number of western Liberals such as A. Scott Sloan
in Wisconsin and Ignatius Donnelly in Minnesota championed the
farmers' cause, it is true, and in some States there was a fusion
of party organizations; but men like Schurz and Trumbull held
aloof from these radical movements, while Easterners like Godkin
of the Nation met them with ridicule and invective.

The period from 1870 to 1873 has been characterized as one of
rampant prosperity, and such it was for the commercial, the
manufacturing, and especially the speculative interests of the
country. For the farmers, however, it was a period of bitter
depression. The years immediately following the close of the
Civil War had seen a tremendous expansion of production,
particularly of the staple crops. The demobilization of the
armies, the closing of war industries, increased immigration, the
homestead law, the introduction of improved machinery, and the
rapid advance of the railroads had all combined to drive the
agricultural frontier westward by leaps and bounds until it had
almost reached the limit of successful cultivation under
conditions which then prevailed. As crop acreage and production
increased, prices went down in accordance with the law of supply
and demand, and farmers all over the country found it difficult
to make a living.

In the West and South--the great agricultural districts of the
country--the farmers commonly bought their supplies and
implements on credit or mortgaged their crops in advance; and
their profits at best were so slight that one bad season might
put them thereafter entirely in the power of their creditors and
force them to sell their crops on their creditors' terms. Many
farms were heavily mortgaged, too, at rates of interest that ate
up the farmers' profits. During and after the Civil War the
fluctuation of the currency and the high tariff worked especial
hardship on the farmers as producers of staples which must be
sold abroad in competition with European products and as
consumers of manufactured articles which must be bought at home
at prices made arbitrarily high by the protective tariff. In
earlier times, farmers thus harassed would have struck their
tents and moved farther west, taking up desirable land on the
frontier and starting out in a fresh field of opportunity. It was
still possible for farmers to go west, and many did so but only
to find that the opportunity for economic independence on the
edge of settlement had largely disappeared. The era of the
self-sufficing pioneer was drawing to a close, and the farmer on
the frontier, forced by natural conditions over which he had no
control to--engage in the production of staples, was fully as
dependent on the market and on transportation facilities as was
his competitor in the East.

In the fall of 1873 came the greatest panic in the history of the
nation, and a period of financial depression began which lasted
throughout the decade, restricting industry, commerce, and even
immigration. On the farmers the blow fell with special severity.
At the very time when they found it most difficult to realize
profit on their sales of produce, creditors who had hitherto
carried their debts from year to year became insistent for
payment. When mortgages fell due, it was well-nigh impossible to
renew them; and many a farmer saw years of labor go for nothing
in a heart-breaking foreclosure sale. It was difficult to get
even short-term loans, running from seed-time to harvest. This
important function of lending money to pay for labor and thus
secure a larger crop, which has only recently been assumed by the
Government in its establishment of farm loan banks, had been
performed by private capitalists who asked usurious rates of
interest. The farmers' protests against these rates had been
loud; and now, when they found themselves unable to get loans at
any rate whatever, their complaints naturally increased.
Looking around for one cause to which to attribute all their
misfortunes, they pitched upon the corporations or monopolies, as
they chose to call them, and especially upon the railroads.

At first the farmers had looked upon the coming of the railroads
as an unmixed blessing. The railroad had meant the opening up of
new territory, the establishment of channels of transportation by
which they could send their crops to market. Without the
railroad, the farmer who did not live near a navigable stream
must remain a backwoodsman; he must make his own farm or his
immediate community a self-sufficing unit; he must get from his
own land bread and meat and clothing for his family; he must be
stock-raiser, grain-grower, farrier, tinker, soap-maker, tanner,
chandler--Jack-of-all-trades and master of none. With the
railroad he gained access to markets and the opportunity to
specialize in one kind of farming; he could now sell his produce
and buy in exchange many of the articles he had previously made
for himself at the expense of much time and labor. Many farmers
and farming communities bought railroad bonds in the endeavor to
increase transportation facilities; all were heartily in sympathy
with the policy of the Government in granting to corporations
land along the route of the railways which they were to

By 1878, however, the Government had actually given to the
railroads about thirty-five million acres, and was pledged to
give to the Pacific roads alone about one hundred and forty-five
million acres more. Land was now not so plentiful as it had been
in 1850, when this policy had been inaugurated, and the farmers
were naturally aggrieved that the railroads should own so much
desirable land and should either hold it for speculative purposes
or demand for it prices much higher than the Government had asked
for land adjacent to it and no less valuable. Moreover, when
railroads were merged and reorganized or passed into the hands of
receivers the shares held by farmers were frequently wiped out or
were greatly decreased in value. Often railroad stock had been
"watered" to such an extent that high freight charges were
necessary in order to permit the payment of dividends. Thus the
farmer might find himself without his railroad stock, with a
mortgage on his land which he had incurred in order to buy the
stock, with an increased burden of taxation because his township
had also been gullible enough to buy stock, and with a railroad
whose excessive rates allowed him but a narrow margin of profit
on his produce.

When the farmers sought political remedies for their economic
ills, they discovered that, as a class, they had little
representation or influence either in Congress or in the state
legislatures. Before the Civil War the Southern planter had
represented agricultural interests in Congress fairly well; after
the War the dominance of Northern interests left the Western
farmer without his traditional ally in the South. Political power
was concentrated in the East and in the urban sections of the
West. Members of Congress were increasingly likely to be from the
manufacturing classes or from the legal profession, which
sympathized with these classes rather than with the
agriculturists. Only about seven per cent of the members of
Congress were farmers; yet in 1870 forty-seven per cent of the
population was engaged in agriculture. The only remedy for the
farmers was to organize themselves as a class in order to promote
their common welfare.


With these real or fancied grievances crying for redress, the
farmers soon turned to the Grange as the weapon ready at hand to
combat the forces which they believed were conspiring to crush
them. In 1872 began the real spread of the order. Where the
Grange had previously reckoned in terms of hundreds of new
lodges, it now began to speak of thousands. State Granges were
established in States where the year before the organization had
obtained but a precarious foothold; pioneer local Granges invaded
regions which hitherto had been impenetrable. Although the only
States which were thoroughly organized were Iowa, Minnesota,
South Carolina, and Mississippi, the rapid spread of the order
into other States and its intensive growth in regions so far
apart gave promise of its ultimate development into a national

This development was, to be sure, not without opposition. When
the Grangers began to speak of their function in terms of
business and political cooperation, the forces against which they
were uniting took alarm. The commission men and local merchants
of the South were especially apprehensive and, it is said,
sometimes foreclosed the mortgages of planters who were so
independent as to join the order. But here, as elsewhere,
persecution defeated its own end; the opposition of their enemies
convinced the farmers of the merits of the Grange.

In the East, several circumstances retarded the movement. In the
first place, the Eastern farmer had for some time felt the
Western farmer to be his serious rival. The Westerner had larger
acreage and larger yields from his virgin soil than the Easterner
from his smaller tracts of well-nigh exhausted land. What crops
the latter did produce he must sell in competition with the
Western crops, and he was not eager to lower freight charges for
his competitor. A second deterrent to the growth of the order in
the East was the organization of two Granges among the commission
men and the grain dealers of Boston and New York, under the aegis
of that clause of the constitution which declared any person
interested in agriculture to be eligible to membership in the
order. Though the storm of protest which arose all over the
country against this betrayal to the enemy resulted in the
revoking of the charters for these Granges, the Eastern farmer
did not soon forget the incident.

The year 1873 is important in the annals of the Grange because it
marks the retirement of the "founders" from power. In January of
that year, at the sixth session of the National Grange, the
temporary organization of government clerks was replaced by a
permanent corporation, officered by farmers. Kelley was reelected
Secretary; Dudley W. Adams of Iowa was made Master; and William
Saunders, erstwhile Master of the National Grange, D. Wyatt Aiken
of South Carolina, and E. R. Shankland of Iowa were elected to
the executive committee. The substitution of alert and eager
workers, already experienced in organizing Granges, for the dead
wood of the Washington bureaucrats gave the order a fresh impetus
to growth. From the spring of 1873 to the following spring the
number of granges more than quadrupled, and the increase again
centered mainly in the Middle West.

By the end of 1873 the Grange had penetrated all but four
States--Connecticut, Rhode Island, Delaware, and Nevada--and
there were thirty-two state Granges in existence. The movement
was now well defined and national in scope, so that the seventh
annual session of the National Grange, which took place in St.
Louis in February, 1874, attracted much interest and comment.
Thirty-three men and twelve women attended the meetings,
representing thirty-two state and territorial Granges and about
half a million members. Their most important act was the adoption
of the "Declaration of Purposes of the National Grange,"
subscribed to then and now as the platform of the Patrons and
copied with minor modifications by many later agricultural
organizations in the United States. The general purpose of the
Patrons was "to labor for the good of our Order, our Country, and
Mankind." This altruistic ideal was to find practical application
in efforts to enhance the comfort and attractions of homes, to
maintain the laws, to advance agricultural and industrial
education, to diversify crops, to systematize farm work, to
establish cooperative buying and selling, to suppress personal,
local, sectional, and national prejudices, and to discountenance
"the credit system, the fashion system, and every other system
tending to prodigality and bankruptcy." As to business, the
Patrons declared themselves enemies not of capital but of the
tyranny of monopolies, not of railroads but of their high freight
tariffs and monopoly of transportation. In politics, too, they
maintained a rather nice balance: the Grange was not to be a
political or party organization, but its members were to perform
their political duties as individual citizens.

It could hardly be expected that the program of the Grange would
satisfy all farmers. For the agricultural discontent, as for any
other dissatisfaction, numerous panaceas were proposed, the
advocates of each of which scorned all the others and insisted on
their particular remedy. Some farmers objected to the Grange
because it was a secret organization; others, because it was
nonpartisan. For some the organization was too conservative; for
others, too radical. Yet all these objectors felt the need of
some sort of organization among the farmers, very much as the
trade-unionist and the socialist, though widely divergent in
program, agree that the workers must unite in order to better
their condition. Hence during these years of activity on the part
of the Grange many other agricultural societies were formed,
differing from the Patrons of Husbandry in specific program
rather than in general purpose.

The most important of these societies were the farmers' clubs, at
first more or less independent of each other but later banded
together in state associations. The most striking differences of
these clubs from the Granges were their lack of secrecy and their
avowed political purposes. Their establishment marks the definite
entrance of the farmers as a class into politics. During the
years 1872 to 1875 the independent farmers' organizations
multiplied much as the Granges did and for the same reasons. The
Middle West again was the scene of their greatest power. In
Illinois this movement began even before the Grange appeared in
the State, and its growth during the early seventies paralleled
that of the secret order. In other States also, notably in
Kansas, there sprang up at this time agricultural clubs of
political complexion, and where they existed in considerable
numbers they generally took the lead in the political activities
of the farmers' movement. Where the Grange had the field
practically to itself, as in Iowa and Minnesota, the restriction
in the constitution of the order as to political or partisan
activity was evaded by the simple expedient of holding meetings
"outside the gate," at which platforms were adopted, candidates
nominated, and plans made for county, district, and state

In some cases the farmers hoped, by a show of strength, to
achieve the desired results through one or both of the old
parties, but they soon decided that they could enter politics
effectively only by way of a third party. The professional
politicians were not inclined to espouse new and radical issues
which might lead to the disruption of party lines. The outcome,
therefore, was the establishment of new parties in eleven of the
Western States during 1873 and 1874. Known variously as
Independent, Reform, Anti-Monopoly, or Farmers' parties, these
organizations were all parts of the same general movement, and
their platforms were quite similar. The paramount demands were:
first, the subjection of corporations, and especially of railroad
corporations, to the control of the State; and second, reform and
economy in government. After the new parties were well under way,
the Democrats in most of the States, being in a hopeless
minority, made common cause with them in the hope of thus
compassing the defeat of their hereditary rivals, the old-line
Republicans. In Missouri, however, where the Democracy had been
restored to power by the Liberal-Republican movement, the new
party received the support of the Republicans.

Illinois, where the farmers were first thoroughly organized into
clubs and Granges, was naturally the first State in which they
took effective political action. The agitation for railroad
regulation, which began in Illinois in the sixties, had caused
the new state constitution of 1870 to include mandatory
provisions directing the legislature to pass laws to prevent
extortion and unjust discrimination in railway charges. One of
the acts passed by the Legislature of 1871 in an attempt to carry
out these instructions was declared unconstitutional by the state
supreme court in January, 1873. This was the spark to the tinder.
In the following April the farmers flocked to a convention at the
state capital and so impressed the legislators that they passed
more stringent and effective laws for the regulation of
railroads. But the politicians had a still greater surprise in
store for them. In the elections of judges in June, the farmers
retired from office the judge who had declared their railroad law
unconstitutional and elected their own candidates for the two
vacancies in the supreme court and for many of the vacancies in
the circuit courts.

Now began a vigorous campaign for the election of farmers'
candidates in the county elections in the fall. So many political
meetings were held on Independence Day in 1873 that it was
referred to as the "Farmers' Fourth of July." This had always
been the greatest day of the farmer's year, for it meant
opportunity for social and intellectual enjoyment in the picnics
and celebrations which brought neighbors together in hilarious
good-fellowship. In 1873, however, the gatherings took on
unwonted seriousness. The accustomed spread-eagle oratory gave
place to impassioned denunciation of corporations and to the
solemn reading of a Farmers' Declaration of Independence. "When,
in the course of human events," this document begins in words
familiar to every schoolboy orator, "it becomes necessary for a
class of the people, suffering from long continued systems of
oppression and abuse, to rouse themselves from an apathetic
indifference to their own interests, which has become habitual .
. . a decent respect for the opinions of mankind requires that
they should declare the causes that impel them to a course so
necessary to their own protection." Then comes a statement of
"self-evident truths," a catalogue of the sins of the railroads,
a denunciation of railroads and Congress for not having redressed
these wrongs, and finally the conclusion:

"We, therefore, the producers of the state in our several
counties assembled . . . do solemnly declare that we will use all
lawful and peaceable means to free ourselves from the tyranny of
monopoly, and that we will never cease our efforts for reform
until every department of our Government gives token that the
reign of licentious extravagance is over, and something of the
purity, honesty, and frugality with which our fathers inaugurated
it, has taken its place.

"That to this end we hereby declare ourselves absolutely free and
independent of all past political connections, and that we will
give our suffrage only to such men for office, as we have good
reason to believe will use their best endeavors to the promotion
of these ends; and for the support of this declaration, with a
firm reliance on divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each
other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor."

This fall campaign of 1873 in Illinois broke up old party lines
in remarkable fashion. In some counties the Republicans and in
other counties the Democrats either openly joined the "Reformers"
or refrained from making separate nominations. Of the sixty-six
counties which the new party contested, it was victorious in
fifty-three. This first election resulted in the best showing
which the Reformers made in Illinois. In state elections, the new
party was less successful; the farmers who voted for their
neighbors running on an Anti-Monopoly ticket for lesser offices
hesitated to vote for strangers for state office.

Other Middle Western States at this time also felt the uneasy
stirring of radical political thought and saw the birth of third
parties, short-lived, most of them, but throughout their brief
existence crying loudly and persistently for reforms of all
description. The tariff, the civil service system, and the
currency, all came in for their share of criticism and of
suggestions for revision, but the dominant note was a strident
demand for railroad regulation. Heirs of the Liberal Republicans
and precursors of the Greenbackers and Populists, these
independent parties were as voices crying in the wilderness,
preparing the way for national parties of reform. The notable
achievement of the independent parties in the domain of
legislation was the enactment of laws to regulate railroads in
five States of the upper Mississippi Valley.* When these laws
were passed, the parties had done their work. By 1876 they had
disappeared or, in a few instances, had merged with the
Greenbackers. Their temporary successes had demonstrated,
however, to both farmers and professional politicians that if
once solidarity could be obtained among the agricultural class,
that class would become the controlling element in the politics
of the Middle Western States. It is not surprising, therefore,
that wave after wave of reform swept over the West in the
succeeding decades.

* See Chapter IV.

The independent parties of the middle seventies were distinctly
spontaneous uprisings of the people and especially of the
farmers, rather than movements instigated by politicians for
personal ends or by professional reformers. This circumstance was
a source both of strength and weakness. As the movements began to
develop unexpected power, politicians often attempted to take
control but, where they succeeded, the movement was checked by
the farmers' distrust of these self-appointed leaders. On the
other hand, the new parties suffered from the lack of skillful
and experienced leaders. The men who managed their campaigns and
headed their tickets were usually well-to-do farmers drafted from
the ranks, with no more political experience than perhaps a term
or two in the state legislature. Such were Willard C. Flagg,
president of the Illinois State Farmers' Association, Jacob G.
Vale, candidate for governor in Iowa, and William R. Taylor, the
Granger governor of Wisconsin.

Taylor is typical of the picturesque and forceful figures which
frontier life so often developed. He was born in Connecticut, of
parents recently emigrated from Scotland. Three weeks after his
birth his mother died, and six years later his father, a sea
captain, was drowned. The orphan boy, brought up by strangers in
Jefferson County, New York, experienced the hardships of frontier
life and developed that passion for knowledge which so frequently
is found in those to whom education is denied. When he was
sixteen, he had, enough of the rudiments to take charge of a
country school, and by teaching in the winter and working in the
summer he earned enough to enter Union College. He was unable to
complete the course, however, and turned to teaching in Ohio,
where he restored to decent order a school notorious for bullying
its luckless teachers. But teaching was not to be his career;
indeed, Taylor's versatility for a time threatened to make him
the proverbial Jack-of-all-trades: he was employed successively
in a grist mill, a saw mill, and an iron foundry; he dabbled in
the study of medicine; and finally, in the year which saw
Wisconsin admitted to the Union, he bought a farm in that State.
Ownership of property steadied his interests and at the same time
afforded an adequate outlet for his energies. He soon made his
farm a model for the neighborhood and managed it so efficiently
that he had time to interest himself in farmers' organizations
and to hold positions of trust in his township and county.

By 1873 Taylor had acquired considerable local political
experience and had even held a seat in the state senate. As
president of the State Agricultural Society, he was quite
naturally chosen to head the ticket of the new Liberal Reform
party. The brewing interests of the State, angered at a drastic
temperance law enacted by the preceding legislature, swung their
support to Taylor. Thus reenforced, he won the election. As
governor he made vigorous and tireless attempts to enforce the
Granger railroad laws, and on one occasion he scandalized the
conventional citizens of the State by celebrating a favorable
court decision in one of the Granger cases with a salvo of
artillery from the capitol.

Yet in spite of this prominence, Taylor, after his defeat for
reelection in 1875, retired to his farm and to obscurity. His
vivid personality was not again to assert itself in public
affairs. It is difficult to account for the fact that so few of
the farmers during the Granger period played prominent parts in
later phases of the agrarian crusade. The rank and file of the
successive parties must have been much the same, but each wave of
the movement swept new leaders to the surface.

The one outstanding exception among the leaders of the
Anti-Monopolists was Ignatius Donnelly of Minnesota "the sage of
Nininger"--who remained a captain of the radical cohorts in every
agrarian movement until his death in 1901. A red-headed
aggressive Irishman, with a magnetic personality and a remarkable
intellect, Donnelly went to Minnesota from Pennsylvania in 1856
and speculated in town sites on a large scale. When he was left
stranded by the panic of 1857, acting upon his own principle that
"to hide one's light under a bushel is to extinguish it," he
entered the political arena. In Pennsylvania Donnelly had been a
Democrat, but his genuine sympathy for the oppressed made him an
opponent of slavery and consequently a Republican. In 1857 and
1858 he ran for the state senate in Minnesota on the Republican
ticket in a hopelessly Democratic county. In 1859 he was
nominated for lieutenant governor on the ticket headed by
Alexander Ramsey; and his caustic wit, his keenness in debate,
and his eloquence made him a valuable asset in the battle-royal
between Republicans and Democrats for the possession of
Minnesota. As lieutenant governor, Donnelly early showed his
sympathy with the farmers by championing laws which lowered the
legal rate of interest and which made more humane the process of
foreclosure on mortgages. The outbreak of the Civil War gave him
an opportunity to demonstrate his executive ability as acting
governor during Ramsey's frequent trips to Washington. In this
capacity he issued the first proclamation for the raising of
Minnesota troops in response to the call of President Lincoln.
Elected to Congress in 1862, he served three terms and usually
supported progressive legislation.

Donnelly's growing popularity and his ambition for promotion to
the Senate soon became a matter of alarm to the friends of
Senator Ramsey, who controlled the Republican party in the State.
They' determined to prevent Donnelly's renomination in 1868 and
selected William D. Washburn of Minneapolis to make the race
against him. In the spring of this year Donnelly engaged in a
controversy with Representative E. B. Washburn of Illinois, a
brother of W. D. Washburn, in the course of which the Illinois
congressman published a letter in a St. Paul paper attacking
Donnelly's personal character. Believing this to be part of the
campaign against him, the choleric Minnesotan replied in the
house with a remarkable rhetorical display which greatly
entertained the members but did not increase their respect for
him. His opponents at home made effective use of this affair, and
the outcome of the contest was a divided convention, the
nomination of two Republicans, each claiming to be the regular
candidate of the party, and the ultimate election of a Democrat.

Donnelly was soon ready to break with the old guard of the
Republican party in national as well as in state politics. In
1870 he ran for Congress as an independent Republican on a low
tariff platform but was defeated in spite of the fact that he
received the endorsement of the Democratic convention. Two years
later he joined the Liberal Republicans in supporting Greeley
against Grant. When the farmers' Granges began to spring up like
mushrooms in 1873, Donnelly was quick to see the political
possibilities of the movement. He conducted an extensive
correspondence with farmers, editors, and politicians of radical
tendencies all over the State and played a leading part in the
organization of the Anti-Monopoly party. He was elected to the
state senate in 1873, and in the following year he started a
newspaper, the Anti-Monopolist, to serve as the organ of the

Although Donnelly was technically still a farmer, he was quite
content to leave the management of his farm to his capable wife,
while he made politics his profession, with literature and
lecturing as avocations. His frequent and brilliant lectures no
less than his voluminous writings* attest his amazing industry.
Democrat, Republican, Liberal-Republican, and Anti-Monopolist;
speculator, lawyer, farmer, lecturer, stump-speaker, editor, and
author; preacher of morals and practicer of shrewd political
evasions; and always a radical--he was for many years a force to
be reckoned with in the politics of his State and of the nation.

* The Great Cryptogram, for instance, devotes a thousand pages to
proving a Bacon cipher in the plays of Shakespeare!


Though the society of the Patrons of Husbandry was avowedly
non-political in character, there is ample justification for the
use of the term "Granger" in connection with the radical railroad
legislation enacted in the Northwestern States during the
seventies. The fact that the Grange did not take direct political
action is immaterial: certainly the order made political action
on the part of the farmers possible by establishing among them a
feeling of mutual confidence and trust whereby they could
organize to work harmoniously for their common cause. Before the
advent of the Patrons of Husbandry the farmers were so isolated
from each other that cooperation was impossible. It is hard for
us to imagine, familiar as we are with the rural free delivery of
mail, with the country telephone line, with the automobile, how
completely the average farmer of 1865 was cut off from
communication with the outside world. His dissociation from any
but his nearest neighbors made him unsocial, narrow-minded,
bigoted, and suspicious. He believed that every man's hand was
against him, and he was therefore often led to turn his hand
against every man. Not until he was convinced that he might at
least trust the Grangers did he lay aside his suspicions and join
with other farmers in the attempt to obtain what they considered
just railroad legislation.

Certain it is, moreover, that the Grangers made use of the
popular hostility to the railroads in securing membership for the
order. "Cooperation" and "Down with Monopoly" were two of the
slogans most commonly used by the Grange between 1870 and 1875
and were in large part responsible for its great expansion.
Widely circulated reprints of articles exposing graft and
corruption made excellent fuel for the flames of agitation.

How much of the farmers' bitterness against the railroads was
justified it is difficult to determine. Some of it was
undoubtedly due to prejudice, to the hostility of the "producer"
for the "nonproducer," and to the suspicion which the Western
farmer felt for the Eastern magnate. But much of the suspicion
was not without foundation. In some cases manipulation of railway
stock had absolutely cheated farmers and agricultural towns and
counties out of their investments. It is a well-known fact that
the corporations were not averse to creating among legislators a
disposition to favor their interests. Passes were commonly given
by the railroads to all public officials, from the local
supervisors to the judges of the Supreme Court, and opportunities
were offered to legislators to buy stock far below the market
price. In such subtle ways the railroads insinuated themselves
into favor among the makers and interpreters of law. Then, too,
the farmers felt that the railway companies made rates
unnecessarily high and frequently practised unfair discrimination
against certain sections and individuals. When the Iowa farmer
was obliged to burn corn for fuel, because at fifteen cents a
bushel it was cheaper than coal, though at the same time it was
selling for a dollar in the East, he felt that there was
something wrong, and quite naturally accused the railroads of

The fundamental issue involved in Illinois, Minnesota, Iowa, and
Wisconsin, where the battle was begun and fought to a finish, was
whether or not a State had power to regulate the tariffs of
railway companies incorporated under its laws. Railway companies,
many jurists argued, were private concerns transacting business
according to the laws of the State and no more to be controlled
in making rates than dry goods companies in fixing the price of
spools of thread; rates, like the price of merchandise, were
determined by the volume of trade and the amount of competition,
and for a State to interfere with them was nothing less than
tyranny. On the other hand, those who advocated regulation argued
that railroads, though private corporations, were from the nature
of their business public servants and, as such, should be subject
to state regulation and control.

Some States, foreseeing difficulties which might arise later from
the doctrine that a charter is a contract, as set forth by the
United States Supreme Court in the famous Dartmouth College
case,* had quite early in their history attempted to safeguard
their right to legislate concerning corporations. A clause had
been inserted in the state constitution of Wisconsin which
declared that all laws creating corporations might at any time be
altered or repealed by the legislatures. The constitution of
Minnesota asserted specifically that the railroads, as common
carriers enjoying right of way, were bound to carry freight on
equal and reasonable terms. When the Legislature of Iowa turned
over to the railroad companies lands granted by the Federal
Government, it did so with the reservation that the companies
should be subject to the rules and regulations of the General
Assembly. Thus these States were fortified not only by arguments
from general governmental theory but also by written articles,
more or less specifically phrased, on which they relied to
establish their right to control the railroads.

* See "John Marshall and the Constitution", by Edward S. Corwin
(in "The Chronicles of America"), p. 154 ff.

The first gun in this fight for railroad regulation was fired in
Illinois. As early as 1869, after several years of agitation, the
legislature passed an act declaring that railroads should be
limited to "just, reasonable, and uniform rates, " but, as no
provision was made for determining what such rates were, the act
was a mere encumbrance on the statute books. In the new state
constitution of 1870, however, the framers, influenced by a
growing demand on the part of the farmers which manifested itself
in a Producers' Convention, inserted a section directing the
legislature to "pass laws to correct abuses and to prevent unjust
discrimination and extortion in the rates of freight and
passenger tariffs on the different railroads in this State." The
legislature at its next session appears to have made an honest
attempt to obey these instructions. One act established maximum
passenger fares varying from two and one-half to five and
one-half cents a mile for the different classes into which the
roads were divided. Another provided, in effect, that freight
charges should be based entirely upon distance traversed and
prohibited any increases over rates in 1870. This amounted to an
attempt to force all rates to the level of the lowest competitive
rates of that year. Finally, a third act established a board of
railroad and warehouse commissioners charged with the enforcement
of these and other laws and with the collection of information.

The railroad companies, denying the right of the State to
regulate their business, flatly refused to obey the laws; and the
state supreme court declared the act regulating freight rates
unconstitutional on the ground that it attempted to prevent not
only unjust discrimination but any discrimination at all. The
legislature then passed the Act of 1873, which avoided the
constitutional pitfall by providing that discriminatory rates
should be considered as prima facie but not absolute evidence
of unjust discrimination. The railroads were thus permitted to
adduce evidence to show that the discrimination was justified,
but the act expressly stated that the existence of competition at
some points and its nonexistence at others should not be deemed a
sufficient justification of discrimination. In order to prevent
the roads from raising all rates to the level of the highest
instead of lowering them to the level of the lowest, the
commissioners were directed to establish a schedule of maximum
rates; and the charging of rates higher than these by any company
after January 15, 1874, was to be considered prima facie evidence
of extortion. Other provisions increased the penalties for
violations and strengthened the enforcing powers of the
commission in other ways. This act was roundly denounced at the
time, especially in the East, as an attempt at confiscation, and
the railroad companies refused to obey it for several years; but
ultimately it stood the test of the courts and became the
permanent basis of railroad regulation in Illinois and the model
for the solution of this problem in many other States.

The first Granger law of Minnesota, enacted in 1871, established
fixed schedules for both passengers and freight, while another
act of the same year provided for a railroad commissioner. In
this instance also the companies denied the validity of the law,
and when the state supreme court upheld it in 1873, they appealed
to the Supreme Court of the United States. In the meantime there
was no way of enforcing the law, and the antagonism toward the
roads fostered by the Grange and the Anti-Monopoly party became
more and more intense. In 1874 the legislature replaced the Act
of 1871 with one modeled on the Illinois law of 1873; but it soon
discovered that no workable set of uniform rates could be made
for the State because of the wide variation of conditions in the
different sections. Rates and fares which would be just to the
companies in the frontier regions of the State would be
extortionate in the thickly populated areas. This difficulty
could have been avoided by giving the commission power to
establish varying schedules for different sections of the same
road; but the anti-railroad sentiment was beginning to die down,
and the Legislature of 1875, instead of trying to improve the
law, abandoned the attempt at state regulation.

The Granger laws of Iowa and Wisconsin, both enacted in 1874,
attempted to establish maximum rates by direct legislative
action, although commissions were also created to collect
information and assist in enforcing the laws. The Iowa law was
very carefully drawn and appears to have been observed, in form
at least, by most of the companies while it remained in force. In
1878, however, a systematic campaign on the part of the railroad
forces resulted in the repeal of the act. In Wisconsin, a
majority of the members of the Senate favored the railroads and,
fearing to show their hands, attempted to defeat the proposed
legislation by substituting the extremely radical Potter Bill for
the moderate measure adopted by the Assembly. The senators found
themselves hoist with their own petard, however, for the lower
house, made up largely of Grangers, accepted this bill rather
than let the matter of railroad legislation go by default. The
rates fixed by the Potter Law for many commodities were certainly
unreasonably low, although the assertion of a railroad official
that the enforcement of the law would cut off twenty-five per
cent of the gross earnings of the companies was a decided
exaggeration. Relying upon the advice of such eminent Eastern
lawyers as William M. Evarts, Charles O'Conor, E. Rockwood Roar,
and Benjamin R. Curtis that the law was invalid, the roads
refused to obey it until it was upheld by the state supreme court
late in 1874. They then began a campaign for its repeal. Though
they obtained only some modification in 1875, they succeeded
completely in 1876.

The contest between the railroads and the farmers was intense
while it lasted. The farmers had votes; the railroads had money;
and the legislators were sometimes between the devil and the deep
sea in the fear of offending one side or the other. The farmers'
methods of campaign were simple. Often questionnaires were
distributed to all candidates for office, and only those who went
on record as favoring railroad restriction were endorsed by the
farmers' clubs and committees. An agricultural convention,
sometimes even a meeting of the state Grange, would be held at
the capital of the State while the legislature was in session,
and it was a bold legislator who, in the presence of his farmer
constituents, would vote against the measures they approved. When
the railroads in Illinois refused to lower their passenger rates
to conform to the law, adventurous farmers often attempted to
"ride for legal fares," giving the trainmen the alternative
of accepting the low fares or throwing the hardy passengers from
the train.

The methods of the railroads in dealing with the legislators were
most subtle. Whether or not the numerous charges of bribery were
true, railroad favors were undoubtedly distributed among well
disposed legislators. In Iowa passes were not given to the
senators who voted against the railroads, and those sent to the
men who voted in the railroads' interest were accompanied by
notes announcing that free passes were no longer to be given
generally but only to the friends of the railroads. At the
session of the Iowa Legislature in 1872, four lawyers who posed
as farmers and Grange members were well known as lobbyists for
the railroads. The senate paid its respects to these men at the
close of its session by adopting the following resolution:

WHEREAS, There have been constantly in attendance on the Senate
and House of this General Assembly, from the commencement of the
session to the present time, four gentlemen professing to
represent the great agricultural interest of the State of Iowa,
known as the Grange; and--

WHEREAS, These gentlemen appear entirely destitute of any visible
means of support; therefore be it--

RESOLVED, By the Senate, the House concurring, that the janitors
permit aforesaid gentlemen to gather up all the waste paper, old
newspapers, &c., from under the desks of the members, and they be
allowed one postage stamp each, The American Agriculturist, What
Greeley Knows about Farming, and that they be permitted to take
with them to their homes, if they have any, all the rejected
railroad tariff bills, Beardsley's speech on female suffrage,
Claussen's reply, Kasson's speech on barnacles, Blakeley's dog
bill, Teale's liquor bill, and be given a pass over the Des
Moines Valley Railroad, with the earnest hope that they will
never return to Des Moines.

Once the Granger laws were enacted, the railroads either fought
the laws in court or obeyed them in such a way as to make them
appear most obnoxious to the people, or else they employed both
tactics. The lawsuits, which began as soon as the laws had been
passed, dragged on, in appeal after appeal, until finally they
were settled in the Supreme Court of the United States. These
suits were not so numerous as might be expected, because in most
of the States they had to be brought on the initiative of the
injured shipper, and many shippers feared to incur the animosity
of the railroad. A farmer was afraid that, if he angered the
railroad, misfortunes would befall him: his grain might be
delivered to the wrong elevators or left to stand and spoil in
damp freight cars; there might be no cars available for grain
just when his shipment was ready; and machinery destined for him
might be delayed at a time when lack of it would mean the loss of
his crops. The railroads for their part whenever they found an
opportunity to make the new laws appear obnoxious in the eyes of
the people, were not slow to seize it. That section of the
Illinois law of 1873 which prohibited unjust discrimination went
into effect in July, but the maximum freight rates were not fixed
until January of 1874. As a result of this situation, the
railroads in July made all their freight rates uniform, according
to the law, but accomplished this uniformity by raising the low
rates instead of lowering the high. In Minnesota, similarly, the
St. Paul and Pacific road, in its zeal to establish uniform
passenger rates, raised the fare between St. Paul and Minneapolis
from three to five cents a mile, in order to make it conform to
the rates elsewhere in the State. The St. Paul and Sioux City
road declared that the Granger law made its operation
unprofitable, and it so reduced its train service that the people
petitioned the commission to restore the former rate. In
Wisconsin, when the state supreme court affirmed the
constitutionality of the radical Potter law, the railroads
retaliated in some cases by carrying out their threat to give the
public "Potter cars, Potter rails, and Potter time." As a result
the public soon demanded the repeal of the law.

In all the States but Illinois the Granger laws were repealed
before they had been given a fair trial. The commissions remained
in existence, however, although with merely advisory functions;
and they sometimes did good service in the arbitration of
disputes between shippers and railroads. Interest in the railroad
problem died down for the time, but every one of the Granger
States subsequently enacted for the regulation of railroad rates
statutes which, although more scientific than the laws of the
seventies, are the same in principle. The Granger laws thus paved
the way not only for future and more enduring legislation in
these States but also for similar legislation in most of the
other States of the Union and even for the national regulation of
railroads through the Interstate Commerce Commission.

The Supreme Court of the United States was the theater for the
final stage of this conflict between the railroads and the
farmers. In October, 1876, decisions were handed down together in
eight cases which had been appealed from federal circuit and
state courts in Illinois, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Minnesota, and
which involved the validity of the Granger laws. The fundamental
issue was the same in all these cases--the right of a State to
regulate a business that is public in nature though privately
owned and managed.

The first of the "Granger cases," as they were termed by Justice
Field in a dissenting opinion, was not a railroad case primarily
but grew out of warehouse legislation which the farmers of
Illinois secured in 1871. This act established maximum charges
for grain storage and required all warehousemen to publish their
rates for each year during the first week in January and to
refrain from increasing these rates during the year and from
discriminating between customers. In an endeavor to enforce this
law the railroad and warehouse commission brought suit against
Munn and Scott, a warehouse firm in Chicago, for failure to take
out the license required by the act. The suit, known as Munn vs.
Illinois, finally came to the United States Supreme Court and was
decided in favor of the State, two of the justices dissenting.*
The opinion of the court in this case, delivered by Chief Justice
Waite, laid down the principles which were followed in the
railroad cases. The attorneys for the warehousemen had argued
that the act in question, by assuming to limit charges, amounted
to a deprivation of property without due process of law and was
thus repugnant to the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of
the United States. But the court declared that it had long been
customary both in England and America to regulate by law any
business in which the public has an interest, such as ferries,
common carriers, bakers, or millers, and that the warehouse
business in question was undoubtedly clothed with such a public
interest. Further, it was asserted that this right to regulate
implied the right to fix maximum charges, and that what those
charges should be was a legislative and not a judicial question.

* 94 United States Reports, 113.

In deciding the railroad cases the courts applied the same
general principles, the public nature of the railroad business
having already been established by a decision in 1872.* Another
point was involved, however, because of the contention of the
attorneys for the companies that the railway charters were
contracts and that the enforcement of the laws would amount to an
impairment of contracts, which was forbidden by the Constitution.
The court admitted that the charters were contracts but denied
that state regulation could be considered an impairment of
contracts unless the terms of the charter were specific.
Moreover, it was pointed out that contracts must be interpreted
in the light of rights reserved to the State in its constitution
and in the light of its general laws of incorporation under which
the charters were granted.

* Olcott vs. The Supervisors, 16 Wallace, 678.

These court decisions established principles which even now are
of vital concern to business and politics. From that time to this
no one has denied the right of States to fix maximum charges for
any business which is public in its nature or which has been
clothed with a public interest; nor has the inclusion of the
railroad and warehouse businesses in that class been questioned.
The opinion, however, that this right of the States is unlimited,
and therefore not subject to judicial review, has been
practically reversed. In 1890 the Supreme Court declared a
Minnesota law invalid because it denied a judicial hearing as to
the reasonableness of rates*; and the courts now assume it to be
their right and duty to determine whether or not rates fixed by
legislation are so low as to amount to a deprivation of property
without due process of law. In spite of this later limitation
upon the power of the States, the Granger decisions have
furnished the legal basis for state regulation of railroads down
to the present day. They are the most significant achievements of
the antimonopoly movement of the seventies.

* 134 United States Reports, 418.


The first phase of the agrarian crusade, which centered around
and took its distinctive name from the Grange, reached its
highwater mark in 1874. Early in the next year the tide began to
ebb. The number of Granges decreased rapidly during the remainder
of the decade, and of over twenty thousand in 1874 only about
four thousand were alive in 1880.

Several causes contributed to this sudden decline. Any
organization which grows so rapidly is prone to decay with equal
rapidity; the slower growths are better rooted and are more
likely to reach fruition. So with the Grange. Many farmers had
joined the order, attracted by its novelty and vogue; others
joined the organization in the hope that it would prove a panacea
for all the ills that agriculture is heir to and then left it in
disgust when they found its success neither immediate nor

Its methods of organization, too, while admirably adapted to
arousing enthusiasm and to securing new chapters quickly, did not
make for stability and permanence. The Grange deputy, as the
organizer was termed, did not do enough of what the salesman
calls "follow-up work." He went into a town, persuaded an
influential farmer to go about with him in a house-to-house
canvass, talked to the other farmers of the vicinity, stirred
them up to interest and excitement, organized a Grange, and then
left the town. If he happened to choose the right material, the
chapter became an active and flourishing organization; if he did
not choose wisely, it might drag along in a perfunctory existence
or even lapse entirely. Then, too, the deputy's ignorance of
local conditions sometimes led him to open the door to the
farmers' enemies. There can be little doubt that insidious harm
was worked through the admission into the Grange of men who were
farmers only incidentally and whose "interest in agriculture" was
limited to making profits from the farmer rather than from the
farm. As D. Wyatt Aiken, deputy for the Grange in the Southern
States and later member of the executive committee of the
National Grange, shrewdly commented, "Everybody wanted to join
the Grange then; lawyers, to get clients; doctors, to get
customers; Shylocks, to get their pound of flesh; and sharpers,
to catch the babes in the woods."

Not only the members who managed thus to insinuate themselves
into the order but also the legitimate members proved hard to
control. With that hostility to concentrated authority which so
often and so lamentably manifests itself in a democratic body,
the rank and file looked with suspicion upon the few men who
constituted the National Grange. The average farmer was
interested mainly in local issues, conditions, and problems, and
looked upon the National Grange not as a means of helping him in
local affairs, but as a combination of monopolists who had taken
out a patent on the local grange and forced him to pay a royalty
in order to enjoy its privileges. The demand for reduction in the
power of the National Grange led to frequent attempts to revise
the constitution in the direction of decentralization; and the
revisions were such as merely to impair the power of the National
Grange without satisfying the discontented members.

Of all the causes of the rapid collapse of the Granger movement,
the unfortunate experience which the farmers had in their
attempts at business cooperation was probably chief. Their hatred
of the middleman and of the manufacturer was almost as intense as
their hostility to the railroad magnate; quite naturally,
therefore, the farmers attempted to use their new organizations
as a means of eliminating the one and controlling the other. As
in the parallel case of the railroads, the farmers' animosity,
though it was probably greater than the provocation warranted,
was not without grounds.

The middlemen--the commission merchants to whom the farmer sold
his produce and the retail dealers from whom he bought his
supplies--did undoubtedly make use of their opportunities to
drive hard bargains. The commission merchant had such facilities
for storage and such knowledge of market conditions that he
frequently could take advantage of market fluctuations to
increase his profits. The farmer who sold his produce at a low
price and then saw it disposed of as a much higher figure was
naturally enraged, but he could devise no adequate remedy.
Attempts to regulate market conditions by creating an artificial
shortage seldom met with success. The slogan "Hold your hogs" was
more effective as a catchword than as an economic weapon. The
retail dealers, no less than the commission men, seemed
to the farmer to be unjust in their dealings with him. In the
small agricultural communities there was practically no
competition. Even where there were several merchants in one town
these could, and frequently did, combine to fix prices which the
farmer had no alternative but to pay. What irked the farmer most
in connection with these "extortions" was that the middleman
seemed to be a nonproducer, a parasite who lived by chaining the
agricultural classes of the wealth which they produced. Even
those farmers who recognized the middleman as a necessity had
little conception of the intricacy and value of his service.

Against the manufacturer, too, the farmer had his grievances. He
felt that the system of patent rights for farm machinery resulted
in unfair prices--for was not this same machinery shipped to
Europe and there sold for less than the retail price in the
United States? Any one could see that the manufacturer must have
been making more than reasonable profit on domestic sales.
Moreover, there were at this time many abuses of patent rights.
Patents about to expire were often extended through political
influence or renewed by means of slight changes which were
claimed to be improvements. A more serious defect in the
patent system was that new patents were not thoroughly
investigated, so that occasionally one was issued on an article
which had long been in common use. That a man should take out a
patent for the manufacture of a sliding gate which farmers had
for years crudely constructed for themselves and should then
collect royalty from those who were using the gates they had
made, naturally enough aroused the wrath of his victims.

It was but natural, then, that the Granges should be drawn into
all sorts of schemes to divert into the pockets of their members
the streams of wealth which had previously flowed to the greedy
middlemen. The members of the National Grange, thinking that
these early schemes for cooperation were premature, did not at
first take them up and standardize them but left them entirely in
the hands of local, county, and state Granges. These thereupon
proceeded to "gang their ain gait" through the unfamiliar paths
of business operations and too frequently brought up in a
quagmire. "This purchasing business," said Kelley in 1867,
"commenced with buying jackasses; the prospects are that many
will be SOLD." But the Grangers went on with their plans for
business cooperation with ardor undampened by such forebodings.
Sometimes a local Grange would make a bargain with a certain
dealer of the vicinity, whereby members were allowed special
rates if they bought with cash and traded only with that dealer.
More often the local grange would establish an agency, with
either a paid or a voluntary agent who would forward the orders
of the members in large lots to the manufacturers or wholesalers
and would thus be able to purchase supplies for cash at terms
considerably lower than the retail prices. Frequently, realizing
that they could get still more advantageous terms for larger
orders, the Granges established a county agency which took over
the work of several local agents. Sometimes the Patrons even
embarked upon the more ambitious enterprise of cooperative

The most common type of cooperative store was that in which the
capital was provided by a stock company of Grange members and
which sold goods to Patrons at very low prices. The profits, when
there were any, were divided among the stockholders in proportion
to the amount of stock they held, just as in any stock company.
This type of store was rarely successful for any length of time.
The low prices at which it sold goods were likely to involve it
in competition with other merchants. Frequently these men would
combine to lower their prices and, by a process familiar in the
history of business competition, "freeze out" the cooperative
store, after which they might restore their prices to the old
levels. The farmers seldom had sufficient spirit to buy at the
grange store if they found better bargains elsewhere; so the
store was assured of its clientele only so long as it sold at the
lowest possible prices. Farmers' agencies for the disposal of
produce met with greater success. Cooperative creameries and
elevators in several States are said to have saved Grange members
thousands of dollars. Sometimes the state Grange, instead of
setting up in the business of selling produce, chose certain
firms as Grange agents and advised Patrons to sell through these
firms. Where the choice was wisely made, this system seems to
have saved the farmers about as much money without involving them
in the risks of business.

By 1876 the members of the National Grange had begun to study the
problem of cooperation in retailing goods and had come to the
conclusion that the so-called "Rochdale plan," a system worked
out by an English association, was the most practicable for the
cooperative store. The National Grange therefore recommended this
type of organization. The stock of these stores was sold only to
Patrons, at five dollars a share and in limited amounts; thus the
stores were owned by a large number of stockholders, all of whom
had equal voice in the management of the company. The stores sold
goods at ordinary rates, and then at the end of the year, after
paying a small dividend on the stock, divided their profits among
the purchasers, according to the amounts purchased. This plan
eliminated the violent competition which occurred when a store
attempted to sell goods at cost, and at the same time saved the
purchaser quite as much. Unfortunately the Rochdale plan found
little favor among farmers in the Middle West because of their
unfortunate experience with other cooperative ventures. In the
East and South, however, it was adopted more generally and met
with sufficient success to testify to the wisdom of the National
Grange in recommending it.

In its attitude toward manufacturing, the National Grange was
less sane. Not content with the elimination of the middlemen, the
farmers were determined to control the manufacture of their
implements. With the small manufacturer they managed to deal
fairly well, for they could usually find some one who would
supply the Grange with implements at less than the retail price.
In Iowa, where the state Grange early established an agency for
cooperative buying, the agent managed to persuade a manufacturer
of plows to give a discount to Grangers. As a result, this
manufacturer's plows are reported to have left the factory with
the paint scarcely dry, while his competitors, who had refused to
make special terms, had difficulty in disposing of their stock.
But the manufacturers of harvesters persistently refused to sell
at wholesale rates. The Iowa Grange thereupon determined to do
its own manufacturing and succeeded in buying a patent for a
harvester which it could make and sell for about half what other
harvesters cost. In 1874 some 250 of these machines were
manufactured, and the prospects looked bright.

Deceived by the apparent success of grange manufacturing in Iowa,
officers of the order at once planned to embark in manufacturing
on a large scale. The National Grange was rich in funds at this
time; it had within a year received well over $250,000 in
dispensation fees from seventeen thousand new Granges. Angered at
what was felt to be the tyranny of monopoly, the officers of the
National Grange decided to use this capital in manufacturing
agricultural implements which were to be sold to Patrons at very
low prices. They went about the country buying patents for all
sorts of farm implements, but not always making sure of the worth
of the machinery or the validity of the patents. In Kansas, Iowa,
Missouri, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, and Kentucky, they
planned factories to make harvesters, plows, wagons, sewing-
machines, threshing-machines, and all sorts of farm implements.
Then came the crash. The Iowa harvester factory failed in 1875
and bankrupted the state Grange. Other failures followed; suits
for patent infringements were brought against some of the
factories; local Granges disbanded for fear they might be held
responsible for the debts incurred; and in the Northwest, where
the activity had been the greatest, the order almost disappeared.

Although the Grange had a mushroom growth, it nevertheless
exerted a real and enduring influence upon farmers both as
individuals and as members of a class. Even the experiments in
cooperation, disastrous though they were in the end, were not
without useful results. While they lasted they undoubtedly
effected a considerable saving for the farmers. As Grange agents
or as stockholders in cooperative stores or Grange factories,
many farmers gained valuable business experience which helped to
prevent them from being victimized thereafter. The farmers
learned, moreover, the wisdom of working through the accepted
channels of business. Those who had scoffed at the Rochdale plan
of cooperation, in the homely belief that any scheme made in
America must necessarily be better than an English importation,
came to see that self-confidence and independence must be
tempered by willingness to learn from the experience of others.
Most important of all, these experiments in business taught the
farmers that the middlemen and manufacturers performed services
essential to the agriculturalist and that the production and
distribution of manufactured articles and the distribution of
crops are far more complex affairs than the farmers had imagined
and perhaps worthy of more compensation than they had been
accustomed to think just. On their side, the manufacturers and
dealers learned that the farmers were not entirely helpless and
that to gain their goodwill by fair prices was on the whole wiser
than to force them into competition. Thus these ventures resulted
in the development of a new tolerance and a new respect between
the two traditionally antagonistic classes.

The social and intellectual stimulus which the farmers received
from the movement was probably even more important than any
direct political or economic results. It is difficult for the
present generation to form any conception of the dreariness and
dullness of farm life half a century ago. Especially in the West,
where farms were large, opportunities for social intercourse were
few, and weeks might pass without the farmer seeing any but his
nearest neighbors. For his wife existence was even more drear.
She went to the market town less often than he and the routine of
her life on the farm kept her close to the farmhouse and
prevented visits even to her neighbors' dwellings. The difficulty
of getting domestic servants made the work of the farmer's wife
extremely laborious; and at that time there were none of the
modern conveniences which lighten work such as power churns,
cream separators, and washing-machines. Even more than the
husband, the wife was likely to degenerate into a drudge without
the hope--and eventually without the desire--of anything better.
The church formed, to be sure, a means of social intercourse; but
according to prevailing religious notions the churchyard was not
the place nor the Sabbath the time for that healthy but
unrestrained hilarity which is essential to the well-being of

Into lives thus circumscribed the Grange came as a liberalizing
and uplifting influence. Its admission of women into the order on
the same terms as men made it a real community servant and gave
both women and men a new sense of the dignity of woman. More
important perhaps than any change in theories concerning
womankind, it afforded an opportunity for men and women to work
and play together, apparently much to the satisfaction and
enjoyment of both sexes. Not only in Grange meetings, which came
at least once a month and often more frequently, but also in
Grange picnics and festivals the farmers and their wives and
children came together for joyous human intercourse. Such
frequent meetings were bound to work a change of heart. Much of
man's self-respect arises from the esteem of others, and the
desire to keep that esteem is certainly a powerful agent in
social welfare. It was reported that in many communities the
advent of the Grange created a marked improvement in the dress
and manners of the members. Crabbed men came out of their shells
and grew genial; disheartened women became cheerful; repressed
children delighted in the chance to play with other boys and
girls of their own age.

The ritual of the Grange, inculcating lessons of orderliness,
industry, thrift, and temperance, expressed the members' ideals
in more dignified and pleasing language than they themselves
could have invented. The songs of the Grange gave an opportunity
for the exercise of the musical sense of people not too critical
of literary quality, when with "spontaneous trills on every
tongue," as one of the songs has it, the members varied the
ritual with music.

One of the virtues especially enjoined on Grange members was
charity. Ceres, Pomona, and Flora, offices of the Grange to be
filled. only by women, were made to represent Faith, Hope, and
Charity, respectively; and in the ceremony of dedicating the
Grange hall these three stood always beside the altar while the
chaplain read the thirteenth chapter of First Corinthians. Not
only in theory but in practice did the order proclaim its
devotion to charitable work. It was not uncommon for members of a
local Grange to foregather and harvest the crops for a sick
brother or help rebuild a house destroyed by fire or tornado. In
times of drought or plague both state and national Granges were
generous in donations for the sufferers; in 1874, when the
Mississippi River overflowed its banks in its lower reaches,
money and supplies were sent to the farmers of Louisiana and
Alabama; again in the same year relief was sent to those Patrons
who suffered from the grasshopper plague west of the Mississippi;
and in 1876 money was sent to South Carolina to aid sufferers
from a prolonged drought in that State. These charitable deeds,
endearing giver and receiver to each other, resulted in a better
understanding and a greater tolerance between people of different
parts of the country.

The meetings of the local Granges were forums in which the
members trained themselves in public speaking and parliamentary
practice. Programs were arranged, sometimes with the help of
suggestions from officers of the state Grange; and the discussion
of a wide variety of topics, mostly economic and usually
concerned especially with the interests of the farmer, could not
help being stimulating, even if conclusions were sometimes
reached which were at variance with orthodox political economy.
The Grange was responsible, too, for a great increase in the
number and circulation of agricultural journals. Many of these
papers were recognized as official organs of the order and, by
publishing news of the Granges and discussing the political and
economic phases of the farmers' movement, they built up an
extensive circulation. Rural postmasters everywhere reported a
great increase in their mails after the establishment of a Grange
in the vicinity. One said that after the advent of the order
there were thirty newspapers taken at his office where previously
there had been but one. Papers for which members or local Granges
subscribed were read, passed from hand to hand, and thoroughly
discussed. This is good evidence that farmers were forming the
habit of reading. All the Granger laws might have been repealed;
all the schemes for cooperation might have come to naught; all
the moral and religious teachings of the Grange might have been
left to the church; but if the Granger movement had created
nothing else than this desire to read, it would have been worth
while. For after the farmer began to read, he was no longer like
deadwood floating in the backwaters of the current; he became
more like a propelled vessel in midstream--sometimes, to be sure,
driven into turbulent waters, sometimes tossed about by
conflicting currents, but at least making progress.


Whatever may have been the causes of the collapse of the Granger
movement in 1875 and 1876, returning prosperity for the Western
farmer was certainly not one of them, for the general
agricultural depression showed no signs of lifting until nearly
the end of the decade. During the Granger period the farmer
attempted to increase his narrow margin of profit or to turn a
deficit into a profit by decreasing the cost of transportation
and eliminating the middleman. Failing in this attempt, he
decided that the remedy for the situation was to be found in
increasing the prices for his products and checking the
appreciation of his debts by increasing the amount of money in

This demand for currency inflation was by no means new when it
was taken up by the Western farmers. It had played a prominent
part in American history from colonial days, especially in
periods of depression and in the less prosperous sections of the
ever advancing frontier. During the Civil War, inflation was
actually accomplished through the issue of over $400,000,000 in
legal-tender notes known as "greenbacks." No definite time for
the redemption of these notes was specified, and they quickly
declined in value as compared with gold. At the close of the war
a paper dollar was worth only about half its face value in gold.
An attempt was made to raise the relative value of the greenbacks
and to prepare for the resumption of specie payments by retiring
the paper money from circulation as rapidly as possible. This
policy meant, of course, a contraction of the volume of currency
and consequently met with immediate opposition. In February,
1868, Congress prohibited the further retirement of greenbacks
and left to the discretion of the Secretary of the Treasury the
reissue of the $44,000,000 which had been retired. Only small
amounts were reissued, however, until after the panic of 1873;
and when Congress attempted, in April, 1874, to force a permanent
increase of the currency to $400,000,000, President Grant vetoed
the bill.

Closely related to the currency problem was that of the medium to
be used in the payment of the principal of bonds issued during
the Civil War. When the bonds were sold, it was generally
understood that they would be redeemed in gold or its equivalent.
Some of the issues, however, were covered by no specific
declaration to that effect, and a considerable sentiment arose in
favor of redeeming them with currency, or lawful money, as it was

These questions were not party issues at first, and there was no
clear-cut division upon them between the two old parties
throughout the period. The alinement was by class and section
rather than by party; and inflationists and advocates of the
redemption of the bonds in currency were to be found not only
among the rank and file but also among the leaders of both
parties. The failure of either the Democrats or the Republicans
to take a decided stand on these questions resulted, as so often
before, in the development of third parties which made them the
main planks in the new platform.

The first attempts at organized political activity in behalf of
greenbackism came not from the farmers of the West but from the
laboring men of the East, whose growing class consciousness
resulted in the organization of the National Labor Union in 1868.
Accompanying, if not resulting from the Government's policy of
contraction, came a fall of prices and widespread unemployment.
It is not strange, therefore, that this body at once declared
itself in favor of inflation. The plan proposed was what was
known as the "American System of Finance": money was to be issued
only by the Government and in the form of legal-tender paper
redeemable only with bonds bearing a low rate of interest, these
bonds in turn to be convertible into greenbacks at the option of
the holder. The National Labor Union recommended the nomination
of workingmen's candidates for offices and made arrangements for
the organization of a National Labor party. This convened in
Columbus in February, 1872, adopted a Greenback platform, and
nominated David Davis of Illinois as its candidate for the
presidency. After the nomination of Horace Greeley by the Liberal
Republicans, Davis declined this nomination, and the executive
committee of his party then decided that it was too late to name
another candidate.

This early period of inflation propaganda has been described as
"the social reform period, or the wage-earners' period of
greenbackism, as distinguished from the inflationist, or farmers'
period that followed." The primary objects of the labor reformers
were, it appears, to lower the rate of interest on money and to
reduce taxation by the transformation of the war debt into
interconvertible bonds. The farmers, on the other hand, were
interested primarily in the expansion of the currency in the hope
that this would result in higher prices for their products. It
was not until the panic of 1873 had intensified the agricultural
depression and the Granger movement had failed to relieve the
situation that the farmers of the West took hold of greenbackism
and made it a major political issue.

The independent parties of the Granger period, as a rule, were
not in favor of inflation. Their platforms in some cases demanded
a speedy return to specie payment. In 1873 Ignatius Donnelly, in
a pamphlet entitled "Facts for the Granges", declared: "There is
too much paper money. The currency is DILUTED--WATERED--WEAKENED
. . . . We have no interest in an inflated money market. . . As
we have to sell our wheat at the world's ;.price, it is our
interest that everything we buy should be at the world's price.
Specie payments would practically add eighteen cents to the price
of every bushel of wheat we have to sell!" In Indiana and
Illinois, however, the independent parties were captured by the
Greenbackers, and the Indiana party issued the call for the
conference at Indianapolis in November, 1874, which led to the
organization of the National Greenback party.

This conference was attended by representatives from seven States
and included several who had been prominent in the Labor Reform
movement. "The political Moses of the 'New Party, "' according to
the Chicago Tribune, was James Buchanan of Indianapolis, a lawyer
"with an ability and shrewdness that compel respect, however much
his theories may be ridiculed and abused." He was also the editor
of the Sun, a weekly paper which supported the farmers' movement.
The platform committee of the conference reported in favor of "a
new political organization of the people, by the people, and for
the people, to restrain the aggressions of combined capital upon
the rights and interests of the masses, to reduce taxation,
correct abuses, and to purify all departments of the Government."
The most important issue before the people was declared to be
"the proper solution of the money question," meaning thereby the
issue of greenbacks interconvertible with bonds. A national
convention of the party was called to meet at Cleveland on March
11, 1875.

The Cleveland convention, attended by representatives of twelve
States, completed the organization of the Independent party, as
it was officially named, and made arrangements for the nominating
convention. This was held at Indianapolis on May 17, 1876, with
240 delegates representing eighteen States. Ignatius Donnelly,
who had apparently changed his mind on the currency question
since 1873, was the temporary president. The platform contained
the usual endorsement of a circulating medium composed of
legal-tender notes interconvertible with bonds but gave first
place to a demand for "the immediate and unconditional repeal of
the specie-resumption act." This measure, passed by Congress in
January, 1875, had fixed January 1, 1879, as the date when the
Government would redeem greenbacks at their face value in coin.
Although the act made provision for the permanent retirement of
only a part of the greenbacks from circulation, the new party
denounced it as a "suicidal and destructive policy of
contraction." Another plank in the platform, and one of special
interest in view of the later free silver agitation, was a
protest against the sale of bonds for the purpose of purchasing
silver to be substituted for the fractional currency of war
times. This measure, it was asserted, "although well calculated
to enrich owners of silver mines will still further oppress, in
taxation, an already overburdened people."

There was a strong movement in the convention for the nomination
of David Davis for the presidency, but this seems to have met
with opposition from Eastern delegates who remembered his
desertion of the National Labor Reform party in 1872. Peter
Cooper of New York was finally selected as the candidate. He was
a philanthropist rather than a politician and was now eighty-five
years old. Having made a large fortune as a pioneer in the
manufacture of iron, he left his business cares to other members
of his family and devoted himself to the education and elevation
of the working classes. His principal contribution to this cause
was the endowment of the famous Cooper Union in New York, where
several thousand persons, mostly mechanics, attended classes in a
variety of technical and educational subjects and enjoyed the
privileges of a free library and reading room. When notified of
his nomination, Cooper at first expressed the hope that one or
both of the old parties might adopt such currency planks as would
make the new movement unnecessary. Later he accepted
unconditionally but took no active part in the campaign.

The Greenback movement at first made but slow progress in the
various States. In Indiana and Illinois the existing independent
organizations became component parts of the new party, although
in Illinois, at least, quite a number of the former leaders
returned to the old parties. In the other Western States,
however, the third parties of the Granger period had gone to
pieces or had been absorbed by means of fusion, and new
organizations had to be created. In Indiana the Independent party
developed sufficient strength to scare the Republican leaders and
to cause one of them to write to Hayes: "A bloody-shirt campaign,
with money, and Indiana is safe; a financial campaign and no
money and we are beaten."

The Independents do not appear to have made a very vigorous
campaign in 1876. The coffers of the party were as empty as the
pockets of the farmers who were soon to swell its ranks; and this
made a campaign of the usual sort impossible. One big meeting was
held in Chicago in August, with Samuel F. Cary, the nominee for
Vice-President, as the principal attraction; and this was
followed by a torchlight procession. A number of papers published
by men who were active in the movement, such as Buchanan's
Indianapolis Star, Noonan's Industrial Age of Chicago, and
Donnelly's Anti-Monopolist of St. Paul, labored not without avail
to spread the gospel among their readers. The most effective
means of propaganda, however, was probably the Greenback Club. At
a conference in Detroit in August, 1875, "the organization of
Greenback Clubs in every State in the Union" was recommended, and
the work was carried on under the leadership of Marcus M.
Pomeroy. "Brick" Pomeroy was a journalist, whose sobriquet
resulted from a series of Brickdust Sketches of prominent
Wisconsin men which he published in one of his papers. As the
editor of Brick Pomeroy's Democrat, a sensational paper published
in New York, he had gained considerable notoriety. In 1875, after
the failure of this enterprise he undertook to retrieve his
broken fortunes by editing a Greenback paper in Chicago and by
organizing Greenback clubs for which this paper served as an
organ. Pomeroy also wrote and circulated a series of tracts with
such alluring titles as Hot Drops and Meat for Men. Several
thousand clubs were organized in the Northwest during the next
few years, principally in the rural regions, and the secrecy of
their proceedings aroused the fear that they were advocating
communism. The members of the clubs and their leaders
constituted, as a matter of fact, the more radical of the
Greenbackers. They usually opposed fusion with the Democrats and
often refused to follow the regular leaders of the party.

In the election the Greenback ticket polled only about eighty
thousand votes, or less than one per cent of the total. In spite
of the activity of former members of the Labor Reform party in
the movement, Pennsylvania was the only Eastern State in which
the new party made any considerable showing. In the West over
6000 votes were cast in each of the five States--Indiana,
Illinois, Michigan, Iowa, and Kansas. The agrarian aspect of the
movement was now uppermost, but the vote of 17,000 polled in
Illinois, though the largest of the group, was less than a
quarter of the votes cast by the state Independent Reform party
in 1874 when railroad regulation had been the dominant issue.
Clearly many farmers were not yet convinced of the necessity of a
Greenback party. The only tangible achievement of the party in
1876 was the election of a few members of the Illinois
Legislature who held the balance between the old parties and were
instrumental in sending David Davis to the United States Senate.
This vote, it is interesting to note, kept Davis from serving on
the electoral commission and thus probably prevented Tilden from
becoming President.

But the Greenback movement was to find fresh impetus in 1877, a
year of exceptional unrest and discontent throughout the Union.
The agricultural depression was even greater than in preceding
years, while the great railroad strikes were evidence of the
distress of the workingmen. This situation was reflected in
politics by the rapid growth of the Greenback party and the
reappearance of labor parties with Greenback planks.*

* In state elections from Massachusetts to Kansas the Greenback
and labor candidates polled from 5 to 15 per cent of the total
vote, and in most cases the Greenback vote would probably have
been much greater had not one or the other, and in some cases
both, of the old parties incorporated part of the Greenback
demands in their platforms. In Wisconsin, for example, there was
little difference between Democrats and Greenbackers on the
currency question, and even the Republicans in their platform
leaned toward inflation, although the candidates declared against
it. No general elections were held in 1877 in some of the States
where the Greenback sentiment was most pronounced.

In the following year the new party had an excellent opportunity
to demonstrate its strength wherever it existed. In February,
1878, a conference was held at Toledo for the purpose of welding
the various political organizations of workingmen and advocates
of inflation into an effective weapon as a single united party.
This conference, which was attended by several hundred delegates
from twenty-eight States, adopted "National" as the name of the
party, but it was usually known from this time on as the
Greenback Labor party. The Toledo platform, as the resolutions
adopted by this conference came to be designated, first denounced
"the limiting of the legal-tender quality of greenbacks, the
changing of currency-bonds into coin-bonds, the demonetization of
the silver dollar, the excepting of bonds from taxation, the
contraction of the circulating medium, the proposed forced
resumption of specie payments, and the prodigal waste of the
public lands." The resolutions which followed demanded the
suppression of bank notes and the issue of all money by the
Government, such money to be full legal-tender at its stamped
value and to be provided in sufficient quantity to insure the
full employment of labor and to establish a rate of interest

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