Ryan’s group



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Ryan’s group
During the post Civil War period American migration westward increased dramatically. The Indian populated West was broken and striped with the new technological development of the transcontinental railroad. Pioneering farmers, lured by the promise of land and pushed from the overpopulation of the eastern cities, settled the Indian wilderness. Thus, the status of the American farmer and of American agriculture changed from this westward migration. Technological innovations made this settlement of farmers and expansion of agriculture possible. The sudden growth of American agriculture created an overproduction of crop products, which in turn caused the price of crops to deflate. This economic havoc burdened the American farmer for much of the late nineteenth century. This burden on the farmer led to the unification of farmers and the increased role of the plain farmers in government. The People’s Party formed and gained national popularity to aid the farmers. Thusly the American farmer and American agriculture were changed with innovative technology, a deflating and burdened economy, and an increased role in participation of farmers in government and politics that aimed to specifically aid the farmer.

New technology produced during 1865 to 1900 played a large role in the life of farmers and had completely transformed American agriculture itself. Technology allowed the west to be settled and farmed. New technologies gave the farmer the opportunity to produce more crops than they had ever been capable of previously. American farmers began to farm large regions of necessary crops such as wheat, cotton, and corn. By 1880 farmers could use combines pulled by fifteen to twenty horses across a large field of wheat and harvest more of the crop.. Farm work had been changed from hand power to horse power. (Doc. D) Due to technology the bushels of products being produced reached to new heights. In the year 1870, 254 million bushels of wheat were produced and in 1900, 599 million bushels of wheat were produced. (Doc. A) American agriculture outgrew the simple walking plow. With the advent of the sulky and gang plows, a farmer could accomplish far more behind a team of horses. In 1868 and 1869, steam tractors were tried out and a spring-tooth harrow for seedbed preparation was created. In 1870 silos and deep-well drilling came into use. Then in 1874 the Glidden barbed wire was patented. This was used to fence fields in order to keep cattle from grazing on them. Farmers were also using technology such as the combine harvester, cream separators, and the use of commercial fertilizer. The innovation of irrigation during this time period allowed for well watered, healthier crops. Technology favored bigger farms. Most of the technology was both expensive and needed large spaces to work effectively. Farming began to become large scale because technology made large farms more competitive than small farms. Farmers in the west began to collect their goods and needed a way to transport their goods across the states. The advent of the railroad had an enormous influence on agriculture. In 1870 there were masses of existing railroads in the East and only the Union Pacific and Central Pacific railroad stretching across the West. The amount of existing railroads increased dramatically by 1890. (Doc. B) Railroads were sprawling across the entire country. With this increase of railroads America saw an increase in settlement. This increase in settlement meant also a huge increase of farms. The change in agriculture was a result of the creation of railroads and all of the changes would not have been formed without it. Railroads charged the farmers large dues, expenses that farmers barely had enough to cover, in order to transport their goods throughout the expansive country. The innovation of the refrigerated train car allowed farmers to sell the meat of livestock such as cattle. All of the technology used to improve American agriculture led to many problems including overproduction of crops. Farmers had many responses to these problems. A woman named Mary Elizabeth Lease who had many successful farming ventures, had an involvement in the growing revolt of Kansas farmers against high mortgage interest and railroad rates. Her involvement had placed her in the lead of the People's (Populist) Party. Lease had advised farmers to “"raise less corn and more hell.” (Doc. G)

During the time period of 1865 to 1900 the United States’ economy was undergoing a major overhaul in the way that agriculture was practiced. Although production of crops was at an all-time high, often too high, deflation was very apparent in the costs of certain crops as the years progressed. (Doc. A) According to Mary Elizabeth Lease, the government had requested a large harvest in order to sustain life in the west. After these large amounts of crops were harvested the outcome was not what western farmers had expected. The price of crops had decreased by a large amount due to overproduction and in turn, deflation. (Doc. G) Overproduction had become a problem not only with crops, but also with cattle and beef. The city of Chicago was able to process and ship a total of 400,000 cattle per year. Approximately 2,500,000 cattle were being brought to the city, which totaled almost 2.1 million cattle were unable to be processed in Chicago. (Doc. F) Due to the rapid rate of deflation of western crops, many farmers in this area for forced to resort to share cropping in order to survive. Farmers were rarely able to prosper through the use of this system. (Doc. E) In response the low costs and profits made from farms in the west, the Populist Movement was created to improve conditions for struggling farmers in the west. The introduction of money backed by silver instead of gold was very strongly supported by populists A member of the populists that quickly became a leader was William Jennings Bryan. Bryan expresses how strongly he supports the backing of money with silver in his “Cross of Gold” speech. He explains that gold-backed money may be sufficient in eastern cities, but it is slowly killing western farmers and their ability to remain in the west. Bryan is positive that western farmers are ready to fight in order to achieve their goal of cheaper money backed by silver. (Doc. J) The western economy throughout 1865 to 1900 was not to the level that many residents and farmers that lived here had worked for. Overproduction and deflation of produced crops crippled any chances of economic advancements in the west.



The power of government went through tremendous changes in its foundation in the second half of the nineteenth century. The power of government was taken by the grasping hand of the belittled and helpless American farmer. With the success of the unification of farmers, the policies of the government thusly changed to address the multiple issues that burdened the American farmer. A prominent issue in the beginnings of the time period was the railroad. The railroad was needed by farmers as a means of transportation for crops. Because the transcontinental rails in the 1860s and 1870s were few, the owners of the railroads could form a trust, or agreement, to keep rates high (Document B). This led to the beginnings of farmers’ involvement with politics. Farmers of the West who relied on the railroads called upon state governments for regulation. The Munn v. Illinois Supreme Court case upheld the laws of the Illinois legislature and said that the state had the right to regulate any private business that served the public—such as the railroads (Document C). However, farmers were somewhat stripped of this state government win in the Wabash case, when it was upheld that state governments couldn’t regulate railroads that went into other states, because they couldn’t regulate interstate commerce. Other problems plagued the American farmer in the 1880s and 1890s. These would eventually lead to the farmers’ unification in politics. This traced its roots in the National Grange of the Order of Patrons of Husbandry, a popular social club or fraternity among Western farmers. This unification of farmers led to the Farmer’s Alliance organization, which sought to end the problems that plighted the American farmer. This in turn led ultimately to the People’s Party (the Populist Party). Launched in Omaha in 1892, the party aided farmers through politics, and gained national popularity. The problems that united the farmers in government centered around deflation of crop prices from overproduction (Document A). This enraged farmers, who felt that the government had encouraged this because they encouraged the settling of the West (Document G). The federal government did indeed play the largest role in developing the far West. While this was the main issue that caused farmers to unite, other smaller issues were impetuses as well. Farmers living on the frontier advocated for the ending of the reservation system for Native Americans. The difference in cultures led white farmers to view Indians as “lazy paupers” without rights to the good farmlands of the trans-Mississippi West (Document I). Some farmers desperately wanted more land. The Homestead Act of 1862 gave westward moving farmers 160 acres of land for a minimal cost of $30, so long as they stayed on the land for five years. This was a promotion by the government to get farmers to settle the West. However, the semiarid climate made living off of only 160 acres a challenge (Document H). Drought often caused crops to fail, and farmers on the small settlements blamed the government's encouragement of their settlement for their misfortune. To relieve farmers of the burdens that the late nineteenth century brought them, the Populists made the free and unlimited coinage of silver a platform issue. By coining silver, the value of US currency would deflate, and the prices of farmers’ crops would increase in value. This issue later was taken on by a majority of the Democratic Party in the election of 1896. The two parties combined on the issue, and the Democrats’ nominee, William Jennings Bryan, made a passionate and poignant speech for the coinage of silver. The plight of the farmer was now grasped as an issue of one of America’s largest political parties. Bryan elloquated that the “Cross of Gold”, that is the burden of backing US currency in more precious gold, would no longer be borne by the farmers (Document J). A major voice thusly stepped onto the national stage to defend the farmers’ political concerns. This proved undoubtedly the newfound power of government that farmers grasped in their burdened hands.

In the period of 1865 to 1900, technology, economic conditions, and government dramatically changed American agriculture. The innovations of farming technology, in combination with the advent of the transcontinental railroad, served as an impetus to the expansion American agriculture. The overproduction of American farming crops led to a deflation of crop sale prices, and the economic conditions generally burdened farmers. The burdens of the overproducing economy forced farmers to unite and play a larger role in democratic government.


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