Justice’s group With the end of the Civil War came a period of Western migration in which Americans tamed the West with the steel spine of the railroad. This migration resulted in an increasing interest in agriculture for those migrating to the West. Technological innovations such as the railroad, which brought Americans to the West will result in a both a dependence upon big business and the government itself. This dependence will bring upon the farmer struggles as those involved in agriculture struggle to gain profit from their massive amount of production, with corporations and the government wanting to regulate the growing occupation.
First, as Americans moved westward into the semi-arid regions of the Great Plains, homesteaders became great farmers and ranchers. They were helped by the new technological inventions of the time which allowed increased production and a wider market. The invention of the combine harvester made farming life easier, more efficient, and harvest more of a certain crop. Farmers could now work using less laborers to cultivate large tracts of land. The combine also eliminated several tasks into one , and made the farming life easier, which farmers looked upon with great interest. The increased production forced many farmers to go in search of jobs elsewhere,most finding work in the city. ( Doc D ) The metal tendrils of the ambitious railroads spreading westward also improved farming techniques on the plains. During the time period of 1865 to the end of the 18th century railroad production increased dramatically. This allowed for the farmers market to expand further from home and even compete globally. It allowed the farming community to also have a large fluctuation in economics which also fluctuated production. ( Doc B ) Ranching during this time received a catalyst from the new railroads as well. Ranches could now raise several thousand cattle quickly on the pasture abundant plains and then cowboys could herd them over long distances to a major railroad terminal. The rails would then transport the cattle quickly to a city like Chicago or Kansas City where mass butchering plants would slaughter and prepare them. From there, the new refrigerator cars could transport the fresh meat rapidly to eastern or western cities. The vast expanse of railroads allowed for the expansion of the ranching industry and for a productive way to use the difficult farming land of the Great Plains. (Doc F)
Furthermore, as America entered itself into the global economy, the American farmer had to increase production in order to keep up with the global demand for agricultural goods. As the years went on from 1865 to 1900, farmers increased their production of crops, but time continued to march on. The farmers of America were being paid less and less for their hard work and massive production. As each year passed, the price for the farmers’ crops continued to grow in the global economy. In result, as the price grew in the world, the American government continued to pay the farmers less and less for their crops to sell. ( Doc A ) Many American farmers became poor as a result of sharecropping, and looked for a way out of their depressing life style. The main famer who controlled what other farmers gave to continue to live on had the right to demand when and where he made his decisions to obtain other farmers crops. Many of the farmers underneath him could not keep up or were not able to meet the quota, and therefore many became poor. ( Doc E) Since many farmers could not keep up with the global demand for crops, many became poor and were unable to keep their farms. That, or just simply the weather ruined their land and kept them from being able to harvest or plant. Many were forced to leave their farming way of life and had to go out and find jobs elsewhere, like in the city or in a factory. Too many farmers were denied these jobs and were eventually forced out of the land. ( Doc H ) Also, during this time period, almost all farmers were intently against the gold standard of the federal government. The farmers had easy and large amounts of access to silver, and demanded that the currency be switched over to silver. Many farmers were willing to go against the gold standard with violence if thats what it took. As big businesses and companies moved out west, America began to be seen as a whole and was losing its individuality. This allowed for the larger big businesses to flourish and stump the farmers. Since theses companies were from the east and were largely supported by the federal government, they used gold as their currency and did not see fit to change it over to silver as the farmers wanted. These companies financially succeeded and were able to do fine with their gold currency where silver was most wanted (Doc J).
Next, the federal government, attempting to keep up with the ever changing profession of agriculture, would enact legislation and the American people themselves would spawn political parties bent on helping the farmer. The beginning of this attempt to control the frontier would start with the inclusion of the Homestead Act in 1862. This piece of legislation allowed farmers who could not pay for large tracts of land on their own to gain a foothold in society with up to 160 acres of land. This act was the beginning of the government actively encouraging the western migration for the benefits of more agriculture. Unforeseen by the federal government though, this act would be abused by big business, which hurt the farmer and western migrating Americans. Farmers ended up responding to this fraud with anger and a wish for more land because of the loss of land they were suffering of because of corporate land grabbers. The federal government would then happily oblige to this request in the form of opening up vast stretches of land, but at the expense of the Native Americans within the country. Even though the federal government was supposed to be protecting these people, it listened to the farmer, such as R. W. McAdams. He gave full detail in the Oklahoma Magazine of his disregard for the Indians and the simple wish to obtain their land. ( Doc I ) Thus, the farmers within America were happy, but at the cost of the Indians. Interestingly enough, regulation by the government to control the growing state of agriculture started of on the side of the farmer. This is shown by how in a early court case in 1877 between Munn and Illinois where Munn was found guilty of attempting to regulate the storage of grain upon train cars and in grain silos. The state of Illinois found this illegal as it was losing money, but the Supreme Court surprisingly on the side of the farmer ruled for a regulation so that the railroad company could not hurt the already struggling farmer. This was a victory in the eyes of farmers, which is shown quite strongly by a simply Prairie farmer who exclaimed how his Western brothers in Illinois accomplished in his words, “ a great good.” ( Doc C) This process would then continue in other Granger cases such as one in 1886 between Wabash St. Louis and the Pacific RR Co. v. Illinois. In this case the Supreme Court ruled that the states could not regulate commerce and that regulation for the railroads had to come from the federal government itself, which led to the creation of the Interstate Commerce Commision in 1887. This was the very first regulatory commision. This delighted the farmers, but eventually the American farmers realized that the government did not know how to correctly use this organization and help the average farmer correctly. This was expressed very passionately by Mary Elizabeth Lease in a speech she made in 1892. Within her speech she spoke of how money rules society and the politicians within the government could not be trusted to help the farmer any longer. ( Doc G ) The farmers themselves wishing to take control spawned the Populist Party out of the Farmer’s Alliance. This party would finally have the farmer’s interest at heart as shown by their platform in 1892 which included a regulation of the federal government in areas of postal service, a graduated income tax, and a regulation of transportation among other things. This party would eventually steam out, but would finally bring to the attention the farmers plight within the election of 1896 as the Democratic party took over many of the Populist Party’s platform declarations and were out to help the farmer. As shown by William Jennings Bryan who knowing of the farmer’s plight because of gold spoke for the American farmer saying that the Democratic party had both the supporters of the Populist Party as well as laborers and those of the toiling masses. Bryan stated to the government that it shall not kill those who must work with the standard of gold instead of silver. ( Doc J ) Only because of fear would the Democratic party lose, but because of this party’s strong opposition and charisma could the farmer rejoice that their plight was fully known.
Finally, within the time period between 1865 through 1900 technology brought upon change for the farmer as he could now make massive amounts of products, but with this ability would come a dependence upon big business to help them in the global market and the federal government to regulate the transportation of their products. In the end, agriculture was changed drastically because even though the farmer had technology and regulation by the government, the farmer had become another laborer to big business.