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´╗┐Title: The Agrarian Crusade: A Chronicle of the Farmer in Politics
Author: Buck, Solon J. (Solon Justus), 1884-1962
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Agrarian Crusade: A Chronicle of the Farmer in Politics" ***

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By Solon J. Buck

Volume 45, The Chronicles Of America Series

Allen Johnson, Editor


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 still 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

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 session.

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
indefatigable 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


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 presidency.

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 Congress."

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

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

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 construct.

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 movement.

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 conventions.

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

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

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 movement.

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 extortion.

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

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

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

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

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 stores.

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

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

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 man.

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

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 circulation.

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 called.

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

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

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 which would
secure to labor its just reward. Other planks called for the coinage
of silver on the same basis as that of gold, reservation of the public
lands for actual settlers, legislative reduction of the hours of labor,
establishment of labor bureaus, abolition of the contract system of
employing prison labor, and suppression of Chinese immigration. It
is clear that in this platform the interests of labor received full
consideration. Just before the conference adjourned it adopted two
additional resolutions. One of these, adopted in response to a telegram
from General B. F. Butler, denounced the silver bill just passed by
Congress because it had been so modified as to limit the amount of
silver to be coined. The other, which was offered by "Brick" Pomeroy,
declared: "We will not affiliate in any degree with any of the old
parties, but in all cases and localities will organize anew...
and... vote only for men who entirely abandon old party lines and
organizations." This attempt to forestall fusion was to be of no avail,
as the sequel will show, but Pomeroy and his followers in the Greenback
clubs adhered throughout to their declaration.

In the elections of 1878, the high-water mark of the movement, about
a million votes were cast for Greenback candidates. Approximately
two-thirds of the strength of the party was in the Middle West and
one-third in the East. That the movement, even in the East, was largely
agrarian, is indicated by the famous argument of Solon Chase, chairman
of the party convention in Maine. "Inflate the currency, and you raise
the price of my steers and at the same time pay the public debt." "Them
steers" gave Chase a prominent place in politics for half a decade. The
most important achievement of the movement at this time was the election
to Congress of fifteen members who were classified as Nationals--six
from the East, six from the Middle West, and three from the South. In
most cases these men secured their election through fusion or through
the failure of one of the old parties to make nominations.

Easily first among the Greenbackers elected to Congress in 1878 was
General James B. Weaver of Iowa. When ten years of age, Weaver had been
taken by his parents to Iowa from Ohio, his native State. In 1854, he
graduated from a law school in Cincinnati, and for some years thereafter
practiced his profession and edited a paper at Bloomfield in Davis
County, Iowa. He enlisted in the army as a private in 1861, displayed
great bravery at the battles of Donelson and Shiloh, and received rapid
promotion to the rank of colonel. At the close of the war he received a
commission as brigadier general by brevet. Weaver ran his first tilt
in state politics in an unsuccessful attempt to obtain the Republican
nomination for lieutenant governor in 1865. Although an ardent advocate
of prohibition and of state regulation of railroads, Weaver remained
loyal to the Republican party during the Granger period and in 1875 was
a formidable candidate for the gubernatorial nomination. It is said that
a majority of the delegates to the convention had been instructed in his
favor, but the railroad and liquor interests succeeded in stampeding
the convention to Samuel J. Kirkwood, the popular war governor. In the
following year Weaver took part in the organization of the Independent
or Greenback party in Iowa and accepted a position on its state
committee. Though resentment at the treatment which he had received from
the Republicans may have influenced him to break the old ties, he was
doubtless sincerely convinced that the Republican party was beyond
redemption and that the only hope for reform lay in the new party

Weaver was gifted with remarkable talent as an orator. His fine face
and soldierly bearing, his rich sympathetic voice and vivid imagination,
made him a favorite speaker at soldiers' reunions and in political
campaigns. Lacking the eccentricities of so many of his third party
associates and never inclined to go to extremes in his radicalism, he
was one of the ablest and, from the standpoint of the Republicans, the
most dangerous of the Greenback leaders. In Congress Weaver won the
respect of his colleagues. Always ready to promote what he believed to
be the interests of the common people and especially of the farmers,
he espoused the cause of the Oklahoma "boomers," who were opposed by
a powerful lobby representing the interests of the "cattle barons." He
declared that, in a choice between bullocks and babies, he would stand
for babies, and he staged a successful filibuster at the close of a
session in order to force the consideration of a bill for the opening of
part of Oklahoma to settlement.

The preliminaries of the campaign of 1880 were vexed by dissension
within the ranks of the Greenbackers. In March the radical faction led
by Pomeroy held a convention in St. Louis which claimed to speak for
ten thousand Greenback clubs and two million voters. After Stephen D.
Dillaye of New York had refused the presidential nomination at the hands
of this convention, it adjourned to meet in Chicago on the 9th of June
the place and time already selected for the regular convention of the
National party. One reason for the attitude of this faction appears to
have been the fear of fusion with the Democrats. The Chicago convention
finally succeeded in absorbing these malcontents, as well as a group of
socialist delegates and representatives of various labor organizations
who asked to be admitted. Dennis Kearney, the notorious sand-lot
agitator of California was made chief sergeant at arms, and Susan B.
Anthony was allowed to give a suffrage speech. The platform differed
from earlier Greenback documents in that it contained no denunciation of
the Resumption Act. That was now a dead issue, for on January 1, 1879,
resumption became an accomplished fact, and the paper currency was worth
its face value in gold. Apart from this the platform was much the same
as that adopted at Toledo in 1878, with the addition of planks favoring
women's suffrage, a graduated income tax, and congressional regulation
of interstate commerce. On the first ballot, General Weaver received a
majority of the votes for presidential nominee; and B. J. Chambers of
Texas was nominated for Vice-President.

General Weaver in his letter of acceptance declared it to be his
intention "to visit the various sections of the Union and talk to the
people." This he did, covering the country from Arkansas to Maine and
from Lake Michigan to the Gulf, speaking in Faneuil Hall at Boston and
in the Cooper Union at New York, but spending the greater part of
his time in the Southern States. He declared that he traveled twenty
thousand miles, made fully one hundred speeches, shook the hands of
thirty thousand people, and was heard by half a million. Weaver was the
first presidential candidate to conduct a campaign of this sort, and the
results were not commensurate with his efforts. The Greenback vote was
only 308,578, about three per cent of the total. One explanation of the
small vote would seem to be the usual disinclination of people to vote
for a man who has no chance of election, however much they may approve
of him and his principles, when they have the opportunity to make their
votes count in deciding between two other candidates. Then, too, the
sun of prosperity was beginning at last to dissipate the clouds of
depression. The crops of corn, wheat, and oats raised in 1880 were
the largest the country had ever known; and the price of corn for once
failed to decline as production rose, so that the crop was worth half as
much again as that of 1878. When the farmer had large crops to dispose
of at remunerative prices, he lost interest in the inflation of the

After 1880 the Greenback party rapidly disintegrated. There was no
longer any hope of its becoming a major party, in the near future at
least, and the more conservative leaders began to drift back into the
old parties or to make plans for fusion with one of them in
coming elections. But fusion could at best only defer the end. The
congressional election of 1882 clearly demonstrated that the party was
moribund. Ten of the Congressmen elected in 1880 had been classified
as Nationals; of these only one was reelected in 1882, and no new
names appear in the list. It is probable, however, that a number of
Congressmen classified as Democrats owed their election in part to
fusion between the Democratic and Greenback parties.

The last appearance of the Greenbackers in national politics was in the
presidential election of 1884. In May of that year a convention of
"The Anti-Monopoly Organization of the United States," held in
Chicago, adopted a platform voicing a demand for legislative control of
corporations and monopolies in the interests of the people and nominated
General Benjamin F. Butler for President. The convention of the
Greenback or National party met in Indianapolis, and selected Butler
as its candidate also. General Weaver presided over the convention. The
platform contained the usual demands of the party with the exception of
the resolution for the "free and unlimited coinage of gold and silver,"
which was rejected by a vote of 218 to 164. It would appear that the
majority of the delegates preferred to rely upon legal-tender paper to
furnish the ample supply of money desired. General Butler was at this
time acting with the Democrats in Massachusetts, and his first response
was noncommittal. Although he subsequently accepted both nominations,
he did not make an active campaign, and his total popular vote was only
175,370. Butler's personal popularity and his labor affiliations brought
increased votes in some of the Eastern States and in Michigan, but in
those Western States where the party had been strongest in 1880 and
where it had been distinctly a farmers' movement there was a great
falling off in the Greenback vote.

Though the forces of agrarian discontent attained national political
organization for the first time in the Greenback party, its leaders were
never able to obtain the support of more than a minority of the farmers.
The habit of voting the Republican or the Democratic ticket, firmly
established by the Civil War and by Reconstruction, was too strong to
be lightly broken; and many who favored inflation could not yet bring
themselves to the point of supporting the Greenback party. On the other
hand there were undoubtedly many farmers and others who felt that the
old parties were hopelessly subservient to capitalistic interests,
who were ready to join in radical movements for reform and for the
advancement of the welfare of the industrial classes, but who were not
convinced that the structure of permanent prosperity for farmer and
workingman could be built on a foundation of fiat money. Although the
platforms of the Greenbackers contained many demands which were soundly
progressive, inflation was the paramount issue in them; and with this
issue the party was unable to obtain the support of all the forces of
discontent, radicalism, and reform which had been engendered by the
economic and political conditions of the times. The Greenback movement
was ephemeral. Failing to solve the problem of agricultural depression,
it passed away as had the Granger movement before it; but the greater
farmers' movement of which both were a part went on.


An English observer of agricultural conditions in 1893 finds that
agricultural unrest was not peculiar to the United States in the last
quarter of the nineteenth century, but existed in all the more advanced
countries of the world:

"Almost everywhere, certainly in England, France, Germany, Italy,
Scandinavia, and the United States, the agriculturists, formerly so
instinctively conservative, are becoming fiercely discontented, declare
they gained less by civilization than the rest of the community, and
are looking about for remedies of a drastic nature. In England they are
hoping for aid from councils of all kinds; in France they have put
on protective duties which have been increased in vain twice over; in
Germany they put on and relaxed similar duties and are screaming for
them again; in Scandinavia Denmark more particularly--they limit the
aggregation of land; and in the United States they create organizations
like the Grangers, the Farmers' Leagues, and the Populists."*

     *The Spectator, Vol. LXX, p. 247.

It is to general causes, indeed, that one must turn before trying to
find the local circumstances which aggravated the unrest in the United
States, or at least appeared to do so. The application of power--first
steam, then electricity--to machinery had not only vastly increased
the productivity of mankind but had stimulated invention to still wider
activity and lengthened the distance between man and that gaunt specter
of famine which had dogged his footsteps from the beginning. With a
constantly, growing supply of the things necessary for the maintenance
of life, population increased tremendously: England, which a few
centuries before had been overcrowded with fewer than four million'
people, was now more bountifully feeding and clothing forty millions.
Perhaps, all in all, mankind was better off than it had ever been
before; yet different groups maintained unequal progress. The tillers
of the soil as a whole remained more nearly in their primitive condition
than did the dwellers of the city. The farmer, it is true, produced a
greater yield of crops, was surrounded by more comforts, and was able to
enjoy greater leisure than his kind had ever done before. The scythe
and cradle had been supplanted by the mower and reaper; horse harrows,
cultivators, and rakes had transferred much of the physical exertion of
farming to the draft animals. But, after all, the farmer owed less to
steam and electricity than the craftsman and the artisan of the cities.

The American farmer, if he read the census reports, might learn that
rural wealth had increased from nearly $4,000,000,000 in 1850 to not
quite $16,000,000,000 in 1890; but he would also discover that in the
same period urban wealth had advanced from a little over $3,000,000,000
to more than $49,000,000,000. Forty years before the capital of rural
districts comprised more than half that of the whole country, now it
formed only twenty-five per cent. The rural population had shown a
steady proportionate decrease: when the first census was taken in 1790,
the dwellers of the country numbered more than ten times those of the
city, but at the end of the nineteenth century they formed only about
one-third of the total. Of course the intelligent farmer might have
observed that food for the consumption of all could be produced by the
work of fewer hands, and vastly more bountifully as well, and so he
might have explained the relative decline of rural population and
wealth; but when the average farmer saw his sons and his neighbors' sons
more and more inclined to seek work in town and leave the farm, he put
two and two together and came to the conclusion that farming was in a
perilous state. He heard the boy who had gone to the city boast that his
hours were shorter, his toil less severe, and his return in money much
greater than had been the case on the farm; and he knew that this was
true. Perhaps the farmer did not realize that he had some compensations:
greater security of position and a reasonable expectation that old age
would find him enjoying some sort of home, untroubled by the worry which
might attend the artisan or shopkeeper.

Whether or not the American farmer realized that the nineteenth century
had seen a total change in the economic relations of the world, he did
perceive clearly that something was wrong in his own case. The first
and most impressive evidence of this was to be found in the prices
he received for what he had to sell. From 1883 to 1889 inclusive
the average price of wheat was seventy-three cents a bushel, of corn
thirty-six cents, of oats twenty-eight cents. In 1890 crops were poor
in most of the grain areas, while prosperous times continued to keep the
consuming public of the manufacturing regions able to buy; consequently
corn and oats nearly doubled in price, and wheat advanced 20 per cent.
Nevertheless, such was the shortage, except in the case of corn, that
the total return was smaller than it had been for a year or two before.
In 1891 bumper crops of wheat, corn, oats, rye, and barley drove the
price down on all except wheat and rye, but not to the level of 1889.
Despite a much smaller harvest in 1892 the decline continued, to the
intense disgust of the farmers of Nebraska and Minnesota who failed to
note that the entire production of wheat in the world was normal in that
year, that considerable stores of the previous crop had been held over
and that more than a third of the yield in the United States was sent
forth to compete everywhere with the crops of Argentine, Russia, and
the other grain producing countries. No wonder the average farmer of the
Mississippi basin was ready to give ear to any one who could suggest a
remedy for his ills.

Cotton, which averaged nearly eleven cents a pound for the decade ending
in 1890, dropped to less than nine cents in 1891 and to less than eight
in 1892. Cattle, hogs, sheep, horses, and mules brought more in the late
than in the early eighties, yet these, too, showed a decline about 1890.
The abnormal war-time price of wool which was more than one dollar a
pound in October, 1864, dropped precipitately with peace, rose a little
just before the panic of 1873, and then declined with almost no reaction
until it reached thirty-three cents for the highest grade in 1892.

The "roaring eighties," with all their superficial appearance of
prosperity, had apparently not brought equal cheer to all. And then came
the "heart-breaking nineties." In February, 1893, the Philadelphia and
Reading Railroad Company failed, a break in the stock market followed,
and an old-fashioned panic seized the country in its grasp. A period of
hitherto unparalleled speculative frenzy came thus to an end, and sober
years followed in which the American people had ample opportunity to
contemplate the evils arising from their economic debauch.

Prices of agricultural products continued their downward trend. Wheat
touched bottom in 1894 with an average price of forty-nine cents; corn,
two years later, reached twenty-one cents. All the other grains were
likewise affected. Middling cotton which had sold at eight and a half
cents a pound in 1893, dropped below seven cents the following year,
recovered until it reached nearly eight cents in 1896, and was at its
lowest in 1898 at just under six cents. Of all the marketable products
of the farm, cattle, hay, and hogs alone maintained the price level
of the decade prior to 1892. Average prices, moreover, do not fully
indicate the small return which many farmers received. In December,
1891, for instance, the average value of a bushel of corn was about
forty cents, but in Nebraska, on January 1, 1892, corn brought only
twenty-six cents. When, a few years later, corn was worth, according to
the statistics, just over twenty-one cents, it was literally cheaper to
burn it in Kansas or Nebraska than to cart it to town, sell it, and
buy coal with the money received; and this is just what hundreds of
despairing farmers did. Even crop shortage did little to increase the
price of the grain that was raised. When a drought seriously diminished
the returns in Ohio, Indiana, and Michigan in 1895, the importation from
States farther west prevented any rise in price.

Prices dropped, but the interest on mortgages remained the same. One
hundred and seventy-four bushels of wheat would pay the interest at 8
per cent on a $2000 mortgage in 1888, when the price of wheat was higher
than it had been for ten years and higher than it was to be again for
a dozen years. In 1894 or 1895 when the price was hovering around fifty
cents, it took 320 bushels to pay the same interest. Frequently the
interest was higher than 8 per cent, and outrageous commissions
on renewals increased the burden of the farmer. The result was one
foreclosure after another. The mortgage shark was identified as the
servant of the "Wall Street Octopus," and between them there was
little hope for the farmer. In Kansas, according to a contemporary
investigator,* "the whole western third of the State was settled by a
boom in farm lands. Multitudes of settlers took claims without means of
their own, expecting to pay for the land from the immediate profits of
farming. Multitudes of them mortgaged the land for improvements, and
multitudes more expended the proceeds of mortgages in living. When it
was found that the proceeds of farming in that part of the State were
very uncertain, at best, the mortgages became due. And in many instances
those who had been nominally owners remained upon the farms as tenants
after foreclosure. These are but the natural effects in reaction from
a tremendous boom." In eastern Kansas, where settlement was older, the
pressure of hard times was withstood with less difficulty. It was in
western Kansas, by the way, that Populism had its strongest following;
and, after the election of 1892, a movement to separate the State into
two commonwealths received serious consideration.

     * G. T. Fairchild, Pol. Se. Q., vol. 11, p. 614.

Even more inexorable than the holder of the mortgage or his agent was
the tax collector. It was easy to demonstrate that the farmer, with
little or nothing but his land, his stock, and a meager outfit of
implements and furniture, all readily to be seen and assessed, paid
taxes higher in proportion to his ability to pay than did the business
man or the corporation. Although his equity in the land he owned might
be much less than its assessed value, he was not allowed to make any
deduction for mortgages. The revenue of the Federal Government was
raised wholly by indirect taxes levied principally upon articles of
common consumption; and the farmer and other people of small means paid
an undue share of the burden in the form of higher prices demanded for

Low prices for his produce, further depressed by the rapacity of the
railroads and the other intermediaries between the producer and the
consumer, mortgages with high interest rates, and an inequitable system
of taxation formed the burden of the farmer's complaint during the last
two decades of the nineteenth century. These grievances and all sorts
of remedies proposed for them were discussed in farmers' gatherings,
in agricultural weeklies, even in city dailies, and ultimately in
legislative chambers. Investigations demonstrated that, even when
reduced to a minimum, the legitimate grounds for complaint were
extensive; and the resultant reports suggested a variety of remedies.
Generally, however, popular sentiment swung around again to the tack
it had taken in the late seventies: the real cure for all the evils was
more money. Wall Street and the national banks could suck the blood from
the western community because of their monopoly of the money supply.
According to one irate editor, "Few people are aware of the boundless
advantages that the national banks have under our present accursed
system. They have usurped the credit of the people and are fattening a
thousand-fold annually from the unlimited resources at their command."
Another editor wrote:

We find the following printed card on our desk: "The last report of the
Secretary of the Treasury shows the banks as loaning $1,970,022,687"!
Four times the amount of money there is to loan. Four interests in every
dollar! They are drawing from the people enough to run the National
Government. How long will it take them to gather in all the money of the
nation? This does not include the amounts loaned by state, private, and
savings banks. Add to this the billions of dollars of other loans and
think if it is any wonder times are hard. Will the American people never
wake up to the fact that they are being pauperized? Four people are
paying interest upon each dollar you have in your pocket--if you have
any. Wake up! Wake up!

Whatever the ultimate effects of an inflated and consequently
depreciated currency might be, the debtor class, to which a large
portion of the Western farmers belonged, would obviously benefit
immediately by the injection of large quantities of money into the
circulating medium. The purchasing power of money would be lower; hence
the farmer would receive more in dollars and cents and would be in a
better position to pay his standing debts. Whether or not the rise in
the prices of his products would be offset or more than offset by the
increased prices which he would have to pay for the things he purchased
would depend upon the relative rate at which different commodities
adjusted themselves to the new scale of money value. In the end,
of course, other things being equal, there would be a return of old
conditions; but the farmers did not look so far ahead. Hence it was
that less attention was paid to taxation, to railroad rates and
discriminations, to elevator companies, to grain gamblers, or to
corporations as such; and the main force of the agrarian movements from
1875 onward was exerted, first for an increased paper currency and then
for free silver.


The hope of welding the farmers into an organization which would enable
them to present a united front to their enemies and to work together for
the promotion of their interests--social, economic, and political--was
too alluring to be allowed to die out with the decline of the Patrons of
Husbandry. Farmers who had experienced the benefits of the Grange, even
though they had deserted it in its hour of trial, were easily induced
to join another organization embodying all its essential features but
proposing to avoid its mistakes. The conditions which brought about the
rapid spread of the Grange in the seventies still prevailed; and as soon
as the reaction from the Granger movement was spent, orders of farmers
began to appear in various places and to spread rapidly throughout
the South and West. This second movement for agricultural organization
differed from the first in that it sprang from the soil, as it were,
and, like Topsy, "just grooved" instead of being deliberately planned
and put into operation by a group of founders.

A local farmers' club or alliance was organized in 1874 or 1875 in the
frontier county of Lampasas, Texas, for mutual protection against
horse thieves and land sharks and for cooperation in the rounding up of
strayed stock and in the purchase of supplies. That it might accomplish
its purposes more effectively, the club adopted a secret ritual of
three degrees; and it is said that at first this contained a formula
for catching horse thieves. Affiliated lodges were soon established
in neighboring communities, and in 1878 a Grand State Alliance was
organized. Some one connected with this movement must have been familiar
with the Grange, for the Declaration of Purposes adopted by the State
Alliance in 1880 is but a crude paraphrase of the declaration adopted by
the earlier order at St. Louis in 1874. These promising beginnings were
quickly wrecked by political dissension, particularly in connection
with the Greenback movement, and the first State Alliance held its
last meeting in 1879. In that year, however, a member of the order
who removed to Poolville in Parker County, Texas, organized there a
distinctly non-partisan alliance. From this new center the movement
spread more rapidly; a second Grand State Alliance was organized; and
the order grew with such rapidity that by 1886 there were nearly three
thousand local lodges in the State. The social aspect was prominent in
the Alliance movement in Texas from the beginning. Women were admitted
to full membership, and negroes were excluded. In 1882 the three degrees
of the ritual were combined into one so that all members might be on the
same footing.

The early minutes of the State Alliance indicate that the rounding up
of estrays was the most important practical feature of the order at that
time, but in a few years this was overshadowed by cooperation. Trade
agreements were made with dealers, joint stock stores and Alliance
cotton-yards were established, and finally a state exchange was
organized with a nominal capital of half a million dollars to handle
the business of the members. All the difficulties which the Grange had
encountered in its attempts at cooperation beset the Alliance ventures:
dissension was spread by merchants and commission men fighting for their
livelihood; mistakes were made by agents and directors; too much was
attempted at once; and in a few years the house of cards tumbled to the

While its business ventures were still promising, the Texas Alliance
came near being wrecked once more on the shoals of politics. The state
meeting in August, 1886, adopted an elaborate set of "Demands," which
included higher taxation of lands held for speculative purposes,
prohibition of alien land ownership, laws to "prevent the dealing
in futures of all agricultural products," full taxation of railroad
property, "the rapid extinguishment of the public debt of the United
States, by operating the mints to their fullest capacity in coining
silver and gold, and the tendering of the same without discrimination to
the public creditors," the issue of legal tender notes on a per capita
basis and their substitution for bank notes, a national bureau of
labor statistics, an interstate commerce law, and the abolition of
the contract system of employing convicts. Provision was made for a
committee of three to press these demands upon Congress and the State
Legislature. At the close of the meeting, some of the members, fearing
that the adoption of this report would lead to an attempt to establish
a new political party, held another meeting and organized a rival State

Considerable confusion prevailed for a few months; the president and
vice-president of the regular State Alliance resigned, and the whole
order seemed on the verge of disruption. At this point there appeared
on the stage the man who was destined not only to save the Alliance in
Texas but also to take the lead in making it a national organization--C.
W. Macune, the chairman of the executive committee. Assuming the
position of acting president, Macune called a special session of
the State Alliance to meet in January, 1887. At this meeting the
constitution was amended to include a declaration that it was the
purpose of the order "to labor for the education of the agricultural
classes in the science of economical government, in a strictly
nonpartisan spirit"; and attention was then directed to a plan for "the
organization of the cotton belt of America." The first step in this
direction was taken in the same month when the Texas Alliance joined
with the Farmers' Union of Louisiana and formed the National Farmers'
Alliance and Cooperative Union of America.*

     * The Farmers' Union was the outgrowth of an open farmers'
     club organized in Lincoln Parish, Louisiana, in 1880. In
     1885 this was transformed into a secret society with a
     ritual modeled after that of the Grange and with a
     constitution adapted from the constitution used by the Texas
     alliances. Before the year was over the order spread into
     the adjoining parishes and a state union was established.

Macune, who was elected president of the national body, at once sent
organizers into most of the Southern States; and local alliances,
followed rapidly by state organization, appeared in State after State.
When the next meeting was held in October, 1887, delegates were present
from nine Southern States.* The "Demands" adopted at this meeting were
very like those which had split the Texas Alliance in the preceding
year, with the addition of sections calling for the reduction of
the tariff to a revenue basis, a graduated income tax, promotion of
industrial and agricultural education, restriction of immigration, and
popular election of United States senators.

     * By December, 1888, it was claimed that there were 10,000
     alliances in 16 States with a total membership of about
     400,000. It was evident that the organization of the farmers
     of the cotton belt was rapidly being consummated.

As the Alliance spread into Arkansas and some of the adjoining States,
it encountered another farmers' association of a very similar character
and purpose. The Agricultural Wheel, as it was known, originated in a
local club in Prairie County, Arkansas, in 1882, and soon expanded into
a state-wide organization. After amalgamating with another agricultural
order, known as the Brothers of Freedom, the Wheel began to roll into
the adjoining States. In 1886 delegates from Tennessee and Kentucky
attended the meeting of the Arkansas State Wheel and took part in the
organization of the National Agricultural Wheel.* When the National
Wheel held its first annual meeting in November, 1887, eight state
organizations had been established, all in the Southwest, with a total
membership of half a million.

     * Some difficulty was occasioned at this meeting by the
     question of admitting negroes to the order, but this was
     finally settled by making provision for separate lodges for
     colored members.

With two great orders of farmers expanding in much the same territory
and having practically identical objects, the desirability of union
was obvious. The subject was discussed at meetings of both bodies, and
committees of conference were appointed. Both organizations finally
convened in December, 1888, at Meridian, Mississippi, and appointed a
joint committee to work out the details of amalgamation. The outcome was
a new constitution, which was accepted by each body acting separately
and was finally ratified by the state organizations. The combined order
was to be known as the Farmers' and Laborers' Union of America.

While this development had been going on in the South, another movement,
somewhat different in character and quite independent in origin, had
been launched by the farmers of the Northwest. The founder of the
National Farmers' Alliance, or the Northwestern Alliance, as it was
called to distinguish it from the Southern organization, was
Milton George, editor of the Western Rural of Chicago, who had been
instrumental in organizing a local alliance in Cook County. This
Alliance began issuing charters to other locals, and in October, at
the close of a convention in Chicago attended by about "five hundred,
representing alliances, granges, farmers' clubs, etc.," a national
organization was formed. The constitution adopted at this time declared
the object of the order to be "to unite the farmers of the United States
for their protection against class legislation, and the encroachments of
concentrated capital and the tyranny of monopoly;... to oppose, in our
respective political parties, the election of any candidate to office,
state or national, who is not thoroughly in sympathy with the farmers'
interests; to demand that the existing political parties shall nominate
farmers, or those who are in sympathy with them, for all offices within
the gift of the people, and to do everything in a legitimate manner that
may serve to benefit the producer." The specific measures for which the
promoters of the Northwestern Alliance intended to work were set forth
in a platform adopted at the second annual meeting in Chicago, October
5, 1881, which demanded: equal taxation of all property, including
deduction of the amount of mortgages from assessments of mortgaged
property; "a just income tax"; reduction of salaries of officials and
their election instead of appointment, so far as practicable; regulation
of interstate commerce; reform of the patent laws; and prevention of
the adulteration of food. "The combination and consolidation of
railroad capital... in the maintenance of an oppressive and tyrannical
transportation system" was particularly denounced, and the farmers of
the country were called upon to organize "for systematic and persistent
action" for "the emancipation of the people from this terrible

The Northwestern Alliance did not attempt cooperation in business so
extensively as did its Southern contemporaries, but a number of Alliance
grain elevators were established in Minnesota and Dakota, cooperative
creameries flourished in Illinois, and many of the alliances appointed
agents to handle produce and purchase supplies for the members. It was
in the field of politics, however, that the activity of the order
was most notable. The methods by which the farmers of the Northwest
attempted to use their organizations for political ends are well
illustrated by the resolutions adopted at the annual meeting of the
Minnesota State Alliance in 1886 which declared that "the Alliance,
while not a partisan association, is political in the sense that it
seeks to correct the evils of misgovernment through the ballot-box,"
and called upon all the producers of the State "to unite with us at the
ballot-box next November to secure a legislature that will work in the
interests of the many against the exactions of the few." The specific
demands included state regulation of railroads, free coinage of silver,
reduction of the tariff to a revenue basis, revision of the patent
laws, high taxation of oleomargarine, and reduction of the legal rate
of interest from 10 to 8 per cent. The secretary was directed to forward
copies of these resolutions to federal and state officers and to the
delegation of the State in Congress; and the members of local alliances
were "urged to submit this platform of principles to every candidate
for the legislature in their respective districts, and to vote as a unit
against every man who refuses to publicly subscribe his name to the same
and pledge himself, if elected, to live up to it."

The resolutions adopted by the National Alliance in 1887 show that
the political purposes of the order had become considerably more
comprehensive than they were when it was getting under way in 1881.
First place was now given to a plank favoring the free coinage of silver
and the issuance of "all paper money direct to the people." The demand
for railroad regulation was accompanied by a statement that "the
ultimate solution of the transportation problem may be found in
the ownership and operation by the Government of one or more
transcontinental lines"; and the immediate acquisition of the
Union Pacific, then in financial difficulties, was suggested. Other
resolutions called for government ownership and operation of the
telegraph, improvement of waterways, restriction of the liquor traffic,
industrial education in the public schools, restoration of agricultural
colleges "to the high purpose of their creation," and popular election
of Senators. The national body does not appear to have attempted, at
this time, to force its platform upon candidates for office; but it
urged "farmers throughout the country to aid in the work of immediate
organization, that we may act in concert for our own and the common

The culmination of this general movement for the organization of the
farmers of the country came in 1889 and 1890. The Farmers' and Laborers'
Union and the Northwestern Alliance met at St. Louis on December 3,
1889. The meeting of the Southern organization, which was renamed the
National Farmers' Alliance and Industrial Union, was attended by about a
hundred delegates representing Indiana, Kansas, and every Southern State
from Maryland to Texas, with the exception of West Virginia. The purpose
of the two orders in holding their meetings at the same time and place
was obviously to effect some sort of union, and committees of conference
were at once appointed. Difficulties soon confronted these committees:
the Southern Alliance wanted to effect a complete merger but insisted
upon retention of the secret features and the exclusion of negroes,
at least from the national body; the Northwestern Alliance preferred
a federation in which each organization might retain its identity.
Arrangements were finally made for future conferences to effect
federation but nothing came of them. The real obstacles seem to have
been differences of policy with reference to political activity and a
survival of sectional feeling.

With the failure of the movement for union, the Southern Alliance began
active work in the Northern States; and when the Supreme Council, as the
national body was now called, held its next meeting at Ocala, Florida,
in December, 1890, delegates were present from state alliances of seven
Northern and Western States, in addition to those represented at the St.
Louis meeting. The Farmers' Mutual Benefit Association, a secret order
with about two hundred thousand members, had a committee in attendance
at this meeting, and the Colored Farmers' Alliance, which had been
founded in Texas in 1886 and claimed a membership of over a million,
held its national meeting at the same time and place. Plans were
formulated for a federation of these three bodies, and of such other
farmers' and laborers' associations as might join with them, to the end
that all might work unitedly for legislation in the interests of the
industrial classes.

Signs of approaching dissolution of the Alliance movement were already
apparent at the Ocala meeting. The finances of the Southern Alliance
had been so badly managed that there was a deficit of about $6000 in
the treasury of the Supreme Council. This was due in part to reckless
expenditure and in part to difficulties in collecting dues from the
state organizations. Discord had arisen, moreover, from the political
campaign of 1890, and an investigating committee expressed its
disapproval of the actions of the officers in connection with a
senatorial contest in Georgia. The decline of the Southern Alliance
after 1890 was even more rapid than that of the Grange had been. The
failure of many of the cooperative ventures contributed to this decline;
but complications and dissensions resulting from the establishment of
a new political party which took over the Alliance platform, were
principally responsible. The Northwestern Alliance continued for a few
years, practically as an adjunct to the new party but it, too, lost
rapidly in membership and influence. With the year 1890 interest shifts
from social to political organization, from Alliances to Populism.


Alliances, wheels, leagues--all the agrarian organizations which
multiplied during the eighties gave tangible form to the underlying
unrest created by the economic conditions of that superficially
prosperous decade. Only slowly, however, did there develop a feeling
that a new political party was necessary in order to apply the remedies
which, it was believed, would cure some if not all the ills of the
agricultural class. Old party ties were still strong. Only with
reluctance could the Republican or Democrat of long standing bring
himself to depart from the familiar fold. Then, too, the recent
ignominious failures of the Greenback party might well cool the ardor of
all but the most sanguine advocates of a third party movement. Among the
leaders of the agrarian organizations were many, moreover, who foresaw
that to become involved in partisan politics could mean nothing less
than the defeat of all their original purposes.

One disappointment after another, however, made it apparent that little
was to be expected from the Republican or the Democratic party. Trust in
individual politicians proved equally vain, since promises easily made
during a hot campaign were as easily forgotten after the battle was
over. One speaker before a state convention of the Northwest Alliance
put into words what many were thinking: "There may be some contingencies
when you may have to act politically. If other parties will not nominate
men friendly to your interest, then your influence will have to be felt
in some way or you may as well disband. If all parties nominate your
enemies, then put some of your own friends into the race and then stand
by them as a Christian stands by his religion." In other words, if
nothing was to be gained by scattering votes among the candidates of the
old parties, independent action remained the only course. Hence it was
that the late eighties saw the beginnings of another party of protest,
dominated by the farmers and so formidable as to cause the machine
politicians to realize that a new force was abroad in the land.

After the Greenback party lost the place it had for a fleeting moment
obtained, labor once more essayed the role of a third party. In 1886,
for instance, the Knights of Labor and the trades unions, for once
cooperating harmoniously, joined forces locally with the moribund
Greenbackers and with farmers' organizations and won notable successes
at the polls in various parts of the Union, particularly in the
Middle Atlantic and Western States. Emboldened by such victories, the
discontented farmers were induced to cast in their lot with labor; and
for the next few years, the nation saw the manifestoes of a party which
combined the demands of labor and agriculture in platforms constructed
not unlike a crazy-quilt, with Henry George, James Buchanan, and Alson
J. Streeter presiding at the sewing-bee and attempting to fit into
the patchwork the diverse and frequently clashing shades of opinion
represented in the party. In 1888, Streeter, ex-president of the
Northwestern Alliance, was nominated for President on the Union Labor
ticket and received 146,935 votes in 27 of the 38 States. Despite
its name and some support from the Eastern workers, the new party was
predominantly Western: more than half of its total vote was polled in
Kansas, Texas, Missouri, and Arkansas. In the local elections of 1889
and 1890 the party still appeared but was obviously passing off the
stage to make way for a greater attraction.

The meager vote for Streeter in 1888 demonstrated that the organized
farmers were yet far from accepting the idea of separate political
action. President Macune of the Southern Alliance probably voiced the
sentiments of most of that order when he said in his address to the
delegates at Shreveport in 1887: "Let the Alliance be a business
organization for business purposes, and as such, necessarily secret, and
as secret, necessarily nonpolitical."* Even the Northwestern Alliance
had given no sign of official approval to the political party in which
so many of its own members played a conspicuous part.

     * At the next annual meeting, in December, 1888, no change
     in policy was enunciated: the plan for a national organ,
     unanimously adopted by the Alliance, provided that it should
     be "strictly non-partisan in politics and non-sectarian in

But after the election of 1888, those who had continued to put their
trust in non-political organizations gradually awoke to the fact that
neither fulminations against transportation abuses, monopolies, and
the protective tariff, nor the lobbying of the Southern Alliance in
Washington had produced reforms. Even Macune was moved to say at the
St. Louis session in December, 1889: "We have reached a period in the
history of our Government when confidence in our political leaders and
great political organizations is almost destroyed, and estrangement
between them and the people is becoming more manifest everyday." Yet the
formation of a new party under the auspices of the Alliance was probably
not contemplated at this time, except possibly as a last resort, for the
Alliance agreed to "support for office only such men as can be depended
upon to enact these principles into statute laws, uninfluenced by party
caucus." Although the demands framed at this St. Louis convention read
like a party platform and, indeed, became the basis of the platform of
the People's Party in 1892, they were little more than a restatement of
earlier programs put forth by the Alliance and the Wheel. They called
for the substitution of greenbacks for national bank notes, laws to
"prevent the dealing in futures of all agricultural and mechanical
productions," free and unlimited coinage of silver, prohibition of alien
ownership of land, reclamation from the railroads of lands held by them
in excess of actual needs, reduction and equalization of taxation, the
issue of fractional paper currency for use in the mails, and, finally,
government ownership and operation of the means of communication and

The real contribution which this meeting made to the agrarian movement
was contained in the report of the committee on the monetary system,
of which C. W. Macune was chairman. This was the famous sub-treasury
scheme, soon to become the paramount issue with the Alliance and the
Populists in the South and in some parts of the West. The committee
proposed "that the system of using certain banks as United States
depositories be abolished, and in place of said system, establish in
every county in each of the States that offers for sale during the
one year $500,000 worth of farm products--including wheat, corn, oats,
barley, rye, rice, tobacco, cotton, wool, and sugar, all together--a
sub-treasury office." In connection with this office there were to be
warehouses or elevators in which the farmers might deposit their crops,
receiving a certificate of the deposit showing the amount and quality,
and a loan of United States legal tender paper equal to eighty per cent
of the local current value of the products deposited. The interest
on this loan was to be at the rate of one per cent per annum; and the
farmer, or the person to whom he might sell his certificate, was to be
allowed one year in which to redeem the property; otherwise it would be
sold at public auction for the satisfaction of the debt. This project
was expected to benefit the farmers in two ways: it would increase and
make flexible the volume of currency in circulation; and it would enable
them to hold their crops in anticipation of a rise in price.

The Northwestern Alliance also hesitated to play the role of a third
party, but it adopted a program which was virtually a party platform. In
place of the sub-treasury scheme as a means of increasing the volume
of currency in circulation and at the same time enabling the farmer to
borrow money at low rates of interest, this organization favored the
establishment of a land loan bureau operated by the Government. Legal
tender currency to the amount of $100,000,000 or more if necessary, was
to be placed at the disposal of this bureau for loans upon the security
of agricultural land in amounts not to exceed one-half the value of
the land and at an interest rate of two per cent per annum. These loans
might run for twenty years but were to be payable at any time at the
option of the borrower.

With two strong organizations assuming all the functions of political
parties, except the nomination of candidates, the stage was set in 1890
for a drama of unusual interest. One scene was laid in Washington, where
in the House and Senate and in the lobbies the sub-treasury scheme was
aired and argued. Lending their strength to the men from the mining
States, the Alliance men aided the passage of the Silver Purchase Act,
the nearest approach to free silver which Congress could be induced
to make. By the familiar practice of "log-rolling," the silverites
prevented the passage of the McKinley tariff bill until the
manufacturers of the East were willing to yield in part their objections
to silver legislation. But both the tariff and the silver bill seemed
to the angry farmers of the West mere bones thrown to the dog under the
table. They had demanded FREE silver and had secured a mere increase in
the amount to be purchased; they had called for a downward revision of
the duties upon manufactured products and had been given more or less
meaningless "protection" of their farm produce; they had insisted upon
adequate control of the trusts and had been presented with the Sherman
Act, a law which might or might not curb the monopolies under which they
believed themselves crushed. All the unrest which had been gathering
during the previous decade, all the venom which had been distilled by
fourteen cent corn and ten per cent interest, all the blind striving
to frustrate the industrial consolidation which the farmer did not
understand but feared and hated, found expression in the political
campaign of 1890.

The Alliance suited its political activities to local necessities.
In many of the Southern States, notably Florida, Georgia, and the
Carolinas, Alliance men took possession of the Democratic conventions
and forced both the incorporation of their demands into the platforms
and the nomination of candidates who agreed to support those demands.
The result was the control of the legislatures of five Southern
States by members or supporters of the order and the election of three
governors, one United States Senator, and forty-four Congressmen who
championed the principles of the Alliance. In the West the Alliance
worked by itself and, instead of dominating an old party, created a
new one. It is true that the order did not formally become a political
party; but its officers took the lead in organizing People's,
Independent, or Industrial parties in the different States, the
membership of which was nearly identical with that of the Alliance. Nor
was the farmer alone in his efforts. Throughout the whole country the
prices of manufactured articles had suddenly risen, and popular opinion,
fastening upon the McKinley tariff as the cause, manifested itself in a
widespread desire to punish the Republican party.

The events of 1890 constituted not only a political revolt but a social
upheaval in the West. Nowhere was the overturn more complete than in
Kansas. If the West in general was uneasy, Kansas yeas in the throes of
a mighty convulsion; it was swept as by the combination of a tornado and
a prairie fire. As a sympathetic commentator of later days puts it, "It
was a religious revival, a crusade, a pentecost of politics in which a
tongue of flame sat upon every man, and each spake as the spirit gave
him utterance."* All over the State, meetings were held in schoolhouses,
churches, and public halls. Alliance picnics were all-day expositions
of the doctrines of the People's Party. Up and down the State, and from
Kansas City to Sharon Springs, Mary Elizabeth Lease, "Sockless" Jerry
Simpson, Anna L. Diggs, William A. Peffer, Cyrus Corning, and twice a
score more, were in constant demand for lectures, while lesser lights
illumined the dark places when the stars of the first magnitude were
scintillating elsewhere.

     * Elizabeth N. Barr, "The Populist Uprising", in William E.
     Connelly's "Standard History of Kansas and Kansans", vol.
     II, p. 1148.

Mrs. Lease, who is reported to have made 160 speeches in the summer and
autumn of 1890, was a curiosity in American politics. Of Irish birth and
New York upbringing, she went to Kansas and, before she was twenty years
old, married Charles L. Lease. Twelve years later she was admitted
to the bar. At the time of the campaign of 1890 she was a tall,
mannish-looking, but not unattractive woman of thirty-seven years,
the mother of four children. She was characterized by her friends as
refined, magnetic, and witty; by her enemies of the Republican party
as a hard, unlovely shrew. The hostile press made the most of popular
prejudice against a woman stump speaker and attempted by ridicule and
invective to drive her from the stage. But Mrs. Lease continued to talk.
She it was who told the Kansas farmers that what they needed was to
"raise less corn and more HELL!"

Wall Street owns the country [she proclaimed]. It is no longer a
government of the people, by the people, and for the people, but a
government of Wall Street, by Wall Street, and for Wall Street ....
Money rules, and our Vice-President is a London banker. Our laws are the
output of a system that clothes rascals in robes and honesty in rags.
The parties lie to us, and the political speakers mislead us. We were
told two years ago to go to work and raise a big crop and that was all
we needed. We went to work and plowed and planted; the rains fell, the
sun shone, nature smiled, and we raised the big crop that they told us
to; and what came of it? Eight-cent corn, ten-cent oats, two-cent beef,
and no price at all for butter and eggs--that's what came of it....
The main question is the money question.... We want money, land, and
transportation. We want the abolition of the National Banks, and we
want the power to make loans directly from the Government. We want the
accursed foreclosure system wiped out. Land equal to a tract 30 miles
wide and 90 miles long has been foreclosed and bought in by loan
companies of Kansas in a year.... The people are at bay, and the
blood-hounds of money who have dogged us thus far beware!

A typical feature of this campaign in Kansas was the contest between
Jerry Simpson and Colonel James R. Hallowell for a seat in Congress.
Simpson nicknamed his fastidious opponent "Prince Hal" and pointed to
his silk stockings as an evidence of aristocracy. Young Victor Murdock,
then a cub reporter, promptly wrote a story to the effect that Simpson
himself wore no socks at all. "Sockless Jerry," "Sockless Simpson," and
then "Sockless Socrates" were sobriquets then and thereafter applied to
the stalwart Populist. Simpson was at this time forty-eight years old,
a man with a long, square-jawed face, his skin tanned by exposure on
shipboard, in the army, and on the farm, and his mustache cut in a
straight line over a large straight mouth. He wore clerical eyeglasses
and unclerical clothes. His opponents called him clownish; his friends
declared him Lincolnesque. Failing to make headway against him by
ridicule, the Republicans arranged a series of joint debates between
the candidates; but the audience at the first meeting was so obviously
partial to Simpson that Hallowell refused to meet him again. The
supporters of the "sockless" statesman, though less influential and
less prosperous than those of Hallowell, proved more numerous and
triumphantly elected him to Congress. In Washington he acquitted himself
creditably and was perhaps disappointingly conventional in speech and

The outcome of this misery, disgust, anger, and hatred on the part of
the people of Kansas focused by shrewd common sense and rank demagogism,
was the election of five Populist Congressmen and a large Populist
majority in the lower house of the state legislature; the Republican
state officers were elected by greatly reduced majorities. In Nebraska,
the People's Independent party obtained a majority of the members of the
legislature and reduced the Republican party to third place in the
vote for governor, the victory going to the Democrats by a very small
plurality. The South Dakota Independent party, with the president of
the state Alliance as its standard bearer, was unable to defeat the
Republican candidates for state offices but obtained the balance of
power in the legislature. In Indiana, Michigan, and Minnesota, the new
party movement manifested considerable strength, but, with the exception
of one Alliance Congressman from Minnesota and a number of legislators,
the fruits of its activity were gathered by the Democrats.

Among the results of the new party movements in the Western States in
1890 should be included the election of two United States Senators,
neither of whom was a farmer, although both were ardent advocates of the
farmers' cause. In South Dakota, where no one of the three parties had a
majority in the legislature, the Reverend James H. Kyle, the Independent
candidate, was elected to the United State Senate, when, after
thirty-nine ballots, the Democrats gave him their votes. Kyle, who was
only thirty-seven years old at this time, was a Congregational minister,
a graduate of Oberlin College and of Alleghany Theological Seminary. He
had held pastorates in Colorado and South Dakota, and at the time of his
election was financial agent for Yankton College. A radical Fourth of
July oration which he delivered at Aberdeen brought him into favor with
the Alliance, and he was elected to the state senate on the Independent
ticket in 1890. Prior to this election Kyle had been a Republican.

The other senatorial victory was gained in Kansas, where the choice fell
on William A. Peffer, whose long whiskers made him a favorite object of
ridicule and caricature in Eastern papers. He was born in Pennsylvania
in 1831, and as a young man had gone to California during the gold boom.
Returning after two years with a considerable sum of money, he engaged
in farming first in Indiana and then in Missouri. When the Civil War
began, his avowed Unionist sentiments got him into trouble; and in 1862
he moved to Illinois, where after a few months he enlisted in the army.
At the close of the war he settled in Tennessee and began the practice
of law, which he had been studying at intervals for a number of years.
He removed in 1870 to Kansas, where he played some part in politics as a
Republican, was elected to the state senate, and served as a delegate to
the national convention of 1880. After a number of newspaper ventures he
became the editor of the Kansas Farmer of Topeka in 1880 and continued
in that position until he was elected to the United States Senate. He
was a member of the Knights of Labor and was an ardent prohibitionist
and, above all, an advocate of currency inflation.

After the elections of November, 1890, came definite action in the
direction of forming a new national party. The Citizens' Alliance, a
secret political organization of members of the Southern Alliance, held
a convention with the Knights of Labor at Cincinnati on May 19, 1891.
By that time the tide of sentiment in favor of a new party was running
strong. Some fourteen hundred delegates, a majority of whom were from
the five States of Ohio, Kansas, Indiana, Illinois, and Nebraska,
attended the convention and provided for a committee to make
arrangements, in conjunction with other reform organizations if
possible, for a convention of the party to nominate candidates for
the presidential election of 1892. To those who were anxious to have
something done immediately the process of preparing the ground for a new
third party seemed long and laborious. Seen in its proper perspective,
the movement now appears to have been as swift as it was inevitable.
Once more, and with greater unanimity than ever before, the farmers,
especially in the West, threw aside their old party allegiance to fight
for the things which they deemed not only essential to their own welfare
but beneficial to the whole country. Some aid, it is true, was brought
by labor, some by the mining communities of the mountain region, some
'by various reform organizations; but the movement as a whole was
distinctly and essentially agrarian.


The advent of the Populists as a full-fledged party in the domain of
national politics took place at Omaha in July, 1892. Nearly thirteen
hundred delegates from all parts of the Union flocked to the convention
to take part in the selection of candidates for President and
Vice-President and to adopt a platform for the new party. The "Demands"
of the Alliances supplied the material from which was constructed a
platform characterized by one unsympathetic observer as "that furious
and hysterical arraignment of the present times, that incoherent
intermingling of Jeremiah and Bellamy." The document opened with a
general condemnation of national conditions and a bitter denunciation
of the old parties for permitting "the existing dreadful conditions
to develop without serious effort to prevent or restrain them." Then
followed three declarations: "that the union of the labor forces of the
United States this day consummated shall be permanent and perpetual";
that "wealth belongs to him who creates it, and every dollar taken from
industry without an equivalent is robbery"; and "that the time has come
when the railroad corporations will either own the people or the people
must own the railroads." Next came the demands. Heading these were the
monetary planks: "a national currency, safe, sound, and flexible, issued
by the general Government poly, a full legal tender for all debts," with
the subtreasury system of loans "or a better system; free and unlimited
coinage of silver and gold at the present legal ratio of sixteen to
one"; and an increase in the circulating medium until there should be
not less than $50 per capita. With demands for a graduated income tax,
for honesty and economy in governmental expenditures, and for postal
savings banks, the financial part of the platform was complete. The
usual plank declaring for government ownership and control of railroads
and telegraphs now included the telephone systems as well, and the land
plank opposed alien ownership and demanded the return of lands held by
corporations in excess of their actual needs. Other resolutions, adopted
but not included in the platform, expressed sympathy with labor's
demands for shorter hours, condemned the use of Pinkerton detectives
in labor strife, and favored greater restriction of immigration, the
initiative and referendum, direct election of United States senators,
and one term for the President and Vice-President.

The platform, according to a news dispatch of the time, was "received
with tremendous enthusiasm... and was read and adopted almost before the
people knew it was read. Instantly there was enacted the mightiest
scene ever witnessed by the human race. Fifteen thousand people yelled,
shrieked, threw papers, hats, fans, and parasols, gathered up banners,
mounted shoulders. Mrs. Lease's little girl was mounted on Dr. Fish's
shoulders--he on a table on the high platform. The two bands were
swamped with noise.... Five minutes passed, ten minutes, twenty, still
the noise and hurrahs poured from hoarse throats." After forty minutes
the demonstration died out and the convention was ready to proceed with
the nomination of a presidential candidate.

No such unanimity marked this further procedure, however. Just before
the convention the leaders of the People's Party had thrown the old
parties into consternation by announcing that Judge Walter Q. Gresham,
of Indiana, would be offered the nomination. Judge Gresham, a Republican
with a long and honorable public record, had been urged upon the
Republican party in 1884 and 1888, and "Anti-Monopolists" had considered
him with favor on account of his opinions and decisions regarding the
operation and control of railroads. Just after the adoption of the
platform a telegram from the judge announced that he would accept a
unanimous nomination. Since unanimity was unobtainable, however, his
name was withdrawn later in the day.

This left the field to General James B. Weaver of Iowa and Senator James
H. Kyle of South Dakota. Weaver represented the more conservative of the
Populists, the old Alliance men. His rival had the support of the most
radical element as well as that of the silver men from the mountain
States. The silverites were not inclined to insist upon their man,
however, declaring that, if the platform contained the silver plank,
they would carry their States for whatever candidate might be chosen.
The old campaigner proved the stronger, and he was nominated with
General James G. Field of Virginia for Vice-President. Unprejudiced
observers viewed Weaver's nomination as a tactical error on the part
of the Populist leaders: "Mr. Weaver has belonged to the group of
third-party 'come-outers' for so many years that his name is not one
to conjure with in either of the old camps;... his name suggests too
strongly the abortive third-party movements of the past to excite
much hope or enthusiasm. He is not exactly the sort of a Moses who
can frighten Pharaoh into fits or bring convincing plagues upon the
monopolistic oppressors of Israel. The wicked politicians of the
Republican and Democratic parties breathed easier and ate with better
appetites when the Gresham bogie disappeared and they found their
familiar old enemy, General Weaver, in the lead of the People's

It may be suspected, however, that even with Weaver at its head this
party, which claimed to control from two to three million votes, and
which expected to draw heavily from the discontented ranks of the
old-line organizations, was not viewed with absolute equanimity by the
campaign managers of Cleveland and of Harrison. Some little evidence
of the perturbation appeared in the equivocal attitude of both the
old parties with respect to the silver question. Said the Democratic
platform: "We hold to the use of both gold and silver as the standard
money of the country, and to the coinage of both gold and silver without
discrimination against either metal or charge for mintage." The rival
Republican platform declared that "the American people, from tradition
and interest, favor bimetallism, and the Republican party demands the
use of both gold and silver as standard money." Each party declared
for steps to obtain an international agreement on the question. The
Republicans attempted to throw a sop to the labor vote by favoring
restriction of immigration and laws for the protection of employees
in dangerous occupations, and to the farmer by pronouncements
against trusts, for extended postal service--particularly in rural
districts--and for the reclamation and sale of arid lands to settlers.
The Democrats went even further and demanded the return of "nearly one
hundred million acres of valuable land" then held by "corporations and
syndicates, alien and domestic."

The directors of the Populist campaign proved to be no mean political
strategists. General Weaver himself toured the country, accompanied by
General Field when he was in the South and by Mrs. Lease when he went to
the Pacific coast. Numerous other men and women addressed the thousands
who attended the meetings, great and small, all over the country. One
unique feature of the Populist campaign on the Pacific coast was the
singing of James G. Clark's People's Battle-Hymn, and other songs
expressing the hope and fears of labor in the field and factory.
Everywhere it was the policy of the new party to enlist the assistance
of the weaker of the old parties. In the South, the Populists, as a
rule, arrayed themselves with the Republicans against the old Democracy.
This provoked every device of ridicule, class prejudice, and scorn,
which the dominant party could bring to bear to dissuade former
Democrats from voting the People's ticket. One Louisiana paper uttered
this warning:

"Oily-tongued orators, in many cases the paid agents of the Republican
party, have for months been circulating among the unsophisticated and
more credulous classes, preaching their heresies and teaching the people
that if Weaver is elected president, money may be had for the asking,
transportation on the railroad trains will be practically free, the
laboring man will be transferred from his present position and placed
upon a throne of power, while lakes filled with molasses, whose shores
are fringed with buckwheat cakes, and islands of Jersey butter rising
here and there above the surface, will be a concomitant of every farm.
The 'forty-acres-and-a-mule' promises of the reconstruction era pale
into insignificance beside the glowing pictures of prosperity promised
by the average Populist orator to those who support Weaver."

The Pensacola Address of the Populist nominees on September 17, 1892,
which served as a joint letter of acceptance, was evidently issued at
that place and time partly for the purpose of influencing such voters as
might be won over by emphasizing the unquestioned economic distress of
most Southern farmers. If the new party could substantiate the charges
that both old parties were the tools of monopoly and Wall Street, it
might insert the wedge which would eventually split the "solid South."
Even before the Pensacola Address, the state elections in Alabama and
Arkansas demonstrated that cooperation of Republicans with Populists was
not an idle dream. But, although fusion was effected on state tickets in
several States in the November elections, the outcome was the choice of
Cleveland electors throughout the South.

As the Populists tried in the South to win over the Republicans, so
in the North and more especially the West they sought to control the
Democratic vote either by fusion or absorption. The effort was so
successful that in Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Nevada, and North Dakota,
the new party swept the field with the assistance of the Democrats. In
South Dakota and Nebraska, where there was no fusion, the Democratic
vote was negligible and the Populists ran a close second to the

That the tide of agrarianism was gradually flowing westward as the
frontier advanced is apparent from the election returns in the States
bordering on the upper Mississippi. Iowa and Missouri, where the
Alliance had been strong, experienced none of the landslide which swept
out the Republicans in States further west. In Minnesota the Populists,
with a ticket headed by the veteran Donnelly, ran a poor third in the
state election, and the entire Harrison electoral ticket was victorious
in spite of the endorsement of four Populist candidates by the
Democrats. In the northwestern part of the State, however, the new party
was strong enough to elect a Congressman over candidates of both the old
parties. In no Northern State east of the Mississippi were the Populists
able to make a strong showing; but in Illinois, the success of John P.
Altgeld, the Democratic candidate for governor, was due largely to
his advocacy of many of the measures demanded by the People's party,
particularly those relating to labor, and to the support which he
received from the elements which might have been expected to aline
themselves with the Populists. On the Pacific coast, despite the musical
campaign of Clark, Mrs. Lease, and Weaver, California proved deaf to the
People's cause; but in Oregon the party stood second in the lists and in
Washington it ran a strong third.

More than a million votes, nearly nine per cent of the total, were cast
for the Populist candidates in this election--a record for a third
party the year after its birth, and one exceeded only by that of the
Republican party when it appeared for the first time in the national
arena in 1856. Twenty-two electoral votes added point to the showing,
for hitherto, since 1860, third-party votes had been so scattered that
they had affected the choice of President only as a makeweight between
other parties in closely contested States.

A week after the elections General Weaver announced that the Populists
had succeeded far beyond their expectations. "The Republican party," he
asserted, "is as dead as the Whig party was after the Scott campaign
of 1852, and from this time forward will diminish in every State of
the Union and cannot make another campaign.... The Populist will now
commence a vigorous campaign and will push the work of organization and
education in every county in the Union." There were those, however, who
believed that the new party had made a great mistake in having anything
to do with either of the old parties, that fusion, particularly of the
sort which resulted in combination tickets, was a compromise with the
enemy, and that more votes had been lost than won by the process. This
feeling found characteristic expression in an editorial in a Minnesota

Take an audience of republican voters in a schoolhouse where a county
fusion has taken place--or the press is full of the electoral deal--and
the audience will applaud the sentiments of the speaker--but they wont
vote a mongrel or democratic ticket! A wet blanket has been thrown!

"Oh," says someone, "but the democratic party is a party of reform!"
Well, my friend, you better go down south and talk that to the peoples
party where they have been robbed of their franchises by fraud and

Ah, and there the peoples party fused the republicans!!!

Oh whitewash! Where is thy lime-kiln, that we may swab off the dark
blemishes of the hour!! Aye, and on the whited wall, draw thee a picture
of power and beauty Cleveland, for instance, thanking the peoples
party for all the favors gratuitously granted by our mongrel saints in
speckled linen and green surtouts.

As time gave perspective, however, the opinion grew that 1892 had
yielded all that could possibly have been hoped. The lessons of the
campaign may have been hard, but they had been learned, and, withal, a
stinging barb had been thrust into the side of the Republican party,
the organization which, in the minds of most crusaders, was principally
responsible for the creation and nurture of their ills. It was generally
determined that in the next campaign Populism should stand upon its own
feet; Democratic and Republican votes should be won by conversion of
individuals to the cause rather than by hybrid amalgamation of parties
and preelection agreements for dividing the spoils. But it was just
this fusion which blinded the eyes of the old party leaders to the
significance of the Populist returns. Democrats, with a clear majority
of electoral votes, were not inclined to worry about local losses or
to value incidental gains; and Republicans felt that the menace of
the third party was much less portentous than it might have been as an
independent movement.


A remarkable manifesto, dated February 22, 1895, summarized the
grievances of the Populists in these words:

"As early as 1865-66 a conspiracy was entered into between the gold
gamblers of Europe and America to accomplish the following purposes:
to fasten upon the people of the United States the burdens of perpetual
debt; to destroy the greenbacks which had safely brought us through the
perils of war; to strike down silver as a money metal; to deny to the
people the use of Federal paper and silver--the two independent sources
of money guaranteed by the Constitution; to fasten upon the country the
single gold standard of Britain, and to delegate to thousands of banking
corporations, organized for private gain, the sovereign control, for all
time, over the issue and volume of all supplemental paper currency."

Declaring that the "international gold ring" was summoning all its
powers to strike at the prosperity of the country, the authors of this
address called upon Populists to take up the gauntlet and meet "the
enemy upon his chosen field of battle," with the "aid and cooperation of
all persons who favor the immediate free coinage of silver at a ratio
of 16-1, the issue of all paper money by the Government without the
intervention of banks of issue, and who are opposed to the issue of
interest-bearing government bonds in the time of peace."

There was nothing new in this declaration of hostility to bank issues
and interest-bearing bonds, nor in this demand for government paper
money, for these prejudices and this predilection had given rise to the
"Ohio idea," by force of which George H. Pendleton had hoped to achieve
the presidency in 1868. These same notions had been the essence of the
platforms of the Greenback party in the late seventies; and they
had jostled government ownership of railroads for first place in
pronunciamentos of labor and agricultural organizations and of third
parties all during the eighties. Free silver, on the other hand,
although not ignored in the earlier period, did not attain foremost rank
among the demands of the dissatisfied classes until the last decade of
the century and more particularly after the panic of 1898.

Prior to 1874 or 1875 the "silver question" did not exist. In 1873
Congress, moved by the report of a commission it had authorized, had
demonetized silver; that is, it had provided that the gold dollar should
be the standard of value, and omitted the standard silver dollar from
the list of silver coins.* In this consisted the "Crime of '73." At the
time when this law was enacted it had not for many years been profitable
to coin silver bullion into dollars because silver was undervalued
at the established ratio of sixteen to one. In 1867 the International
Monetary Conference of Paris had pronounced itself in favor of a single
gold standard of currency, and the principal countries of Europe had
preceded the United States in demonetizing silver or in limiting its
coinage. In 1874 as a result of a revision of the statutes of the
United States, the existing silver dollars were reduced to the basis of
subsidiary coins with only limited legal tender value.

     * The only reference to the dollar was to "the trade dollar"
     of heavier weight, for use in the Orient.

The Act of 1873 was before Congress for four sessions; every section,
including that which made gold the sole standard of value, was
discussed even by those who later claimed that the Act had been passed
surreptitiously. Whatever opposition developed at this time was not
directed against the omission of the silver dollar from the list of
coins nor against the establishment of a single standard of value. The
situation was quickly changed, however, by the rapid decline in the
market price of silver. The bimetallists claimed that this decline was a
result of the monetary changes; the advocates of the gold standard
asserted that it was due to the great increase in the production of
silver. Whatever the cause, the result was that, shortly after silver
had been demonetized, its value in proportion to gold fell below that
expressed by the ratio of sixteen to one. Under these circumstances the
producers could have made a profit by taking their bullion to the mint
and having it coined into dollars, if it had not been for the Act of
1873. It is not strange, therefore, that the people of those Western
States whose prosperity depended largely on the silver mining industry
demanded the remonetization of this metal. At the same time the
stringency in the money market and the low prices following the panic of
1873 added weight to the arguments of those who favored an increase in
the quantity of currency in circulation and who saw in the free and
unlimited coinage of silver one means of accomplishing this end. So
powerful was the demand, especially from the West, that in 1878 the
Bland-Allison Act, passed over the veto of President Hayes, provided for
the restoration of the silver dollar to the list of coins, with full
legal tender quality, and required the Treasury to purchase in the open
market from two to four million dollars' worth of bullion each month.
This compromise, however, was unsatisfactory to those who desired the
free coinage of silver, and it failed to please the champions of the
single standard.

For ten years the question of a choice between a single standard or
bimetallism, between free coinage or limited coinage of silver, was
one of the principal economic problems of the world. International
conferences, destined to have no positive results, met in 1878 and again
in 1881; in the United States Congress read reports and debated measures
on coinage in the intervals between tariff debates. Political parties
were split on sectional lines: Western Republicans and Democrats alike
were largely in favor of free silver, but their Eastern associates as
generally took the other side. Party platforms in the different
States diverged widely on this issue; and monetary planks in national
platforms, if included at all, were so framed as to commit the party
to neither side. Both parties, however, could safely pronounce for
bimetallism under international agreement, since there was little real
prospect of procuring such an agreement. The minor parties as a rule
frankly advocated free silver.

In 1890, the subject of silver coinage assumed new importance. The
silverites in Congress were reenforced by representatives from new
States in the far West, the admission of which had not been unconnected
with political exigencies on the part of the Republican party. The
advocates of the change were not strong enough to force through a
free-silver bill, but they were able by skillful logrolling to bring
about the passage of the Silver Purchase Act. This measure, frequently
called the Sherman Law,* directed the Secretary of the Treasury to
purchase, with legal tender Treasury notes issued for the purpose,
4,500,000 ounces of pure silver each month at the market price. As the
metal was worth at that time about a dollar an ounce, this represented
an increase, for the time being, over the maximum allowed under the
Bland-Allison Act and more than double the minimum required by that
measure, which was all the Treasury had ever purchased. But the Silver
Purchase Act failed to check the downward trend in the value of the
metal. The bullion in a silver dollar, which had been worth $1.02 in
1872, had declined to seventy-two cents in 1889. It rose to seventy-six
in 1891 but then declined rapidly to sixty in 1898, and during the next
three years the intrinsic value of a "cartwheel" was just about half its
legal tender value.

     * John Sherman, then Secretary of Treasury, had a large
     share in giving final form to the bill, which he favored
     only for fear of a still more objectionable measure. See
     Sherman's Recollections, pp. 1069, 1188.

Even under the Bland-Allison Act the Treasury Department had experienced
great difficulty in keeping in circulation a reasonable proportion of
the silver dollars and the silver certificates which were issued in lieu
of part of them, and in maintaining a sufficient gold reserve to insure
the stability of the currency. When the Silver Purchase Act went into
operation, therefore, the monetary situation contributed its share to
conditions which produced the panic of 1893. Thereupon the silver issue
became more than ever a matter of nation-wide discussion.

From the Atlantic to the Pacific the country was flooded with
controversial writing, much of it cast in a form to make an appeal to
classes which had neither the leisure nor the training to master this
very intricate economic problem. W. H. Harvey's Coin's Financial School
was the most widely read campaign document, although hundreds of similar
pamphlets and books had an enormous circulation. The pithy and plausible
arguments of "Coin" and his ready answers to questions supposedly put by
prominent editors, bankers, and university professors, as well as by J.
R. Sovereign, master workman of the Knights of Labor, tickled the fancy
of thousands of farmers who saw their own plight depicted in the crude
but telling woodcuts which sprinkled the pages of the book. In his
mythical school "the smooth little financier" converted to silver many
who had been arguing for gold; but--what is more to the point--he also
convinced hundreds of voters that gold was the weapon with which the
bankers of England and America had slain silver in order to maintain
high interest rates while reducing prices, and that it was the tool
with which they were everywhere welding the shackles upon labor. "Coin"
harped upon a string to which, down to the time of the Spanish War,
most Americans were ever responsive--the conflict of interests between
England and the United States. "If it is claimed," he said, "we
must adopt for our money the metal England selects, and can have no
independent choice in the matter, let us make the test and find out
if it is true." He pointed to the nations of the earth where a silver
standard ruled: "The farmer in Mexico sells his bushel of wheat for one
dollar. The farmer in the United States sells his bushel of wheat for
fifty cents. The former is proven by the history of the world to be an
equitable price. The latter is writing its history, in letters of blood,
on the appalling cloud of debt that is sweeping with ruin and desolation
over the farmers of this country."

When many men of sound reputation believed the maintenance of a gold
standard impossible what wonder that millions of farmers shouted with
"Coin": "Give the people back their favored primary money! Give us two
arms with which to transact business! Silver the right arm and gold
the left arm! Silver the money of the people, and gold the money of the
rich. Stop this legalized robbery that is transferring the property
of the debtors to the possession of the creditors... Drive these
money-changers from our temples. Let them discover your aspect, their
masters--the people."

The relations of the Populist party to silver were at once the result of
conviction and expediency; cheap money had been one, frequently the
most prominent, of the demands of the farming class, not only from the
inception of the Greenback movement, as we have seen, but from the very
beginning of American history. Indeed, the pioneer everywhere has needed
capital and has believed that it could be obtained only through money.
The cheaper the money, the better it served his needs. The Western
farmer preferred, other things being equal, that the supply of currency
should be increased by direct issue of paper by the Government. Things,
however, were not equal. In the Mountain States were many interested in
silver as a commodity whose assistance could be counted on in a
campaign to increase the amount of the metal in circulation. There were,
moreover, many other voters who, while regarding Greenbackism as an
economic heresy, were convinced that bimetallism offered a safe and
sound solution of the currency problem. For the sake of added votes the
inflationists were ready to waive any preference as to the form in which
the cheap money should be issued. Before the actual formation of the
People's Party, the farmers' organizations had set out to capture
votes by advocating free silver. After the election of 1892 free silver
captured the Populist organization.

Heartened by the large vote of 1892 the Populist leaders prepared to
drive the wedge further into the old parties and even hoped to send
their candidates through the breach to Congress and the presidency.
A secret organization, known as the Industrial League of the United
States, in which the leaders were for the most part the prominent
officials of the People's Party, afforded for a time through its lodges
the machinery with which to control and organize the silverites of the
West and the South.

The most notable triumph of 1898 was the selection of Judge William V.
Allen, by the Democrats and Independents of Nebraska, to represent that
State in the United States Senate. Born in Ohio, in a house which had
been a station on the "underground railroad" to assist escaping negroes,
Allen at ten years of age had gone with his family to Iowa. After
one unsuccessful attempt, he enlisted in the Union Army at the age of
fifteen and served from 1862 to the end of the War. When peace came, he
resumed his schooling, attended college, studied law, and in 1869 was
admitted to the bar. In 1884 he went to Madison County, Nebraska, where
seven years later he was elected district judge by the Populists. Reared
in a family which had been Republican, he himself had supported this
party until the campaign of 1890. "I have always," said he, "looked upon
a political party simply as a means to an end. I think a party should be
held no more sacred than a man's shoes or garments, and that whenever it
fails to subserve the purposes of good government a man should abandon
it as cheerfully as he dispenses with his wornout clothes." As Senator,
Allen attracted attention not only by his powers of physical endurance
as attested by a fifteen-hour speech in opposition to the bill for
the repeal of the Silver Purchase Act, but also by his integrity of
character. "If Populism can produce men of Senator Allen's mold," was
the comment of one Eastern review, "and then lift them into positions
of the highest responsibility, one might be tempted to suggest that an
epidemic of this Western malady would prove beneficial to some Eastern
communities and have salutary results for the nation at large."

In this same year (1893) Kansas became a stormcenter in national
politics once more by reason of a contest between parties for control
of the lower house of the legislature. The returns had given the
Republicans a majority in the assembly, but several Republican seats had
been contested on suspicion of fraud. If the holders of these seats were
debarred from voting, the Populists could outvote the Republicans.
The situation itself was fraught with comedy; and the actions of the
contestants made it nothing less than farce. The assembly convened on
the 10th of January, and both Republican and Populist speakers were
declared duly elected by their respective factions. Loftily ignoring
each other, the two speakers went to the desk and attempted to conduct
the business of the house. Neither party left the assembly chamber that
night; the members slept on the benches; the speakers called a truce
at two in the morning, and lay down, gavels in hand, facing each other
behind the desk, to get what rest they could. For over two weeks the two
houses continued in tumultuous session. Meanwhile men were crowding into
Topeka from all over the State: grim-faced Populist farmers, determined
that Republican chicanery should not wrest from them the fruits of the
election; equally determined Republicans, resolved that the Populists
should not, by charges of election fraud, rob them of their hard-won
majority. Both sides came armed but apparently hoping to avoid

Finally, on the 15th of February, the Populist house retreated from
the chamber, leaving the Republicans in possession, and proceeded to
transact business of state in the corridor of the Capitol. Populist
sympathizers now besieged the assembly chamber, immuring the luckless
Republicans and incidentally a few women who had come in as members of
the suffrage lobby and were now getting more of political equality than
they had anticipated. Food had to be sent through the Populist lines in
baskets, or drawn up to the windows of the chamber while the Populist
mob sat on the main stairway within. Towards evening, the Populist
janitor turned o$ the heat; and the Republicans shivered until oil
stoves were fetched by their followers outside and hoisted through the
windows. The Republican sheriff swore in men of his party as special
deputies; the Populist governor called out the militia.

The situation was at once too absurd and too grave to be permitted to
continue. "Sockless" Jerry Simpson now counseled the Populists to let
the decision go to the courts. The judges, to be sure, were Republican;
but Simpson, ever resourceful, argued that if they decided against the
Populists, the house and senate could then impeach them. Mrs. Lease,
however, was sure that the Populists would not have the courage to take
up impeachment proceedings, and the event proved her judgment correct.
When the struggle was finally brought to an end with the assistance
of the judicial machinery, the Republicans were left in control of the
house of representatives, while the Populists retained the senate.
In joint session the Republicans could be outvoted; hence a silver
Democrat, John Martin, was sent to Washington to work with Peffer in the
Senate for the common cause of silver.

The congressional and state elections of 1894 revealed the unstable
equilibrium of parties, and at the same time the total Populist vote of
nearly a million and a half reflected the increasing popular unrest.
In the West, however, the new party was not so successful in winning
elections as it had been in 1892 because the hostile attitude, sometimes
of the Populists and sometimes of the Democrats, made fusion impossible
in most cases. A few victories were won, to be sure: Nebraska elected a
free-silver Democrat-Populist governor, while Nevada was carried by the
silver party; but Colorado, Idaho, Wyoming, Kansas, and North Dakota.
returned to the Republican fold. In the South, the fusion between
Populists and Republicans against the dominant Democrats was more
successful. From several States, Congressmen were elected, who, whether
under the name of Populist or Republican, represented the radical
element. In South Carolina the Democratic party adopted the Farmers'
Alliance platform, swept the State in the elections, and
sent "Pitchfork" Tillman to the United States Senate as an
anti-administration Democrat. Tillman admitted that he was not one of
those infatuated persons who believed that "all the financial wisdom in
the country is monopolized by the East," and who said, "'Me, too,'
every time Cleveland grunts." "Send me to Washington," was his advice to
cheering crowds, "and I'll stick my pitchfork into his old ribs!"

Every political move in 1895 was calculated with reference to the
presidential election of 1896. Both old parties were inoculated with the
free-silver virus; silver men could have passed a free coinage bill in
both houses of Congress at any moment but were restrained chiefly by the
knowledge that such a measure would be vetoed by President Cleveland.
The free coinage of silver, which was the chief demand of Populism,
was also the ardent desire of a majority of the people west of the
Alleghanies, irrespective of their political affiliations. Nothing
seemed more logical, then, than the union of all silver men to enforce
the adoption of their program. There was great diversity of opinion,
however, as to the best means of accomplishing this union. General
Weaver started a movement to add the forces of the American Bimetallic
League and the silver Democrats to the ranks of the People's Party. But
the silver Democrats, believing that they comprised a majority of the
party, proceeded to organize themselves for the purpose of controlling
that party at its coming national conventions; and most of the Populist
leaders felt that, should this movement be victorious, the greatest
prospect of success for their program lay in a fusion of the two
parties. Some there were, indeed, who opposed fusion under any
conditions, foreseeing that it would mean the eventual extinction of
the People's Party.. Prominent among these were Ignatius Donnelly of
Minnesota, "General" J. S. Coxey of Ohio, and Senator Peffer of Kansas.
In the South the "middle-of-the-road" element, as the opponents of
fusion were called, was especially strong, for there the Populists had
been cooperating with the Republicans since 1892, and not even agreement
on the silver issue could break down the barrier of antagonism between
them and the old-line Democrats.

It remained, then, for the political events of 1896 to decide which
way the current of Populism would flow--whether it would maintain an
independent course, receiving tributaries from every political source,
eventually becoming a mighty river, and, like the Republican party of
1856 and 1860, sweeping away an older party; or whether it would
turn aside and mingle with the stream of Democracy, there to lose its
identity forever.


When the Republicans met in convention at St. Louis in the middle of
June, 1896, the monetary issue had already dwarfed all other political
questions. It was indeed the rock on which the party might have crashed
in utter shipwreck but for the precautions of one man who had charted
the angry waters and the dangerous shoals and who now had a firm grasp
on the helm. Marcus A. Hanna, or "Uncle Mark," was the genial owner of
more mines, oil wells, street railways, aldermen, and legislators than
any other man in Ohio. Hanna was an almost perfect example of what the
Populists denounced as the capitalist in politics. Cynically declaring
that "no man in public life owes the public anything," he had gone his
unscrupulous way, getting control of the political machine of Cleveland,
acquiring influence in the state legislature, and now even assuming
dictatorship over the national Republican party. Because he had found
that political power was helpful in the prosecution of his vast business
enterprises, he went forth to accumulate political power, just as
frankly as he would have gone to buy the machinery for pumping oil from
one of his wells. Hanna was a stanch friend of the gold standard, but he
was too clever to alienate the sympathies of the Republican silverites
by supporting the nomination of a man known to be an uncompromising
advocate of gold. He chose a safer candidate, a man whose character
he sincerely admired and whose opinions he might reasonably expect to
sway--his personal friend, Major William McKinley. This was a clever
choice: McKinley was known to the public largely as the author of the
McKinley tariff bill; his protectionism pleased the East; and what was
known of his attitude on the currency question did not offend the West.
In Congress he had voted for the Bland-Allison bill and had advocated
the freer use of silver. McKinley was, indeed, an ideally "safe"
candidate, an upright, affable gentleman whose aquiline features
conferred on him the semblance of commanding power and masked the
essential weakness and indecision which would make him, from Mark
Hanna's point of view, a desirable President. McKinley would always swim
with the tide.

In his friend's behalf Hanna carried on a shrewd campaign in the
newspapers, keeping the question of currency in the background as far as
possible, playing up McKinley's sound tariff policy, and repeating often
the slogan--welcome after the recent lean years--"McKinley and the
full dinner pail." McKinley prudently refused to take any stand on the
currency question, protesting that he could not anticipate the party
platform and that he would be bound by whatever declarations the party
might see fit to make. Even after the convention had opened, McKinley
and Hanna were reticent on the silver question. Finally, fearing
that some kind of compromise would be made, the advocates of the
gold standard went to Mr. Hanna and demanded that a gold plank be
incorporated in the platform. Hanna gracefully acceded to their demands
and thus put them under obligation to repay him by supporting McKinley
for the nomination. The platform which was forthwith reported to the
convention contained the unequivocal gold plank, as Hanna had long
before planned. Immediately thereafter a minority of thirty-four
delegates, led by Senator Teller of Colorado, left the convention, later
to send out an address advising all Republicans who believed in free
coinage of silver to support the Democratic ticket. The nomination
of William McKinley and Garret A. Hobart followed with very little

There was nothing cut and dried about the Democratic convention which
assembled three weeks later in Chicago. The Northeastern States and
a few others sent delegations in favor of the gold standard, but free
silver and the West were in the saddle. This was demonstrated when, in
the face of all precedent, the nominee of the national committee for
temporary chairman was rejected in favor of Senator John W. Daniel of
Virginia, a strong silver man. The second day of the convention saw
the advantage pushed further: each Territory had its representation
increased threefold; of contesting delegations those who represented the
gold element in their respective States were unseated to make way for
silverites; and Stephen M. White, one of the California senators, was
made permanent chairman.

On the third day of the convention the platform, devoted largely to the
money question, was the subject of bitter debate. "We are unalterably
opposed to monometallism, which has locked fast the prosperity of an
industrial people in the paralysis of hard times," proclaimed the
report of the committee on resolutions. "Gold monometallism is a British
policy, and its adoption has brought other nations into financial
servitude to London.... We demand the free and unlimited coinage of both
gold and silver at the present legal ratio of sixteen to one without
waiting for the aid or consent of any other nation." A minority of the
committee on resolutions proposed two amendments to the report, one
pronouncing in favor of a gold standard, and the other commending the
record of Grover Cleveland, a courtesy always extended to a presidential
incumbent of the same party. At the name of Cleveland, Senator Tillman
leaped to his feet and delivered himself of characteristic invective
against the President, the "tool of Wall Street," the abject slave
of gold. Senator David B. Hill of New York, who had been rejected for
temporary chairman, defended the gold plank in a logical analysis of
monetary principles. But logical analysis could not prevail against
emotion; that clamorous mass of men was past reasoning now, borne they
hardly knew whither on the current of their own excitement. He might as
well have tried to dam Niagara.

Others tried to stem the onrushing tide but with no better success. It
seemed to be impossible for any one to command the attention and respect
of that tumultuous gathering. Even Senator James K. Jones of Arkansas,
a member of the majority group of the committee on resolutions, failed
equally with Tillman to give satisfactory expression to the sentiments
of that convention, which felt inchoately what it desired but which
still needed a leader to voice its aspirations. This spokesman the
convention now found in William Jennings Bryan, to whom after a few
sentences Senator Jones yielded the floor.

Bryan appeared in Chicago as a member of the contesting silver
delegation from Nebraska. A young man, barely thirty-six years old, he
had already become a well-known figure in the West, where for years he
had been expounding the doctrine of free silver. A native of Illinois,
whither his father had come from Culpeper County, Virginia, Bryan had
grown up on a farm. His father's means had been ample to afford him a
good education, which he completed, so far as schooling was concerned,
at Illinois College, Jacksonville, and at the Union College of Law in
Chicago. While in Chicago Bryan was employed in the law office of
Lyman Trumbull, one of the stanchest representatives of independence
in politics--an independence which had caused him to break with the
Democratic party over the slavery issue, and which, as expressed in his
vote against the impeachment of President Johnson, had resulted in his
retirement to private life. To the young law student Trumbull took a
particular fancy, and his dominating personality exerted an abiding
influence over the character and career of his protege.

After a brief period of law practice in Jacksonville, Illinois, Bryan
removed with his family to Lincoln, Nebraska. The legal profession never
held great attraction for him, despite the encouragement and assistance
of his wife, who herself took up the study of law after her marriage
and was admitted to the bar. Public questions and politics held greater
interest for the young man, who had already, in his college career,
shown his ability as an orator. Nebraska offered the opportunity he
craved. At the Democratic state convention in Omaha in 1888 he made a
speech on the tariff which gave him immediately a state-wide reputation
as an orator and expounder of public issues. He took an active part in
the campaign of that year, and in 1889 was offered, but declined, the
nomination for lieutenant governor on the Democratic ticket. In 1890 he
won election to Congress by a majority of seven thousand in a
district which two years before had returned a Republican, and this he
accomplished in spite of the neglect of party managers who regarded the
district as hopeless. In Congress he became a member of the Committee
on Ways and Means. On the floor of the House his formal speeches on the
tariff, a topic to which nothing new could be brought, commanded the
attention of one of the most critical and blase audiences of the world.
The silver question, which was the principal topic before Congress at
the following session, afforded a fresher field for his oratory; indeed,
Bryan was the principal aid to Bland both as speaker and parliamentarian
in the old leader's monetary campaign. When Bryan sat down after a
three-hour speech in which he attacked the gold standard, a colleague
remarked, "It exhausts the subject." In 1894 a tidal wave of
Republicanism destroyed Bryan's chances of being elected United States
Senator, a consummation for which he had been laboring on the stump and,
for a brief period, as editor of the Omaha World-Herald. He continued,
however, to urge the silver cause in preparation for the presidential
campaign of 1896.

Taller and broader than most men and of more commanding presence, Bryan
was a striking figure in the convention hall. He wore the inevitable
black suit of the professional man of the nineties, but his dress did
not seem conventional: his black tie sat at too careless an angle; his
black hair was a little too long. These eccentricities the cartoonists
seized on and exaggerated so that most people who have not seen the man
picture Bryan, not as a determined looking man with a piercing eye and
tightset mouth, but as a grotesque frock-coated figure with the sombrero
of a cow-puncher and the hair of a poet. If the delegates at the
convention noticed any of these peculiarities as Bryan arose to speak,
they soon forgot them. His undoubted power to carry an audience with
him was never better demonstrated than on that sweltering July day in
Chicago when he stilled the tumult of a seething mass of 15,000 people
with his announcement that he came to speak "in defense of a cause
as holy as the cause of liberty--the cause of humanity," and when he
stirred the same audience to frenzy with his closing defiance of the
opponents of free silver:

"If they say bimetallism is good, but that we cannot have it until
other nations help us, we reply that, instead of having a gold standard
because England has, we will restore bimetallism, and then let England
have bimetallism because the United States has it. If they dare to come
out in the open field and defend the gold standard as a good thing, we
will fight them to the uttermost. Having behind us the producing masses
of this nation and the world, supported by the commercial interests,
the laboring interests, and the toilers everywhere, we will answer their
demand for a gold standard by saying to them: You shall not press down
upon the brow of labor this crown of thorns, you shall not crucify
mankind upon a cross of gold."

Meeting Senator Hill's careful arguments with a clever retort, blunting
the keenness of his logic with a well-turned period, polished to
perfection by numerous repetitions before all sorts of audiences during
the previous three or four years, Bryan held the convention in the
hollow of his hand. The leadership which had hitherto been lacking was
now found. The platform as reported by the committee was adopted by a
vote of more than two to one; and the convention, but for the opposition
of Bryan himself, would have nominated him on the spot. The next day it
took but five ballots to set aside all the favorite sons, including the
"Father of Free Silver" himself, Richard P. Bland, and to make Bryan the
standard bearer of the party. Far different in character and appearance
from the Republican group which had assembled in the same building a few
weeks before, was the Populist convention which met in St. Louis late in
July. Many of the 1300 delegates were white-haired and had grown old in
the service of reform in the various independent movements of preceding
years; some of them had walked long distances to save railroad fare,
while others were so poor that, having exhausted their small store of
money before the long-drawn-out convention adjourned, they suffered from
want of regular sleeping places and adequate food. All were impressed
with the significance of the decision they must make.

Gone were the hopes of the past months; the Populist party would not
sweep into its ranks all anti-monopolists and all silverites--for one
of the old parties had stolen its loudest thunder! It was an error of
political strategy to place the convention after those of the two great
parties in the expectation that both would stand on a gold platform.
Now it was for these delegates to decide whether they would put their
organization behind the Democratic nominee with a substantial prospect
of victory, or preserve intact the identity of the Populist party, split
the silver vote, and deliver over the election to a gold Republican.

The majority of the delegates, believing that the Democratic party had
been inoculated with the serum of reform, were ready for the sake of a
principle to risk the destruction of the party they had labored so hard
to build. Senator William V. Allen of Nebraska summed up the situation
when he said:

"If by putting a third ticket in the field you would defeat free
coinage; defeat a withdrawal of the issue power of national banks;
defeat Government ownership of railroads, telephones and telegraphs;
defeat an income tax and foist gold monometallism and high taxation upon
the people for a generation to come, which would you do?... When I shall
go back to the splendid commonwealth that has so signally honored me
beyond my merits, I want to be able to say to the people that all the
great doctrines we have advocated for years, have been made possible
by your action. I do not want them to say that the Populists have been
advocates of reforms when they could not be accomplished, but when the
first ray of light appeared and the people were looking with expectancy
and with anxiety for relief, the party was not equal to the occasion;
that it was stupid; it was blind; it kept 'the middle of the road,' and
missed the golden opportunity."

Although most of the members of the convention were ready to cooperate
with the Democrats, there was a very strong feeling that something
should be done, if possible, to preserve the identity of the Populist
party and to safeguard its future. An active minority, moreover, was
opposed to any sort of fusion or cooperation. This "middle-of-the-road"
group included some Western leaders of prominence, such as Peffer and
Donnelly, but its main support came from the Southern delegates. To them
an alliance with the Democratic party meant a surrender to the enemy,
to an enemy with whom they had been struggling for four years for the
control of their state and local governments. Passionately they pleaded
with the convention to save them from such a calamity. Well they knew
that small consideration would be given to those who had dared stand up
and oppose the ruling aristocracy of the South, who had even shaken the
Democratic grip upon the governments of some of the States. Further, a
negro delegate from Georgia portrayed the disaster which would overwhelm
the political aspirations of his people if the Populist party, which
alone had given them full fellowship, should surrender to the Democrats.

The advocates of fusion won their first victory in the election of
Senator Allen as permanent chairman, by a vote of 758 to 564. As the
nomination of Bryan for President was practically a foregone conclusion,
the "middle-of-the-road" element concentrated its energies on preventing
the nomination of Arthur Sewall of Maine, the choice of the Democracy,
for Vice-President. The convention was persuaded, by a narrow margin,
to take the unusual step of selecting the candidate for Vice-President
before the head of the ticket was chosen. On the first ballot Sewall
received only 257 votes, while 469 were cast for Thomas Watson of
Georgia. Watson, who was then nominated by acclamation, was a country
editor who had made himself a force in the politics of his own State
and had served the Populist cause conspicuously in Congress. Two motives
influenced the convention in this procedure. As a bank president, a
railroad director, and an employer of labor on a large scale, Sewall was
felt to be utterly unsuited to carry the standard of the People's
Party. More effective than this feeling, however, was the desire to do
something to preserve the identity of the party, to show that it had
not wholly surrendered to the Democrats. It was a compromise,
moreover, which was probably necessary to prevent a bolt of the
"middle-of-the-road" element and the nomination of an entirely
independent ticket.

Even with this concession the Southern delegates continued their
opposition to fusion. Bryan was placed in nomination, quite
appropriately, by General Weaver, who again expressed the sense of the
convention: "After due consideration, in which I have fully canvassed
every possible phase of the subject, I have failed to find a single good
reason to justify us in placing a third ticket in the field.... I
would not endorse the distinguished gentleman named at Chicago. I would
nominate him outright, and make him our own, and then share justly and
rightfully in his election." The irreconcilables, nearly all from the
South and including a hundred delegates from Texas, voted for S. F.
Norton of Chicago, who received 321 votes as against 1042 for Bryan.

Because of the electoral system, the agreement of two parties to
support the same candidate for President could have no effect, unless
arrangements were made for fusion within the States. An address issued
by the executive committee of the national committee of the People's
Party during the course of the campaign outlined the method of uniting
"the voters of the country against McKinley," and of overcoming the
"obstacles and embarrassments which, if the Democratic party had put the
cause first and party second," would not have been encountered: "This
could be accomplished only by arranging for a division of the electoral
votes in every State possible, securing so many electors for Bryan and
Watson and conceding so many to Bryan and Sewall. At the opening of the
campaign this, under the circumstances, seemed the wisest course for
your committee, and it is clearer today than ever that it was the only
safe and wise course if your votes were to be cast and made effective
for the relief of an oppressed and outraged people. Following this line
of policy your committee has arranged electoral tickets in three-fourths
of the States and will do all in its power to make the same arrangements
in all of the States."

The committee felt it necessary to warn the people of the danger of "a
certain portion of the rank and file of the People's Party being misled
by so-called leaders, who, for reasons best known to themselves, or for
want of reason, are advising voters to rebel against the joint electoral
tickets and put up separate electoral tickets, or to withhold their
support from the joint electoral tickets." Such so-called leaders were
said to be aided and abetted by "Democrats of the revenue stripe, who
are not yet weaned from the flesh-pots of Egypt," and by Republican
"goldbugs" who in desperation were seizing upon every straw to prevent
fusion and so to promote their own chances of success.

In the North and West, where the Populist had been fusing with the
Democrats off and on for several years, the combinations were arranged
with little difficulty. In apportioning the places on the electoral
tickets the strength of the respective parties was roughly represented
by the number of places assigned to each. Usually it was understood
that all the electors, if victorious, would vote for Bryan, while the
Democrats would cast their second place ballots for Sewall and the
Populists for Watson.

In the South much more difficulty was experienced in arranging fusion
tickets, and the spectacle of Populists cooperating with Republicans in
state elections and with Democrats in the national election illustrated
the truth of the adage that "politics makes strange bedfellows." Only
in Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, and North Carolina, of the
Southern States, were joint electoral tickets finally agreed upon. In
Tennessee the Populists offered to support the Democratic electors
if they would all promise to vote for Watson, a proposal which was
naturally declined. In Florida the chairman of the state committee of
the People's Party, went so far on the eve of the election as to advise
all members of the party to vote for McKinley; and in Texas there was an
organized bolt of a large part of the Populists to the Republican party,
notwithstanding its gold standard and protective tariff platform.

No campaign since that of 1860 was so hotly and bitterly contested
as the "Battle of the Standards" in 1896. The Republicans broke all
previous records in the amount of printed matter which they scattered
broadcast over the country. Money was freely spent. McKinley remained
at his home in Canton, Ohio, and received, day after day, delegations of
pilgrims come to harken to his words of wisdom, which were then, through
the medium of the press, presented to similar groups from Maine to
California. For weeks, ten to twenty-five thousand people a day sought
"the shrine of the golden calf."

In the meantime Bryan, as the Democrat-Populist candidate, toured the
country, traveling over thirteen thousand miles, reaching twenty-nine
States, and addressing millions of voters. It was estimated, for
instance, that in the course of his tour of West Virginia at least
half the electorate must have heard his voice. Most of the influential
newspapers were opposed to Bryan, but his tours and meetings and
speeches had so much news value that they received the widest publicity.
As the campaign drew to a close, it tended more and more to become
a class contest. That it was so conceived by the Populist executive
committee is apparent from one of its manifestoes:

"There are but two sides in the conflict that is being waged in this
country today. On the one side are the allied hosts of monopolies,
the money power, great trusts and railroad corporations, who seek the
enactment of laws to benefit them and impoverish the people. On the
other side are the farmers, laborers, merchants, and all others who
produce wealth and bear the burdens of taxation. The one represents the
wealthy and powerful classes who want the control of the Government
to plunder the people. The other represents the people, contending for
equality before the law, and the rights of man. Between these two there
is no middle ground."

When the smoke of battle cleared away the election returns of 1896
showed that McKinley had received 600,000 more popular votes than Bryan
and would have 271 electoral votes to 176 for the Democrat-Populist
candidate. West of the Mississippi River the cohorts of Bryan captured
the electoral vote in every State except California, Minnesota, North
Dakota, Iowa, and Oregon. The South continued its Democratic solidity,
except that West Virginia and Kentucky went to McKinley. All the
electoral votes of the region east of the Mississippi and north of
Mason's and Dixon's line were Republican. The old Northwest, together
with Iowa, Minnesota, and North Dakota, a region which had been the
principal theater of the Granger movement a generation before, now
joined forces with the conservative and industrial East to defeat a
combination of the South with the newer agrarian and mining frontiers of
the West.

The People's Party had staked all on a throw of the dice and had
lost. It had given its life as a political organization to further the
election of Bryan, and he had not been elected. Its hope for independent
existence was now gone; its strength was considerably less in 1896 than
it had been in 1892 and 1894.* The explanation would seem to be, in
part at least, that the People's Party was "bivertebrate as well
as bimetallic." It was composed of men who not long since had other
political affiliations, who had left one party for the sake of the
cause, and who consequently did not find it difficult to leave another
for the same reason. In the West large numbers of former Populists
undoubtedly went over completely to the Democracy, even when they had
the opportunity of voting for the same Bryan electors under a Populist
label. In the South many members of the party, disgusted at the
predicament in which they found themselves, threw in their lot with the
Republicans. The capture of the Democracy by the forces of free silver
gave the death blow to Populism.

     * Of the 6,509,000 votes which Bryan received, about
     4,669,000 were cast for the fusion electoral tickets. In
     only seven of the fusion States is it possible to
     distinguish between Democrat and Populist votes; the totals
     here are 1,499,000 and 93,000 respectively. The fusion
     Populist vote of 45,000 was essential for the success of the
     Bryan electors in Kansas; and in California the similar vote
     of 22,000, added to that of the Democrats, gave Bryan one of
     the electors. In no other State in this group did the
     Populist vote have any effect upon the result. The part
     played by the People's party in the other twenty-two of the
     fusio-States is difficult to determine; in some cases,
     however, the situation is revealed in the results of state
     elections. The best example of this is North Carolina, where
     the Democrat-Populist electors had a majority of 19,000,
     while at the same election Fusion between Republicans and
     Populists for all state officers except governor and
     lieutenant governor was victorious. The Populist candidate
     for governor received about 31,000 votes and the Republican
     was elected. It is evident that the third party held the
     balance of power in North Carolina. The Populist votes were
     probably essential for the fusion victories in Idaho,
     Montana, Nebraska, and Washington; but, as there was fusion
     on state tickets also, it is impossible to estimate the part
     played by the respective parties. The total Populist vote in
     the ten States in which there were independent Democratic
     and Populist electoral tickets was 122,000 (of which 80,000
     were cast in Texas and 24,000 in Alabama) and as none of the
     ten were close States the failure to agree on electoral
     tickets had no effect on the result. The "middle-of-the-
     road" Populist votes, in States where there were also fusion
     tickets amounted to only 8000--of which 6000 were cast in
     Pennsylvania and 1000 each in Illinois and Kansas.

The Populist vote as a whole was much larger than 223,000--the total
usually given in the tables---for this figure does not include the vote
in the twenty-two fusion States in which the ballots were not separately
counted. This is apparent from the fact that the twenty-seven electoral
votes from ten States which were cast for Watson came, with one
exception, from States in which no separate Populist vote was
recorded. It is evident, nevertheless, from the figures in States where
comparisons are possible, that the party had lost ground.


The People's Party was mortally stricken by the events of 1896. Most
of the cohorts which had been led into the camp of Democracy were
thereafter beyond the control of their leaders; and even the remnant
that still called itself Populist was divided into two factions. In 1900
the radical group refused to endorse the Fusionists' nomination of Bryan
and ran an independent ticket headed by Wharton Barker of Pennsylvania
and that inveterate rebel, Ignatius Donnelly. This ticket, however,
received only 50,000 votes, nearly one-half of which came from Texas.
When the Democrats nominated Judge Alton B. Parker of New York in 1904,
the Populists formally dissolved the alliance with the Democracy and
nominated Thomas E. Watson of Georgia for President. By this defection
the Democrats may have lost something; but the Populists gained little.
Most of the radicals who deserted the Democracy at this time went over
to Roosevelt, the Republican candidate. In 1908 the Populist vote fell
to 29,000; in 1912 the party gave up the ghost in a thinly-attended
convention which neither made nominations of its own nor endorsed any
other candidate. In Congress the forces of Populism dwindled rapidly,
from the 27 members of 1897 to but 10 in 1899, and none at all in 1903.

The men who had been leaders in the heyday of Populism retired from
national prominence to mere local celebrity. Donnelly died in 1901,
leaving a picturesque legacy of friendships and animosities, of literary
controversy and radical political theory. Weaver remained with the
fusion Populists through the campaign of 1900; but by 1904 he had gone
over to the Democratic party. The erstwhile candidate for the presidency
was content to serve as mayor of the small town of Colfax, Iowa, where
he made his home until his death in 1912, respected by his neighbors
and forgotten by the world. Peffer, at the expiration of his term in the
Senate, ran an unsuccessful tilt for the governorship of Kansas on the
Prohibition ticket. In 1900 he returned to the comfort of the Republican
fold, to become an ardent supporter of McKinley and Roosevelt.

But the defection and death of Populist leaders, the collapse of the
party, and the disintegration of the alliances could not stay the
farmers' movement. It ebbed for a time, just as at the end of the
Granger period, but it was destined to rise again. The unprecedented
prosperity, especially among the farmers, which began with the closing
years of the nineteenth century and has continued with little reaction
down to the present has removed many causes for agrarian discontent; but
some of the old evils are left, and fresh grievances have come to
the front. Experience taught the farmer one lesson which he has never
forgotten: that whether prosperous or not, he can and must promote his
welfare by organization. So it is that, as one association or group of
associations declines, others arise. In some States, where the Grange
has survived or has been reintroduced, it is once more the leading organ
of the agricultural class. Elsewhere other organizations, sometimes
confined to a single State, sometimes transcending state lines, hold
the farmers' allegiance more or less firmly; and an attempt is now being
made to unite all of these associations in an American Federation of

Until recently these orders have devoted their energies principally
to promoting the social and intellectual welfare of the farmer and to
business cooperation, sometimes on a large scale. But, as soon as an
organization has drawn into its ranks a considerable proportion of the
farmers of a State, especially in the West, the temptation to use
its power in the field of politics is almost irresistible. At first,
political activity is usually confined to declarations in favor of
measures believed to be in the interests of the farmers as a class;
but from this it is only a short step to the support of candidates
for office who are expected to work for those measures; and thence the
gradation is easy to actual nominations by the order or by a farmers'
convention which it has called into being. With direct primaries in
operation in most of the Western States, these movements no longer
culminate in the formation of the third party but in ambitious efforts
to capture the dominant party in the State. Thus in Wisconsin the
president of the state union of the American Society of Equity, a
farmers' organization which has heretofore been mainly interested in
cooperative buying and selling, was recently put forward by a "Farmers
and Laborers Conference" as candidate for the nomination for governor on
the Republican ticket and had the active support of the official organ
of the society. In North Dakota, the Non-Partisan League, a farmers'
organization avowedly political in its purposes, captured the Republican
party a few years ago and now has complete control of the state
government. The attempt of the League to seize the reins in Minnesota
has been unsuccessful as yet, but Democratic and Republican managers are
very much alarmed at its growing power. The organized farmers are once
more a power in Western politics.

It is not, however, by votes cast and elections won or by the permanence
of parties and organizations that the political results of the agrarian
crusade are to be measured. The People's Party and its predecessors,
with the farmers' organizations which supported them, professed to put
measures before men and promulgated definite programs of legislation.
Many of the proposals in these programs which were ridiculed at the time
have long since passed beyond the stage of speculation and discussion.
Regulation of railroad charges by national and state government,
graduated income taxes, popular election of United States Senators, a
parcels post, postal savings banks, and rural free delivery of mail
are a few of these once visionary demands which have been satisfied by
Federal law and constitutional amendment. Antitrust legislation has
been enacted to meet the demand for the curbing of monopolies; and
the Federal land bank system which has recently gone into operation is
practically the proposal of the Northwestern Alliance for government
loans to farmers, with the greenback feature eliminated. Even the demand
for greater volume and flexibility of currency has been met, though in
ways quite different from those proposed by the farmers.*

     * In July, 1894, when the People's Party was growing
     rapidly, the editor of the Review of Reviews declared:
     "Whether the Populist party is to prove itself capable of
     amalgamating a great national political organization or
     whether its work is to be done through a leavening of the
     old parties to a more or less extent with its doctrines and
     ideas, remains to be seen. At present its influence
     evidently is that of a leavening ingredient." The inclusion
     of the income tax in the revenue bill put through by the
     Democratic majority in Congress was described as "a mighty
     manifestation of the working of the Populist leaven"; and it
     was pointed out that "the Populist leaven in the direction
     of free silver at the ratio of 16 to 1 is working yet more
     deeply and ominously." The truth of the last assertion was
     demonstrated two years later.

In general it may be said that the farmers' organizations and parties
stood for increased governmental activity; they scorned the economic
and political doctrine of laissez faire; they believed that the people's
governments could and should be used in many ways for promoting the
welfare of the people, for assuring social justice, and for restoring or
preserving economic as well as political equality. They were pioneers in
this field of social politics, but they did not work alone. Independent
reformers, either singly or in groups, labor organizations and parties,
and radicals everywhere cooperated with them. Both the old parties
were split into factions by this progressive movement; and in 1912 a
Progressive party appeared on the scene and leaped to second place in
its first election, only to vanish from the stage in 1916 when both the
old parties were believed to have become progressive.

The two most hopeful developments in American politics during recent
years have been the progressive movement, with its program of social
justice, and the growth of independent voting--both developments
made possible in large part by the agrarian crusade. Perhaps the most
significant contribution of the farmers' movement to American politics
has been the training of the agricultural population to independent
thought and action. No longer can a political party, regardless of its
platform and candidates, count on the farmer vote as a certainty. The
resolution of the Farmers' Alliance of Kansas "that we will no longer
divide on party lines and will only cast our votes for candidates of
the people, by the people, and for the people," was a declaration of
a political independence which the farmers throughout the West have
maintained and strengthened. Each successive revolt took additional
voters from the ranks of the old parties; and, once these ties were
severed, even though the wanderers might return, their allegiance could
be retained only by a due regard for their interests and desires.


The sources for the history of the agrarian crusade are to be found
largely in contemporary newspapers, periodical articles, and the
pamphlet proceedings of national and state organizations, which are
too numerous to permit of their being listed here. The issues of
such publications as the "Tribune Almanac", the "Annual Cyclopedia"
(1862-1903), and Edward McPherson's "Handbook of Politics" (1868-1894)
contain platforms, election returns, and other useful material; and some
of the important documents for the Granger period are in volume X of the
"Documentary History of American Industrial Society" (1911), edited by
John R. Commons.

When each wave of the movement for agricultural organization was at its
crest, enterprising publishers seized the opportunity to bring out books
dealing with the troubles of the farmers, the proposed remedies, and the
origin and growth of the orders. These works, hastily compiled for sale
by agents, are partisan and unreliable, but they contain material not
elsewhere available, and they help the reader to appreciate the spirit
of the movement. Books of this sort for the Granger period include:
Edward W. Martin's (pseud. of J. D. McCabe) "History of the Grange
Movement" (1874), Jonathan Periam's "The Groundswell" (1874), Oliver H.
Kelley's "Origin and Progress of the Order of he Patrons of Husbandry"
(1875), and Ezra S. Carr's "The Patrons of Husbandry on the Pacific
Coast" (1875). Similar works induced by the Alliance movement are:
"History of the Farmers' Alliance, the Agricultural Wheel", etc.,
compiled and edited by the "St. Louis Journal of Agriculture" (1890),
"Labor and Capital, Containing an Account of the Various Organizations
of Farmers, Planters, and Mechanics" (1891), edited by Emory A. Allen,
W. Scott Morgan's "History of the Wheel and Alliance and the Impending
Revolution" (1891), H. R. Chamberlain's "The Farmers' Alliance" (1891),
"The Farmers' Alliance History and Agricultural Digest" (1891), edited
by N. A. Dunning, and N. B. Ashby's "The Riddle of the Sphinx" (1890).
Other contemporary books dealing with the evils of which the farmers
complained are: D. C. Cloud's "Monopolies and the People" (1873),
William A. Peffer's "The Farmer's Side" (1891), James B. Weaver's "A
Call to Action" (1891), Charles H. Otken's "The Ills of the South"
(1894), Henry D. Lloyd's "Wealth against Commonwealth" (1894), and
William H. Harvey's "Coin's Financial School" (1894).

The nearest approach to a comprehensive account of the farmers' movement
is contained in Fred E. Haynes's "Third Party Movements Since the Civil
War, with Special Reference to Iowa" (1916). The first phase of the
subject is treated by Solon J. Buck in "The Granger Movement" (1913),
which contains an extensive bibliography. Frank L. McVey's "The Populist
Movement" (1896) is valuable principally for its bibliography of
contemporary material, especially newspapers and magazine articles. For
accounts of agrarian activity in the individual States, the investigator
turns to the many state histories without much satisfaction. Nor can he
find monographic studies for more than a few States. A. E. Paine's "The
Granger Movement in Illinois" (1904 University of Illinois Studies, vol.
I, No. 8) and Ellis B. Usher's "The Greenback Movement of 1875-1884 and
Wisconsin's Part in It" (1911) practically exhaust the list. Elizabeth
N. Barr's "The Populist Uprising", in volume II of William E.
Connelley's "Standard History of Kansas" (1918), is a vivid and
sympathetic but uncritical narrative. Briefer articles have been written
by Melvin J. White, "Populism in Louisiana during the Nineties", in the
Mississippi "Valley Historical Review" (June, 1918), and by Ernest D.
Stewart, "The Populist Party in Indiana" in the "Indiana Magazine of
History" (December, 1918). Biographical material on the Populist leaders
is also scant. For Donnelly there is Everett W. Fish's "Donnelliana"
(1892), a curious eulogy supplemented by "excerpts from the wit, wisdom,
poetry and eloquence" of the versatile hero; and a life of General
Weaver is soon to be issued by the State Historical Society of Iowa.
William J. Bryan's "The First Battle" (1896) and numerous biographies
of "the Commoner" treat of his connection with the Populists and the
campaign of 1896. Herbert Croly's "Marcus A. Hanna" (1912) should also
be consulted in this connection.

Several of the general histories of the United States since the
Civil War devote considerable space to various phases of the farmers'
movement. The best in this respect are Charles A. Beard's "Contemporary
American History" (1914) and Frederic L. Paxson's "The New Nation"
(1915). Harry Thurston Peck's "Twenty Years of the Republic", 1885-1905
(1906) contains an entertaining account of Populism and the campaign of
1896. Pertinent chapters and useful bibliographies will also be found
in the following volumes of the "American Nation": William A. Dunning's
"Reconstruction, Political and Economic", 1865-1877 (1907), Edwin E.
Sparks's "National Development", 1877-1885 (1907), and David R. Dewey's
"National Problems", 1885-1897 (1907).

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