Late Nineteenth Century Farmers

Essay by bri212High School, 12th gradeA, April 2009

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The late nineteenth century was a very difficult time for farmers to make a substantial living. Because of the economy, many farmers found themselves going into large amounts of debt that they were not able to pay, and as a result they were treated unfairly and being taken advantage of. There were many threats to farmers during the late nineteenth century, the most common were railroads, trusts, monopolies, banks, and a great deal of money problems, but not all of these were valid. In the belief that banks and railroad companies were threats to their way of life, the farmers were right about having discontent. Even so, the beliefs that money problems, trusts, and monopolies were threatening to them are not valid.

The introduction of the transcontinental railroad was a large step for America, even so, the railroad industry hurt farmers and other small businesses. All the railroad companies were extremely competitive with each other and took every step necessary to get ahead.

This included the railroad companies giving large discounts to businesses that shipped goods very far or in large quantities. Although it would help some, it hurt the farmers specifically a great deal. Since farmers did not need as much transportation, they were charged very unfairly to ship their small amount of goods short distances. Even though the railroad companies understood they were hurting the small farmers, they believe that without the big businesses they would go out of business. The money that the railroad companies lost by giving discounts was made up by charging the farmers higher than average. In The Octopus, a small farmer discovers that the railroad companies increase their shipping costs by three cents a pound, ruining the farmer. Since the farmer was already heading into a great debt, the increase in the price hurt the farmer even more. Sine the farmers were already going into debt from the overproducing of crops and the lower prices they had the right to complain about the railroad companies and their unfair treatment.

Monopolies and trusts were becoming more and more powerful as the nineteenth century was coming to an end. For almost every industry, when prices were falling, a business would take over the industries and control them, forming monopolies. The farmers believed that the monopolies would inflate prices, hurting the consumers. Weave believed that the monopolies were going to destroy competition and limit trade. Monopolies would control how much the producers were paid and how much the consumers would pay for the goods. Even so, many of the monopolies weren't out to hurt the producers and consumers. Rockefeller was a great example of this. Unlike what is believed, Rockefeller wanted to have the oil refiners join Standard Oil to share the business so that everyone would make even more money. Monopolies would never raise prices to become unmanageable, the prices during the late nineteenth century were actually on the lower side. This makes the complaints of the farmers about the monopolies not valid, the monopolies didn't try to hurt the farmers business.

Money problems were the largest complaint by farmers in the late 1800's. During that time, prices had deflated a great deal. The Populist Party in the 1892 election demanded that silver be coined unlimitedly and that the money supply be increased. The money supply of the country wasn't enough, but the farmers used this as an excuse for many other problems. Laughlin said that farmers believed that the problem was a scarcity of gold, not that they were overproducing crops. The overproduction of the crops forced prices to lower. The battle of the gold and silver was unnecessary. Instead, they should have focused on how to fix the money deflation problems. In the acceptance speech of President McKinley, he said that free silver wouldn't make labor easier, hours shorter, of pay better. The money in circulation shows that from 1865 to 1895 the United States population had increased, but the money supply decreased, meaning less money per person. The farmer's belief that an increase in silver would fix all their problems was wrong. This proving that the farmers view of silver was not valid.

For farmers, banks were a very large problem. The farmers were taking out loans from the banks in order to run their farm, but the banks were taking advantage of the small farmers. The bank knew that they could put high interest rates for farmers that others. As a result, the farmers became more in debt, making it harder for them to get out. Farmers thought that selling crops would pay for this, but it failed because of the shortage of crops being sold. When the farmers were in so much debt that they were not able to pay their mortgages, the "Eastern Master" forced foreclosure upon them. The farmers were partially valid with this idea and they had the right to be upset with the banks, but not the "Eastern Masters" which were just doing their job. The banks were putting farmers so far in debt that they were forced to foreclose their mortgages.

In the late nineteenth century, farmers had many reasons to be upset with what was going on in America. The farmers were treated unfairly compared to others in the business world. The farmers were only half valid with their complaints. When it came to the railroad companies and the banks and threatening to them, they were right. But when it came to their complaints of money problems, monopolies, and trusts as threatening, the farmers were wrong.

Bailey, Thomas A., Kennedy, David. The American Pageant. Tenth Edition. Lexington, MA. 1994.