Essay by newscrashCollege, UndergraduateA-, October 2008

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Populism(also known as the People's Party)With this lecture, we return to the plight of the farmers in the Great Plains (and, tangentially, the South). (Some of their situation was described in the lecture "The West in the 1860s to 1880s," and in chapters 18 & 19 of the textbook). When we left them in the "West" lecture, they were establishing a social movement called the Grange, which provided an outlet for discussions of their problems as well as simple socializing.

As the farmers discussed their problems, they discovered that they shared several problems, and that most of their problems were financial. For example, as mentioned in the "West" lecture, they were almost all in debt due to purchases of modern equipment and fertilizers. This debt increased over time, as many farmers also owed money to railroads (for transport of their crops) and to the federal government (for taxes). Then, in the 1880s, the Great Plains experienced another drought, which reduced crop yields and income while the farmers' monthly debt payments remained the same.

At the same time, railroads were gradually changing their rates, charging higher fees for crop transport, with even higher charges for short distances and smaller loads (such as most farmers had during the drought).

In the Great Plains, farmers grew a limited number of different crops, and so they could not make money by selling to each other. Their crops were almost all destined for markets in the eastern cities of the United States. But an individual farmer could not accompany every load of crops all the way to the east coast, so farmers sold their crops to the railroad, which then transported the crops and sold them again in the eastern cities. This relationship between the Great Plains farmers and the railroads was complicated by the...