The Grange was the first major farm organization and began in the 1860’s.This organization was created mostly as a social and self-help association notoriginally an organization of protest. During the depression of 1873, thisgroup of bonded friends, became an “agency for political change.” They knew inordered to help themselves they must become a voice in this new government inorder to survive.With the depression farm product prices began to decrease. More farmsjoined the Grange to band together to resolve the issues before them. Beginningas a small group of friends learning from each other what worked and what didn’t,by 1875 the Grange boasted of over 800,000 members and 20,000 local lodges;claiming chapters in almost every state, being the strongest in the states thatproduced the most: the South and Midwest.
As a group (strong in member) theymade their statement to the world on an appropriate day, Independence Day 1873. The framers Declaration of Independence informed those listening they were readyto fight back. The Declaration stated they would use “all lawful and peacefulmeans to free themselves from the tyranny of monopoly”. Many of the membersopened stores and other businesses so they could begin to buy and sell to eachother. However most of these were farmers, with families, not businessmen andmany companies didn’t survive because of their lack of real business knowledgeand the pressures of the middlemen who wanted them to fail.
They worked as ateam to get candidates elected who agreed with the need for governmental controlof the railroads. With the control of the Legislatures they implementedgovernmental controls on railroad rates and practices. However the railroad wasalso very wealthy. They hired lawyers who soon destroyed the new regulations. With these defeats and with the new rise in farm prices in the late 1870’s theGrange began to lose strength and power, dwindling to a membership to only100,000 by 1880.
The Grange was the springboard for another banding together of farmers,the Farmers Alliances. This new movement began in the Southern states andquickly spread beyond what the Grange had been. One of the most notabledifferences within the Alliance, was the approval of women to vote and becomespeakers and leaders for their cause. The Alliance however, had similarproblems as the Grange.
Many of the cooperations, stores, banks, processingplants and other resources began to suffer the same fate. Lack of solidmanagement and the market forces operating against them caused them to fail. These disappointments aided the forming of a national political organization. This merger held their own national convention in Ocala, Florida in 1889, inwhich they introduced their Ocala Demands.Going even further they met and formed a third party. In July 1892,Omaha, Nebraska they met approved an official set of principles and nominatedcandidates for the presidency and vice presidency. Thus the People’s Party,more often called the Populist Party was born. In the years that soon followedthe Populist Party won the elections for Presidency (James B.
Weaver of Iowa),three governorships, five senate and ten congressional seats. Also elected weremany Republicans and Democrats who sided with the Populists. Most of thePopulist leaders were middle class, professional people or long time politicians.Most were not small farmers.
Populism lasted for two decades as a third political party, however itwas a losing struggle. One main theory as to their fall was one of the nationsleading historians in the 1950s, Richard Hofstadter wrote in his book The Age ofReform published and expounded this view of the Populism group and theirlikeness to Communism. He stated ” the farmers were very committed to thecapitalist system they claimed to abhor.” He stated further that Populism “waspermeated with bigotry and ignorance” revealing “anti-Semitic tendencies andtheir displayed animosity toward intellectuals, easterners, and urbanites.”What began as a united group of “victims of economically marginalagricultural regions victimized by drought and debt”.
The Grangers turned intoan organized group who backed many politicians who won and made changes toprotect the small farmer, established a network of warehouses were farmers coulddeposit their crops and use these as collateral for borrowing money from thegovernment at low rates and wait for the price of their crop to increase beforeselling, and the acceptance of silver as a form of money. Because of these twodecades in our history we can see our power to influence and change politics. Alone these unimportant, unpowerful, poor people could do nothing, however whenthey came together elected leaders, their sheer numbers made people listen andshaped laws protecting their lives and rights as citizens of these