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Autor: anton 30 December 2010
Words: 984 | Pages: 4
In the late 1800's, farmers believed that the railroad companies were strangling away their profits and the government was in favor of big business thus justifying their feelings of discontent.". The farmers had every right to be upset about their situation because the government saw a need for reform which alludes to the fact that problems existed, the railroads had a monopoly on shipping which raised costs and affected profit margins, the value of crops had deflated, and big business was hostile towards farmers.
Documents A-H reveal some of the problems that many farmers in the late nineteenth century (1880-1900) saw as threats to their way of life. Using the documents and your knowledge of the period, (a) explain the reasons for agrarian discontent and (b) evaluate the validity of the farmers' complaints.
Part of Paper 1:
Agrarian Discontent and the 19th Century
America, like any other nation, has always relied heavily on agriculture. Differing from other nations, however, is the problems that agriculture has created through America's brief history. It can be argued that the Civil War was started by agriculture; the South developed as an agricultural dependent region, while the North developed as a manufacturing region; creating two distinct, almost separate cultures. Some twenty years after the Civil War, new problems were arising; that of agrarian discontent. Farmers of the 1880s and 90s were having a harder and harder time getting by. Mother Nature was showing no mercy; through grasshoppers, floods, and draughts. But the farmers placed the blame of their problems on two main areas; the money supply, and the railroads.
In the late 1800s deflation became a major problem for the farmers. Farmers were suffering losses year after year and were forced to have their mortgages foreclosed on, as they saw it, by their "Eastern Master (Doc D)." The reason the farmers blamed this "Eastern Master" was no one was aiding them in their falling prices. The Populist Party felt that silver was the answer, and not coining it was a "vast conspiracy against mankind" across "two continents, and it also emphasized that silver would not make "labor easier, the hours shorter, or the pay better. " To look at it from the farmer's point of view, Frank Norris wrote The Octopus. " In reality, the silver would just lead to more problems, as was emphasized by William McKinley. They are the first to feel its bad effects and the last to recover from themÐ’â€¦It is mere pretense to attribute the hard times to the fact that all our currency is on gold basis. Ð’â€˜Do you understand? I won't make fifty cents. It would not make farming less laborious or more profitable (Doc B). The railroads were trying to stay in business, and saw raising the rates as the only way to accomplish that.
The railway was perhaps one the most influential components in America's growth, especially economically. They are influenced by different considerations. McKinley stated that "Debasement of the currency means destruction of values. The new rate ate up every cent of his gains. " Farmers were correct in arguing that the United States' money supply was not what it should be; over 30 years the population nearly double while the money circulation rose by only 60 %( Doc C. "All his calculations as to a profit on his little investment he had based on freight rate of two cents a pound. Good money never made times hard (Doc B).
Part of Paper 2:
The period between 1880 and 1900 was a good time for American politics. The country was finally free of the threat of war, and many of its citizens were living comfortably. However, as time went by, the American farmer found it harder and harder to live comfortably. Crops such as cotton and wheat, once the sustenance of the agriculture industry, were selling at prices so low that it was nearly impossible for farmers to make a profit off them. Furthermore, improvement in transportation made it easier for foreign competition to gain the upper hand, making it harder for American farmers to dispose of extra crops that had accumulated. To do this, many railroads offered rebates and drawbacks to larger shippers who used their rails. As a result of the agricultural depression, many farm groups, most notably the Populist Party, arose to fight what farmers saw as the reasons for the decline in agriculture. The railroads regularly used rebates and drawbacks to help win the business of large shippers, and made up this loss in profit by increasing the cost to smaller shippers such as farmers. However, in many ways, the railroads hurt small shippers and farmers. During the last twenty years of the nineteenth century, many farmers in the United States saw monopolies and trusts, railroads, and money shortages and the loss in value of silver as threats to their way of life, though in many cases their complaints were not valid. Finally, years of drought in the Midwest and the downward spiral of business in the 1890's devastated many of the nation's farmers. Thus, the farmers of the late nineteenth century had a valid complaint against railroad shippers, for these farmers were hurt by the unfair practices of the railroads. However, this practice hurt smaller shippers, including farmers, for often times railroad companies would charge more to ship products short distances than they would for long trips. As a result, many farmers, already hurt by the downslide in agriculture, were ruined.
The growth of the railroad was one of the most significant elements in American economic growth. Extreme competition between rail companies necessitated some way to win business. The rail companies justified this practice by asserting that if they did not give rebates, they would not make enough profit to stay in business. While the railroads felt that they must use this practice to make a profit, the farmers were justified in complaining, for they were seriously injured by it.