THE 1890s POPULIST CRUSADE
Some curious, perhaps meaningful, statistics relative to the Populist Crusade
Background to "Agricultural Revolution" -- revolutionary in the sense that the American plains farmer is "forced" to join the business class (though he quite often refused to accept the changed status).
1. More and more land (often marginal in nature) brought into
production: Homestead Act of 1862 and subsequent legislation (federal and
state) opens over one-half billion acres of plains land; most of this land
comes through the hand of various kinds of middle-men (speculators: ah,
Henry George!), for which the farmer must pay considerably more than the
nominal (and original) homestead amount of ten dollars...this means a large
cash out lay, or a large mortgage (don't forget interest) which means a
fixed amount each year shot.
2. Eighty eastern acres were about the productivity equivalent to about 360 plains acres -- that is a parcel of plowing, and tilling, and reaping -- by hand. This develops a great market for technical innovation -- like reapers, etc. Plains farmers able to farm more and more land with less and less manpower:
Machines, new-fangled or old, cost money; those without ready cash, borrow -- AT INTEREST RATES NOT FIXED BY LEGISLATION: this makes another yearly payment the farmer can look forward to; TIMES HAD BETTER STAY GOOD: THEY HAD BETTER GET BETTER!
3. The railroads expand into (or onto) the plains, bringing the
plains farmer closer and closer to the world markets (the whole world eats
bread -- it's un-American and un-Christian not to; the means of production
for the world market (give up the Jeffersonian notion of self-sufficiency)
are painfully (yearly mortgage and debt payment, interest and principal)
obvious. The plains farmer becomes, therefore, a capitalist, a businessman
producing for a world market -- a market over which he has no control. TIMES
HAD BETTER STAY GOOD: BETTER, THEY GET BETTER!
GUESS WHO THE POPULISTS WERE? Guess who they blamed? Who do they
blame today? Why the difference?