THE AGRARIAN CRUSADE
A CHRONICLE OF THE FARMER IN POLITICS
By Solon J. Buck
Volume 45, The Chronicles Of America Series
Allen Johnson, Editor
Rapid growth accompanied by a somewhat painful readjustment has been one of the leading characteristics of the history of the United States during the last half century. In the West the change has been so swift and spectacular as to approach a complete metamorphosis. With the passing of the frontier has gone something of the old freedom and the old opportunity; and the inevitable change has brought forth inevitable protest, particularly from the agricultural class. Simple farming communities have wakened to find themselves complex industrial regions in which the farmers have frequently lost their former preferred position. The result has been a series of radical agitations on the part of farmers determined to better their lot. These movements have manifested different degrees of coherence and intelligence, but all have had something of the same purpose and spirit, and all may justly be considered as stages of the still unfinished agrarian crusade. This book is an attempt to sketch the course and to reproduce the spirit of that crusade from its inception with the Granger movement, through the Greenback and populist phases, to a climax in the battle for free silver.
In the preparation of the chapters dealing with Populism I received invaluable assistance from my colleague, Professor Lester B. Shippee of the University of Minnesota; and I am indebted to my wife for aid at every stage of the work, especially in the revision of the manuscript.
Solon J. Buck.
Minnesota Historical Society. St. Paul.
I. THE INCEPTION OF THE GRANGE
II. THE RISING SPIRIT OF UNREST
III. THE GRANGER MOVEMENT AT FLOOD TIDE
IV. CURBING THE RAILROADS
V. THE COLLAPSE OF THE GRANGER MOVEMENT
VI. THE GREENBACK INTERLUDE
VII. THE PLIGHT OF THE FARMER
VIII. THE FARMERS' ALLIANCE
IX. THE PEOPLE'S PARTY LAUNCHED
X. THE POPULIST BOMBSHELL OF 1892
XI. THE SILVER ISSUE
XII. THE BATTLE OF THE STANDARDS
XIII. THE LEAVEN OF RADICALISM
THE AGRARIAN CRUSADE
CHAPTER I. THE INCEPTION OF THE GRANGE
When President Johnson authorized the Commissioner of Agriculture, in 1866, to send a clerk in his bureau on a trip through the Southern States to procure "statistical and other information from those States," he could scarcely have foreseen that this trip would lead to a movement among the farmers, which, in varying forms, would affect the political and economic life of the nation for half a century. The clerk selected for this mission, one Oliver Hudson Kelley, was something more than a mere collector of data and compiler of statistics: he was a keen observer and a thinker. Kelley was born in Boston of a good Yankee family that could boast kinship with Oliver Wendell Holmes and Judge Samuel Sewall. At the age of twenty-three he journeyed to Iowa, where he married. Then with his wife he went on to Minnesota, settled in Elk River Township, and acquired some first-hand familiarity with agriculture. At the time of Kelley's service in the agricultural bureau he was forty years old, a man of dignified presence, with a full beard already turning white, the high broad forehead of a philosopher, and the eager eyes of an enthusiast. "An engine with too much steam on all the time"—so one of his friends characterized him; and the abnormal energy which he displayed on the trip through the South justifies the figure.
Kelley had had enough practical experience in agriculture to be sympathetically aware of the difficulties of farm life in the period immediately following the Civil War. Looking at the Southern farmers not as a hostile Northerner would but as a fellow agriculturist, he was struck with the distressing conditions which prevailed. It was not merely the farmers' economic difficulties which he noticed, for such difficulties were to be expected in the South in the adjustment after the great conflict; it was rather their blind disposition to do as their grandfathers had done, their antiquated methods of agriculture, and, most of all, their apathy. Pondering on this attitude, Kelley decided that it was fostered if not caused by the lack of social opportunities which made the existence of the farmer such a drear monotony that he became practically incapable of changing his outlook on life or his attitude toward his work.
Being essentially a man of action, Kelley did not stop with the mere observation of these evils but cast about to find a remedy. In doing so, he came to the conclusion that a national secret order of farmers resembling the Masonic order, of which he was a member, might serve to bind the farmers together for purposes of social and intellectual advancement. After he returned from the South, Kelley discussed the plan in Boston with his niece, Miss Carrie Hall, who argued quite sensibly that women should be admitted to full membership in the order, if it was to accomplish the desired ends. Kelley accepted her suggestion and went West to spend the summer in farming and dreaming of his project. The next year found him again in Washington, but this time as a clerk in the Post Office Department.
During the summer and fall of 1867 Kelley interested some of his associates in his scheme. As a result seven men—"one fruit grower and six government clerks, equally distributed among the Post Office, Treasury, and Agricultural Departments"—are usually recognized as the founders of the Patrons of Husbandry, or, as the order is more commonly called, the Grange. These men, all of whom but one had been born on farms, were O. H. Kelley and W. M. Ireland of the Post Office Department, William Saunders and the Reverend A. B. Grosh of the Agricultural Bureau, the Reverend John Trimble and J. R. Thompson of the Treasury Department, and F. M. McDowell, a pomologist of Wayne, New York. Kelley and Ireland planned a ritual for the society; Saunders interested a few farmers at a meeting of the United States Pomological Society in St. Louis in August, and secured the cooperation of McDowell; the other men helped these four in corresponding with interested farmers and in perfecting the ritual. On December 4, 1867, having framed a constitution and adopted the motto Esto perpetua, they met and constituted themselves the National Grange of the Patrons of Husbandry. Saunders was to be Master; Thompson, Lecturer; Ireland, Treasurer; and Kelley, Secretary.
It is interesting to note, in view of the subsequent political activity in which the movement for agricultural organization became inevitably involved, that the founders of the Grange looked for advantages to come to the farmer through intellectual and social intercourse, not through political action. Their purpose was "the advancement of agriculture," but they expected that advancement to be an educative rather than a legislative process. It was to that end, for instance, that they provided for a Grange "Lecturer," a man whose business it was to prepare for each meeting a program apart from the prescribed ritual—perhaps a paper read by one of the members or an address by a visiting speaker. With this plan for social and intellectual advancement, then, the founders of the Grange set out to gain members.
During the first four years the order grew slowly, partly because of the mistakes of the founders, partly because of the innate conservatism and suspicion of the average farmer. The first local Grange was organized in Washington. It was made up largely of government clerks and their wives and served less to advance the cause of agriculture than to test the ritual. In February, 1868, Kelley resigned his clerkship in the Post Office Department and turned his whole attention to the organization of the new order. His colleagues, in optimism or irony, voted him a salary of two thousand dollars a year and traveling expenses, to be paid from the receipts of any subordinate Granges he should establish. Thus authorized, Kelley bought a ticket for Harrisburg, and with two dollars and a half in his pocket, started out to work his way to Minnesota by organizing Granges. On his way out he sold four dispensations for the establishment of branch organizations—three for Granges in Harrisburg, Columbus, and Chicago, which came to nothing, and one for a Grange in Fredonia, New York, which was the first regular, active, and permanent local organization. This, it is important to note, was established as a result of correspondence with a farmer of that place, and in by far the smallest town of the four. Kelley seems at first to have made the mistake of attempting to establish the order in the large cities, where it had no native soil in which to grow.
When Kelley revised his plan and began to work from his farm in Minnesota and among neighbors whose main interest was in agriculture, he was more successful. His progress was not, however, so marked as to insure his salary and expenses; in fact, the whole history of these early years represents the hardest kind of struggle against financial difficulties. Later, Kelley wrote of this difficult period: "If all great enterprises, to be permanent, must necessarily start from small beginnings, our Order is all right. Its foundation was laid on SOLID NOTHING—the rock of poverty—and there is no harder material." At times the persistent secretary found himself unable even to buy postage for his circular letters. His friends at Washington began to lose interest in the work of an order with a treasury "so empty that a five-cent stamp would need an introduction before it would feel at home in it." Their only letters to Kelley during this trying time were written to remind him of bills owed by the order. The total debt was not more than $150, yet neither the Washington members nor Kelley could find funds to liquidate it. "My dear brother," wrote Kelley to Ireland, "you must not swear when the printer comes in.... When they come in to 'dun' ask them to take a seat; light your pipe; lean back in a chair, and suggest to them that some plan be adopted to bring in ten or twenty members, and thus furnish funds to pay their bills." A note of $39, in the hands of one Mr. Bean, caused the members in Washington further embarrassment at this time and occasioned a gleam of humor in one of Kelley's letters. Bean's calling on the men at Washington, he wrote, at least reminded them of the absentee, and to be cursed by an old friend was better than to be forgotten. "I suggest," he continued, "that Granges use black and white BEANS for ballots."
In spite of all his difficulties, Kelley stubbornly continued his endeavor and kept up the fiction of a powerful central order at the capital by circulating photographs of the founders and letters which spoke in glowing terms of the great national organization of the Patrons of Husbandry. "It must be advertised as vigorously as if it were a patent medicine," he said; and to that end he wrote articles for leading agricultural papers, persuaded them to publish the constitution of the Grange, and inserted from time to time press notices which kept the organization before the public eye. In May, 1868, came the first fruits of all this correspondence and advertisement—the establishment of a Grange at Newton, Iowa. In September, the first permanent Grange in Minnesota, the North Star Grange, was established at St. Paul with the assistance of Colonel D. A. Robertson. This gentleman and his associates interested themselves in spreading the order. They revised the Grange circulars to appeal to the farmer's pocketbook, emphasizing the fact that the order offered a means of protection against corporations and opportunities for cooperative buying and selling. This practical appeal was more effective than the previous idealistic propaganda: two additional Granges were established before the end of the year; a state Grange was constituted early in the next year; and by the end of 1869 there were in Minnesota thirty-seven active Granges. In the spring of 1869 Kelley went East and, after visiting the thriving Grange in Fredonia, he made his report at Washington to the members of the National Grange, who listened perfunctorily, passed a few laws, and relapsed into indifference after this first regular annual session.
But however indifferent the members of the National Grange might be as to the fate of the organization they had so irresponsibly fathered, Kelley was zealous and untiring in its behalf. That the founders did not deny their parenthood was enough for him; he returned to his home with high hopes for the future. With the aid of his niece he carried on an indefatigable correspondence which soon brought tangible returns. In October, 1870, Kelley moved his headquarters to Washington. By the end of the year the Order had penetrated nine States of the Union, and correspondence looking to its establishment in seven more States was well under way. Though Granges had been planted as far east as Vermont and New Jersey and as far south as Mississippi and South Carolina, the life of the order as yet centered in Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin, Illinois, and Indiana. These were the only States in which, in its four years of activity the Grange had really taken root; in other States only sporadic local Granges sprang up. The method of organization, however, had been found and tested. When a few active subordinate Granges had been established in a State, they convened as a temporary state Grange, the master of which appointed deputies to organize other subordinate Granges throughout the State. The initiation fees, generally three dollars for men and fifty cents for women, paid the expenses of organization—fifteen dollars to the deputy, and not infrequently a small sum to the state Grange. What was left went into the treasury of the local Grange. Thus by the end of 1871 the ways and means of spreading the Grange had been devised. All that was now needed was some impelling motive which should urge the farmers to enter and support the organization.
CHAPTER II. THE RISING SPIRIT OF UNREST
The decade of the seventies witnessed the subsidence, if not the solution, of a problem which had vexed American history for half a century—the reconciliation of two incompatible social and economic systems, the North and the South. It witnessed at the same time the rise of another great problem, even yet unsolved—the preservation of equality of opportunity, of democracy, economic as well as political, in the face of the rising power and influence of great accumulations and combinations of wealth. Almost before the battle smoke of the Civil War had rolled away, dissatisfaction with prevailing conditions both political and economic began to show itself.
The close of the war naturally found the Republican or Union party in control throughout the North. Branded with the opprobrium of having opposed the conduct of the war, the Democratic party remained impotent for a number of years; and Ulysses S. Grant, the nation's greatest military hero, was easily elected to the presidency on the Republican ticket in 1868. In the latter part of Grant's first term, however, hostility began to manifest itself among the Republicans themselves toward the politicians in control at Washington. Several causes tended to alienate from the President and his advisers the sympathies of many of the less partisan and less prejudiced Republicans throughout the North. Charges of corruption and maladministration were rife and had much foundation in truth. Even if Grant himself was not consciously dishonest in his application of the spoils system and in his willingness to receive reward in return for political favors, he certainly can be justly charged with the disposition to trust too blindly in his friends and to choose men for public office rather because of his personal preferences than because of their qualifications for positions of trust.
Grant's enemies declared, moreover, with considerable truth that the man was a military autocrat, unfit for the highest civil position in a democracy. His high-handed policy in respect to Reconstruction in the South evoked opposition from those
Northern Republicans whose critical sense was not entirely blinded by sectional prejudice and passion. The keener-sighted of the Northerners began to suspect that Reconstruction in the South often amounted to little more than the looting of the governments of the Southern States by the greedy freedmen and the unscrupulous carpetbaggers, with the troops of the United States standing by to protect the looters. In 1871, under color of necessity arising from the intimidation of voters in a few sections of the South, Congress passed a stringent act, empowering the President to suspend the writ of habeas corpus and to use the military at any time to suppress disturbances or attempts to intimidate voters. This act, in the hands of radicals, gave the carpetbag governments of the Southern States practically unlimited powers. Any citizens who worked against the existing administrations, however peacefully, might be charged with intimidation of voters and prosecuted under the new act. Thus these radical governments were made practically self-perpetuating. When their corruption, wastefulness, and inefficiency became evident, many people in the North frankly condemned them and the Federal Government which continued to support them.
This dissatisfaction with the Administration on the part of Republicans and independents came to a head in 1872 in the Liberal-Republican movement. As early as 1870 a group of Republicans in Missouri, disgusted by the excesses of the radicals in that State in the proscription of former Confederate sympathizers, had led a bolt from the party, had nominated B. Gratz Brown for governor, and, with the assistance of the Democrats, had won the election. The real leader of this movement was Senator Carl Schurz, under whose influence the new party in Missouri declared not only for the removal of political disabilities but also for tariff revision and civil service reform and manifested opposition to the alienation of the public domain to private corporations and to all schemes for the repudiation of any part of the national debt. Similar splits in the Republican party took place soon afterwards in other States, and in 1872 the Missouri Liberals called a convention to meet at Cincinnati for the purpose of nominating a candidate for the presidency.
The new party was a coalition of rather diverse elements. Prominent tariff reformers, members of the Free Trade League, such as David A. Wells and Edward L. Godkin of the Nation, advocates of civil service reform, of whom Carl Schurz was a leading representative, and especially opponents of the reconstruction measures of the Administration, such as Judge David Davis and Horace Greeley, saw an opportunity to promote their favorite policies through this new party organization. To these sincere reformers were soon added such disgruntled politicians as A. G. Curtin of Pennsylvania and R. E. Fenton of New York, who sought revenge for the support which the Administration had given to their personal rivals. The principal bond of union was the common desire to prevent the reelection of Grant. The platform adopted by the Cincinnati convention reflected the composition of the party. Opening with a bitter denunciation of the President, it declared in no uncertain terms for civil service reform and the immediate and complete removal of political disabilities. On the tariff, however, the party could come to no agreement; the free traders were unable to overcome the opposition of Horace Greeley and his protectionist followers; and the outcome was the reference of the question "to the people in their congressional districts and the decision of Congress."
The leading candidates for nomination for the presidency were Charles Francis Adams, David Davis, Horace Greeley, Lyman Trumbull, and B. Gratz Brown. From these men, as a result of manipulation, the convention unhappily selected the one least suited to lead the party to victory Horace Greeley. The only hope of success for the movement was in cooperation with that very Democratic party whose principles, policies, and leaders, Greeley in his editorials had unsparingly condemned for years. His extreme protectionism repelled not only the Democrats but the tariff reformers who had played an important part in the organization of the Liberal Republican party. Conservatives of both parties distrusted him as a man with a dangerous propensity to advocate "isms," a theoretical politician more objectionable than the practical man of machine politics, and far more likely to disturb the existing state of affairs and to overturn the business of the country in his efforts at reform. As the Nation expressed it, "Greeley appears to be 'boiled crow' to more of his fellow citizens than any other candidate for office in this or any other age of which we have record."
The regular Republican convention renominated Grant, and the Democrats, as the only chance of victory, swallowed the candidate and the platform of the Liberals. Doubtless Greeley's opposition to the radical reconstruction measures and the fact that he had signed Jefferson Davis's bail-bond made the "crow" more palatable to the Southern Democrats. In the campaign Greeley's brilliant speeches were listened to with great respect. His tour was a personal triumph; but the very voters who hung eagerly on his speeches felt him to be too impulsive and opinionated to be trusted with presidential powers. They knew the worst which might be expected of Grant; they could not guess the ruin which Greeley's dynamic powers might bring on the country if he used them unwisely. In the end many of the original leaders of the Liberal movement supported Grant as the lesser of two evils. The Liberal defection from the Republican ranks was more than offset by the refusal of Democrats to vote for Greeley, and Grant was triumphantly reelected.
The Liberal Republican party was undoubtedly weakened by the unfortunate selection of their candidate, but it scarcely could have been victorious with another candidate. The movement was distinctly one of leaders rather than of the masses, and the things for which it stood most specifically—the removal of political disabilities in the South and civil service reform—awakened little enthusiasm among the farmers of the West. These farmers on the other hand were beginning to be very much interested in a number of economic reforms which would vitally affect their welfare, such as the reduction and readjustment of the burden of taxation, the control of corporations in the interests of the people, the reduction and regulation of the cost of transporation, and an increase in the currency supply. Some of these propositions occasionally received recognition in Liberal speeches and platforms, but several of them were anathema to many of the Eastern leaders of that movement. Had these leaders been gifted with vision broad enough to enable them to appreciate the vital economic and social problems of the West, the Liberal Republican movement might perhaps have caught the ground swell of agrarian discontent, and the outcome might then have been the formation of an enduring national party of liberal tendencies broader and more progressive than the Liberal Republican party yet less likely to be swept into the vagaries of extreme radicalism than were the Anti-Monopoly and Greenback parties of after years. A number of western Liberals such as A. Scott Sloan in Wisconsin and Ignatius Donnelly in Minnesota championed the farmers' cause, it is true, and in some States there was a fusion of party organizations; but men like Schurz and Trumbull held aloof from these radical movements, while Easterners like Godkin of the Nation met them with ridicule and invective.
The period from 1870 to 1873 has been characterized as one of rampant prosperity, and such it was for the commercial, the manufacturing, and especially the speculative interests of the country. For the farmers, however, it was a period of bitter depression. The years immediately following the close of the Civil War had seen a tremendous expansion of production, particularly of the staple crops. The demobilization of the armies, the closing of war industries, increased immigration, the homestead law, the introduction of improved machinery, and the rapid advance of the railroads had all combined to drive the agricultural frontier westward by leaps and bounds until it had almost reached the limit of successful cultivation under conditions which then prevailed. As crop acreage and production increased, prices went down in accordance with the law of supply and demand, and farmers all over the country found it difficult to make a living.
In the West and South—the great agricultural districts of the country—the farmers commonly bought their supplies and implements on credit or mortgaged their crops in advance; and their profits at best were so slight that one bad season might put them thereafter entirely in the power of their creditors and force them to sell their crops on their creditors' terms. Many farms were heavily mortgaged, too, at rates of interest that ate up the farmers' profits. During and after the Civil War the fluctuation of the currency and the high tariff worked especial hardship on the farmers as producers of staples which must be sold abroad in competition with European products and as consumers of manufactured articles which must be bought at home at prices made arbitrarily high by the protective tariff. In earlier times, farmers thus harassed would have struck their tents and moved farther west, taking up desirable land on the frontier and starting out in a fresh field of opportunity. It was still possible for farmers to go west, and many did so but only to find that the opportunity for economic independence on the edge of settlement had largely disappeared. The era of the self-sufficing pioneer was drawing to a close, and the farmer on the frontier, forced by natural conditions over which he had no control to—engage in the production of staples, was fully as dependent on the market and on transportation facilities as was his competitor in the East.
In the fall of 1873 came the greatest panic in the history of the nation, and a period of financial depression began which lasted throughout the decade, restricting industry, commerce, and even immigration. On the farmers the blow fell with special severity. At the very time when they found it most difficult to realize profit on their sales of produce, creditors who had hitherto carried their debts from year to year became insistent for payment. When mortgages fell due, it was well-nigh impossible to renew them; and many a farmer saw years of labor go for nothing in a heart-breaking foreclosure sale. It was difficult to get even short-term loans, running from seed-time to harvest. This important function of lending money to pay for labor and thus secure a larger crop, which has only recently been assumed by the Government in its establishment of farm loan banks, had been performed by private capitalists who asked usurious rates of interest. The farmers' protests against these rates had been loud; and now, when they found themselves unable to get loans at any rate whatever, their complaints naturally increased. Looking around for one cause to which to attribute all their misfortunes, they pitched upon the corporations or monopolies, as they chose to call them, and especially upon the railroads.
At first the farmers had looked upon the coming of the railroads as an unmixed blessing. The railroad had meant the opening up of new territory, the establishment of channels of transportation by which they could send their crops to market. Without the railroad, the farmer who did not live near a navigable stream must remain a backwoodsman; he must make his own farm or his immediate community a self-sufficing unit; he must get from his own land bread and meat and clothing for his family; he must be stock-raiser, grain-grower, farrier, tinker, soap-maker, tanner, chandler—Jack-of-all-trades and master of none. With the railroad he gained access to markets and the opportunity to specialize in one kind of farming; he could now sell his produce and buy in exchange many of the articles he had previously made for himself at the expense of much time and labor. Many farmers and farming communities bought railroad bonds in the endeavor to increase transportation facilities; all were heartily in sympathy with the policy of the Government in granting to corporations land along the route of the railways which they were to construct.
By 1878, however, the Government had actually given to the railroads about thirty-five million acres, and was pledged to give to the Pacific roads alone about one hundred and forty-five million acres more. Land was now not so plentiful as it had been in 1850, when this policy had been inaugurated, and the farmers were naturally aggrieved that the railroads should own so much desirable land and should either hold it for speculative purposes or demand for it prices much higher than the Government had asked for land adjacent to it and no less valuable. Moreover, when railroads were merged and reorganized or passed into the hands of receivers the shares held by farmers were frequently wiped out or were greatly decreased in value. Often railroad stock had been "watered" to such an extent that high freight charges were necessary in order to permit the payment of dividends. Thus the farmer might find himself without his railroad stock, with a mortgage on his land which he had incurred in order to buy the stock, with an increased burden of taxation because his township had also been gullible enough to buy stock, and with a railroad whose excessive rates allowed him but a narrow margin of profit on his produce.
When the farmers sought political remedies for their economic ills, they discovered that, as a class, they had little representation or influence either in Congress or in the state legislatures. Before the Civil War the Southern planter had represented agricultural interests in Congress fairly well; after the War the dominance of Northern interests left the Western farmer without his traditional ally in the South. Political power was concentrated in the East and in the urban sections of the West. Members of Congress were increasingly likely to be from the manufacturing classes or from the legal profession, which sympathized with these classes rather than with the agriculturists. Only about seven per cent of the members of Congress were farmers; yet in 1870 forty-seven per cent of the population was engaged in agriculture. The only remedy for the farmers was to organize themselves as a class in order to promote their common welfare.
CHAPTER III. THE GRANGER MOVEMENT AT FLOOD TIDE
With these real or fancied grievances crying for redress, the farmers soon turned to the Grange as the weapon ready at hand to combat the forces which they believed were conspiring to crush them. In 1872 began the real spread of the order. Where the Grange had previously reckoned in terms of hundreds of new lodges, it now began to speak of thousands. State Granges were established in States where the year before the organization had obtained but a precarious foothold; pioneer local Granges invaded regions which hitherto had been impenetrable. Although the only States which were thoroughly organized were Iowa, Minnesota, South Carolina, and Mississippi, the rapid spread of the order into other States and its intensive growth in regions so far apart gave promise of its ultimate development into a national movement.
This development was, to be sure, not without opposition. When the Grangers began to speak of their function in terms of business and political cooperation, the forces against which they were uniting took alarm. The commission men and local merchants of the South were especially apprehensive and, it is said, sometimes foreclosed the mortgages of planters who were so independent as to join the order. But here, as elsewhere, persecution defeated its own end; the opposition of their enemies convinced the farmers of the merits of the Grange.
In the East, several circumstances retarded the movement. In the first place, the Eastern farmer had for some time felt the Western farmer to be his serious rival. The Westerner had larger acreage and larger yields from his virgin soil than the Easterner from his smaller tracts of well-nigh exhausted land. What crops the latter did produce he must sell in competition with the Western crops, and he was not eager to lower freight charges for his competitor. A second deterrent to the growth of the order in the East was the organization of two Granges among the commission men and the grain dealers of Boston and New York, under the aegis of that clause of the constitution which declared any person interested in agriculture to be eligible to membership in the order. Though the storm of protest which arose all over the country against this betrayal to the enemy resulted in the revoking of the charters for these Granges, the Eastern farmer did not soon forget the incident.
The year 1873 is important in the annals of the Grange because it marks the retirement of the "founders" from power. In January of that year, at the sixth session of the National Grange, the temporary organization of government clerks was replaced by a permanent corporation, officered by farmers. Kelley was reelected Secretary; Dudley W. Adams of Iowa was made Master; and William Saunders, erstwhile Master of the National Grange, D. Wyatt Aiken of South Carolina, and E. R. Shankland of Iowa were elected to the executive committee. The substitution of alert and eager workers, already experienced in organizing Granges, for the dead wood of the Washington bureaucrats gave the order a fresh impetus to growth. From the spring of 1873 to the following spring the number of granges more than quadrupled, and the increase again centered mainly in the Middle West.
By the end of 1873 the Grange had penetrated all but four States—Connecticut, Rhode Island, Delaware, and Nevada—and there were thirty-two state Granges in existence. The movement was now well defined and national in scope, so that the seventh annual session of the National Grange, which took place in St. Louis in February, 1874, attracted much interest and comment. Thirty-three men and twelve women attended the meetings, representing thirty-two state and territorial Granges and about half a million members. Their most important act was the adoption of the "Declaration of Purposes of the National Grange," subscribed to then and now as the platform of the Patrons and copied with minor modifications by many later agricultural organizations in the United States. The general purpose of the Patrons was "to labor for the good of our Order, our Country, and Mankind." This altruistic ideal was to find practical application in efforts to enhance the comfort and attractions of homes, to maintain the laws, to advance agricultural and industrial education, to diversify crops, to systematize farm work, to establish cooperative buying and selling, to suppress personal, local, sectional, and national prejudices, and to discountenance "the credit system, the fashion system, and every other system tending to prodigality and bankruptcy." As to business, the Patrons declared themselves enemies not of capital but of the tyranny of monopolies, not of railroads but of their high freight tariffs and monopoly of transportation. In politics, too, they maintained a rather nice balance: the Grange was not to be a political or party organization, but its members were to perform their political duties as individual citizens.
It could hardly be expected that the program of the Grange would satisfy all farmers. For the agricultural discontent, as for any other dissatisfaction, numerous panaceas were proposed, the advocates of each of which scorned all the others and insisted on their particular remedy. Some farmers objected to the Grange because it was a secret organization; others, because it was nonpartisan. For some the organization was too conservative; for others, too radical. Yet all these objectors felt the need of some sort of organization among the farmers, very much as the trade-unionist and the socialist, though widely divergent in program, agree that the workers must unite in order to better their condition. Hence during these years of activity on the part of the Grange many other agricultural societies were formed, differing from the Patrons of Husbandry in specific program rather than in general purpose.
The most important of these societies were the farmers' clubs, at first more or less independent of each other but later banded together in state associations. The most striking differences of these clubs from the Granges were their lack of secrecy and their avowed political purposes. Their establishment marks the definite entrance of the farmers as a class into politics. During the years 1872 to 1875 the independent farmers' organizations multiplied much as the Granges did and for the same reasons. The Middle West again was the scene of their greatest power. In Illinois this movement began even before the Grange appeared in the State, and its growth during the early seventies paralleled that of the secret order. In other States also, notably in Kansas, there sprang up at this time agricultural clubs of political complexion, and where they existed in considerable numbers they generally took the lead in the political activities of the farmers' movement. Where the Grange had the field practically to itself, as in Iowa and Minnesota, the restriction in the constitution of the order as to political or partisan activity was evaded by the simple expedient of holding meetings "outside the gate," at which platforms were adopted, candidates nominated, and plans made for county, district, and state conventions.
In some cases the farmers hoped, by a show of strength, to achieve the desired results through one or both of the old parties, but they soon decided that they could enter politics effectively only by way of a third party. The professional politicians were not inclined to espouse new and radical issues which might lead to the disruption of party lines. The outcome, therefore, was the establishment of new parties in eleven of the Western States during 1873 and 1874. Known variously as Independent, Reform, Anti-Monopoly, or Farmers' parties, these organizations were all parts of the same general movement, and their platforms were quite similar. The paramount demands were: first, the subjection of corporations, and especially of railroad corporations, to the control of the State; and second, reform and economy in government. After the new parties were well under way, the Democrats in most of the States, being in a hopeless minority, made common cause with them in the hope of thus compassing the defeat of their hereditary rivals, the old-line Republicans. In Missouri, however, where the Democracy had been restored to power by the Liberal-Republican movement, the new party received the support of the Republicans.
Illinois, where the farmers were first thoroughly organized into clubs and Granges, was naturally the first State in which they took effective political action. The agitation for railroad regulation, which began in Illinois in the sixties, had caused the new state constitution of 1870 to include mandatory provisions directing the legislature to pass laws to prevent extortion and unjust discrimination in railway charges. One of the acts passed by the Legislature of 1871 in an attempt to carry out these instructions was declared unconstitutional by the state supreme court in January, 1873. This was the spark to the tinder. In the following April the farmers flocked to a convention at the state capital and so impressed the legislators that they passed more stringent and effective laws for the regulation of railroads. But the politicians had a still greater surprise in store for them. In the elections of judges in June, the farmers retired from office the judge who had declared their railroad law unconstitutional and elected their own candidates for the two vacancies in the supreme court and for many of the vacancies in the circuit courts.
Now began a vigorous campaign for the election of farmers' candidates in the county elections in the fall. So many political meetings were held on Independence Day in 1873 that it was referred to as the "Farmers' Fourth of July." This had always been the greatest day of the farmer's year, for it meant opportunity for social and intellectual enjoyment in the picnics and celebrations which brought neighbors together in hilarious good-fellowship. In 1873, however, the gatherings took on unwonted seriousness. The accustomed spread-eagle oratory gave place to impassioned denunciation of corporations and to the solemn reading of a Farmers' Declaration of Independence. "When, in the course of human events," this document begins in words familiar to every schoolboy orator, "it becomes necessary for a class of the people, suffering from long continued systems of oppression and abuse, to rouse themselves from an apathetic indifference to their own interests, which has become habitual... a decent respect for the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes that impel them to a course so necessary to their own protection." Then comes a statement of "self-evident truths," a catalogue of the sins of the railroads, a denunciation of railroads and Congress for not having redressed these wrongs, and finally the conclusion:
"We, therefore, the producers of the state in our several counties assembled... do solemnly declare that we will use all lawful and peaceable means to free ourselves from the tyranny of monopoly, and that we will never cease our efforts for reform until every department of our Government gives token that the reign of licentious extravagance is over, and something of the purity, honesty, and frugality with which our fathers inaugurated it, has taken its place.
"That to this end we hereby declare ourselves absolutely free and independent of all past political connections, and that we will give our suffrage only to such men for office, as we have good reason to believe will use their best endeavors to the promotion of these ends; and for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor."
This fall campaign of 1873 in Illinois broke up old party lines in remarkable fashion. In some counties the Republicans and in other counties the Democrats either openly joined the "Reformers" or refrained from making separate nominations. Of the sixty-six counties which the new party contested, it was victorious in fifty-three. This first election resulted in the best showing which the Reformers made in Illinois. In state elections, the new party was less successful; the farmers who voted for their neighbors running on an Anti-Monopoly ticket for lesser offices hesitated to vote for strangers for state office.
Other Middle Western States at this time also felt the uneasy stirring of radical political thought and saw the birth of third parties, short-lived, most of them, but throughout their brief existence crying loudly and persistently for reforms of all description. The tariff, the civil service system, and the currency, all came in for their share of criticism and of suggestions for revision, but the dominant note was a strident demand for railroad regulation. Heirs of the Liberal Republicans and precursors of the Greenbackers and Populists, these independent parties were as voices crying in the wilderness, preparing the way for national parties of reform. The notable achievement of the independent parties in the domain of legislation was the enactment of laws to regulate railroads in five States of the upper Mississippi Valley.* When these laws were passed, the parties had done their work. By 1876 they had disappeared or, in a few instances, had merged with the Greenbackers. Their temporary successes had demonstrated, however, to both farmers and professional politicians that if once solidarity could be obtained among the agricultural class, that class would become the controlling element in the politics of the Middle Western States. It is not surprising, therefore, that wave after wave of reform swept over the West in the succeeding decades.
* See Chapter IV.
The independent parties of the middle seventies were distinctly spontaneous uprisings of the people and especially of the farmers, rather than movements instigated by politicians for personal ends or by professional reformers. This circumstance was a source both of strength and weakness. As the movements began to develop unexpected power, politicians often attempted to take control but, where they succeeded, the movement was checked by the farmers' distrust of these self-appointed leaders. On the other hand, the new parties suffered from the lack of skillful and experienced leaders. The men who managed their campaigns and headed their tickets were usually well-to-do farmers drafted from the ranks, with no more political experience than perhaps a term or two in the state legislature. Such were Willard C. Flagg, president of the Illinois State Farmers' Association, Jacob G. Vale, candidate for governor in Iowa, and William R. Taylor, the Granger governor of Wisconsin.
Taylor is typical of the picturesque and forceful figures which frontier life so often developed. He was born in Connecticut, of parents recently emigrated from Scotland. Three weeks after his birth his mother died, and six years later his father, a sea captain, was drowned. The orphan boy, brought up by strangers in Jefferson County, New York, experienced the hardships of frontier life and developed that passion for knowledge which so frequently is found in those to whom education is denied. When he was sixteen, he had, enough of the rudiments to take charge of a country school, and by teaching in the winter and working in the summer he earned enough to enter Union College. He was unable to complete the course, however, and turned to teaching in Ohio, where he restored to decent order a school notorious for bullying its luckless teachers. But teaching was not to be his career; indeed, Taylor's versatility for a time threatened to make him the proverbial Jack-of-all-trades: he was employed successively in a grist mill, a saw mill, and an iron foundry; he dabbled in the study of medicine; and finally, in the year which saw Wisconsin admitted to the Union, he bought a farm in that State. Ownership of property steadied his interests and at the same time afforded an adequate outlet for his energies. He soon made his farm a model for the neighborhood and managed it so efficiently that he had time to interest himself in farmers' organizations and to hold positions of trust in his township and county.
By 1873 Taylor had acquired considerable local political experience and had even held a seat in the state senate. As president of the State Agricultural Society, he was quite naturally chosen to head the ticket of the new Liberal Reform party. The brewing interests of the State, angered at a drastic temperance law enacted by the preceding legislature, swung their support to Taylor. Thus reenforced, he won the election. As governor he made vigorous and tireless attempts to enforce the Granger railroad laws, and on one occasion he scandalized the conventional citizens of the State by celebrating a favorable court decision in one of the Granger cases with a salvo of artillery from the capitol.
Yet in spite of this prominence, Taylor, after his defeat for reelection in 1875, retired to his farm and to obscurity. His vivid personality was not again to assert itself in public affairs. It is difficult to account for the fact that so few of the farmers during the Granger period played prominent parts in later phases of the agrarian crusade. The rank and file of the successive parties must have been much the same, but each wave of the movement swept new leaders to the surface.
The one outstanding exception among the leaders of the Anti-Monopolists was Ignatius Donnelly of Minnesota "the sage of Nininger"—who remained a captain of the radical cohorts in every agrarian movement until his death in 1901. A red-headed aggressive Irishman, with a magnetic personality and a remarkable intellect, Donnelly went to Minnesota from Pennsylvania in 1856 and speculated in town sites on a large scale. When he was left stranded by the panic of 1857, acting upon his own principle that "to hide one's light under a bushel is to extinguish it," he entered the political arena. In Pennsylvania Donnelly had been a Democrat, but his genuine sympathy for the oppressed made him an opponent of slavery and consequently a Republican. In 1857 and 1858 he ran for the state senate in Minnesota on the Republican ticket in a hopelessly Democratic county. In 1859 he was nominated for lieutenant governor on the ticket headed by Alexander Ramsey; and his caustic wit, his keenness in debate, and his eloquence made him a valuable asset in the battle-royal between Republicans and Democrats for the possession of Minnesota. As lieutenant governor, Donnelly early showed his sympathy with the farmers by championing laws which lowered the legal rate of interest and which made more humane the process of foreclosure on mortgages. The outbreak of the Civil War gave him an opportunity to demonstrate his executive ability as acting governor during Ramsey's frequent trips to Washington. In this capacity he issued the first proclamation for the raising of Minnesota troops in response to the call of President Lincoln. Elected to Congress in 1862, he served three terms and usually supported progressive legislation.
Donnelly's growing popularity and his ambition for promotion to the Senate soon became a matter of alarm to the friends of Senator Ramsey, who controlled the Republican party in the State. They' determined to prevent Donnelly's renomination in 1868 and selected William D. Washburn of Minneapolis to make the race against him. In the spring of this year Donnelly engaged in a controversy with Representative E. B. Washburn of Illinois, a brother of W. D. Washburn, in the course of which the Illinois congressman published a letter in a St. Paul paper attacking Donnelly's personal character. Believing this to be part of the campaign against him, the choleric Minnesotan replied in the house with a remarkable rhetorical display which greatly entertained the members but did not increase their respect for him. His opponents at home made effective use of this affair, and the outcome of the contest was a divided convention, the nomination of two Republicans, each claiming to be the regular candidate of the party, and the ultimate election of a Democrat.
Donnelly was soon ready to break with the old guard of the Republican party in national as well as in state politics. In 1870 he ran for Congress as an independent Republican on a low tariff platform but was defeated in spite of the fact that he received the endorsement of the Democratic convention. Two years later he joined the Liberal Republicans in supporting Greeley against Grant. When the farmers' Granges began to spring up like mushrooms in 1873, Donnelly was quick to see the political possibilities of the movement. He conducted an extensive correspondence with farmers, editors, and politicians of radical tendencies all over the State and played a leading part in the organization of the Anti-Monopoly party. He was elected to the state senate in 1873, and in the following year he started a newspaper, the Anti-Monopolist, to serve as the organ of the movement.
Although Donnelly was technically still a farmer, he was quite content to leave the management of his farm to his capable wife, while he made politics his profession, with literature and lecturing as avocations. His frequent and brilliant lectures no less than his voluminous writings* attest his amazing industry. Democrat, Republican, Liberal-Republican, and Anti-Monopolist; speculator, lawyer, farmer, lecturer, stump-speaker, editor, and author; preacher of morals and practicer of shrewd political evasions; and always a radical—he was for many years a force to be reckoned with in the politics of his State and of the nation.
* The Great Cryptogram, for instance, devotes a thousand pages to proving a Bacon cipher in the plays of Shakespeare!
CHAPTER IV. CURBING THE RAILROADS
Though the society of the Patrons of Husbandry was avowedly non-political in character, there is ample justification for the use of the term "Granger" in connection with the radical railroad legislation enacted in the Northwestern States during the seventies. The fact that the Grange did not take direct political action is immaterial: certainly the order made political action on the part of the farmers possible by establishing among them a feeling of mutual confidence and trust whereby they could organize to work harmoniously for their common cause. Before the advent of the Patrons of Husbandry the farmers were so isolated from each other that cooperation was impossible. It is hard for us to imagine, familiar as we are with the rural free delivery of mail, with the country telephone line, with the automobile, how completely the average farmer of 1865 was cut off from communication with the outside world. His dissociation from any but his nearest neighbors made him unsocial, narrow-minded, bigoted, and suspicious. He believed that every man's hand was against him, and he was therefore often led to turn his hand against every man. Not until he was convinced that he might at least trust the Grangers did he lay aside his suspicions and join with other farmers in the attempt to obtain what they considered just railroad legislation.
Certain it is, moreover, that the Grangers made use of the popular hostility to the railroads in securing membership for the order. "Cooperation" and "Down with Monopoly" were two of the slogans most commonly used by the Grange between 1870 and 1875 and were in large part responsible for its great expansion. Widely circulated reprints of articles exposing graft and corruption made excellent fuel for the flames of agitation.
How much of the farmers' bitterness against the railroads was justified it is difficult to determine. Some of it was undoubtedly due to prejudice, to the hostility of the "producer" for the "nonproducer," and to the suspicion which the Western farmer felt for the Eastern magnate. But much of the suspicion was not without foundation. In some cases manipulation of railway stock had absolutely cheated farmers and agricultural towns and counties out of their investments. It is a well-known fact that the corporations were not averse to creating among legislators a disposition to favor their interests. Passes were commonly given by the railroads to all public officials, from the local supervisors to the judges of the Supreme Court, and opportunities were offered to legislators to buy stock far below the market price. In such subtle ways the railroads insinuated themselves into favor among the makers and interpreters of law. Then, too, the farmers felt that the railway companies made rates unnecessarily high and frequently practised unfair discrimination against certain sections and individuals. When the Iowa farmer was obliged to burn corn for fuel, because at fifteen cents a bushel it was cheaper than coal, though at the same time it was selling for a dollar in the East, he felt that there was something wrong, and quite naturally accused the railroads of extortion.
The fundamental issue involved in Illinois, Minnesota, Iowa, and Wisconsin, where the battle was begun and fought to a finish, was whether or not a State had power to regulate the tariffs of railway companies incorporated under its laws. Railway companies, many jurists argued, were private concerns transacting business according to the laws of the State and no more to be controlled in making rates than dry goods companies in fixing the price of spools of thread; rates, like the price of merchandise, were determined by the volume of trade and the amount of competition, and for a State to interfere with them was nothing less than tyranny. On the other hand, those who advocated regulation argued that railroads, though private corporations, were from the nature of their business public servants and, as such, should be subject to state regulation and control.
Some States, foreseeing difficulties which might arise later from the doctrine that a charter is a contract, as set forth by the United States Supreme Court in the famous Dartmouth College case,* had quite early in their history attempted to safeguard their right to legislate concerning corporations. A clause had been inserted in the state constitution of Wisconsin which declared that all laws creating corporations might at any time be altered or repealed by the legislatures. The constitution of Minnesota asserted specifically that the railroads, as common carriers enjoying right of way, were bound to carry freight on equal and reasonable terms. When the Legislature of Iowa turned over to the railroad companies lands granted by the Federal Government, it did so with the reservation that the companies should be subject to the rules and regulations of the General Assembly. Thus these States were fortified not only by arguments from general governmental theory but also by written articles, more or less specifically phrased, on which they relied to establish their right to control the railroads.
* See "John Marshall and the Constitution", by Edward S. Corwin (in "The Chronicles of America"), p. 154 ff.
The first gun in this fight for railroad regulation was fired in Illinois. As early as 1869, after several years of agitation, the legislature passed an act declaring that railroads should be limited to "just, reasonable, and uniform rates," but, as no provision was made for determining what such rates were, the act was a mere encumbrance on the statute books. In the new state constitution of 1870, however, the framers, influenced by a growing demand on the part of the farmers which manifested itself in a Producers' Convention, inserted a section directing the legislature to "pass laws to correct abuses and to prevent unjust discrimination and extortion in the rates of freight and passenger tariffs on the different railroads in this State." The legislature at its next session appears to have made an honest attempt to obey these instructions. One act established maximum passenger fares varying from two and one-half to five and one-half cents a mile for the different classes into which the roads were divided. Another provided, in effect, that freight charges should be based entirely upon distance traversed and prohibited any increases over rates in 1870. This amounted to an attempt to force all rates to the level of the lowest competitive rates of that year. Finally, a third act established a board of railroad and warehouse commissioners charged with the enforcement of these and other laws and with the collection of information.
The railroad companies, denying the right of the State to regulate their business, flatly refused to obey the laws; and the state supreme court declared the act regulating freight rates unconstitutional on the ground that it attempted to prevent not only unjust discrimination but any discrimination at all. The legislature then passed the Act of 1873, which avoided the constitutional pitfall by providing that discriminatory rates should be considered as prima facie but not absolute evidence of unjust discrimination. The railroads were thus permitted to adduce evidence to show that the discrimination was justified, but the act expressly stated that the existence of competition at some points and its nonexistence at others should not be deemed a sufficient justification of discrimination. In order to prevent the roads from raising all rates to the level of the highest instead of lowering them to the level of the lowest, the commissioners were directed to establish a schedule of maximum rates; and the charging of rates higher than these by any company after January 15, 1874, was to be considered prima facie evidence of extortion. Other provisions increased the penalties for violations and strengthened the enforcing powers of the commission in other ways. This act was roundly denounced at the time, especially in the East, as an attempt at confiscation, and the railroad companies refused to obey it for several years; but ultimately it stood the test of the courts and became the permanent basis of railroad regulation in Illinois and the model for the solution of this problem in many other States.
The first Granger law of Minnesota, enacted in 1871, established fixed schedules for both passengers and freight, while another act of the same year provided for a railroad commissioner. In this instance also the companies denied the validity of the law, and when the state supreme court upheld it in 1873, they appealed to the Supreme Court of the United States. In the meantime there was no way of enforcing the law, and the antagonism toward the roads fostered by the Grange and the Anti-Monopoly party became more and more intense. In 1874 the legislature replaced the Act of 1871 with one modeled on the Illinois law of 1873; but it soon discovered that no workable set of uniform rates could be made for the State because of the wide variation of conditions in the different sections. Rates and fares which would be just to the companies in the frontier regions of the State would be extortionate in the thickly populated areas. This difficulty could have been avoided by giving the commission power to establish varying schedules for different sections of the same road; but the anti-railroad sentiment was beginning to die down, and the Legislature of 1875, instead of trying to improve the law, abandoned the attempt at state regulation.
The Granger laws of Iowa and Wisconsin, both enacted in 1874, attempted to establish maximum rates by direct legislative action, although commissions were also created to collect information and assist in enforcing the laws. The Iowa law was very carefully drawn and appears to have been observed, in form at least, by most of the companies while it remained in force. In 1878, however, a systematic campaign on the part of the railroad forces resulted in the repeal of the act. In Wisconsin, a majority of the members of the Senate favored the railroads and, fearing to show their hands, attempted to defeat the proposed legislation by substituting the extremely radical Potter Bill for the moderate measure adopted by the Assembly. The senators found themselves hoist with their own petard, however, for the lower house, made up largely of Grangers, accepted this bill rather than let the matter of railroad legislation go by default. The rates fixed by the Potter Law for many commodities were certainly unreasonably low, although the assertion of a railroad official that the enforcement of the law would cut off twenty-five per cent of the gross earnings of the companies was a decided exaggeration. Relying upon the advice of such eminent Eastern lawyers as William M. Evarts, Charles O'Conor, E. Rockwood Roar, and Benjamin R. Curtis that the law was invalid, the roads refused to obey it until it was upheld by the state supreme court late in 1874. They then began a campaign for its repeal. Though they obtained only some modification in 1875, they succeeded completely in 1876.
The contest between the railroads and the farmers was intense while it lasted. The farmers had votes; the railroads had money; and the legislators were sometimes between the devil and the deep sea in the fear of offending one side or the other. The farmers' methods of campaign were simple. Often questionnaires were distributed to all candidates for office, and only those who went on record as favoring railroad restriction were endorsed by the farmers' clubs and committees. An agricultural convention, sometimes even a meeting of the state Grange, would be held at the capital of the State while the legislature was in session, and it was a bold legislator who, in the presence of his farmer constituents, would vote against the measures they approved. When the railroads in Illinois refused to lower their passenger rates to conform to the law, adventurous farmers often attempted to "ride for legal fares," giving the trainmen the alternative of accepting the low fares or throwing the hardy passengers from the train.
The methods of the railroads in dealing with the legislators were most subtle. Whether or not the numerous charges of bribery were true, railroad favors were undoubtedly distributed among well disposed legislators. In Iowa passes were not given to the senators who voted against the railroads, and those sent to the men who voted in the railroads' interest were accompanied by notes announcing that free passes were no longer to be given generally but only to the friends of the railroads. At the session of the Iowa Legislature in 1872, four lawyers who posed as farmers and Grange members were well known as lobbyists for the railroads. The senate paid its respects to these men at the close of its session by adopting the following resolution:
WHEREAS, There have been constantly in attendance on the Senate and House of this General Assembly, from the commencement of the session to the present time, four gentlemen professing to represent the great agricultural interest of the State of Iowa, known as the Grange; and—
WHEREAS, These gentlemen appear entirely destitute of any visible means of support; therefore be it—
RESOLVED, By the Senate, the House concurring, that the janitors permit aforesaid gentlemen to gather up all the waste paper, old newspapers, &c., from under the desks of the members, and they be allowed one postage stamp each, The American Agriculturist, What Greeley Knows about Farming, and that they be permitted to take with them to their homes, if they have any, all the rejected railroad tariff bills, Beardsley's speech on female suffrage, Claussen's reply, Kasson's speech on barnacles, Blakeley's dog bill, Teale's liquor bill, and be given a pass over the Des Moines Valley Railroad, with the earnest hope that they will never return to Des Moines.
Once the Granger laws were enacted, the railroads either fought the laws in court or obeyed them in such a way as to make them appear most obnoxious to the people, or else they employed both tactics. The lawsuits, which began as soon as the laws had been passed, dragged on, in appeal after appeal, until finally they were settled in the Supreme Court of the United States. These suits were not so numerous as might be expected, because in most of the States they had to be brought on the initiative of the injured shipper, and many shippers feared to incur the animosity of the railroad. A farmer was afraid that, if he angered the railroad, misfortunes would befall him: his grain might be delivered to the wrong elevators or left to stand and spoil in damp freight cars; there might be no cars available for grain just when his shipment was ready; and machinery destined for him might be delayed at a time when lack of it would mean the loss of his crops. The railroads for their part whenever they found an opportunity to make the new laws appear obnoxious in the eyes of the people, were not slow to seize it. That section of the Illinois law of 1873 which prohibited unjust discrimination went into effect in July, but the maximum freight rates were not fixed until January of 1874. As a result of this situation, the railroads in July made all their freight rates uniform, according to the law, but accomplished this uniformity by raising the low rates instead of lowering the high. In Minnesota, similarly, the St. Paul and Pacific road, in its zeal to establish uniform passenger rates, raised the fare between St. Paul and Minneapolis from three to five cents a mile, in order to make it conform to the rates elsewhere in the State. The St. Paul and Sioux City road declared that the Granger law made its operation unprofitable, and it so reduced its train service that the people petitioned the commission to restore the former rate. In Wisconsin, when the state supreme court affirmed the constitutionality of the radical Potter law, the railroads retaliated in some cases by carrying out their threat to give the public "Potter cars, Potter rails, and Potter time." As a result the public soon demanded the repeal of the law.
In all the States but Illinois the Granger laws were repealed before they had been given a fair trial. The commissions remained in existence, however, although with merely advisory functions; and they sometimes did good service in the arbitration of disputes between shippers and railroads. Interest in the railroad problem died down for the time, but every one of the Granger States subsequently enacted for the regulation of railroad rates statutes which, although more scientific than the laws of the seventies, are the same in principle. The Granger laws thus paved the way not only for future and more enduring legislation in these States but also for similar legislation in most of the other States of the Union and even for the national regulation of railroads through the Interstate Commerce Commission.
The Supreme Court of the United States was the theater for the final stage of this conflict between the railroads and the farmers. In October, 1876, decisions were handed down together in eight cases which had been appealed from federal circuit and state courts in Illinois, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Minnesota, and which involved the validity of the Granger laws. The fundamental issue was the same in all these cases—the right of a State to regulate a business that is public in nature though privately owned and managed.
The first of the "Granger cases," as they were termed by Justice Field in a dissenting opinion, was not a railroad case primarily but grew out of warehouse legislation which the farmers of Illinois secured in 1871. This act established maximum charges for grain storage and required all warehousemen to publish their rates for each year during the first week in January and to refrain from increasing these rates during the year and from discriminating between customers. In an endeavor to enforce this law the railroad and warehouse commission brought suit against Munn and Scott, a warehouse firm in Chicago, for failure to take out the license required by the act. The suit, known as Munn vs. Illinois, finally came to the United States Supreme Court and was decided in favor of the State, two of the justices dissenting.* The opinion of the court in this case, delivered by Chief Justice Waite, laid down the principles which were followed in the railroad cases. The attorneys for the warehousemen had argued that the act in question, by assuming to limit charges, amounted to a deprivation of property without due process of law and was thus repugnant to the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. But the court declared that it had long been customary both in England and America to regulate by law any business in which the public has an interest, such as ferries, common carriers, bakers, or millers, and that the warehouse business in question was undoubtedly clothed with such a public interest. Further, it was asserted that this right to regulate implied the right to fix maximum charges, and that what those charges should be was a legislative and not a judicial question.
* 94 United States Reports, 113.
In deciding the railroad cases the courts applied the same general principles, the public nature of the railroad business having already been established by a decision in 1872.* Another point was involved, however, because of the contention of the attorneys for the companies that the railway charters were contracts and that the enforcement of the laws would amount to an impairment of contracts, which was forbidden by the Constitution. The court admitted that the charters were contracts but denied that state regulation could be considered an impairment of contracts unless the terms of the charter were specific. Moreover, it was pointed out that contracts must be interpreted in the light of rights reserved to the State in its constitution and in the light of its general laws of incorporation under which the charters were granted.
* Olcott vs. The Supervisors, 16 Wallace, 678.
These court decisions established principles which even now are of vital concern to business and politics. From that time to this no one has denied the right of States to fix maximum charges for any business which is public in its nature or which has been clothed with a public interest; nor has the inclusion of the railroad and warehouse businesses in that class been questioned. The opinion, however, that this right of the States is unlimited, and therefore not subject to judicial review, has been practically reversed. In 1890 the Supreme Court declared a Minnesota law invalid because it denied a judicial hearing as to the reasonableness of rates*; and the courts now assume it to be their right and duty to determine whether or not rates fixed by legislation are so low as to amount to a deprivation of property without due process of law. In spite of this later limitation upon the power of the States, the Granger decisions have furnished the legal basis for state regulation of railroads down to the present day. They are the most significant achievements of the antimonopoly movement of the seventies.
* 134 United States Reports, 418.
CHAPTER V. THE COLLAPSE OF THE GRANGER MOVEMENT
The first phase of the agrarian crusade, which centered around and took its distinctive name from the Grange, reached its highwater mark in 1874. Early in the next year the tide began to ebb. The number of Granges decreased rapidly during the remainder of the decade, and of over twenty thousand in 1874 only about four thousand were alive in 1880.
Several causes contributed to this sudden decline. Any organization which grows so rapidly is prone to decay with equal rapidity; the slower growths are better rooted and are more likely to reach fruition. So with the Grange. Many farmers had joined the order, attracted by its novelty and vogue; others joined the organization in the hope that it would prove a panacea for all the ills that agriculture is heir to and then left it in disgust when they found its success neither immediate nor universal.
Its methods of organization, too, while admirably adapted to arousing enthusiasm and to securing new chapters quickly, did not make for stability and permanence. The Grange deputy, as the organizer was termed, did not do enough of what the salesman calls "follow-up work." He went into a town, persuaded an influential farmer to go about with him in a house-to-house canvass, talked to the other farmers of the vicinity, stirred them up to interest and excitement, organized a Grange, and then left the town. If he happened to choose the right material, the chapter became an active and flourishing organization; if he did not choose wisely, it might drag along in a perfunctory existence or even lapse entirely. Then, too, the deputy's ignorance of local conditions sometimes led him to open the door to the farmers' enemies. There can be little doubt that insidious harm was worked through the admission into the Grange of men who were farmers only incidentally and whose "interest in agriculture" was limited to making profits from the farmer rather than from the farm. As D. Wyatt Aiken, deputy for the Grange in the Southern States and later member of the executive committee of the National Grange, shrewdly commented, "Everybody wanted to join the Grange then; lawyers, to get clients; doctors, to get customers; Shylocks, to get their pound of flesh; and sharpers, to catch the babes in the woods."
Not only the members who managed thus to insinuate themselves into the order but also the legitimate members proved hard to control. With that hostility to concentrated authority which so often and so lamentably manifests itself in a democratic body, the rank and file looked with suspicion upon the few men who constituted the National Grange. The average farmer was interested mainly in local issues, conditions, and problems, and looked upon the National Grange not as a means of helping him in local affairs, but as a combination of monopolists who had taken out a patent on the local grange and forced him to pay a royalty in order to enjoy its privileges. The demand for reduction in the power of the National Grange led to frequent attempts to revise the constitution in the direction of decentralization; and the revisions were such as merely to impair the power of the National Grange without satisfying the discontented members.
Of all the causes of the rapid collapse of the Granger movement, the unfortunate experience which the farmers had in their attempts at business cooperation was probably chief. Their hatred of the middleman and of the manufacturer was almost as intense as their hostility to the railroad magnate; quite naturally, therefore, the farmers attempted to use their new organizations as a means of eliminating the one and controlling the other. As in the parallel case of the railroads, the farmers' animosity, though it was probably greater than the provocation warranted, was not without grounds.
The middlemen—the commission merchants to whom the farmer sold his produce and the retail dealers from whom he bought his supplies—did undoubtedly make use of their opportunities to drive hard bargains. The commission merchant had such facilities for storage and such knowledge of market conditions that he frequently could take advantage of market fluctuations to increase his profits. The farmer who sold his produce at a low price and then saw it disposed of as a much higher figure was naturally enraged, but he could devise no adequate remedy. Attempts to regulate market conditions by creating an artificial shortage seldom met with success. The slogan "Hold your hogs" was more effective as a catchword than as an economic weapon. The retail dealers, no less than the commission men, seemed to the farmer to be unjust in their dealings with him. In the small agricultural communities there was practically no competition. Even where there were several merchants in one town these could, and frequently did, combine to fix prices which the farmer had no alternative but to pay. What irked the farmer most in connection with these "extortions" was that the middleman seemed to be a nonproducer, a parasite who lived by chaining the agricultural classes of the wealth which they produced. Even those farmers who recognized the middleman as a necessity had little conception of the intricacy and value of his service.
Against the manufacturer, too, the farmer had his grievances. He felt that the system of patent rights for farm machinery resulted in unfair prices—for was not this same machinery shipped to Europe and there sold for less than the retail price in the United States? Any one could see that the manufacturer must have been making more than reasonable profit on domestic sales. Moreover, there were at this time many abuses of patent rights. Patents about to expire were often extended through political influence or renewed by means of slight changes which were claimed to be improvements. A more serious defect in the patent system was that new patents were not thoroughly investigated, so that occasionally one was issued on an article which had long been in common use. That a man should take out a patent for the manufacture of a sliding gate which farmers had for years crudely constructed for themselves and should then collect royalty from those who were using the gates they had made, naturally enough aroused the wrath of his victims.
It was but natural, then, that the Granges should be drawn into all sorts of schemes to divert into the pockets of their members the streams of wealth which had previously flowed to the greedy middlemen. The members of the National Grange, thinking that these early schemes for cooperation were premature, did not at first take them up and standardize them but left them entirely in the hands of local, county, and state Granges. These thereupon proceeded to "gang their ain gait" through the unfamiliar paths of business operations and too frequently brought up in a quagmire. "This purchasing business," said Kelley in 1867, "commenced with buying jackasses; the prospects are that many will be SOLD." But the Grangers went on with their plans for business cooperation with ardor undampened by such forebodings. Sometimes a local Grange would make a bargain with a certain dealer of the vicinity, whereby members were allowed special rates if they bought with cash and traded only with that dealer. More often the local grange would establish an agency, with either a paid or a voluntary agent who would forward the orders of the members in large lots to the manufacturers or wholesalers and would thus be able to purchase supplies for cash at terms considerably lower than the retail prices. Frequently, realizing that they could get still more advantageous terms for larger orders, the Granges established a county agency which took over the work of several local agents. Sometimes the Patrons even embarked upon the more ambitious enterprise of cooperative stores.
The most common type of cooperative store was that in which the capital was provided by a stock company of Grange members and which sold goods to Patrons at very low prices. The profits, when there were any, were divided among the stockholders in proportion to the amount of stock they held, just as in any stock company. This type of store was rarely successful for any length of time. The low prices at which it sold goods were likely to involve it in competition with other merchants. Frequently these men would combine to lower their prices and, by a process familiar in the history of business competition, "freeze out" the cooperative store, after which they might restore their prices to the old levels. The farmers seldom had sufficient spirit to buy at the grange store if they found better bargains elsewhere; so the store was assured of its clientele only so long as it sold at the lowest possible prices. Farmers' agencies for the disposal of produce met with greater success. Cooperative creameries and elevators in several States are said to have saved Grange members thousands of dollars. Sometimes the state Grange, instead of setting up in the business of selling produce, chose certain firms as Grange agents and advised Patrons to sell through these firms. Where the choice was wisely made, this system seems to have saved the farmers about as much money without involving them in the risks of business.
By 1876 the members of the National Grange had begun to study the problem of cooperation in retailing goods and had come to the conclusion that the so-called "Rochdale plan," a system worked out by an English association, was the most practicable for the cooperative store. The National Grange therefore recommended this type of organization. The stock of these stores was sold only to Patrons, at five dollars a share and in limited amounts; thus the stores were owned by a large number of stockholders, all of whom had equal voice in the management of the company. The stores sold goods at ordinary rates, and then at the end of the year, after paying a small dividend on the stock, divided their profits among the purchasers, according to the amounts purchased. This plan eliminated the violent competition which occurred when a store attempted to sell goods at cost, and at the same time saved the purchaser quite as much. Unfortunately the Rochdale plan found little favor among farmers in the Middle West because of their unfortunate experience with other cooperative ventures. In the East and South, however, it was adopted more generally and met with sufficient success to testify to the wisdom of the National Grange in recommending it.