Although the late nineteenth century gave rise to American industry and brought prosperity, many farmers faced multiple problems that they saw as threats to their way of life and declared valid complaints concerning monopolies and trusts in railroads and the demonetizing of silver, however they also failed to see the true reasons for some of their problems.
The expansion of railroads was very beneficial to American business. Even so, these benefits were at the expense of the farmers. The competition between railroad companies and the formation of monopolies and trusts led to unfair price setting which ultimately hurt the farmers. Many farmers felt that monopolies basically controlled most of the railroad business which gave them the power to dictate prices and force the railroads to set up rebates in order to attract larger companies. James B. Weaver in his work A Call to Action: An Interpretation of the Great Uprising. Its Source and Causes, describes the threat of monopolies and how they ?destroy competition and restrain trade.? (Doc F) The power of monopolies allowed them to fix prices however they wanted. Railroad companies gave out rebates that gave special low rates to the larger companies but at the expense of smaller companies. The smaller companies as stated by George W. Parker, vice-president of the Cairo Short Line Railroad, are ?not of sufficient volume to make up paying trains nor is it sufficient to make the earnings.? As a solution to that problem, Mr. Parker says, ?when we make up a train of ten or fifteen cars of local freight to go over our line from Saint Louis, we can attach fifteen or twenty cars more of strictly through business. We can take the latter at a very low rate rather than go without it.? (Doc G) This meant that rates for the smaller businesses, like farmers, increased by amounts that they often couldn?t afford and many times drove them into debt. A farmer named Dyke shows the loss of business due to the increase of rates from two to five cents. (Doc H). The ability of large monopolies to set prices however they wanted seriously hurt the farmers and led to their valid complaints against the railroads.
Another factor that many farmers believed contributed to their discontent, was the demonetizing of silver. In 1873, Congress enacted the Coinage Act of 1873 which accepted the gold standard and demonetized silver. This policy led to a shortage in the supply of money. According to document C, the money in circulation from about 1870-1885 increased very little even though the population was steadily growing. This limited the money supply and hurt the farmers considerably because it led to deflation and ?decreased the value of all forms of property as well as human labor.? (Doc A) This deflation also led to many farmers falling into debt and losing their land. The Homestead Act of 1862 gave western farmers 160 acres of free land. Even so, when the farmers were unable to improve their land, they were forced to hand it over to the trusts. Their ?eastern master? would haul them to the courthouse to foreclose their mortgaged farm. (Doc D). The deflated money and crops led to frustrated farmers and their angry complaints. However, the farmers failed to think rationally and see that the demonetizing of silver was not completely at fault for their discontent.
Many farmers believed that a major cause of their unhappiness was the demonetizing of silver leading to the shortage of money. However, many failed to see that the source of their misfortunes was caused by the increased production of wheat and other crops throughout the world. The success of farmers and the prices of the whole crops are determined not just by the markets within the United States, but by the world markets. The markets within the United States had flourished before, but during a time when the world markets were struggling. When this all changed, it caused major problems for the American farmers. (Doc E). The real reason for their discontent had very little to do with the shortage of money. The Populist party which was supported by many farmers also believed in setting a ratio of 16 ounces of silver to one ounce of gold. They were convinced that this would solve their problems. However, President William McKinley stated in his acceptance speech, ?Free