Politics and Corruption in the Gilded Age

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During the Gilded Age, on what issues did farmers generally focus their anger?

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Farmers made up a large part of the American economy during the Gilded Age, and they experienced more financial hardship than nearly any other economic group. Farmers faced tightening credit, and they hoped that this would be alleviated by the coinage of both gold and silver. Many of them voted for William Jennings Bryan in 1896 when he ran against William McKinley, the champion of the gold standard. Farmers felt as though Eastern urban money interests were controlling the nation, and they sought to gain more power through being able to finance loans. Many farmers were in danger of losing their farms, as big agriculture was moving toward heavy machinery. If one wanted to make a living as a wheat farmer, one had to till several acres, and this often called for machinery.

Farmers were also at the mercy of the railroad companies to get their crops to market. Many rural areas only had one railroad terminus, so the railroads could demand any price. Farmers created cooperatives to help control the price of grain. Bob Lafollette of Wisconsin helped pass measures to regulate railroads at the state level. Farmers started to organize into local Grange chapters and were thus able to influence local and state elections.

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Farmers were struggling during the Gilded Age. Many farmers were in debt and in danger of losing their farms. Prices of crops were also low. Loans were expensive, and railroad companies didn’t offer farmers benefits that other businesses received.

Farmers wanted the government to change our monetary policy. They wanted the government to put more money into circulation. This would lead to higher prices and make it easier for farmers to pay their debts. The farmers wanted to have a bi-metallic money supply. They wanted the government to have both gold and silver coins used to back on money. Instead, the government followed a monometallic money supply. Only gold was used to back our money.

Farmers also blamed the banks and the railroad companies for their problems. Farmers believed the banks charged them higher interest rates than other businesses were charged. Farmers wanted to end the national banking system, which they believed worked against farmers. They also wanted tighter control of the railroad companies. They were upset that the railroad companies wouldn’t offer them rebates, as they did to other businesses.

Farmers were upset with our financial policies, our banks, and the railroad companies. They wanted several changes to occur, but for the most part, those changes didn’t occur during the Gilded Age.

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