How did government policy change American agriculture in the period 1865–1900? 

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The Homestead Act opened up land in the West to new settlement. Many German and Eastern European immigrants came to the Great Plains and saw land that looked a lot like home. They planted wheat and made the United States the breadbasket of the world.

The United States also underwent...

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The Homestead Act opened up land in the West to new settlement. Many German and Eastern European immigrants came to the Great Plains and saw land that looked a lot like home. They planted wheat and made the United States the breadbasket of the world.

The United States also underwent a railroad boom after the Civil War. The Transcontinental Railroad, finished in 1869, united California with the rest of the United States. The federal government also gave land grants to railroads, thus giving them incentive to build more branch lines. Thanks to the railroad, cattle from Texas could be driven to rail heads in Kansas and then shipped East where the demand for them was quite high. Railroads also controlled shipping prices and often gouged farmers. This led to the Grange movement, which controlled how much railroads could charge.

During the Gilded Age, federal tariffs and national economic policy also played a role in agriculture. William Jennings Bryan won a lot of support from Western farmers in 1896 when he proposed the free coinage of gold and silver in order to ease credit for farmers. He failed in his presidential bid, though farmers would be affected by the availability of credit well into the twentieth century.

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Government policy changed American agriculture during the time that you mention by helping it to expand dramatically.

Part of this expansion was geographical.  There were two main government policies that contributed to this expansion.  These policies were the Homestead Act and the building of the transcontinental railroad system.  Before the Civil War, the American Great Plains were largely empty of farms.  Then, the government started to subsidize railroad construction and to give land to settlers.  This encouraged many Americans to move west and start to farm in areas that are now very productive.

Part of the expansion came about because farmers became more efficient at producing crops and animals.  Some of this was due to technological changes that the government had little to do with.  But some of the improvements in farming were due to research into better farming practices.  Much of this research was conducted at land grant colleges that had been set up by government action.

In these ways, government policies helped American farmers be more productive and it helped them have access to more land on which to farm.

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