What economic, political, and regional obstacles did farmers face in the late nineteenth century as they attempted to counter the power of big business? How successful were they in reaching their goals?

Obstacles that farmers faced in the late nineteenth century through the twentieth century as they attempted to counter the power of big business included banks issuing usurious loans and railroads, grain elevators, and supply manufacturers charging high prices. At the same time, the price of grain was falling. To address this, farmers joined cooperatives and formed political parties. They were moderately successful and had a large influence on the Progressive reforms of the era. However, farming continued to be difficult.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

As the United States transitioned from a relatively agrarian society to a more urban and industrial one in the latter part of the nineteenth century, the country's farmers faced numerous obstacles. More and more political power was finding its way into the hands of big business interests, which typically saw farmers as a population that they could exploit for their own profits.

During this period, farmers found it nearly impossible to set prices for the grains they harvested. The railroads, banks, equipment manufacturers, and grain elevator operators typically charged farmers very high prices for their products and services. Banks often set high interest rates for agricultural loans. This meant that it was increasingly difficult for farmers to stay out of debt. To make matters worse, farmers were hit hard by the falling price of grain commodities. As agricultural methods improved at home and more grain was imported from abroad, a surplus of supply meant that it was very hard to make a profit farming in America.

To combat these forces, many farmers started banding together. After the Civil War, many farmers joined the Granger Movement. The rural collectives that formed under this movement could collectively bargain for better prices from railroads, elevator operators, and other services that they relied on. They also pooled their harvests so that they could have some say in the price of their commodities. As a collective force, the Grangers lobbied local and federal governments to pass more legal protections for farmers and issue low-interest farm loans.

Overall, American farmers of this period were met with limited success. The government stepped in to help in a few instances, such as establishing warehouses in which farmers could store their grain when prices were down and by issuing government-backed loans. They formed the short-lived Greenback and the Populist Parties, which were briefly able to promote agrarian interests and influence the Progressive Movement. Despite these successes, life and business for farmers remained a struggle as competition for political recognition and struggles against business interests continued.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on February 17, 2021
Soaring plane image

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial