Populism, the Grange Movement, and Monetary Policy

Start Free Trial

How did U.S. farmers and workers try to solve the problems they faced in the 1890s?

Expert Answers

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

There were many steps taken in the late 1800s to help improve the lives of farmers and workers, who were then suffering because of low income and lack of familiarity with technology. The farmers of this time were falling into great debt because they couldn't get the margins on their product they needed to make a decent living. Farmers and factory workers alike suffered from dangerous conditions and low wages that made their lives very susceptible to harm and left them bordering on poverty.

Farmers came together to organize the grange, a sort of union of the time that worked to educate farmers and give them support from one another during difficult times. This organization helped educate the farmers on new technology that could help them make better profits and keep their farms running smoothly.

Eventually, from their organization efforts, a political party arose—the Populist party—which tried to alleviate their burden through a variety of different political actions. They were successful in local elections, helping turn small areas of the nation into better regions for farmers, but never quite had federal success. Eventually, they joined forces with the Democratic party, which represented many in the working class, and the joint effort allowed them to make progress and help improve their plight.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

American farmers faced several problems in the 1890s. Farmers were losing their farms because they could not repay their mortgages. Farmers were being charged very high interest rates on loans. Farmers were paying more to ship products on the railroads than other businesses were. The prices of crops were very low. Farmers were suffering significantly in the 1890s.

American workers also suffered during this time. Working conditions were very poor, and the government usually sided with businesses when strikes occurred. Workers were paid low wages and had few rights. As a result, workers formed labor unions to help them improve their conditions.

Farmers had tried to solve their problems in several ways. They formed groups such as the Grange, which worked to educate farmers on new farming techniques. The Grange encouraged farmers to form cooperatives, so they could pool their crops and hopefully get better rates for shipping their products on the railroads.

However, the Grange was not able to alleviate the problems farmers faced during the 1870s and the 1880s. As a result, the farmers created a political party to help them with their needs. This party was called the Populist Party. The Populist Party advocated for many things. They wanted the government to go to a bimetallic money supply based on gold and silver. The farmers hoped this would cause prices for their crops to rise. The Populist Party also wanted to end the national banking system because they believed that the banks treated the farmers unfairly. They wanted to end the use of protective tariffs, which they believed harmed farmers. They also wanted the government to control the railroads because they believed the railroads charged the farmers higher rates to ship products than other businesses. They ran candidates for state and national offices to achieve these goals. The Populists had more success at the state level than they did at the federal level in terms of winning elections.

The Democratic Party represented the workers and tried to get better working conditions for them. Workers hoped to get recognition for their unions. However, this goal was an elusive one for them to accomplish. The Democratic Party also supported the idea of a bimetallic money supply. They hoped this would help raise the wages that workers were paid. While the farmers hoped to attract workers to the Populist Party, the needs of farmers and workers were not the same. The Populist Party and the Democratic Party supported the same candidate in the election of 1896. However, they were not successful in capturing the presidency.

Farmers and workers tried to do several things to alleviate the issues that they faced in the 1890s.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Of course, farmers and workers faced different problems and tried to solve them differently.  What they had in common was that they both tried to solve their problems through collective action and through politics.  By doing so, they tried to fight back against the power of the rich.

Both farmers and workers faced problems because of the power of the rich.  Farmers could be abused by railroads charging them high rates to carry their crops and by bankers charging them high interest rates.  Workers could be abused by the owners of factories who had them work in tough conditions for low pay.

Both workers and farmers tried collective action to ameliorate their conditions.  Workers tried to form unions and do things like going on strike to get better pay and conditions.  Farmers did things like joining the Grange and the Farmers’ Alliances.  Both groups also turned to political action.  Farmers were particularly attracted to the Populist Party in the 1890s.  They used this party to push for things like government control of utilities and for “free silver.”  The Populists also tried to attract workers but were less successful in doing so.  Workers pushed for things like greater regulation of businesses to ensure safe working conditions and better pay.

Thus, both farmers and workers tried to solve their problems in the late 1800s through collective action and politics.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial Team