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THE GRANGER MOVEMENT AT FLOOD TIDE

With these real or fancied grievances crying for redress, the farmers soon turned to the Grange as the weapon ready at hand to combat the forces which they believed were conspiring to crush them. In 1872 began the real spread of the order. Where the Grange had previously reckoned in terms of hundreds of new lodges, it now began to speak of thousands. State Granges were established in States where the year before the organization had obtained but a precarious foothold; pioneer local Granges invaded regions which hitherto had been impenetrable. Although the only States which were thoroughly organized were Iowa, Minnesota, South Carolina, and Mississippi, the rapid spread of the order into other States and its intensive growth in regions so far apart gave promise of its ultimate development into a national movement.

This development was, to be sure, not without opposition. When the Grangers began to speak of their function in terms of business and political cooperation, the forces against which they were uniting took alarm. The commission men and local merchants of the South were especially apprehensive and, it is said, sometimes foreclosed the mortgages of planters who were so independent as to join the order. But here, as elsewhere, persecution defeated its own end; the opposition of their enemies convinced the farmers of the merits of the Grange.

In the East, several circumstances retarded the movement. In the first place, the Eastern farmer had for some time felt the Western farmer to be his serious rival. The Westerner had larger acreage and larger yields from his virgin soil than the Easterner from his smaller tracts of well-nigh exhausted land. What crops the latter did produce he must sell in competition with the Western crops, and he was not eager to lower freight charges for his competitor. A second deterrent to the growth of the order in the East was the organization of two Granges among the commission men and the grain dealers of Boston and New York, under the aegis of that clause of the constitution which declared any person interested in agriculture to be eligible to membership in the order. Though the storm of protest which arose all over the country against this betrayal to the enemy resulted in the revoking of the charters for these Granges, the Eastern farmer did not soon forget the incident.

The year 1873 is important in the annals of the Grange because it marks the retirement of the "founders" from power. In January of that year, at the sixth session of the National Grange, the temporary organization of government clerks was replaced by a permanent corporation, officered by farmers. Kelley was reelected Secretary; Dudley W. Adams of Iowa was made Master; and William Saunders, erstwhile Master of the National Grange, D. Wyatt Aiken of South Carolina, and E. R. Shankland of Iowa were elected to the executive committee. The substitution of alert and eager workers, already experienced in organizing Granges, for the dead wood of the Washington bureaucrats gave the order a fresh impetus to growth. From the spring of 1873 to the following spring the number of granges more than quadrupled, and the increase again centered mainly in the Middle West.

By the end of 1873 the Grange had penetrated all but four States--Connecticut, Rhode Island, Delaware, and Nevada--and there were thirty-two state Granges in existence. The movement was now well defined and national in scope, so that the seventh annual session of the National Grange, which took place in St. Louis in February, 1874, attracted much interest and comment. Thirty-three men and twelve women attended the meetings, representing thirty-two state and territorial Granges and about half a million members. Their most important act was the adoption of the "Declaration of Purposes of the National Grange," subscribed to then and now as the platform of the Patrons and copied with minor modifications by many later agricultural organizations in the United States. The general purpose of the Patrons was "to labor for the good of our Order, our Country, and Mankind." This altruistic ideal was to find practical application in efforts to enhance the comfort and attractions of homes, to maintain the laws, to advance agricultural and industrial education, to diversify crops, to systematize farm work, to establish cooperative buying and selling, to suppress personal, local, sectional, and national prejudices, and to discountenance "the credit system, the fashion system, and every other system tending to prodigality and bankruptcy." As to business, the Patrons declared themselves enemies not of capital but of the tyranny of monopolies, not of railroads but of their high freight tariffs and monopoly of transportation. In politics, too, they maintained a rather nice balance: the Grange was not to be a political or party organization, but its members were to perform their political duties as individual citizens.

It could hardly be expected that the program of the Grange would satisfy all farmers. For the agricultural discontent, as for any other dissatisfaction, numerous panaceas were proposed, the advocates of each of which scorned all the others and insisted on their particular remedy. Some farmers objected to the Grange because it was a secret organization; others, because it was nonpartisan. For some the organization was too conservative; for others, too radical. Yet all these objectors felt the need of some sort of organization among the farmers, very much as the trade-unionist and the socialist, though widely divergent in program, agree that the workers must unite in order to better their condition. Hence during these years of activity on the part of the Grange many other agricultural societies were formed, differing from the Patrons of Husbandry in specific program rather than in general purpose.

The most important of these societies were the farmers' clubs, at first more or less independent of each other but later banded together in state associations. The most striking differences of these clubs from the Granges were their lack of secrecy and their avowed political purposes. Their establishment marks the definite entrance of the farmers as a class into politics. During the years 1872 to 1875 the independent farmers' organizations multiplied much as the Granges did and for the same reasons. The Middle West again was the scene of their greatest power. In Illinois this movement began even before the Grange appeared in the State, and its growth during the early seventies paralleled that of the secret order. In other States also, notably in Kansas, there sprang up at this time agricultural clubs of political complexion, and where they existed in considerable numbers they generally took the lead in the political activities of the farmers' movement. Where the Grange had the field practically to itself, as in Iowa and Minnesota, the restriction in the constitution of the order as to political or partisan activity was evaded by the simple expedient of holding meetings "outside the gate," at which platforms were adopted, candidates nominated, and plans made for county, district, and state conventions.

In some cases the farmers hoped, by a show of strength, to achieve the desired results through one or both of the old parties, but they soon decided that they could enter politics effectively only by way of a third party. The professional politicians were not inclined to espouse new and radical issues which might lead to the disruption of party lines. The outcome, therefore, was the establishment of new parties in eleven of the Western States during 1873 and 1874. Known variously as Independent, Reform, Anti-Monopoly, or Farmers' parties, these organizations were all parts of the same general movement, and their platforms were quite similar. The paramount demands were: first, the subjection of corporations, and especially of railroad corporations, to the control of the State; and second, reform and economy in government. After the new parties were well under way, the Democrats in most of the States, being in a hopeless minority, made common cause with them in the hope of thus compassing the defeat of their hereditary rivals, the old-line Republicans. In Missouri, however, where the Democracy had been restored to power by the Liberal-Republican movement, the new party received the support of the Republicans.

Illinois, where the farmers were first thoroughly organized into clubs and Granges, was naturally the first State in which they took effective political action. The agitation for railroad regulation, which began in Illinois in the sixties, had caused the new state constitution of 1870 to include mandatory provisions directing the legislature to pass laws to prevent extortion and unjust discrimination in railway charges. One of the acts passed by the Legislature of 1871 in an attempt to carry out these instructions was declared unconstitutional by the state supreme court in January, 1873. This was the spark to the tinder. In the following April the farmers flocked to a convention at the state capital and so impressed the legislators that they passed more stringent and effective laws for the regulation of railroads. But the politicians had a still greater surprise in store for them. In the elections of judges in June, the farmers retired from office the judge who had declared their railroad law unconstitutional and elected their own candidates for the two vacancies in the supreme court and for many of the vacancies in the circuit courts.

Now began a vigorous campaign for the election of farmers' candidates in the county elections in the fall. So many political meetings were held on Independence Day in 1873 that it was referred to as the "Farmers' Fourth of July." This had always been the greatest day of the farmer's year, for it meant opportunity for social and intellectual enjoyment in the picnics and celebrations which brought neighbors together in hilarious good-fellowship. In 1873, however, the gatherings took on unwonted seriousness. The accustomed spread-eagle oratory gave place to impassioned denunciation of corporations and to the solemn reading of a Farmers' Declaration of Independence. "When, in the course of human events," this document begins in words familiar to every schoolboy orator, "it becomes necessary for a class of the people, suffering from long continued systems of oppression and abuse, to rouse themselves from an apathetic indifference to their own interests, which has become habitual... a decent respect for the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes that impel them to a course so necessary to their own protection." Then comes a statement of "self-evident truths," a catalogue of the sins of the railroads, a denunciation of railroads and Congress for not having redressed these wrongs, and finally the conclusion:

"We, therefore, the producers of the state in our several counties assembled... do solemnly declare that we will use all lawful and peaceable means to free ourselves from the tyranny of monopoly, and that we will never cease our efforts for reform until every department of our Government gives token that the reign of licentious extravagance is over, and something of the purity, honesty, and frugality with which our fathers inaugurated it, has taken its place.

"That to this end we hereby declare ourselves absolutely free and independent of all past political connections, and that we will give our suffrage only to such men for office, as we have good reason to believe will use their best endeavors to the promotion of these ends; and for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor."

This fall campaign of 1873 in Illinois broke up old party lines in remarkable fashion. In some counties the Republicans and in other counties the Democrats either openly joined the "Reformers" or refrained from making separate nominations. Of the sixty-six counties which the new party contested, it was victorious in fifty-three. This first election resulted in the best showing which the Reformers made in Illinois. In state elections, the new party was less successful; the farmers who voted for their neighbors running on an Anti-Monopoly ticket for lesser offices hesitated to vote for strangers for state office.

Other Middle Western States at this time also felt the uneasy stirring of radical political thought and saw the birth of third parties, short-lived, most of them, but throughout their brief existence crying loudly and persistently for reforms of all description. The tariff, the civil service system, and the currency, all came in for their share of criticism and of suggestions for revision, but the dominant note was a strident demand for railroad regulation. Heirs of the Liberal Republicans and precursors of the Greenbackers and Populists, these independent parties were as voices crying in the wilderness, preparing the way for national parties of reform. The notable achievement of the independent parties in the domain of legislation was the enactment of laws to regulate railroads in five States of the upper Mississippi Valley.* When these laws were passed, the parties had done their work. By 1876 they had disappeared or, in a few instances, had merged with the Greenbackers. Their temporary successes had demonstrated, however, to both farmers and professional politicians that if once solidarity could be obtained among the agricultural class, that class would become the controlling element in the politics of the Middle Western States. It is not surprising, therefore, that wave after wave of reform swept over the West in the succeeding decades.

     * See Chapter IV.

The independent parties of the middle seventies were distinctly spontaneous uprisings of the people and especially of the farmers, rather than movements instigated by politicians for personal ends or by professional reformers. This circumstance was a source both of strength and weakness. As the movements began to develop unexpected power, politicians often attempted to take control but, where they succeeded, the movement was checked by the farmers' distrust of these self-appointed leaders. On the other hand, the new parties suffered from the lack of skillful and experienced leaders. The men who managed their campaigns and headed their tickets were usually well-to-do farmers drafted from the ranks, with no more political experience than perhaps a term or two in the state legislature. Such were Willard C. Flagg, president of the Illinois State Farmers' Association, Jacob G. Vale, candidate for governor in Iowa, and William R. Taylor, the Granger governor of Wisconsin.

Taylor is typical of the picturesque and forceful figures which frontier life so often developed. He was born in Connecticut, of parents recently emigrated from Scotland. Three weeks after his birth his mother died, and six years later his father, a sea captain, was drowned. The orphan boy, brought up by strangers in Jefferson County, New York, experienced the hardships of frontier life and developed that passion for knowledge which so frequently is found in those to whom education is denied. When he was sixteen, he had, enough of the rudiments to take charge of a country school, and by teaching in the winter and working in the summer he earned enough to enter Union College. He was unable to complete the course, however, and turned to teaching in Ohio, where he restored to decent order a school notorious for bullying its luckless teachers. But teaching was not to be his career; indeed, Taylor's versatility for a time threatened to make him the proverbial Jack-of-all-trades: he was employed successively in a grist mill, a saw mill, and an iron foundry; he dabbled in the study of medicine; and finally, in the year which saw Wisconsin admitted to the Union, he bought a farm in that State. Ownership of property steadied his interests and at the same time afforded an adequate outlet for his energies. He soon made his farm a model for the neighborhood and managed it so efficiently that he had time to interest himself in farmers' organizations and to hold positions of trust in his township and county.

By 1873 Taylor had acquired considerable local political experience and had even held a seat in the state senate. As president of the State Agricultural Society, he was quite naturally chosen to head the ticket of the new Liberal Reform party. The brewing interests of the State, angered at a drastic temperance law enacted by the preceding legislature, swung their support to Taylor. Thus reenforced, he won the election. As governor he made vigorous and tireless attempts to enforce the Granger railroad laws, and on one occasion he scandalized the conventional citizens of the State by celebrating a favorable court decision in one of the Granger cases with a salvo of artillery from the capitol.

Yet in spite of this prominence, Taylor, after his defeat for reelection in 1875, retired to his farm and to obscurity. His vivid personality was not again to assert itself in public affairs. It is difficult to account for the fact that so few of the farmers during the Granger period played prominent parts in later phases of the agrarian crusade. The rank and file of the successive parties must have been much the same, but each wave of the movement swept new leaders to the surface.

The one outstanding exception among the leaders of the Anti-Monopolists was Ignatius Donnelly of Minnesota "the sage of Nininger"--who remained a captain of the radical cohorts in every agrarian movement until his death in 1901. A red-headed aggressive Irishman, with a magnetic personality and a remarkable intellect, Donnelly went to Minnesota from Pennsylvania in 1856 and speculated in town sites on a large scale. When he was left stranded by the panic of 1857, acting upon his own principle that "to hide one's light under a bushel is to extinguish it," he entered the political arena. In Pennsylvania Donnelly had been a Democrat, but his genuine sympathy for the oppressed made him an opponent of slavery and consequently a Republican. In 1857 and 1858 he ran for the state senate in Minnesota on the Republican ticket in a hopelessly Democratic county. In 1859 he was nominated for lieutenant governor on the ticket headed by Alexander Ramsey; and his caustic wit, his keenness in debate, and his eloquence made him a valuable asset in the battle-royal between Republicans and Democrats for the possession of Minnesota. As lieutenant governor, Donnelly early showed his sympathy with the farmers by championing laws which lowered the legal rate of interest and which made more humane the process of foreclosure on mortgages. The outbreak of the Civil War gave him an opportunity to demonstrate his executive ability as acting governor during Ramsey's frequent trips to Washington. In this capacity he issued the first proclamation for the raising of Minnesota troops in response to the call of President Lincoln. Elected to Congress in 1862, he served three terms and usually supported progressive legislation.

Donnelly's growing popularity and his ambition for promotion to the Senate soon became a matter of alarm to the friends of Senator Ramsey, who controlled the Republican party in the State. They' determined to prevent Donnelly's renomination in 1868 and selected William D. Washburn of Minneapolis to make the race against him. In the spring of this year Donnelly engaged in a controversy with Representative E. B. Washburn of Illinois, a brother of W. D. Washburn, in the course of which the Illinois congressman published a letter in a St. Paul paper attacking Donnelly's personal character. Believing this to be part of the campaign against him, the choleric Minnesotan replied in the house with a remarkable rhetorical display which greatly entertained the members but did not increase their respect for him. His opponents at home made effective use of this affair, and the outcome of the contest was a divided convention, the nomination of two Republicans, each claiming to be the regular candidate of the party, and the ultimate election of a Democrat.

Donnelly was soon ready to break with the old guard of the Republican party in national as well as in state politics. In 1870 he ran for Congress as an independent Republican on a low tariff platform but was defeated in spite of the fact that he received the endorsement of the Democratic convention. Two years later he joined the Liberal Republicans in supporting Greeley against Grant. When the farmers' Granges began to spring up like mushrooms in 1873, Donnelly was quick to see the political possibilities of the movement. He conducted an extensive correspondence with farmers, editors, and politicians of radical tendencies all over the State and played a leading part in the organization of the Anti-Monopoly party. He was elected to the state senate in 1873, and in the following year he started a newspaper, the Anti-Monopolist, to serve as the organ of the movement.

Although Donnelly was technically still a farmer, he was quite content to leave the management of his farm to his capable wife, while he made politics his profession, with literature and lecturing as avocations. His frequent and brilliant lectures no less than his voluminous writings* attest his amazing industry. Democrat, Republican, Liberal-Republican, and Anti-Monopolist; speculator, lawyer, farmer, lecturer, stump-speaker, editor, and author; preacher of morals and practicer of shrewd political evasions; and always a radical--he was for many years a force to be reckoned with in the politics of his State and of the nation.

     * The Great Cryptogram, for instance, devotes a thousand pages to proving a Bacon cipher in the plays of Shakespeare!