Segment descriptions
Topics in American History Series:
Agriculture, Part     

          Description: Agriculture 4

Agriculture, Part 1
       sampler 3’-4”   (55’ lecture)

What is the very significant impact of the building
of the Erie Canal in the early 1800s on the dynamics
of where farm products would go, the status of NYC,
and ultimately the Civil War?

                                                 play sampler






America is agricultural until well into the 20th century.  Traditionally conservative, farmers could be aggressive and even violent when their rights are violated.  Availability of land attracts land starved Europeans.  The frontier pushes further and further west always at the expense of Native Americans who eventually resist. 




Origins of sectionalism.  Ethnic differences in farm communities, but differences especially north and south because of geography and climate.  Slave labor conducive to large flat areas of farmland in the south, but not to the small rocky family farms of the north.  Crop differences in North and South are subject to the same factors.




Cotton becomes king in the South.  Role of invention of the cotton gin in 1790, and the rise of industrialization in England, especially textiles.  Its impact on slavery in the South. 


The family farm in the North.  Physical labor is hard and precarious.  Greater demands on women than men. 


Transportation revolution.  The Erie Canal’s great importance to Midwest farmers in early 1800s by linking the Midwest to the Northeast markets, instead of just the South via the Mississippi River.  Erie Canal becomes a detriment to the South’s food supply in the Civil War.


Impact of the Civil War on farmers.  Federal government as a ready market for farm goods.  Later repercussions from farmers’ mindset of positive connection between prosperity and newly issued greenbacks.  Food supply shortage is major problem for the South. 


Impact of end of Civil War.  Framers are favored by the opening new land to small farmers, and expansion of agricultural and mining education.  In the South, the ex-slaves and poor whites are given small parcels of land to farm, but become dependent sharecroppers after the protected 12 year Reconstruction Period ends.


Farming downturn starting in the 1970s.  Demobilization shrinks Federal market.  Greenbacks are withdrawn.  Farmers’ mindset now connects hard times with withdrawal of greenbacks. 


Farmers and the railroads.  Farmers initially greeted coming of the railroads with open arms.  Eventually, with the Federal government aid, the railroads became very powerful, as well as greedy, and corrupt, exploiting the farmers and becoming seen as the enemy of the small farmers.


The Granges in the 1870s.  Promoting farm life, farm interests. And political activism.  Efforts to get legislature to regulate the railroads, and Grange Laws passed, upheld by the Supreme Court in 1877.  In 1886 the Supreme Court, now reconstituted, declare the Grange Laws unconstitutional on questionable legal grounds.


Three Farmers’ Alliances in the 1880s. – The Northern, The Southern, and the Colored.  They continue and advance activities of the Granges.  The Northern Alliance advocates a purely farmers’ alliance.  The Southern Alliance struggles to control the now single party, the Democrats.  The Colored Alliance go along with the Southern Alliance, but in 1890 the Alliances combine to form a new Agricultural Party.