The Populist Party of
the 1890s, a 3rd party.
Its platform includes support of industrial labor, government
control of railroads, an end of absentee landlords, coining silver
as well as gold to counter inflation, and a series of democratic
The election of 1896.
William Jennings Bryan, the Democratic candidate from Nebraska, a
farm state, and his “Cross of Gold” speech. The Populist Party
backs Bryan but the Republican McKinley wins. The Populist Party
fades and eventually dies.
Jim Crow Era begins.
With the demise of the Populist Movement, the upper class whites win
control of one-party South, and no longer need to vie with the lower
class whites for the black vote. “Separate but equal” Supreme Court
decision dooms blacks to inferior education in the South. Total
segregation of every public facility in the South. A time of
terror, including many lynchings. Poverty of sharecroppers continues
for the next decade.
The legacy of
was not the regression to the agrarian myth of the noble farmer, nor
the socialistic view of the government taking over the railroads.
Rather it was an effort to find a way of individualism to fit into
the need to organize in an increasing industrialized society.
Farming at beginning
of the 20th century.
Progressivism of President Wilson is more structured than the
somewhat emotional Populist Movement, and is less sympathetic to
small farmers. Farmers experience prosperity during WW I supplying
the military, and then sending farm goods to starving Europe after
Farm depression in
the 1920s. A
prosperous time in general, the 1920s begin a farm depression. The
Army demobilizes. Europe recovers. Markets shrink. Competition
from other world markets. Farm prices drop and continue to drop
through the 1920s into the 1930s..
Great Depression of
This adds to farmers’ already dire situation. The Great Plains Dust
Bowl due to lack of rain and misuse of farmland destroys farms,
causing a great migration west. In 1900 dire conditions in the
South causes migration to northern cities by blacks and whites who
are often met with great hostility in the competition for jobs.
FDR and the New Deal
Attempts to help farmers. Intentional scarcities to raise prices to
farmers. Failure: non-compliance, circumvention, lack of
oversight. Sharecroppers not covered, suffer. Law later declared
unconstitutional. Concern for the large farmer at the expense to
the small farmer. Farmers migrate west or at times resist economic
depression during the 1930s.
New farm prosperity.
Coming of WW II and end of drought. Feeding soldiers. Permanent
migration to cities for high paying defense jobs, replaced by poor
migrant farmers from Mexico living under dire conditions, continuing
into the post-war era. Myth of romanticizing farming. .
Post-WW II American
Some benefit exporting food to war-devastated Europe. Subsidies
continue but large farms benefit more than small ones. Future of
family farms undermined by children leaving. Competition of large
agribusiness. Tragedy of family farms’ overwhelming debt burden.
Agribusinesses thrive, also compete internationally. Many Mexican
small farms cannot survive, forcing migrant workers to the U.S.
to adapt to modernity.
Many approaches, with a mix of successes and failures. Issues will
remain for a long time to come.