As settlement continued in the west, manypeople were excited at the possibility ofowning their own land. In 1862 Congress passed the Homestead Actwhich stated that anyone who would agreeto set up a homestead and cultivate 160acres of land for five years, would receivethe title to that land for free from thefederal government. With the passage of the Homestead Act,thousands of homesteaders moved westward.
Verdict: Helped Land was given tofarmers so that theycould begin tosucceed.
The completion of the transcontinental railroadin 1869 was a cause for celebration in ourcountry. To mark the occasion of the meeting of theUnion Pacific and Central Pacific railways, a goldspike was put into the ground to show where therailroads met, completing the project. Now the east and the west were linked togetherwith the railroad. This development made it easier to transportpeople out west and also made it more efficientto transport crops, grains, and cattle from thewest to the eastern city markets.
Verdict: Helped It was now easy to transport crops (until thehigh shipping costs).
So many people became farmers thatoverproduction of crops caused prices todrop dramatically. This led to smaller profits for each of thefarmers. To make matters worse, shipping costs on therailroads increased as well. As a result farmers were forced to borrowmore and more money and many eventuallyfound themselves in huge debt.
Verdict: Hurt This was putting farmers in debt.
Many farmers began to believe that they were beingovercharged by the railroads for shipping their farmproducts to market. The farmers began to work together and createfarmer’s alliances. These granges, as they werecalled, allowed farmers to pool their resources inorder to purchase machinery and supplies. The granges also allowed farmers to cooperativelysell their farming products more cost-effectively. Examples of these farmer’s alliances include theSouthern Farmers’ Alliance and the Colored Farmers’Alliance. Both are excellent examples of farmersworking together to improve their financialconditions by fighting the powerful railroads industry.
Verdict: Helped Farmers were brought together and managedto make more cost-efficient decisions.
The growth of the Grange movement eventuallyhelped lead the way to a larger, political movement. Farmers who had long been suffering from low cropprices, high transportation costs, and high debteventually organized the Populist movement. The Populists favored the use of paper money, calledgreenbacks, to increase the nation’s money supplyand ease the burden of farmers by raising prices. A political party grew out of this movement, thePopulist Party, or the People’s Party because itrepresented the common man. The Populist Party favored both the farmers and theworking classes of the northeast.
Verdict: Helped This was good for thefarmers because itfavored the commonworking man.
The Populists also adopted a “free silver”policy by which they supported basing theU.S. dollar on silver as well as gold. Thisposition became known as bimetallism. The Populists believed that this would bringmore money into the economy and ease thefarmers’ financial problems. Populists also wanted more regulation ofbusiness, especially the railroads, in aneffort to fight high shipping costs. Essentially, they wanted the government toregulate railroad freight charges.
Verdict: Helped This was designed so that farmers could solvetheir financial problems that came withrailroad shipping costs.
In 1887 Congress passed the InterstateCommerce Act that provided for the creationof the Interstate Commerce Commission toregulate railroad rates, among other things. The act was eventually signed into law byPresident Grover Cleveland.
Verdict: Helped This regulated railroads forthe farmers.