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Chapter 5
Conditions Leading to Organization of the Grange

The American today can scarcely appreciate, or hardly believe, the life of the farmer and rural resident of 100 years ago. No lights, no radio, no telephone, no television, no truck or automobile on every farm, few paved roads, no easy communication with others. Little, if any, social life. Discouragement, and an ever-present sense of futility. No way out of an isolated existence fast becoming intolerable.

1867 was a troublesome period of reconstruction following the War Between the States. Abraham Lincoln was gone. President Andrew Johnson was seeking to cope with serious political, social, and economic problems.

Charles M. Gardner, Massachusetts State Master, and for 35 years Managing Editor of the National Grange Monthly, in his book The Grange-Friend o f the Farmer, paints a vivid picture of the conditions that led to the founding of the Grange. Some excerpts:

We of today cannot grasp the magnitude of the reconstruction problem that faced this country immediately following the close of the war.

These facts became immediately apparent as the reconstruction problem was faced:
1. That reconstruction would be a slow, uphill process which nothing short of many years could accomplish.
2. That it was a task in which every citizen's assistance was needed, exercised through both individual and organized channels, to the , extreme limit of opportunity.
3. That facilities must be provided, both North and South, for candid discussion of the issues involved; and with a constant effort both sides of the line toward mutual tolerance, forgiveness, and cooperation.

Into this situation the Order of Patrons of Husbandry was born, a providential creation because it was called into being at a time of particular need to perform work imperatively demanded; a task, which by its very nature, such an organization was admirably fitted to meet.

The dose of the Civil War found industries prostrate, agriculture with the rest, and it was immediately apparent that unless that fundamental occupation could be speedily revived, the fertility of neglected fields restored, and the food supply of a nation promptly increased to normal proportions, then all other industry would languish, and the future if not the very life, of the whole people would be menaced.

All the government machinery in existence was therefore set at work on this problem, which was easily seen to lie at the very base of the reconstruction task, and into this undertaking entered Oliver Hudson Kelley and his associates as active factors. Here was conceived the great necessity for which the Grange was destined to be an effective solution; and here was providential creation, worked out-as so often has happened in the history of world affairs-through humble human agency, but successful because possessed of large vision and prompted by sincere motives.

Farmer Unrest Follows War

Prof. Solon Justus Buck, with connections at the University of Illinois and Harvard University, has told a clear and comprehensive story of the situation in his book The Granger Movement-A Study o f Agricultural Organization and Its Political, Economic and Social Manifestations, 1870 1880. Published in 1913 (and republished in 1965 by University of Nebraska Press), the 384-page book is considered an authority on the subject and on the extremely important role of the Grange.

In the decade following the Civil War, farmers believed they were not advancing as rapidly as others.

While farmers in the Northeastern part of the United States had dairying and market gardening, hay, potatoes, and fruit giving many profitable employments, other parts of the country were not so fortunate.

The South was left by the war in a state of complete exhaustion in which agriculture shared to the fullest extent; farms had been destroyed or often the owners had been killed in battle and most of all the complete change in the industrial system made a return to normal agricultural conditions extremely slow.

The great prairie states of the upper Mississippi Valley from Ohio to Kansas and Nebraska, producers of wheat and corn, were the center of agricultural discontent. It was there that the protective movement among the farmers manifested itself most vigorously. The moving westward of the wheat industry was leaving these states with discontented farmers facing depreciation in land values and finding it necessary to turn to stock raising and dairy farming. Burdened with debt and also despairing, they put the blame on bankers, railroads, legislation, tariff, and monopolies. While some of their grievances had been caused by their own shortcomings, many of their grievances were well-founded.

Grievances Against Railroads Grow

Their grievance against the railroads, treated in Chapter 6, was twofold. Many unsuspecting farmers lost every penny as they were victimized by unscrupulous brokers who sold them stock in new rail lines. Secondly, railroad rates, management, and service were uncontrolled and discrimination was practiced in fixing the rates.

Again farmers felt, that as a class, they failed to receive adequate representation in the Government. They felt that their interests were not given due consideration by those who were supposed to represent them. The 43rd Congress of the United States (1873-1875), furnishes an example. Sixty-one percent of the members were lawyers, 16 percent were engaged in commercial pursuits, and only seven percent were farmers. However, the census of 1870 showed that 47 percent of the working public was still engaged in farming, while commerce and manufacturing could claim only 31 percent.

Usually ignorant of market conditions and of the laws of supply and demand, and with no facilities for storing their crops, farmers often were forced into selling their products in a glutted market. They received small return for their hard, careful work. The wrath of the farmers was also directed against commission merchants through whom they were forced to dispose of their crops at quite unremunerative prices.

For example, a common story in the Proceedings of the Illinois State Grange in 1875 told of a farmer carrying a load of grain to market and returning with a pair of shoes for his boy-the sole purchase which he was able to make from the proceeds of the sale of his grain.

Among farmers there was general poverty and a widespread indebtedness as represented by the growing burden of mortgages, often at excessive rates of interest. Loan agents infested the West. Sometimes interest on loans ran as high as 15 or 20 percent.

Following the War, various conditions brought about substantial decreases in the prices farmers received. Their decreasing income and increasing costs led to serious personal situations.

These, then, were the conditions which led to the organization and early building of the Grange. As Buck concluded:
An agricultural organization including a great part of the farmers of the nation, would be able to demand fairer treatment from the railway corporations and to enforce it with the help of the state; it could use its immense influence to secure more favorable legislation on such matters as the tariff, currency, and taxation; by means of a widespread local organization it could gather and disseminate useful information concerning the crops and the markets; and in general it could foster a beneficent spirit of cooperation and mutual assistance among its members. In this way alone can a satisfactory explanation be found for the widespread and phenomenal movement for organization which appeared among the farmers in the decade of the seventies.

Even as the Patrons of Husbandry in 1867 was so well designed and fitted to meet the problems of that day, so in 1966 are the Patrons of Husbandry (Grange members) equally capable, in the words of the National Master at the 1965 Annual Meeting, "in meeting and dealing with the problems of this day."

"We must enter now into a new and broader series of effective, constructive, and intelligent adjustments, made necessary by new and rapidly developing interrelationships and interdependence with increasing numbers of people throughout the entire world."

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