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American Agriculture Essay

American agriculture through the change of technology, government policy and economic had show an increase decline, politically, industrially, and economically, in the period 1865-1900. The period was categorized as a time of Republican laissez-faire governments that favored big business. Technology was making massive strides but mostly in urban manufacturing. The technological improvements that were made available were sold to the farmers at outrageous prices and shipped at high freight rates. Economically, the prices of agriculture were decreasing with that many farmers found themselves in a condition worst than living. Although famers were represented somewhat in government, these pro-agriculture politicians could not defeated the power of urban industry and big business. Although it was the famers who contributed for the country and harvest the substances on which the urban class relied upon, the farmers were becoming the forgotten people of America. Because of the political, industrial, and economic challenges that the farmers were forced to face, American agriculture suffered during the late 19th century.

Technologically, the United States was growing at a rapid rate. Advancements began to centralize industries and make life easier for the working class. Railroads were replacing canals and trails and soon, had spread across the entire nation, expanding the national market and making any part of the country accessible. From 1870-1890, the number of railroads increased enormously and the number of railroads with major land grants grew as well (Document B). This may have appeared as a positive gain for farmers on paper but in reality, the railroad hurt the farmers. While this new means of transportation allowed farmers to expand even further and ship their harvest or cattle faster to more markets. Money hungry railroad tycoons such as Leland Stanford, and others controlled the main railroads.

The freight rates were outrageous and many farmers lost out on a sizable amount of money throughout the process. After the cost of shipping, taxes, low buying prices, and the cost of equipment, the farmers were left with little profit. The technological advancements made favored the farmer because it made it easier to farm but often times farmers could not afford the tools, because it was too expensive. During a wheat harvest, instead of using a mechanical harvester, possibility motorized, a farmer was reduced to using a team of horses, many times there are 30 horses used to pull the harvest (Document D). Although technology was booming during the era, the advancements did not help the farmers. The positive gain looked good on paper but not in reality, which is often characterized during the era most infamously, coined by Mark Twain as the Gilded Age.

The government policy at the time was laissez-faire; Republicans were in office, favored the large industries and big business. As a result, the farmers were not well represented in Washington or helped back home. Not much progress was made but when it was, advances were limited. In Illinois, the people were able to gain a small victory when the Supreme Court allowed Illinois legislature to pass a law limiting freight rate (Document C). Those making progress were usually part of the populist movement, a pre-agricultural party that favored the rights of farmers. Organizations were established such as the Grangers and Farmer’s Alliance, which allowed farmers with goals and belief to organize and unite. Leader such as Mary Elizabeth Lease presented to the people that the government had lied to the people and deceived them. She supported her argument through glamming facts such as price reduction and claims of overproduction (Document G).

The government had problems dealing with the Indian problem and stalled the settlement of agricultural regions for Americans (Document I). One of the most heated debates was the decision between gold and silver standard. The Republican wanted to flood the economy and inflate with silver to support the farmers and miners out west. William Jennings Bryan argued that the country relied on farmers and that without them the country was doomed. He argued that the country should support the farmers because they provide for the nation. He made a ‘cross of gold’ speech that, if cities were burned down with the farms, life will again survive like miracles, but if farms were burned down, leaving the cities then the cities will only be a ruined (Document J). The Republicans did not do much to help the economy or farmers because of the laissez faire attitude and thus, not only led to the downfall of the farmers but of the nation because of Presidents such as Rutherford B. Hayes and Ulysses Grant.

Economically, the farmers were crushed pepper, and robbed. The farmers could not obtain the sliver standard they wanted to finance themselves and were being held down by big business and the pro-wealthy Republicans. As farmers produced more and more to make the highest possible amount of money, the price of the crop dropped and led to overproduction (Document A). They violated the law of supply and demand and suffered. If the farmer did succeed, he would have to give up practically allot of to the railroads, government, or any other players involved in the industry. In some cases, contracts were signed, practically signing away half of the farmer with hardly anything (Document E). The farmers were left cripple and stuck in vicious cycle. The crop and cattle can be shipped to markets far away, usually Chicago, and the transit fare increased as distance increased (Document F). The farmers are often left poor, out of work and starving. The weather takes their crop and if not the weather, the scheming businessmen. They are left with a loss of dignity, hope and broken spirits (Document H). In the end, those that provided for the nation end up being crushed by the giant people they held feed. Economically, the farmers have their hands tried.

During the Gilded Age, 1865-1900, American suffered from a non –existent government and big business and corporations, the farmers endured some of the worst hardship as a result. The American agriculture greatly declined and politically, economically, and industrially, were crushed and left in a hopeless, vicious cycle.


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