Farmers' Alliance

Farmers' Alliance

The Farmers' Alliance was an organized agrarian economic movement amongst U.S. farmers that flourished in the 1880s. First formed in 1876 in Lampasas, Texas, the Alliance was designed to promote higher commodity prices through collective action by groups of individual farmers. The movement was strongest in the South and, and was widely popular before it was destroyed by the power of commodity brokers. Despite its failure, it is regarded as the precursor to the United States Populist Party, which grew out of the ashes of the Alliance in 1889.


Effects of the Alliance

Many Alliance chapters all set up their own local cooperative stores, which bought directly from wholesalers and sold their supply goods to farmers at a lower rate. Some of these stores reported annual sales ranging from $5,000 to $36,000 and claimed to sell goods at 20 to 30 percent below regular retail price. [] Such stores achieved only limited success, however, since they faced the hostility of wholesale merchants. Moreover, local retail merchants sometimes retailed against the Alliance stores by temporarily lowering their prices in order to drive the Alliance stores out of business.

Additionally, the Alliance established its own mills for flour, cottonseed oil, and corn, as well as its own cotton gin. Such facilities allowed debt-laden farmers, who often had little cash to pay third-party mills, to bring their goods to market at a lower cost.

The national agenda

The limited effects of the local policies of the Alliance did little to address the overall problem of deflation and depressed agricultural prices. By 1886, tensions had begun to form in the movement between the political activists, who promoted a national political agenda, and the political conservatives, who favored no change in national policy but a "strictly business" plan of local economic action. In Texas, the split reached a climax in August 1886 at the statewide convention in Cleburne. The political activists successfully lobbied for passage of a set of political demands that included support of the Knights of Labor and the 1886 Great Southwest Strike. Other demands included changes in governmental land policy, and railroad regulation. The demands also included a demand for use of silver as legal tender, on the grounds that this would alleviate the contraction in the money supply that fed the inflation in prices and the scarcity of credit (see gold standard).

The political activism of the Alliance gained strength in the late 1880s, merging with the nearly 500,000 member Agricultural Wheel in 1888. In the South, the agenda centered on demands of government control of transportation and communication, in order to break the power of corporate monopolies. It also included a demand for a national "subtreasury" plan that would allow easier credit for agriculture, thus breaking the power of the centralized eastern banks over farmers in the rural South and West. The Southern Alliance also demanded reforms of currency, land ownership, and income tax policies. Meanwhile, the Northern Alliance stressed the demand for free coinage of silver.

Political activists in the movement also made attempts to unite the two Alliance organizations, along with the Knights of Labor and the Colored Alliance, into a common movement. The efforts and unification proved futile, however, and the Southern Alliance organized on its own, eventually reaching 43 states. The Alliance movement as a whole reached over 750,000 by 1890.

Downfall and transition to the Populist movement

As an economic movement, the Alliance had very limited and a short term success. Cotton brokers who had previously negotiated with individual farmers for ten bales at a time now needed to strike deals with the Alliancemen for 1,000 bale sales. This solidarity was usually shortlived, however, and could not withstand the retaliation from the commodities brokers and railroads, who responded by boycotting the Alliance and eventually broke the power of the movement. The Alliance had never fielded its own political candidates, preferring to work through the established Republican and Democratic parties, which, however, often proved fickle in supporting the agenda of the Alliance.

As an economic movement, it failed, but it is regarded by historians as engendering a "movement culture" among the rural poor. Failure of the Alliance as economic vehicle prompted an evolution of the Alliance into a political movement to field its own candidates in national elections. In 1889–1890, the Alliance was reborn as the Populist Party (i.e., "People's Party"), and included both Alliancemen and Knights of Labor members from the industrialized Northeast. The Populist Party, which fielded national candidates in the 1892 election, essentially repeated all the demands of the Alliance in its platform.

Well-known Alliancemen

John Rankin Rogers [] , two term Washington State Governor 1897-1901.

Populist publications

* American Nonconformist, Tabor, Iowa. Edited by Henry Vincent
* Alliance Vindicator, Texas. Edited by James H. Davis
* The Appeal to Reason, Girard, Kansas. Edited by Julius Wayland
* National Economist, Washington D.C. Edited by Charles William Macune
* National Reform Press Association
* Progressive Farmer, North Carolina. Edited by Leonidas LaFayette Polk
* Southern Mercury, Dallas, Texas.

External links

* [ Handbook of Texas Online: Farmers' Alliance]
* [ Handbook of Texas Online: The Colored Farmers' Alliance]
* [ Revolt of the Rural Poor Majority: Farmers Confront the Changing Economy]
* [ Minutes, Travis County Farmers' Alliance, October 11, 1889] . Ingram Family Papers, Archives and Information Services Division, Texas State Library and Archives Commission. Retrieved August 26, 2006.
*Petty, Adrienne. [ "History of the South: The Southern Revolt"] . Guest lecture, December 1998, Columbia University. Retrieved August 27, 2006.

Further reading

* [ Bibliography, references and primary sources of the Farmer's movement, Alliance, and Populist Party] . Compiled May 2005 for [ Black Populism in the New South] . Retrieved August 27, 2006.
* Lester, Connie. Up from the Mudsills of Hell : The Farmers' Alliance, Populism, And Progressive Agriculture in Tennessee, 1870-1915. University of Georgia Press. March 2006. Hardcover. ISBN 0-8203-2762-X.

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