The period between 1880 and 1900 was a boom time for American
politics. The country was for once free of the threat of war, and many
of its citizens were living comfortably. However, as these two decades
went by, the American farmer found it harder and harder to live
comfortably. Crops such as cotton and wheat, once the bulwark of
agriculture, were selling at prices so low that it was nearly
impossible for farmers to make a profit off them. Furthermore,
improvement in transportation allowed foreign competition to
materialize, making it harder for American farmers to dispose of
surplus crop. Finally, years of drought in the midwest and the
downward spiral of business in the 1890's devastated many of the
nation's farmers. As a result of the agricultural depression, many
farm groups, most notably the Populist Party, arose to fight what
farmers saw as the reasons for the decline in agriculture. During the
last twenty years of the nineteenth century, many farmers in the

United States saw monopolies and trusts, railroads, and money
shortages and the demonetization of silver as threats to their way of
life, though in many cases their complaints were not valid.

The growth of the railroad was one of the most significant
elements in American economic growth. However, in many ways, the
railroads hurt small shippers and farmers. Extreme competition between
rail companies necessitated some way to win business. To do this, many
railroads offered rebates and drawbacks to larger shippers who used
their rails. However, this practice hurt smaller shippers, including
farmers, for often times railroad companies would charge more to ship
products short distances than they would for long trips. The rail
companies justified this practice by asserting that if they did not
rebate, they would not make enough profit to stay in business. In his
testimony to the Senate Cullom Committee, George W. Parker stated,

"...the operating expense of this road...requires a certain volume of
business to meet these fixed expenses....in some seasons of the year,
the local business of the road...is not sufficient to make the
earnings...when we make up a train of ten of fifteen cars of local
freight...we can attach fifteen or twenty cars...of strictly through
business. We can take the latter at a very low rate than go without
it." Later, when asked the consequences of charging local traffic the
same rate as through freight, Mr. Parker responded, "Bankruptcy,
inevitably and speedy...". While the railroads felt that they must use
this practice to make a profit, the farmers were justified in
complaining, for they were seriously injured by it. A perfect example
of this fact can be found in The Octopus by Frank Norris. A farmer
named Dyke discovers that the railroad has increased their freight
charges from two to five cents a pound. This new rate, "...ate up
every cent of his gains. He stood there ruined." (Doc. H). The
railroads regularly used rebates and drawbacks to help win the
business of large shippers, and made up this loss in profit by
increasing the cost to smaller shippers such as farmers. As a result,
many farmers, already hurt by the downslide in agriculture, were
ruined. Thus, the farmers of the late nineteenth century had a valid
complaint against railroad shippers, for these farmers were hurt by
the unfair practices of the railroads.

Near the end of the nineteenth century, business began to
centralize, leading to the rise of monopolies and trusts. Falling
prices, along with the need for better efficiency in industry, led to
the rise of such companies as Carnegie Steel and Standard Oil, which
controlled a majority of the nation's supply of raw steel and oil
respectively. The rise of these monopolies and trusts concerned many
farmers, for they felt that the disappearance of competition would
lead to erratic and unreasonable price rises that would hurt
consumers. James B. Weaver, the Populist party's presidential
candidate in the 1892 election, summed up the feelings of many

Americans of the period in his work, A Call to Action: An

Interpretation of the Great Uprising. He wrote, "It is clear that
trusts are...in conflict with the Common law. They are monopolies
organized to destroy competition and restrain trade.... Once they
secure control of a given line, they are master of the situation...

They can limit the price of the raw material so as to impoverish the
producer, drive him to a single market, reduce the price of every
class of labor connected with the trade, throw out of employment large
numbers persons...and finally...they increase the price to the
consumer.... The main weapons of the trust are threats, intimidation,
bribery, fraud, wreck, and pillage." However, the facts refute many of

Weaver's