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Unformatted text preview: 1535 "Why the Farmers Were Wrong" 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 seasons of the year, the local business of the road....
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- Spring '10