ANTIMONOPOLY PARTIES (also known as Re-form or Independent parties) appeared in the old northwest starting in 1873, and their short-lived influence as third parties ended after the presidential election of 1876. These parties appeared briefly in California, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, and Oregon. Forming in Republican-dominated states, these third parties scared the ruling party, although the long-term effect was to split the nascent agrarian movement so badly that it took years to recover.
Antimonopoly parties were organized by farmers, many of whom were members of the Grange (Patrons of Husbandry). Although the Grange began in 1868 as a secret society dedicated to cooperation instead of politics, many Grangers became involved in political movements. Women were recruited for membership and possessed the same right to vote and hold office as male members. As a result, the Grange in the west endorsed women's suffrage and temperance. Grange chapter bylaws forbade the endorsement of political candidates or running for office under the banner of the group; members, however, were encouraged to seek legislative solutions to agrarian problems.
By 1873, when a financial panic gripped Wall Street, antimonopoly parties had been formed in Illinois, Iowa, and Wisconsin by Grange members determined to involve the agrarian movement more directly in politics. In these three states, dissidents broke with their state leaders to help form third-party movements in their states. In Wisconsin, Grange members called for all members interested in a third party to meet at Milwaukee in August 1873. Although state Grange leaders thwarted this meeting, the third-party threat presented by Wisconsin agrarians created uncertainty for the state's Republicans in the 1874 election. Similarly, in Iowa, Grangers contributed to the formation of the state's Antimonopoly Party in 1873. Described by historian D. Sven Nordin as "an illegitimate son of the First Granger Movement" (Rich Harvest, p. 175), the Iowa party united more farmers under one banner than previous organizations, and framed their ideas into a compact of grievances promoting cooperation and denouncing monopolies. A huge drive in
1873 attempted to commit the Illinois State Grange to the Farmers' and People's Antimonopoly Party.
Antimonopoly party platforms reflected farmers' concerns, demanding reduced taxation and governmental and economic reform; in some states, they also sought state regulation of corporations, particularly railroads. In 1874, antimonopolists in Iowa, Minnesota, and Wisconsin helped secure passage of railroad regulatory laws commonly known as the "Granger laws." Electoral victories came that year at the local level in Oregon and Illinois; by fusing with Democrats, antimonopolists elected their entire ticket in Wisconsin and some seats in Iowa.
The rise and fall of Minnesota's third party reflects the tension between Grangers and the antimonopoly movement. Minnesota Grange leader Ignatius Donnelly built grassroots support for a third party in 1873, and although his Antimonopoly Party was defeated that fall, he was elected to the state senate. Donnelly began publishing The Anti-Monopolist in 1874 and attempted to fuse the Grange with the antimonopolists. Although many Grange members joined him, the state's leadership refused to sanction overtly political activities, leading Donnelly to charge them with preserving the Republican Party (and by implication, monopolies) at the expense of farmers. When a farmers' coalition proved insufficient to elect Donnelly to Congress in 1875, he quit the agrarian movement and joined the growing Greenback Party. His career typifies the fragmentation of the agrarian movement and suggests reasons for the demise of antimonopoly parties in 1876.
Nordin, D. Sven. Rich Harvest: A History of the Grange, 1867–1900. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1974.
Summers, Mark Wahlgren. The Gilded Age, or, The Hazard of New Functions. Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1997.