GRANGER MOVEMENT. The Granger movement grew out of a farmers' lodge, the Patrons of Husbandry, founded in 1867 by Oliver Hudson Kelley. While employed by the Department of Agriculture, Kelley made a tour of the South and was struck by the enslavement of southern farmers to outworn methods of agriculture. He believed the situation could best be remedied by an organization that would bring farmers together in groups for the study and discussion of their problems. Accordingly, with the help of a few interested friends, he devised a secret ritualistic order, equally open to women and to men, and became its first organizer. Each local unit, or Grange, was admonished to select among its officers a "lecturer," whose duty should be to provide some educational diversion, such as a lecture or a paper, for every meeting.
In 1868 Kelley started west for his home in Minnesota and began recruiting among his former neighbors. His organization won adherents, less for its social and educational advantages than for the opportunity it presented for farmers to unite against railroads and elevators and to institute cooperative methods of buying and selling. By the end of 1869 there were thirty-seven active Granges in Minnesota. A year later, the order expanded into nine states. During the panic of 1873 there were Granges in every state of the Union but four. Member-ship claims reached a maximum during the mid-1870s of about 800,000, with the total number of Granges estimated at about 20,000. The center of Granger activity remained during the entire period in the grain-growing region of the upper Mississippi Valley.
The grievances that drove the northwestern farmers into these organizations grew out of their almost complete dependence on outside markets for the disposal of their produce and on corporation-owned elevators and railroads for its handling. The high prices that accompanied the Civil War in the United States and the Bismarckian wars in Europe enabled the farmers, during those wars, to pay the high charges the corporations exacted. After these conflicts, when prices began to drop, the grain growers found themselves in acute distress. In 1869 they paid at the rate of 52.5 cents a bushel to send grain from the Mississippi River to the Atlantic seaboard and nearly half as much to send it from an Iowa or Minnesota farm to Chicago. Elevators, often owned by the railroads, charged high prices for their services, weighed and graded grain without supervision, and used their influence with the railroads to ensure that cars were not available to farmers who sought to evade elevator service.
Rumblings of farmer revolt began in the late 1860s, and in 1869 the legislature of Illinois passed an act that required the railroads to charge only "just, reasonable, and uniform rates." The act, however, provided no adequate means of enforcement, and nothing came of it. The next year, Illinois adopted a new constitution in which the legislature was authorized to make laws to correct railway abuses and extortions. Acting on this authority, the legislature of 1871 set maximum freight and passenger rates and established a board of railroad and warehouse commissioners to enforce them. These laws the railroads flatly refused to obey, a position in which they were sustained by the state supreme court. In late 1873, however, a more carefully drawn law ran the gauntlet of a revised supreme court, for in the meantime at a judicial election the angered farmers had replaced one of the offending judges with a judge more Granger-minded.
By that time, the Grange had become far more political than educational in nature and, ably assisted by a host of unaffiliated farmers' clubs, was in the thick of the fight for state regulation of railroads and elevators. At Granger lodge meetings and picnics, farmers exhorted one another to nominate and elect to office only those who shared their views. In case corporation control over the Republican and Democratic Parties could not be overthrown, they planned to form independent, reform, or antimonopoly parties through which to carry on the fight. So many farmers made Independence Day 1873 an occasion for airing these views that the celebration was long remembered as the Farmers' Fourth of July. On that day, many rural audiences listened with approval to the reading of a "Farmers' Declaration of Independence," which recited farmers' grievances and asserted their determination to use the power of the state to free themselves from the tyranny of monopoly. Victories at the polls led to the passage of a series of so-called Granger laws for the regulation of railroads and warehouses, not only in Illinois but also in several other northwestern states. These measures were not always well drawn, and for the most part they were soon repealed or drastically modified. Nevertheless, the U.S. Supreme Court, in Munn v. Illinois and a number of other cases, all decided in 1877, sustained the Granger contention that businesses of a public nature could, in accordance with the federal Constitution, be subjected to state regulation—a precedent of far-reaching consequence.
Equally important as the political activities of the various Granges were their business ventures. Granges founded numerous cooperative elevators, creameries, and general stores, although most of these establishments failed to survive the ruthless competition of private business. The Granges tried many other experiments also, such as buying through purchasing agents or through dealers who quoted special prices to Grangers, patronizing mail-order houses, and manufacturing farm machinery. The last-mentioned undertaking, ill conceived and overdone, resulted in serious financial reverses and had much to do with the sudden decline in Granger popularity that, beginning about 1876, brought the movement to an untimely end.
Despite its short span of life, the Granger movement had taught farmers many things. They had learned that their political power, when they chose to use it, was great. They found that business cooperatives, although hazardous, might limit the toll paid to middlemen and that such social and educational activities as the Grange had fostered could greatly brighten rural life. The Patrons of Husbandry as a lodge survived the Granger movement, won new eastern adherents to replace the western deserters, and in the twentieth century even recovered some of its influence in politics.
———. The Granger Movement. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1963.
Cartensen, Vernon R., ed. Farmer Discontent, 1865–1900. New York: Wiley, 1974.
Marti, Donald B. Women of the Grange. New York: Greenwood Press, 1991.
Nordin, Dennis S. Rich Harvest: A History of the Grange, 1867–1900. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1974.
Woods, Thomas A. Knights of the Plow: Oliver H. Kelley and the Origins of the Grange in Republican Ideology. Ames: Iowa State University Press, 1991.
John D.Hicks/h. s.
The Granger Movement was begun in the late 1860s by farmers who called for government regulation of railroads and other industries whose prices and practices, they claimed, were monopolistic and unfair. Their efforts contributed to a growing public sentiment against monopolies, which culminated in the passage of the Sherman Act (or sherman anti-trust act) of 1890, 15 U.S.C.A. §§ 1–7.
In 1867, the American farmer was in desperate straits. Needing better educational opportunities and protection from exorbitant prices charged by middlemen, the farmers decided to form an independent group to achieve their goals.
Oliver Hudson Kelley, a former employee of the agriculture department, organized a group called the Patrons of Husbandry. Membership was open to both men and women, and each local group was known as a Grange. Each Grange chose officers, and the goal of each meeting was to present news of educational value to the farmer.
Kelley traveled across the country establishing Granges; he found his greatest support in Minnesota. The Granges soon evolved into the national Granger Movement. By 1873, all but four states had Granges.
The main problems confronting the Granger Movement concerned corporate ownership of grain elevators (used for the storage of crops) and railroads. These corporations charged high prices for the distribution and marketing of agricultural goods, and the farmer had no recourse but to pay. By 1873, the movement was becoming political, and the farmers formed an alliance, promising to support only political candidates who shared the interests of farmers; if that failed, they vowed to form their own parties.
Granger-supported candidates won political victories, and, as a result, much legislation protective of their interests was passed. Their biggest gain occurred in 1876, when the U.S. Supreme Court decreed in munn v. illinois, 94 U.S. (4 Otto.) 113, 24 L. Ed. 77, that states had the right to intervene in the regulation of public businesses. The law affected the prices of elevator charges, grain storage, and other services vital to the livelihood of the farmers.
In addition to political involvement, the Grangers established stores and cooperative elevators and employed the services of agents who secured special prices for the Grangers. These endeavors were not as successful as their previous undertakings, and the attempt to manufacture farm machinery depleted the finances of the movement. As a result, the Granger Movement began to wane in 1876.