Up from the Mudsills of Hell: The Farmers' Alliance, Populism, and Progressive Agriculture in Tennessee, 1870-1915

By Connie L. Lester | Go to book overview

CHAPTER FOUR
FARM ISSUES
IN THE POLITICAL
ECONOMY

If a man loves his party better than the great welfare of the laboring masses, he had
better stay with his party and not disturb the harmony of our order
.
—ROBBIE RUSKINS, correspondent to the Toiler, 1888

Wheel and Alliance ideology always left the door open to political action. As McDowell so often noted, the solution to the agrarian crisis rested in the ballot box, and the problems encountered in establishing the state’s cooperatives made politics more attractive. In addition, farmers needed state law to protect their business arrangements, and they wanted control over rural institutions: local schools, the land-grant university, and the Bureau of Agriculture. As important as state political action was, advancing rural interests nationally took precedence. With the merger of the Wheel and Alliance, the agrarian movement shifted from an emphasis on community action to a more focused effort to elect likeminded men to the state legislature and congress. Although the majority of rural voters cast their ballots for Democratic Party candidates, the nonpartisan policy advocated by the Wheel and Alliance forced candidates to measure up to the agrarian “yardstick” in their campaign promises.

The questions farmers raised framed the conflict of the age—the role of the individual and the community in the battle between capitalism and democracy. Agrarian leaders understood that they must act nationally to protect their local communities and their livelihoods as independent producers. On the national scene they demanded transportation and communication regulation or nationalization as necessary to the common good. Farmers advocated abolition of the national banking system, federal regulation of currency, and the subtreasury scheme to improve access to capital, provide farmer control over commodity

-123-

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Up from the Mudsills of Hell: The Farmers' Alliance, Populism, and Progressive Agriculture in Tennessee, 1870-1915
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Illustrations ix
  • Acknowledgments xi
  • Introduction 1
  • Chapter One - Surveying the Barnyards 9
  • Chapter Two - Organizing for the Grand Work 49
  • Chapter Three - Building Cooperativism 87
  • Chapter Four - Farm Issues in the Political Economy 123
  • Chapter Five - From Nonpartisan Politics to Populism 157
  • Chapter Six - Up from the Mudsills of Hell 208
  • Notes 251
  • Bibliography 281
  • Index 311
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