The Farmer's Last Frontier: Agriculture, 1860-1897

By Fred A. Shannon | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XII
Governmental Activity in Agriculture

STATE AGENCIES

FROM the preceding chapters, it should be apparent that governments had a distinct influence on agricultural advance, even if not always on behalf of the farmer. The federal land laws, for example, were of the most vital importance in the expansion of fanning and grazing throughout the West. Always these acts were so worded as to convey the impression that the man of little means was to be benefited, or, as in the railroad grants, that the general welfare was to be advanced. But, at the same time, the legislation was so shaped as to give the main advantage to speculators and other land monopolists. The same interests were served by the public policies of the states. The lien laws and disfranchisement provisions of the South were to perpetuate the control of the section by the landlordmerchants. The agricultural and horticultural boards of the Pacific coast, whose reports to the legislatures show even more than do their names their connection with the state governments, were concerned mainly with combating outside influences that conflicted with the prosperity of the greater landlords. Occasionally, as in the case of the Granger laws of the 1870's, the rank and file of the farmers executed a coup of their own, but never to the extent of relieving the tenant or agricultural wage laborer. Again, it was the landowner fighting to retain his equity. But governments could not ignore the humbler voters entirely, and, in those states where even the tenant and wage farmer had the suffrage, some benefits sifted down to the lower stratum. Furthermore, inasmuch as the activity

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