William L. Wilson and Tariff Reform, a Biography

By Festus P. Summers | Go to book overview

CHAPTER VIII
The Scholar in Politics [1890-1892]

THE DEMOCRATIC VICTORY Of 1890 obviously comprehended more than the triumph of Jeffersonian principles of government. While the con- gressional campaign had followed the conservative line of tariff reform in the North and East it had been guided elsewhere by the movement then sweeping the agricultural sections of America under the name of the Populist Revolt. Whatever the cause, the tightness of money and bank credit, high interest and exorbitant freight rates, periodic visitations of drought, storms and insects, over-production of staple crops, and the decline of farm income had combined to bring financial ruin upon those sections of the country that produced its food and clothing. Since the mid-eighties the farmer had struggled year in and year out raising 15-cent oats, 30-cent corn, and 6-cent cotton, while the railroad owner, the industrialist, the banker, the merchant, and the middle-man-themselves the beneficiaries of government through land grants, gifts, loans, and the operation of such legislation as the National Banking Act, the patent laws, and the protective tariff-not only ig- nored the farmer's plight but scorned his demand for government relief as irrational and socialistic.

By 1890, the embattled farmers were organized and united behind a program which contemplated political action. The platform adopted by the National Farmers' Alliance and Industrial Union and endorsed by the Knights of Labor at St. Louis in 1889, for example, included the following demands: land reform which would prohibit the alien owner- ship of land and the monopolization of land for speculative purposes; the reclamation by the government of lands held by railroads and other corporations in excess of their actual needs; government loans at low interest on the security of non-perishable agricultural products; govern- ment ownership of communications and transportation; a graduated

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