The Decline of Agriculture
WHILE the cities grew and prospered, rural America declined. The nineties marked in many ways the lowest status of the farmer in American history; progress seemed to be passing him by. In fact the farmer was as deeply involved in progress as anyone else; industrialism revolutionized and in the long run benefited agriculture. But the benefits of industrialism were not yet apparent, while its hardships were everywhere to be seen. Somehow the farmer had to accommodate himself to profound changes in his way of life, but the process was bound to be painful and the accommodation never quite complete as long as those changes threatened to reduce him to destitution. He could hardly be blamed if he failed to achieve a philosophical detachment in the face of adversity; peace of mind had to wait on rising prices.
By 1890 the day of the self-sufficing farm (if such a unit ever existed) had long since passed, and money payments had everywhere supplanted barter. Most farmers now raised little for their own use; most of what they produced they sold. The tiller of the soil had become a commercial farmer, and with that his outlook and psychology changed. He found himself in competition with other farmers, not only in his immediate neighborhood, but in other parts of the country and even in foreign countries. He was now a small entrepreneur, a speculator, a harassed businessman at the mercy of supply and demand as well as all of the uncertainties with which farmers normally had to contend. His ability to provide a living for his family came to depend on forces largely beyond his control.
The farmhouse no longer functioned as a manufacturing unit, since