Chapter XXVIII

Farmers and Immigrants

Part I

After the Homestead Act was passed, many people came to the West to get free land. Most of them had very little money. However, they needed money to build a house, to buy horses, to buy a plow, a reaper, and other farm equipment. So they borrowed money from banks. Almost all of the farmers were in debt to the banks.

But in the 1880's, deflation set in. Deflation is the opposite of inflation. During inflation, prices go up. During deflation, prices come down. Deflation was a very big problem for the farmers. The price at which they could sell wheat and corn became low. When the farmers sold their wheat and corn, they did not get enough money to make the payments to the banks. Many of the farmers wanted some inflation so that they could get enough money for their crop so that they could make the payments to the bank. The farmers knew that the only way they could get inflation would be by increasing the money supply. At that time, America was on the gold standard. The amount of money in circulation was dependent on the amount of gold that the American government had. The farmers began to think about how to increase the amount of money in circulation. One idea was to use silver as well as gold for the money supply. At that time, many new silver mines were opened in the west. If silver was also used as money, there would be much more money in circulation and this would cause some inflation. At that time, paper money was called "greenbacks". Another idea was to print more greenbacks. This would most certainly cause some inflation. The farmers wanted some inflation. They thought that this was the only way they could get enough money to pay their debts to the banks.

However, the people who owned the banks did not want inflation. Most of them belonged to the Republican Party. Most people in the cities did not want inflation. If there was inflation, everything would cost more, and the city people would not be able to buy as much with their money. At that time, the cities were in the East. People in the East controlled both the Republican and the Democratic Parties, so both parties were against inflation.

The farmers had other problems. The farmers in the West were very far from the cities of the East, and further still from Europe. The people who would buy the flour made of the wheat lived far away. The railroads carried the wheat to the cities of the East and to the ports where it could be loaded onto ships to Europe. But the railroads charged very much money for transporting the wheat. The owners of the railroads became very rich by hauling wheat to the East at a time when the farmers worked very hard and got very little money for their crop. At first, the farmers wanted the government to control prices on the railroads. Later, the farmers began to demand that the government own the railroads.

The farmers decided they had to have an organization. They formed several organizations. One of the most important was the National Farmers Alliance. In the South there was created another similar organization known as the Southern Alliance. In 1890, these organizations ran candidates in the elections. They won control of the legislatures in twelve states. They elected six governors, three senators, and about fifty Congressmen.

In 1892, neither the Republicans nor the Democrats would support the demands of the farmers. So the farmers had to organize a new political party. The farmers called their new party the People's Party or the Populist Party. Its main goal was to get some inflation.

In the election of 1892, there were three parties. The Democratic candidate, Grover Cleveland, won.



Grover Cleveland




Benjamin Harrison



James B. Weaver


The Populists won in only six states. They only elected twelve senators and congressmen. This election showed very clearly that the farmers did not have enough strength and their political organizations began to fall apart. By 1900, prices for grain began to go up again because people in Europe were buying more wheat.

By 1890, all of the free land in the West was taken. After that, if people wanted a farm, they had to buy the land from another farmer. The more successful farmers began buying the land of their poorer neighbors. The poorer farmers who sold their land went to work in the cities. Today, only about 2 percent of the American people are farmers.

Part II

After the Civil War, the number of immigrants from Europe began to increase. This was the beginning of a great wave of immigration that was to last until the beginning of World War I. By 1914, half of the workers in American factories were immigrants. Some people came to get free land in the West. Many more came to work in the new factories and mines that were being opened. Between 1860 and 1900, the population of the USA more than doubled. It increased from 31 million to 76 million. During this period about 14 million immigrants came. Until about 1880, most immigrants came from Germany and northwestern Europe. But after 1880, over half of the immigrants came from Eastern and Southern Europe. These immigrants did not have money for farms or businesses. They went to work in cities or in mines where they dug coal or iron ore. About 1890, Ukrainian immigrants began to arrive. The first wave of Ukrainians came from Austro-Hungary. Ukrainians from Russia did not start coming in large numbers until after 1900. These immigrants mostly went to work in the coal mines, steel mills, and rubber mills to do the heavy dirty work. The Jewish immigration was much larger than the Ukrainian. The largest group of Jews settled in New York City. Many of them went to work in clothing factories. However, the Polish and Italian immigrations were much larger than the Jewish or Ukrainian.