The agrarian populist revolt of the 1890’s


From the amazing Democracy School subsite at the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund

The Agrarian Populist Movement was the largest people’s struggle for democracy in U.S. history. After the Civil War, with the demise of the Slave State and the rise of the Corporate State, capital became increasingly concentrated and farmers across the continent were being divested of their land at a rapid pace. The consolidation of land ownership into fewer and fewer hands was the result of the draconian Crop Lien System. In the absence of banks throughout rural America following the war, privateering Furnishing Agents extended credit to farmers at usurious rates of interest. Purchasing goods, farm tools and seeds at 100% – 200% interest from Furnishing Agents, who sold materials on consignment from Northern merchants, left farmers with mounting debts at the end of each season.

The Populists responded by creating Cooperative Warehouses. They attempted to command a better price for their crops by bulking their harvests.

Their message of co-operative self-help spread through the country, and they took control of several state legislatures and elected members of Congress. Which of course presented a major threat to the ruling class who rammed through the bogus finding that corporations have “personhood,” which gave corporations legal protection with none of accompanying responsibility. The banks also deliberately withheld loans from populist co-ops so as to destroy them. By 1900, it was mostly over. The populist revolt was spent, and corporatism was in the ascendant. But many of the things they fought for did end up becoming law.

But hey, what goes around, comes around. I’d say the country is ready for – if not already in the early stages of – another populist uprising.

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