Farmers' Alliance
The Farmers Alliance was an organized agrarian economic
Economics is the social science that analyzes the production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services. The term economics comes from the Ancient Greek from + , hence "rules of the house"...

 movement amongst U.S.
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 farmers that flourished in the 1880s. One of the goals of the organization was to end the adverse effects of the crop-lien system
Crop-lien system
The crop-lien system is a credit system that became widely used by farmers in the United States in the South from the 1860s to the 1920sAfter the American Civil War, farmers in the South had little cash. The crop-lien system was a way for farmers to get credit before the planting season by...

 on farmers after the American Civil War
American Civil War
The American Civil War was a civil war fought in the United States of America. In response to the election of Abraham Lincoln as President of the United States, 11 southern slave states declared their secession from the United States and formed the Confederate States of America ; the other 25...

. First formed in 1876 in Lampasas, Texas
Lampasas, Texas
Lampasas is a city in Lampasas County, Texas, United States. The population was 6,786 at the 2000 census. It is the seat of Lampasas County.Lampasas is part of the Killeen–Temple–Fort Hood Metropolitan Statistical Area.-History:...

, the Alliance was designed to promote higher commodity prices through collective action by groups of individual farmers. The movement was strongest in the South, and was widely popular before it was destroyed by the power of commodity broker
Commodity broker
A commodity broker is a firm or individual who executes orders to buy or sell commodity contracts on behalf of clients and charges them a commission. A firm or individual who trades for his own account is called a trader. Commodity contracts include futures, options, and similar financial...

s. Despite its failure, it is regarded as the precursor to the Populist Party, which grew out of the ashes of the Alliance in 1892.

The beginnings, expansion and attempt for a united alliance

The agrarian movement of the late 19th century witnessed the emergence and eventual amalgamation of numerous farming unions and alliances. Among the most popular and influential groups were (in order of origin) were :
  1. The Grange, or Order of Patrons of Husbandry (1867)
  2. The National Farmers` Alliance (1880)
  3. The National Farmers` Alliance and Industrial Union (1875 – official charter in 1880)
  4. The Colored Farmers` Alliance and Co-operative Union (1886)
  5. The Farmers` Mutual Benefit Association (National order founded in (1887)
  6. The Supreme Association of the Patrons of Industry of North America (1890)
  7. The National Farmers` League (1890)

The most powerful and largest organizations were the Farmers’ Alliances: the Northern or Northwestern Alliance, the Southern Alliance, and the Colored Farmers’ Alliance and Co-operative Union. While all three organizations understood the need for unity among farmers and pursued similar objectives, the three organizations remained independent of each other.

The Northern or Northwestern Alliance (officially known as the National Farmers` Alliance) was organized in Cook County, Illinois in October 1880 as a response to the fading of Grange life, and the declining passion for anti-railroad efforts. The new movement strove to protect farmers from the capitalistic and industrial powers of monopolies (such as railroads) and unsympathetic public officials. The Northern Alliance sought to enact a more equitable tax system on mortgage property, pass income tax law, abolish free travel passes to public officials, and regulate interstate commerce by Congress.

The Southern Alliance (formerly known as the National Farmers’ Alliance and Industrial Union), among the most powerful orders, developed in 1887 through the merger of several smaller organizations: the Texas Alliance (founded in 1875) and the Louisiana Union. This was one of the first steps in unifying farmers along the American cotton belt. The demands of the Southern Alliance were similar to those of its northern counterpart. They pressed for abolition of national banks and monopolies, free coinage of silver
Free Silver
Free Silver was an important United States political policy issue in the late 19th century and early 20th century. Its advocates were in favor of an inflationary monetary policy using the "free coinage of silver" as opposed to the less inflationary Gold Standard; its supporters were called...

, issuance of paper money (Greenback or Fiat money), loans on land, establishment of sub-treasuries, income tax acts, and revision of tariffs. Further steps were taken to continue the unification of farmers, and in 1889 in Meridian, the National Farmers’ Union and Cooperative Union joined with the Agricultural Wheel to form the National Farmers’ and Laborers’ Union of America. Negotiations were in place to unite the Northern Alliance and Southern Alliance to strengthen the movement.

The merger of the two organizations would have created a powerful united front. The Northern Alliance had three conditions on which they would be willing to join forces: (1) changing the name to the National Farmers’ Alliance and Industrial Union, (2) eliminating the word “white” from the qualifications for membership and (3) allowing states the option of secrecy. The Southern Alliance acknowledged the first and second (which was actually required by the new constitution) but refused the third condition.

Other factors also contributed to the breakdown of negotiations: the differences between the governing bodies, membership size and classes, divergent views on African-American membership, and conflict between Southern and Northern farmers' economic interests.

Effects of the Alliance

The accomplishments of the Farmers’ Alliance are numerous. For example, many Alliance chapters all set up their own local cooperative stores, which bought directly from wholesalers and sold their goods to farmers at a lower rate. Some of these stores reported annual sales ranging from $5,000 to $36,000 and claimed to sell goods at 20 to 30 percent below regular retail price. Such stores achieved only limited success, however, since they faced the hostility of wholesale merchants. Moreover, local retail merchants sometimes retaliated against the Alliance stores by temporarily lowering their prices in order to drive the Alliance stores out of business.

Additionally, the Farmer's Alliance established its own mills for flour
Flour is a powder which is made by grinding cereal grains, other seeds or roots . It is the main ingredient of bread, which is a staple food for many cultures, making the availability of adequate supplies of flour a major economic and political issue at various times throughout history...

, cottonseed oil
Cottonseed oil
Cottonseed oil is a cooking oil extracted from the seeds of cotton plant of various species, mainly Gossypium hirsutum and Gossypium herbaceum...

, and corn
Maize known in many English-speaking countries as corn or mielie/mealie, is a grain domesticated by indigenous peoples in Mesoamerica in prehistoric times. The leafy stalk produces ears which contain seeds called kernels. Though technically a grain, maize kernels are used in cooking as a vegetable...

, as well as its own cotton gin
Cotton gin
A cotton gin is a machine that quickly and easily separates cotton fibers from their seeds, a job formerly performed painstakingly by hand...

. Such facilities allowed debt-laden farmers, who often had little cash to pay third-party mills, to bring their goods to markets at a lower cost.

The national agenda

The limited effects of the local policies of the Alliance did little to address the overall problem of deflation and depressed agricultural prices. By 1886, tensions had begun to form in the movement between the political activists, who promoted a national political agenda, and the political conservatives, who favored no change in national policy but a "strictly business" plan of local economic action. In Texas, the split reached a climax in August 1886 at the statewide convention in Cleburne
Cleburne, Texas
Cleburne is a city in Johnson County, Texas, United States, and a suburb of Fort Worth. According to 2007 United States Census Bureau estimates, the population is 29,050. It is the county seat of Johnson County. Cleburne is named for a Confederate General, Patrick Cleburne...

. The political activists successfully lobbied for passage of a set of political demands that included support of the Knights of Labor
Knights of Labor
The Knights of Labor was the largest and one of the most important American labor organizations of the 1880s. Its most important leader was Terence Powderly...

 and the Great Southwest Railroad Strike of 1886
Great Southwest Railroad Strike of 1886
The Great Southwest Railroad Strike of 1885 was a labor union strike against the Union Pacific and Missouri Pacific railroads involving more than 200,000 workers. In March 1886, railroad workers in the Southwest United States conducted an unsuccessful strike against railroads owned by Jay Gould,...

. Other demands include changes in governmental land policy, and railroad regulation. The demands also included a demand for use of silver
Silver is a metallic chemical element with the chemical symbol Ag and atomic number 47. A soft, white, lustrous transition metal, it has the highest electrical conductivity of any element and the highest thermal conductivity of any metal...

 as legal tender
Legal tender
Legal tender is a medium of payment allowed by law or recognized by a legal system to be valid for meeting a financial obligation. Paper currency is a common form of legal tender in many countries....

, on the grounds that this would alleviate the contraction in the money supply that led to falling prices and scarcity of credit (see gold standard
Gold standard
The gold standard is a monetary system in which the standard economic unit of account is a fixed mass of gold. There are distinct kinds of gold standard...


The political activism of the Alliance gained strength in the late 1880s, merging with the nearly 500,000 member Agricultural Wheel
Agricultural Wheel
The Agricultural Wheel was a cooperative alliance of farmers in the United States that existed from 1882 until 1889 when it merged with the National Farmers' Alliance to form the Farmers' and Laborers' Union of America. It was initially started by W. W...

 in 1888. In the South, the agenda centered on demands of government control of transportation and communication, in order to break the power of corporate monopolies. It also included a demand for a national "subtreasury" plan that would allow easier credit for agriculture, thus breaking the power of the centralized eastern banks over farmers in the rural South and West. The Southern Alliance also demanded reforms of currency, land ownership, and income tax policies. Meanwhile, the Northern Alliance stressed the demand for free coinage of large amounts of silver.

Political activists in the movement also made attempts to unite the two Alliance organizations, along with the Knights of Labor
Knights of Labor
The Knights of Labor was the largest and one of the most important American labor organizations of the 1880s. Its most important leader was Terence Powderly...

 and the Colored Farmers' National Alliance and Cooperative Union
Colored Farmers' National Alliance and Cooperative Union
Colored Farmers' National Alliance and Cooperative Union was formed in the 1880s in the USA, when both black and white farmers faced great difficulties due to the rising price of farming and the decreasing profits which were coming from farming. At this time the Southern Farmers' alliance which...

, into a common movement. The efforts and unification proved futile, however, and the Southern Alliance organized on its own, eventually reaching 43 states. The Alliance movement as a whole reached over 750,000 by 1890.

Downfall and transition to the Populist movement

As an economic movement, the Alliance had a very limited and short term success. Cotton
Cotton is a soft, fluffy staple fiber that grows in a boll, or protective capsule, around the seeds of cotton plants of the genus Gossypium. The fiber is almost pure cellulose. The botanical purpose of cotton fiber is to aid in seed dispersal....

 brokers who had previously negotiated with individual farmers for ten bales at a time now needed to strike deals with the Alliancemen for 1,000 bale sales. This solidarity was usually short-lived, however, and could not withstand the retaliation from the commodities brokers and railroads, who responded by boycotting the Alliance and eventually broke the power of the movement. The Alliance had never fielded its own political candidates. It preferred to work through the established Republican and Democratic parties which often proved fickle in supporting the agenda of the Alliance.

The Alliance failed as an economic movement, but it is regarded by historians as engendering a "movement culture" among the rural poor. This failure prompted an evolution of the Alliance into a political movement to field its own candidates in national elections. In 1889–1890, the Alliance was reborn as the Populist Party
Populist Party (United States)
The People's Party, also known as the "Populists", was a short-lived political party in the United States established in 1891. It was most important in 1892-96, then rapidly faded away...

 (i.e., "People's Party"), and included both Alliancemen and Knights of Labor
Knights of Labor
The Knights of Labor was the largest and one of the most important American labor organizations of the 1880s. Its most important leader was Terence Powderly...

 members from the industrialized Northeast. The Populist Party, which fielded national candidates in the 1892 election, essentially repeated all the demands of the Alliance in its platform.

Well-known Alliancemen

  • John Rankin Rogers
    John Rankin Rogers
    John Rankin Rogers was the third Governor of the state of Washington. Elected as a member of the People's Party before switching his affiliation to the Democratic Party, Rogers was elected to two consecutive terms in 1896 and 1900, but died before completing his fifth year in office.-Early...

    , two term Washington State Governor 1897-1901.
  • Marion Butler
    Marion Butler
    Marion Butler was a Populist U.S. senator from the state of North Carolina between 1895 and 1901.-Early life:Butler was born in rural Sampson County, North Carolina during the American Civil War. He was a graduate of the University of North Carolina, where he was a member of the Philanthropic...

    , one-term U.S. Senator from North Carolina, 1895-1901.

Populist publications

  • American Nonconformist, Tabor, Iowa
    Tabor, Iowa
    Tabor is a city in Fremont and Mills counties in the U.S. state of Iowa. The population was 993 at the 2000 census.-Geography:Tabor is located at ....

    . Edited by Henry Vincent
    Henry Vincent
    Henry Vincent was active in the formation of early Working Men's Associations in Britain, a popular Chartist leader, brilliant and gifted public orator, prospective but ultimately unsuccessful Victorian MP, and later an anti-slavery campaigner.- Early life :Henry Vincent was born in High Holborn,...

  • Alliance Vindicator, Texas. Edited by James H. Davis
  • The Appeal to Reason, Girard, Kansas
    Girard, Kansas
    Girard is a city in and the county seat of Crawford County, Kansas, United States. As of the 2010 census, the city population was 2,789.- History :...

    . Edited by Julius Wayland
    Julius Wayland
    Julius Wayland was a Mid-Western US socialist during the Progressive Era. He is most noted for publishing Appeal to Reason, a socialist publication often deemed to be the most important socialist periodical of the time....

  • National Economist, Washington D.C. Edited by Charles William Macune
    Charles Macune
    Charles Macune was a leader of the Farmers Alliance and editor of its theoretical publication the National Economist. He formulated the subtreasury plan which maintained the integrity of the Alliance and addressed the tight credit which caused the failure of its cooperative warehouses.A Democrat,...

  • National Reform Press Association
  • Progressive Farmer
    Progressive Farmer
    DTN/The Progressive Farmer is a country life oriented magazine, published twelve times a year by DTN, a division of Telvent. The magazine is based in Birmingham, Alabama.-History:...

    , North Carolina. Edited by Leonidas LaFayette Polk
    Leonidas L. Polk
    Leonidas Lafayette Polk , or L.L. Polk, was an American farmer, journalist and political figure.He was born in Anson County, North Carolina. L.L...

  • Southern Mercury, Dallas, Texas.

Further reading

External links

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