Populism and the Grange
Following the Civil War, freight tariffs for the Railways spiked as companies sought to regain money for their stockholders.1 Conglomerates and corporations that frequented the railroads negotiated or threatened their way to lower rates, getting away with paying as little as possible. It fell to America’s farmers to provide the lost money, whether they wanted to or not.2
The high tariffs the railroads enforced hurt many farmers and caused many more to grow dissatisfied with what they viewed was an unjust, un-American system of economic enslavement. Oftentimes the amount of money a farmer was forced to pay to get his goods to market in the city was more than he would make from selling those goods. Farmers across the country met in secret and organized fraternal organizations to combat the unjust prices. The Patrons of Husbandry—also known as the Grange—gained power in Wooster following a series of countrywide recessions, demanding that the railroads charge a “just and equitable amount” for using their services.3
The demands of the Grange went hand-in hand with another movement of the era: Populism. In Wooster, Populism manifested as opposition to the interest rates banks forced on farmers, as well as criticism of the political corruption in cities and the government that allowed the railroad to get away with charging exorbitant rates.
Ultimately, the members of the Wooster Grange were unable to pass any of their demands, and the counter-rails movement completely dissolved by the mid 1880's.4 The grange still operated well into the 1900's, and the Grange hall can still be found near the old fairgrounds today.
1 Fishlow, Albert. American Railroads and the Transformation of the Ante-Bellum Economy. (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1965.) 102.
2 Fishlow, 103.
3 Lewis, Arnold. Wooster in 1876. (Wooster: Art Center Museum, the College of Wooster, 1976), 111.
4 Lewis, 111.