Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 32.djvu/215

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

creased greatly after the close of hostilities, and the tide was swelled by men turned adrift in the disbanding of the armies. The cry was for railroads to open the country, and the speculative spirit, induced by an inflated currency, was quick to second it. Land-grants of enormous extent were made by the General and State governments, and Western municipalities vied Avith each other in bonding themselves to offer inducements to railroad-building. In the years 1865-'71, $500,000,000 was invested in Western railroads. D. C. Cloud, in his “Monopolies and the People,” makes the statement that “one acre out of every eight and a half of the entire area of Iowa has been given away to railroad corporations. . . . There were land-grants, subsidies, bonds, subscriptions, and taxes to the amount of five per cent of our entire valuation in one year.” Every farmer wanted a railroad, and every one with any pretense to economic knowledge wanted two, to keep down charges by competition! Railroads and population reacted on each other. The consequence was, that both railroads and population moved too far west, accumulating debt in the inflated currency as they went. There was little traffic for the railroads in anything but grain. So long as the price of this was high, all went well, and they were suffered to go on their reckless way with little remark save a clamor for more competing roads where the pinch of discrimination was felt. But conditions changed. The price of wheat began to show the effect of the enormous increase of production. The demand caused by the Prusso-Austrian and Franco-German wars ceased. The grasshopper became a burden. The farmers, who had gone into debt in flush times, felt the pinch of an appreciating currency. A villainous tariff, increasing the cost of transportation and of everything they bought, conspired with the rest to produce unavoidable distress. Add to all this the crisis of 1873, and it is not strange that there was a “Farmers' Movement.” “Organize!” was the universal cry, and there were as many reasons for it, in the farmer's mind, as he had needs and grievances, fancied or real, and these were legion. Owing to the change in economic conditions, wheat could no longer pay transportation charges and be profitable. According to the report of the Senate Committee on Transportation to the Seaboard, the average price of wheat in Chicago fell thirty-three cents from 1868-'72, while the charge for transportation to the East fell but nine cents. The farmer was forced to feed his grain to his cattle or use it for fuel. In this state of things the railroad loomed up before him as the only obstacle between himself and his hungry Eastern brother, whose needs he was anxious to supply—for a fair compensation. A toll for transportation exceeding the price he received seemed a priori a monstrous extortion. To aggravate matters, the railroads were run with unparalleled short-sightedness. The term “railroad ofiicial” was a synonym for insolence. There had been great corruption in the building of many of the roads, and such imperfectly comprehended terms as “Crédit