The Granger Movement
The frustration of Illinois farmers after the Civil War was apparent in numerous uprisings. When the seemingly endless prosperity of the war ceased, farmers were left in disarray. Many had gone deeply in debt buying land and farm machinery. The Grange movement was fostered by farmers' thirst for renewed prosperity.
While farmers were having difficulty maintaining their standard of living, they believed that urban people prospered. To encourage interest in agriculture, a group of farmers formed clubs called Granges. The formal name for the organization was the Patrons of Husbandry, which Oliver Kelley founded in 1867. The movement began in Minnesota where Kelley lived; however, it quickly spread throughout the United States and to Illinois in 1868.
One of the Grange's goals was to buy new farm machinery at bargain prices. Some supply houses for this machinery opened in Chicago. One of the first mail-order houses was Montgomery Ward. Improvements like the new machinery were results of the collaborative efforts of the Grange, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the State Department.
Another purpose of the Grange was to encourage legislation beneficial to farmers. The Grange wanted to ensure that railroads would charge farmers fair prices for the shipment of their products abroad because the fares seemed to be rising steadily. Finally, after 1870, the Illinois General Assembly passed laws making rate fixing illegal, as legislation was needed to help ease the protests of the farmers.
Members of the Grange in Illinois differed from members in other states in one significant way. They persisted in their efforts even though the pressure from the state courts was strong. The state courts declared the laws passed by the General Assembly unconstitutional, thus making the Grangers' goal more difficult to attain. In 1873 legislation was passed by the General Assembly stating that the Illinois Railroad and Warehouse Commission had the power to regulate railroad rates. The legislation was upheld and achieved a Grange goal.
The Granger movement had other effects on the farming industry. It helped spread the demand for farm education and the use of new techniques and equipment. The Grange deserves study in the history of Illinois agriculture.—[From Theodore Calvin Pease, The Story of Illinois; Robert P. Howard, Illinois: A History of the Prairie State; Robert M. Sutton, The Heartland.]