Traditional Values and Progressive Desires: Tensions of Identity in the Rhetoric of the Granger Movement in Illinois, 1870-1875

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In the decade following the Civil War, Illinois Farmers suffered from a variety of economic problems such as deflated currency, increased agricultural production, international competition, high tariffs, expensive farm implements, high transportation rates, high taxes, and the occasional natural disaster. Scattered, powerless, and dependent, Illinois farmers were especially vulnerable to a political and economic system controlled by corporate monopolies, corrupt and unresponsive government, and an endless procession of middlemen waiting to take their share of the farmers' hard-earned profits.

Farmers responded by forming the Granger movement, the first large-scale farmers' movement in the United States and the initial episode of a broader farmers' movement in the late nineteenth century. Granger movement rhetoric constituted Illinois farmers as powerful agents of change by transforming them from individual actors into the agricultural class, a powerful collective identity motivated for political and economic action. Movement rhetoric did so by drawing upon the motivational power of three strands of American public discourse--the agrarian myth, the rhetoric of class, and the legacy of the American Revolution--to create a narrative that empowered Midwestern farmers to see the dire consequences of their agrarian individualism and to constitute themselves as a class that could adequately respond to their material conditions in the late nineteenth century.