All ETDs from UAB

Advisory Committee Chair

Brian D Steele

Advisory Committee Members

Harriet E Amos Doss

Robert G Corley

Document Type

Thesis

Date of Award

2011

Degree Name by School

Master of Arts (MA) College of Arts and Sciences

Abstract

The traditional story of the Populist movement begins in 1887 where by the leadership of the Farmers' Alliance, agricultural organizations combined to initiate formal political action on behalf of farmers and laborers alike. But proper understanding of the Populists, this study suggests, must begin earlier, in the fluid era of Reconstruction when farmers first began to articulate their concerns and grapple with possible solutions. This study explores earlier manifestations of farmer solidarity, describing the community of like-minded farmers that organized into agricultural groups in the immediate post-Civil War period. Well before the political revolt of the 1890s, southern farmers participated in a regional conversation about the economic and social developments pervading the South following the Civil War. Farmers felt hopeless due to their political, economic, and social ailments: the Reconstruction era disillusioned them about the efficacy of political involvement, the crop lien system shackled the cash strapped countryside, and industrial progress threatened agricultural supremacy. Farmers attempted to reform the public sphere by conversing in newspapers, farm periodicals, annual conventions, and scientific experiments while avoiding the formal political arena. It was in these agricultural papers that farmers with common concerns and goals realized the larger community to which they belonged. Encouraging rural inhabitants to organize for the common good of the countryside, farm advocates promoted farm efficiency, farm beautification, and faithfulness to the agrarian values that had shaped the nation rather than modern industry which they described as alien to the national purpose. In effect, these early farmers insisted on cultural solidarity rather than engagement in the formal political process to preserve the agrarian lifestyle. But they also appealed less to Lost Cause Southern partisanship that has so dominated discussions of the postwar South than to national values threatened by modern industry. Because farmers' organizations rooted their local concerns in the larger story of national meaning and purpose recently shaken by Civil War, their story is as much an episode in American nationalism as in insular regionalism.

Share

COinS