Granger movement

Granger movement, American agrarian movement taking its name from the National Grange of the Patrons of Husbandry, an organization founded in 1867 by Oliver H. Kelley and six associates. Its local units were called granges and its members grangers. The movement grew slowly until after the Panic of 1873, when it expanded rapidly, reaching its membership peak in 1875. Although established originally for social and educational purposes, the local granges became political forums and increased in number as channels of farmer protest against economic abuses of the day. The granges sought to correct these abuses through cooperative enterprise. They were in part successful with the establishment of stores, grain elevators, and mills, but they met disaster in their attempt to manufacture farm machinery. Through political activity the grangers captured several state legislatures in the Middle West and secured the passage in Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Iowa of the so-called Granger laws, setting or authorizing maximum railroad rates and establishing state railroad commissions for administering the new legislation. There was also legislation covering warehouses and elevators. Railroads and other interested parties challenged the constitutionality of these laws in the Granger Cases. But the U.S. Supreme Court, in Munn v. Illinois (1876), established as constitutional the principle of public regulation of private utilities devoted to public use. The Granger movement thus revealed the farmer as a political power and forced the older parties to give more attention to his demands. Inadequacy of state regulation, plus the weakening of the Munn v. Illinois ruling by the Wabash Case (1886), led to demands for national legislation. After 1876 the Greenback party, the Farmers' Alliance, and, finally, the Populist party expressed much of the agrarian protest, and the granges reverted to their original role, as purely social organizations. They continued to exist in the East, especially in New England, where they had been least active politically.

See studies by J. D. McCabe (1873, repr. 1969) and S. J. Buck (1913, repr. 1963).

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