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The 1890's
Really Down on the Farm - "Sockless Jerry" and the Populist Party



Really Down on the Farm - "Sockless Jerry" and the Populist Party
Reading Level
     edHelper's suggested reading level:   grades 5 to 6
     Flesch-Kincaid grade level:   4.2

Vocabulary
     challenging words:    hosiery, later-things, sockless, tariff, plush, margin, pointed, based, overseas, inflation, ordinary, enterprise, bushel, income, banks, speaker
     content words:    Gilded Age, King Midas-everything, Sherman Silver Act, Jeremiah Simpson, Jerry Simpson, Sockless Jerry, William Jennings Bryan, Republican William McKinley, Populist Party


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Really Down on the Farm - "Sockless Jerry" and the Populist Party
By Toni Lee Robinson
  

1     In the 1890s, farmers in the U.S. were having a bad time. It wasn't the work itself that was getting harder. New machines and methods made growing the nation's crops easier. It was making ends meet that was getting tough.
 
2     The 1890s was called "the Gilded Age." (Gilded means edged with gold.) Some people in the 90s were like King Midas-everything they touched turned to gold. Industry was booming. Big business got lots of help. Lawmakers were careful not to make any rules that got in the way of free enterprise. They also made sure that prices of U.S. goods were protected by tariff laws. All except farm products, that is.
 
3     There were no tariffs (extra charges) on farm goods from other countries. U.S. farmers had to sell their crops side by side with cheap imported goods. That meant they didn't make much money. Yet farmers had to pay high prices for things they needed. Supplies and tools used on farms were among the items protected by tariffs.
 
4     Farmers also had to pay high prices to ship crops to market. Most goods in the U.S. traveled by rail. Railroads could charge anything they wanted. They gave big customers, like factories, breaks on their shipping costs. Farmers didn't ship much at one time. They had to pay full price.
 
5     Farms didn't get any help from tax laws, either. Big companies wormed their way through all the loopholes, legal or not. There were no breaks for land or equipment. Farmers got zapped with lots of taxes. Big business could pass higher expenses on to customers. Farmers couldn't pass on anything. The market was loaded with farm products from the U.S. and overseas. Prices were low and getting lower.
 
6     In 1890, Kansas corn was selling for just ten cents a bushel. It was cheaper to keep the corn than sell it. Instead of getting a paycheck for all their hard work, farmers burned their corn for fuel. Georgia cotton farmers were getting five cents a pound for their crop. That was two cents a pound less than what it cost to grow and ship it!
 
7     Farm woes were going from bad to worse. Farmers had taken out loans to make it through. When borrowed money couldn't be paid back, banks took over. Farmers were in a fix. Soon many of them no longer owned their land. They sent angry signals to Washington. Why weren't elected officials doing something to help them?
 
8     Finally, farmers were heard. In 1890, Congress passed the Sherman Silver Act. This law called for the purchase of silver. It helped farmers by creating inflation. That meant prices went up. Farmers got paid a little more for their products. It didn't help much.

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