In the 1800??™s, an amazing and critical thing happened in American history. People, more than ever before, moved out to the west, the frontier. Many souls wished to escape the captivity of the cities and factories and to become their own self-made man.
They wanted to pull themselves up by their bootstraps. For most, this meant becoming a self-sufficient farmer, and with the opportunities that the Homestead Act and other events brought, it seemed to become more possible than ever. It was theorized that the frontier had become a ???safety valve??? for those in the cities who needed a livelihood.
Even though Turner??™s thesis of the ???safety valve??? was somewhat accurate, many farmers had to travel back to the cities to survive, however some farmers were able to succeed because of things such as the Interstate Commerce and Homestead Act. Numerous men could not survive in the frontier as ???self-sufficient farmers??? because they lived in a time of social Darwinism and monopoly. Whenever the farmers needed to buy anything, they had to buy from the monopolies. And because of the idea of social Darwinism and laissez-faire, everything was overpriced to the downfall of the farmers. There were monopolies on almost everything the farmers needed to have to farm such as transportation, steel, and windmills. The railroad monopoly was a serious inhibitor by using fraudulent tactics. One example of this is a thing called the long and short haul.
The railroad would make the farmers pay more to transport their grain short distances to a silo than to a silo miles farther away that was owned by or in an agreement with the railroad company. By doing this, the railroad controlled where the farmers would pay for their grain to be transported, therefore controlling the prices and making a huge profit while financially ruining the farmers. Because of this and many other examples of fraud, many farmers ran out of money and had to move back to the cities, which was probably the real ???safety valve??? of the time. Another reason the farmers were actually more a slave in the ???safety valve??? of the frontier than they were in the overcrowded cities was because of the overproduction of crops and deflation. When the city workers wanted to become their ???own man,??? and travel to the frontier to become farmers, they needed loans from the bank to buy all the supplies they would need to farm successfully, which were overpriced because of monopolies anyway. But because of deflation, the dollar they bought their supplies with was worth less than when they bought it.
Therefore, farmers could not pay back the loans they borrowed from the bank with what money they had made from their crops. So the farmers had no choice but to grow more grain. This allowed them to pay back some of the loans, but it ultimately backfired because every farmer was selling more grain and therefore causing overproduction.
So the price of grain dropped substantially. This bankrupt many farmers and caused many to go into the cities for possibility of employment, which rightly prompted an eloquent Kansas Populist, Mary E. Lease, to urge famers to ???raise less corn and more hell.
??? Although farmers had many struggles to live as the ???self-made man??? they desired to be, many farmers were successful. One of the first policies that helped them was the Homestead Act. In this act, the government gave out 160 acres of free land to poor farmers. However, it also provided the dishonest with opportunities for fraud, and much of the given land was not very valuable. Another policy, which allowed some farmers to succeed, was the Interstate Commerce Act of 1888. This was the first law to regulate pooling, interlocking directories, illegal rebates, and other, what we would call fraudulent now days, acts of the railroad companies. Because of the economic crisis, farmers also started to band together making the Farmer??™s Alliance, which wasn??™t necessarily effective; and, they also joined the Populist Party, which helped express their injustices and threatened the domination of the Republican and Democrat parties.
Because of these things, many farmers were actually able to have success despite the injustices, which were done to them. Ironically, during the late 1800??™s, the people believed that they could ???pull themselves up by their bootstraps??? and become a ???self-made man??? by escaping to the frontier. But the reality was that this was becoming increasingly less true.
The notion that if they couldn??™t make it in the cities, they should move to the frontier was being undermined. This was because of the ideas of social Darwinism, lassie-faire, and the tyranny of monopolies. The farmers also faced the problem of deflation in the prices of supplies and steel they had to buy and the overproduction of crops. However, even though many farmers were not able to thrive on the land, some were successful because of some of the government??™s policies and political movements by the people. But for most, the idea of becoming the ???self-sufficient??? and ???self-made??? man was perhaps ironically more feasible in the cities rather than the Turner??™s ???safety valve??? of the west.