Transcribed from volume I of Kansas: a cyclopedia of state history, embracing events, institutions, industries, counties, cities, towns, prominent persons, etc. ... / with a supplementary volume devoted to selected personal history and reminiscence. Standard Pub. Co. Chicago : 1912. 3 v. in 4. : front., ill., ports.; 28 cm. Vols. I-II edited by Frank W. Blackmar.

Farmers' Alliance.—In the decade immediately following the Civil war a number of farmers' societies, clubs, etc., sprang up in different parts of the county, all of them having for their object the material betterment of agriculture as an industry. Most of these organizations were of local significance only. Probably the oldest association to assume anything like national importance was the Patrons of Husbandry (q. v.), popularly known as the "Grange," but as one of its essential principles was that it was to be a nonpolitical organization, it did not meet the requirements of a large number of farmers who believed that relief could be best obtained through political action.

The origin of the Farmers' Alliance is by no means certain. It is stated, on apparently good authority, that the first society to bear this name was formed in the State of New York about 1873. This was not a secret society, but appears to have been organized by a number of farmers for the purpose of mutually advancing their interests by meeting together to discuss methods, and by coöperating in the sale of their products and the purchase of supplies. Nor is it certain that this society was the parent organization of the Northern Farmers' Alliance, which spread over nearly all the northern and western states.

The first local alliance of the secret order known as the Farmers' Alliance was organized in Lampasas county, Tex., in 1874 or 1875. It was formed for the purpose of protecting the small farmers from the encroachments of the "cattle barons," who wanted to hold the wide ranges for their herds, and who endeavored by all means to prevent the settlement of the country where they had established themselves. On July 29, 1879, a permanent organization of the Farmers' Alliance in Texas was effected at the town of Poolville, Parker county, and on Dec. 27, following, a state alliance was organized at Central, Parker county. After several meetings were held, a ritual and constitution were adopted on Aug. 5, 1880, and the order may be said to date its existence from that meeting.

A Kansas man, who signed himself, "G. Campbell," set up the claim that the Farmers' Alliance had its commencement in the Settlers' Protective Association (q. v.), which was established in the late '60s to protect the settlers on the Osage ceded lands. Mr. Campbell says this organization was also known as the "League," or the "Alliance," and that in the settlement of the Osage land troubles the government allowed each settler to pay $50 on a quarter-section, the balance of $150 payable in three equal annual installments, with interest at the rate of 5 per cent, per annum on the deferred payments. "This," said Mr. Campbell, "was virtually a loan of $150 on each quarter-section, and this was the first 5 per cent, money the people of Kansas ever borrowed, and this is the first instance that I now call to mind where the government has ever loaned its money to the people. But it demonstrated the practicability of such a system, and in 1876 I issued a circular and set forth the system that New York had adopted in loaning its school fund to farmers, upon real estate security, and demonstrated the practicability of such a system for the United States."

The writer took the position that this was probably the first circular ever issued by any one advocating government loans to the people, and doubtless assumed that it was instrumental in the formation of the Farmers' Alliance because the doctrine of government loans to the people later became one of the tenets of the organization. But the fact remains that local alliances had been formed in both New York and Texas before the circular made its appearance.

On Oct. 6, 1880, the Texas state alliance was incorporated, the objects of the order being stated in the charter as follows: "To encourage agriculture and horticulture, and to suppress local, personal, sectional and national prejudices and all unhealthy rivalry and selfish ambition." About this time the Farmers' Union was established in Louisiana, and grew so rapidly that in a few years it boasted upward of 10,000 members. At a meeting of the Texas state alliance at Waco, on Jan. 20, 1887, two delegates from each Congressional district in the state were appointed to act in conjunction with J. A. Tetts, of the Louisiana Farmers' Union in securing a charter for a National Farmers' Alliance. The following day the delegates met with Mr. Tetts and organized the first national alliance, with C. W. Macune as president, J. A. Tetts, first vice-president; G. B. Pickett, second vice-president; J. M. Perdue, third vice-president; F. B. Warren, secretary, and R. F. Butler, treasurer.

The following spring President Macune sent organizers into the states of Missouri, North Carolina, Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, Kentucky, Georgia and Tennessee. At the time this work was commenced the national alliance had only about $500 in its treasury, but a loan was secured from the Texas state alliance, which now had about 100,000 members and the work proceeded with such rapidity that on Oct. 12, 1887, delegates from all the above states except Georgia and Kentucky, with delegates from Texas, Louisiana and Arkansas, met at Shreveport, La., and completed the organization of the "National Farmers' Alliance and Coöperative Union," which made the following demands on Congress: Recognition by incorporation of trades unions, coöperative stores, etc.; the reservation of public lands for actual settlers, the prohibition of land ownership by aliens; the removal of all fences of cattle syndicates or other monopolies from the public domain; the operation of the United States mints to their fullest capacity for the coinage of gold and silver, which should be tendered without discrimination to the nation's creditors in extinguishment of the public debt; the abolition of the national banking system and the substitution of legal tender notes for national bank circulation; the establishment of a department of agriculture as one of the departments of state; government ownership of telegraph and telephone lines, and a graduated income tax.

In the meantime the "Farmers' National Congress" had been organized at Atlanta, Ga., in 1875, with Gen. W. H. Jackson, of Tennessee, as president. This congress claimed the credit for securing the passage of the acts establishing the United States Weather Bureau and the Interstate Commerce Commission. Its most important meeting was held at New Orleans at the time of the exposition there, in the winter of 1884-85. Delegates from nearly every state and territory in the Union were present, and the meeting wielded considerable influence upon the subsequent action of the Farmers' Alliance, with which it was ultimately amalgamated.

While the alliance organized in Texas was extending its operations over the Southern states, absorbing one by one the various local clubs and societies, the Northern alliance—the nonsecret society—was sweeping westward. On May 15, 1889, delegates from the various alliances and agricultural wheels in the South met at Birmingham, Ala., and took joint action against the cotton bagging trust. The harmonious relations established between the representatives of the Farmers' Alliance and the Agricultural Wheel (q. v.) on this occasion led to the consolidation of the two orders in the following September, which made the Alliance all powerful throughout the entire South.

The Farmers' Alliance was introduced into Kansas through the work of three editors, viz: C. Vincent, of the American Nonconformist, of Winfield; John R. Rogers, of the Newton Commoner, and W. F. Rightmire, of Cottonwood Falls, associate editor of the Nonconformist. These three men went to Texas and were there initiated into the order. Upon their return to Kansas they established a sub-alliance in Cowley county, by changing a northern alliance into a secret one. Dunning, in his "History of the Farmers' Alliance," says: "Sometime during the year 1887 a number of sub-alliances were formed in Cowley county, and it is from this beginning that the Alliance in Kansas took its start." Toward the close of that year the Cowley county alliance was organized—the first in the state. On Dec. 20, 1888, a number of local alliances sent delegates to Topeka, where on that date the state alliance was organized, with Benjamin H. Clover as president. Mr. Clover had been the first president of the first sub-alliance established in Cowley county the preceding year.

In order to make clear how the Farmers' Alliance got into politics it will be necessary to notice briefly some of the events of political significance prior to organization of the Kansas state alliance. In 1876 a convention at Indianapolis, Ind., organized the Greenback party and nominated Peter Cooper, of New York, for president. Enough Greenback Congressmen were elected that year to hold the balance of power between the Republicans and Democrats, and to secure the enactment of a law prohibiting the retirement of greenbacks below $346,000,000. In 1884 this party made its last campaign, and in May, 1888, a convention at Cincinnati, Ohio, founded the Union Labor party and nominated Alson J. Streeter for president. Delegates from Kansas played an important part in that convention. (See Videttes.) In Dec., 1888, the Union Labor party in Kansas was practically disbanded, a "State Reform Association" taking its place. The officers of this association were: W. F. Rightmire, president; Andrew Shearer, vice-president; J. D. Latimer, secretary; W. F. Rightmire, John R. Rogers, E. H. Snow, Henry Vincent and W. H. H. Wright, executive committee.

The northern alliance, non-secret, had made its advent into Kansas before the secret alliance, and at a meeting at Lyons, Rice county, in Aug. 1888, over 600 subordinate societies were represented. The plan of this alliance was to establish exchanges or purchasing agencies, with a sufficient paid-up capital stock, through which the members could purchase implements and supplies at lower prices than through the ordinary mercantile channels. The benefits resulting from this method soon became apparent, and was the principal reason for the large increase in membership in so short a time. In laboring "for the administration of government in a strictly non-partisan spirit," its plan was to agree upon needed reforms and then endeavor to secure the necessary legislation through the existing political parties before placing candidates of its own in the field.

This plan was not aggressive enough to suit the leaders of the secret alliance. Mr. Rightmire, in speaking of the work of the executive committee of the reform association, says the members of that committee "constituted themselves recruiting officers to enlist organizers to spread the organization over the state. Selecting, if possible, some Republican farmer in each county who had been honored by elections to two terms in the state house of representatives, and then retired, and who had become dissatisfied because his ambition and self-esteemed qualifications of statesmanship received no further recognition at the hands of the nominating conventions of his party, he was engaged to organize the farmers of his county in the order, so that if the order should conclude to take political action, he, as the founder of the order in his county, could have any place he desired as the reward for his faithful services at the hands of his brothers of the order."

Through the old Vidette organization, the members of the Union Labor party were advised to refrain for a time from becoming members of the alliance, and to denounce the organization as a deep-laid scheme of one or the other of the old political parties to get possession of the principles advocated by the Union Labor party during its brief existence. Then, after all the Republican and Democratic members of the alliance were enrolled, the Union Labor men and the old Videttes were to come in with a rush and dictate the alliance policy. The organization went forward at a great rate until the presidents of a number of county alliances issued a call for a meeting at Newton, on Dec. 16, 1889, to perfect the organization of the state alliance, which had been begun at Topeka in the previous December. This was the signal for the Union Labor men and the Videttes to "get on the band wagon," and when the meeting assembled they were there in sufficient strength to control the organization. Benjamin H. Clover was again elected president and a platform was adopted which was submitted by resolution to the United States senators and representatives in Congress from Kansas. Mr. Rightmire says that Senator Plumb indorsed the platform, but that Senator Ingalls and all the representatives dodged the question and refused to commit themselves.

On Dec. 3, 1889, the annual meeting of the national alliance was opened in St. Louis, Mo., with about 100 delegates present from Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Florida, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Mississippi, North Carolina, Nebraska, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and the Indian Territory. The convention was in session for five days and the most important work accomplished was in adopting the report of the committee on monetary system, which recommended that a demand be made upon the United States for a modification of the present national financial system, 1st, so as to allow the free and unlimited coinage of silver, or the issue of silver certificates against an unlimited deposit of bullion, and 2nd, that the system of using certain banks as United States depositories be abolished, "and in place of said system, establish in every county in each of the states that offer for sale during the one year $500,000 worth of farm products, . . . a sub-treasury office, which shall have in connection with it such warehouses or elevators as are necessary for carefully storing and preserving such agricultural products as are offered it for storage; give certificates of deposit showing the amount and quality, and that legal tender money equal to 80 per cent, of the local current value has been advanced on the same, on interest at the rate of one per cent. per annum."

This was the origin of the famous "sub-treasury scheme," which was afterward discussed from ocean to ocean, and from Canada to Mexico. At the St. Louis meeting the Knights of Labor were taken into confederation, the name of the "National Farmers' Alliance and Industrial Union" was adopted, and the establishment of national headquarters at Washington, D. C., was authorized.

The order now began to have a political significance. A number of presidents of Kansas county alliances met at Topeka on March 25, 1890, and adopted, among others, a resolution declaring: "That we will no longer divide on party lines, and will only cast our votes for candidates of the people, for the people, and by the people." Following this meeting President Clover, an old Greenbacker, issued a call for a conference of representatives of the various labor and reform organizations at Topeka on June 12. Nothing definite was accomplished by this conference, but another convention at the same place on Aug. 13 nominated an Alliance state ticket, headed by J. F. Willits as the candidate for governor. (See Humphrey's Administration.)

To quote again from Mr. Rightmire: "While the Southern Farmers' Alliance thus led the way for the Kansas political action, the Northern Farmers' Alliance, not secret, led the way for political action in Nebraska, Iowa, Wyoming, Colorado, Montana, Minnesota and the Dakotas. The Farmers' Mutual Brotherhood (Farmers' Mutual Benefit Association) elected members of the legislatures in Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana, and the Southern Alliance, working within the Democratic party, elected several Congressmen and controlled the legislatures in several Southern states."

In Kansas and Nebraska the Alliance elected a majority of both branches of the legislature, and it held a balance of power in the legislatures of Illinois, Minnesota and South Dakota. Nine members of the lower house of Congress were elected, and Kansas, South Dakota and South Carolina sent Alliance men to the United States senate. Encouraged by the results of this campaign, the Alliance grew more aggressive, and this aggressiveness found vent in the annual meeting at Ocala, Fla., which assembled on Dec. 2, 1890. Of this meeting Dunning says: "This was doubtless one of the most important gatherings, in many respects, that was ever held on American soil. Representatives from thirty-one state and territorial alliances were present, besides a large number of both friends and enemies of the order. The Republican party hoped that the meeting would result in certain indiscretions which would break the power of the Alliance. The Democratic party was anxious to have the Alliance recede from its advanced position on economic questions, in order to make coöperation more probable. There was a strong element from the West demanding independent action. This was met by a conservative force largely from the South, but really from nearly all the states represented, which considered it unwise and untimely. The wily politician was there also, and, as usual, dangerous to all honest purposes; the traitor and breeder of discord was not wanting; and the coward could be met with occasionally."

The platform adopted by the Ocala convention was more radical than any previous declaration of the alliance. It demanded the abolition of national banks and the substitution of legal tender notes for the national bank currency; the establishment of sub-treasuries or depositories, in which farmers could store their surplus products and receive upon them a loan, at a rate of interest not exceeding two per cent. per annum; the immediate increase of the circulating medium to $50 per capita; the enactment of laws by Congress to prevent dealing in futures in all agricultural and mechanical productions; the free and unlimited coinage of silver; the issue of a sufficient amount of fractional paper currency to facilitate exchanges through the mails; the reclamation of all lands held by railroad companies and other corporations not actually used by them, such reclaimed lands to be held for actual settlers; laws to prevent aliens from owning land in this country; and for government control of all means of transportation and communication, and if this plan should prove inefficient, then the absolute ownership by the government of all railway and telegraph lines, etc.

Shortly after the elections of 1890, and before the Ocala convention, a movement for the organization of a third political party of national scope was started in Kansas. The president of the old reform association placed himself in correspondence with the alliance leaders in the various states and urged them to unite in calling a confeernce[sic] for the purpose of organizing such a party. The signature of every prominent alliance man in the North was secured to the call, but before it was issued came the Ocala convention. At Ocala on Dec. 3, 1890, the call was made public by C. A. Power of Indiana, and it aroused considerable displeasure among the Southern delegation. The Kansas delegates, in the interest of harmony, succeeded in having the call withdrawn, and as a reward Kansas was given two of the national officers—President Clover, who was made national vice-president, and J. F. Willits, the alliance condidate[sic] for governor in 1890, who was made national lecturer.

Although the Kansas delegates used their influence to secure the suppression of the call at this time, they were practically a unit in favor of the third party movement. The members of the old reform association resolved to take the necessary steps to organize a secret society—something on the order of the Videttes, and on Jan. 13, 1891, about 250 persons met in Topeka and formed the "National Citizens' Industrial Alliance." A ritual and secret work were adopted and the organization was incorporated under the laws of Kansas. The secretary, W. F. Rightmire, was instructed, when deemed advisable, to issue a call for a conference at Cincinnati, Ohio, for the organization of a third party. Pursuant to this arrangement, a conference met at Cincinnati on May 19, 1891. This conference was attended by 483 persons from Kansas, who met at Kansas City, Mo., and went from there to Cincinnati by special train. Southern members of the alliance were there to oppose the third party. They succeeded in convincing a number of the Northern delegates, who held a caucus and adopted the plan of getting control of the committee on platform, and then delay the report of the committee until many of the delegates would become tired and return home. They secured a majority of the committee, but their plan was thwarted by a little cunning on the part of the committee on permanent organization of the convention. The latter committee incorporated in its report the recommendation that the delegates present from each state "select three members of the executive committee of the new party." When the report was presented to the convention it was rushed through under the previous question. The conference, as a whole, having thus approved the new party organization, a recess was taken to permit the state delegates to select the three members of the executive committee, and the committee on platform was notified that the question was settled, though that committee was asked to suggest a name for the new party. The committee submitted as gracefully as possible, and offered the name of "People's party," which was adopted by the conference.

With the transfer of political power to the People's party organization the Farmers' Alliance began to wane. Members neglected to attend the meetings of the sub-alliances; many were displeased at the idea of "dragging the alliance into politics;" others were disappointed at not receiving the political recognition to which they felt they were entitled; politicians took advantage of the situation to sow the seeds of discord, and the Farmers' Alliance, once such a promising factor in the settlement of questions affecting the agricultural classes, met the fate that seems to be the common lot of all such organizations.

Pages 622-629 from volume I of Kansas: a cyclopedia of state history, embracing events, institutions, industries, counties, cities, towns, prominent persons, etc. ... / with a supplementary volume devoted to selected personal history and reminiscence. Standard Pub. Co. Chicago : 1912. 3 v. in 4. : front., ill., ports.; 28 cm. Vols. I-II edited by Frank W. Blackmar. Transcribed May 2002 by Carolyn Ward.