The societal effects and dangers of monopolies can be seen through an examination of certain historical groups. The Grangers, an organization of farmers formed in the late 1860s, were being oppressed by the dominance and ubiquitous influence of the railroads. Since there was no regulation of big business, and the nature of the economy necessitated high volume transportation of crops, these farmers had no choice but to give in to the whims of the railroad tycoons. When the burden became too great to endure, the Grangers organized a revolt, which eventually led to government regulation of the railroads and other monopolies.
The Granger movement was founded in 1867, by Oliver Hudson Kelley. Its original intent was to bring farmers together to discuss agricultural styles, in an attempt to correct widespread costly and inefficient methods. Kelley promoted his movement all over the country, but it only caught on in the West. The popularity of the Grangers was "less for its social and educational advantages than for the opportunity it presented for farmers to unite against the monopolistic practices of railroads and elevators and to institute for themselves cooperative methods of buying and selling."
The social turmoil that the Western farmers were in was mainly a result of the complete dependence on outside markets for the selling of their produce. This meant that they had to rely on corporately owned railroads and grain elevators for the transport of their crops. To make matters worse, "elevators, often themselves owned by railroads, charged high prices for their services, weighed and graded grain without supervision, and used their influence with the railroads to ensure that cars were not available to farmers who sought to evade elevator service."
In 1869, out of fear that the social unrest would lead to revolt, the Illinois state government passed an act to require railroads to charge only "just, reasonable, and uniform rates." However, there was no mechanism for enforcement included with this act; consequently, it had no effect. Though the sentiment of trying to control the railroads was admirable and novel, it was simply ineffectual. Not to be deterred, in 1871, Illinois created a new constitution allowing the state to set maximum freight rates. This time, the railroads simply refused to follow the mandates of the state government.
By this point, the Grangers had become profoundly political. Every member encouraged his friends to elect only those officials with the same views. Furthermore, while Republicans and Democrats had already been bought out by corporations looking to curry favor in the government, Grangers vowed to create their own independent party devoted to upholding the rights of the general populace.
On Independence Day, 1873 (known as the Farmer's Fourth of July), the Grangers read their Farmer's Declaration of Independence, which cited all of their grievances and in which they vowed to free themselves from the tyranny of monopoly. Shortly thereafter, the Supreme Court case Munn v. Illinois stated that businesses of a public nature could, in accordance with the federal constitution, be subject to state regulation. Following this ruling, several pieces of legislation, collectively known as the Granger Laws, were passed. Though they were soon repealed, they represented the first attempts at regulating a private monopoly.
The Grangers used several other tactics to avoid the unfair practices of the railroads: buying through purchasing agents, operating through mail-order houses, and manufacturing farm equipment. This last endeavor, both extremely costly and ill-effective, led to the downfall of the Grange movement (circa 1879). Though the organization did not last, it demonstrated the effects that monopolies have on society. It subjugated these individuals to its whims, and then forced them to take action against it. A corporation must be careful about how it treats individuals in a society, because it is inevitable that an oppressed people will revolt and attempt to destroy that which has kept them down.
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