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The Patrons of Husbandry by Marie Rowland


"Do you know anything about this 'grange' business?" asked a lady from the city the other day; and she added, "I can hardly take up a magazine or newspaper without falling on the words 'grange,' 'Patrons of Husbandry,' 'farmers' movement,' and all that."

"Why, I am a Patron myself," I replied.

"What! you have a grange here in this little New Jersey sandbank?" she exclaimed incredulously, and plied me with a storm of questions.

It was a quiet, rainy evening, and I devoted the whole of it to answering her queries, reading documents from our head-quarters, and quoting Mr. Adams's treatise on the Railroad Systems and other authorities to explain the present war between producers and carriers; and, believing that there are many others who, like my friend, are disposed to look into this "grange business," I will give them the substance of our conversation. A great deal of that which has found its way into the press touching our order is more characterized by confidence than correctness of statement. In a late magazine article it is stated that the organization known as the Patrons of Husbandry "was originally borrowed from an association which for many years had maintained a feeble existence in a community of Scotch farmers in North Carolina." This statement has no foundation in fact. The order is not the out-growth directly, or even indirectly, of any pre-existing organization. It is the result, so far as it is possible to trace impulses to their source, of the suggestion of a lady, communicated some years ago to Mr. O.H. Kelley, the present secretary of the National Grange, and the person who has done more than any other to establish the order as it exists to-day. The suggestion was in substance this: Why cannot the farmers protect themselves by a national organization, as do other trades and professions? Mr. Kelley seized the idea with enthusiasm, worked out the plan of a secret society, and traveled over the country seeking to arouse the farmers to organize for their mutual advantage. He met with constant disappointment at first, and his family and friends implored him to abandon a project which threatened to absorb every cent he possessed, as it did all his time and energy. But he persevered against every discouragement, and to-day he may well be proud of the results of his devotion.

The first grange was organized in St. Paul, Minnesota, and called the "North Star Grange," and it is one of the most efficient subordinate granges in the country to this day. Another was organized in Washington, one in Fredonia, New York, one in Ohio, another in Illinois, and a few others during the same year in different places. This was very nearly six years ago. Since that time they have been constantly increasing—at first slowly, then with a rapidity unheard of in the history of secret or any other organizations in this country or the world. We can hardly count three years since the order fairly began to grow, and now the granges are numbered by the thousand. Ten States on the twenty-fifth of June last had over a hundred granges, and seven of these between two and five hundred. Iowa to-day has seventeen hundred and ten, and others in process of organization. Thirty-one of the States and Territories had subordinate or both subordinate and State granges, according to the June returns. There were eight at that date in Canada, twenty-three in Vermont, five in New York State, three in New Jersey, two in Pennsylvania, and one in Massachusetts. Up to this time there has been little effort made to extend the organization into the Eastern and Middle States, but at present deputies from the National Grange are being sent to these "benighted regions," and the leaven is working finely. To show how rapidly the order is extending it will be only necessary to add that seven hundred and one charters for new granges were issued during the single month of May.

The discussion of party politics is excluded from the order by common consent, as well as by the terms of its constitution. How much this one wise provision tends to preserve harmony among those of different sects and political parties needs no comment. We know that on one or both of these rocks most great popular organizations have been wrecked. So far, the Patrons of Husbandry have worked together with great harmony, and the slight discords have been nothing more than the surface ripples on a great onward-setting current. Men and women are received on terms of absolute equality throughout all the seven degrees. Four are degrees conferred in subordinate granges, and the higher in the State granges or in the National Grange—the seventh in the latter only, constituting a national senate and court of impeachment, and having charge also of the secret work of the order. All officers are chosen by ballot—those of the National Grange for three years, of State granges for two years, and of subordinate granges for one year. The names of the first four degrees are respectively, for men and women, Laborer and Maid, Cultivator and Shepherdess, Harvester and Gleaner, Husbandman and Matron; and the initiations are not only exceedingly impressive and beautiful, but really instructive. It may also be added that they are never tedious, which will be agreeable information to those who, in entering secret societies, have been dragged through long, meaningless rigmaroles, conscious of being made a spectacle of, and preserving their temper only by the most strenuous efforts.

Into the initiations of the order of the Patrons there enter as machinery or symbols music and song, the expression of exalted sentiments, ceremonies replete, without exception, with significance and instruction, together with fruits and grains and flowers and simple feasts. Two fundamental objects of the organization are social and intellectual culture. The widespread realization of the importance of these among the people is the first great step toward securing them, and the first unmistakable sign that such step has already been taken is the rebelling against pure drudgery. Said the Master of the National Grange, Mr. Dudley W. Adams, in a late address: "It will doubtless be a matter of surprise to them" (editors, lawyers, politicians, etc.) "to learn that farmers may possibly entertain some wish to enjoy life, and have some other object in living besides everlasting hard work and accumulating a few paltry dollars by coining them from their own life-blood and stamping them with the sighs of weary children and worn wives. What we want in agriculture is a new Declaration of Independence. We must do something to dispel old prejudices and beat down old notions. That the farmer is a mere animal to labor from morning till eve, and into the night, is an ancient but abominable heresy."... "We have heard enough, ten times enough, about the 'hardened hand of honest toil,' the supreme glory of 'the sweating brow,' and how magnificent the suit of coarse homespun which covers a form bent with overwork."... "I tell you, my brother-workers of the soil, there is something worth living for besides hard work. We have heard enough of this professional blarney. Toil in itself is not necessarily glorious. To toil like slaves, raise fat steers, cultivate broad acres, pile up treasures of bonds and lands and herds, and at the same time bow and starve the god-like form, harden the hands, dwarf the immortal mind and alienate the children from the homestead, is a damning disgrace to any man, and should stamp him as worse than a brute."

Thus the farmers have joined the great strike of labor against drudgery, and it will never end until it is fully recognized that, while every unproductive life is a dishonorable life, drudgery is no less degrading than pure idleness. To be sure, the sages in all times have taught that there was a time to sing and dance as well as a time to labor, but it is not fifty years since it was generally accepted by the masses that a person might spend every day of his adult life in monotonous manual labor, and yet, other things being favorable, be just as intelligent, just as polished in manner, and graceful in bearing as if his occupation was varied and the more laborious portions of it never continued long at a time. To-day this fallacy is beginning to be generally recognized. Go into any farming district, and you will find that the farmer's sons who are regularly engaged in one kind of labor all day, as ploughing, planting, mowing, are great, awkward, heavy-mannered youths, while his daughters are, in comparison, easy in their movements and agreeable in their address; and simply because, though their labor has been as unremitting, it has been far less monotonous. As a general rule, they go from one thing to another, and through a great variety of muscular exercises from hour to hour.

It is no wonder, then, that the farmers' sons, to get rid of the terrible monotony of farm-labor as now organized, find peddling tin kettles an acceptable substitute, or turning somersets in a third-class circus a fortunate escape. The reason why our country youths are so impatient of farm-labor is not that they are less virtuous than formerly, but that they are wiser; and the railroad has opened a thousand fields for their ambitious daring undreamed of as possibilities in the olden time. Not even the combination of attractions afforded by the granges, with their libraries and reading-rooms, their processions and picnics, the decoration of grange halls in company with the ladies of the order, the working of degrees, the music, social reunions, balls and concerts, can keep young men on the farm unless something is done to render the labor less monotonous and disagreeable.

One of the Patrons during a late discussion of these questions predicted, from the growing intelligence of the people, and their better understanding of the possibilities of organization, that within a few years we shall see magnificent social palaces, something like the famous one at Guise, in many places in this country; and he went on to show how social and industrial life might be organized so as to secure the most complete liberty of the individual or family, magnificent educational advantanges, remunerative occupation and varied amusements for all, with perfect insurance against want for orphans, for the sick and the aged. Each palace was to be the centre of a great agricultural district exploited in the most scientific manner, and through the varied economies resulting from combination all the luxuries of industry and all the conditions for high culture were to be secured to all who were willing to labor even one-half the hours that the farmer now does. It was a glowing picture, and certainly very entertaining, whether a possibility of this, or, as one of the company suggested, of some happier planet than ours.

But whatever dreams for the future may be entertained by some of the Patrons, it is certain that they have work directly at hand, and that they are grappling it with a will. The Iowa granges, through agents appointed from among their members, now purchase their machinery and farming implements direct from the manufacturer and by wholesale. That State saved half a million during 1872 in this way, and Missouri, through the executive committee of her State grange, has just completed a contract in St. Louis for the same purpose. All members of the granges are thus enabled to secure these articles at greatly reduced prices; and as there are over three hundred and fifty granges, with a larger membership than in many other States, this is a very important item.

Now, in regard to the railroads, with which it is generally supposed the Patrons of Husbandry are in fierce conflict. Certainly, to the outside observer, the agriculturists of the South and West seem to have most grievous burdens to bear. It costs the price of three bushels of corn to carry one to the grain-marts by rail, and the whole world knows that they have been burning their three-year old crops as fuel in nearly all the Western States. Meanwhile, it seems clear that there is not too much corn raised, since a great famine has just swept over Persia, and others are threatening in different parts of the world.

The present high rates of transportation were never anticipated by the farmer. If in the beginning some great route charged high rates for carrying, his dissatisfaction was soothed by the assurance that the road had cost an enormous outlay of capital, and that as soon as the company was partially reimbursed the rates would be lowered. The sequel generally proved that the rates went up instead of down, and the still angrier mood of the farmer was again quieted by a new hope: a great competing railroad line was projected, and finally finished. Competition would certainly bring down the prices. This was the reasonable way to expect relief. Competition always had that effect. Alas for the simple producer! He had borne his burdens long and patiently only to learn the truth of George Stevenson's pithy apothegm, that "where combination is possible competition is impossible." The two great companies combined, became consolidated into one, and, having their victim completely in their power, swindled him without pity and divided the spoils between them.

The characteristic of the day is the tendency to consolidation. But nothing can prevent the people from fearing the results of great monopolies and "rings," or from organizing to circumvent their schemes. Those who make no calculation for the growing intelligence of industry are walking blindly. Never were the people so conscious of their power—never so fully aware that in this country the machinery for correcting abuses lies in the degree of concentration with which public opinion can be brought to bear in a given direction. Once let the people become fully aroused to the existence of an evil or abuse, and there is no interest nor combination of interests that can long hold out against them. The trouble heretofore has been the multiplicity of conflicting opinions everywhere disseminated, and the consequent difficulty of agreeing upon measures, and uniting a great number of people in their adoption for the accomplishment of certain ends. If we may rely upon the promise of the order of the Patrons of Husbandry, now slowly and surely sweeping toward the eastern shores of the country, and yet still widening and extending in the West, where it rose, we may hope that this is the great moving army of the people so long waited for, which is to work out the vexed problems of labor and capital by a sudden but peaceful revolution.

The record of the vast work that the order of the Patrons has accomplished for its members exists at present in a detached and scattered form among the different granges, and in piles of yet unused documents at the national head-quarters. The full history of the movement is promised, and in good time will doubtless appear.

Since the first part of this paper was written the Iowa granges have increased to over one thousand seven hundred and fifty. Twenty-nine new ones were organized during the week ending July 24. Over one-third of all the grain-elevators of the State are owned or controlled by the granges, which had, up to December last, shipped over five million bushels of grain to Chicago, besides cattle and hogs in vast quantities; and the reports received from these shipments show an increased profit to the producers of from ten to forty per cent. over that of the old "middlemen" system; and by the complete buying arrangements which the Western granges have effected it is calculated that the members save on an average one hundred dollars a year each. Large families find their expenses reduced by three or four hundred dollars annually, aside from amounts saved on sewing-machines, pianos, organs, reapers, mowers, corn-shellers and a hundred other costly articles; all of which any member of any grange can obtain to-day at a saving of from twenty-five to forty per cent. They are ordered in quantity from the manufacturers by the agents of the State granges of the West, and a single order even from a member of a new-formed grange in Vermont will be incorporated in the general State order. The granges of the Eastern and Middle States are as yet mostly engaged in the work of organizing, and have not yet realized the pecuniary advantages accruing to older granges. By this vast co-operative and entirely cash system all parties are well satisfied except certain unfortunate middlemen, who find their "occupation gone," and themselves obliged to become producers or to enter into the sale of the numerous small and low-priced articles not yet affected by the movement.