A Short

History of the Order of Patrons of Husbandry

The National Grange

By Charles P. Gilliam

(Copyright 1999 Charles P. Gilliam. All rights reserved)

Founding of the National Grange

In 1866 Oliver Hudson Kelley, a native of Massachusetts, received a commission from President Andrew Johnson to survey agricultural conditions in the Southern states because there was a dearth of reliable information following the War of 1861-1865.

Oliver Hudson Kelley, principal founder and first Secretary of the National Grange

What Kelley saw of conditions in the South and the advantage being taken by Northern carpetbaggers of beleaguered farmers, his work as a Minnesota farmer, his study and writings on agriculture and his association with the Masonic Order combined in the conception of a notion to extend a fraternal hand of friendship to farmers and rural people of the North, South and West to, as he wrote, "restore kindly feelings among the people."

"We cherish the belief that sectionalism is, and of right should be, dead and buried with the past. Our work is for the present and the future. In our agricultural brotherhood and its purposes, we shall recognize no North, no South, no East, no West."

-- 1874 Declaration of Purposes of the National Grange

The late War Between the States had of course devastated the Southern farmer, but it had affected others as well. Many Northern rural people were cripples or lost members of their farm families as a result of the war. While carpetbagging was a regional issue there were also middlemen and rail road barons who, as many farmers saw it, were feasting on the life's blood of the working man of all regions.

Kelley returned briefly to his Minnesota farm but never returned to farming in a substantive way. In the Autumn of 1866 he departed for Washington to accept a position in the Post Office Department and it was from there that he set about to organize the Order of Patrons of Husbandry, the National Grange.

Kelley joined with six others, William Saunders (first National Master), Aaron B. Gosh, John Trimble, John R. Thompson, Francis McDowell and William M. Ireland who became the Seven Founders of the National Grange. Kelley was the first Secretary. Although there was an agricultural background among the Seven Founders, five were currently Washington government officials, one was a banker, one was a minister and none were active farmers. While much of the early history of the Grange was aimed at assisting farmers in the South and West (their West is now our Mid-West) all of the Seven Founders hailed from north and east of those regions (Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and Scotland).

William Saunders

The National Grange was officially founded on December 4, 1867 in the office of William Saunders, Superintendent of Propagating Gardens in the Department of Agriculture. In the very early years Kelley was practically a one-man crusade. There was a slow start and it was by no means ensured the movement would ever get off the ground. But, it did and by 1874 (the first year for which there are records) there were 268,368 dues paying members.

Original Principles

It was a key principle of the concept for a National Grange that it was a fraternal organization for men and women. Although not all of the Seven Founders were Masons, the example of the Masonic Order was the model for much of the ritualistic and fraternalistic under pinning. Other precepts included that the Order was open equally to women and men, it was Christian but not sectarian and it was non-sectional, indeed anti-sectional.

"We proclaim it among our purposes to inculcate a proper appreciation of the abilities and sphere of woman, as in indicated by admitting her to membership and position in our Order."

-- 1874 Declaration of Purposes of the National Grange

In 1874 at the St. Louis session of the National Grange a "Declaration of Purposes" was adopted. This was done to proclaim the purposes of the fraternity of farmers in a constructive way. At that time there was great interest in the National Grange and a boom in its membership, but there also was concern among the national leadership that excesses were detracting from the true broad based purposes of the Grange and focusing attention on specific, albeit electrifying, issues. That year's report of the executive committee said:

Unfortunately for our Order, the impression prevails to some extent that its chief mission is to fight railroads and denounce capitalists. It is a work of time to remove these erroneous impressions, and to prove that we do not wage a meaningless aggressive warfare upon any interest whatever. . . . While we aim to elevate ourselves, we avoid doing so at the expense of running down others.

The "General Objects" of the Order so adopted were two:

1. United by the strong and faithful tie of Agriculture, we mutually resolve to labor for the good of our Order, our country, and mankind.

2. We heartily endorse the motto: "In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity."

The full text of the Declaration of Purposes is printed in the final pages of this article.

1870s: Boom and Collapse

"We propose meeting together, talking together, working together, buying together, selling together, and, in general, acting together for our mutual protection and advancement, as occasion may require."

-- 1874 Declaration of Purposes of the National Grange

By the mid 1870s interest in the National Grange was intense and membership exploded. This was influenced by the financial panic of 1873 and also partly by a general awakening of the farmer to fight against the middleman, the railroads and others with inimical interests. In 1875 Grange membership was 858,050. State Grange organizations were being established in all regions of the country; membership was especially strong in the South. (The Connecticut State Grange was organized in 1875.)

Buying cooperatives were established, middlemen were eliminated and prices reduced. Other cooperative enterprises, such grain elevators and mills, were introduced. The Grange took on a more economic role than was originally envisioned. In some ways the Grange replaced the middleman more than eliminated him. In principle economic involvement was a purpose of the Grange, but its rise in importance was rapid and for many in the movement the role of the Grange in commerce started to become pervasive to the detriment of other goals.

"We must dispense with a surplus of middlemen, not that we are unfriendly to them, but we do not need them. Their surplus and their exactions diminish our profits."

-- 1874 Declaration of Purposes of the National Grange

This manner and speed of growth was a matter of controversy and could not be sustained. Many who joined were interested only in enjoying supplier-direct discount pricing or in enjoying some other transient advantage. It appears that some joiners were even secret supporters of middlemen, railroads and others aiming at stopping the Grange movement. D. Wyatt Aiken, a congressman and Master of the South Carolina Grange wrote:

Everybody wanted to join the Grange then: Lawyers, to get clients; doctors, to get patients; merchants, to get customers; Shylocks, to get their pound of flesh; and sharpers, to catch the babes from the woods.

Membership in the Grange soon collapsed. By 1879 membership was down to 246,383, the same as before the boom, but it fell by half from even that level and through the 1880s languished at barely over one hundred thousand.

By the end of the century the Grange was extinct in the Southern states. It was reborn, albeit in a modest way, in the outer South in the 1930s and 1940s, but to this day there is no Grange in the deep South. In New England and the West the Grange endured to revitalize, this time on sturdier foundations, through the first third of the Twentieth Century. Dues paying membership held steady at around six hundred thousand in the 1920s and 1930s and right after the Second World War was back to the levels of the mid-1870s.

After the 1870s the protest political movement exemplared by the Granger Laws was carried on by the Greenback Party, Farmers Alliance and Populist Party. Yet, after the 1870s the National Grange stayed ahead of its time on a number of controversial issues such as federal income taxation, direct election of United States Senators and women's suffrage.

When Cannon Grange was founded in 1899 the National Grange was starting to re-emerge from a trial in the wilderness. The gradual re-emergence of the National Grange was based on the original precepts of a fraternal, social organization. This change probably suited most of the original Grangers well.

The National Grange and Public Policy in History

"It is [every member's] duty to do all he can do to put down bribery, corruption and trickery; to see that none but competent, faithful and honest men, who will unflinchingly stand by our interests, are nominated for all positions of trust; and to have carried out the principle which should always characterize every Patron that 'The Office Should Seek the Man, and Not the Man the Office.'"

-- 1874 Declaration of Purposes of the National Grange

The National Grange has always been strictly non-partisan. Yet, political matters were part of the heart of its early existence and remain an important factor today. The National, every State and every Subordinate Grange has a legislative committee, adopts resolutions on matters of public interest and encourages involvement of members in matters of public concern. In history some of the policies of the Grange were ground breaking, before their time, even radical. Following are five exemplars. Famous, mundane, radical, conservative, futuristic.

The Grange versus the Railroads

The Grange movement is perhaps best remembered in history for battles with the rail road magnates, or robber barons, depending on one's point of view. The United States government gave the railroad companies vast amounts of farm land and, of course, railroads had monopolies on carriage of grain and other farm produce and supplies. The railroads were viewed as high handed, greedy and unscrupulous.

"We are not enemies of railroads, navigable and irrigating canals, nor of any corporation that will advance our industrial interests, nor of any laboring classes."

-- 1874 Declaration of Purposes of the National Grange

War with the railroads was not an original purpose of the National Grange, but taking on the railroads turned out to be a natural extension of the theme of equal opportunity and condemning exorbitant profits taken by middlemen. Many state legislatures enacted what were known as the Granger Laws lowering freight rates and establishing state railroad commissions to regulate railroads and eventually other public utilities.

The railroads fought back and succeeded in repealing some legislation. The judicial challenge to regulation ultimately did not succeed. In Munn v. Illinois (1876) the Supreme Court approved public regulation of public utilities. The "final" outcome of the battle was the creation in 1887 of the Interstate Commerce Commission.

"We are not enemies to capital, but we oppose the tyranny of monopolies."

-- 1874 Declaration of Purposes of the National Grange

Today, Grange policy concerning rail roads is comparatively subdued. Legislative policy includes addition of more commuter trains, warning reflectors on the sides of railroad cars, better integration of railroad and highway policy and support for "the development and maintenance of a strong and effective rail network that will efficiently transport agricultural products and passengers at reasonable freight rates."

Rural Free Delivery

The National Grange in the 1870s initiated the campaign for rural free delivery (RFD) of the mail. At the time rural people had to drive into town to the post office to collect mail while city dwellers had mail delivered to their door.

In 1896 experimental routes were established and by the turn of the century RFD was wide spread. There was opposition to RFD and the legislation allowing it passed by only two votes in the United States Senate. Opponents of RFD said it was a waste of money and would destroy rural life. RFD turned out to be a great boom for farmers. An 1897 study by the Post Office Department estimated that the availability of RFD increased the value of farm land $2.00 - $3.00 and acre and resulted in improvement of many rural roads since post office patrons were required to bring roads up to standards to receive RFD.

In 1887 the National Grange proposed establishment of the parcel post system. At the time there were five express companies handling parcel delivery at what were contended to be high prices with poor service. These companies opposed the Post Office entering the parcel business. In 1912 a parcel post law was enacted.

Today the National Grange opposes first class mail subsidization of junk mail rates and opposes elimination of Saturday mail delivery.

Progressive Taxation

The National Grange was an early advocate of a progressive federal income tax. In 1880 the National Grange convention resolved:

We demand the immediate enactment of a graduated income tax, to the end that all wealth may bear its just and equal proportion of the expenses of government, and that productive industry be so far relieved from the burdens of taxation as shall be consistent with strict justice to all.

"We desire a proper equality, equity, and fairness; protection for the weak; restraint upon the strong; in short, justly distributed burdens and justly distributed power. These are America ideas, the very essence of American independence, and to advocate the contrary is unworthy of the sons and daughters of an American Republic."

-- 1874 Declaration of Purposes of the National Grange

In the 1930s the National Grange proposed a graduated land tax "to discourage excessive land holdings and to promote home ownership of the family-sized farm."

The federal income tax became law in 1913 but proved to be somewhat too much of a good thing. Today, National Grange policy favors reductions in income taxes including return to the rates in the compromise Tax Reform Act of 1986, elimination of the capital gains tax, elimination of the tax on social security and elimination of the marriage penalty.

Community Farming

The National Grange supported family farming and not corporate or large-scale farming. The Grange warned against over production, believing that production should be expanded only when new markets were at hand. It opposed government subsidization of large scale irrigation projects in dessert lands where they could not be economically justified. Of course many of these types of things which the Grange opposed did come to fruition and it is a matter of debate as to whether and to what extent they were fruitful.

Photo: Belden Hill area, Wilton, Connecticut.

"We long to see the antagonism between labor and capital removed by common consent, and by an enlightened statesmanship worthy of the nineteenth century. We are opposed to excessive salaries, high rates of interest and exorbitant profits in trade. They greatly increase our burdens and do not bear a proper proportion to the profits of producers."

-- 1874 Declaration of Purposes of the National Grange

The National Grange supported cooperative farm credit but not banking centralization which was seen as inapposite to the idea of local based institutions. Some government programs were lobbied for and won including the 1916 Federal Farm Loan Act and 1937 Bankhead-Jones Act which provided credit, including for farm purchases, supporting Grange policy of turning tenant farmers into farm owners.

Temperance and Tobacco

Today, anti-smoking is politically de rigueur but this is a recent phenomena. The National Grange historically was not a friend of tobacco products. For a hundred years curtailment of the cigarette business, education on the evil of smoking, increased cigarette taxation and restrictions on manufacture and sale (especially to minors) was urged. For example, at the 1929 National Grange convention a resolution was adopted urging local school boards to discourage smoking by teachers so they could set an example for children.

Current National Grange legislative policy can make a distinction between the tobacco farmer and tobacco use. The Grange supports efforts to diversify tobacco farmers into other products and to use some of the money from the pending "class action settlements" to ease dislocation in tobacco farming.

From the beginning the Grange espoused temperance. In 1905 the National Grange adopted a rule excluding from membership anyone engaged in the sale of intoxicating liquors. The National Grange supported the prohibition movement and when prohibition became the law of the land the Grange deplored resulting uneven and lax enforcement.

After repeal of prohibition the National Grange promoted temperance in the local communities including education of adults and children and opposition to use of intoxicants by youths.

Structure of the National Grange Community (Adapted from an official summary supplied by the National Grange)

The National Grange is comprised of four distinct divisions built one upon the other in logical sequence: 1. the Subordinate Grange, 2. the Pomona Grange, 3. The State Grange and 4. The National Grange.

The Subordinate (local) Grange

The local unit of the organization is built around the community. Men, women and youth are admitted on equal terms. Those who are 14 years of age are eligible for full membership. Each member has one vote. The local Grange elects its own officers and controls its own affairs in community matters. It confers the first four ritualistic Degrees: symbolic of the four seasons and life on the farm.

Although regular business meetings of the Subordinate Grange are for members only, the educational and literary programs are frequently open to the public. All Grange activities are for the purpose of developing leadership, improving community life, and expanding opportunities for all people.

Today, approximately three hundred thousand people are members of Subordinate Granges in 3,600 communities nationwide.

The Pomona (county or other region) Grange

Subordinate Granges within a given district are grouped together on a county or other regional basis into Pomona Granges that meet monthly or quarterly. The Pomona Grange offers the Fifth Degree of the Order, thus extending the lessons and opportunities of the Subordinate Grange. The Pomona Grange provides the leadership for educational, legislative, and business interests of the Subordinate Granges in its jurisdiction.

Members of Subordinate Granges are not required to receive the Fifth Degree but are encouraged to do so.

The State Grange

The State Grange is a delegate body representing Subordinate and Pomona Granges. At their annual conventions, State Granges consider many important matters relating to legislation and public policy, with particular reference to agriculture, other matters of concern to rural America and the general welfare of the state as a whole. Inasmuch as State Grange policies originate in the Subordinate and Pomona units of the Order and are conveyed through their delegates, this branch is, in a special sense, expressive of Grange thought and sentiment throughout the entire state.

Voting authority is vested in the delegate body, which in most instances, is composed of the Masters of Subordinate and Pomona Granges and their spouses, if also members, each having one vote.

The Sixth Degree of the Order is conferred at the state conventions and is open to all members of the Pomona Grange.

There is a State Grange in 37 states. The missing states are in the deep South and the less-arable regions of the far West.

The National Grange

This is the parent branch of the Order which speaks with authority and understanding for the major branches of agriculture and rural America. All business sessions of the National Grange are open to any Subordinate Grange member in good standing. As spectators, they have no vote in the deliberations, but they do have ample opportunity to appear before committees and to testify. As the supreme legislative body of the Order, policies are developed through the channels of Subordinate, Pomona and State units, and consequently embody the seasoned judgement of the membership.

At the annual convention of the National Grange, one day is devoted to the conferral of the Seventh Degree, the highest degree of Order. This degree is open to all members of a State Grange. Degree candidates and members gather from all parts of the nation for this annual ritualistic event.

The National Grange Headquarters is 1616 H Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20006 (202) 628-3507. One may visit its attractive re-designed web page atwww.nationalgrange.org for more information.


Copyright 1999 Charles P. Gilliam. All rights reserved.