Class 9 History

Peasants and Farmers in USA

When the commons were being enclosed in England at the end of the eighteenth century, settled agriculture had not developed on any extensive scale in the USA. Over 800 million acres were covered with forests and 600 million acres were covered with grasslands.

This was the period when the white Americans were yet to spread to all over the USA.

Bread Basket and Dust Bowl

Till the 1780s, white American settlements were confined to a small narrow strip along the eastern coast. Most of the USA was inhabited by the Native Americans. Most of them were nomadic, while some of them were settled. Hunting, gathering and fishing was the source of livelihood for most of them. Some of them cultivated corn, beans, tobacco and pumpkin.

After the late eighteenth century, white Americans began to move westward. They displaced local tribes and changed the entire landscape into agricultural belts. Finally, they established control up to the west coast. By the early twentieth century, the landscape of the USA had transformed radically. The USA began to dominate the world market in agricultural produce.

The Westward Move and Wheat Cultivation

After the American War of Independence from 1775 to 1783 and the formation of the United States of America, the white Americans began to move westward. By 1800, over 700,000 white settlers had moved on to the Appalachian plateau.

Pushing the American Indians to Sidelines

America appeared to be a land of promise. The vast wilderness could be turned into cultivated fields. It was a huge reservoir of timber, animal skin and minerals. But the American Indians had to be cleared from the land to realize the dream.

The US government made of policy of driving the American Indians westward in 1800. Many wars were waged against the Indians which resulted in large scale massacre of the Indians. The Indians resisted but were finally forced to sign treaties. They gave up their land and moved westward.

Wave of White Settlers

The white settlers came in successive waves. By the first decade of the eighteenth century, they settled on the Appalachian plateau. Between 1820 and 1850, they moved into the Mississippi valley. They cleared the land for cultivation, put fences around large areas and began sowing corn and wheat.

When the soil became impoverished and exhausted at one place, the migrants moved further west to explore new lands. After 1860s, the settlers swept into the Great Plains across Mississippi. This region became a major wheat-producing region in America, in subsequent decades.

The Wheat Farmers

From the late nineteenth century, the urban population in the USA was growing and the export market was becoming even bigger. Prices increased with increase in demand. This encouraged the farmers to produce more wheat. Expansion of railways facilitated transportation of grain from wheat-growing regions to the eastern coast for export.

The demand increased even higher by the early twentieth century. The world market boomed during the First World War. This was the time when the Russian supplies of wheat were cut off, and the USA had to feed Europe.

In 1910, about 45 million acres of land in the USA was under wheat. This area expanded to 74 million acres by 1919. Many big farmers controlled as much as 2,000 to 3,000 acres of land individually.