When the National Grange of the Patrons of Husbandry was first organized in Minnesota in December 1867, its goals were primarily social and educational. The organization spread rapidly throughout the agricultural Midwest, attracting more than 850,000 members by 1875. The Grange’s purpose also expanded—it experimented (unsuccessfully) with cooperatives, and, angered by hard times, tight money, and high railroad shipping rates, moved into politics. Members elected sympathetic state legislators who passed laws (most of them later declared unconstitutional) regulating railroad and grain elevator charges. In 1868, the newly created Grange issued the following circular to explain the objectives and services of the infant organization and its local societies.
We solicit attention to an organization now being established for the purpose of increasing the general happiness, wealth, and prosperity of the country. It is based upon the axioms that the products of the soil comprise the basis of all wealth; and that the wealth of a country will depend altogether upon the general intelligence and mental culture of the producing classes.
All existing popular modes of creating an interest in agriculture have been carefully studied. Agricultural fairs enlist attention, and to a certain extent excite competition, but these associations are gradually losing their influence, and the novelty and excitement of horse racing, and other scenes still less commendable, are looked upon as essential to their success, if not to their very existence. Clubs for mutual instruction seem to lose their interest as soon as the first excitement of organization is passed.
The incentive to the formation of these societies results from a recognition of the well-known principles that unity of action is necessary to secure success. This unity must be made solid and permanent, not trivial and spasmodic, and from a preponderance of the latter we may trace the main cause of failure in these organizations. On the other hand, when we reflect upon the fact that certain associations have stood the test of ages and even of centuries, as for example, the Masonic order, we may well ask: “In what does their permanency consist?” We can only find one satisfactory answer to this question, and that is, their secrecy. If then, this is the great element of eminent success, why not embrace it? If this simple principle is the keystone of a permanent foundation, why not secure it? If such a slender thread as a secret or exclusive ceremony of initiation before membership can be secured will bind a society, then let us adopt that mode of forming the farming community into bodies where unity of action can be enforced by discipline, and where discipline can be secured by significant organization.
Reflections similar to the above have resulted in the formation of an Order known as the “Patrons of Husbandry.” A constitution for the guidance of the Order has been prepared; four initiatory degrees, representing the four seasons, have also been completed, and they contain the novel beauty and secrecy that will make the Society “ever budding, ever new.” Women are admitted, as well as young persons; it is hoped by this means a love of rural life will be encouraged, the desire for excitement and amusement so prevalent in youth will be gratified instead of being repressed; not, however, in frivolities, but by directing attention to the wonder workings of nature, and leading the mind to enjoy and appreciate these studies. Young men are constantly being attracted to the cities from the country. There are, undoubtedly, good reasons for this migratory tendency, and a want of attractions for the mind is one of the chief.
With regard to the modes of education, mention may be made of mutual instruction through the reading of essay and discussions, lectures, formation of select libraries, circulation of magazines treating directly upon subjects inculcating the principles governing our operations in the field. It may be remarked that all of these measures are now in existence. To this we answer that their direct application under a comprehensive and controlling principle is both new and novel, and one that has not been employed previously for the same objects.
Source: National Grange of the Patrons of Husbandry, Journal of Proceedings, Fourteenth Session (Philadelphia, 1880), 10–11. Reprinted in David J. Rothman and Sheila M. Rothman, eds., Sources of the American Social Tradition, Vol. 2, 1865 to Present (New York: Basic Books, Inc., 1975), 99–104.