The Fall of Jeffersonian Agrarianism
Unfortunately for the Joad Family and thousands of others who lived at the time, what comes up, must eventually come back down again and, when everything is geared around agriculture and farming, if nature fails, as it did during the 1930s, then the economy fails.
Several other factors contributed to the fall of Jefferson’s agrarian vision, but it is the major drought that hit during the 1930s because it is the primary reason why so many farmers went out of business and because the agrarian aspect of Jefferson’s plan failed. An agrarian system is based in the land and many, perhaps even the majority, of people during the period had their livelihoods based in the land in which they toiled. When the drought hit, it destroyed the base in which the economy was set and it uprooted many families who lost their main source of income. As illustrated in Steinbeck’s book, “many of those who did become land owners found – either by circumstance or character – the responsibilities of ownership too difficult to maintain and lost their property to indebtedness or simply fled to greener pastures in the west” (Curtis Reconstruction 2), which is exactly what happened in The Grapes of Wrath when the owners of the farms had to sell them to the banks in order to pay back money they had borrowed to survive and wait for the rains to return, which they never did.
“Conditions grew steadily worse. If crops were good one year in certain parts of the province, the price of wheat was too low to enable farmers to make profit or to build up reserves. Except for the poor-soil areas in the extreme north, almost every farm was completely dried out during some years. Many did not yield a decent crop for six or seven years. It is impossible to exaggerate the extent to which the social, economic, and political life of the province was affected by the depression in the ‘thirties” (Lipset Agrarian Socialism 199). Though a description of Saskatchewan during the 1930s, the Joads must endure incredibly similar circumstances, if not identical:
“The owner sat in the cars and explained. You know the land is poor. You’ve scrabbled at it long enough, God Knows.
The squatting tenant men nodded and wondered and drew figures in the dust, and yes, they knew, God knows. If the dust only wouldn’t fly. If the top would only stay on the soil, it might not be so bad…
Well, it’s too late. And the owner men explained the workings and the thinkings of the monster that was stronger than they were. A man can hold land if he can just eat and pay taxes: he can do that.
Yes, he can do that until his crops fail one day and he had to borrow money from the bank” (S
The owner and the tenant also discuss the price of cotton, how it may go up, but the owner will eventually come back by saying the farm is to be sold. The drought turned the land against the farmers and, coupled with the fall in the prices of natural products, lead the agrarian vision to fall and for it to be swiftly replaced by a system which would provide the much-needed profits that producers and business leaders had been looking for, Jacksonian capitalism.
-Lipset, Seymour M. Agrarian Socialism: The Cooperative Commonwealth Federation in Saskatchewan: a Study in Sociology. University California Press. 1971. Retrieved 25 Nov. 2012. Online. http://books.google.ca/books?hl=en&lr=&id=_oosxdaj7JQC&oi=fnd&pg=PR11&dq=failures+of+agrarianism&ots=48i74C9czM&sig=zh4KUbjpPk7wYygny9ki0kXu88E#v=onepage&q=failures%20of%20agrarianism&f=false
-Curtis, Christopher Michael. Thomas Watson and the Populist Reconstruction of Jeffersonian Agrarianism. 1999. Retrieved 25 Nov. 2012. Online.