The Farmer Is the Man

Anonymous, c. 1880s

What does the song suggest that farmers thought were their biggest problems in the 1880s? What relationship does this song have to the panic of 1893?

What kinds of problems did farmers have little control over? What problems could farmers change? What did farmers do to improve their situation?

Why do you think this song is still sung today when farmers get together for Grange meetings and other occasions? How is the situation for farmers today similar to what farmers faced in the 1890s? How is it different?

How does this song help explain William Jennings Bryan's run for the presidency?

How successful would a populist candidate for president be today? What are farmers doing today to try to change their situation? Who might they ally themselves with to take political action? Who else has similar goals?


"The Farmer Is the Man" performed by Peter Seeger on American Industrial Ballads, Smithsonian Folkways [40058], provided courtesy of Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, © 1991. Available on iTunes, Spotify, and YouTube.

Pete Seeger (1919–2014) recorded this song in 1956. He and his colleagues believed that music should serve a purpose, like protest or social reform. Son of pacifist musicologist Charles Seeger, Pete was raised in a political environment and gained a deep knowledge and love of folk music. From his formation of the Almanac Singers with Woody Guthrie in 1940 through his work with the Weavers, Pete Seeger guided the folk music revival to its heyday in the 1960s.

As a member of the Communist Party in the 1940s, Seeger was blacklisted (not hired to perform on TV, radio, or recordings) in the 1950s. In 1955 he was called before the House Committee on Un-American Activities, sentenced to prison for contempt (by his refusal to testify on First Amendment grounds), but subsequently dismissed on a technicality. Banned from television and faced with cancelled performances, he found his own audiences.

View the music and lyrics for "The Farmer is the Man."

Musicologist Charles Seeger (father of folk revival musicians Pete, Mike, and Peggy Seeger) collected this folk song in the 1930s. Carl Sandburg heard it in Illinois in the 1890s where someone told him it dated to just after the Civil War. "The Farmer Is the Man" apparently saw plenty of service in the 1880s, when farmers began to organize the Farmer's Alliance and similar associations to defend themselves against unfavorable railroad, bank, and government policies. Enough people still made their living at farming that William Jennings Bryan was able to win the Democratic presidential nomination in 1896 on a pro-agriculture platform.

The song is still sung at Grange meetings: it is just as relevant as ever, as farmers' problems have remained remarkably the same.Gift for the Grangers, a promotional print for Grange members, 1973

Strobridge & Co. Lith. Gift for the grangers / J. Hale Powers & Co. Fraternity & Fine Art Publishers, Cin'ti. ; Strobridge & Co. Lith. Cincinnati, O. Cincinnati, O.: J. Hale Powers & Co. Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <www.loc.gov/item/96512563/>.

Write a campaign speech, newspaper editorial, or design campaign posters supporting William Jennings Bryan. Build on the issues from this song to make your case.