Class IX - History

Chapter - 6 Peasants and Farmers

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In this chapter we will study about peasants and farmers of 3 different countries, small cottages in England, the wheat farmers of USA and the opium producers of Bengal.

Coming of modern agriculture in England

In England many farmers were attacked by rioters between1830-1832. They destroyed threshing machines, burnt barns and haystacks and burnt the entire farm house. During this period, farmers received threatening letters signed in the name of captain swing. Captain swing was a mythic name used in these letters. These letters urges them to stop using machines that deprived workmen of their livelihood. The government took severe actions and those suspected of rioting were rounded up. 1976 prisoner were tried, nine men were hanged, 505 men were transported and 644 were jailed.

The time of open field and commons

  • Over late 18th and early 19th century, the country side was open in large parts of England. It is not partitioned on the basis of ownership. Every year, each villager was allocated a number of strips to cultivate at a public meeting. Strips were given of varying quality to ensure equal distribution of good and bad land.
  • The land of these stripes was called common land. All villagers have access to these lands for pasturing their cows, collecting fuel wood etc. Common land was essential for survival of poor.
  • But this economy started changing in 16th The price of wool in world market went up and with this rich farmers wanted to expand wool production to earn profits. They were eager to improve their sheep breeds and control large area of land to allow breeding.
  • They began dividing and enclosing common land and building hedges to separate their property. They drove out villagers having small cottages on the commons and prevented the poor from entering the enclosed fields.
  • Till mid 18th century, the enclosure movement proceeded between 1750 and 1850, 6 million acres of land was enclosed. The British parliament passed 4000 acts to legalize these enclosures.

New demand for grain

  • The New enclosure made in 16th century were for promoting sheep farming but land being enclosed in 18th century was for grain production. In mid 18th century, the English population increased rapidly. It meant increased demand for food grains.
  • At this time, Britain was industrializing. People began migrating to urban areas in search of jobs. To survive, they buy food grains in the market. As the population grew, the market of food grains expanded and when demand increased, food grain price rose.
  • By the end of 18th century, France was at war with England. This disrupted trade and import of food grain from Europe. Price of food grain increased rapidly encouraging land owners to enclose land and enlarge area under grain cultivation. They also pressurized the parliament to pass the enclosure acts.

The age of enclosures

  • In earlier times, rapid population growth was followed by food shortages in England. But in 19th century grain production grew as quickly as population. In 1868 England was producing 80% of food it consumed and rest was imported.
  • This increase in food grain production was made possible not by any radical innovation in agricultural technology, but by bringing new lands under cultivation. Landlords took pasturelands, open fields, forest common, machines etc and turned them into agricultural fields.
  • Farmers continued to use simple innovations in agriculture to grow turnip and clover. They discovered that planting these crops made the soil more fertile by increasing nitrogen content in the soil.
  • Enclosures were now necessary to make long term investment on land and plan crop rotation to improve soil. Enclosures also helped rich land owners to expand land under their control and produce more for the market.

What happened to the poor?

  • Enclosures filled the pocket of landlords, but the poor has no longer access to commons. They could not collect fire wood, graze cattle or hunt small animals for meat. Poor were displaced. Most of them from midlands were forced to move in southern countries.
  • Earlier, labourers used to live with land owners helping them by doing odd jobs. But this practice was disappearing by 1860’s. Labourers were now being paid wages and employed only during harvest season.
  • Landowners also cut their amount they had to spend on their workmen to increase their profits. By this, work become insecure and income unstable.

The introduction to threshing machines

  • During the Napoleonic wars, price of food grain were high and to use this opportunity to gain profits, farmers expanded their production. They began buying the new threshing machines due to fear of shortage of labour.
  • After the Napoleonic wars ended, thousands of soldiers returned to villages looking for work to survive. But this was the time when grain from Europe began coming to England prices declined and an agricultural depression set in.
  • Landowners reduced the cultivated area and demanded imports of crops to be stopped. They cut wages and number of workmen employed. At this time, riots of captain swing spread in the countryside. The unemployed poor moved from village to village in search of job as threshing machines became sign of bad times.


  • The coming of modern agriculture in England brought different changes. The open field disappeared and customary rights of peasants were undermined.
  • Richer farmer expanded grain production and made profits whereas poor farmers left their villages in large numbers. Some went from midlands of southern countries where jobs are available and other move to cities.

Bread Basket and Dust Bowl

  • At that time that common field were enclosed in England at the end of 18th century, settled agriculture had not developed in USA. Over 800 million acres were covered with forest and 600 million acres were covered with grassland.
  • Most of the landscape was not in control of white American. Till 1780’s, their settlement were confined to a narrow strip of coastal land in the east. Most of them were nomadic and others were settled. They live by hunting, gathering and fishing, other cultivated corn, tobacco, pumpkin etc.
  • By the early 20th century, the landscape has changed radically. While American had moved westwards and established control on west coast. The USA had come to dominate the world market in agricultural produce.

The Westward Move and Wheat Cultivation

  • After the American war of Independence from 1775-1783 and the formation of United States of America, the white American began to move westward. Over 700,000 white settlers had moved on the Appalachian plateau.
  • American seemed to be a land of promise. Its wilderness could be turned into cultivated field. It was full of forest timber, animal’s skin and gold and minerals. But this meant that the American Indian had to be cleared from the land.
  • After 1800, the US government committed a policy for moving American Indians westward. In the numerous wars, many Indians massacred and many of villages were burnt. Indians resisted but were forced to sign treaties to give their land and more westward.
  • The white settlers succeeded by 1800’s they moved in Mississippi valley between 1820 and 1850. They slashed and burnt forests, cleared land for cultivation and built log cabin in forest clearings. They cleared areas, put fences and began ploughing land and sowed corn and wheat.
  • When the soil became impoverished and exhausted in 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 19th century, there was an expansion of wheat production in USA. Urban population was growing and export market was becoming bigger. Demand of wheat increased with its price. The spread of railways helped to transport the grain to eastern coast for export.
  • By early 20th century, during 1st world war demand became higher. Russian supplies of wheat were cut off the USA had to feed Europe. US president said, ‘plant more wheat, wheat will win the war ‘to respond the need of time.
  • In 1910, about 45 million acres of land in USA was under wheat. After 9 years, the area expanded to 74 million acres about 65%. Most of the increase was in great plain where new areas were ploughed to expand cultivation.

The Coming of New Technology

  • In the 19th century, the settlers moved to new habitats and new lands. They modified their implements to meet their requirements. In the mid-western prairie, the simple ploughs of farmers were ineffective. So to cultivate and turn the soil over, a variety of new plough were devised locally.
  • Front of new plough rested on small wheels and were hitched onto 6 yokes of oxen or horses. Some of them were 12 feet long. By 20th century, farmers in Great Plains break the ground with tractors and disk ploughs, clearing vast stretches for wheat cultivation.
  • Cyrus McCormick invented the first mechanical reaper in 1831. The mechanical reaper could cut in one day as 5 men could cut with cradles and 1 man with sickle. Combined harvester was being used by most of the farmers by the early 20th A combined harvester could harvest 500 acres of wheat in 2 weeks.

What happened to the poor?

  • For the poor farmers, machines brought misery. Many of them bought these machines from banks to earn higher profits. But later they find it difficult to repay the loans to banks. Many of them deserted their farms and looks for job elsewhere.
  • Mechanization has reduced the need of labour. Most of the farmers later faced trouble. Unsold stocks piled up, storehouses overflowed with grains. Large amount of corn and wheat became animal feed.
  • Wheat prices fell and export market collapsed. This created the situation of Great Agrarian Depression of the 1930s that destroyed wheat farmers everywhere.

Dust Bowl

  • The expansion of wheat agriculture in Great Plains created problems. In 1930s the terrifying dust storms began to blow over southern plains. Black blizzards rolled in rising like waves of muddy water. This created a situation of death and destruction everywhere.
  • The early 1930s were the years of persistent drought. The rains failed and temperatures soured. Ordinary dust storms became black blizzards because the entire landscape had been ploughed over.
  • Because of expansion in wheat cultivation, tractors turn the soil and broke the sod into dust. After the 1930s, farmers realized the importance of conserving ecological system.

The Indian farmers and opium production

  • British rule was established in India after the battle of Plassey [1757]. Land revenue was major source of government income for British. To build resources of state, they imposed regular system of land revenue, increase revenue rate and expand area under cultivation.
  • The area under forests and pasture declined as cultivation increased. This created misery for Indian peasants and pastoralists. Their access to forests and grazing land was restricted by rules and regulations.
  • In the colonial period, India came to produce indigo, opium, sugarcane, cotton, jute and several other crops for export to the feed the population of urban Europe and to supply the mills of Lancashire and Manchester in England.

A Taste for Tea: The Trade with China

  • In late 18th century, English east India Company was buying tea and silk from china for sale in England. In 1785, about 15 million pounds of tea was being imported into England. By 1830, it jumped to 30 million pounds and profits of East India Company came to depend on the tea trade.
  • The Confucian rulers of china were suspicious of all foreign merchants. They feared that merchants would interfere in local politics and affect their authority. So, china rulers were unwilling to allow the entry foreign goods.
  • They could buy tea only by paying silver coins or bullion. This meant an outflow of treasure from England. Merchants searched for a community they could sell in china, something they could persuade Chinese to buy.
  • Portugese had introduced opium into China in early 16th The Chinese emperor had forbidden the sale and production of opium except for medicinal purpose because the Chinese were aware of opium addiction.
  • Western merchants began an illegal trade in mid 18th Opium was unloaded in a no. of sea ports of china and carried by local agents in interiors.
  • By 1820s about 10,000 crates of opium were being smuggled into china annually. This quantity increased to over 35,000 crates within 15 years which shows growing addiction of opium for Chinese.

Where did opium come from?

  • When British conquered Bengal, they made effort to produce opium in lands under their control. As the markets for opium expanded in china, large volume of opium flowed to Bengal ports. Before 1767, no more than 500 chests were imported from India but within 4 years this quantity trebled and the government was exporting about 50,000 chests annually in 1870.
  • Supplies had to be increased to feed export trade. But it was not easy as farmers were unwilling to turn the fields. As opium production is a difficult task and is time consuming. Cultivation of opium results in poor production of cereals on pulses on the same level.
  • Also many cultivators do not own land. To cultivate, they had to pay rent and lease land from landlords. Farmers do not get enough time for other crops.
  • The price government paid to opium cultivators was very low. It was unaffordable for cultivators to grow opium at that price.

How were unwilling cultivators made to produce opium?

  • Unwilling cultivators were made to produce opium through a system of advances. From the 1780s such peasants found their village headmen giving them money advances to produce opium. When offered loan, the cultivators accepted it hoping to meet their needs and pay back it later. But it tied them to government opium agents.
  • By taking loan, the cultivator was forced to grow opium on a specified area of land and handover harvested crop on time. They get no option of plating the field with another crop and had to accept lower price from government.
  • Government also could also made opium production possible by rising its prices, but it wanted to buy it cheap from cultivators and sell at higher price to agents in Calcutta. Government wanted huge opium revenue in between. However, Farmers began agitating against and refuse advances. Many cultivators grow other crop and sold them to travelling traders.
  • By 1773, the British government in Bengal established a monopoly to trade in opium. No one was legally permitted to trade with this product. By the 1820s, the British found fall in opium production. It was increasing outside the British territories. It was produced in central India and Rajasthan which were not under British control.
  • The local traders in these regions were offering much higher process to peasants. Armed band of traders used to carry opium trade in 1820s. The government instructed its agents in princely states and destroyed all the crops.

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