The Agricultural Wheel was a cooperative alliance of farmers in the United States sprung up almost spontaneously in 1882. One of the main founding organizers of the Agricultural Wheel was W.W. Tedford an Arkansas farmer and school teacher. The Agricultural Wheel, like other farm protest organizations--the Southern Farmers' Alliance, the Louisiana Farmers' Union and the Brothers of Freedom--the Agricultural Wheel had been formed to correct the injustices and oppressions done to the small farmers of the United States by merchants, grain elevators and the railroads.
Centered largely in the state of Arkansas the Agricultural Wheel sought association with other farm protest organizations outside the state of Arkansas. Because of the identity of the goals of these various groups merger talks had begun as early as 1887 between these protest groups. Besides the similarity of their political goals the Agricultural Wheel and the other farm protest organization shared the same organizational structure. The Agricultural Wheel and the other farm protest organizations anticipating merger were organized on the basis of small clubs of farmers organized at the neighborhood level. Even organization at the county level had proved to be impractical. County level organization was too large and not "local enough." In the 1880s, small farmers rarely journeyed to the county seat of their home counties. The Agricultural Wheel continued to exist as a separate organization until 1889 when it merged with the National Farmers' Alliance to form the Farmers' and Laborers' Union of America.
On February 15, 1882, during a period of depressed farm prices and drought, a group of nine Arkansas farmers led by W. W. Tetford, W. A. Suit and W. Taylor McBee met at the McBee Schoolhouse eight miles south of Des Arc in Prairie County in eastern Arkansas and formed the Wattensas Farmers' Club. The club vowed to improve the lives of farmers, improve their education and knowledge, and improve communications between them. Many Arkansas farmers were suffering under what they viewed as oppressive mortgages (known as anaconda mortgages) and were heavily in debt.
Within a short time it was suggested that the organization change its name. The choices were between "The Poor Man's Friend" and "The Agricultural Wheel" which was the name finally selected.
The situation did not improve in Arkansas that year and farmers were in such desperate straits that they called upon Governor Churchill to ask the legislature to postpone the collection of taxes.
By 1883 the organization consisted of over 500 members in Arkansas. At the organization's meeting in the spring a state Wheel was established and deputies were appointed to spread the word to neighboring states and seek to establish local wheels in those states.
In October of 1885 the Wheel absorbed, by a vote of both organizations, the Brothers of Freedom, another Arkansas farm organization. In July of 1886, the merger of the two farm organizations became official.
The growing political clout of the organization led it to establish a political platform consisting of the following demands:
- Paying off the national debt
- Repeal of laws that favored capital over labor
- Preventing aliens from owning land
- Abolishing national banks
- Government operations on a cash basis
- Ending of agricultural futures trading
- Establishing a graduated income tax
- Prohibiting importation of foreign labor
- National ownership of transportation and communication
- Direct election of national politicians
- Free trade and removal of all import duties
- Establishment of a luxury tax
- Free public education
- No renewal of patents
In 1888 at the national meeting in Meridian, Mississippi a merger between the Wheel and the Farmers' Alliance was proposed. The two organizations met jointly in 1889 in Birmingham, Alabama and merged that same year.
Among farmers' organizations of the period the Wheel was remarkable for refusal to hold segregated meetings, a policy it held until merger with the Farmers' Alliance.
- Schwartz, Michael, Radical Protest and Social Structure: The Southern Farmers' Alliance and Cotton Tenancy, 1880-1890 (University of Chicago Press: 1976) p. 92.
- Schwartz, Michael, Radical Protest and Social Structure: The Southern Farmers' Alliance and Cotton Tenancy, 1880-1890, p. 12.
- Schwartz, Michael, Radical Protest and Social Structure: The Southern Farmers' Alliance and Cotton Tenancy, 1880-1890, p. 12 and 253.
- Schwartz, Michael, Radical Protest and Social Structure: The Southern Farmers' Alliance and Cotton Teneancy, 1880-1890, p. 100.
- Schwaertz, Michael, Radical Protest and Social Structure: The Southern Farmers' Alliance and Cotton Tenancy, 1880-1890, p. 93.