Part three: The Company Town
Robert Foster ended his store partnership with Felix Meighen in 1868 to pursue farming full time. About this same time the Meighens also started to expand their farm and land holdings. Because many farmers had a shortage of cash, they often borrowed from the Meighens or received store goods on credit. When indebted farmers could not pay their bills, the Meighens granted a note for the amount, plus a high interest rate (usually 10 percent to 40 percent annually). A note was often secured by a mortgage on the farmer's land and property. Because farmers were prey to the boom-and-bust cycles of the agricultural markets, many defaulted on their loans, and the Meighens instituted "Attachment and Execution Proceedings" and foreclosed on the properties. Through this method and by buying up property sold cheaply by people leaving for more prosperous railroad towns, the Meighens amassed their land holdings, owning the entire town and its surrounding lands by 1889.
By 1890, Thomas Meighen and his aging father, Felix, owned over 1,000 acres. The farming operation had moved from several small individually-owned wheat farms of the 1850s to the large Meighen-owned diversified operation of the 1890s, concentrating on dairy cattle, corn, small grains and vegetables. To maintain the farm, area men were hired to help with the planting, maintenance and harvest, as well as the continuous animal husbandry required for such an operation. Area women worked in the house. Workers rented homes from the Meighens in town, or they lived outside of town in their own homes. Both men and women were paid primarily in store credit, a system which mirrored factories and mines the eastern United States of the period.
Thomas Meighen's personal ambitions extended beyond business and real estate into politics. Like his Uncle William, Thomas was intelligent and independent, and he knew how to think critically. Dissatisfied with conventional American politics of the day, they both spent most of their lives in a political minority or in the third-party system. They saw themselves as patriotic Americans deeply concerned with social justice and whose strong convictions often put them at odds with dominant political trends.
In the 1870s, the National Greenback-Labor Party, or "Greenback Party," attracted young Thomas Meighen to its fight for higher commodity prices and "cheap money" in the form of silver coinage. Further, the party vowed that no railroad bonds should be sold unless approved by a majority of the electorate. In 1877 the party nominated the elder William Meighen for lieutenant governor, in which he placed a distant third in the election. In 1879 he ran for governor on the Greenback ticket, but lost with only 4 percent of the vote. By the 1880s, most Greenbackers had melted back into the traditional two political parties, but the Meighens gravitated to the new Farmer's Alliance Party. This party attempted to "unite farmers of the United States for their protection against class legislation and the encroachment of concentrated capital and the tyranny of monopoly." (Historian John D. Hicks.)
Many local farmers resisted Thomas Meighen's involvement in the new party, as well as his involvement in the new People's Party. A broadside by an anonymous writer called "The Anti-Monopolist" charged that he was overly ambitious and should "shed his 'colt's teeth' before seeking political leadership." The broadside published in 1881 characterized the family as "money-mongerers, userers, and land pirates." Meighen would be criticized throughout his political career, and his wealth and prominence would always leave him open to the charge of hypocrisy whenever he railed against the injustice of the status quo. As a farmer, he understood the rage of farmers who felt the entire economic system was exploiting them. As a wealthy merchant and banker, he was at an advantage since the misfortunes of the farmers moved in his favor. These ironies led many to view him as "inconsistent," and it was Thomas Meighen's fate to fight for an economic class that was usually unsympathetic, if not hostile, to his goals.
Part one - "The Meighen Family"
Part two - "The Boom is Over"
Part four: "The End of Forestville and a New Beginning"