The Freedmen and Agricultural Prosperity
Edited by ROBERT A. CALVERT*
T HE HOPE FOR REBUILDING THE SOUTH AFTER THE CIVIL WAR LAY IN
wedding an available supply of land and labor. But here, too, the
southern farmer encountered problems. His major possession, land,
could not be sold for enough capital to begin anew. Well after Recon-
struction large plantations remained on the market at bargain prices.
Large plantation owners as well as men possessing small farms faced the
prospect of non-negotiable land, destroyed by war, neglect, and previous
years of careless cultivation methods. Between 186o and 1867 general
land values fell between 18 percent and 28 percent in Texas and over
50 percent in Arkansas, Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi. Through-
out the remainder of the nineteenth century, the mortgage rate of the
South remained the lowest in the United States, demonstrating the
paucity of ready cash to use for land purchases.'
Furthermore the white southern farmer doubted the efficiency and
responsibility of the agricultural labor available to work his land. The
Civil War severed the old master-slave system. Undoubtedly most south-
ern whites expected the black man to remain forever an agricultural
laborer, the role for which slaves were brought originally to the colonies,
and one which the Black Codes, passed immediately after the Civil War,
were designed to maintain. From 1865 to 1867 newspapers and individ-
ual orators bombarded readers and listeners with charges that irrespon-
sible Negroes, worthless and shiftless, would not work without proper
supervision. These complaints slackened in 1868 and diminished in
volume thereafter. The lessening of the din disclosed that the white
* Mr. Calvert, book review editor for the Quarterly, is an associate professor of history at
North Texas State University.
1 Report of the Commissioner of Agriculture for the Year 1866 (Washington, D.C.,
1867), 190o-91; Report of the Commissioner of Agriculture for the Year 1867 (Washing-
ton, D.C., 1868), 119; Theodore Saloutos, Farmer Movements in the South, 1865-1933
(Berkeley, 1960), 7; Theodore Saloutos, "Southern Agriculture and the Problems of Re-
adjustment, 1865-1877," Agricultural History, XXX (April, 1956), 61; George K. Holmes,
"A Decade of Mortgages," Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science,
IV (1894), 9go5, 917-918; Henry Grady, "Cotton and Its Kingdom," Harper's New Monthly
Magazine, LXXIV (October, 1881), 72o-721.
Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 76, July 1972 - April, 1973. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101202/. Accessed May 6, 2015.