The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 92, July 1988 - April, 1989

Book Reviews

rowing role. Unfortunately, census statistics are without soul and can-
not tell modern scholars what entered the mind of the sweating plow-
man when he saw a slave-rich planter pass in his elegant carriage.
Statistics can, however, suggest that the two had markedly different
life-styles.
The information developed by Lowe and Campbell should be ea-
gerly utilized as a major contribution toward the larger study of south-
ern antebellum agriculture. Their conclusions must be handled with
greater caution.
Abilene Christian University FRED A. BAILEY
The Law of the Land: Two Hundred Years of American Farmland Policy. By
John Opie. (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1987. Pp.
xxi+231. Preface, introduction, maps, graphs, illustrations, notes,
index. $25.95.)
In this provocative study John Opie challenges those historical views
of American farmland policy that he thinks have ill-served many of the
nation's agricultural producers. In particular, Opie claims that while the
public has appeared to idealize independent family farmers, in actu-
ality this group of agriculturalists has seldom received the primary bene-
fits from the federal government's land and agricultural programs.
Beginning with the enactment of the Land Ordinance of 1785 and
concluding with the passage of the Taylor Grazing Act in 1934, numer-
ous bills providing for the distribution and survey of the national do-
main became law. Despite the general impression that such legislation
fostered the establishment of prosperous independent family farms on
neatly surveyed units, Opie charges that the bulk of the land initially
went to speculators, railroad corporations, state governments, Indian
nations, and various profit-seeking groups. Even the hallowed Home-
stead Law of 1862 offered a superb opportunity for those looking for
more loan collateral. Furthermore, the author suggests that though the
gridlock survey of land west of Pennsylvania and north of Texas pro-
vided for an orderly arrangement of settlement on paper, the system
was weakened by its failure to take into account variations in landscape,
quality of sod, or geographic features.
The basic principle of unrestricted ownership of private property
did not always serve the best interests of the landowners. Opie notes, in
particular, that as settlers assumed control of regions like the Great
Plains, too little attention was given to the problems of aridity, causing
farmers to suffer periodic failures. Only after the disastrous dust storms
of the 193os did political leaders awaken to the basic issues associated

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Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 92, July 1988 - April, 1989. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101212/. Accessed December 27, 2014.