Notes and Documents
Nineteenth-Century Farmers, Cotton, and
ROBERT A. CALVERT*
LET US CROWN OUR SNOWY WHITE MONARCH KING AGAIN!" EXULTED A
southern newspaper in the agricultural boom of 1867.1 Texans en-
dorsed this proposal heartily. After the Civil War farmers flocked to the
frontier regions of the state, and by 1889 Texas led all others in the pro-
duction of cotton. The monarch proved to be a fickle one, however, be-
cause prosperity for the farmer did not necessarily follow the king's
growth. Indeed, from 1870 to 1930, the percentage of tenant-operated
to owner-operated farms grew steadily. Tenancy cast its economic blight
upon black and whites impartially. In the famous black-waxey lands of
Texas in 1929, for example, 55.7 percent of all farms were tilled by
white tenants. The growth of tenancy and the poverty of the state
caused agricultural experts to bemoan the southern attachment to
cotton culture and to blame the king for its peasant's woes.'
Throughout the Gilded Age agricultural reformers offered explana-
tions for the increasing poverty of the cotton farmer. Most saw his
plight as growing from the single-crop economy that sharecropping
and the crop-lien system buttressed.' They thought, too, that these
systems began as an answer to the unwillingness of the Negro to work.
One expert explained that, "It [the sharecropping system] was devised
by the planters in the days when politicians and fanatics were drawing
the attention of the freedmen from their work in the cotton fields, and
the employers found some means necessary to make the laborers feel
*Mr. Calvert is assistant professor of history at North Texas State University.
1Southern Argus (Selma, Alabama), August 15, 1867.
"A. C. True (ed.), The Cotton Plant: Its History, Botany, Chemistry, Culture, Enemies,
and Uses (Washington, 1896), 269; Samuel Lee Evans, "Texas Agriculture, 1880-1930"
(Ph.D. dissertation, University of Texas, Austin), 319; Rupert B. Vance, Human Factors
in Cotton Culture (Chapel Hill, N.C., 1929), 23; John S. Spratt, The Road to Spindletop
(Dallas, 1955), 67-68.
'For example, see the worthy master's address in Proceedings of the Thirteenth Annual
Session of the Texas State Grange (Dallas, 1887), Appendix, 15.
Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 73, July 1969 - April, 1970. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth117147/. Accessed August 3, 2015.