The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 79, July 1975 - April, 1976 Page: 22
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Southwestern Historical Quarterly
southern state governments were as democratic in i86o as their northern
sister states." Owsley, although he paid only passing attention to political
affairs, insisted that "whatever influence the planters exercised over the
political action of the common people. ... was based upon the respect the
plain folk of a community had for the character and judgment of individual
planters." In short, aristocrats may have held office, but they were demo-
Both interpretations are in a sense correct, and both provide valuable
insights into antebellum southern politics. There are, however, three
problems with the historiographical debate as it has developed to this point.
First, although possibly unintentionally, both schools have shown a tendency
to oversimplify the issue. Each, in seeking to make its point, has been in-
clined to place too much emphasis on either aristocracy or democracy and
thus establish a false dichotomy. Second, historians in the two schools have
often reached their conclusions while analyzing different aspects of the
same general question. Specifically, those who present the aristocratic
interpretation have emphasized the practical aspect of the problem: "Who
holds political power?" Proponents of the democratic view usually stress
the institutional aspect: "Were there aristocratic limitations on the right
to vote and the opportunity to hold office?" Third, scholars of both inter-
pretations have failed to use all the evidence and research tools available;
especially, they have not used quantitative methods to establish the eco-
nomic status of political leaders relative to that of the general population.
The present study, focusing on antebellum Texas, will offer a synthesis of
the aristocracy-or-democracy question; it will deal with both institutional
and practical aspects of the problem; and it is based on a combination of
traditional sources and quantitative methods.
By the standards of that age, the institutions of antebellum Texas pro-
vided for a democratic political system. The Texas Constitution of 1845
Every free male person who shall have attained the age of twenty-one years,
and who shall be a citizen of the United States, or who is ... a citizen of the
republic of Texas, and shall have resided in this State one year next preceding
an election, and the last six months within the district, county, city, or town
in which he offers to vote, (Indians not taxed, Africans, and descendants of
Africans, excepted), shall be deemed a qualified elector.
These voters were to elect members of the state legislature, the governor,
2Fletcher M. Green, "Democracy in the Old South," Journal of Southern History, XII
(February, 1946), 23 (first and second quotations); Frank Lawrence Owsley, Plain Folk
f the Old South (Baton Rouge, 1949), 139 (third quotation).
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Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 79, July 1975 - April, 1976, periodical, 1975/1976; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101203/m1/40/: accessed August 17, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas State Historical Association.