The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 92, July 1988 - April, 1989 Page: 628
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Southwestern Historical Quarterly
In their quest to understand Texas planters and plain folk, Lowe and
Campbell amass an impressive corpus of statistics from the 1850 and
186o censuses. A careful examination of their information reveals
three distinctive life-styles on the eve of the Civil War. At the bottom of
the white economic scale rested approximately 20 to 30 percent of all
farmers, possessing neither land nor slaves. Yeomen-slaveholding
and nonslaveholding-constituted roughly 6o percent of the agricul-
tural population; they owned the land they worked, engaged in subsis-
tence farming, and rarely reached the exalted realm of commercial
production. Ensconced at the economic top was a planter elite whose
commitment to cotton or sugar cultivation created substantial profits.
As the authors note, the richest 8 percent of the population controlled
over 55 percent of the total wealth (pp. 1 18-119).
Although a sweeping analysis of the antebellum censuses is the
book's hallmark, it is also its chief weakness. The authors' writing style
will discourage all but the most determined readers. Few can long en-
dure constant references to Gini indexes, Lorenz curves, and percent-
ages rounded to the first decimal. These analytical tools have essential
value and serve best in appendices; their prolific use in the text con-
fuses rather than clarifies the authors' themes. The average reader,
then, will be tempted to skim most chapters and consume only the
Unhappily, some of these conclusions exceed the cited evidence. Eco-
nomic information-presented in abundance-is marshaled to argue
for slavery's profitability. It was indeed profitable, serving as the foun-
dation of substantial fortunes, giving the planters economic, social, and
political dominance, and pointing to greater profits in the future. Lowe
and Campbell do not, however, see the planters' economic ascendancy
as a divisive factor in the Texas social system. "In spite of the dominant
position of the slaveholders," they reason, "nonslaveholding yeomen
had little reason to have been motivated by class antagonism.... Agri-
culture in Texas provided an underlying unity of economic interest
and a promising future for planters and plain folk alike" (p. 19o).
Lowe and Campbell gloss over the vast economic gulf that separated
the planters from the plain folk and confuse common occupation with
Their own statistics reveal, for example, that those Texans worth
$1o,ooo or more held 42.4 percent of all real property in 1850; their
share increased to 57.3 percent by 186o (p. 11 7). The planters had the
lion's share and were in the process of increasing it rapidly. This left
scant room for a "promising future" for the yeoman farmer. Texas
plain folk would have been a strange lot not to have resented their nar-
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Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 92, July 1988 - April, 1989, periodical, 1989; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101212/m1/694/: accessed November 22, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas State Historical Association.