The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 93, July 1989 - April, 1990 Page: 113
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Scholars have long realized the important role of education in the
Southern Farmers' Alliance's campaign for economic and political re-
form. It has been left to Theodore Mitchell to delineate the nature and
significance of the Alliance's educational program. He succeeds admi-
rably at this task and thus makes an important contribution to the
scholarship on the agrarian revolt of the late nineteenth century.
The first two chapters of the book are mostly overview and con-
tain little that will be new to the specialist. For the uninitiated, however,
they provide a fine introduction to the Alliance. The real substance of
Mitchell's work begins in chapters 3 and 4. Here the author analyzes
how the Alliance fashioned a critique of American society and a vision
of history itself that were unique in late nineteenth-century America.
As Mitchell ably explains, the Alliance worked to correct the "miseduca-
tion" (p. 70) of farmers and laborers that had led them uncritically to
accept Democratic hegemony and their own economic degradation. In
describing the Alliance's version of history, the author clarifies a funda-
mental theme of Populism that most scholars have only hinted at: that
the participants in the agrarian revolt rejected the dominant American
idea of progress and instead viewed their country's history as "the story
of the progressive degradation of the masses" (p. io8).
The book also contributes signally to our understanding of Populist
ideology. Better than any scholar before him, Mitchell explains the con-
flicting strains of conservatism and radicalism within the Alliance. The
order's ideas, he suggests, were based on conservative Jeffersonian and
Jacksonian principles. But in the changed environment of the Gilded
Age, efforts to apply those principles had "radical implications" (p. 78).
In the final chapter of the book, Mitchell underscores the uniqueness
of the Alliance experience by comparing the post-1900oo southern edu-
cational crusade with the Alliance's efforts. This creative comparison
contrasts the conservative, paternalistic aims of the philanthropists and
the radically egalitarian goals of the Alliance. Nowhere do Populism
and Progressivism differ more starkly from one another.
Texas gave birth to the Alliance, and Texans played a major part in
shaping its educational philosophy. The contributions of R. J. Sledge,
Evan Jones, Milton Park, Harry Tracy, and "Stump" Ashby receive
much-deserved attention. But overshadowing all others is Milam Coun-
ty's Charles Macune, the most original thinker of the agrarian revolt
and the chief author of the Alliance's educational program. Mitchell
paints perhaps the best existing portrait of the enigmatic Macune, an
achievement that alone would make the book worthwhile.
Sam Houston State University
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Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 93, July 1989 - April, 1990, periodical, 1990; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101213/m1/139/: accessed June 23, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas State Historical Association.