The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 106, July 2002 - April, 2003 Page: 246
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Southwestern Historical Quarterly
in his public statements and stated priorities, dedicating himself to the
principle that "the civilization capable of republican, local self-govern-
ment begins and ends with the plow." He made plain his anxieties over
the "money power" and "accumulated capital." Yet his agenda bid fair
chiefly to benefit a specific (and, in proportional terms, shrinking) sector
of the rural population: the landowning. By 188o over one-third of the
farms in Texas were operated by tenants-in other words, by farmers who
might well feel that their interests would be better served by generous in-
vestment in public education or a land policy that privileged family home-
steading rather than quick sale to those with ready cash.2"
If it cannot be assumed that Roberts's policies appealed to all farmers'
interests, it was also not the case that only farmers found them appealing.
Much of the cheerleading that one encounters in Roberts's personal pa-
pers for his remorseless setting of priorities (particularly his keeping a lid
on the state budget at the expense of public schools) came from fairly
prominent attorneys, merchants, and other businessmen and profession-
als. Much of it seems to echo the support that certain members of the
state's political, business, and social elites-such as John Reagan, Fletcher
Stockdale, E. S. C. Robertson, and George Flournoy-gave at the consti-
tutional convention to the pitiless pruning of public education.24
Loud controversies over the disposition of the public domain showed
particularly clearly that the varied constituents of the agrarian population
presented no united front in this era's politics. Roberts placed large
amounts of the state's public land on the market on easier terms than had
been enforced previously. One law passed under his inspiration set aside
land in West Texas and the Panhandle for sale in essentially unlimited
" Governors' Messages, Coke to Ross, i874-1891 (Austin: Archive & History Department of the
Texas State Library, 1916), 218-219; Lelia Bailey, "The Life and Pubhc Career of O. M. Roberts,
1815-1883" (Ph D. diss., University of Texas, 1932), 297 (1st quotation), Oran M. Roberts, A De-
scnption of Texas, Its Advantages and Resources, with SomeAccount of thearDevelopment, Past, Present and Fu-
ture (St. Louis: Gilbert Book Co., 1881), i (2nd quotation), 38, 129, Oran M. Roberts, "The Political,
Legislative, and Judicial History of Texas for its FiftyYears of Statehood, 1845-1895," in A Compre-
hensive Hzstory of Texas 1685 to 1897, ed. Dudley Wooten (2 vols.; Dallas* Willham Scarff, 1898), II,
212, 216; Oran M. Roberts, Our Federal Relatzons, from a Southern Vzew of Them (Austin: Von Boeck-
mann, 1892), 158 (3rd and 4th quotations). Landlessness was a common condition among former
slaves but by 188o was also increasing among white farmers. Cecil Harper Jr., "Farming Someone
Else's Land: Farm Tenancy in the Texas Brazos River Valley, 1850-1880" (Ph.D. diss., University of
North Texas, 1988), 175, 199-200 J T. Sanders, Farm Ownership and Tenancy in the Black Praime of
Texas, U.S. Department of Agriculture Bulletin, no. o168 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing
Office, 1922), 4-5. On the special appeal of Roberts's policies to landowning farmers, see Barr,
Reconstruction to Reform, 59; H. Tutwiler to O. M. Roberts, Apr. 16, 1881, Roberts Papers.
2" George Mason to Roberts, Apr. 24, 1879, Roberts Papers; Thomas Moore to Roberts, Apr. 26,
1879, ibid.;James Masterson to Roberts, Apr. 26, 1879, ibid.; M. D. K Taylor to Roberts, Apr. 28,
1879, ibid., Edwin Hobby to Roberts, May 2, 1879, Ibid.;J M. Williams to Roberts, May 3, 1879,
ibid.; A. M. Hobby to Roberts, May 5, 1879, ibid.; Ashbel Smith to Roberts, May 12, 1879, ibid.;
Gustave Cook to Roberts, May 28, 1879, Ibid., E M. Daggett to Roberts, May 30, 1879, Ibid.; Ru-
fus C. Burleson to Roberts, June 7, 1879, ibid.; C. B. Wellborn to Roberts, Mar. 8, 188o, ibid.; Asa
Holt to Roberts [undated], ibid.
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Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 106, July 2002 - April, 2003, periodical, 2003; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101223/m1/298/: accessed July 26, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas State Historical Association.