Farm Tenancy

Following the Civil War, Texas plantation owners had little cash, and they wanted to assure themselves of a stable labor supply throughout the growing and harvesting season. A system of tenant farming arose to meet these needs. The most common arrangement was sharecropping. Since the crop was not split until after the harvest, tenants could only receive payment for their labor after the crops were in. Farmers preferred tenancy arrangements to other forms of agricultural labor because tenancy gave them greater independence and more flexibility than wage labor. It also directly rewarded them for their hard work with better crops. They thought tenancy could lead to farm ownership under the right conditions.

As tenant farming became more common, it also became more systematic. In Texas, a hierarchy of tenant farmers developed. At the top were share and cash tenants who supplied the mules, plows, seed, feed, and other supplies needed. Share tenants typically paid the landlord a third of the cotton crop and a fourth of the grain. At the bottom were sharecroppers who supplied only their labor. They typically received half the crops. The differences were important, because share tenants received a larger portion of the crops and they were considered the owners of the crops. Sharecroppers were generally considered laborers whose wages were paid with a share of the crops, which were owned by the landlord.

In addition to paying out a portion of the crop as rent, many tenants also mortgaged their share of the cotton crop to a merchant or their landlord for food and other supplies. The interest on the loans was very high. Many tenants found themselves just breaking even or owing more than the total received for their crops. As the population of the state grew and the state’s vast lands were claimed, there was an increase in the proportion of tenants. By 1900, half of all Texas farmers were tenants.

The conditions under which tenant farmers lived and worked became political issues with the rise of the People's Party in the 1890s. They became even more prominent when James E. Ferguson used them as part of his successful campaign for governor in 1914.

Source: Farm Tenancy
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