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  • Editor's Page
  • Nelson L. Dawson

In his article "Knowing about the Tobacco: Women, Burley, and Farming in the Central Ohio River Valley," Jeffery A. Duvall has given us an absorbing regional perspective on tobacco farming, focusing on the role of women but also presenting a detailed ethnic and economic analysis as well. It can be difficult for us to deal with the historical significance of tobacco apart from what we now know of its disastrous health effects. There is a story, possibly apocryphal, that an expatriate Irishman, asked why so many of his countrymen continued to smoke, announced that, "Over there, smoking is still good for you." Well, not exactly, but the truth is that tobacco was (and doubtless is) good for some people in some circumstances, economically at least. Jeffery Duvall's PhD dissertation is suggestively entitled "'Burley Paid the Bills': Twentieth-Century Tobacco Culture in the Central Ohio River Valley." The culture in question, of course, involved the constant adjustment of gender roles in an enterprise which indeed paid the bills for many people of the region—many people on family-sized farms, not, it must be noted, for the agribusiness enterprises now all too typical of American agriculture. It is perhaps easy enough to romanticize this era, but clearly Jeffery Duvall has given us a vivid insight into a unique and now-disappearing regional culture of agriculture.

Even a cursory awareness of American history can afford reasons for reflecting upon the truth of Winston Churchill's observation that "democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried." One can think of this observation specifically in reference to Charles L. Davis's article "Racial Politics in Central [End Page 315] Kentucky during the Post–Reconstruction Era: Bourbon County, 1877–1899." The bright promise of what James M. McPherson has called the "Second American Revolution" in his Abraham Lincoln and the Second American Revolution (1992) faded rapidly in the postwar era. The sad truth is that the constitutional imperatives of the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth amendments far exceeded the commitment of most Americans, by no means only in the South, to racial justice.

Dictatorships can employ lethal means to force rapid social change, though they seldom do so for beneficent ends. But democracies, even when blessed with principled, courageous leadership (which was not the case in post–Civil War America) must often move with agonizing slowness. Neither political party embraced its civic responsibility to ensure anything like racial justice. The Democratic Party certainly did not, but the idealism of the Republican Party was yielding to the harsh realities of a racist political environment. Charles Davis has given us an astute analysis of how all this played out in late-nineteenth-century Bourbon County, Kentucky. The methods of racial exclusion were not as extreme or violent, he concludes, as those of the deep South. But, unhappily, they were perhaps equally effective. [End Page 316]



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