The campaign to close the open range in the late nineteenth-century South raises questions about the essential nature of Southern legal, political, and social organizations. Some historians have argued that the attack on the range formed part of a coordinated attempt to destroy traditional social order and to ensnare poor Southerners into an exploitive capitalist system. Others have argued that the attack on the range was merely a rationalization of an inefficient land-use system inherited from pre–Civil War society. This article argues that Southerners understood and debated both these aspects of closing the range. However, the issue became politically explosive when antirange forces attempted to deny voters the power to settle this question for themselves at the local level.

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