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Critical Review Historians and the Extent of Slave Ownership in the Southern United States Only a minority of the whites owned slaves at all times nearly three-fourths of the white families in the South as a whole held no slaves slave ownership in the South was not widespread not more than a quarter of the white heads of families were slave owners and even in the cotton states the proportion was less than one-third in 1850 only one in three owned any Negroes on the eve of the Civil War the ration was one in four and slave owners probably made up less than a third of southern whites From the US History textbooks in an elementary school to the Civil War journals of a major university these lines are reprinted and repeated in an attempt to shape the perception of the public and to ease the insecurities of a nation embarrassed by slavery an institution that supposedly marred its glorious history or so says Otto H Olsen In an article that appears in the journal of Civil War History of 1972 entitled Historians and the Extent of Slave Ownership in the Southern United States Olsen attempts to challenge the widely accepted notion that slave ownership was confined to only a few southern white plantation owners and that most of the white population was unaffected by it The author spends nearly half of his thirty-seven paragraph article displaying the past and present attitudes of the general population through several case studies which he lists chronologically and explains in brief detail He tries to discredit a handful of them while at the same time injecting his own views In an attempt to persuade the reader he sets up his side of the debate by citing a few case studies that promote his hypothesis and concludes by relating some of his own opinions and findings including a study where he makes a seemingly
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