Leases for a term of years, however, were not uncommon; but the want of capital rendered it impossible for the tenantry to attempt any spirited improvements.
But there is reason to believe that the influence of the example of its numerous members did not extend to the common tenantry, who not unnaturally were reluctant to adopt the practices of those by whom farming was perhaps regarded as primarily a source of pleasure rather than of profit.
Nearly three-fourths of the farms, in 1900, were cultivated by their owners, but the cash tenantry system showed an increase of 100% since 1890, being most extensively used in the cotton counties.
A large proportion of farms (49.7%) were operated by the owners, and the prevailing form of tenantry was the share system by which 42.5% of the farms were cultivated, while 8.24% of the farms were operated by negroes; these represented less than 4% of the total value of farm property, the average value of farms operated by negroes being $17 per acre, that of farms operated by whites, $23 per acre.
The tenantry system was also undergoing a change - the share system which developed in the years succeeding the Civil War being replaced by a system of cash rental.
There was one exception to this harsh treatment of villeins, namely, the rustic tenantry in manors of ancient demesne, that is, in estates which had belonged to the crown before the Conquest, had a standing-ground even against their lords as regards the tenure of their plots and the fixity of their services.
It must be remembered that a baron of 1450 was not strong merely by reason of the spears and bows of his household and his tenantry, like a baron of the I3th century.
He proposed also that, in cases of eviction, the smaller tenantry should receive compensation for disturbance.
The largef tenantry, who were supposed to be able to look after their own interests, were entirely debarred, and tenants enjoying leases were excluded from claiming compensation, except for tillages, buildings and reclamation of lands.
It so happened that some bad harvests had temporarily increased the difficulties of the tenantry, and there was no doubt that large numbers of evictions were taking place in Ireland.