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Monday, January 7, 2013

America: Union Unreconstructed

 nation of people whose perverted nostalgia tars them to a deeply flawed past (all the while claiming otherwise) can but fail their revolution and descend inexorably into regression
Excerpting, editing, brief comment by 
Carolyn Bennett

New Birth of Freedom: Reconstruction during the Civil War
“At the war’s outset, the Lincoln administration insisted that restoring the Union was its only purpose. But as slaves by the thousands abandoned the plantations and headed for Union lines, and military victory eluded the North, the president made the destruction of slavery a war aim -- a decision announced in the Emancipation Proclamation of January 1863.”

Reconstruction Ended  

“In the 1870’s, violent opposition in the South and the North’s retreat from its commitment to equality, resulted in the end of Reconstruction. By 1876, the nation was prepared to abandon its commitment to equality for all citizens regardless of race.

“… The election of 1876 hinged on disputed returns from Florida, Louisiana, and South Carolina, where Republican governments still survived.

“After intense negotiations involving leaders of both parties, the Republican candidate, Rutherford B. Hayes, became president, while Democrats assumed control of the disputed Southern states.

“Reconstruction had come to an end.”

Revolution Unfinished

“In the generation after the end of Reconstruction, the Southern states deprived [American Negroes] of their right to vote and ordered public and private facilities of all kinds to be segregated by race. Until job opportunities opened in the North in the twentieth century, spurring a mass migration out of the South, most [Negroes] remained locked in a system of political powerlessness and economic inequality.

“A hostile and biased historical interpretation of Reconstruction as a tragic era of ‘black supremacy’ became part of the justification for the South’s new system of ‘white supremacy.’

“Not until the mid-twentieth century would the nation again attempt to come to terms with the political and social agenda of Reconstruction.
Civil Rights Demonstrations

“The civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s is often called the ‘Second Reconstruction.’ Its achievements were far-reaching.

“Today, racial segregation has been outlawed, blacks vote on the same terms as whites; more black Americans hold public office than ever before.”

However, “like the first Reconstruction, the second failed to erase the economic inequalities that originated in slavery and were reinforced by decades of segregation. Many black Americans have entered the middle class, but unemployment and poverty remain far higher than among whites Americans.

“Some Americans believe the nation has made major progress in living up to the ideal of equality. Other Americans are struck by how far away we are from the ideal of equality.”

First colored  American
Senators and Representatives

Reconstruction was “one of the most turbulent and controversial eras in American history.” It began during the Civil War and ended in 1877.”

Reconstruction “witnessed America’s first experiment in interracial democracy.

“Just as the fate of slavery was central to the meaning of the Civil War, so the divisive politics of Reconstruction turned on the status former slaves would assume in the reunited nation.

“Reconstruction remains relevant today because the issues central to it ─ the role of the federal government in protecting citizens’ rights, and the possibility of economic and racial justice ─ are still unresolved.

“For all Americans, Reconstruction was a time of fundamental social, economic, and political change. The overthrow of Reconstruction left to future generations the troublesome problem of racial justice.”

he failure of continuous progress beyond 19th century Reconstruction is also reflective of a general failure in the United States: a failure to progress in ideas, in law, in relations foreign and domestic. A sad state of affairs that is connected with and rises from a pervasive all-round environment of entrenchment, nepotism, corruption, an often perverted nostalgia retaining the same ole policies, political parties, and people in power.

Sources and notes

America’s Reconstruction: People and Politics after the Civil War (Copyright 2003)


Columbia University Professor Eric Foner is author of

Nothing But Freedom: Emancipation and Its Legacy (1983); Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877 (1988) (winner, among other awards, of the Bancroft Prize, Parkman Prize, and Los Angeles Times Book Award); The Reader’s Companion to American History (with John A. Garraty, 1991); The Story of American Freedom (1998); and Who Owns History? Rethinking the Past in a Changing World (2002). His survey textbook of American history, Give Me Liberty! An American History and a companion volume of documents, Voices of Freedom, appeared in 2004. His books have been translated into Chinese, Korean, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese, and Spanish.  His most recent book, The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery (winner, among other awards, of the Bancroft Prize, Pulitzer Prize for History, and The Lincoln Prize) was published in the fall of 2010.

Eric Foner is DeWitt Clinton Professor of History at Columbia University and a prominent U.S. historian. He took his doctoral degree at Columbia, and has served as president of three major professional organizations: the Organization of American Historians, American Historical Association, and Society of American Historians; and is recipient of the Bancroft and Pulitzer Prizes. http://www.ericfoner.com

Britannica note

Reconstruction in U.S. history is a period during and after the American Civil War in which attempts were made to solve the political, social, and economic problems arising from the readmission to the Union of the 11 Confederate states that had seceded at or before the outbreak of war.


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