The New View Of Reconstruction - 9 21 12 T he Ne w V ie w...

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9/21/12The New View Of Reconstruction1/10Published on American Heritage Magazine()Home> Printer-friendly > Printer-friendlyThe New View Of ReconstructionBy Eric FonerCreated 01/21/2011 - 02:29Eric Foner[1]October/november 1983 | Volume 34, Issue 6Whatever you were taught or thought you knew about the post-Civil War era is probably wrong inthe light of recent studyEric Foner[1]October/november 1983[2]IN THE PAST twenty years, no period of American history has been the subject of a morethoroughgoing réévaluation than Reconstruction—the violent, dramatic, and still controversial erafollowing the Civil War. Race relations, politics, social life, and economic change duringReconstruction have all been reinterpreted in the light of changed attitudes toward the place ofblacks within American society. If historians have not yet forged a fully satisfying portrait ofReconstruction as a whole, the traditional interpretation that dominated historical writing formuch of this century has irrevocably been laid to rest.Anyone who attended high school before 1960 learned that Reconstruction was an era ofunrelieved sordidness in American political and social life. The martyred Lincoln, according tothis view, had planned a quick and painless readmission of the Southern states as equalmembers of the national family. President Andrew Johnson, his successor, attempted to carryout Lincoln’s policies but was foiled by the Radical Republicans (also known as Vindictives orJacobins). Motivated by an irrational hatred of Rebels or by ties with Northern capitalists out toplunder the South, the Radicals swept aside Johnson’s lenient program and fastened blacksupremacy upon the defeated Confederacy. An orgy of corruption followed, presided over byunscrupulous carpetbaggers (Northerners who ventured south to reap the spoils of office),traitorous scalawags (Southern whites who cooperated with the new governments for personalgain), and the ignorant and childlike freedmen, who were incapable of properly exercising thepolitical power that had been thrust upon them. After much needless suffering, the whitecommunity of the South banded together to overthrow these “black” governments and restorehome rule (their euphemism for white supremacy). All told, Reconstruction was just about thedarkest page in the American saga.
9/21/12The New View Of Reconstruction2/10Originating in anti-Reconstruction propaganda of Southern Democrats during the 187Os, thistraditional interpretation achieved scholarly legitimacy around the turn of the century through thework of William Dunning and his students at Columbia University. It reached the larger publicthrough films like Birth of a Nation and Gone With the Wind and that best-selling work of myth-making masquerading as history, The Tragic Era by Claude G. Bowers. In language asexaggerated as it was colorful, Bowers told how Andrew Johnson “fought the bravest battle for

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