Constitutional liberty and for the preservation of

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constitutional liberty and for the preservation of our institutions ever waged by an Executive” butwas overwhelmed by the “poisonous propaganda” of the Radicals. Southern whites, as a result,“literally were put to the torture” by “emissaries of hate” who manipulated the “simple-minded”freedmen, “inflaming the negroes’ egotism” and even inspiring “lustful assaults” by blacks uponwhite womanhood.In a discipline that sometimes seems to pride itself on the rapid rise and fall of historicalinterpretations, this traditional portrait of Reconstruction enjoyed remarkable staying power. Thelong reign of the old interpretation is not difficult to explain. It presented a set of easily identifiableheroes and villains. It enjoyed the imprimatur of the nation’s leading scholars. And it accordedwith the political and social realities of the first half of this century. This image of Reconstructionhelped freeze the mind of the white South in unalterable opposition to any movement forbreaching the ascendancy of the Democratic party, eliminating segregation, or readmittingdisfranchised blacks to the vote.NEVERTHELESS , THE demise of the traditional interpretation was inevitable, for it ignored thetestimony of the central participant in the drama of Reconstruction—the black freedman.Furthermore, it was grounded in the conviction that blacks were unfit to share in political power.As Dunning’s Columbia colleague John W. Burgess put it, “A black skin means membership in arace of men which has never of itself succeeded in subjecting passion to reason, has never,therefore, created any civilization of any kind.” Once objective scholarship and modernexperience rendered that assumption untenable, the entire edifice was bound to fall.The work of “revising” the history of Reconstruction began with the writings of a handful ofsurvivors of the era, such as John R. Lynch, who had served as a black congressman fromMississippi after the Civil War. In the 1930s white scholars like Francis Simkins and RobertWoody carried the task forward. Then, in 1935, the black historian and activist W. E. B. Du Boisproduced Black Reconstruction in America , a monumental réévaluation that closed with anirrefutable indictment of a historical profession that had sacrificed scholarly objectivity on thealtar of racial bias. “One fact and one alone,” he wrote, “explains the attitude of most recentwriters toward Reconstruction; they cannot conceive of Negroes as men.” Du Bois’s work,however, was ignored by most historians.It was not until the 1960s that the full force of the revisionist wave broke over the field. Then, inrapid succession, virtually every assumption of the traditional viewpoint was systematicallydismantled. A drastically different portrait emerged to take its place. President Lincoln did nothave a coherent “plan” for Reconstruction, but at the time of his assassination he had been

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