Thursday, February 27, 2020

Reconstruction after the Civil War

America in Reconstruction

after the Civil War

History Book Club

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Wednesday, February 26, 2020. America in Reconstruction after the Civil War. It was a terrible time. Civil war soldiers returned home, some in the south facing freed slaves roaming the streets, plantations emptied of their work force, and fear stoked by troublemakers warning of blacks raping white women and killing white men, and angry whites searching out and killing blacks without cause.  The formation of the Ku Klux Klan.  Northern leaders sending carpetbaggers to the south to enforce emancipation and protect freedmen.  

Mark Wahlgren Summers, A Dangerous Stir: Fear, Paranoia and the Making of Reconstruction; Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2009., New York: Random House; 2019

Heather Cox Richardson, The Death of Reconstruction: Race, Labor and Politics in the Post-Civil War North, 1965-1901 (2001)

            This is Black History Month and studying Reconstruction after the Civil War is important to help us understand the story of America, which began by using fellow human beings as slaves.  As many as 850,000 soldiers were killed or died from injuries or starvation during the Civil War, and after it was over arose these problems:

            a.  How to include four million new citizens in the life of the country?

            b. How to incorporate the seceded states back into the Union?

            c.  How to create a new Union, mending the animosities, fears, bringing poor and rich, white and black, northerner and southerner together?


            Author Summers goes to great effort to describe the fear and discord in America leading up to the Civil War, showing the confusing array of Copperheads, Doughfaces, Know-Nothings, Whigs, Douglas Democrats, Abolitionists, Southern Democrats and Republicans.

            Fear ruled the country, and a careful, skillful minority of slaveholders set the stage for secession, so that when it finally happened, in state after state, the majority of whites, mostly not slaveholders, were caught up in the frenzy, with tales of rampaging slaves and invading Northerners.

            Shortly after the November 1860 election of Abraham Lincoln, the rumors of angry mobs breaking into New York banks, and seizing the ports of New York and Brooklyn, the Governor of Virginia leading a “rakehelly” mob over the Potomac into Washington. Actual secession of southern states, after all the rumors, was out in the open, for all to see.

            People complain today that the fear in the country, of immigrants taking our jobs, of Muslims imposing Sharia law and inciting terrorism, of the government taking our guns, and the fear of a president ignoring Congress and hazarding the country by ignoring climate change, and so on.  But division today is nowhere as deep and dangerous as that which existed after the Civil War.

            The 1860 election brought secession, Fort Sumter and war.  The 1864 election, taking place as the Union saw its way to victory, pitted Lincoln and his Democrat vice presidential candidate Andrew Johnson against former Union General George McClellan, a War Democrat, and George Pendleton. Lincoln won handily, becoming the first president to be reelected since Andrew Jackson in 1832.


            Lincoln was assassinated less than two months into his second term, and succeeded by Andrew Johnson, who then had to deal with Reconstruction.


            After the war, there were continual reports and warnings of rampaging Negro mobs all over the defeated South.  The press did much to spread rumors and created continual turmoil. It is a testimony to the times that most reports of rabid, bloodthirsty, heavily armed blacks marching on white towns and wreaking havoc ended with scores of blacks killed and perhaps one or two whites wounded.


            If you’ve followed the national discourse these days you might appreciate the perceptions Americans in 1867 gained, each subject to enormous alteration, depending on whether you were a poor white Southerner, a former plantation owner, a newly freed African-American, a northern Radical Republican, a northern Copperhead, War Democrat or Peace Democrat, or a Lincoln Republican.


            Many northerners understood that it was in the country’s best interest that the former Confederacy was given generous treatment.


            Andrew Johnson was impeached by Congress in a process that began in February 1868 with 11 articles, the most important was a charge of violating the Tenure of Office Act. He was acquitted on that charge and two others, then the Senate dismissed the remaining eight articles without trial. After it was over, it looked so ludicrous, so hollow and cheap. Years later, commentators were still writing: “There has rarely been a more amusing episode…nor a better illustration of the way an incident of really trifling importance can be worked up by the effects of unscrupulous politicians, supported by unscrupulous newspapers, so as to wear the look of irretrievable disaster.” Nation, 1875.

            The national election of 1868 was between Republican Ulysses S. Grant and Democrat Horatio Seymour. Texas, Virginia and Mississippi had not yet re-entered the Union, so their votes were not counted. This was the first election for newly freed slaves. Grant won overwhelmingly.

            Although Democrats continually feared that he would try to become an Emperor, his was a rather slipshod, bungling, ham-handed and corrupt administration for eight years. 

The three major amendments that were passed shortly after the Civil War are the reconstruction amendments that were the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments.

The Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery within the United States and its territories. It reads: 'Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.' The exception that allows servitude as punishment for a crime allows prisons to use inmate labor. It was ratified on

December 6,1865.

Fourteenth: All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws. It was ratified on February 3, 1870

Fifteenth: The Fifteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibits the federal government and each state from denying a citizen the right to vote based on that citizen's "race, color, or previous condition of servitude." It was ratified on February 3, 1870, as the third and last of the Reconstruction Amendments. It was ratified on July 28,1868.

            Reconstruction was an experiment, and it stirred up hatreds that had been created long before the Civil War, and created new suspicions and fears, mostly in the South. This was the time that the Ku Klux Klan and several other similar organizations got their start, and they were responsible for many lynchings and much terror in the South. Probably many terrorist killings were carried out by angry whites without any organizational affiliation. 

            Being born in East Texas 69 years after the war, I grew up in the segregated South. As a child I remember lots of talk about black people and the need to “keep them down.”  When I was a teenager, I heard of classmates who would go “nigger knocking”. A car full of drunk white boys would drive through the black part of town and, when they passed a black walking by, they’d whack him with a 2x4.

            Governors in some states organized to wipe out Klan-like raids and killings. In Texas a Southern Unionist, Edmund J. Davis, who had been a Union general in the war, was elected as a “Reconstruction Governor” and served one term, 1870-74. He organized the state police and arrested suspects by the thousands.  The Klan in Texas never recovered. [Although now a particularly violent group in Vidor shows up in the news occasionally.]  Texas today still has a lot of racism.

            The Reconstruction was poorly done, because of the Vengeance of Radical Republicans; Ignorance of many; Built-in tendency toward racial hatred; A poorly informed electorate; Media often eager to twist the reporting of news in their direction; Greed; Incompetence on many levels of leadership.

            A black man was elected President of the United States in 2008 and governed for eight years.  His two terms were seen by many to be honorable and positive, yet many today see otherwise, and these point to his successor with admiration.

            America today has a President who has openly encouraged a following that thrives upon white supremacy, suspicion, fear and hatred of outsiders, particularly non-whites, and particularly would-be immigrants from Latin America and Muslims.

            “Reconstruction” is still a work in progress.



Wednesday, March 25, 2020. Israel, its History and its Prospects. Since its beginning with the proclamation of  nationhood by David Ben Gurion in 1948, followed immediately by the recognition of the new state by President Harry S. Truman, Israel's history has been filled with continual opposition by the Arab nations which surround it, and the Palestinians who were displaced, as well as those who still live there.  Britain, which had held a colonial over former Palestine, objected to nationhood, recognizing that this would stir up a hornet's nest. Israel, in between fighting wars with its neighbors, has turned desert land into fertile orchards, and created a modern state with a population of over 8 million, mostly Jewish, gathered in the ancient Jewish homeland from all over the world. [Suggested by Jason Shaw] 

Wednesday, April 29, 2020. The Effects of Colonialism in the World. Look at Portuguese, Spanish, French, British colonialism and missionary outreach in the world. What were the positive gains? Drawbacks?

Wednesday, May 27, 2020. Russia since the end of Communism. Look at the seeds for replacing communism and the prospects for a new order. Oligarchs. Corruption. Democratic movements. Former republics.  Russian seizure of Crimea, attacks on Donbas. Georgia and So. Ossetia and Abkhazia. A new superpower?

Wednesday, June 24, 2020. A History of Alcohol. Men have been fermenting fruit and grain and honey for many thousands of years.  The Babylonians, Greeks and Romans had gods and goddesses and there have been marvelous Bacchanalian feasts and tales of the dreadful effects of too much alcohol.  There have been anti-alcohol drives, temperance marches, Prohibition. Cultural and health effects of alcohol usage. [Proposed by Janos Posfai] 

Wednesday, July 29, 2020. China from 1900 to today. China has traveled a long way from the Boxer Rebellion of 1899-1901 when western nations felt free to wander all over the vast country. Sun-Yat-Sen and the last Qing emperor…Military wardlordism ..Chiang Kai-Shek…War against Japan… Mao Zedong and the Communist Revolution, founding of the People’s Republic…”Great Leap Forward” and The Cultural Revolution…World’s No. 2 Economy, on the verge of becoming No. 1. [Proposed by Jason Shaw] 

Wednesday, August 26, 2020.

Wednesday, September 30, 2020.