Document Type


Publication Date

Spring 2009

Department 1

Civil War Era Studies

Department 2



Reconstruction is the step-child of the Civil War, the black hole of American history. It lacks the conflict and the personalities that make the Civil War so colorful; it also lacks the climactic feuds and battles, and dissipates into a confusing and wearisome tale of lost opportunities, squalid victories, and embarrassing defeats whose ultimate endpoint is the great American disgrace - Jim Crow. It lives with the short end of the historical stick for accomplishing too much, then accomplishing too little, with the result that almost the worst thing that can be said about someone in American history is that they were prominent in Reconstruction, since it throws them into the same mental filing cabinet with Andrew Johnson, Ulysses Grant and the Ku Klux Klan. Its twelve years, from 1865 to 1877, teem with associations and developments that seem regrettable, it not absolutely subversive:

1. The first massive intrusion of federal governmental authority in the affairs of individuals and the states, beginning with the first and second Reconstruction Acts of 1867, which effectively reduced all but one of the states of the defeated Confederacy to the status of conquered provinces and imposed military occupation of those states until the civil populations re-wrote their state constitutions in a way that satisfied Congress

2. The first expansion of the category of civil rights recognized and enforced by the federal government, and the first limits on other civil rights (free assembly, legislative independence, freedom of the press) since the Alien and Sedition Acts

3. Massive and wholesale graft, corruption and fraud in the civil governments erected by federal force in the rebel states

4. The insertion of race as a political consideration into federal politics, by treating blacks as a "distinct class" to be protected and assisted.

Required Publisher's Statement

Original version is available from the publisher at: