Daily Class OutlineDaily Class QuestionsDaily Class Web LinksDaily Class Notes

Question for Discussion:

Reading:Loewen, pp. 156-170; Hoffman, pp. 27-37;
Gerster, pp. 4-8; The Gettysburg Address (web);
Lincoln's 2nd Inaugural (web)

Daily Class Web Links

Reconstruction and the Rights of Freed

Northern Perspectives on Reconstruction

Southern Perspectives on Reconstruction

Black Perspectives on Reconstruction

Daily Class Outline

1. The Debate over Slavery

2. The Meaning of the Civil War

3. Blacks and Whites in the South after the Civil War

4. The Larger Goals of Reconstruction

5. Three Phases of Reconstruction

6.  Southern Confederate View of American History

6. The Failure of Reconstruction

    A. What does Loewen believe is the larger cause of
the failure of Reconstruction?

  B. See Picture of Black Lynching in Loewen, page

  C. What was the larger impact of the failure of Reconstruction on the United States?

  D. Who is really to blame for the failure of
Reconstruction: Southern Whites, American Whites,
Southern Blacks, Northern Whites, or all of these

  E. What do you think is the impact of the failure of Reconstruction on American race relations?

Daily Class Questions

1.   What does Loewen mean by the "Confederate
Myth of Reconstruction"? (156)

2. According to Loewen, why are Southern whites,
not freed Blacks, the real problem at the the heart of
Reconstruction? (157)

3. What methods did Southern whites use to ensure
"white supremacy" in the South  from 1865 to the
1960s? (161)

4. What was the major threat that enforced white
supremacy in the South after the Civil War? (166)

5. According to Loewen, why do high school textbooks
make "racism invisible in American history"? (169)

6. Do you believe John Gordon when he says that he
"doesn't know anything about the Ku Klux organizations"
but then argues that it is merely a "peacekeeping 
organzation" made up of the best white   men in
the state? (25)

7. According to the Federal Grand Jury, what is the
larger goal of the Ku Klux Klan? (27)

8. According to the Grand Jury, who are members
of the Klan and how is  it run? (28)

9. What do you think is the larger goal of the
Mississippi Black Code? (23)

10. Why does Charles Sumner believe that separating
Blacks and Whites will only encourage racism and
deny Black's their full equality and rights under
 the law? (24)

11. What do you think was the major cause of the
failure of Reconstruction in  the South after the
Civil War?

Daily Class Notes

In his 1901 essay,. "The Freedmen's Bureau,"
in the Atlantic Monthly , Black Historian W. E. B.
DuBois wrote these famous lines describing what
he thought was the larger problem of

"THE problem of the twentieth century
is the problem of the color line;the
relation of the darker to the lighter
races of men in Asia and Africa, in
America and the islands of the sea. It 
was a phase of this problem that
caused the Civil War; and however
much they who marched south and
north in 1861 may have fixed on the
technical points of union and local 
autonomy as a shibboleth, all
nevertheless knew, as we know, that
the question of Negro slavery was the deeper cause of the conflict. Curious
it was, too, how this deeper question
ever forced itself to the surface, despite
effort and disclaimer. No sooner had
Northern armies touched Southern soil
than this old question, newly guised,
sprang from the earth, -- What shall
be done with slaves? Peremptory 
military commands, this way and that,
could not answer the query; the
Emancipation Proclamation seemed
but to broaden and intensify the
difficulties; and so at last there arose
in the South a government of men
called the Freedmen's Bureau, which lasted, legally, from 1865 to 1872, but
in a sense from 1861 to 1876, and
which sought to settle the Negro
problems in the United States of
America. "

"They had for more than a century
before been regarded as beings of
an inferior order, and altogether unfit to associate with the white race,
either in social or political relations;
and so far inferior that they had no
rights which the white man was
bound to respect; and that the
negro might justly and lawfully be
reduced to slavery for his benefit...."
Chief Justice Taney, "Dred Scott v. Sanford" (1857)

In order to understand the debate over slavery and Black rights, we need to first understand the basic values and principles that Americans bring to this debate. How can a nation built on liberty, freedom, and equality justify and allow slavery? Supporters of slavery argued that slaves were not people, not citizens of American, and merely property, just like any other form of property; therefore, White Americans had the right to own and exploit the lives and labor of Blacks. Critics of slavery argued that Blacks were men, and as men deserved the basic rights guaranteed to men in American society. They argued that if Americans enslaved Blacks that America was undermining its fundamental institutions and values. Frederick Douglass, a former slave, charged that slavery made "America false to the past, false to the present, and false to the future."

Before we can understand this debate over slavery, we need to look at the basic rights and freedoms described in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. The Declaration of Independence is America's founding document; it lays out the basic principles that American society is based on. While the Constitution lays out the structure of government that was created to protect and ensure these principles. The Declaration of Independence defines American society and basic principles in opposition to the British, whose rule Americans are challenging in the Revolutionary War.

Instead of a nation, such as Britain, that is ruled by a King and an aristocracy of noblemen--people who receive their titles on the basis of their birth, the Declaration declares that in America "all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these rights are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." It is in these famous lines that Americans are spelling out the basic assumptions of our democratic society. In America, unlike Britain, no one is born superior to another, all are born equal, and guaranteed certain basic rights. These rights do not depend on birth, your wealth, your religion, or your political beliefs.

What does the Declaration mean by "life, liberty, and happiness"? Why don't the Founding Fathers spell out a long list of basic rights that all men as Americans deserve? Life, liberty, and happiness best summarize the general rights that might be weakened by laying them out in a long laundry list of rights. So what do they mean by life, liberty, and happiness? Life means that Americans have the inherent, God-given right to control their bodies, their lives, their labor, and who and what they will make of their life. Liberty means that Americans have the inherent, God-given right to the freedom to shape and control their lives, they have the freedom to speak, think, believe, act, and live in the manner that they see fit. No government, society, organization, or other men can deny them the right to live and think and speak their minds as they choose. The Declaration declares that Americans have the "right to the pursuit of happiness." So what do Americans mean by the pursuit of happiness? For many Americans, happiness includes material wealth, success, security, family and children, and winning the esteem and respect of others. The Declaration declares that Americans have the right to pursue happiness; they aren't guaranteed to achieve it, but they have the right to shape and control their lives and seek opportunities that will enable them to gain the success and happiness they desire.

It is important to understand what Americans mean by the rights to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" because it is precisely the denial of these rights that have caused Americans to declare their Independence from Britain. The Declaration argues that " to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed." If the end and purpose of government is to protect, ensure, and promote these basic American rights, then because the British government is violating and denying those basic rights, Americans have the right to sever their ties with the British and "form a new government" that will protect their basic rights.

The Constitution lays the foundation for an American government that will protect and ensure the basic rights laid out in the Declaration of Independence. The Bill of Rights was later added to the Constitution in 1791 to prevent the strong, powerful central government created by the Constitution from threatening the basic rights of Americans. The first ten amendments spell out the basic rights that government cannot violate. It was the violation of many of these basic rights that caused American to demand Independence from Britain. So what are these basic rights? Freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, trial by jury, freedom from unreasonable search and seizures, freedom from cruel and unusual punishment, just to name a few. But recognizing the dangers of leaving out rights that many Americans hold dear, the ninth amendment declares that "the enumeration in the Constitution of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people." Under the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, the United States is a society based on basic rights, freedoms, and liberties. So how can we allow slavery?

The inherent problem with creating a society that protects and promotes individual rights arises when one person's rights threaten or deny other people their basic rights. For example, today many Americans believe that they have the Constitutional right to own a machine gun or a rocket launcher. But do they have the right to carry a machine gun in a crowded mall or public space? Many Americans would say the person's right to carry the machine gun interferes with their right to security, safety, and freedom from intimidation or coercion. In a similar vein, supporters of American slavery argue that they have the right to own Blacks as property, and use their property as they see fit; after all, they bought their slaves, and the government must protect their property. While critics of slavery would argue that the Black man's right to freedom clearly outweighs the white man's right to own Blacks as property. In the United States, the Courts weigh and balance competing claims of rights. They decide which rights take precedence over others. Historically, Americans have looked to the Courts both to protect slavery and to deny whites the right to enslave Blacks.

Let's look at the debate over slavery by studying a series of court cases that attempt to weigh these competing rights. In the 1780 Massachusetts Supreme Court case, "Cushing in Quock Walker," the court was asked to rule on whether a white slaveholder had the right to beat his black slave. The slave argued that he had the right to be free from such physical abuse under American law. The court begins by noting that historically, Americans have treated Blacks as slaves: "We sell and treat them as our horses and cows." But are Black slaves mere property like horses and cows to be bought and sold, used and exploited, and even beaten? The Massachusetts Supreme Court rules that slavery is incompatible with the new laws of the state of Massachusetts, because under those laws "all men are born free and equal--and that every subject is entitled to liberty, and to have it guarded by the laws, as well as life and property...." The liberty and freedom guaranteed by state law makes slavery illegal. The court therefore concludes that the Black man's rights to freedom and liberty are greater than the white slaveholder's rights to own and work Blacks as property.

In the 1901 Supreme Court case, "Downes vs. Bidwell," the Court is asked to rule on whether the people living in America's newly acquired colonies in the Philippines, Cuba, and Puerto Rico are citizens of the United States and have basic rights that the government must recognize and protect. The court concludes that these people are not Americans and do not have rights that the government and Americans must respect: "If those possession are inhabited by alien races, different from us in religion, customs, laws, methods of taxation and modes of thought, the administration of government and justice according to Anglo-Saxon principles may for a time be impossible." The Court is here arguing that American citizenship and rights are based on race, religion, culture, and society. Only white Anglo-Saxon, Christian, civilized peoples are entitled to basic rights in American society. Of course, it was this same argument that allowed Americans to deny the rights of Indians.

In the 1857 Supreme Court case, "Dred Scott vs. Sanford," the Court is asked to rule whether the slave Dred Scott should be granted his freedom because he lived in Wisconsin, where slavery is illegal, but was forced to move back to Missouri, where slavery was legal, and live as a slave. In this case, the Court is asked to rule on whether the 1820 Missouri Compromise that made slavery illegal north of "thirty-six degrees thirty minutes north latitude, and not included within the limits of Missouri" is constitutional. But the larger question the Course was asked to rule on was: Do Blacks have rights in America that the government and society must protect?

The Court ruled in Dred Scott vs. Sanford that Blacks, whether slave or free, were not "acknowledged as part of the people, nor intended to be included in the general words used" in the Constitution or the Declaration of Independence. The Court must now present its larger argument for why Blacks have no rights which the government or society must protect. The Court first argues that 1) Blacks are inferior beings "unfit to associate with the white race, either in social or political relations; and so inferior that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect; and that the negro might justly and lawfully be reduced to slavery for his benefit." Here the Court is declaring that Blacks are not men, not entitled to rights, and are so inferior that whites can make them slaves for their own good. The Court now argues that 2) Blacks are property, like any "ordinary article or merchandise or property." Because Blacks are not men and are forms of property, the Court argues that 3) Whites have the right to own and control slaves as property; this "right of property in a slave that is distinctly and expressly affirmed in the Constitution." Because Whites have the right to own and control Blacks as property, the Court argues that 4) the government cannot prohibit Whites from owning and using their slaves anywhere in the United States. The Court therefore concludes that slavery is legal throughout the United States.

This Supreme Court ruling helped caused the Civil War because Lincoln as President in 1860 said that he would not enforce this ruling, because the Court did not have the right to enforce slavery on the Free States of the North where slavery had been illegal for years. Southern slaveholders argued that Lincoln's refusal to protect their right to own slaves as property was a major threat to their basic rights and liberties. The South seceded from the Union, declaring its independence, arguing on the basis of the Declaration of Independence that they had the right to form their own government and union if the Government of the United States would not protect and ensure their rights to own Blacks as property. Slaveholders clearly believed that their rights to own Blacks as property are clearly greater than the rights of Blacks to their freedom and liberty.


"Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field as a final resting-place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. But in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead who struggled here have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us--that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion--that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth."

Let's now look at Frederick Douglass's argument against slavery in order to understand why Lincoln and many Northerners felt that the Supreme Court's Dred Scott decision threatened their rights. A former slave who was forced to purchase his freedom, fearing his arrest and recapture, Douglass became an anti-slavery activist in the North in the 1850s and 1860s. In his "Independence Day Speech at Rochester" in 1852, Douglass lays out the major arguments against slavery held by many Northern abolitionists and critics of slavery.

Douglass begins his argument by asking his audience why he was invited to speak at an Independence Day celebration. How can he be asked to speak about and celebrate American freedom and liberty while millions of his Black brethren are suffering under slavery. Douglass argues that not only Blacks but Americans cannot celebrate American freedom as long as slavery exists, because slavery contradicts the basic values that America is supposed to stand for. Douglass argues that America is "false to the part, false to the present, and solemnly binds herself false to the future" as long as its allows and support slavery. He charges that slavery is "the great sin and shame of America." Douglass now must support and defend his larger argument.

Douglass begins his argument by observing that he shouldn't have to argue about the wrongs of slavery in an American society founded on freedom and liberty for all men. Americans should intuitively understand that slavery is incompatible with American values. But Douglass now goes on to argue this point anyway. He begins by arguing that 1) a slave is a man. Slaves are morally and legally responsible for their actions. Blacks have proved they are men by becoming lawyers, doctors, ministers, poets, authors, etc. In addition, Blacks are men because they are Christians, they worship the same God as their white masters. If Black slaves are men, then Douglass argues that 2) as men they are entitled to their liberty, and they are the rightful owners of their bodies, not their white masters. He declares that "there is not a man beneath the canopy of heaven that does not know that slavery is wrong for him." If Blacks are men and entitled to liberty, Douglass argues that 3) it is wrong to enslave them. He argues that it is wrong to make "men brutes, to rob them of their liberty, to work them without wages, to keep them ignorant,...." If God created all men equal and gave them certain inalienable rights, then Douglass argues that 4) slavery violates God's will, because by denying Blacks their basic God-given rights, whites are taking the place of God. He declares that "slavery is not divine...that which is inhuman cannot be divine." Douglass now concludes his argument by declaring that slavery undermines America's claim to being a nation built on freedom and liberty for all men. As long as slavery exists, he charges American will stand alone among all the nations of the world for "revolting barbarity and shameless hypocrisy." For Douglass, as long as Americans believe that Whites' rights to own slaves is greater than Blacks' rights to freedom and liberty, America cannot celebrate itself as a nation of freedom, justice, equality, and rights.

Now, how would Douglass respond the Supreme Court's Dred Scott ruling? He would have to step by step undermine each of the arguments the Court presents while at the same time proving that each of his arguments are valid. Douglass would challenge his reader to reject the Court's argument while at the same time accept his argument against slavery. The easiest way to write this reaction paper--How would Douglass respond to the Supreme Court's argument supporting slavery?--is to outline both of their arguments, and to use these arguments to lay out the larger arguments of your reaction paper.

Douglass's Argument Supreme Court's Argument
Thesis: Slavery is un-American Thesis: Slavery is an American Right
1. Blacks are men 1. Blacks aren't men
2. Blacks as men are entitled to liberty 2. Blacks are Property, like land
3. Whites can't own Blacks 3. Whites can own Blacks as Property
4.Whites can't enslave Blacks without violating American values and God's laws 4. Society must protect Whites' Rights to own Blacks
Conclusion: American
can't be free until it ends
Conclusion: Slavery is
legal and a basic right
in U.S.

Tips for Writing Reaction Papers

A good reaction paper always begin with highlighting and exposing the weakness of the opponent's arguments and examples. You want to use their own arguments and examples against them. Remember, you only need to write one reaction paper before the midterm is due.

Critical Historical Essay Format:

  1. Always begin your essay with the larger question
    to be explored and answered by your larger argument.

  2. Your thesis--your larger argument--should
    attempt to take a position or answer the
    question your paper begins with.

  3. In the Body of your essay, include at least
    three supporting arguments that attempt to
    prove your thesis.

  4. For the most part, your supporting arguments
    should go from weakest argument first building
    to your strongest argument last.

  5. In a good essay, each supporting argument
    builds on and elaborates on the preceding

  6. Remember, the purpose of an essay is to
    prove your thesis. So after each supporting
    argument remind the reader how this
    argument supports your larger argument.

  7. Your conclusion should begin by restating
    your thesis.

  8. In the body of your conclusion you should try
    to convince your reader that your argument
    is important by answering what I call "the so
    what question?": Why is your argument
    important? and Why should your reader
    remember it? You can do this by relating
    your thesis to a larger issue that you know
    your reader already cares about.

  9. When you look over your first draft always ask:
    Can an ignorant reader, who knows nothing
    about your topic, understand your argument?
    Always try to write to the largest possible
    audience. Never assume that your reader
    understands your points or your examples.

  10. After writing a first draft, go back and look
    at your introduction. Is your thesis clear? Do
    you highlight in your introduction some of the
    points you want to argue in the body of your

  11. Always revise and redraft, trying to make
    your arguments and examples stronger
    and more precise.

    The debate over American rights and slavery illustrate the troublesome and inherent contradiction in a society based on rights and freedoms at the same time allowing slavery. This contradiction between America's professed principles and values and its denial of basic rights to Blacks and other minorities will be exploited by supporter of civil rights and granting freedom to all Americans. This struggle over the meaning of rights in America and who is entitled to these rights is still going on to this day.


    The Goals of Reconstruction

    From 1865 to 1877, the United States and Southern states governments attempted to reconstruct the South. After losing the Civil War, the South's economy and society was in ruins. Northern armies had destroyed crops, rail-lines, factories, cities, plantations, and homes. By destroying the South's ability to make war, the North gradually wore the South down and left it in ruins in many areas. But Reconstruction was not just about rebuilding the South. There are four major problems that needed to be solved for Reconstruction to be successful:

    1) To rebuild Southern industry, farms, homes, roads, and cities.

    2) To re-integrate the defeated Southern society back into the larger United States, which the South fought the Civil War to win its Independence from.

    3) To integrate newly freed Black slaves into Southern and American society, ensuring their equal rights and citizenship in the United States

    4) To integrate Southern culture and values into the larger American culture and society. In part, the South fought the Civil War believing that its "way of life" was incompatible with Northern and American culture.

    But not everyone agreed that these were the four major tasks of Reconstruction. The debate among historians about the success or failure of Reconstruction arises in part because there is no common agreement on what the larger goals of Reconstruction were.

    Before we can understand the debate between Stampp and Foner over Reconstruction, we need to understand some of the larger historical events that shaped it. Historians often divide up Reconstruction into three historical phases or period:

    Three Phases of Reconstruction

    1) Presidential or Southern Reconstruction from 1865 to 1867

    2) Congressional or Radical Reconstruction from 1867 to 1877

    3) Redemption or Home Rule from 1877 to 1965

    From 1865 to 1867, President Andrew Johnson, a Southerner himself, believed that the Civil War had already caused too much suffering. He wanted to quickly re-integrate the defeated South back into American society. Johnson offered pardons to Confederate leaders, military officers, and supporters. By 1866 and 1867, the defeated Southern economic and political elite that had supported slavery and had led the South into a ruinous Civil War had returned to power
    throughout the South. They were dominating
    state and local governments, and returning to power in as the Southern representatives to the Congress. For many of these leaders, they
    wanted to forget the division caused by the Civil War and restore the defeated South to the
    society and culture that existed before the war.
    In order to do this, these Southern elites had to
    control the newly freed Black slaves. They did
    not want to accept them as citizens or as a
    part of Southern White society. So from 1865
    to 1867, Southern states passed a series of
    laws known as "the Black Codes." The Black Codes were designed to force Blacks to
    remain in a second-class, semi-slave status in Southern society, doing all the work for their
    former masters, just as they did during slavery. Southern states simply took the old laws
    governing slave behavior and changed their names; instead of slaves codes, these laws
    were now known as Black codes. Southern
    political and economic elites used massive violence and intimidation against anyone who challenged their return to power or their
    denial of rights to Blacks.

    In response to the return to power of Confederate leaders and Southern political and economic
    elites, Northern Congressman and political
    leaders instituted the second phase of Reconstruction, lasting from 1867 to 1868. Northern leaders refused to allow the same Southern leaders who had caused and fought the Civil War to return to power and to their old ways of dominating the South. In addition, Northern leaders refused to accept Southern Whites efforts to re-enslave the Blacks that Whites had died to free during the Civil War. From 1867 to 1877, the United States government sent military troops to occupy the South, to protect freed Blacks from White violence an intimidation, to prevent Southern elites from using violence to regain power, and to force the South to accept their defeat in the Civil War and re-enter the United States on the terms of the Northern victors, not on their own terms. Forcing the Southern States to pass the 14th amendment to the Constitution was the centerpiece of Congressional Reconstruction. The 14th Amendment guaranteed Blacks full citizenship in American society and required Federal and State governments to recognize and protect the rights as Americans. In addition, the 14th amendment prohibited defeated Southern political and economic elites from serving in elected state or federal elected office.

    During Congressional Reconstruction, there was a constant struggle between freed Blacks, Southern Republicans, and supporters of the Federal government and Southern political and economic elites and Southern whites still loyal to the Old South's culture and society. Using violence, terrorism, and intimidation, Southern elites had begun to turn the tide against Congressional Reconstruction by the early 1870s. In 1877, Southern political and economic elites made a political bargain with the Republican party to end Congressional Reconstruction. In exchange for Southern Democratic support for the Republican candidate for President, Rutherford B. Hayes, Hayes as President and the Congress would end Reconstruction; they would withdraw Federal troops from the South, allow Southern economic and political elites to fully regain power, and
    allow the South to rule itself and take care of its "Negro problem" in its own way.

    The end of Congressional Reconstruction in
    1877 came to be known by Southern whites
    as the "Redemption" or "Home Rule." From
    1877 to the early 1960s, the Federal
    government allowed to South to rule itself. In
    exchange, Southern Democrats who
    dominated the South, because Lincoln was a Republican, support Northern Republican
    efforts to expand Federal government support
    for national corporations and expand the
    American Empire. Fearing the loss of Southern Democratic support for their policies,
    Republicans abandon their efforts to protect
    the rights of freed Blacks and force Southern society to accept the culture and values of the larger American society. As a result, during
    this last phase of Reconstruction, "Home Rule,"
    the South brutally denies Blacks their basic
    rights, uses violence and intimidation to
    prevent Blacks and Republicans from
    challenging their rule, and refuses to accept
    the democratic culture and society of the larger United States. Between 1877 and 1965,
    because the South denies 20 to 30 percent
    of its citizens--Blacks--their full rights, only
    allows one party--the Democratic party--to dominate politics, and refuses to allow Blacks
    or Whites to challenge Southern political and
    cultural elites the South is not a democratic
    society and its values and culture are
    opposed to the larger values of the United

    Given this brief sketch of the history of
    Reconstruction, let's look at the debate
    between Stampp and Foner over the success
    or failure of Reconstruction. In order to
    understand this debate, we need to first
    understand historians' changing views of
    Reconstruction. There are three major interpretations of Reconstruction. The
    dominant historical view on Reconstruction
    from the 1870s to the 1960s agreed with the defeated Southern elites. This perspective
    held that 1) Reconstruction was a failure
    because freed Black slaves and corrupt
    Northern Republicans had nearly ruined
    Southern society with corruption, theft,
    ignorance, taxes, and threats to Southern
    White womanhood. This view holds that
    because Blacks are racially inferior, child-like, sexual beasts, and hopelessly ignorant
    they must be ruled and kept in their place
    by White society. From the 1870s to the
    1960s, Southern leaders argued that Blacks
    must be kept in semi-slavery and Republicans
    cannot be trusted by pointing back to the
    failure of Reconstruction.

    By the 1960s, in part caused by the growth of the Civil Rights movement, historians began to re-evaluate Reconstruction. Was it really the failure that earlier historians and Southern whites claimed it was. In the 1960s and 1970s, led by historians like Kenneth Stamp, American historians argued that 2) Reconstruction was a limited success, not the absolute failure that earlier historians had claimed it was. By claiming that Reconstruction was a success, these historians were, in part, challenging the racist arguments that had justified Southern White brutality toward Blacks and the one-party domination of the South by the Democratic party. If Reconstruction was a limited success then Southern economic and political elites could no longer justify their brutal, undemocratic domination of Southern society and culture.

    However, by the late 1970s and 1980s, another historical perspective on Reconstruction was put forward. Led by historians like Eric Foner, they argued that 3) Reconstruction was a tragic failure because it did not protect Blacks' rights and heal the racial divisions caused by centuries of American slavery and the Civil War. Foner argues that despite the economic and political reforms created by Reconstruction, the failure to integrate Blacks as full members of American society
    and to force Southern and Northern racist
    whites to recognize the rights of Blacks makes Reconstruction a tragic failure.

    Let's now look at Stampp's argument for seeing Reconstruction as a limited success. Stampp begins his argument by noting the earlier view of Reconstruction as a failure. In his essay, he will present arguments and concrete evidence that
    this view is wrong. Stampp argues that 1) Reconstruction made the South more democratic by granting freed Blacks "the same civil and political rights as white men" and by allowing all Whites--whether they own property or not--and Blacks to vote. He now argues that 2) Reconstruction provided public education for the first time in Southern history to all Whites and Blacks. This education would allow poor Whites and Blacks to acquire the knowledge they needed to understand and fully participate as citizens in their society. In addition to voting and education, 3) Reconstruction provided the government support to rebuild Southern factories, cities, and railroads. By rebuilding the defeated South, the South could once again take its place in a growing American industrial society and economy. However, to provide education and rebuild the South, Southern governments were forced to raise taxes, which many Southern elites saw as a violation of their rights and proof of corruption. In his conclusion, Stampp argues that Reconstruction was a success because it made the South more democratic, it provided Southerners with public education and other services, and it helped rebuild the Southern economy and industry. But in his conclusion, Stampp brings a major problem that Reconstruction didn't solve--guaranteeing Blacks rights and integrating Blacks as equal members of Southern society. However, Stampp doesn't see this as an important failure, because he believes that Reconstruction laid the legal and political foundations for the "ultimate promise of equal civil and political rights" to Blacks.

    Younger American historians in the 1970s, however, were not satisfied by Stampp's and other historians arguments that Reconstruction was a limited success. Foner believed that the failure to protect Black rights and heal the racial divisions caused by slavery proved that Reconstruction was a failure. Because Reconstruction failed to achieve racial equality, we cannot call it a success, but
    must see is as a "tragic failure." Unlike Stampp, who focuses on how Reconstruction affected the larger Southern society, Foner focuses on how Reconstruction affected Blacks. Foner argues that 1)Reconstruction failed because the racism created and reinforced by Southern whites forcing Blacks into "a disenfranchised class of dependent laborers" spread throughout the country, making the larger culture and society more racist. In addition, 2) Reconstruction failed because it left
    the South "a one-party region under the control of
    a reactionary ruling elite who used the same violence and fraud that had helped to defeat Reconstruction to stifle internal dissent." Here, Foner is directly challenging Stampp's argument the Reconstruction helped make the South more democratic. For Foner, the South can't be seen as democratic if it denies rights to Blacks and only allows one party to dominate politics and government. Next, Foner argues that 3) Reconstruction failed because the racism it
    helped create allowed Southern elites to
    "freeze the mind of the white South in
    unalterable opposition to outside pressures for social change." Finally, he argues that 4)Reconstruction failed because the Federal government failed to "protect blacks' civil and political rights." Only in the 1960s when the
    Federal government once again protected the rights of Blacks did they regain many of the right they had during Congressional Reconstruction between 1867 and 1877. Foner concludes that
    the failure of Reconstruction allowed "nearly a century to elapse before the nation again attempted to come to terms with the implications
    of emancipation and the political and social
    agenda of Reconstruction. In many ways, it has
    yet to do so." Thus, Foner argues that the larger
    failure of Reconstruction is that by failing to
    solve racial divisions not only the South but the entire nation was burdened by the violence, despair, and ignorance that racism breeds.

    So how do we judge whose argument is stronger? You can argue that either Stampp's or Foner's argument is stronger, that neither historians makes a convincing argument, that both their arguments are convincing and each is only telling half of the larger story, or you can argue that neither historian has correctly analyzed the larger problem of Reconstruction. You can also argue that you believe that one historian's argument is stronger but that you still feel that the opposing argument is actually the correct one--if it was argued more strongly and clearly. Remember, I will grade you not on whether I agree with your argument, but on how well you make the case using supporting arguments and strong examples to convince your reader. By the way, when you write papers for me always write for a larger general audience and assume that your reader knows very little about the larger subject you are writing on. In other words, don't write your paper for me, assuming that I will know what you are talking about. Always try to write to the largest possible audience, asking what information, background, and explanations do I need to provide to convince an "ignorant reader" of my larger thesis.


© 2002 by Chris H.  Lewis, Ph.D.
Sewall Academic Program; University of Colorado at Boulder
Created 7 August 2002:  Last Modified: 5 Sept. 2002
E-mail: cclewis@spot.colorado.edu
URL:    http://www.colorado.edu/AmStudies/lewis/2010/failure.htm
    Number of Visitors to this site:  176088                   by Chris H. Lewis, Ph.D.