Reconstruction As a Search For Security

Had a chance earlier today to read the introduction to Mark Summers’s new book on Reconstruction, which is part of UNC Press’s Littlefield Series. The following passage caught my attention:

In the end, the search for security helped justice go far beyond what most observers in 1865 expected. Freedom was just the first installment in a broadening of rights. The Constitution’s basis would endow the nation with a broad authority to break the patterns that slavery and prejudice had set on American society. It may have opened the way to a second American revolution. But it is important to recognize that most white Americans had not been looking for a revolution, and a near majority of them probably would have been content with a modified restoration. If we make the mistake of defining Reconstruction’s exclusive end as remaking the South on the basis of equal rights and democracy in a truer sense of the word than its inhabitants had ever known, then we can’t help calling Reconstruction at best a failure–though that failure seemed less clear, unambiguous, and complete in 1877 than retrospect. But if we see Reconstruction’s purpose as making sure that the main goals of the war would be fulfilled, of a Union held together forever, of a North and South able to work together, of slavery extirpated, and sectional rivalries confined, of a permanent banishment of the fear of vaunting appeals to state sovereignty, backed by armed force, then Reconstruction looks like what in that respect it was, a lasting and unappreciated success. (p. 4)

I’ve always struggled with understanding Reconstruction through the narrow lens of race and civil rights. The rub for me has always been in measuring Reconstruction’s success with the varying degrees of racial discrimination present in many Northern states. Certainly our popular memory of Reconstruction revolves around our tendency to view the period in light of Jim Crow and the necessity of a Civil Rights Movement. Summers’s understanding of the period looks promising. I am looking forward to digging in further.

Finally, is it any surprise that such a focus for a book on Reconstruction found a place in a series edited by Gary Gallagher given his insistence that the preservation of the Union be acknowledged as the most important achievement of the war?

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New to the Civil War Memory Library, 10/26

William-Wells-BrownStephen Cushman, Belligerent Muse: Five Northern Writers and How They Shaped Our Understanding of the Civil War (University of North Carolina Press, 2014).

Ezra Greenspan, William Wells Brown: An African American Life (Norton, 2014).

Jill Lepore, The Secret History of Wonder Woman (Knopf, 2014).

John F. Marszalek, Lincoln and the Military (Southern Illinois University Press, 2014).

Michael A. Ross, The Great New Orleans Kidnapping Case: Race, Law, and Justice in the Reconstruction Era (Oxford University Press, 2014).

Christian G. Samito ed., Commanding Boston’s Irish Ninth: The Civil War Letters of Colonel Patrick R. Guiney, Ninth Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry (Fordham University Press, 1998).

Edward Steers, Jr., Lincoln’s Assassination (Southern Illinois University Press, 2014).

Mark W. Summers, The Ordeal of the Reunion: A New History of Reconstruction (University of North Carolina Press, 2014).

John C. Waugh, Lincoln and the War’s End (Southern Illinois University Press, 2014).

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Weary Clyburn Didn’t Serve the Confederacy, He Survived It

Haley - Clyburn Proclamation

Governor Nikki Haley Statement about Weary Clyburn

It’s been a week of posts about Weary Clyburn and I suspect many of you would prefer that I move on to something else. Many of the usual suspects in the Southern heritage community believe that I am attacking the memory and good name of Ms. Mattie Rice. One person in particular compared my posts this week to the actions of the Westboro Baptist Church, which was initially confusing to me since I thought the individual in question was a member. I’ve always found topics like this, where there is a conflict between history and memory, to be ideal grist for this blog mill.

As I understand it, the problem for my detractors is that I don’t accept the narrative advanced by Ms. Rice, which essentially frames the story of her father as that of a slave who fought as a solider in the Confederate ranks. It’s true. Given my understanding of the history of slavery and the Confederacy and access to the relevant archival documents, it is my contention that this narrative is false. There is no wartime evidence that Weary Clyburn served as a soldier in the 12th South Carolina Infantry and postwar documents related to his pension clearly state that he was not a Confederate soldier. It is irrelevant whether Ms. Rice believed such a story. My responsibility as a historian does not begin and end with what any one individual happens to believe about the past. [click to continue…]

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Christian Keller on the Military Education of Robert E. Lee

Glad to see that a video of Christian Keller’s recent talk at the Lee Chapel at Washington & Lee University is now available. You will notice that even without the Confederate flags flanking the Recumbent Lee statue it is still possible to commemorate the former general and president on the anniversary of his passing.

[Uploaded to YouTube on October 14, 2014]

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Video of Mattie Clyburn Rice Memorial Service

Below is video coverage of the memorial service for Ms. Mattie Clyburn Rice and her father, Weary Clyburn, which took place this past weekend. The opening speaker references Clyburn as a soldier in the 12th South Carolina Infantry, which is patently false given the evidence. The next speaker uses Lincoln’s Second Inaugural to suggest that Weary and Frank Clyburn experienced the same war. They “drank from the same streams and felt the same heat and cold and they witnessed the same ugliness that is a part of war.” What is completely overlooked is that one experienced the war as a slave and the other as a free man. Teresea Roane, formerly an archivist with the Museum of the Confederacy and now with the UDC, suggests that thousands of black men served as soldiers in the Confederate army. [click to continue…]

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