This is a very strange history documentary hosted by Matthew and Laurie Crouch. The show, including the over-the-top set is a cross between the 700 Club and Joel Osteen Ministries. Mrs. Crouch is clearly playing the Tammy Fay Baker role, who along with her husband sit and nod in agreement. Actually, she looks as if she is high as a kite. David Barton offers a rather unusual analysis of Reconstruction that I will get to in a moment. You can watch the entire series here – not that I recommend it.
Barton’s interpretation of Reconstruction basically comes down to pointing out that everything positive that happened relating to race relations and civil rights during Reconstruction and through the 1960s occurred because of the Republican Party. The Democrats started the Ku Klux Klan, overturned legislation passed during Reconstruction, and resisted the Voting Rights and Civil Rights Acts of the 1960s. There is a bit of truth in much of what Barton has to say about the importance of slavery, the role of black Republicans during Reconstruction as well as the role of the Democratic Party in overturning much of the post-war legislation. However, Barton seems to think that the Republican Party of the 1860s and 70s is the same Republican Party of today. According to Barton, the KKK was started by Democrats to “whack Republicans.” Of course, Barton makes no mention of why blacks throughout much of the South transitioned to the Democratic Party in the 1930s, the Dixiecrat movement in 1948 or the fact that the president who pushed both landmark pieces of civil rights legislation was a Democrat.
Our tendency to distinguish between the Civil War and Reconstruction obscures the fact that fundamental questions of freedom, national identity, and citizenship were left unanswered. According to historian, Vernon Burton:
At stake during the Civil War was the very existence of the United States. The bloodiest war in our history, the Civil War posed in a crucial way what clearly became persistent themes in American history: the character of the nation and the fate of African Americans (writ large the place of minorities in a democracy, the very meaning of pluralism). Consequently, scholars have been vitally interested in the Civil War, searching out clues therein for the identity of America. But if the identity of America is in the Civil War, the meaning of America and what we have become is found in Reconstruction, and the Civil War cannot be separated from Reconstruction any more than the sectional conflict can be separated from the war. (“Is There Anything Left To Be Said About Abraham Lincoln?, Historically Speaking, [September/October 2008] p. 6)
Part of the problem is that our tendency to remember Appomattox as some kind of love fest or the beginning of reunion obscures the level of violence that continued into Reconstruction. Much of that violence was perpetrated against southern blacks to reinforce assumptions of white supremacy and prevent freed slaves from exercising newly-won civil rights. Such a view has grown steadily among academic historians since the 1960s and in recent years can be seen in a wave of more popular titles. The pervasiveness of this view can be seen in a recent History Channel documentary, titled, Aftershock: Beyond The Civil War. Based on only viewing the first episode it looks like this particular documentary is not so concerned with the complex political issues that dominated the period, but with the scale of violence that was used to terrorize blacks into submission. It suggests that perhaps the war did not end in 1865, but took on a different form in the years that followed.
I thought I might start a little series of posts from The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Civil War by H.W. Crocker III. I would say that such passages are worth a good laugh, but then I step back and realize that these books sell incredibly well both here in the states and overseas.The Lost Cause lives.
Reconstruction: the bad
There had been no segregation in the antebellum South. Plantation slaves lived in cabins within feet of their owner’s house. City slaves lived in brick houses behind their owner’s house. While whites in the North often lived far away from black people, Southern whites lived and worked (and their children played) side by side and thought nothing of it. That changed after the war when the Radical Republicans sent armed regiments of black soldiers into the South as occupation troops and installed black politicians into local and state governments slots, while barring all former Confederates from holding office. (206-07)
The Alabama Legislature has passed a resolution honoring black lawmakers who served during the Reconstruction era following the Civil War. The resolution by Democratic Rep. Alvin Holmes of Montgomery says black Alabama residents played an integral part in the Legislature from 1868 to 1878. At the height of Reconstruction in 1874, there were 33 blacks in the Legislature. Holmes’ resolution received final approval Thursday when the House went along with changes made by the Senate. The resolution now goes to Gov. Bob Riley for his approval. The resolution calls for the names of the black lawmakers to be placed on plaques located in the rotunda of the state Capitol, on the grounds outside the Capitol and inside the entrance to the Alabama Statehouse.
Brian Dirck just finished a series of posts on Abraham Lincoln’s greatest “flubs.” Perhaps it should come as no surprise that Brian singled out Lincoln’s choice of Andrew Johnson as his vice-presidential candidate as his greatest flub. Seems reasonable given what transpired following Lincoln’s assassination and Johnson’s opposition to the Radical Republican’s preferred vision of Reconstruction. Of course, Lincoln could not have know that he would fall victim to an assassins bullet leaving the White House in the hands of a Unionist who proved to be hostile to the idea of black civil rights. The whole question, however, hinges on the assumption that another choice would have led to a different outcome. Well, of course it would [Imagine that somehow Thadeus Stevens got the nod and that somehow Lincoln managed to win.], but as Elektratig [click here for his blog] noted in the comments, what if we stay within the political parameters that governed the choice:
So who, then, should Lincoln have chosen? I’m assuming we keep to the same parameters: a Democrat or very “conservative” Republican, from a border state or (if no other choice) the “lower” north.
What a wonderful question and one that I’ve never really considered. The commenter is forcing us to keep in mind the political considerations that would have shaped the choice of Lincoln (to whatever extent he was actually involved) and the Republican Party.
I’m not a big fan of counterfactuals, but this one is certainly intriguing. In what way would the short-term effects have been different given the choice? And in light of my recent post on Marc Egnal’s new book, how might the long-term consequences have been different? Finally, does careful reflection about this counterfactual force us to shift our popular memory of Andrew Johnson in any way?