The Wars of Reconstruction: The Brief, Violent History of America's Most Progressive Era
Douglas R. Egerton
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By 1870, just five years after Confederate surrender and thirteen years after the Dred Scott decision ruled blacks ineligible for citizenship, Congressional action had ended slavery and given the vote to black men. That same year, Hiram Revels and Joseph Hayne Rainey became the first African-American U.S. senator and congressman respectively. In South Carolina, only twenty years after the death of arch-secessionist John C. Calhoun, a black man, Jasper J. Wright, took a seat on the state’s Supreme Court. Not even the most optimistic abolitionists had thought such milestones would occur in their lifetimes. The brief years of Reconstruction marked the United States’ most progressive moment prior to the civil rights movement.
Previous histories of Reconstruction have focused on Washington politics. But in this sweeping, prodigiously researched narrative, Douglas Egerton brings a much bigger, even more dramatic story into view, exploring state and local politics and tracing the struggles of some fifteen hundred African-American officeholders, in both the North and South, who fought entrenched white resistance. Tragically, their movement was met by ruthless violence--not just riotous mobs, but also targeted assassination. With stark evidence, Egerton shows that Reconstruction, often cast as a "failure" or a doomed experiment, was rolled back by murderous force. The Wars of Reconstruction is a major and provocative contribution to American history.
enfranchised, [no less than antiwar Congressman Clement] Vallandigham could beat Gen. Grant for President.”13 Grasping the national implications of enfranchising southern blacks, Democrats grumbled about the inevitable next step. Those Republicans who “pretend affection for the black man,” bellowed California Democrat Franklin E. Felton, might soon seek to “elevate and enfranchise [the] saffron hued Chinaman.” Denied political cover by the White House, even those high-ranking ex-Confederates who
Southern provisional government which is conducted in good faith, and with a desire to secure equal justice to all men.”18 Democrats across the nation denounced the package. “The nigger will be the master, the white man the slave,” fumed one conservative Manhattan editor, “that or another rebellion.” As expected, the obstinate Johnson vetoed almost all of the measures, signing only the bill that ceased military bounty payments to former masters. Ignoring the more temperate draft messages
1876; in Missouri, the number was one. On average, few than twenty percent of southern political offices during the peak of Reconstruction were in the hands of black men.35 Even so, whether they were thrilled or horrified by this change, South Carolina had gone from having a state assembly dominated by slaveholders to one dominated by men of color. More impressive yet, as far as progressives were concerned, was the far larger number of blacks who served their states and counties in appointive or
(Athens, GA, 1999), 1–2; Lewis H. Douglass, Company Descriptive Book, April 1863, Compiled Military Service Records of Volunteer Union Soldiers, U.S. Colored Troops, 54th Massachusetts Infantry, Reel 5, NA; William S. McFeely, Frederick Douglass (New York, 1991), 225; Washington National Intelligencer, July 8, 1863; Lewis H. Douglass to Amelia Loguen, June 18, 1863, in Walter O. Evans Collection, Savannah; Kate Clifford Larson, Bound for the Promise Land: Harriet Tubman, Portrait of an American
Boles, Black Southerners, 196–97; Robinson, Bitter Fruits of Bondage, 278–79; William C. Davis, Jefferson Davis: The Man and His Hour (New York, 1991), 557, 597. 45. McCurry, Confederate Reckoning, 338, 342; J. H. Stringfellow to Jefferson Davis, February 8, 1865, in Berlin, ed., Freedom: Series II, 292; Bruce Levine, The Fall of the House of Dixie: How the Civil War Remade the American South (New York, 2013), 256; Bruce Levine, Confederate Emancipation: Southern Plans to Free and Arm Slaves