Reconstruction Period

Jun 2013
505
Connecticut
Americans talk perpetually about the Civil War and the events that led up to it. Very little is mentioned of Reconstruction. In you opinion why is that?
 

Salah

Forum Staff
Oct 2009
23,284
Maryland
Where race relations are concerned, it showed 19th Century America at its very ugliest. And in political terms, the Reconstruction saw the partial undoing of the Union triumph. Its not the kind of period that would be romanticized.
 
Jan 2014
1,905
Florida
Reconstruction has neither the romance and excitement of war nor the simple good guy/bad guy dichotomy of the Civil War itself.
 
May 2013
1,696
Colorado
For southerners, until of the days of the "Lost Cause" it was a time of confusion, destruction, hunger, loss of prestige, political turmoil and grasping trying to make sense of it all. Not something to draw attention to.

Richmond 1865 & the 1890's (not the same street view).



 
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Port

Ad Honorem
Feb 2013
2,092
portland maine
For southerners, until of the days of the "Lost Cause" it was a time of confusion, destruction, hunger, loss of prestige, political turmoil and grasping trying to make sense of it all. Not something to draw attention to.

Richmond 1865 & the 1890's (not the same street view).



Post War you had free slaves, wanting an education and some role in pollitics,, a freedman's bureau wanted by one group not another. Likewise wth union solders stationed n the south. An economic and social system destroyed. In some ways incredibly exciting just very complex and no major heroe(s) to build a history around. although there was many "small leaders/heroes" It was also a a very ugly period.
 
Jun 2013
505
Connecticut
What happen during Recon could be called a "social revolution". No other country in world's history tried something like that (to the best of my knowledge). In the end it failed. But there has to be some good that came out of it.

Could it correctly be said that the US won the war but lost the peace? Isn't that the way America always does things in this kind of situation. They treat war like a football game - they strive to win conventionally and usually do. But when it becomes protracted, "murky", involving more that just military objectives, Americans don't seem to have the stomach fr such things. That holds true even to this day and it started with the Recon and trying to deal with their "own people". Could it be said Americans never learn?
 
Jun 2013
505
Connecticut
Just what I suspected, Not much response to the Reconstruction topic - hardly anything at all.

It seems to me that Americans are pretty good about pontificating about other nation's evil dark periods but when it comes to their own - nada, zip! Americans are fascinated in how other countries present their dark histories: how iis "glossed" over or barely mentioned in its history, in the schools, the public domain, in their social and cultural avenues.

But here's where Americans are lucky. The Reconstruction is rarely covered in school because of when it happened. Usually HS and college survey history courses stop at the Civil War. They cover the events leading up to the CW, the drama and glory of the war, the great victory - a united nation and the end to slavery. Ta-da! The next survey course finds us studying the great millionaire industrialists, those dastardly Spanish and the heroic Rough Riders, chasing Poncho Villa, sinking the Lusitania and poor Pres. Wilson's valiant efforts to keep America out of war.

I myself never studied it. Not once in school. I know more about the French, Russian and Cultural Revolutions that I know about Reconstruction. Reconstruction has not been "swept under the rug" like other countries but just not mentioned at all because of the way we are taught American history. We're not ashamed of our dark period because many don't even know we had one. Talk about Clio looking favorably on us. Because history is taught in a linear political fashion in school, Reconstruction just got squeezed out of the curriculum.

And the evil that came out of the era created a "hundred year reich" of subjegation. No glory, no drama, no great battles, no valiant charges, no great leaders, no storied regiments. Just relentless terror. That fact alone should make it an eye-opening topic that should be studied.
 

Salah

Forum Staff
Oct 2009
23,284
Maryland
It seems to me that Americans are pretty good about pontificating about other nation's evil dark periods but when it comes to their own - nada, zip! Americans are fascinated in how other countries present their dark histories: how iis "glossed" over or barely mentioned in its history, in the schools, the public domain, in their social and cultural avenues.
I can't fathom that there's anything remotely peculiar about Americans in this respect.

There's a number of reasons for why the Reconstruction period might be so obscure. Firstly, its boring. Not literally boring, at least not for everyone, otherwise we wouldn't be here. But for many (if not most) history enthusiasts, its the wars and big personalities that make history interesting in the first place. The Reconstructed South has more to do with political, legal, economic, and ethnic history than anything military. While its certainly not lacking in colorful personalities, not many of the truly 'huge' names in American history had much to do with Reconstruction, apart from US Grant.

Secondly, race relations may have a lot to do with it. For some Americans, race is still a touchy subject; others artificially make it so. Reconstruction, and especially the decades that followed it, witnessed racist violence and prejudice to a degree that could sicken even a hardened student of history. In effect, it witnessed the re-enslavement of Black America, thus, as others have already stated, in part winning the Civil War for the South.

Its not a sanitary period in American history, it hasn't generated very many movies, and for a lot of people, its probably not dramatic enough.

Though I did just look at my bookshelf, and its interesting. I own half a dozen popular histories of Reconstruction, or that discuss race relations in the South c. 1865-1890. This isn't even an area that I have studied in much detail, but clearly there's somebody that wants to read about it. Not that I would dare suggest that this period has gotten the attention it deserves. It is unjustly overlooked, but I think some of the reasons are pretty clear.
 

spellbanisher

Ad Honorem
Mar 2011
4,136
The Celestial Plain
Historians haven't ignored Reconstruction. Quite a bit has been written about it. But if you can't turn it into a movie (like the major wars), or if it doesn't have a happy or triumphant ending (like Civil Rights or the Revolutionary Period), then the layman doesn't usually care. But I don't think this is unique to United States history. Lots of French people and French history buffs can go on for days about the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Era, but talk about the Revolution of 1848, which had a huge impact on mid-late nineteenth century European political and intellectual history, and you are more likely to hear crickets than spirited discussion. Most anyone with even a rudimentary knowledge of European history is familiar with the works of eighteenth century French intellectuals Voltaire and Rousseau, considerably less of equally influential nineteenth century French intellectuals such as Auguste Comte (the founder of Sociology) and Charles Fourier (the most influential Utopian Socialist).
 
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