Lecture 15: Reconstruction


Reconstruction is the word historians use to describe the process by which the seceded states, the southern states, were made ready to re‑enter the Union after the Civil War. The process of putting the Union back together was crucial. It shaped what America would be like for its continuing history. I think we should admit that as Americans, we didnít do a very good job at this.


Outline of Lecture

The Struggle Over Reconstruction

The prospect of Reconstruction set off a great political struggle between the moderates, who (including President Lincoln) would be lenient on the South, and the Radicals, who wished to punish the South. The outcome of this struggle had great import for white ex-Confederates and even more for Negro freedmen.

Congressional Reconstruction

When the Radicals got control of Reconstruction, they instituted military occupation of the South and also instituted programs for civil rights and voting rights for blacks. This was to the political benefit of the Republicans, of course. The reconstruction governments of the southern states may have done much good, but they also were plagued by problems of corruption.

The Unreconstructed South

Despite the efforts of the Radical Republicans, southern whites reasserted control in their states, ending hopes of blacks for social or political justice. The Compromise of 1877 officially ended reconstruction. Its legacies, however, continue to affect modern American life.

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25. Characteristics of Historians in Democratic Times


We read this chapter at the close of the course as a means of reflecting back and thinking about how History is done.


         The main concept in this chapter has to do with what historians call "causation," that is, how to explain why things happened as they did. What sort of explanations do aristocratic historians offer? What sort of explanations do democratic historians offer?

         Based on what you have heard in class, and on the ideas in this chapter of Tocqueville, is the instructor of this course an aristocratic historian or a democratic historian?


Genius serves base purposes as often as it does noble ones. A work of cinematic genius was The Birth of a Nation, by D.W. Griffith. Unfortunately, it glorifies the Ku Klux Klan.

Film Review

 Birth of a Nation

This film of technical brilliance, directed by David Wark Griffith, with its poisonous interpretation of what happened during Reconstruction, proves that genius (perhaps especially cinematic genius) serves any cause, good or bad.

Gone with the Wind

The years after the Civil War are not anti-climactic in this epic film; they are key to shaping the popular image of the Reconstruction South.

Book Review

 Singletary, Negro Militia and Reconstruction


Oubre, Forty Acres and a Mule


Ingalls, Hoods