Reconstruction after the civil war Essay

Reconstruction after the civil war

            Introduction

We Will Write a Custom Essay Specifically
For You For Only $13.90/page!


order now

            Historiography is the profound study of the historical events – the study that usually reviews several different opinions and reevaluates facts from different perspectives. From the viewpoint of historiography, Reconstruction after the Civil War in America seems to be a more controversial, and thus a more curious and argumentative topic than the Civil War itself, due to the multiplicity of ideas, views, causes, and drivers that determined the course of historical development in postwar America. Historical facts are rarely delivered in their initial form, being mostly derived from secondary sources. In this context, historical accounts may often lack objectivity or present the same events and phenomena in different colors. As a result, what seems clear and is understood by the non-professional audience may simultaneously produce controversial reactions among professional researchers in history. In terms of Reconstruction, researchers mostly keep to the two different lines of research, with the one centered on the everyday life of Americans during Reconstruction, and the other devoted to the political implications of Reconstruction in America after the Civil War.

            Reconstruction after the Civil War: everyday life

            Whether in history or in related disciplines, primary sources play the critical role in determining the causes, the course, the impact, and the long-term implications of particular historical events. Modern historiography resembles a collection of multiple historical essays written in ways that are understandable to the non-professional majority, but which do not always reflect the essence and the truth of historical events. It would be correct to say that modern historiography consciously distances modern professional and non-professional public from primary sources of information, trying to simplify historical accounts and to turn historical research into a purely commercial product. Yet, literature offers vast amount of primary information which is used by researchers to create a general picture of everyday life in America during Reconstruction. Ayers’ website[1] is rich in letters and diaries which were written by ordinary people immediately after the Civil War, and which shed the light onto the way people evaluated the political and social events described in the majority of textbooks on history. The letters written by Gilkenson brothers immediately after the Civil War provide curious and extremely useful information in terms of the economic and political processes that were taking place during Reconstruction. Labor relations, former slaves’ attitudes to contract labor, the failure of Radicals in the north – all those events were reflected and discussed in Gilkensons’ letters. Speaking of his father, Gilkenson wrote: “He has no negro men employed now: he has, however, two white men and boy about seventeen years old. Ann & Mary are still there, but I learnt indirectly that they contemplate leaving in the spring. […] The negroes are very trifling, as a general thing; and none of them are willing to contract by the year, and a majority of them do not seem to be willing to contract at all for any length of time”.[2]  Does that mean that the Civil War and Reconstruction have absolutely changed the order of things in the Americans’ everyday life?

            Yes, that does. Browne and Kreiser[3] support this viewpoint, but take a different focus, researching the impact of military realities on the postwar life in America. In their secondary research, Browne and Kreiser write that “the Civil War dominated everyday life in the United States during the mid-nineteenth century because of the scale and the cost of the fighting”.[4] Military ideology was the dominant factor impacting the quality of everyday life in the United States during Reconstruction. Primary resources do not always support this viewpoint,[5] but pay attention to political, cultural, and social processes, which took place in the United States at the initial stages of Reconstruction. On the one hand, Browne and Kreiser’s historical ideology may be interesting in a sense that it offers a new vision of Reconstruction in America; on the other hand, the authors’ historical beliefs may contradict to everything that has previously been written about Reconstruction. Simultaneously, Browne and Kreiser use sufficient amount of primary information which makes their historical viewpoint at least convincing. As a result, both Gilkinson letters and Browne and Kreiser’s research may serve the starting point for an in-depth exploration of Reconstruction in the United States.

            In the light of the overwhelming attention toward political implications of Reconstruction, history researchers take a difficult decision to step away from traditionally “political” view of Reconstruction in America, and to concentrate on more understandable (yet, no less complicated) “everyday” aspects of American Reconstruction. Apart from describing the changing relationships between the blacks and the whites, history professionals choose to either describe the process of Reconstruction in separate geographic regions, or to review the impact of Reconstruction on specific population groups. Here, Nolen devotes a whole book to studying African American Southerners in slavery[6], and his findings and ideas go in line with the primary information derived from Gilkinsons’ letters[7]: “Freedom for many blacks was formally announced: ex-masters, forced by agent of the victorious federal government, called their ex-slaves with sound of bell, conch, or horn to the big house to inform them, often with a Union officer present, that they were henceforth and forever free”[8]. This line of “everyday” research in Reconstruction is further extended to provide ample information with regard to the changing roles of women in postwar America. “Women were no strangers to North Carolina courts during Reconstruction. They had little choice but to appear when they were ones charged with crimes.”[9] Although Escott provides a detailed review of the historical processes that took place in North Carolina, the results of his research can be readily expanded and applied in other American territories. “African American women’s use of antebellum legal culture took more dramatic forms. Black women and men both seized the opportunities created by the Civil War. […] Freedpeople made substantial claims about the postemancipation social order in these legal arenas that went beyond their individual rights”.[10] Escott’s historical focus is particularly interesting and useful, taking into account that the author does not pay attention to the changing roles of all women, but prefers reviewing the changing status of African American women in the United States after the Civil War. In this way, Escott definitely shapes a new complex vision of America during Reconstruction. The problem is however, that “everyday” authors provide scarce reference to primary sources of information, targeting less professional readers and offering a somewhat simplified picture of the new non-slavery America. From the viewpoint of objectivity, the works regarding the political and economic processes that took place in the United States after the Civil War seem more relevant and complex for researchers in the history of politics and economy in America prefer using extensive primary evidence to support their claims.

            Reconstruction: political and economic issues

            At the other end of research continuum are the books and primary sources, which touch and describe political and social issues that emerged in the process of Reconstruction in the United States. These analytical works are centered on the need to review the notion and the context of Radical Reconstruction, to explore the economic and political background of Reconstruction, and to investigate the changing structure of relationships between the blacks and the whites from a political (and not “everyday”) perspective. Researchers in this field of history take official legal and political acts as the basis for their in-depth exploration. To a large extent, the political research of Reconstruction sheds the light onto the major political and social controversies that determined the course of political and economic development in America. Simultaneously, the study of well-known historical events through the prism of politics often leads to ambiguity and excessive bias. That is why, researchers tend to cite and refer to primary sources, to promote clarity and objectivity of their secondary judgments.

            Radical Reconstruction is the phenomenon most thoroughly analyzed by researchers in the field of Reconstruction. Radical Reconstruction is an excellent and convenient means to explore and understand the essence of the growing opposition between the Republicans and the Democrats. In autumn 1866, when Republicans were elected to form the political majority in Congress, the emergence of the new Radical trends signified the new era of political relationships in America.[11] The majority of historians however, depict Radical Reconstruction as the product of the Republicans’ unreasonable attitudes towards politics, as well as the civil rights of the Black citizens in America. “It is important to stress that not all Democrats in the South hated blacks, but it is no surprise that the violent actions of a few, along with the lack of sympathy from many Southern whites, drove blacks to the Republican Party”.[12] The difficulties which Republicans faced in their desire to pass and ratify the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution the majority of historiography professionals consider as the culmination and the critical point of radicalism in Reconstruction. “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States […] no State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States.”[13] The Fourteenth Amendment exemplified the profound changes, which occurred in the minds and the hearts of the American citizens – the changes that were too painful and too unexpected to make people readily accept them.

            Researchers tend to depict Radical Reconstruction as the phenomenon, which was not surrounded by controversy. Thus, it can be presented as the event which is known and is understood by both professionals and non-professional readers. Here, historians mostly focus on the narrow aspects of Radicalism in postwar America. Some prefer discussing Radical Reconstruction as applied to northern states[14], while others seem more interested in what took place in the South.[15] In the light of the growing Republicans’ commitment to equality of the civil rights in the United States, researchers are unanimous in that “open resentment was largely suppressed, but it was inevitable that the whites should become hostile to the blacks, and that they should dislike the Republican Party for its ruthless imposition of a system which governed them without their consent and which placed them at the mercy of the incompetent and unscrupulous.”[16] As a result, all economic and social issues discussed in books with regard to American Reconstruction are necessarily linked to radicalism as the source of the major political and social ideas after the Civil War. Researchers of everyday life during Reconstruction did not pay too much attention to what was happening in the American politics, although primary sources of information reflect the growing public concern in terms of the emerging anti-slavery radicalism in America.[17] Thus, to create a full picture of the postwar Reconstruction, a detailed review of multiple primary and secondary sources is required, to guarantee the objectivity and relevance of historic judgments in terms of the Reconstruction in the United States after the Civil War.

            Conclusion

            In their research of Reconstruction, history professionals tend to review the postwar events in America from the two different perspectives. While some of them provide a detailed account of the events that took place in the Americans’ everyday life, others devote substantial time and resources to studying broader political and social processes that impacted the course of historical development in postwar America. Regardless the purpose, professional history research requires paying more attention to the primary sources of information, to guarantee that all aspects of the American life during and after the Civil War are reflected in ways that avoid subjectivity and bias.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Ayers, E.L. The Valley of the Shadow. Available online.

http://valley.vcdh.virginia.edu/choosepart.html

Browne, R.B. & L.A. Kreiser. The Civil War and Reconstruction. Greenwood Publishing

Group, 2003.

Dunning, W.A. Essays on the Civil War and Reconstruction and Related Topics. READ

BOOKS, 2008.

Escott, P.D. North Carolinians in the Era of the Civil War and Reconstruction. UNC Press,

2008.

Flanagan, T. & Porter, J. Reconstruction: A Primary Source of the Struggle to Unite the

North and the South After the Civil War. The Rosen Publishing Group, 2004.

Franklin, J.H. Reconstruction After the Civil War. University of Chicago Press, 1995.

Lingley, C.R. Since the Civil War. READ BOOKS, 2008.

MacDonald, W. (ed). Select Statutes and Other Documents 1861-1898. New York:

MacMillan, 1903.

Nolen, C.H. African American Southerners in Slavery, Civil War, and Reconstruction.

McFarland, 2001.

Peacock, J. Reconstruction: Rebuilding After the Civil War. Capstone Press, 2002.

[1] E.L. Ayers, The Valley of the Shadow. Available online. http://valley.vcdh.virginia.edu/choosepart.html
[2] E.L. Ayers, The Valley of the Shadow. Available online. http://valley.vcdh.virginia.edu/choosepart.html
[3] R.B. Browne, & L.A. Kreiser, The Civil and Reconstruction, (Greenwood Publishing Group, 2003), p. 21
[4] R.B. Browne, & L.A. Kreiser, The Civil and Reconstruction, (Greenwood Publishing Group, 2003)
[5] E.L. Ayers, The Valley of the Shadow. Available online. http://valley.vcdh.virginia.edu/choosepart.html
[6] C.H. Nolen, African American Southerners in Slavery, Civil War, and Reconstruction, (McFarland, 2001)
[7] E.L. Ayers, The Valley of the Shadow. Available online. http://valley.vcdh.virginia.edu/choosepart.html
[8] C.H. Nolen, African American Southerners in Slavery, Civil War, and Reconstruction, (McFarland, 2001), p. 102
[9] P.D. Escott, North Carolinians in the Era of the Civil War and Reconstruction, (UNC Press, 2008), p. 155
[10] P.D. Escott, North Carolinians in the Era of the Civil War and Reconstruction, (UNC Press, 2008)
[11] J. Peacock, Reconstruction: Rebuilding After the Civil War, (Capstone Press, 2002), p. 22
[12] T. Flanagan, & J. Porter, Reconstruction: A Primary Source of the Struggle to Unite the North and the South After the Civil War, (The Rosen Publishing Group, 2004), p. 30
[13] W. MacDonald, Select Statutes and Other Documents 1861-1898, (New York: MacMillan, 1903), p. 209
[14] W.A. Dunning, Essays on the Civil War and Reconstruction and Related Topics, (READ BOOKS, 2008); P.D. Escott, North Carolinians in the Era of the Civil War and Reconstruction, (UNC Press, 2008)
[15] C.H. Nolen, African American Southerners in Slavery, Civil War, and Reconstruction, (McFarland, 2001)
[16] C.R. Lingley, Since the Civil War, (READ BOOKS, 2008), p. 17
[17] J.H. Franklin, Reconstruction After the Civil War, (University of Chicago Press, 1995)

BACK TO TOP
x

Hi!
I'm Sam!

Would you like to get a custom essay? How about receiving a customized one?

Check it out