Wrong on Reconstruction, wrong on the alternatives to Reconstruction

by Eric on January 26, 2016

Hillary Clinton is taking flak today for her summary repetition of the white supremacist Dunning School of historical interpretation, which held that the attempt in the 1860s and 1870s to provide African Americans with their civil rights was a terrible imposition on the white folks of the South.

[Lincoln] was willing to reconcile and forgive. And I don’t know what our country might have been like had he not been murdered, but I bet that it might have been a little less rancorous, a little more forgiving and tolerant, that might possibly have brought people back together more quickly.

But instead, you know, we had Reconstruction, we had the re-instigation of segregation and Jim Crow. We had people in the South feeling totally discouraged and defiant. So, I really do believe he could have very well put us on a different path.… let’s also think about how we do try to summon up those better angels, and to treat each other, even when we disagree, fundamentally disagree, treat each other with more respect, and agree to disagree more civilly, and try to be inspired by, I think, the greatest of our presidents.

I’ll leave critiques of the Dunning School in other hands because I think they’re obvious, sadly, and Clinton should really know better. I’ll even forgo detail on the obvious point that if you’re a modern Democratic presidential aspirant asked who’s the greatest of the US presidents, your answer is Franklin Roosevelt.1 Instead I want to focus on Clinton’s counterfactual: “had [Lincoln] not been murdered”.


Clinton’s comments indicate she thinks a Lincolnian Reconstruction would have a been a more lenient thing than the one we in fact had. Oddly, in support of this view she quotes Lincoln’s first inaugural address, delivered when the war had not yet begun.

We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.

That is of course a plea for harmonious reunification with the South, but one issued in the hope of preventing war.

It’s more traditional to mention Lincoln’s second inaugural address, delivered when the war was about to end.

With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan—to do all which may achieve and cherish a just, and a lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.

That is certainly a call for mercy, if a vague one, that appears to include in its “charity for all” anyone who “shall have borne the battle,” on whichever side.

More concretely, in 1864 Lincoln declined to sign into law the Wade-Davis Bill, which would have required that half a rebellious state’s white men take an oath of loyalty to the union, excluding from eligibility any person who had “voluntarily borne arms against the United States,” and that the voters thus enrolled must adopt a new state constitution abolishing slavery. Lincoln preferred permitting states to proceed with a smaller ratio—ten percent—of loyal white men.

The Wade-Davis pocket veto, taken together with the plea for “charity for all,” may seem to commit President Lincoln to a more pacific plan of Reconstruction than the one the radical Republicans preferred. So one might say, with Clinton, that had he not been murdered, Reconstruction might have been a milder affair.

But we cannot stop there, for Lincoln’s final speech painted a different picture of the peace in prospect.

On April 11, 1865, Lincoln tried to persuade radical Republicans to accept Louisiana’s proposed new constitution, which rested on the support of only 12,000 loyal citizens and abolished slavery, but did not grant black suffrage. Lincoln noted that the proposal did give the state legislature the power to enact black suffrage, and proposed approving it on the basis that a half loaf would be better than no bread or, in his metaphor, “Concede that the new government of Louisiana is only to what it should be as the egg is to the fowl, we shall sooner have the fowl by hatching the egg than by smashing it.”

Lincoln’s remarks in favor of half-measures as steps to progress might seem to us to compromise with evil, to offer delayed and therefore denied justice. But to at least a couple of his listeners he sounded radical indeed.

“That means n——- citizenship. Now, by God, I’ll put him through. That is the last speech he will ever make,” the listening John Wilkes Booth said to his companion, Lewis Powell.

That is to say, in this speech Lincoln “publicly endorsed black suffrage,” as Lou Masur says, and in response, Booth decided to kill him. Booth’s murder of Lincoln put Andrew Johnson in the presidency; Johnson did not support black suffrage, a fact which quickly became clear in his prosecution of Reconstruction.

Which is to say, Booth murdered Lincoln because Lincoln publicly supported a Reconstruction more thorough than the one that history actually gave us. Already, then, the Clinton counterfactual is in trouble.

But let’s think a step further. The plot to kill Lincoln was not a plot to kill Lincoln alone but a wider conspiracy in which Booth’s interlocutor, Powell, was to kill William Seward, Clinton’s predecessor as Secretary of State. On the night Booth went to Ford’s Theater to shoot Lincoln, Powell went to Seward’s house to kill Seward. He gained entry by beating Seward’s son Frederick severely and fracturing his skull. Wielding a bowie knife, Powell next cut the forehead of Seward’s bodyguard. The assailant then leapt upon Seward where he lay in bed and stabbed his victim repeatedly, until the wounded bodyguard and others pulled him away. The gravely wounded Seward survived the assault.

Now, in a more specific counterfactual than Clinton’s, suppose Powell succeeded and Booth failed, rather than the other way around. Suppose a wounded Lincoln survived and Seward died. The president who had just dedicated himself to progress toward black suffrage would have sustained a serious injury and lost a loyal advisor to the venomous death throes of a defeated Confederacy. The staggered Lincoln, confined perhaps to a wheelchair, could address the American public while holding Seward’s actual bloody shirt as incitement to support a thoroughgoing reconstruction of the southern states.



1In fact that is always the correct answer, no matter who you are, but that’s another story.

{ 41 comments }

1

Adam Hammond 01.26.16 at 9:29 pm

Oddly, I agree with Clinton that we might now be a more tolerant and forgiving country if Lincoln had not been murdered. That would be precisely because Lincoln would have been more exacting with his Reconstruction.

2

Eric 01.26.16 at 9:33 pm

Fair!

3

Waiting for Godot 01.26.16 at 9:44 pm

Another reason that Mrs. Clinton will never be the President of the United States: she not only doesn’t understand American history but she wants to return to it. Thanks for the post, now it’s off to hear Bernie speak to thousands of folks and give us old unregenerate hippies a second bite at the apple.

4

Placeholder 01.26.16 at 9:51 pm

Eric Foner at jacobinmag is talking about “who lost the south” and he sketches out the other side of the equation – he points to the Republicans nixing the new Georgia constitution because it contained debt relief. https://www.jacobinmag.com/2015/08/eric-foner-reconstruction-abolitionism-republican-party-lincoln-emancipation/.

There was a lot of energy for the Black Reconstruction, long after the death of Lincoln. Republican-Populist fusion governors like Daniel Lindsay Russell weren’t made impossible until 1972 until events like the Wilmington coup as late as 1900. Indeed the Wilmington coup was carried out by Alfred Moore Waddel who lost his House seat to DLR. But not only was Russell a Populist-Republican Fusion candidate but so also was the mayor of Wilmington the coup deposed, Silas Wright! Thomas E. Watson apparently ran as an anti-segregationist during the reconstruction but became Nativist during the 1900s. Could the South have still been won even then?

5

Ed 01.26.16 at 9:53 pm

Hillary Clinton is 68 years old. She graduated from college in 1969 (she campaigned for Goldwater five years earlier, I’m not sure if she was still a Republican). When I was growing up, in the 1980s, her view of reconstruction was the standard view in the history textbooks I read. My high school history teacher had us read a book that argued what became the current standard view, but the book was not considered to be in the mainstream at the time, though its arguments made sense to me (I forget the title and the author).

Clinton has never struck me as a person who is much interested in keeping up with current developments in historical research. She grew up during a time when the standard interpretation of history was really, really bad. She probably never revised whatever notions she got during this period. I find this to be understandable. I wish American politicians were as well versed in history as David Cameron, but I doubt we will ever get there.

I happened to meet Sanders in college, and he is well versed in at least one little understood corner of American history, of the American Socialist movement and why it never took off as an organized political party.

As for Reconstruction, my view is that Lincoln did screw it up. As often, he was much too legalistic. In 1865 he should sent a message to Congress stating that as the Civil War had just demostrated the failure of the 1787 drafted Constitution, what was needed was a new Constitutional Convention, with delegations from both the defeated Southern whites and the newly freed slaves participating. According to the 1787 Constitution, the states have to petition Congress for a convention, but this was obviously impossible under the circumstances, and besides the 1787 Convention itself was not all that legal.

The three new amendments were a second best solution to the problem, sort of like putting in some additional support and a new coat of paint on a collapsing building. Reconstruction turned into a messy compromise, where the radicals got most of their programs into the statute books, in return for having to wait a century for the provisions to be enforced.

6

Adam Hammond 01.26.16 at 9:54 pm

I took high school American History in ’83/’84 (in Oregon). Reconstruction was part of one day, I think – not a major topic at all. The take home message for me was that it failed to root out entrenched, white-supremacist interests and therefore failed entirely. The blame was assigned to Johnson.

When I read the links in the OP that discuss this Dunning school I am appalled. I totally missed that crap, and I am not sure why. This info does provide some context for some statements about carpet baggers that I have occasionally been confused by.

7

Bloix 01.26.16 at 9:55 pm

What she actually said is hard to parse because it doesn’t make much sense.
“But instead, you know, we had we had Reconstruction, we had the re-instigation of segregation and Jim Crow.”
This is true in the literal sense of, first we had Reconstruction and then we had segregation and Jim Crow.
But there’s a sense of causation that makes no sense at all. Is she saying that Reconstruction caused segregation? That would be ridiculous, but it seems to be the implication. Maybe she meant that Reconstruction wouldn’t have failed if Lincoln had lived, which makes a hell of a lot more sense, but it’s hard to reconcile with the next sentence, “We had people in the South feeling totally discouraged and defiant.”

Not to mention that she uses “people” – twice! – to mean “white people.” It’s been too late for that for a long time now, but after Black Lives Matter it’s tone-deaf to the point of the silence of outer space.

8

Waiting for Godot 01.26.16 at 9:56 pm

Adam Hammond @1

The fact that we can not know what Mrs. Clinton meant in her remarks about reconstruction is precisely the reason not to trust her.

9

alkali 01.26.16 at 10:02 pm

Clinton’s comments indicate she thinks a Lincolnian Reconstruction would have a been a more lenient thing than the one we in fact had.

A lot of work is being done by the word “lenient” here. If “lenient” means with fewer civil rights for African-Americans, she certainly didn’t say that.

10

Waiting for Godot 01.26.16 at 10:07 pm

Alkali@9 see @8

11

Matt Stevens 01.26.16 at 10:36 pm

if you’re a modern Democratic presidential aspirant asked who’s the greatest of the US presidents, your answer is Franklin Roosevelt

Didn’t Ta-Neisi Coates say he will never trust white liberals as long as they praise Franklin Roosevelt?

12

Matt Stevens 01.26.16 at 10:42 pm

*Ta-Nehisi Coats, sorry

13

Matt Stevens 01.26.16 at 10:42 pm

COATES, dammit

14

Eric 01.26.16 at 10:55 pm

Maybe he did! If so, I’d be happy to write about why I disagree.

15

js. 01.26.16 at 11:22 pm

I’m not sure I get the argument. You seem to be arguing that a Lincolnian Reconstruction would have been more thoroughgoing than (using Foner’s terminology) Johnson’s Presidential Reconstruction. It’s not clear to me who would dispute this point. But to get the counterfactual to work, don’t you need to argue that a Lincolnian Reconstruction would have been more thoroughgoing than the Radical Reconstruction? Which seems far less plausible.

16

BBA 01.26.16 at 11:43 pm

@5: We’d have been better off with a new constitution. If nothing else it’d spare us the ancestor worship that makes up so much of current constitutional discourse in some circles.

17

Anderson 01.26.16 at 11:47 pm

I hope HRC clarifies in the next few days, and I hope this gets used as a teaching moment to correct the misconceptions about Reconstruction that are still possessed by the large majority of Americans who even have any idea what “Reconstruction” supposedly is.

I very much doubt anyone taking this as an “omg I cannot vote for Hillary!!!” moment had any intention of voting for her in the first place.

18

Ronan(rf) 01.27.16 at 12:54 am

“Didn’t Ta-Neisi Coates say he will never trust white liberals as long as they praise Franklin Roosevelt?”

“‘Then came the Great War … Every institution, almost, in the world was strained. Great empires have been overturned. The whole map of Europe has been changed … The mode of thought of men, the whole outlook on affairs, the grouping of parties, all have encountered violent and tremendous changes in the deluge of the world, but as the deluge subsides and waters fall, we see the dreary steeple of Fermanagh and Tyrone emerging once again. The integrity of their quarrel is one of the few instituions that have been unaltered in the cataclysm which has swept the world.’ “

19

Eric 01.27.16 at 1:15 am

Re js.:

You seem to be arguing that a Lincolnian Reconstruction would have been more thoroughgoing than (using Foner’s terminology) Johnson’s Presidential Reconstruction. It’s not clear to me who would dispute this point. But to get the counterfactual to work, don’t you need to argue that a Lincolnian Reconstruction would have been more thoroughgoing than the Radical Reconstruction? Which seems far less plausible.

Well, lots of people would dispute the first point, but leaving that aside no, you don’t need to argue that Lincoln would have been more thorough than the radicals, though I appreciate I could have been clearer on this point.

In real life what happens is, Johnson comes in, issues wholesale pardons, and permits rapid restoration of white supremacy in the South. Radical Reconstruction thus comes as a reaction, always trying to make up lost ground.

The argument (not mine, but standard in the literature) goes, had Johnson not been so permissive, the white South would not have been emboldened; would not have been as assured there would be neither individual nor collective consequence for the rebellion. And it would have been possible to pursue a project of more thorough Reconstruction had it proceeded naturally and smoothly from military defeat to military occupation. (The key books here are probably those of Michael Perman and, more recently, my colleague Greg Downs.)

20

mdc 01.27.16 at 1:22 am

“Didn’t Ta-Nehisi Coates say he will never trust white liberals as long as they praise Franklin Roosevelt?”

I sort of doubt it. Doesn’t sound like him to invoke “trust” that way. Also, I think he listed FDR as one of the 5 greatest US presidents.

21

js. 01.27.16 at 1:28 am

Eric — That makes sense, at least as the outline of an argument. I’ve read my Foner, but I really don’t know that much about the topic, so very much appreciate the references. I take it Emancipation and Reconstruction is what to check out by Perman. Looks great (as does the Downs).

22

Eric 01.27.16 at 1:55 am

js.—you might want to start with Perman’s Reunion without Compromise, but they’re all good.

23

steven johnson 01.27.16 at 2:00 am

One key aspect of Reconstruction was the disposal of rebel property. Lincoln was committed to the liberal defense of property, being a Whig of long standing. Lincoln had enough trouble moving past support of colonization. The chances he would have found it easy to redistribute plantation property seem to be slim. Partisan patronage via the Freedmen’s Bureau, yes, but how decisive would that have been.

Respecting property is all well and good but Federal defense against the White Counterrevolutionary Terror is something else. We actually have an idea how Lincoln would have handled that. The so-called Draft Riots in 1863 were an anti-black pogrom. Lincoln had no interest in getting to the bottom of such treasonous violence in the middle of the war. It is not at all clear he would have done as much as Grant.

24

js. 01.27.16 at 2:19 am

Eric — thanks!

25

Omega Centauri 01.27.16 at 4:29 am

I don’t want to dwell long on counterfactuals. We just can’t really know how things might have worked out. Perhaps a milder “reconstruction” would have had more staying power and accomplished more in the longrun? As it was it was all too easy for southern whites to see it as the north imposing punishment on them. Perhaps Lincoln could have provided better optics for similar policy?

In any case, outside of academia, longdead historical figures, have more relevance because of their culture-mythic qualities, than what their actual lives had been like. So exploiting the common if incomplete public understanding/perception of things to make a political rhetorical point seems to me to be fair game. The purpose of Hillary’s comment, was to expose the contradictions regarding Lincoln on the Republican side. On the one hand, they are stuck lionizing Lincoln, as a great Republican, whilst on the other hand they appealing to the white supremicist side. In my book this is fair game, potentially a devastating attack. Lets not ruin it by turning it into a discussion of unknowable history.

26

Tano 01.27.16 at 5:24 am

“The fact that we can not know what Mrs. Clinton meant in her remarks about reconstruction is precisely the reason not to trust her.”

Now that is some real backward thinking.
In fact, it is because you don’t trust her that you seize on this inarticulate salad to pretend that you don’t know what she meant.
As always with things political, the facts are merely toys with which the already-convinced play silly games that they think will advance their causes.
No, Hillary is not a white supremacist. She feels about these issues pretty much the same as you do. She stumbled over a few words and legions of (other) self-promoters seized the moment.
American politics can be so profoundly boring.

27

Trivial 01.27.16 at 7:48 am

According to a Booth bio by Michael Kauffman, the initial abduction plans aimed to exchange Lincoln for Confederate POWs. In Booth’s tactical convolutions, the repatriated veterans would replenish Confederate forces and reinvigorate a burgeoning “Lost Cause.” Booth purportedly drank away “the blues” in reaction to the April 9 surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox Courthouse, news of which undermined his kidnapping machinations. The Booth malaise may or may not have contributed to the chilling “that is the last speech he will ever make” remarks.

Even Eric Foner’s Fiery Trial frames a politics of mutuality between Lincoln and “Radical Republicans” after the Elections of 1864. “Reconstruction” began after the National Union Party garnered “Radical” constituencies, but that’s IMO and contrary to Foner’s *nonlinear* Emancipation Proclamation periodization.

28

HoosierPoli 01.27.16 at 8:45 am

Let’s be fair to a politician speaking in the public square: more than half the people listening to her will have no idea that ‘Reconstruction’ was intended to be a capital-R word.

Historical subtlety is lost on the American people, if Hillary can’t be bothered to split the hairs I won’t hold it against her.

29

Map Maker 01.27.16 at 9:09 am

Historical analysis in the terms of contemporary political campaigns is open to a wide range of interpretations. I cut Hillary slack for just repeating what many believe, even if the historical analysis is more subtle.

I was always struck by the discontinuity of the “noble” radical republic reconstruction plans for the South with the political and economic state of “freedmen” in the North. More than a healthy dose of political support for the radical reconstruction came from the hope from northern whites that reconstruction would keep the freedmen “down there”. It held off the Great Migration for a half century, so many in the north got what they wanted even under Johnson’s reconstruction anyway.

30

steven johnson 01.27.16 at 2:43 pm

PS The passage of the Thirteenth Amendment early in 1864, before the new Congress came into session, was so important precisely because Lincoln had plans to bring on new white southern governments, so he needed to present abolition as a fait accompli. If he waited, the “new” southern representatives and their long time northern allies might have prevented passage of the amendment. The notion that Lincoln wouldn’t have given away his party’s advantage assumes Lincoln had no liberal economic principles that he put higher than the need to keep the Radicals on board. When I read my grandparents’ copy of The Clansman, even at the age of ten or so, I was struck by how favorable Rev. Dixon was towards Lincoln. I believe they had good grounds for their hopes.

The pious assumption that there would have been nothing worse than planters and rebel commanders facing tribunals, maybe to end dangling in midair, is the same politics that insists the Red Terror of the French Revolution was an apocalypse of human depravity that exposed the fraud of the Enlightenment. The massacres that terminated Reconstruction to bring decades of lynchings of course are simply business as usual, therefore entirely acceptable.

31

Tamara Piety 01.27.16 at 5:46 pm

This seems pretty speculative and built on fairly flimsy assumptions. But I agree with Adam and Ed on this one.

32

Stephen 01.27.16 at 7:17 pm

Ronan@18: I share your interest in Irish history and politics, but I am seriously baffled by your quoting Churchill’s words about Catholic/Protestant antagonisms in Fermanagh and Tyrone surviving WWI, as relevant to the failure of Reconstruction after the American Civil War.

Are you suggesting that, just as the US Federal government failed to use its legal and military power to ensure thorough reconstruction after the defeat of the Confederacy. the UK government after the defeat of the German Empire failed to use its legal and military power in F&T to ensure …. what exactly?

33

Stephen 01.27.16 at 7:36 pm

steven johnson @30: sorry, I can’t follow you there. Maybe it’s my relative ignorance of US as against French Revolutionary politics.

When you write of the “politics that insists the Red Terror of the French Revolution was an apocalypse of human depravity that exposed the fraud of the Enlightenment” I’m not entirely certain what you are referring to. Burke, possibly, or do you mean de Maistre? Given our 20th-century experience of political human depravity (Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, etc) I don’t think anybody nowadays would think of the Red Terror as apocalyptic. By Enlightenment standards though, or by the standards of modern liberal democracy – I realise you may repudiate those – it was fairly dreadful.

As for how far your complaint that some projected Reconstructions would lead to “nothing worse than planters and rebel commanders facing tribunals, maybe to end dangling in midair” and comparing that as less severe than the Terror in the French Revolution: have you considered what the opinions of Lavoisier, Malesherbes and Mme Roland on that subject, were they accessible, might have been?

34

Ronan(rf) 01.27.16 at 7:48 pm

Stephen it was in response to Coates (alleged) line about not trusting white people who praised fdr. Such a line, if actually written by Coates, would be as myopic and parochial as the Churchill caricature of irish Nationalists that i quoted (of course Churchill was wrong on the history, the period he was looking at in ireland is much more understandable by situating the country in the context of “the mode of thought of men, the whole outlook on affairs, the grouping of parties, all have encountered violent and tremendous change”, not as a rare exception )
Having said that, it is largely off topic, irrelevant, and more or less written because I met an old friend for a drink yesterday, and my senses had left me for 20 seconds.

35

Bloix 01.27.16 at 8:45 pm

36

notsneaky 01.27.16 at 9:53 pm

This is trying really hard to smear Clinton with something she didn’t mean and even playing dirty rhetorical tricks with insinuations about vague association with the “Dunning School”

It’s dishonestly trying to imply – while maintaining plausible deniability in the worst weasel kind of way – that Clinton believes that “the attempt in the 1860s and 1870s to provide African Americans with their civil rights was a terrible imposition on the white folks of the South”

Bleh. Bernie Sanders seems like a very decent person, whatever one thinks of his politics. Too bad the same isn’t true of so many of his supports.

(Same thing goes for that ridiculous smear about Hillary working for Goldwater. For a like a month when she was, what, 18? And a year or so later she was working for McCarthy. No, not that McCarthy)

37

Ebenezer Scrooge 01.28.16 at 1:54 am

I never take what Lincoln said all that seriously. He was an astonishingly gifted politician with a very sure sense of the situation, who could roll with the punches and say whatever needed to be said at the time, in a way that did not pin him down for the future. Unlike Roosevelt, he made very few mistakes.

Because of this, I think that Hillary was right. Not because Lincoln would have ever become the Kumbaya President. Far from it! Rather, I think, he would have appraised the situation accurately, and come up with the proper mixture of sound policy, soft words and hard violence to meet his ends, varying all with the situation.

38

Tony Wikrent 01.28.16 at 3:26 am

I think it is painful to discuss how Reconstruction might have been different if Lincoln had not been murdered. The crucial fact for me is the extreme violence Sothorons were willing to, and did use, to end black suffrage in the 1870s and institute Jim Crow. My personal feeling is that Lincoln would have been emotionally overwhelmed by the violence, along the lines of his grief at the deaths of Col. Ellsworth in Alexandria and Col. Baker at Balls Bluff at the beginning of the war. I don’t think Lincoln had much physical, emotional, and mental strength left by April 1865 for a full-on military occupation of the south and strict military repression of southern terrorists. I think the job would have killed him – just look at how much Lincoln aged during the war: http://www.civilwarprofiles.com/the-changing-face-of-lincoln/

As Jay Winik pointed out in , Jefferson Davis ordered Lee and Johnston to take their armies into the Appalachian mountains and begin a guerrilla war. Fortunately Lee and Johnston ignored the order. The point is that most of the Southern leadership were of the same mind as Davis. That is truly amazing, given that they had been crushed “unconditionally.” But here’s another fact that points to the greater fact that people simply do not change or abandon their beliefs very easily, even after being militarily defeated. After World War Two, all four occupying powers in Germany–USA, Britain, France, and USSR–began a program to de-Nazify the German leadership. Within three years, all four occupying powers abandoned their attempts, and simply instituted a blanket prohibition of registered Nazis holding public office.

The 1872 Report of the Joint Select Committee to Inquire into the Condition of Affairs in the Late Insurrectionary States is full of horrifying details of the hundreds, probably thousands, of murders of pro-equality activists and office holders, both black and white. I wrote about this in March 2011: http://real-economics.blogspot.com/2011/03/conservative-tradition-of-attacking.html

The key to the North winning the peace would have been economic policy. There would have had to have been a deliberate program to industrialize the South and empower the southern working class in order to completely replace the existing class structure in which the slave-owning planters ruled absolutely. Given the institutional opposition to giving the northern working class a fair deal after the war, I consider it highly unlikely such a program could ever have been successfully devised and implemented. Consider, for example, why the USA succeeded in its occupations of Germany and Japan. The focus was on getting those economies rebuilt. Just look at the post-war career of W. Edwards Deming.

This is why I have little respect for those scribblers who argue that the Republican Party or movement conservatism are about to become extinct, or for those Democrats, like Hillary Clinton, who refuse to acknowledge that Wall Street and the whole damn financial system is an engine of economic destruction. And why I think we are not going to get real change until we re-direct the new total police state against the one percent. Land the 82nd Airborne on the Cayman Islands if you really want to rattle the status quo.

39

Wayne Collins 01.28.16 at 7:04 am

Marx set forth the socialist approach to the civil war. Insurrection in class and political status relationships -Seize the slaveholders lands and distribute them to the black and white farmers/workers. See Marx and Engels on the civil war. That would have been a revolutionary approach to waging the war…and reconstruction. Then things would have happened very differently. It didn’t. That, I think is the overwhelming point to be taken from the war/reconstruction period.

40

lurker 01.28.16 at 8:34 am

‘The key to the North winning the peace would have been economic policy. There would have had to have been a deliberate program to industrialize the South and empower the southern working class in order to completely replace the existing class structure in which the slave-owning planters ruled absolutely. ‘ (Tom Wikrent)
If I remember Foner correctly, there was a deliberate program to save the planter class from bankruptcy and prevent the breaking up of the plantations. Just not doing this, letting them go broke and auctioning off all their property would have been a good start.

41

LFC 01.28.16 at 4:02 pm

I can certainly think of reasons to vote for Sanders in the primaries rather than Clinton. However, the fact that Clinton said some dumb things about Reconstruction is not esp. one of those reasons, IMHO. As others have said, the last time time she took a course on US history was a while ago. It would be nice if she kept up w historical writing but she has some reasonably good excuses for not having done so. I also don’t give a ******* **** who her favorite president is, unless she’d said Franklin Pierce or Millard Fillmore (or Reagan) or etc, which she wdn’t have. Wdn’t even be writing this comment if I weren’t still recalling the commenter kidneystone’s vituperative (BW’s apt word), somewhat hysterical rants vs Clinton in the other thread. Criticize Clinton for taking speaking fees from banks, for being too close to Wall St, for some of her actions as Sec of State, her policy proposals that you don’t like etc. Not b/c she doesn’t know much about Reconstruction.

Eric is an expert on FDR & New Deal, so not surprisingly he thinks every Dem candidate shd immediately say “FDR” when asked who their favorite president is. But actually it wd be refreshing, and also show some hist. knowledge on a candidate’s part, if someone answered “I don’t have a favorite president. Most presidents’ time in office is a mixture of successes and failures, good decisions and bad ones. Even those presidents we all think of as great, like FDR, Lincoln, and Washington, made mistakes and did some wrong things. So I think it’s better to keep in mind that even great presidents are fallible humans than to try to pick one and say ‘he’s my favorite’.” Wouldn’t that be refreshing for a candidate to say for a change compared to “Lincoln, FDR, Lincoln, FDR, Lincoln, FDR, Jefferson oops I mean Lincoln, FDR, Lincoln, FDR,” ad nauseum.

Semi-trivia note: glancing through the transcript of that Iowa town hall linked in the OP, I see that Martin O’Malley, deep in the transcript, uses, in passing, the phrase “the hidden god,” which is the English title of Lucien Goldmann’s book on Pascal and Racine (Le dieu caché) though O’Malley of course doesn’t give the source. He prob encountered that somewhere in high school or college (Gonzaga College High School; Catholic Univ of America), though who knows…

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