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A Short History of Reconstruction

Introduction

A Short History of Reconstruction is a book written by an American historian called Eric Foner. The author is a professor of history at the Columbia University. The work is an account of the period in the American history when there was reconstruction after the civil wars. Most of them took place in the South. A Short History of Reconstruction is an attempt to bring better understanding of the post-revisionists. This book is a shorter version of the earlier works on the history of revolution in America. Foner explains the theory of the Radical Republicans being “bad people” of the era and the one that states that the only person aiming at the restoration of the rights to freedom was Abraham Lincoln. This book also documents the fact that the blacks were discriminated against, and the radicals played a crucial part in empowering Afro-Americans in the US (Foner, 2010).

The Objective of the Historian

Eric Foner tried to provide the most vital information on the Reconstruction which he called “America’s Unfinished Revolution” (Foner, 2011). He also mentions the main causes of the process, and, at the end of the book, the author writes about the time after the period mentioning the election of Rutherford B. Hayes. Generally, the book is an account of the American history, which Foner documents in a simplified version. He changes the perspective on the revolution with his work of a revisionist. Andrew Johnson was perceived as a major racist, while the Radical Republicans were considered to be advocates for the rights of blacks. This facts help to realize that the era of Reconstruction was characterized by racism in the US.

Thus, the historian describes the experience of the black people in the US during the time of the civil wars and the Reconstruction period. He brings an idea that they were not only spectators at the mentioned time. He notes that there is an opinion that many of them were recruited to the army during the conflicts. Foner explains that, as a result, blacks were gradually molded into civil leaders. The major part of his book talks of the harsh treatment Afro-Americans received at the time of the war, which ranged from violence to racism. He, therefore, seeks to explain the plight of the blacks and their contribution to the revolution and fighting in the country. The writer argues that the liberation of slaves and their treatment as equals to the rest of the Americans was the most significant action of the post war period and the beginning of the Reconstruction. His main aim was to raise awareness to the problems the black population of the US encountered at the time (Foner, 2010).

Brief Synopsis of the Book

The book can be best summarized by mentioning the following points it discusses:

  • The 10% plan. It  was Abraham Lincoln’s blue print in his declaration of reprieve and reconstruction. It was offered in 1863 that is 2 years before the coalition formally surrendered.
  • The Wade-Davis Bill and the Freedmen’s Bureau. This was an action taken by the Radical Republican movement against the Ten-Percent Plan.
  • Presidential reformations. President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated on April 14, 1865 by John Wilkes Booth. The vice president took over the office and forced back the 10% plan initially proposed by the former head of the nation.
  • Progressive black legislation. The Civil Rights Act passed in 1866 by the then vice president was renewed. This document gave Afro-Americans equal rights to take part in legal processes. The Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments pushed for the abolishment of slavery.
  • President’s indecisiveness. There was a strong reaction from the southerners concerning the Civil Rights Act and the two amendments prompting the white activists to form secret groups such as Ku Klux Klan in Tennessee. It aimed at increasing the oppression of the blacks. The president showed concern by moving around the country and giving speeches about the work of the Republicans who were in charge of the congress at that time. He failed those attempts because his speeches were racist in nature and provoked the reversed effect encouraging even more discrimination and mass killings of the blacks.
  • Radical Reconstruction. The southern states were divided into five districts and each of them had been run by the US military till a new government was formed. The African-Americans were also given the right to vote after the amendments.
  • After violating the Tenure of Office Act of 1867, the president faced impeachment from the House of Congress. He had eliminated some of the cabinet secretaries of Abraham Lincoln’s government that led to the event.
  • Black legislation. There was tense resistance and violence against blacks by whites forcing them not to feel as free as the rest of the people in the country. Thus, the government passed a bill that allowed military protection of Afro-Americans.
  • Election of Ulysses S. Grant. Grant was elected as president in 1868, but his government failed due to inexperience of the reconstruction. As a result, the process stopped due to the cases of corruption in the government.


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Critique

This book is a good inclusion to the already existing documentaries in American literature. The civil wars form an integral part of the country’s history. The author ensures that he maintains a neutral stance concerning the process of the Reconstruction. Incorporation of the eleven defeated states proved to be a problem due to the cultural differences of the two factions that were initially fighting against one another (Foner, 2010). Much of the bipartisanship seen in the politics of the country at the present time has mostly resulted from the Reconstruction era and socio-political composition of the post war times. Foner realizes the significance of relating the past with the present, and his literal work describes the reader a contemporary relevance of activities of that time. One learns that, soon after the war, there existed an environment of euphoria. However, it turned out to be not what people expected, and most intellectuals thought of a radically new country (Foner, 2010).

The excitement, which most people had soon after the civil wars, faded gradually when they realized that most of the old institutions would stay functional for long. The writer states that, to some extent, the process of Reconstruction was a failure due to the change in the leadership of the country. This called for the Civil Rights Movement which occurred 100 years later. Foner suggests that the progressive development of America had been hampered for over 100 years because of the failure of the process. He asserts that the post war and the Reconstruction era saw numerous injustices, which, arguably, are the main causes of the problems that Americans face (Foner, 2010).

The author also ensures that he explains the intricate economic and political aspects of the time. In this way, Foner differs from other historians since he gives a more detailed description of the collapse of the Reconstruction. He explores and gives evidence relating to the breakdown of the process through the use of the economic policy paradigms of the era. He explains that the plight of the blacks was a bottom-up process rather than the opposite one. The writer places a lot of emphasis on the small but important contributions Afro-Americans made during the wars that were not documented by most of the other historians (Foner, 2010). Foner can be compared to Howard Zinn since he succeeds in proving that the Reconstruction process was a grass-roots force. He, however, differs from Zinn in tone because he does not give a subaltern narrative perspective. The historian provides first-hand accounts of war and post war experiences he has got from the survivors. The author successfully infuses the elements of originality into the historical documentaries.

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Lesson from the Book

The History of Reconstruction is a complex work that centers on Americans fighting their own country based on racial and political divides (Jenkins, 2002). The wars sprang from racism with the whites considering themselves as superior to Afro-Americans. The process of Reconstruction did not succeed because there were people who opposed it making it complicated. The intentions of the Reconstruction were, therefore, not fully realized. The assassination of Abraham Lincoln was an attempt to stop the liberation of the Afro-Americans from slavery, and it is argued that he would have seen a better progress had he lived through the time. Unfortunately, the black population did not do a lot in the reconstruction of the US because they were busy protecting themselves from the whites.

References

Foner, E. (2010). A Short History of Reconstruction. New York: HarperCollins

Foner, E. (2011). Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877. New York: HarperCollins

Jenkins, W. L. (2002). Climbing up to Glory: A Short History of African Americans during the Civil War and Reconstruction. New York: Rowman & Littlefield.

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