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The Death of Reconstruction

The Death of Reconstruction

Race, Labor, and Politics in the Post-Civil War North, 1865-1901

Heather Cox Richardson

ISBN 9780674013667

Publication date: 03/01/2004

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Historians overwhelmingly have blamed the demise of Reconstruction on Southerners' persistent racism. Heather Cox Richardson argues instead that class, along with race, was critical to Reconstruction's end. Northern support for freed blacks and Reconstruction weakened in the wake of growing critiques of the economy and calls for a redistribution of wealth.

Using newspapers, public speeches, popular tracts, Congressional reports, and private correspondence, Richardson traces the changing Northern attitudes toward African-Americans from the Republicans' idealized image of black workers in 1861 through the 1901 publication of Booker T. Washington's Up from Slavery. She examines such issues as black suffrage, disenfranchisement, taxation, westward migration, lynching, and civil rights to detect the trajectory of Northern disenchantment with Reconstruction. She reveals a growing backlash from Northerners against those who believed that inequalities should be addressed through working-class action, and the emergence of an American middle class that championed individual productivity and saw African-Americans as a threat to their prosperity.

The Death of Reconstruction offers a new perspective on American race and labor and demonstrates the importance of class in the post-Civil War struggle to integrate African-Americans into a progressive and prospering nation.


  • The Death of Reconstruction offers a provocative explanation of why Northerners after the Civil War gradually and often reluctantly abandoned their efforts on behalf of the Southern freedmen. Not ignoring virulent racism directed at African Americans, Richardson shows that it was less race than class that brought about the end of Reconstruction. An important, impressively documented book, The Death of Reconstruction is a work comparable to David Montgomery's Beyond Equality as a major reinterpretation of the post-Civil War period.

    —David Herbert Donald, author of Lincoln


  • Heather Cox Richardson is Associate Professor of American History, Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Book Details

  • 330 pages
  • 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press

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