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.
Heather Richardson's The Death of Reconstruction is a work of genuine originality and imagination. Steeped in remarkable research, this is a persuasive account of how economic world views drove Northerners' retreat from Reconstruction; it makes us view Reconstruction from a different angle and helps explain, as well as any book has, the deep significance of individualism in American life in the late nineteenth century.
[Richardson] makes extensive use of contemporary newspaper articles, periodicals, speeches, and personal accounts to capture this tumultuous era in American history. Highly recommended for academic libraries.
In The Death of Reconstruction the author's main concern is with attitudes in the North, not in the states of the former Confederacy. She notes that most Northerners had little direct contact with blacks, because only 10 percent of them lived in the North. In the years immediately after the war, the Republican press in the North took a benign view of blacks as a group, portraying them as poor but eager to work their way to prosperity as free labor...The most interesting aspect of this book is the reminder it affords that the debate over "affirmative action" is not a modern phenomenon but can be traced back to the 19th century...[Richardson's] focus on class conflict is a useful addition to other writings on the Gilded Age.
At last readers have an explanation of why the Republican Party, founded in antislavery, dedicated to emancipation, and the political inspiration for the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments to the Constitution, abandoned those causes in favor of an ideology which acquiesced in the disenfranchisement of blacks and in the triumph of Jim Crow. Arguing that Republicans came to see the majority of African Americans as potential labor radicals in the tradition of the Paris Commune and the labor agitation of the US strikes of the late 19th century, [Richardson]...documents that this led to political abandonment...This is an important contribution for all historians who want a better understanding of the South or the African American experience, and anyone who wants good political history.
- 330 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
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