100 years to an Imperfect Union

“Ten years after Appomattox, Northern support for the newly enfranchised ex-slaves and their white allies had faded. Recalcitrant Southern whites, whose Ku Klux Klan night-riding had been aggressively repressed by the federal government in the early 1870’s, regrouped under the political aegis of the Democratic Party. By mid-decade, most of the Reconstruction state governments had fallen at the ballot box to the forces of white supremacy, the self-proclaimed “redeemers.”

Mississippi, with a large black voting majority, resisted longer than other states, but redemption finally came there too, in 1875, sealed by a new frenzy of paramilitary carnage and intimidation. Two years later, after a disputed national election, the Republican Rutherford B. Hayes finally won the White House by agreeing to remove from the South the last of the federal troops who had upheld Reconstruction at the points of their bayonets. The troubled effort to build a Southern interracial democracy out of the ashes of the Civil War was over.”

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Lessons for Iraq… The US couldn’t build democracy in the South after the Civil War. Democracy-building is an ambitious undertaking in sectarian and ethnic concalves, as we have seen repeatedly – even in our own history.

See NYT review of:

‘Redemption: The Last Battle of the Civil War,’ by Nicholas Lemann
Review by SEAN WILENTZ

Link to REVIEW

“The story of Reconstruction’s demise in Mississippi is familiar to historians, and Nicholas Lemann, in “Redemption,” retells it in all its terrible gore. His account squares with recent scholarship, which has challenged both the traditional “Birth of a Nation” view (of Reconstruction as a tragic era of black plunder and white degradation = a fallacy) and the skeptical scholarship of the 1960’s and after that questioned the reformers’ commitment. Lemann, the dean of the School of Journalism at Columbia and the author of “The Promised Land,” among other books, affirms Reconstruction as a noble, thwarted experiment, the nation’s “unfinished revolution,” in the words of the era’s current leading historian, Eric Foner. This book strives to burn that academic re-evaluation into the minds of nonacademic readers. Written on a dramatic human scale, and leavened by some fresh research and analysis, it is an arresting piece of popular history. “