By Kenneth Winkle
Dunning, William A. Reconstruction: Political and Economic, 1865-1877 (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1907).
Dominating the field of Reconstruction history for almost sixty years, Dunning’s work changed the focus of study from the North to the South. Strongly sympathetic to the South and its citizens, Dunning held the North responsible for Reconstruction ills and the South blameless for refusing to be “subjugated” by Reconstruction or the freedmen. Foundation of the Dunning school that vindicated the South, the book argued the Civil War was unnecessary and that slavery was beneficial and on the verge of extinction.
Bowers, Claude G. The Tragic Era: The Revolution After Lincoln (Cambridge, MA: Houghton Mifflin, 1929).
Another pro-Southern interpretation, Bowers took abolitionists and Radical Republicans to task for the evil done to former Confederates. From the Dunning school, Bowers suggested that slaves were actually happy and treated well, an accepted theory in the early twentieth century. He blamed Southern racial bigotry on newly freed slaves, concluding the Reconstruction was unduly harsh.
Beale, Howard K. The Critical Year: A Study of Andrew Johnson and Reconstruction (New York: F. Ungar, 1930).
Revising history that denounced President Andrew Johnson, Beale rehabilitated the disgraced executive, presenting him as a moderate swept aside in radical times. Strongly oriented toward economic influences on political history, this book discussed government finance, big business, and the tariffs as key issues in the growth of Radical Republicanism and Johnson’s downfall. Beale concluded that the Radical minority converted Congress to their viewpoint, seeking to remodel government along a parliamentary model with the legislature paramount and the executive and judicial subordinate.
DuBois, W. E. B. Black Reconstruction in America (New York: Russell & Russell, 1935).
In the first work on African-Americans and Reconstruction, DuBois examined the black experience state by state, detailing the rise and fall of freedman expectations. Charging that the Northern attempt to create a truly democratic South failed in the face of a “dictatorship of property” that dominated the nation for years, DuBois concluded that blacks were denied any real opportunity to become free. In labeling Reconstruction a glorious failure, DuBois blamed big business and greed for not allowing African-Americans to succeed.
Franklin, John Hope. Reconstruction: After the Civil War (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1961).
An early revisionist repudiation of the Dunning school interpretation, Franklin’s work discusses the flaws of Radical Reconstruction and the brevity of Northern military occupation as reasons for Reconstruction’s failure. In one of the earliest accurate portrayals of former slaves, Franklin evaluates the limited power of freedmen.
Stampp, Kenneth M. The Era of Reconstruction, 1865-1877 (New York: Knopf, 1965).
An important 1960s revisionist work, Stamp reconstructed much of the Reconstruction mythology created by the Dunning school. Summarizing Reconstruction historiography while presenting his revised view, he offered a more even-handed interpretation, tying political and economic factors together. He concluded that Reconstruction failed because white supremacists throughout the South systematically disenfranchised freedmen, denying them rights established under the 14th and 15th Amendments.
Sefton, James E. The United States Army and Reconstruction, 1865-1877 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1967).
The first effort to place the Army’s role in Reconstruction, Sefton’s study examines occupation duty and the Army’s problems as a military body enforcing civilian policy. The Army’s role was unprecedented and encountered several problems, among which was the struggle between Congress and the President with the military stuck in the middle. Sefton concludes that the Army did an adequate job in difficult circumstances, noting that force was not an acceptable means to achieve the social and cultural transformations that Reconstruction represented.
Trefousse, Hans. The Radical Republicans: Lincoln's Vanguard for Racial Justice (New York: Knopf, 1969).
This well researched work refutes the idea that the Radicals were just abolitionists by another name, placing them closer to the center of Republican political philosophy. Claiming that they represented “racial justice,” Trefousse portrays Radicals as modern-day heros fighting for African-American rights who sought control of the Republican Party to enact their vision. Brief biographical sketches of central characters highlight this view of the Radicals as humanitarians and harbingers of diversity.
Benedict, Michael Les. The Impeachment and Trial of Andrew Johnson (New York: Norton, 1973).
Writing before the tumultuous 1990s, Benedict interpreted Johnson’s impeachment as the most remarkable event in the history of American government. This political study of the issues, events, and personalities leading to the impeachment and trial is a fine treatment of a singular event. Analyzing House charges and Senate votes, Benedict concluded that Johnson’s near conviction was a classic example of American judicial process.
Hyman, Harold M. A More Perfect Union: The Impact of the Civil War and Reconstruction on the Constitution (New York: Knopf, 1973).
Hyman concentrated on the Lincoln and Johnson administrations in his review of the impact of the Civil War era on the Constitution. Including a wide range of opinions from Civil War era jurists to modern historians, he created a broad range of political, intellectual, and social factors for early Reconstruction, although he rejected the idea of “organized Reconstruction” as a Republican policy. Hyman concluded that Reconstruction’s impact on the Constitution was more focused on limiting state power than increasing federal power.
Woodward, C. Vann. The Strange Career of Jim Crow, 3rd ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1974).
A brief but fine study of de facto and de jure segregation, this book examines an American institution for almost one hundred years. Debunking many myths, Woodward examined race relations after the Civil War leading up the Jim Crow segregationist policy and into the mid-20th Century civil rights movement. Placing segregation in a political and social context, he concluded that it was not a phenomena restricted to the South, nor was it pervasive after the war, rather developing in a milieu of changing political aspirations during the Gilded Age.
Roark, James L. Masters Without Slaves: Southern Planters in the Civil War and Reconstruction (New York: Norton, 1977).
Roark examined the impact of emancipation on ex-masters, attempting to capture reality from their perspective. Integrating master’s personal papers into his narrative, he determined that they were self-destructive and unable to adjust to the end of slavery and their former way of life. Struggling to keep slavery as an economic system that kept them in power, they lost all.
Litwack, Leon F. Been in the Storm So Long: The Aftermath of Slavery (New York: Knopf, 1979).
This work is a Pulitzer Prize winning examination of the end of slavery and its influence on Southern society. Litwack utilized many under-explored sources, including ex-slave oral histories and diaries and accounts from former slave holders to create a well rounded assessment of the changes wrought by emancipation. Using black-white relations during and after the Civil War as his focus, Litwack demonstrated slavery’s mutual dependence and inherent tensions.
McPherson, James M. Ordeal By Fire: The Civil War and Reconstruction (New York: Knopf, 1982).
Widely accepted as the standard contemporary work on the era, McPherson’s book encompassed the issues leading to the Civil War, the war itself, and the Reconstruction era. He argued that Reconstruction really ended in 1890 rather than the commonly accepted 1877 when the last “bloody shirt” bill failed, signaling the end of sectional and racial issues on the national level. This excellent general overview highlighted key Reconstruction issues, discussing economic, social, and political factors.
Carter, Dan T. When the War Was Over: The Failure of Self_Reconstruction in the South, 1865-1867 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana University Press, 1985).
Carter’s work focused on the era of Presidential Reconstruction and the failure of Southern leaders to successfully return to the Union. Somewhat pro-Southern in flavor, this study attacked standard assumptions in discussing many post-war leaders as reluctant Confederates, forced into secession with their states, but never able to assert power after the war. Blocked by political limitations and Southern fears of race conflict, the moderate Southern leaders were too few and too weak to change society and culture, a task even the federal government failed to accomplish.
Foner, Eric. Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877 (New York: Harper & Row, 1988).
Addressing the centrality of the African-American to the Reconstruction experience, this is the definitive modern study of Reconstruction. Extensively researched and documented, Foner’s work placed political and economic factors within the framework of the black experience. Despite some success, Foner concluded that Reconstruction failed to bring equality to African-Americans, a task still incomplete in his eyes.
Current, Richard N. Those Terrible Carpetbaggers: A Reinterpretation (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988).
Refuting the image of carpetbaggers as corrupt, greedy Northerners out to profit from Southern post-war destitution, Current characterized ten of these men as dedicated, conscientious, and committed to reform. Weaving their stories around national and state politics, his revision of the hated carpetbagger image revealed a group of men driven to help the South recover while aiding African-Americans to gain their rights.
Foner, Eric. A Short History of Reconstruction, 1863-1877 (New York: Harper & Row, 1990).
An abridgement of Foner’s seminal study, this short volume is an excellent source of information on the African-American experience during Reconstruction. Foner concluded that Reconstruction was a failed opportunity to achieve true emancipation and equality for African-Americans.
Perman, Michael, ed. Major Problems in the Civil War and Reconstruction. Lexington, MA: D. C. Heath, 1991.
Part of the “Major Problems in America” series, this work focuses on the issues leading up to the Civil War, the conflict itself, and Reconstruction. Each chapter includes primary documents and two essays providing differing interpretations of a particular issue. An excellent source of primary materials, these also engender discussion and debate in the class room environment.
Foner, Eric. Freedom's Lawmakers: A Directory of Black Officeholders During Reconstruction (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993).
Foner lists over 1500 African-American national, state, and local officials, many previously unknown or forgotten, in his compilation. Including brief biographies, photographs, and indexes, the directory is a font of information on this largely ignored population of dedicated black politicians and civil servants. Dispelling pervasive myths of black lawmaker’s unfitness for office, Foner’s study is a testament to America’s pioneers in interracial democracy.
Dykstra, Robert R. Bright Radical Star: Black Freedom and White Supremacy on the Hawkeye Frontier (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1993).
Combining studies of racial attitudes with political party development, Dykstra presents a narrative history of Iowa’s electoral process granting African-Americans full rights. He traces the evolution of Iowa politics and race relations from the 1830s to the 1880s, when voters eliminated the last racist legislation, concluding that political factors (such as Republican dominance) were as vital for progress as were social or cultural changes.
Saville, Julie. The Work of Reconstruction: From Slave to Wage Laborer in South Carolina, 1860-1870 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1994).
Using rural South Carolina as her sample area, Saville discusses the social convulsions and political/cultural conflicts associated with the shift from slavery to free labor. Her evaluation of Reconstruction as a “grass roots” social movement incorporates strong documentation, including extensive ex-slave testimony. While primarily focused on the shifting labor relations, her analysis incorporates relations between freedmen and Republicans and the development of African-American political clubs, a key element in their struggle for equality.
Harris, William C. With Charity for All: Lincoln and the Restoration of the Union (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1997).
Examining the largely ignored history of wartime Reconstruction, Harris’ work argues that Reconstruction was really “restoration” for Abraham Lincoln. Believing that individuals, not states, were the rebels, Lincoln adopted a conservative (as opposed to Radical) interpretation, pushing Southern Unionists to self-reconstruct and rejoin the Union. A sound discussion of Lincoln’s wartime policies directed toward reunification, this work is as much a study of Lincoln as a war President as it is a Reconstruction history.
Schwalm, Leslie A. A Hard Fight for We: Women's Transition from Slavery to Freedom in South Carolina (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1997).
Schwalm examines African-American women on South Carolina rice plantations from their struggles for freedom through resistence to plantation work and their drive to achieve and maintain control of their own labor. Identifying these women as the primary field hands in the rice plantations, Schwalm describes their determination to break the bonds of labor once free, including violence directed against their former masters. Vital to rice production and to their families, the women struggled to establish themselves as independent free labor in the fields and in the home.
Trefousse, Hans. Thaddeus Stevens: Nineteenth_Century Egalitarian (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1997).
Best known as the Radical Republican leader, Stevens began a long political career in the 1830s, culminating in the Civil War as a powerful member of the House of Representatives and a proponent of emancipation and stern treatment of rebels. Trefousse’s biography traces Stevens’ rise and is an even-handed evaluation of a complex man determined to change the South after the war.
Cimbala, Paul A. Under the Guardianship of the Nation: The Freedmen's Bureau and the Reconstruction of Georgia, 1865-1870 (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1997).
Cimbala paints a sympathetic picture of the Georgia Bureau, suggesting that the Bureau did all it could to better the lives of the ex-slaves. Working with insufficient time and resources and caught between high expectations and poor support, the Bureau commissioners are pictured as concerned but ineffectual, despite good intentions. Cimbala addresses the land issue in some detail, reviving the concept that land distribution was essential to ensure black freedom, an idea disputed by other historians.
Simpson, Brooks D. The Reconstruction Presidents (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1998).
Assessing each of the four Reconstruction presidents, Simpson concludes that all except Johnson wished to better the freedman’s lot but found themselves constrained by politics and by the 19th century interpretation of presidential powers. Lincoln was consumed over winning the war and preserving the Union; Grant pragmatically attempted to restore the South and promote black citizenship, yet lost control over circumstances; Hayes ended the experiment as a matter of political expediency. Downgrading each president’s personal racial beliefs, Simpson concentrates on the political realities of a confusing era.
Richardson, Heather Cox. The Death of Reconstruction: Race, Labor, and Politics in the Post-Civil War North, 1865-1901 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2001).
An economically oriented evaluation of Reconstruction’s failure, Richardson’s book evaluates why the Republican “free labor” philosophy proved unworkable in a rapidly changing world. Examining Northern reaction toward African-Americans over forty years, she concludes that economic and class factors were as responsible for the failure as were racial or political issues.
Blight, David W. Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2001).
Blight interprets the image of the Civil War in the post-war years, suggesting that the drive for reconciliation, the Southern “Lost Cause” mentality, and a growing national culture drowned African-American efforts for equality. As the purpose of the war faded, unity for white America meant segregation for black America. Blight holds that the memory of the war was distinct and different for blacks and whites, promoting reconciliation without justice.
Baggett, James Alex. The Scalawags: Southern Dissenters in the Civil War and Reconstruction (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2003).
Baggett’s work offers a collective biography of 742 scalawags, the other hated individual in Southern Reconstruction mythology. Baggett concludes that, much like the carpetbaggers, they were generally dedicated men working to better themselves and their states. Vital to understanding the politics of Reconstruction, these men influenced politics during Reconstruction and were unfairly vilified by Southerners during “redemption” as the devil incarnate.