It is important to note that the focus of this essay is not whether or not Reconstruction was revolutionary but rather to what extent it was. This presumption asserts a unique interpretation on the revolutionary debate around Reconstruction. To answer this question historians have argued over political, economic, agrarian, gendered and racial revolutions throughout and following Reconstruction. This essay will discuss the longue durée of reconstruction with a focus on race, immigration and agriculture.
It is also crucial to examine how revolutionary the concept of reconstruction was to nineteenth century American politics. The reactionary consequences of Reconstruction were not limited purely to the South in 1860-1877 but extend to the way in which civil liberties and rights have been considered in the years following its radical implementation.
The Oxford dictionary defines ‘revolutionary’ as ‘involving or causing a complete or dramatic change.’ This is vital in considering Reconstruction within the context of American history. Many scholars would argue that the social and political transformations between 1860 and 1877 culminated in a revolution. Eric Foner is one such scholar. He wrote that ‘institutions created or consolidated after the Civil War – the black family, school and church – provided the base form which the modern civil rights revolution sprang’. Understanding that Reconstruction itself represented the birth of modern civil rights is key to understanding how to measure the revolutionary effects of Reconstruction.
Prior to the end of the Civil War, in 1863, President Abraham Lincoln began forming a plan on reunification for the Northern and Southern states. The South had su...
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...n does not detract from its revolutionary ideals. It is important to recognise the fundamental affect Reconstruction had in a historical context.
Foner’s reconstruction theory was that the South were more focused on recreating society as it was prior to the Civil War that they were unable to fully implement reconstruction. DuBois further argues that the level of discouragement present in the South from the Freedmen and the southern whites ‘would make it difficult under any circumstances to reconstruct a new government and a new civilization’
The longue durée of reconstruction throughout United States history is seen both in the racial qualities of Jim Crow as well as the success of the Civil rights movement. These were the result of emancipation; reconstruction may not have succeeded however it did set the foundation for a long-term campaign for black rights.
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