The English Caucus.

An Englishman's account of all things American.

Constructing the South

Today, my ‘friend’ received a relatively high mark for talking relatively little about reconstruction following the civil war and why it failed. In true competing fashion I’m going to better his talk by talking about it in a lot more depth, for no mark at all. (I’m not that competitive. Actually I am and it made me a little annoyed for the mark he received) 

Immediately following the American Civil War, there was a problem. The North didn’t trust the South, and the South didn’t trust the North. Reconstruction, did not just concern what needs to be done about African Americans, instead it was concerned with what needed to be done about the South to reincorporate them back into the Union, following their surrender. Thaddeus Stevens told Congress that ‘We have the right to treat them (the South) as we would any other provinces that we might conquer’. Stevens was in the radical wing of the Republican party and saw the necessity of incorporating the Southern states in the Union as well as incorporating the South Freedmen back into society. But, it is important to note, Stevens didn’t see African Americans as equals. 

For the south to be admitted back into the Union, the radical Recontructionists which dominated Congress sought the south to change the social fabric of the south. It could be argued that the North was looking for a social revolution in the South, this would never happen. But there were areas of progress, the passing of the 13th Amendment making it unconstitutional to keep and use slaves. The establishment of the Freedmen’s Bureau offered help to slaves in various ways. There were efforts to integrate recently free slaves back into society, but the Southern attitudes were not having any of it. 

(This is already better than my friends shoddy performance. I’m not arrogant about my work or anything like that because, quite frankly, I think it’s shit. But this is definitely, definitely, better than the presentation I witnessed today. I just wish you could have been there)

The fact that Reconstructionist policies were seen to be applied on behalf of Congress - sponsored almost entirely by Northern Congressmen - reinforced the impression that foreign policies were being imposed on a helpless South in defiance to their states rights, one of the causes of the civil war. The fact that many of the South had no say in what their policies would be was bound to cause problems. Segregation was beginning and with the backing of the Supreme Court following the case of Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) which effectively started the juggernaut of the Segregation doctrine as well as the well known policy of ‘Separate but equal’. The presentation which I saw today mentions none of this, instead opting instead to focus all the attention on the mistakes of President Andrew Johnson. 

Ok, that seems fair you may think. After all, Andrew Johnson wasn’t really that helpful in the Reconstruction era. He did issue thousands of pardons to southern white’s and effectively ended hopes of freemen. These are fair issues which were raised and discussed by the presenter but was it really all his fault? I hardly think that in a system of government with all the Checks and Balances that are in place that a racist President can have all the power, especially with Charles Sumner, Thaddeus Stevens and the numerous other radical Republicans in Congress. Andrew Johnson was a poor president, there is no denying that. But what I am arguing is that it was also the Southern White mentality as well as the current economic problems which led to the failure of reconstruction. 

These economic problems caused racism to occur in the North, and therefore policies for the South were almost forgotten. And I do mean forgotten. After the Compromise of 1877, when Hayes won the presidency, (I don’t know how, after all his opponent Tilden won the popular vote. Fucking US Electoral system) the federal troops which were occupying the South ‘enforcing’ the laws which had been in place post-war were removed. With that, Reconstruction had ended: so had the brief optimism regarding Civil Rights for African Americans, who endured decades more of racial abuse. 

So presenter, I think you missed all of these points apart from the bit about Johnson which you did well on. But, I don’t think you entirely deserved the mark you were given because you ignored several other areas. 

This post seems to have no direction and I currently don’t want to go back and change it all to make it seem like an essay. This is actually a reply to the presentation I saw today which you really had to be there for to understand why I’m talking about this in the way that I am. If you’re interested, I have to do a presentation on the Foreign Policy between 1945 and 1950. A much harder topic I must admit, but I hopefully will do better than what I saw today and considering the mark he got, I’m hoping for full marks. Bastards.

  1. englishcaucus posted this