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Reconstruction: America's Unfinished…
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Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877 (2005)

by Eric Foner

Other authors: Henry Steele Commager (Introduction), Richard B. Morris (Introduction)

Series: The New American Nation (1.13)

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1,1041511,352 (4.13)26
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Showing 1-5 of 15 (next | show all)
This is the definitive memorandum of the Reconstruction Era. It is incredibly researched and documented. This book was very objective and precise. He does shade the truth. It is very detailed and trying to read it like a textbook was slow going. There are too many people, factions and issues in play to keep it all straight without a lot of back and forth and re-reading sections. Mr. Foner dug deep to follow the actions and motivations of the major players, particularly those in presidential politics during the era. It was fascinating, illuminating and presented in a logical, interesting sequence.

The book's focus on the intricacies of the competing and affected economics was phenomenal. Much of the American History I have read does much less with economics as a force for history. Of course racism plays a major role in this era and Foner did not hold any punches nor excessively vilify. The racism was nationwide and not limited to just the democrats. Let's be honest, we still have pervasive and institutionalized racism.

Governments define the rules of economics. The author's explanation of the role of the constitution and laws, Federal, State and Local, was very well done. He is a very astute historian. I wish I could monitor one of his classes as I sure it would by a joy for anyone obsessed with American History. We need many more historians who work as hard, think as thoroughly and explain as clearly.

The book reveals a sad story of America and human characteristics. That is history. It is agonizing to see these same patterns constantly controlling. I wish we could learn and adjust our behavior based upon known history. ( )
  DonaldPowell | Feb 5, 2019 |
Good book but hard reading Wish I had a better knowledge of reconstruction politics. Spot read after a bit, but full of information. Will save and try to reread after reading more on Pres.Johnson. ( )
  busterrll | Jun 11, 2018 |
Eric Foner begins with an assessment of the historiography up to 1988. In the first decade of the 1900s, William Dunning and John W. Burgess articulated a history of Reconstruction that condemned Radical Republicans, Northern carpetbaggers, Southern scalawags, and freedmen. W.E.B. Du Bois, in 1935, and Howard Beale, in the 1940s, initiated the revisionist school, which cast Northern policymakers and freedmen in a more positive light. Foner writes of the revisionist school, “Reconstruction revisionism bore the mark of the modern civil rights movement” (Short History of Reconstruction, xiii). Despite their efforts to portray Reconstruction as a revolutionary moment, the social situation of the 1950s and 1960s belied that interpretation and fostered postrevisionist critiques. Foner admits the faults of the Dunning method, but believes it offered the best synthesis of the era. His work “aims to combine the Dunning School’s aspiration to a broad interpretive framework with the findings and concerns of recent scholarship” (xxiv). Summarizing the book’s impact in 2014, Foner wrote, “By the time my book appeared numerous scholars had exposed one or another weakness of the Dunning interpretation. Reconstruction was to drive the final nail into the coffin of the Dunning School and to offer an alternative account of the era” (Updated Edition,xxxi). Foner describes the impact of his work by citing historians who use the “unfinished revolution” framework to examine the disappointments of Reconstruction, including Stephen Kantrowitz’s More Than Freedom (Updated Edition, xl).
Foner presents a four-part argument in Reconstruction. First and foremost, he argues that African Americans “were active agents in the making of Reconstruction” (xxiv). Additionally, he argues that the changes during Reconstruction resulted from “a complex series of interactions among blacks and whites, Northerners and Southerners, in which victories were often tentative and outcomes subject to challenge and revision” (xxv). Third, “racism was an intrinsic part of the progress of historical development, which affected and was affected by changes in the social and political order” (xxvi). Finally, the same economic and class changes that occurred in the South were simultaneously occurring in the North.
Elaborating on his first point, Foner writes, “Black soldiers played a crucial role not only in winning the Civil War, but in defining the war’s consequences. Their service helped transform the nation’s treatment of blacks and blacks’ conception of themselves” (8). Foner writes of black Republicans, “The spectacle of former slaves representing the lowcountry rice kingdom or the domain of Natchez cotton nabobs epitomized the political revolution wrought by Reconstruction” (355). When addressing class issues, Foner describes the conflict between elite and common Southerners as “a civil war within the Civil War” (15). Discussing the impact of racism on politics, Foner writes, “Even where blacks enjoyed greater influence within the party, Republican governors initially employed their influence to defeat civil rights bills or vetoed them when passed, fearing that such measures threatened the attempt to establish their administrations’ legitimacy by wooing white support” (370). Elaborating on his Southerners’ reactions to Northern involvement in the South, Foner argues against the traditional narrative of carpetbaggers, writing, “Despite instances of violent hostility or ostracism, most Southern planters recognized that Northern investment, ironically, was raising land prices and rescuing many former slaveholders from debt – in a word, stabilizing their class” (137). Foner describes the economic changes of Reconstruction, writing, “Republican rule subtly altered the balance of power in the rural South” (401), and planters, “once alone at the apex of Southern society, they now saw other groups rising in economic importance” (399). To Foner, the Northern Reconstruction involved increasing industrialization, government activism and public reform, wage-earning dominating jobs, new social opportunities for African Americans, and the rise of Gilded Age politics (460-511).
Foner draws upon various manuscripts and letters in archives throughout the United States, government documents such as Congressional records, newspapers, contemporary publications from the time of Reconstruction, and memoirs written after the fact. He also performs a great deal of synthesis of the various parts of the historiography, working to undo the legacy of the Dunning School’s racism. As Foner wrote in 2014, “Most books in the New American Nation Series summarize, often very ably, the current state of historical scholarship, rather than rely on new research” (Updated Edition, xxix). His contribution blends the two approaches. ( )
  DarthDeverell | Nov 22, 2016 |
Eric Foner begins with an assessment of the historiography up to 1988. In the first decade of the 1900s, William Dunning and John W. Burgess articulated a history of Reconstruction that condemned Radical Republicans, Northern carpetbaggers, Southern scalawags, and freedmen. W.E.B. Du Bois, in 1935, and Howard Beale, in the 1940s, initiated the revisionist school, which cast Northern policymakers and freedmen in a more positive light. Foner writes of the revisionist school, “Reconstruction revisionism bore the mark of the modern civil rights movement” (Short History of Reconstruction, xiii). Despite their efforts to portray Reconstruction as a revolutionary moment, the social situation of the 1950s and 1960s belied that interpretation and fostered postrevisionist critiques. Foner admits the faults of the Dunning method, but believes it offered the best synthesis of the era. His work “aims to combine the Dunning School’s aspiration to a broad interpretive framework with the findings and concerns of recent scholarship” (xxiv). Summarizing the book’s impact in 2014, Foner wrote, “By the time my book appeared numerous scholars had exposed one or another weakness of the Dunning interpretation. Reconstruction was to drive the final nail into the coffin of the Dunning School and to offer an alternative account of the era” (Updated Edition,xxxi). Foner describes the impact of his work by citing historians who use the “unfinished revolution” framework to examine the disappointments of Reconstruction, including Stephen Kantrowitz’s More Than Freedom (Updated Edition, xl).
Foner presents a four-part argument in Reconstruction. First and foremost, he argues that African Americans “were active agents in the making of Reconstruction” (xxiv). Additionally, he argues that the changes during Reconstruction resulted from “a complex series of interactions among blacks and whites, Northerners and Southerners, in which victories were often tentative and outcomes subject to challenge and revision” (xxv). Third, “racism was an intrinsic part of the progress of historical development, which affected and was affected by changes in the social and political order” (xxvi). Finally, the same economic and class changes that occurred in the South were simultaneously occurring in the North.
Elaborating on his first point, Foner writes, “Black soldiers played a crucial role not only in winning the Civil War, but in defining the war’s consequences. Their service helped transform the nation’s treatment of blacks and blacks’ conception of themselves” (8). Foner writes of black Republicans, “The spectacle of former slaves representing the lowcountry rice kingdom or the domain of Natchez cotton nabobs epitomized the political revolution wrought by Reconstruction” (355). When addressing class issues, Foner describes the conflict between elite and common Southerners as “a civil war within the Civil War” (15). Discussing the impact of racism on politics, Foner writes, “Even where blacks enjoyed greater influence within the party, Republican governors initially employed their influence to defeat civil rights bills or vetoed them when passed, fearing that such measures threatened the attempt to establish their administrations’ legitimacy by wooing white support” (370). Elaborating on his Southerners’ reactions to Northern involvement in the South, Foner argues against the traditional narrative of carpetbaggers, writing, “Despite instances of violent hostility or ostracism, most Southern planters recognized that Northern investment, ironically, was raising land prices and rescuing many former slaveholders from debt – in a word, stabilizing their class” (137). Foner describes the economic changes of Reconstruction, writing, “Republican rule subtly altered the balance of power in the rural South” (401), and planters, “once alone at the apex of Southern society, they now saw other groups rising in economic importance” (399). To Foner, the Northern Reconstruction involved increasing industrialization, government activism and public reform, wage-earning dominating jobs, new social opportunities for African Americans, and the rise of Gilded Age politics (460-511).
Foner draws upon various manuscripts and letters in archives throughout the United States, government documents such as Congressional records, newspapers, contemporary publications from the time of Reconstruction, and memoirs written after the fact. He also performs a great deal of synthesis of the various parts of the historiography, working to undo the legacy of the Dunning School’s racism. As Foner wrote in 2014, “Most books in the New American Nation Series summarize, often very ably, the current state of historical scholarship, rather than rely on new research” (Updated Edition, xxix). His contribution blends the two approaches. ( )
  DarthDeverell | Nov 22, 2016 |
I can't remember ever reading a book that made me so mad, over and over. I of course knew what to expect, and yet managed to be repeatedly horrified at our ancestors' failures.

Political change is a grind it out, every day battle. Think Ho Chi Minh. There are no shortcuts. The Redeemers knew they weren't going anywhere, and the North would eventually tire of the war they 'won', and thereby lose the peace. And so it was.

A timely reminder to the Bernie Bros - winning the election is the START of the battle, not the finish. ( )
  kcshankd | Apr 22, 2016 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Eric Fonerprimary authorall editionscalculated
Commager, Henry SteeleIntroductionsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Morris, Richard B.Introductionsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
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On January 1, 1863, after a winter storm swept up the east coast of the United States, the sun rose in a cloudless sky over Washington, D.C.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0060937165, Paperback)

This "masterful treatment of one of the most complex periods of American history" (New Republic) made history when it was originally published in 1988. It redefined how Reconstruction was viewed by historians and people everywhere in its chronicling of how Americans -- black and white -- responded to the unprecedented changes unleashed by the war and the end of slavery. This "smart book of enormous strengths" (Boston Globe) has since gone on to become the classic work on the wrenching post-Civil War period -- an era whose legacy reverberates still today in the United States.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:18:32 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

Historian Eric Foner chronicles the way in which Americans -- black and white -- responded to the unprecedented changes unleashed by the war and the end of slavery. He addresses the quest of emancipated slaves searching for economic autonomy and equal citizenship, and describes the remodeling of Southern society, the evolution of racial attitudes and patterns of race relations, and the emergence of a national state possessing vastly expanded authority and committed, for a time, to the principle of equal rights for all Americans.… (more)

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