Reconstruction: The Ending of the Civil War (review)
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364civil war history Reconstruction: The Ending of the Civil War. By Avery Craven. (Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1969. Pp. 330. $6.95.) The appearance of Avery Craven's latest work provides the occasion for an assessment of how convincing the most recent revisers of Reconstruction history have made their case to a scholar who had a prominent role in an earlier revision of that era. Twenty-seven years ago Professor Craven wrote The Coming of the Civil War, an important link in the argument that emotionalism about problems, rather than the inherent nature of those problems, provided die atmosphere in which the American Civil War was possible. Professor Craven's new work is subtitled The Ending of the Civil War, and the autiior aims here, as in the first volume, "to show how and why problems became such that they could not be openly confronted and completely solved but were again pushed aside and die effort at solutions left to a future generation." In neither work, the autiior assures us, was there an intention of naming "single" causes of strife, or of singling out individuals for special praise or blame. It is nevertheless true that stressing the impassioned and accusatory aspects of conflict will tend to tiirow those who opposed the status quo in die worst light, the abolitionists before die war, and the Congressional Radicals after the fighting was over. In the nature of things those whose ideas are established, or in the process of being carried out, may safely conduct themselves witii more moderation than those who wish to break the train of events. The course of Civil War historiography over the last decade or so, right or wrong, has been in the direction of questioning that status quo, whether one speaks of the system of slavery and whether it was ready in the 1850's to die a peaceful death, or of Presidents Lincoln 's and Johnson's plan of Reconstruction, and whether that plan would have provided ultimately for the expansion of the rights of black men to a status of equality under state and federal law without the measures Radicals ultimately undertook. The tendency has been to conclude that slavery would not have ended without war, at least not soon, and that witiiout Radical Reconstruction the Negro would have fallen into a status of peonage even worse than second-class citizenship. An elevation of the Congressional Radicals in the favor of historians was doubtless predictable, as was a corresponding devaluation of President Johnson. Professor Craven's new work suggests that while he has given careful consideration to the new interpretation, and has found much in it to his liking, he has not found it altogether convincing. His work must be taken as a voice of caution. While Professor Craven accepts Eric McKitrick's view of northern public opinion requiring "symbolic" gratifications after the long and bloody war, repentance, and the basic securities for freedmen that would in part attest to southern sincerity in repentance, he also reminds us that southerners were also unwilling that their sons should have died in an inglorious cause, and behaved accordingly. Professor Craven will BOOK REVIEWS365 not choose between McKitrick's idea of President Johnson, that he was weak because he was pitifully rigid and stubborn, and that of John and LaWanda Cox, that Johnson was a strong politician with a new political coalition on his mind. While convinced tiiat Johnson made errors, Professor Craven's accounting credits the President with honest motives, and he stresses the difficulties of Johnson's position. Although Johnson erred in turning the Reconstruction question into a legal issue when it was unavoidably political, he is seen at die same time as having as fair a view of the Negro as most of his contemporaries. In his judgment of the victorious Radical opposition Professor Craven attempts a balanced and restrained interpretation, but it is plain that Stevens, Sumner, Butler and Wade are not his favorite personalities, and their most vindictive assertions about Johnson and die South are more prominently displayed than they have been in any recent version of the Reconstruction story. "Their dedication to abstract justice was unquestionably intense and sincere," Craven writes, but these...