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THE CIVIL WAR AND RECONSTRUCTION, 1861-1877: A Critical Overview of Recent Trends and Interpretations Richard O. Curry Professor Foner, in his paper, has concentrated primarily on the politics of the 1850s, the secession crisis, and that historical perennial, the causes of the Civil War.1 The major themes I have chosen to deal with are: an evaluation of Civil War party struggles in the North; an assessment of Lincoln's role as war leader; the aims, objectives and ideological commitments of Congressional Republicans; the impeachment of Andrew Johnson; the role of the Supreme Court in the Reconstruction and post-Reconstruction periods; an analysis of Congressional Reconstruction in the South—with particular emphasis upon the role of blacks; the identity, location and motives of "Scalawags" and a brief evaluation of the recent exchange between Professors Woodward and Peskin as to the reality and significance of the Compromise of 1877. In addition, we need to consider the implications of recent studies which have extended the scope of Reconstruction historiography to embrace both border and northern states. Recent methodological innovations, especially in the behavioral and quantitative realms also demand attention, as well as important new research currently in the planning or writing stages. First, let me say that the politics of the Civil War and Reconstruction era ought to be considered as a unit. In recent years Harold Hyman, Herman BeIz, Hans Trefousse, Peyton McCrary and others, have emphasized that the analysis of Reconstruction historiography properly begins with 1861, with greater emphasis upon the wartime origins of 1 An abbreviated version of this paper was read in the Civil War and Reconconstruction Overview Session at the meetings of the Organization of American Historians in Denver, April 19, 1974, No one, of course, is aware of everything going on in any field; but during the planning stages for this paper a number of scholars were considerate enough to share with me their own thoughts about the period, and in several instances provided extended written commentaries on their current projects. Especially helpful were: Thomas B. Alexander, Steven Channing, Joanna Cowden, Robert Cruden, Leonard Curry, Carl Degler, Charles Dew, Robert Dykstra, Eric Foner, William Harris, W. D. Jones, Frank Klement, Stanley Kutler, Peyton McCrary, James Mohr, John Niven, Walter Nugent, William Parrish, J. R. Pole, Thomas Pressly, James Roark, Loren Schweninger, Joel Silbey, Russell Weigley , Robin Winks and Bertram Wyatt-Brown. 215 216civil war history postwar conflicts and processes.2 This theme is most thoroughly developed in Belz's study, which deals primarily with events on the Congressional and Presidential levels. Moreover, McCrary's dissertation on the failure of Reconstruction in Louisiana is perhaps the most thoroughly documented study of wartime Reconstruction efforts in any Southern state. I would extend the argument further by maintaining that the issue of Reconstruction constitutes the central theme in explaining the Civil War party struggles in the loyal states. As Frank L. Klement has phrased it, there was, in a sense, "a war within the war."3 Stated another way, the war produced a massive political and ideological confrontation in the loyal states as to the type of Union that would or ought to emerge from the ashes of war._ In short, was the war simply a struggle to preserve the old federal Union of 1860 with slavery intact and the rights of the states unimpaired? Or was the war to be successfully transformed by Republicans into a crusade to preserve the Union, and to eradicate forever the cancer of slavery. Until late 1864, after Lincoln's convincing victory over McClellan, the answer was not entirely clear. Throughout most of the war, a majority of northern Democrats, who supported a war for Union, bitterly opposed its transformation into a crusade to subjugate the South and destroy slavery. As Leonard P. Curry has convincingly demonstrated, the vast majority of Democratic members of Congress voted men and measures to suppress the rebellion despite their opposition to emancipation .4 Other revisionists maintain that Republican charges of widespread subversion among northern "Copperheads" (or Democrats) to subvert the Union war effort and recognize the independence of the Confederacy simply does not conform to reality."' Totally reactionary in their racial attitudes and strongly traditionalist...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1533-6271
Print ISSN
0009-8078
Pages
pp. 215-238
Launched on MUSE
2013-01-02
Open Access
No
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