In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

arson during the 1820s, there is none for either the more immediate 1830s or the 1 840s. Bogger's portrait ofNorfolk fiUs an important void in the scholarship on free blacks and offers valuable clues for understanding how free blacks in other communities lived "out of the shadows." The Trial of Democracy Black Suffrage and Northern RepubHcans, i860—1910 By Xi Wang University of Georgia Press, 1997 480 pp. Cloth, $58 Reviewed by John David Smith, Graduate Alumni Distinguished Professor in the department ofhistory at North Carolina State University, where he teaches southern history, Civil War, and public history. His most recent publication is "This Wilderness ofWar'': The Civil WarLetters ofGeorge W. Squier, Hoosier Volunteer (1 998), coedited widi Julie A. Doyle and Richard M. McMurry. Nothing is more fundamental to American democracy than the national protection of citizens' equal rights, especiaUy the right to vote. Though many things remained unsetded after the Civil War, the bloody conflict resolved at least three essential issues: legaHzed slavery no longer could exist; blacks no longer could be excluded from citizenship; and skin color no longer could be used to exclude males from the right to vote. Modern scholars agree that civU and poHtical equality for blacks were among the sweetest fruits of the war and Reconstruction. FoUowing passage by reform-minded RepubHcans of the Reconstruction Act of 1 867, the Fifteenth Amendment in 1 869, and its ratification in 1 870, black men joined die poHtical process as voters and elected officials on the state, national, and local levels. Eric Foner has documented diat during Reconstruction at least ?,400 blacks were elected to state and local poHtical offices throughout the South. Between 1869 and 1901 blacks served in virtuaUy every U.S. Congress. Two African Americans held Senate seats and fourteen were elected to die House ofRepresentatives . Even from 1877 to 1901, when whites systematicaUy intimidated, tortured, and murdered black voters, a dozen blacks stiU went to Congress. Reconstruction , then, ushered in an era ofHmited interracial democracy. Xi Wang's meticulously researched, judiciously argued, and clearly written book reminds us that as much as scholars think they know about the Fifteenth Reviews 8 3 Amendment and its impact on American constitutional history, certain gaps remain in our knowledge. He emphasizes mat the successful attainment of civU rights for the freedmen ("the principles of new constitutionaHsm") hinged on two separate but interrelated concepts: black suffrage and federal enforcement. Central to Wang's narrative and analysis is the historical perennial: why did northern RepubHcans abandon southern black voters after Reconstruction? He insists correctly that RepubUcan ideology, factionaUsm within the party, and competing interests Ue at the core of the answer. Wang frames the rise and faU of black voting rights more broadly dian previous scholars. Focusing from the eve of emancipation to the Progressive Era, he interprets the suffrage issue as only one of several interests that preoccupied RepubHcans in the post—Civil War years. The Fifteenth Amendment itself, he emphasizes, was buüt upon a series of compromises. Party leaders had to juggle several factors—"doing justice to black Americans, defining the contents of the CivU War amendments, constructing a healthy system of national elections, and expanding the federal government's functions in protecting citizens' rights." IndustriaHzation , sectional rapprochement, professionalization in party poHtics, social conflict among white workers, black impoverishment and the hegemony of the former planter class, and the rise of racial segregation in the South— aU competed witii suffrage for poHtical favor among RepubHcans. Wang insists that though influenced by these complex and other often contradictory forces throughout this period, "RepubUcan motivation for protecting black suffrage was closely identified widi the party's attempt to win elections." Wang reminds us that black enfranchisement was a radical departure from traditional American poHtics, one fashioned not solely from poHtical expediency but from principle as weU. In 1 870 and 1871 congressional RepubHcans orchestrated three Enforcement Acts and additional biUs that empowered federal officials to crack down on whites' violent attempts to curtaU black voting. Between 1870 and 1894 die U.S. government prosecuted 7,347 cases nationaUy. Effective enforcement, however, decHned foUowing the Democratic takeover of the House of Representatives in 1874 and...


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 83-86
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.