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  • The Revolution That Failed: Reconstruction in Natchitoches by Adam Fairclough
  • Scott Reynolds Nelson
The Revolution That Failed: Reconstruction in Natchitoches. By Adam Fairclough. (Gainesville and other cities: University Press of Florida, 2018. Pp. xii, 406. $29.95, ISBN 978-0-8130-5662-3.)

For Adam Fairclough, Reconstruction was not an "unfinished revolution"—to quote Eric Foner's Reconstruction (New York, 1988)—but a "revolution that failed." In this meticulously crafted analysis of a black-majority parish in Louisiana, Fairclough gives the Natchitoches Parish Republican Party a close and careful analysis. He concludes that the local and state Republican Party was a little more venal and a little more factionalized than has been portrayed in the more heroic accounts of Reconstruction.

In this departure from Foner's argument about the partial success of Reconstruction, Fairclough follows arguments laid out by Mark Wahlgren Summers and Michael W. Fitzgerald that suggest that, while Ku Klux Klan and White League violence matters most in understanding the Republican Party's decline in the 1870s, Republicans did in fact deploy political machines to support the party. Klan, White League, and Democratic Party attacks on the corruption of the Republican Party occasionally hit home. For Fairclough, the spoils system prevented political compromise in the racially divided South. A winner-take-all party system with financial benefits flowing to winners made the search for party compromise fruitless, if not impossible. Fairclough hews closer to standard arguments about Reconstruction when he asserts that the federal government's hesitancy to use force made white terror effective.

Fairclough's choice of Natchitoches is interesting because, while it was one parish away from the Colfax massacre of 1873 and the Coushatta murders of 1874, there was no classic showdown between white terrorists and black voters (as there was in Memphis, Tennessee; Alamance, North Carolina; and Spartanburg, South Carolina). Fairclough discusses a few spectacular murders in Natchitoches, however, that this reader found difficult to fully discount. It may not be surprising that Klansmen and White Leaguers avoided appearing in force in majority-black parishes. Klansmen were mostly cowards, and they would have had little hope of changing votes in a majority-black parish.

I especially appreciated the close social history in chapter 5 of black political mobilization in the 1860s, the explanation in chapter 8 of the confusing divisions among Louisiana's Republican factions, and the discussion in chapter 9 of what led some white southerners to become Republicans after 1870. That said, I wished for a bit more discussion of the real benefits of Reconstruction to regular black people (such as in Laura F. Edwards's Gendered Strife and Confusion: The Political Culture of Reconstruction [Urbana, 1997]), how the spectacle of white-on-black violence could disrupt black men's claims to political authority (Hannah Rosen's Terror in the Heart of Freedom: Citizenship, Sexual Violence, and the Meaning of Race in the Postemancipation South [Chapel Hill, 2009]), and why post-Reconstruction interracial coalitions sometimes succeeded (Jane Dailey's Before Jim Crow: The Politics of Race in Postemancipation Virginia [Chapel Hill, 2000]). These authors, some of the best historians of Reconstruction, do not appear in the bibliography. Edwards might suggest that the revolution did not completely fail; Rosen might suggest that a few cases of spectacular violence could fatally wound a party; and Dailey [End Page 469] might suggest that the collapse of Reconstruction did not end black coalition politics.

Fairclough's account of politics is mostly about men and mostly about voting, but he notes in passing that the Reverend Alfred Raford Blunt's political power in the parish seemed to come from his influence on black female parishioners who threatened to divorce men who voted Democratic. As Kate Côté Gillin has shown in Shrill Hurrahs: Women, Gender, and Racial Violence in South Carolina, 1865–1900 (Columbia, S.C., 2013), African American women were crucial standard-bearers and enforcers of Republican Party discipline in South Carolina, though they could not vote. While I appreciated Fairclough's mix of social and political history, and the careful multileveled account of parish, state, and national affairs, some avenues of the social history of Reconstruction could have used more exploration.

Scott Reynolds...


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