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INTRODUCTION The Meaning of the New Birth of Freedom 3 The Purpose of This Book The task of Reconstruction was the greatest of tasks that every nation must face at least once, the task of constituting or reconstituting its political regime . The survival of our republican form of government and the future prospects for equality and liberty for all depended on both the American victory in 1783 and the Union victory in 1865. After the Revolutionary War, the goal of American statesmen was to establish a republic from monarchic material. After the Civil War, the goal was equally profound, to reestablish that system of government and free way of life. Today, we do not see the similitude that we ought to see in the work of the Republicans in the Reconstruction Congress and in the work of the republican delegates to the Continental Congress and the Federal Convention in 1787. We generally understand that the American revolutionaries fought against monarchy and for republicanism. If we did not understand what they were struggling against, we could not fully appreciate their revolutionary effort to establish a republic. Studies of the aims, disputes, and deeds of the Continental Congress and the Federal Convention would make much less sense. In that event, someone would have to write a book about how the delegates to the Continental Congress and the Federal Convention understood their long conflict with Great Britain. Because we generally know what they thought of that conflict, we take their cause for granted, and we see the Revolutionary War in light of the founding of the nation and the framing of the Constitution. We understand that when they established a new nation and a new law, that was the moment to which all events led and from which all INTRODUCTION THE MEANING OF THE NEW BIRTH OF FREEDOM 4 events proceeded. The moment when the Republicans in the Reconstruction Congress remade the nation and renewed the law is in this class of rare events. Just as we see the American Revolution in light of the American founding, we ought to see the Civil War in light of Reconstruction and not the other way around. The purpose of this book is to recover how the Republicans in the Reconstruction Congress understood the prior national struggle that decisively shaped their understanding of their task. The premise of this book is that long ago, we, the American people, ceased to be fully aware of what the Republicans believed the cause of their party was and what they resisted when dark clouds gathered above the nation and then when the storm broke. We remember slavery, the principal theme of those days, but we no longer remember how they saw the political conflict at its deepest level and in its most general sense that shook the nation for decades. Because we have lost that memory, we do not completely see or study Reconstruction for what it really was, and we miss its most valuable lessons. For that reason, most of this book is devoted to this recovery, and only part of one chapter addresses Reconstruction itself. As they passed through their national crisis, the Republicans looked far backward in time and southward in direction in order to understand it and to know how to solve it. This book attempts to follow their lead, looking backward in time and into the antebellum South, where the cause of the national crisis is found. The panorama that opens to our view, through their eyes, is partially represented here. The South that they see is not one that we have understood well enough or that we can easily understand, because the further development of that South was stopped at Appomattox. To contemporary Americans from every part of the nation, schooled from birth as they are in the general idea of equality, the real political character of the antebellum South probably would seem too incredible to be true, more at home on another continent in a far-­ distant age than within our present borders not long ago, if they could travel through time and see for themselves. At their first encounter with the ruling class of the antebellum South, the same Americans who proudly wave the Confederate flag today would likely feel their American blood boil, hoist the Stars and Stripes, and reach for their guns. They know not what they do. The division of the United States into two independent nations logically followed the division of the American political regime into two...


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