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Were the terms and treatment of the defeated south a moral failure of the United States ? I think so

Discussion in 'Post Civil War History, The Reconstruction Period' started by Henry Brown, May 10, 2018.

  1. Henry Brown

    Henry Brown Retired User

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    “We are sometimes asked in the name of patriotism to forget the merits of this fearful struggle”, Douglass declared in 1871, “and to remember with equal admiration those who struck at the nation’s life, and those who struck to save it.” He would have nothing of it. “I am no minister of malice . . . but may my ‘right hand forget her cunning and my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth’ if I forget the difference between the parties to that terrible, protracted, and bloody conflict.”
    “Whatever else I may forget, I shall never forget the difference between those who fought to save the Republic and those who fought to destroy it.” Frederick Douglass

    Each year on September 17, the anniversary of the battle of Antietam, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, who had been a lieutenant in the 20th Massachusetts that day, received a red rose from his fellow justice, Edward Douglass White, a former Confederate soldier from Louisiana whom Holmes joined on the Court after Holmes’ appointment by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1902. It was the kind of sentimental gesture Holmes appreciated, and which Frederick Douglass would have deplored. But Justice White had a point to make. “My God”, the old Confederate would mutter in palpable horror as he reflected on the war he had lost, “My God, if we had succeeded.” Allen C. Guelzo

    Chattel slavery, tyranny, white supremacy, and terrorism made rather unappetizing ad copy — as Grant later wrote, the Confederate cause was "one of the worst for which a people ever fought, and one for which there was the least excuse." Ryan Cooper

    The antebellum South was cast as a sepia-toned paradise of noble gentlemen, virtuous ladies, and happy slaves. Ulysses Grant was smeared as a drunken butcher, while Robert E. Lee was virtually deified as the picture of honor and the greatest general in American history, if not the world. Reconstruction governments were depicted as hopelessly corrupt, and black men as unfit for the franchise.

    Confederates were not remotely subtle about why they were seceding.

    It was Grant who was the best general of the war, and Lee — who lost by far the largest proportion of his men out of any general on either side — who was the senseless butcher.

    The slurs of Reconstruction were just as mendacious. Southern state governments were no more corrupt than Northern ones during this period, and blacks were if anything better than whites on this score — especially when you account for all the terrorism. The object of "Redemption" was to disenfranchise and subjugate blacks, nothing more.

    But never underestimate the capacity of people to forget. Southern historians repeated the Lost Cause agitprop over and over. The fact that maintaining democracy during Reconstruction required constant use of force to fight white terrorism helped enormously in this effort. Northern voters and politicians grew tired, wondering how long they'd have to keep fighting the same battle. Viewing the conflict as a noble tragedy on both sides — and not a heroic fight against a profoundly evil tyranny — became more and more tempting. As direct memories of the Civil War faded and Union veterans started to die off, Northern whites — who were on average only somewhat less racist than Southern ones — began to internalize the Lost Cause and the associated slurs of Reconstruction.

    As Josh Marshall writes, "the North and the South made a tacit bargain in the years after the Civil War to valorize Southern generals as a way to salve the sting of Southern defeat and provide a cultural and political basis for uniting the country with more than military force ... what was gained it was gained at a terrible price and a price paid more or less solely by black citizens."

    If the federal government had beaten ex-Confederate terrorists into submission for as long as it took — particularly in the crucial two years after the war, when Johnson's stubborn racism allowed them to regroup and regain some initiative, we would not be having this crisis. Instead tyranny displaced democracy in the American South, white Americans swallowed a lot of comforting lies to cover up that fact, and open racism continued to thrive — only partly beaten back by the civil rights advances of the 1960s. Ryan Cooper

    http://theweek.com/articles/718986/how-america-forgot-true-history-civil-war

    https://www.the-american-interest.com/2011/09/01/a-war-lost-and-found/
    Edited.
     

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  3. Potomac Pride

    Potomac Pride First Sergeant

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    Wow, it sounds like you are really bitter. Lighten up fellow, the Civil War ended over 150 years ago.
     
  4. wausaubob

    wausaubob Captain

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    The piece by Alan Guelzo is very good.
    The essence strikes at the memory of Robert E. Lee and Ulysses Grant. Grant was democrat and a westerner. He rose from humble roots and had no elements of showmanship and glory about him. He never looked like a king or a prince and never indulged in phony rhetoric, but always insisted the work was incomplete.
    Lee posed as an aristocrat, and he was one. He looked like a prince, and at the end of the war after November 11, 1864 he treated his army and his people as if he were a prince. It was time for him to figuratively speaking fall on his sword, and admit defeat. Actual death was unnecessary. He lost. But he never let down that princely facade, and that is what lives through history. We love the facade of nobility. It thrills and excites us. We dislike democracy and its grubbiness. But we are afraid of the alternatives.
     
    Last edited: May 11, 2018
  5. wausaubob

    wausaubob Captain

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    No. The terms of treatment of the former Confederates were not a moral failure.
    Bankrupting the nation to attempt to force racial equality on the south would have failed. The people have to do it themselves.
    Racial equality is tough stuff.
    It was going to take a long time and a tremendous resurgence of nationalism to get there.
    What was done was correct and messy and democratic. The alternatives were generally worse, and the possible immediate success of Reconstruction is imaginary.
     
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  6. Henry Brown

    Henry Brown Retired User

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    please let me say to all, if you do not want to contribute to this thread please do not reply. i know it is contentious but is the most interesting aspect of the civil war to me.
    i disagree with the first and last of these. what was done was left unfinished and it was far from democratic. it left us with a dual, unequal system, the remnants of which can still be seen in practice today. i believe northern states are complicit in allowing and establishing this system at the demand of southern political power. because of giving in to the motivations to quit and leave the ex-confederate states to their own devices, it is immoral.
    it was indeed messy.
    this is my opinion but i appreicate your reply and anything else you may have to say on this.
     
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  7. 19thGeorgia

    19thGeorgia Sergeant Major

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    The leading Radicals of the day advocated extermination of white Southerners - men, women and children.
    Would you have advocated extermination if you had lived during those times?
     
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  8. leftyhunter

    leftyhunter Colonel

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    Except if did not. If anyone wants we can have a wild and w o o l y discussion off line.
    Leftyhunter
     
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  9. leftyhunter

    leftyhunter Colonel

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    Any documented examples?
    Leftyhunter
     
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  10. matthew mckeon

    matthew mckeon Brigadier General Moderator

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    Well obviously southern whites above the rank of private should have been kept in wire cages, under heavy guard for fifty years, while their plantations and children should have been divided up among the freed people. Its literally the most just thing to do, as well as ending racial distinctions for all time.

    The merits of my modest proposal are so obvious, they need no debate.
     
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  11. Henry Brown

    Henry Brown Retired User

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    Two competing strategies, 1) were to take advantage of their compact geography, with internal lines of communication, their military heritage (Southerners had been disproportionately the officers of the United States Army), and their greater enthusiasm for their cause to wear down the Union will to wage war. 2)but in the end, the Southern strategy was to want to win more than the Union did, and this proved to be an illusion.

    Strategy 1) proved to be the correct one and is what actually happened. the north lost the will to shoulder the burden of reconstruction for various reasons including economic losses and/or potential economic gains , and the fact that the majorioy of northerners had no love of freedmen and many shared the same ideas of superiority as their southern neighbors.

    This was a moral failure that has repeated itself into the modern era and it is important and shouldn't be glossed over. It , for all pracical reasons, continued the confederacy for almost another century. It allowed the proliferation of terrorism and a dual class system of justice and social and economic protocols.

    " It was tragic that by the 1870s, white northerners, tired of dealing with the South’s racial problems and ready to move on, effectively abandoned Southern blacks to the mercies of people who had not long before thought of and treated them as chattel. Blacks’ status as outside of—or somehow “alien” to—the American republic continued, and continues today. That blacks have had to “fight” for the rights of citizenship, after the Fourteenth Amendment purportedly made them citizens, reveals the disconnect.

    In the end, the opportunities for blacks, the South, and the country as a whole that were lost because of the resistance to and abandonment of Reconstruction stand as one of the great tragedies of American history." Annette Gordon-Reed

    https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2015/10/what-if-reconstruction-hadnt-failed/412219/
     
  12. ForeverFree

    ForeverFree Major

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    As we talk about the successes or failures of Reconstruction, I think it's important to note that different people wanted different things out the period. And what might be seen as success for some, might be seen as failure for others.

    As I see it, there was not one single, coherent, and discrete Reconstruction agenda, but rather several, such as:

    • the Union preservation agenda, whose goal was to ensure that the Union would not be dissolved

    • the Republican Egalitarian agenda, whose goal was to ensure political, social, and to an extent, economic equality in the South, based largely around free labor ideals

    • the White Southern Rule agenda, whose goal was to maintain, as much as possible, the ante-bellum status quo with regard to the relative status of whites and blacks

    • the black southerner Egalitarian agenda, whose goal was to ensure political, social, and economic equality for African Americans​

    The Union preservation agenda was a clear success; indeed, we no longer see secession and civil war as a means of resolving political conflict. In the short run (a period of over 100 years), the White Southern Rule agenda was a success, as evidenced by the Redemption and Jim Crow segregation.

    The Republican Egalitarian agenda and the black southerner Egalitarian agenda had some moments of success, but these mostly failed. Mostly failed does not mean completely failed. African Americans did in fact achieve some gains in the social sphere. But it was a very limited success and progress.

    The bottom line is, there was not "one" lived Reconstruction, but several. White southerners would probably insist that their vision of Reconstruction was just as valid and righteous, if not more so, than anybody else's.

    As we conceive of these different agendas, we need to ask at least one question: what resources were available to achieve each of these varying agendas? Each agenda was engaged with very different levels of available resources, and these help us to understand why each any particular agenda would fail or succeed.
     
  13. ForeverFree

    ForeverFree Major

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    In his recent book Reconstruction: A Concise History, Allen C. Guelzo talked about the achievements of the Reconstruction era (p11-12):

    • Reconstruction restored a federal Union, for which the North had been fighting from the start, and corrected the centrifugal forces of the American federal Union they have brought on the war in the first place.

    • Reconstruction followed the route of generosity—it created no conquered provinces, no mass executions for treason. As Walt Whitman wrote, almost in self congratulation, Reconstruction “has been paralleled nowhere in the world—in any other country on the globe the whole batch of the Confederate leaders would have had their heads cut off.” Ironically, most of the violence that pockmarked reconstruction was inflicted on the victors, not the vanquished.

    • The freedpeople made only modest economic gains in moving out of the shadow of slavery into freedom and self ownership. But there were still beachheads for black Southerners all across the South in terms of property ownership and embourgeoisiement, which would form the soil out of which the civil rights movement would flourish 80 years later.

    • In the same fashion, reconstruction established, beyond a doubt, the legal a quality of all Americans under the banner of citizenship. Much of that equality was compromised by racial prejudice, vigilante violence, and the twisting of law. But it was not extinguished, and the reconstruction era amendments to the constitution (the 13th, 14th, and 15th) have together formed the last on which injustice, racial prejudice, and inequality have been repeatedly hammered down.​

    - Alan
     
  14. ForeverFree

    ForeverFree Major

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    In his recent book Reconstruction: A Concise History, Allen C. Guelzo talked about the achievements of the Reconstruction era (p11-12): "Reconstruction followed the route of generosity—it created no conquered provinces, no mass executions for treason. As Walt Whitman wrote, almost in self congratulation, Reconstruction “has been paralleled nowhere in the world—in any other country on the globe the whole batch of the Confederate leaders would have had their heads cut off.”

    In the October 2012 issue of Civil War Times, scholar Stephanie McCurry, wrote:

    The level of barbarity and violence reached in the United States pales even in comparison to the other major example of a civil conflict fought conventionally. In the Spanish Civil War (1936-9), there were, in addition to 300,00 battlefield deaths, at least 200,000 extrajudicial killings of civilians-including the purposeful killing of many women and children behind the lines. Three-quarters of them were killed by Franco's forces in mass executions... More than half a million refugees were forced into exile, and many died in French concentration camps... There is little in the American record to compare to this systematic targeting, terrorizing and exterminating of civilians for purposes of political repression...

    It is a sad truth that the civil wars of our own time constantly force the Civil War into new perspective. Observers of recent genocidal wars... are unimpressed with the violence of the American war. What strikes them most is the level of restraint observed by Union troops in their treatment of enemy soldiers and civilians. What other country, they ask, adopted rules of war in the midst of the fighting? Indeed. It is one of the most impressive and - yes - unique features of our war; that the Lincoln administration was willing to bind itself to a set of regulations limiting the latitude of the Union army in its operations, including in occupied territory and guerrilla warfare. It says something profound.

    In the minds of Guelzo and McCurry, and no doubt others, the US is exceptional in limiting the scope of violence and destruction its enemies in the wake of its Civil War and post-War period. I don't know that this is something that most non-scholars know or understand.

    - Alan
     
  15. ForeverFree

    ForeverFree Major

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    In this article ( http://time.com/5256940/reconstruction-failure-excerpt/ ) historian Allen Guelzo argues:

    If it were possible to establish a scorecard for Reconstruction, the most promising tallies would be the successful restoration of the Union as a federal Union, the legal extirpation of secession as a political tool in settling national disputes, the raising of the freed slaves to citizenship through the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments, and the avoidance of mass executions and imprisonments.

    That Reconstruction fell short of fully implementing most of these accomplishments is its tragedy, and that tragedy can be briefly and bluntly accounted for by six factors:

    • the sheer unpreparedness of the victorious Union to undertake something as unprecedented as a political reconstruction of a third of its territory;

    • the insurgent resistance of the defeated South;

    • the unwillingness to prolong a military occupation to deal with that insurgency;

    • the deaths and removal of the Radical Republican leadership (starting with Lincoln);

    • the resurgence of the Northern Democrats;

    • and, finally, the shortsighted decisions of the federal courts.​

    - Alan
     
    Last edited: May 11, 2018
  16. Bee

    Bee Captain Asst. Regtl. Quartermaster Gettysburg 2017

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    Please continue to reference pages: my copy arrived yesterday :smile:
     
  17. Canadian

    Canadian Corporal

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    This is a very good summary as far as I can tell. You’ve hit some major points, both the good and the bad.

    It was a remarkable achievement that there were no bloody repercussions. The war had been horrible, but we’ve seen many examples of far worse aftermaths.

    The terrorizing of African Americans for the next century is something we’ve been reluctant to think about. It goes with wanting to minimize the psychological trauma of slavery.
     
  18. contestedground

    contestedground First Sergeant

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    Judging from some of the comments I read from posters who lean Confederate, I think this is good advice to remember.
     
  19. Canadian

    Canadian Corporal

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    It’s a very sad legacy of the Civil War, this rewriting of history, recasting heros and villains. I would suggest that this tendency is still going strong.
     
  20. Canadian

    Canadian Corporal

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    Well put.
     
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  21. ForeverFree

    ForeverFree Major

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    RE: In the end, the opportunities for blacks, the South, and the country as a whole that were lost because of the resistance to and abandonment of Reconstruction stand as one of the great tragedies of American history." Annette Gordon-Reed

    To put this in perspective with my comments at post #11 above: the idea that Reconstruction failed hinges on the idea that there was, or should be, a single, standard goal or set of goals for Reconstruction, such as social equality for African Americans. But in fact, different groups at the time had different and competing goals, and had varying levels of power and resources with which to achieve those goals.

    There were goals that moderate and Radical Republicans had for the era. But historian Douglas R. Egerton has argued that Andrew Johnson, the Southern Unionist who assumed the presidency after Lincoln's assassination, affected the course and outcome of Reconstruction via his post-war policies, which were anti-racial equality. Allen Guelzo has cited the role of resurgent Northern Democrats in thwarting the Republican agenda.

    Meanwhile, Southern whites had their own agenda and they had power and agency. For them Reconstruction was not a tragedy at all; it culminated in their Redemption. But their goals are not generally conceived as the standard by which the outcome of Reconstruction should be judged.

    - Alan
     
    Last edited: May 11, 2018

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