Reconstruction 2 Essay, Research Paper
Following the Civil War, a movement called Reconstruction took place, which lasted from
1865 until 1877. During this movement, the former states of Confederacy were ruled by the federal government or
by local Republican governments.
There were many expectations of Reconstruction. Actually, these expectations seemed more like
goals. These goals were bettering the relationship between different races; and making changes in the areas of
politics, social life, and economics.
After the war, historians generally described Reconstruction as a total failure that had hurt every
American, including Northerners, Southerners, whites, and blacks. Going by this interpretation, Congress was
being ruled by radical Republicans, and imposed military rule upon the states of the South. The historical
profession was ruled by the picture of Reconstruction. Northern and Southern white historians wrote about the
movement with two main issues in mind. The first issue was that the South had the ability to solve its own
problems without the help or interference of the federal government. The second main topic discussed was about
former slaves who were thought to be incapable of running a government.
Many people had their own views and ideas about the Reconstruction era. Two particular people were
Eric Foner and Thomas Holt. Both of these men were professors of history.
Eric Foner thought of Reconstruction as a “splendid failure.” He believed Reconstruction gave African
Americans in the South a picture of a free society in which they would be a part of ; but it was only a temporary
picture. This temporary vision was of how a free society could look, but not how it actually was at that time.
Foner argued in his writings that Reconstruction gave blacks an opportunity to strengthen their family ties. In this,
Foner shows why he thought Reconstruction had benefits for people.
Foner wrote about two black historians and their views on Reconstruction. In his writings, he spoke of
Thomas Holt and Nell Painter. He said they insisted that “Reconstruction was not simply a matter of black and
white.” Foner argued back that conflicts erupting inside the black community, no less than division amongst
whites, molded Reconstruction politics. In this, Foner supports why he disagrees with Painter and Holt.
Due to what has been found in the past twenty years, Foner wrote about the idea of portraying
Reconstruction in a different was. Viewing it as “an episode in a prolonged historical process,” rather than “a
specific time period, bounded by the years 1865 and 1877.”
In Foners writings, he talks about the old interpretation of Reconstruction. He said that “Reconstruction
had been a time of real progress and its failure a lost opportunity for the South and the nation.” I think this shows
that Foner recognizes that the movement wasn’t one hundred percent perfect and beneficial.
Throughout his writings of “The New View of Reconstruction,” Foner argues for his ideas and views by
stating why he feels the way he does about the issue. Although Reconstruction had not accomplished radical
goals, Eric Foner still believed the movement to be a “splendid failure.”
Thomas Holt had a different viewpoint on Reconstruction than Eric Foner. Holt felt that Reconstruction
was a political failure, but he did acknowledge some successes it had, like: the establishment of a public
education system, and the general process of democratizing a state. In this, Holt gave the Reconstruction
movement a little bit of credit.
Holt did not agree with Foner’s label, a “splendid failure”, on Reconstruction. Holt supported his
viewpoint in his writings of “Black Leaders and Black Labor: An Unexpected Failure”. Holt felt that blacks were
consigned to a special group in America’s class society. Politically, he felt they were reduced to nothing.
Economically, he felt they had to deal with poverty, convict lease, debts, and they had to sell their labor in a
Holt also stated that blacks were not the only ones who had to bear this oppression. There were other people in
other states who were also suffering. In this, Holt recognizes that there wasn’t just one unparticular group
In Holt’s eyes, blacks were politically blocked out and had no say what so ever. He felt that
Reconstruction failed to produce “critical economic reforms for working-class blacks because of social and
cultural divisions within the black community.”
At first, I leaned towards agreeing with Foner. After reading Thomas Holt’s article, I changed my
viewpoint. I came to the conclusion that I don’t agree with Reconstruction, and the things that it did to the people
of society. Many people suffered in many ways. People suffered politically, socially, economically, and
financially. Blacks struggled during the Reconstruction era to get further ahead, and they did. They gained
ownership of a region. Unfortunately, that all ended in 1877, when Southern white Democrats took their region
back from “Negro rule.”
I can’t even imagine how the blacks felt back then when they were in that situation. Reading about it
even makes me feel hopeless.
In December of 1876, there was an election that ended Republican hegemony in South Carolina. Two
different legislatures claimed to be the real representatives of the people. In this dispute, the economic future of
black laborers took a fatal turn. The laws that had given workers a lien on the crop of a planter were now wiped
out. This was done by the Republican Mackey House. After all, this era, this Reconstruction, had not been such a
“splendid failure.” In fact, it had been an unexpected failure, just as Thomas Holt said.
I think the dispute that lead to the law change, surrounding the black workers ownership of land, was
the last and final thing to convince that Reconstruction was not a great thing. In a way, I feel that the black
workers were cheated. They were given something they had always hoped for, and then it was taken away right
from under their noses. This incident probably left the blacks wondering when that great day would come when
they had ownership of something, something that was just their that no one could touch or have control of.
I think this did give the blacks a false vision of a society they had hoped for. If things like this happened
to them, how would they ever gain hope? This entire situation seems like a big tease to the blacks.
Furthermore, I think that Reconstruction shouldn’t have even taken place, and maybe then, the blacks
would have had more faith and hope in their future.