RECONSTRUCTION: Americ's Unfinished Revolution 1863--1877 by Eric Foner

RECONSTRUCTION: Americ's Unfinished Revolution 1863--1877

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A major reassessment of the Reconstruction era by Foner (History/Columbia), author of, among others, Politics and Ideology in the Age of the Civil War and Nothing But Freedom: Emancipation and Its Legacy (1983). During this century, academe's view of Reconstruction has altered several times. First came the Dunning School, which focused on ""Negro incapacity"" for exercising the political rights thrust on them by Radical Reconstruction; then, the Progressive School, which saw the Radicals as dupes of Northern money; there were also W.E.B. DuBois' vanguard, offering sympathetic treatment of most participants, and a recent movement stressing the nonrevolutionary, conservative aspects of Reconstruction. Enter Foner, who fuses the Dunning School with the best of recent scholarship. In Foner's view, the black experience is central: he portrays blacks as active agents, rather than as passive victims, of Reconstruction. Black participation in Southern politics after 1867 was ""a massive experiment in interracial democracy without precedent in the history of this or any other country that abolished slavery in the nineteenth century."" Besides the black experience, Foner focuses on the ways in which Southern society was remodeled--how the status of white planters, merchants, and yeomen, and their relations with each other, changed over time. Changes did not occur in a ""linear, pre-determined fashion,"" he argues, but arose from complex interactions between ""blacks and whites, Northerners and Southerners."" Foner also demonstrates that, despite a real racism, a significant number of Southern whites were willing to link their political fortunes with blacks, while the Republican Party, as a whole, found their raison d'etre in the fate of the former slaves. A well-integrated study of the social, political, and economic forces of the era that should become a standard text on Reconstruction.

Pub Date: April 6th, 1988
Publisher: Harper & Row