HIST 119: The Civil War and Reconstruction Era, 1845-1877
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The Civil War and Reconstruction Era, 1845-1877
HIST 119 - Lecture 20 - Wartime Reconstruction: Imagining the Aftermath and a Second American Republic
Chapter 1. Introduction: Perceiving the Scale of Death through Whitman [00:00:00]
Professor David Blight: We’re going to elect, that is re-elect, Lincoln in a moment, the election of 1864 being one of the, without a question, crucial turning points in the war, in a war that was so political. But spare the poets. I want to begin by placing you somewhere. The ending of the Civil War, of course, was for thousands upon thousands, really millions of Americans, a confrontation with death on a scale they’d never known, never experienced, and frankly never have again. There’s a marvelous new book on this, two new books on this, one in particular by Drew Faust, whom you’ve read already, a book called The Republic of Suffering, which I recommend to you — it just came out a couple of months ago — which is all about the death culture that the Civil War bred.
Our greatest death poet was Whitman. This is risky. I’m going to actually recite a little piece, little bits, of what could be Whitman’s greatest poem, at least it in my view. But what do I know? I’m not a literary scholar. But there are ways in Whitman’s “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d” that he is actually anticipating what’s going to happen, with time, to the problem of how Americans will remember this ghastly bloodletting they’ve just experienced. It’s, of course, the poem about Lincoln’s death. Whitman really had a thing about Lincoln, as you may know. He wrote possibly the only poem that ever rhymed in his magnificent collection, “O Captain! My Captain,” in relation to Lincoln’s death. But “Lilacs” is a masterpiece. It’s the poem he wrote to try to imagine the funeral train of Abraham Lincoln, the train that took some twenty days; three coffins, because two got damaged. It stopped in, I forget now, sixteen, seventeen different cities on this incredible tour all over New England and then all across the North and the Midwest and finally to his burial in Springfield, Illinois. And what Whitman really wrote here was a kind of a calming — it’s written in a mood of a kind a calming, depoliticized, contemplation on what Whitman called “the fathomless, sure-enwinding arms of cool-enfolding death.” But it’s very much directly about Lincoln’s death.
And Whitman imagines a songbird; calls it a warbling. And he says he hears this warbling singing a solitary song, his words, “of the bleeding throat, Death’s outlet song of life, (for well dear brother)” — he’s speaking to the bird now — “(for well dear brother I know, If thou wast not granted to sing thou wouldst surely die.)” And he’s trying to use the bird — go read this poem, read it three, four, and five times — he’s trying to use the warbling, the song sparrow, as a metaphor for all of America. “How shall I warble?” Here he gives voice to the bird. He even writes lyrics for the bird. “How shall I warble myself for the dead one that I loved?” It’s like an offering. Whitman picks a sprig of lilac, he says, and places Abraham Lincoln’s funeral train in the setting of what he calls “ever returning spring across the vast landscape of America, from east to the prairie.” It was April, like now, a little later; lilacs were in bloom by late in the month. And then comes this magnificent verse. “Over the breast of spring, the land, amidst cities, Amid lanes and through old woods, where lately the violets peep’d from the ground, spotting the grey debris, Amid the grass in the fields each side of the lanes, passing the endless grass, Passing the yellow-spear’d wheat, every grain from its shroud in the dark brown fields uprisen, Passing the apple-tree blows of white and pink in the orchards, Carrying a corpse to where it shall rest in the grave, Night and day journeys a coffin.” And then he says the bird must sing its “carol of death.” And the poet tries to give words to the music, yet one senses that even Whitman, with all his powers, could not match the little warbling’s power, to deliver what he calls “that powerful psalm in the night.” This is a poem of grief for the whole country. He’s trying to capture the meaning of death, all that death, caused in the Civil War, if it’s possible. But he gives the job to a tiny little bird. Whitman himself, he says, is left with “visions,” his words, “of battle-corpses” and “the debris of all the slain soldiers of the war,” in his head. The funeral train passes by all the images the poet can muster and then he’s just left to say, his words: “The living remained and suffered.” Now —
Chapter 2. Lincoln’s Re-election in 1864 [00:06:26]
I’ll return to Whitman. It’s one way to get a handle, if it is a handle, on what Americans were coping with in 1865, the level and scale of sacrifice that they had experienced. And of course Lincoln’s assassination came two, three days after Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox. More on that in a minute. But back up with me, back up with me into that last year of the war. It was still possible for the South to win its version of a victory as late as I’d say August of 1864; I suppose you could even say September, but after the fall of Atlanta it wasn’t likely. But now quickly, that election of ‘64 was one of the most important in our history. We don’t pay a lot of attention to it because we kind of speed by it or around it and we almost ignore it sometimes — oh it’s another election, let’s get on with the Civil War.
Across the North there was tremendous war weariness that summer. I mentioned already, 65 — 66,0000 casualties in Grant’s Army alone in Virginia in two and a half months. There was great bitterness against the draft that summer. Now, in the end only about six, seven percent of all Union soldiers will actually be draftees, but there was tremendous resentment against it. In the North there were the Peace Democrats; or sometimes that’s what they were called. Sometimes they were called Copperheads, named for the snake. Copperheads usually though were those people who somehow were deemed truly disloyal to the Union and actually were engaging in machinations and conspiracies to overthrow the Union. That’s always been an open question. There was an effort within the Republican Party as early as May and June of ‘64 to dump Lincoln in place of either Salmon Chase, a member of Lincoln’s cabinet, his Attorney General — and read Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals if you want to know just how much Chase was scheming to dump Lincoln, as his own Attorney General. Chase may have had the most beautiful daughter in Washington, Kate Chase, but he had no style. And then there was an effort to dump Lincoln in favor of the candidate John C. Fremont, the same Fremont who had run in 1856 as the Republican presidential candidate. And Lincoln was himself all but convinced, by July and early August of ‘64, that he probably wouldn’t win re-election; what to do in the meantime?
The Democratic Party nominated George B. McClellan, the former general, commanding General of the Army of the Potomac. That Democratic Party in the midst of the Civil War was a confusing lot, and one might even say a confused lot. Some of them truly wanted to sue for a negotiated peace, but they would always say they wanted a negotiated peace of the South that would still restore the Union. And, of course, that was never acceptable to Jefferson Davis and the Confederate government. Many of them were quite explicitly for a negotiated peace that would not result in emancipation. They wanted to turn emancipation around. They wanted a Union without emancipation; that is exactly what McClellan wanted. There was a deeply white supremacist strain in much of the northern Democratic Party and they put up a formidable challenge to wartime president, in the midst of Civil War. They painted Lincoln and the Republicans as what they constantly called miscegenationist; they used the term all the time. The Republicans were going to make whites and blacks marry each other. They called Abraham Lincoln, in this campaign, “Abe the widow maker.” They were already waving the bloody shirt that would become so ubiquitous in the wake of the war, blaming Lincoln for all the death. They also referred to him as “Abe the nigger lover.” And the Democratic papers produced cartoons, famous cartoons — I wish I had an example of one today — of what they called miscegenation balls; these were dances and balls where whites and blacks all came together, kissed, made love and mixed the races.
What Lincoln desperately needed was battlefield success to alter Northern war morale; and of course they got that. They got it with the fall of Mobile Harbor in the first and second week of August — Admiral David Farragut, in the largest naval engagement of the war, took Mobile, the last major southern seaport, to come into Union hands — and then especially with the fall of Atlanta, on the 3rd of September ‘64. And then in the month of September further victories by Philip Sheridan’s cavalry in the Shenandoah Valley, driving Confederate armies basically out of the Shenandoah Valley, made it now possible to say that the war was on a course of Union victory, that the Confederacy was in a state of near collapse. And when the election came the votes were there. Lincoln won fifty-five percent of the total popular vote. Forty-five percent of the electorate in the northern states did not vote for Lincoln and in effect, therefore, were not voting for emancipation. Keep that in mind when we start discussing Reconstruction. Eighteen of the Free states made it possible for soldiers to vote at the front; only two did not, and even those let soldiers vote by absentee. It is the first time in world history, so far as we know, that a republic in the midst — there weren’t that many republics to speak of, of course — but the first time in the course of a civil war that a republic held a general election and pulled it off. Most importantly, Lincoln won an extraordinary seventy-eight percent of the soldier vote, of all those hundreds of thousands in the Army and Navy, and they voted in droves. It was, that election, a referendum on the war, and it was a referendum on its purpose, and it was a referendum, therefore, on emancipation.
One of the most extraordinary events that happened in that election season was in the third week of August of ‘64, Lincoln invited — this time invited — Frederick Douglass to come to the White House. They had met the year before in August, in ‘63, but that was at Douglass’s own prodding. In ‘63 Douglass had gone to the White House to complain about unequal pay and brutal discriminations against black troops in the Union armies, and he got an audience, at least for awhile, with Lincoln — the first time they met, the beginnings of a remarkable relationship. But in ‘64 Lincoln invites Douglass — and Douglass didn’t know what he was going to be asked to do. And they sat down for about forty-five minutes, eye to eye, and Abraham Lincoln asked Frederick Douglass to lead a campaign to funnel as many slaves out of the upper south into some kind of security in the North, before election day in November, because he feared he would not be re-elected and he wanted as many slaves as possible to be secure within Union lines and somehow legally free under the proclamation, before McClellan won the election. Now frankly, Douglass was stunned. Here was Abe Lincoln asking him to be John Brown, sort of. He could hardly believe it, and he left there with a whole new kind of conception of Lincoln, frankly — not entirely new, he was already working on that. But he went back home to Rochester, New York and he organized about fifteen or sixteen agents, by letter and telegram, in late August and the first week of September, all over the North. He didn’t have a clue how he was really going to do this, or how much the army was really going to help him, but he started calling all his old friends in the abolition movement, and a lot of the people who’d been recruiting black troops, and said, “Help me, we’re gonna funnel slaves out of the South. I don’t know how but help me.” And then came the fall of Atlanta, a couple of Sheridan’s victories in the Shenandoah, and the whole scheme was called off. But it’s a measure of Lincoln’s own sense of reality, that he was about to lose.
Chapter 3. The South Surrenders: Grant and Lee at Appomattox [00:15:57]
All right, the war ended, of course, in great part with the surrender at Appomattox, and then with the surrender of Joseph Johnston to Sherman in a farmhouse in central North Carolina, about ten days later — what is it, April 21, I believe? Let me discuss that briefly. It’s an extremely important moment and event, and the terms of that surrender are extremely important for what’s to come. In a war that had become so political, so much about morale, so much about public opinion, so much about the will of two peoples to see it through. The surrender terms were actually almost utterly apolitical. I had a couple of photos up here. I don’t know if you can see this very well. This is one of many photographs that Mathew Brady and his troop of photographers took of Richmond, after it fell April 5, 1865, as so many journalists now started saying the United States was finally an old country because it had ruins. Isn’t that great? You need some ruins to have a history.
Well, Richmond fell 5th of April of ‘65, and Lee’s army did escape. He was experiencing tremendous desertion. He escaped westward. The goal he had, so far as we know, was to reach the Blue Ridge Mountains and maybe even get south into North Carolina, maybe hook up with Johnston’s army that was retreating in front of Sherman up into North Carolina, maybe somehow connect the two remaining Confederate armies, and carry on the war, if they could. Lee really didn’t ever, ever want to give up. But he had to. He was cut off. There was an emerging lethal mixture now, of no supplies, desertion, and the almost unfathomable oversupply of the Union forces. He was grossly outnumbered and finally he had to send a note, after this last little battle they actually fought, on the 11th of April, where eighteen men were killed. And there’s a little cemetery at Appomattox today where you can see the gravestones of those eighteen men. It’s one of the most moving little cemeteries I’ve ever seen. They’re the last to die in a totally futile battle.
The terms of the surrender were essentially this — and, by the way, they were Lincoln’s direct orders. That’s a parole slip. It’s a photocopy of exactly what they looked like. The Union Army took printing presses out to Appomattox Courthouse, which was this little town, and they set it up in a tavern and they pumped out these parole slips, about 25 to 30,000 of them in forty-eight hours. The Confederate soldiers were given these paroles. They were allowed to keep their side arms, they had to surrender their rifles, they were allowed to keep horses if they had them, and in essence they were simply told go home. Nobody, except technically Lee himself, was taken into custody. But Lee’s custody was simply the right to ride his horse back to Richmond, if he chose, or wherever he wanted to go, and he was technically put under house arrest — not allowed to leave his house for some period of time — but never charged with anything. Jefferson Davis will — more on that later. Alexander H. Stephens, the vice-president, will technically be charged, although never tried. Davis will be charged but never tried. No one, except the commandant of Andersonville Prison, one Captain Wirz, a Swiss born immigrant who commanded Andersonville, the worst of the South’s prisons, he was the only person accused of treason and war crimes and executed as a result of this war.
Now Lee and Grant, of course, met — and Ken Burns milks this for all it’s worth, so I’m going to let you feel it from him — they met at the McLean House at Appomattox. Go there someday. It still looks almost exactly as it looked in 1865. Grant and Lee barely remembered one another. They knew each other now — and altogether extraordinarily well — from fighting each other for so long. They sat down in the parlor of this house and Grant gave Lee the terms. Lee dressed up in his finest golden sash. He wore a sword. He fully expected this to be a traditional eighteenth or nineteenth century surrender. He was going to give his sword and all that nonsense, but Grant just said, “I don’t want your sword, go home.” Now it’s also true that when they finally cut Lee’s army off, and Lee had to send that note and say, “Please meet me to consider surrender terms,” the news just zoomed around the Union army and Union soldiers just stated going crazy, celebrating, screaming, shooting off guns, riding on their horses all over the place, “The war’s over, the war’s over, the war’s over, God damn rebels have surrendered.” And Grant put out an order all through his army that there would be no celebrations. It was Grant already understanding that the surrender had to be political too, and that there would be tremendous untold bitterness to deal with in the wake of this war. Grant, as a general, had no idea what politically would come. He wasn’t involved yet in reconstruction plans at all. But it also was a kind of statement, of course, of honor among soldiers.
To the South, you can rest assured, the day they heard about Appomattox was the way it was for most Northerners about the day they heard of Lincoln’s assassination. It is all over diaries, all over literature. It sometimes is just called “the surrender,” “the day we heard.” There’s so many statements of it, throughout Southern letters and diaries, as I’ve said. I’ll just read a couple, just briefly, and then one from a Northerner, to show you what this moment means on both sides and how difficult reconstruction is going to be — just look at their diaries. Remember Kate Stone? I read from her diary before, a Louisiana planter woman who fled over to Texas and lost most of her slaves. She writes into her diary. “April 28, ‘65: All are fearfully depressed,” she reports. “I cannot bear to hear them talk of defeat.” She still hoped that Confederate armies might rally and fight, as she puts it, “to be free or die.” Easy for her to say. On May 15 she opened a journal entry with this definition, that I may have read before, where the first words are “conquered, submission, subjugation,” she says, “are the words in my heart.” And then when she hears that John Wilkes Booth has shot Lincoln, she rejoiced in Lincoln’s death and honored, at least in her diary, John Wilkes Booth for, quote, “ridding the world of a tyrant. We are glad he is not alive to rejoice in our humiliation and insult us with his jokes.” There are thousands of those expressions in Southern letters and diaries.
That spring and summer an estimated 8 to 10,000 ex-Confederates, many of them former officers, would flee the country. They ended up going to Brazil, England, other parts of Europe, Mexico, Canada, and a few even went as far away as Japan, for fear — I mean, Jubal Early, that conniving old rat — more on him later — he ran to Mexico. He was certain they were all going to be executed, at least the officer corps of Lee’s army — none of them were. And let me read you a diary entry from a Northern woman, a great diarist. Her diary’s hardly known, but man, her diary is almost equal to Mary Chestnut. I first encountered it in a manuscript at the American Antiquarian Society in Worchester. Her name was Caroline Barrett White. She kept a diary for years, decades, and her war-years diary is extraordinary. This is her April 10, 1865 entry. “Hurrah, hurrah, sound the loud timbale over Egypt’s dark sea. Early this morning our ears were greeted with the sound of bells ringing a joyous peal. General Lee had surrendered with his whole army to General Grant!” She’s got exclamation marks all over the place. “Surely this is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes.” And she goes on and on and on, all kinds of biblical cadences to talk about the sense of jubilation she sees in the streets of her Massachusetts town. And then five days later, April 15, comes this entry, and it’s the longest entry in her diary, several pages, and all around the outside of the pages she blackened the edges. She writes, “The darkest day I ever remember. This morning the sun rose upon a nation jubilant with victory, but it sets upon one plunged into deepest sorrow.” Her longest of all diary entries she talked about the shocking intelligence of Lincoln’s murder, and then says, “Where will treason ever end? The rapidity with which events crowd upon one another now is perfectly bewildering.” Indeed it was.
Now, as was so often the case in this war though, Abraham Lincoln left one of the best descriptions of what the war had been about. In the greatest speech ever delivered by an American president — I would venture that; we could get up a debate on that I’m sure. But what are you going to put up against the Second Inaugural for an economy of language and a music of words and an honesty of meaning? Read the Second Inaugural; it only takes about three minutes. He’s been re-elected. This is March ‘65. The war is almost over; not there yet. What does he say in that speech? What had it been about? How does he explain all the death? He doesn’t find that easy. But in the second paragraph, and the third paragraph, came a few phrases that we’ve been trying to answer through interpretation in our 65 to 70,000 books on the Civil War, more than one a day that we’ve written ever since. He’s thinking back to his First Inaugural and he says, “Both parties deprecated war, but one of them would make war rather than let the nation survive, and the other would accept war rather than let it perish.” That’s his interpretation; of course, he’s going to get vast disagreement on that from Southerners. And then the famous phrase, “And the war came.”
There are more titles of books on the Civil War taken from this speech than anything else ever done. When in doubt, people just go to Lincoln’s Second Inaugural and find some little phrase, if they can find three words somebody else hasn’t used before, and it becomes the title of their book. Kenneth Stamp used And the War Came, a book on secession. Jim McPherson has a new book of essays out, it’s called Mighty Scourge of War; it comes out of here. Stephen Oates’ biography of Abraham Lincoln, Malice Toward None. I mean, it’s just endless. But then in that next paragraph, “One-eighth of the whole population were colored slaves.” Three weeks ago when Barack Obama used the word “slave,” “slavery,” or “slaves,” seven times in that remarkable speech, it’s remarkable because it’s been altogether rare that presidents or presidential candidates have ever mouthed the word “slave” in American political rhetoric. But Lincoln did. “One-eighth of the whole population were colored slaves, not distributed generally over the Union, but localized in the southern part.” No kidding. And here it is. “These slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest.” Whoa. “All knew,” says Lincoln, “that this interest was somehow the cause of the war.” Somehow; that’s the greatest somehow in American letters. We’ve been trying to explain the somehow ever since, and we never can quite pin it down. And before that paragraph’s over you’d been treated to some of the most beautiful rhetoric ever written, at least by an American president. He says that everybody wished for a result less fundamental and astounding. We don’t want all this revolution, but that’s what we got. And then comes that line, “for every drop of blood shed by the lash, it shall be paid by the sword.” You can’t hear it or read it and not know what the war had been about. Now —
Chapter 4. The Aftermath: Changes in the Constitution and Ideas of Reconstruction [00:31:41]
We’re going to deal in the next several lectures about the extended question of results of this war, the consequences, short and long-term. And there are many things we can put on that list, to say the least. And let me just give you a short list to begin with, and we’re going to come back to so much of this. A quick list. Just keep it handy. And some of them are actually signaled in that Second Inaugural. I mean, one is that secession was killed, almost forever. Now and then you hear about the Upper Peninsula of Michigan wanting to secede or something; Texas once in awhile gets back on its heels and says “don’t mess with Texas” and says they’re going to secede, and some parts of the country say “go ahead.”
There’s a fundamental change in the nature of American nationalism and the centralization of government that will come out of this war. Eleven of the first twelve amendments to the U.S. Constitution had been written to limit national power. This is just fundamental. It’s one of Lincoln’s less fundamental and astounding results. Six of the next seven constitutional amendments will be directly to increase federal power; more on that as we do Reconstruction. Power itself will shift from south to north, at least for awhile, in American political culture. Nativism will be put on the run, at least for awhile, quite awhile. The old Nativist Party and all that nativism of antebellum America, what are you going to do with all that xenophobic nativism in the wake of a war where one of every four Union soldiers was foreign born? And now they’re U.S. citizens claiming pensions on the U.S. Government for saving the Union; thank you very much. What Nativist party is going to get any traction with Union veterans in the 1870s? None. The Labor Movement and the Women’s Rights Movements, on the other hand, are going to be crippled — not ruined, but crippled — by the Civil War, by the authoritarianism of war, all its centralization. And emancipation, of course, ushered into national life all sorts of new challenges, new ideas, new meanings, and this most difficult American idea of all, racial equality. God, what are you going to do with that now? It’s been taken out of its — it’s been unshucked from its shell, by war. Oh, there’ll be a thousand meanings, and we’ll come back to six or seven of them.
Now, I want to introduce Reconstruction plans here in just one moment, but at this particular moment in time, of all the possible meanings people had taken from this war — and of course they’re very different meanings if you’re one of those white Georgians who had to face Sherman’s Army, of if you’re Kate Stone out in Texas, or if you’re a widow of your husband and four of your sons who’ve died in the war. I mean, there are many, many, many different individual stories. But think back to what Lincoln had just said in the Second Inaugural about what the war had been about, and this chastening that it had brought the country. One of the most remarkable documents left from this massive documentation of this war, and of emancipation, is this letter. Perhaps you’ve seen it before, it’s getting reprinted now and then. It’s a letter written by a former slave whose name was Jordan Anderson. How many of you’ve read Jordan Anderson’s letter before? Good, the grad students have, better have, yes.
Well, this is in the summer of ‘65. What had the war meant? Jordan Anderson had been a slave in Tennessee. He’s living in Ohio now. The war’s over. He gets a letter from his old master, whose name was Colonel P.H. Anderson. And Jordan’s living in Dayton, Ohio. And he writes back, to Colonel Anderson. He says, “Thank you very much for your letter.” Anderson wants him to come back. “Dear Sir, I got your letter, and was glad to find you had not forgotten old Jordan, and that you wanted me to come back and live with you again, promising to do better for me than anybody else can. I have often felt uneasy about you. I thought the Yankees would’ve hung you long before this for harboring Rebs they found at your house. I suppose they never heard about you going to Colonel Martin’s to kill the Union soldier that was left by his company in their stable. Although you shot at me twice before I left you, I did not want to hear of your being hurt, and am glad you are still living. It would do me good to go back to the dear old home again, see Miss Mary and Miss Martha and Allan and Esther and Green and Lee. Give my love to them all, and tell them I hope we will meet in a better world, if not in this. I would’ve gone back to see you all when I was working in the Nashville Hospital, but one of the neighbors told me Henry intended to shoot me, if he ever got a chance.
I want to know particularly what the good chance is you proposed to give me. I’m doing tolerably well here. I get $25.00 a month with victuals and clothing, have a comfortable home for Mandy” — that’s his wife. “The folks here call her Mrs. Anderson, and the children, Millie Jane and Grundy, go to school and are learning. The teacher says Grundy has a head to be a preacher. They go to Sunday school, and Mandy and me attend church regularly. We are kindly treated. Sometimes we overhear others saying, ‘Them colored people were slaves down in Tennessee.’ The children feel hurt when they hear such remarks, but I will tell them it was no disgrace in Tennessee to belong to Colonel Anderson. Many darkies would have been proud, as I used to was, to call you ‘Master.’ Now, if you will write and say what wages you will give me, I will be better able to decide whether it would be to my advantage to move back again. As to my freedom, which you say I can have, there’s nothing to be gained on that score as I got my Free Papers in 1864 from the Provost Marshal General of the Department of Nashville. Mandy says she would be afraid to go back without some proof that you are sincerely disposed to treat us justly, and we have concluded to test your sincerity by asking you to send us our wages for the time we served you. This will make us forget, and forgive old scores, and rely on your justice, and friendship, in the future. I served you faithfully for thirty-two years, and Mandy twenty years. At $25.00 a month for me, and $2.00 a week for Mandy, our earnings would amount to $11,680.00. Add to this the interest for the time our wages has been kept back, and deduct what you paid for our clothing and three doctors’ visits for me and pulling a tooth for Mandy, and the balance will show what we are in justice entitled to. Please send the money, by Adam’s Express, care of V. Winters Esquire, Dayton, Ohio.” He goes on another paragraph, and then there’s a P.S. “Say howdy to George Carter, and thank him for taking the pistol from you when you were shooting at me.”
What did freedom mean? What had the war meant? Wages, with interest, according to Jordan Anderson. Well, we’ll see whether the United States would help out old Jordan. All right, now Reconstruction is, of course, that ten or eleven year period of American history that sometimes, too often — I don’t know how it was taught to you — but sometimes, too often we skirt through. It’s complicated, not as much glory to go around as there is during the war. It’s fraught with some skullduggery and corruption on an unprecedented scale, on all kinds of sides. It’s a time of enormous imagination and experimentation, in politics and law. It’s also the time in American history when we have by far our largest level of domestic terrorism and violence — a good deal more on that in the weeks to come. But Reconstruction policy, of course, began during the war. The debates over Reconstruction policy began during the war. [Professor looks for materials] Well sorry, I had Herman Melville’s poem here but what did I do with Herman Melville? Forgive me. “Check that,” as the old sports announcer used to say.
The policies on Reconstruction took two paths, and those paths begin as early as late 1863, and they are especially being debated in the federal government in 1864, and they are ripe by the end of the war in 1865. Lincoln’s basic approach to Reconstruction, when and if they could end the war, win the war and stop it, was to make Reconstruction as fast as possible, as lenient as possible — remember these three things, you’re going to hear it again — as fast as possible, as lenient as possible, and as much as possible under presidential authority, not Congress. He’s going to fashion this so-called Ten Percent Plan, which I’ll explain next time, but it in essence meant that he wanted ten percent of the white voting population of a former Confederate state to take a loyalty oath to the Union, to redraw a new constitution, denounce secession, accept emancipation, and they would be readmitted to the Union under presidential authority. And he wanted to do as much of it as possible during the war because when the war ends he could lose his presidential war powers.
In Congress, in his own party, led by Thaddeus Stevens in the House and Charles Sumner in the Senate — and you’ll learn a good deal more about that in the two weeks to come — there’s a very different approach to Reconstruction. The Congressional Radicals, as they become known, Republicans all, want a Reconstruction that is longer, harsher, and under Congressional control. Now Lincoln won’t be around, of course, to engage in this battle after the war is over, but he was there during the war, and they had quite a tussle over imagining how Reconstruction would happen. Now if you want to get a sense of Lincoln’s approach to Reconstruction, now you can read the last paragraph of the Second Inaugural about malice toward none and charity for all and binding up the nation’s wound, and so forth. But there’s also the statement he made in his last cabinet meeting, the last meeting he had of his cabinet, before he went to Ford’s Theater, literally that night. He said to his cabinet, and I’m quoting: “I hope that there will be no persecutions, no bloody work after the war is over. No one need expect me to take any part in hanging or killing these men, even the worst of them. Frighten them out of the country, open the gates, let down the bars, scare them off, but enough lives have been sacrificed.”
That’s one approach, but that is not the approach of the leaders of the Congressional Republicans, some of whom would’ve wished for there to be some treason trials and executions, but short of that they want a Reconstruction that’s going to reshape the American polity, rewrite the U.S. Constitution, and remake Southern society. Anyone I ever run into who says “Reconstruction’s too complicated and not interesting,” I don’t understand it, because how can you have that kind of thing happening and it not be interesting?
Chapter 5. Conclusion [00:46:39]
But I found Melville, sorry. Let me leave you with this. Spare the poets. Melville wrote this little poem, after Lincoln was murdered. Listen to what he says. “Good Friday was the day Of the prodigy and crime, When they killed him in his pity, When they killed him in his prime Of clemency and calm — When with yearning he was filled To redeem the evil-willed, And, though conqueror, be kind; But they killed him in his kindness, In their madness and their blindness, And they killed him from behind. There is sobbing of the strong, And a pall upon the land; But the People in their weeping Bare an iron hand; Beware the People weeping When they bare the iron hand. He lieth in his blood — the father in his face; They have killed him, the Forgiver — The Avenger now takes his place, The Avenger wisely stern, Who in righteousness shall do What the heavens call him to, And the parricides remand; For they killed him in his kindness, In their madness and their blindness, And his blood is on their hand. There is sobbing of the strong, And a pall upon the land; But the People in their weeping Bare the iron hand; Beware the People weeping When they bare an iron hand.” The whole history of Reconstruction has always been a debate really over how iron the hand should’ve been. Thank you, see you next week.
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