Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Sesquicentennial of Reconstruction

As you may know, we are now in the sesquicentennial of the period in American history known as "Reconstruction."  On a variety of levels this was a momentous period in America, not only socially, but economically, politically and legally.  In this and following posts some of the crime, law and justice issues will be examined.

First, although the Civil War and the 13th Amendment, ended slavery,  it did not extinguish the ideology which justified slavery, white supremacy. The 14th and 15th Amendments attempted to overcome the legal side of white supremacy., but once free of federal control all states in the Confederacy violated the 14th and 15th Amendments.  Black codes, or Jim Crow laws resulted.  The federal courts, following the leadership of the U.S. Supreme Court, did little or nothing to enforce the Rconstruction Amendments.  Reconstruction and the Jim Crow era were probably the eras when civil rights and the Constitution were flagrantly violated on a vast scale.  This is not to say that there weren't civil rights violations against blacks in other parts of the country, built was a fact that most blacks still lived in the South and that's the region where white supremacy ideas were strongest and most violently expressed by whites. 

Slavery ended in the South, but white supremacy ideology carried on.  According to the NYT:

"One of the few acts at Appomattox that moves so many white Southerners to emotion was the generosity of permitting Gen. Robert E. Lee and his officers to depart with their side arms. It was technically a gallant gesture but arguably Grant’s unconscious acknowledgment of what we now know: that the war didn’t end but would merely be engaged on other battlefields: Klan terrorism, Jim Crow, redlining, housing covenants, voting ­rights restrictions."  To that list we might add lynching and resistance to public school and university integration.


  1. The north's military victory had little impact on changing a cultural anomaly driven by America's southern plantation owners and their political endorsers. Reminds me of the problems America has recently experienced in the Levant. Our military may have won battles, but this didn't change the attitudes of the Islamist organizers and their hard liners. Lincoln obviously knew combating people's discriminatory biases required much more time. Over 100 years later .... Our surged forces would probably still be in Iraq and Afghanistan if Lincoln was president today. He certainly would never have signed a nuclear deal with the ayatollah's regime.

  2. Thanks for the comment. Agreed, U.S. military and foreign policy has been driven by the naïve expectation that getting rid of dictators will somehow result in peaceful democracy. Historians and others have wondered how Reconstruction would have played out if Lincoln had not been assassinated.