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Besides, it is marked by the great loss, the assassination of the President Abraham Lincoln in 1865. It was Lincoln who signed Emancipation…
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Eric Foner A short history of reconstruction
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History and Political Science Eric Foner “A Short History of Reconstruction” Reconstruction is one of the darkest pages or, as Fonercalls it, “the dramatic, controversial era” in the history of America. Besides, it is marked by the great loss, the assassination of the President Abraham Lincoln in 1865. It was Lincoln who signed Emancipation Proclamation two years before his death. According to this decree, slaves of America “are and henceforth shall be free” (Foner 1). Emancipation was to bring many changes to the society in terms of economical, political, and socio-cultural life of the people. Moreover, these events changed not only national life, but spread all over the word shifting attitudes towards slavery and reassessing real values of human dignity and life.
Presidential Reconstruction is a short period of presidency from 1863 to 1866 of both Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Johnson. In an attempt to unify the nation, political activity of the presidents was strongly opposed by the Radical Republicans. Even though Johnson was in favor of anti-slavery politics, he vetoed the punitive legislation against southern planters. Officially he was against slavery and, at the same time, in reality was in favor of rich plantation owners of the South. And, already in 1866 the Radical Republicans gained power and begun Congressional Reconstruction. Having analyzed politics in Washington, D.C., it should be noted that emancipation proclamation as well as anti-slavery laws were not an easy decisions to take, because it was people’s wealth, country’s economy, political power and many others important issues which were put at stake.
Furthermore, emancipation did not go smoothly and painlessly. The rich plantation owners were neither ready, nor willing to let their free workforce go. And war, which began, was “the midwife of revolution” (Foner 2). As the author has noted, the proclamation was just official document in support of the revolutionary movement which had begun much earlier. Despite all the difficulties and controversies, slavery finally ended while Confederacy was defeated. The meaning of the word ‘freedom’ began to gain its new shade for Americans regaining its true position in society purified by Civil War events. Only by the end of 1870s the Reconstruction did provide freed slaves with some rights under the law which had been signed much earlier. Yet, the years of Reconstruction can be considered as a new starting point of new and right democracy, which has been destined to fight its way through until present days.
Not only was Reconstruction one of the most controversial periods and climax of various socio-cultural and political events of the country, it was a period which, unlike any other, has found its detailed description in further racist studies based on stereotyped attitude filled with hatred towards the blacks. And even though the slaves were freed, they had to fight real and symbolic authority of the whites for many years to come. Obviously, major decisions regarding anti-slavery movement begin in Washington, D.C. under the watchful eye of the ruling political power.
Foner’s representation and description of the important historical period is based on various scholarly works as well as the evidence received from the witnesses of those events who managed to record their memories in diaries or elsewhere. For instance, one of the recollections of the South after the Civil war is presented in the diary of a white Georgian who was traveling in Southern American by train: “Every village and station we stopped at presented an array of ruined walls and chimneys standing useless and solitary…” (qtd. in Foner 55). Life in the cities also changed drastically, as the freemen were moving to cities escaping their hateful owners and looking for new jobs. The flooding workforce was overwhelming the labor market and leading to very low wages, unemployment, disappointment and misery (Foner 37).
Foner’s description of the events and life of the nineteenth century America during the years of Reconstruction is dynamic and very interesting to read. It is easily read like a historic novel, not like a dry account of historical events merely based on dates and facts. Much historical evidence is based on the records of witnesses as well as studies of historians who made a thorough investigation into the events of the past to present them the way they happened in reality.
Works Cited
Foner, Eric. A Short History of Reconstruction, 1863-1877. 1st Ed. New York: Harper & Row Publishers, 1990. Read More
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