Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Yale: The Civil War and Reconstruction (HIST 119)

22. Constitutional Crisis and Impeachment of a President
The Civil War and Reconstruction (HIST 119)

Professor Blight continues his discussion of the political history of Reconstruction. The central figure in the early phase of Reconstruction was President Andrew Johnson. Under Johnson's stewardship, southern whites held constitutional conventions throughout 1865, drafting new constitutions that outlawed slavery but changed little else. When the Republican-dominated U.S. Congress reassembled late in 1865, they put a stop to Johnson's leniency and inaugurated Radical (or Congressional) Reconstruction, a process that resulted in the immediate passage of the Civil Rights bill and the Fourteenth Amendment, and the eventual passage of four Reconstruction Acts. The Congressional elections in 1866 and Johnson's disastrous "Swing Around the Circle" speaking tour strengthened Radical control over Congress. Each step of the way, Johnson did everything he could to obstruct Congressional Reconstruction, setting the stage for his impeachment in 1868.


23. Black Reconstruction in the South: The Freedpeople and the Economics of Land and Labor
The Civil War and Reconstruction (HIST 119)

Professor Blight begins this lecture in Washington, where the passage of the first Reconstruction Act by Congressional Republicans radically altered the direction of Reconstruction. The Act invalidated the reconstituted Southern legislatures, establishing five military districts in the South and insisting upon black suffrage as a condition to readmission. The eventful year 1868 saw the impeachment of one president (Andrew Johnson) and the election of another (Ulysses S. Grant). Meanwhile, southern African Americans struggle to reap the promises of freedom in the face of economic disempowerment and a committed campaign of white supremacist violence.


24. Retreat from Reconstruction: The Grant Era and Paths to "Southern Redemption"
The Civil War and Reconstruction (HIST 119)

This lecture opens with a discussion of the myriad moments at which historians have declared an "end" to Reconstruction, before shifting to the myth and reality of "Carpetbag rule" in the Reconstruction South. Popularized by Lost Cause apologists and biased historians, this myth suggests that the southern governments of the Reconstruction era were dominated by unscrupulous and criminal Yankees who relied on the ignorant black vote to rob and despoil the innocent South. The reality, of course, diverges widely from this image. Among other accomplishments, the Radical state governments that came into existence after 1868 made important gains in African-American rights and public education. Professor Blight closes the lecture with the passage of the 15th Amendment, the waning radicalism of the Republican party after 1870, and the rise of white political terrorism across the South.


25. The "End" of Reconstruction: Disputed Election of 1876, and the "Compromise of 1877"
The Civil War and Reconstruction Era, 1845-1877 (HIST 119)

This lecture focuses on the role of white southern terrorist violence in brining about the end of Reconstruction. Professor Blight begins with an account the Colfax Massacre. Colfax, Louisiana was the sight of the largest mass murder in U.S. history, when a white mob killed dozens of African Americans in the April of 1873. Two Supreme Court decisions would do in the judicial realm what the Colfax Massacre had done in the political. On the same day as the Colfax Massacre, the Supreme Court offered a narrow reading of the 14th Amendment in the Slaughterhouse cases, signaling a judicial retreat from the radicalism of the early Reconstruction years. The Cruikshank case, two years later, would overturn the convictions of the only three men sentenced for their involvement in Colfax, and marked another step away from reconstruction. Professor Blight concludes with the Panic of 1873 and the seemingly innumerable political scandals of the Grant Administration, suggesting the manner in which these events encouraged northerners to tire of the Reconstruction experiment by the early 1870s


26. Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory
The Civil War and Reconstruction Era, 1845-1877 (HIST 119)

Having dealt with the role of violence and the Supreme Court in bringing about the end of Reconstruction in his last lecture, Professor Blight now turns to the role of national electoral politics, focusing in particular on the off-year Congressional election of 1874 and the Presidential election of 1876. 1874 saw the return of the Democrats to majority status in the Senate and the House of Representatives, as voters sick of corruption and hurt by the Panic of 1873 fled the Republicans in droves. According to many historians, the contested election of 1876, and the "Compromise of 1877," which followed it, marked the official end of Reconstruction. After an election tainted by fraud and violence, Republicans and Democrats brokered a deal by which Republican Rutherford B. Hayes took the White House in exchange for restoration of "home rule" for the South.



27. Legacies of the Civil War
The Civil War and Reconstruction Era, 1845-1877 (HIST 119)

Professor Blight finishes his lecture series with a discussion of the legacies of the Civil War. Since the nineteenth century, Blight suggests, there have been three predominant strains of Civil War memory, which Blight defines as reconciliationist, white supremacist, and emancipationist. The war has retained a political currency throughout the years, and the ability to control the memory of the Civil War has been, and continues to be, hotly contested.

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