Following a recent academic re-evaluation, Nicholas Lemann affirms the Reconstruction as a more perfect union analysis essay noble, thwarted experiment. Internet Explorer 9 or earlier. Go to the home page to see the latest top stories. Ten years after Appomattox, Northern support for the newly enfranchised ex-slaves and their white allies had faded.
Recalcitrant Southern whites, whose Ku Klux Klan night-riding had been aggressively repressed by the federal government in the early 1870’s, regrouped under the political aegis of the Democratic Party. Mississippi, with a large black voting majority, resisted longer than other states, but redemption finally came there too, in 1875, sealed by a new frenzy of paramilitary carnage and intimidation. Two years later, after a disputed national election, the Republican Rutherford B. Hayes finally won the White House by agreeing to remove from the South the last of the federal troops who had upheld Reconstruction at the points of their bayonets.
The troubled effort to build a Southern interracial democracy out of the ashes of the Civil War was over. 1960’s and after that questioned the reformers’ commitment. This book strives to burn that academic re-evaluation into the minds of nonacademic readers. Written on a dramatic human scale, and leavened by some fresh research and analysis, it is an arresting piece of popular history. In focusing on Reconstruction Mississippi, Lemann, a native of New Orleans, stirs living memories of the murderous Southern resistance to the civil rights movement 90 years later. And he writes at a time when neo-Confederate sympathies have cropped up again in Southern politics, amid reports about the suppression of minority voting throughout the country. The book opens not in Mississippi but with an extended prologue about the notorious 1873 massacre in Colfax, La.
The Colfax events — in which more than 70 mostly black militiamen were killed by white supremacists after a disputed election — sparked immediate Northern outrage but led three years later to the landmark Supreme Court ruling United States v. Cruikshank, which upheld states’ rights against federal authority to protect the freedmen from white terrorists. These changing circumstances made the situation almost impossible for Lemann’s chief protagonist, Mississippi’s Reconstruction governor, Adelbert Ames. The son of a sea captain from Rockland, Me. West Point just in time to fight courageously in numerous major Civil War battles, for which he received the Medal of Honor.