According to Civil War historian Guelzo’s concise and lucidly written study, the 12-year period popularly known as Reconstruction is the “ugly duckling of American history,” representing to many a tragically missed opportunity to establish racial equality. The project was innately challenging, he argues, raising difficult questions about the meaning of the Confederate states’ secession from the Union and the position of formerly enslaved people in the postbellum United States. Guelzo emphasizes that “not everything that should have been gained was gained in Reconstruction, but not everything was lost, either.” Following a chronological approach, he briefly sketches out the methods, including overt political resistance and the substitution of “freedman” for “slave” in state legal codes, by which white Southerners tried to subvert the federal government’s attempts to restructure Southern society to empower its black and poor white inhabitants. He concurs with Ulysses S. Grant that Reconstruction’s goals could only have been accomplished through a significantly longer military occupation of the South, but most Northerners felt this “was not in accordance with our institutions.” This reluctance resulted in strict limitations on the opportunities available to African-Americans. Guelzo’s short book is highly informative for readers seeking a better understanding of a short but tumultuous era that continues to influence race relations in the United States. (May)
Reviewed on: 05/14/2018 Release date: 05/01/2018 Genre: Nonfiction
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