cover image The Revolution That Failed: Reconstruction in Natchitoches

The Revolution That Failed: Reconstruction in Natchitoches

Adam Fairclough. Univ. Press of Florida, $29.95 (392p) ISBN 978-0-8130-5662-3

In this provocative work of political history, Fairclough (A Class of Their Own) unequivocally declares that post–Civil War Reconstruction didn’t achieve its goal: Even during Reconstruction, “Democracy, in any meaningful sense of that word, ended.” The first chapter lays out the argument, with Fairclough taking fellow historians Eric Foner and James McPherson to task for any optimism about the way Reconstruction ended and challenging the idea of American exceptionalism. Fairclough centers his argument on the mostly black parish of Natchitoches, La., which serves as a case study for local Republican politics and government during Reconstruction. Beginning in 1868, increasing violence by whites and fractures within the Republican Party posed significant threats to the success of Reconstruction in Natchitoches. Though congressional Republicans assumed voting rights and citizenship would secure African-Americans liberty and equality after slavery’s end, they underestimated the tenacity of whites in reviving the prewar racial hierarchy. Fairclough keeps the big picture visible by weaving in the national Reconstruction politics of reabsorbing the former Confederacy into the Union. Particularly illuminating is his discussion of the “Lost Cause” view of the South and its role in shaping the racialized postwar meaning of loyalty, as “former Confederates saw no contradiction between taking an oath of allegiance to the United States and commemorating the ‘Lost Cause’ of the Confederacy.” Fairclough’s book is a chilling reminder of how some Americans willingly perverted the democracy they claimed to treasure so they could uphold white supremacy. (Mar.)