cover image The Rise and Fall of the Second American Republic: Reconstruction, 1860-1920

The Rise and Fall of the Second American Republic: Reconstruction, 1860-1920

Manisha Sinha. Liveright, $39.99 (544p) ISBN 978-1-63149-844-2

In this ambitious study, historian Sinha (The Slave’s Cause) traces Reconstruction’s ramifications beyond its span as official government policy from 1865 to 1877. She proposes that the 60-year period between Abraham Lincoln’s election and the ratification of the 19th Amendment comprised a singular and continuous battle between the forces of “interracial democracy” and “reactionary authoritarianism.” After emphasizing what a triumph for the democratic side of this battle the federal Reconstruction policy was—it secured civil rights for the formerly enslaved and enacted programs of land redistribution and public education—Sinha uncovers a fascinating array of the policy’s ideological ripple effects. Not only did Reconstruction inspire demands for more rights from early populist political movements—including the women’s movement and the labor movement—but it also provoked those opposed to these movements to adopt an “anti-government” political playbook similar to the one that eventually overthrew Reconstruction. For example, Sinha shows that activist homesteaders in Wisconsin, who wanted to seize Native land, used the same language to denigrate Native people as “dependent” on the government that was used to deride freedmen in the South. By 1920, Sinha writes, this anti-government ideology had become ascendent, forming the backbone of laissez-faire, anti-welfare federal policy. Her shrewdly argued study ties together many loose ends while providing propulsively narrated accounts of on-the-ground political violence and activism. It’s an all-encompassing new perspective on American history. (Mar.)