|Study questions/notes on: Eric Foner,
Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877
(New York: Harper & Row, 1988).
– What objectives does Foner set himself in the Preface, in the light of the prior evolution of Reconstruction studies? What broader impact does he aspire to have on current trends in historical study?
–While avoiding the fashionable word "agency," Foner stresses that during the Civil War, "the slaves took actions that propelled a reluctant white America down the road to abolition" (p. 3). What kind of actions is he referring to?
– In his discussion of the period immediately following emancipation, he makes similar points on blacks’ attempts to shape policy. To what degree did they succeed, and how did this vary from one region to another?
–What tensions manifested themselves, during the war, within the Republican and Unionist camps? To what degree did such controversies prefigure debates on Reconstruction? In what ways did players’ political/ideological stances shift, or in some cases change drastically, from one phase to the next?
– How did the Civil War spur the transformation of the North, particularly in economic terms? How much of this began before the war was over?
– How did decisions made by military men during and immediately after the war, regarding the disposition of land and labor in the South, shape future developments?
– What is the "free labor ideology" Foner repeatedly cites? Why does he consider it so important? How did its "ambiguities" come to the surface in the postwar South?
– How did slaveholders’ "paternalism," in Foner’s view, affect their expectations and actions after emancipation?
– What does Foner mean by the "politicization" of Southern life after the Civil War?
– How did the struggle over the fate of former slaveowners’ land develop? What were its wide-ranging implications for Reconstruction?
– Does Foner view the outcome as predetermined? Do we (the readers) consider that alternative historical paths existed, and if so, how did they close?
– Why did Radical Republicans first hail the presidency of Andrew Johnson, only to find themselves rapidly disappointed?
– How, in Foner’s view, did Johnson’s policies foster Southern white resistance to potential changes that might otherwise have been accepted?
– What difference does Foner highlight between abolition in the United States and in other countries?
– Why does he say the Civil War led to the national state in the U.S., and what does he mean by Republican "state-building" (passim)?
– What were the crucial differences between Presidential Reconstruction and the Congressional Reconstruction that eventually emerged from the Thirty-Ninth Congress?
– By what political logic did that Congress change from an arena of Radical defeat to the progenitor of Radical Reconstruction?
– What objective did Johnson pursue by deliberately provoking the Radicals?
– Did his veto of the Civil Rights Bill help or hinder this objective?
–What does Foner see as the "core" of Radical Republican doctrine? How were its "limits," and the divisions within Radicalism, brought out by the land question? How did temperamental and ideological differences between T. Stevens and C. Sumner influence debates on the 14th Amendment?
– What was the central principle of the 14th Amendment?
– Through what channels did blacks’ "political mobilization" occur? What changes occurred in the composition of black leadership?
– How much truth does Foner see in the idea that wealthier Southerners were less hostile than poor whites towards the former slaves? Does this matter, and if so, why?
– What preexisting and new divisions within Republicanism were revealed by the state constitutional conventions?
– The radicalization of Reconstruction soon revived debates on the land issue; what was the response to confiscation proposals? What about proposals regarding debt and currency?
– We all know about the impeachment of President Johnson, but few remember what the purported grounds for it were. Was the impeachment justified?
– Already at the beginnings of Radical Reconstruction, expediency sometimes tempted Republicans in the South to eschew black support. Why, how?
– In what ways did new legislation effect a "dramatic transformation" (372) in labor relations?
– As for the land issue, what was actually done about it?
– What was the impact of fiscal problems on the new state governments? What about corruption?
– What, then, was the "new social order" (392) that took shape in this period?
– Why did the KKK arise? What was its relation to the Democrats, in Foner’s view?
– Why does Foner stress developments in the West when discussing Reconstruction in the North?
– Foner states that Reconstruction in the North was more modest than in the South. Why?
– What led to Northern reformers’ "accelerating disenchantment with Reconstruction" (497)?
– Why does Foner describe the new layer of reformers as "elitist"; and how did the 1873 depression accentuate their "hostility to political democracy and government activism" (518)?
– Did the end of Reconstruction begin with the 1877 Compromise, as per the traditional portrayal of events?
– Does Foner assign too much weight to economic factors in the demise of Reconstruction? Is he being an "economic determinist"?
– Foner states (556) that legislative wrangling in early 1875 showed "how divided Republicans had become over Reconstruction." Weren’t they already? Were they qualitatively more so now?
– What does Foner mean concretely when he writes (584), "The response to the labor upheaval [of 1877] underscored how closely the Civil War had teid the new industrial bourgeoisie to the Republican party and national state"?
– What does Foner see as the legacy of Reconstruction? And how do you (we) see it?