Radical Reconstruction

Mark Lause MLause at cinci.rr.com
Thu Jul 10 13:54:04 MDT 2003

Louis' points are well-taken on the unfolding of the historiography of
Reconstruction.  David Montgomery's BEYOND EQUALITY dates from, I think,
around 1967 and represented just the kind of changes in historical
thinking about Reconstruction going on in the 1960s.  Montgomery ties
the fate of Reconstruction in the South to that of workers'
organizations generally, and underscores some of the important
connections (as well as disconnects) between Radical officeholders and
the labor movement.

I'd say that any definition of "Radical Reconstruction" based on the
Federal military occupation of the South misses the point. The army
wasn't doing anything particularly radical, and there weren't enough
troops there to do much anyway...which was an argument in favor of
withdrawing them.

A better key to "Radical" control of Reconstruction was the period of
ascendancy of the Radical caucus of the Republican Party right after the
war, leading to Andrew Johnson's impeachment in 1866
for...essentially...an unwillingness to compromise and share power with
the Radicals.  The 1866 election expanded the Radical caucus, but the
state and national leadership of the Republican Party was changing very
quickly and dramatically.  Through this period, the Congressional
Radicals discussed the confiscation and division of secessionist
estates, echoing the demands of the various local Union Leagues, Loyal
Leagues or Lincoln Leagues--often all or mostly black--in the South. To
me, land confiscations or arming militias (largely black) were "Radical"
measures over and beyond equality before the law, etc.

Once the government had declined to discuss these plans with
seriousness, I'd suggest that "Radical" became a misnomer--though it was
used in the former Confederacy for years afterwards to describe all
Republicans.  To win on any of these things, the Radical Republicans
needed to control the White House as well as the Congress (which they
didn't under Johnson) and to have that Republican president committed to
Radicalism (which U.S. Grant wasn't).

The 1868 election of U.S. Grant (who had voted against Lincoln in 1860)
brought to power a very popular but notoriously un-radical president.
He presided over the most corrupt administration in U.S. history until
Richard Nixon began breaking records for that sort of thing.  "Grantism"
became a contemporary newspaper term for a kind of apolitical pork
barrel approach to governing.  Although Thaddeus Stevens, Ben Wade,
George W. Julian--a lot of the best of the Radicals--were out of the
picture, the neo-Confederates continued to denounce "Radical" rule,
because they have always equated "Radicalism" with corruption and
Republican rule of any sort.

Of course, I could always be wrong and am always open to being persuaded
by the evidence.  What evidence is there, using some policy criteria,
for defining Grant's two terms as "Radical Reconstruction"?


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