[Marxism] The Nation Magazine and Reconstruction

Richard Kreitner richard.kreitner at gmail.com
Fri Dec 14 08:48:07 MST 2012

Dear Mr. Proyect,

That was a fascinating read, and I thank you for sending it to me. It is
certainly an understated truth about the *Nation*'s beginnings that Godkin
wasn't exactly the radical abolitionist he is made out to be. (It seems to
be something of a house rule that whenever someone says "*The Nation*",
everyone else shouts, "FOUNDED BY ABOLITIONISTS IN 1865!") And yet, I don't
think the whitewashing is total: it was in Victor Navasky's book, *A Matter
of Opinion*, that I found the great Wendell Phillips quote I use in my

In any case, I'm very glad you did that research and sent it to me.

-- Ricky Kreitner

On Thu, Dec 13, 2012 at 9:40 AM, Louis Proyect <lnp3 at panix.com> wrote:

> Hi, Ricky
> I thought your research on the Nation Magazine's posture toward Radical
> Republicanism and Thaddeus Stevens was most useful. Four years ago I wrote
> an article on the magazine taking a close look at its politics from that
> period until the mid-20th century. In my view the magazine often took
> reactionary positions on race despite its tendency to be viewed as an
> anti-racist bastion.
> http://www.swans.com/library/**art14/lproy50.html<http://www.swans.com/library/art14/lproy50.html>
> Just one year after The Nation began publishing, Godkin admitted that he
> had veered so far from the original abolitionist intentions of the
> investors that he was "afraid to visit Boston this winter, lest the
> stockholders of The Nation should lynch me." Ironically, it was lynching in
> the South and other assaults against blacks that Godkin grew inured to.
> Just as President Andrew Johnson began to sabotage efforts at
> Reconstruction in the South against the objections of Radical Republicans
> and open the door to KKK lynch mobs, Godkin rushed to defend Johnson. When
> attempts to oust the racist President Johnson failed, Godkin pronounced
> this as a vindication of the law.
> As the 1870s began, Godkin openly broke with the Radicals, assailed
> carpetbaggers, and called for the restoration of white power in the South.
> In an 1874 editorial he advised The Nation's readers that he found the
> average intelligence of blacks "so low that they are slightly above the
> level of animals." He longed for the return of southern conservatives to
> power in 1877 eagerly, writing Harvard professor Charles Eliot Norton and
> fellow adversary of democratic rule that "I do not see . . . . the negro is
> ever to be worked into a system of government for which you and I would
> have much respect." Suffice it to say that people such as E.L. Godkin,
> Charles Eliot Norton, and Allan Nevins were virtual symbols of American
> liberalism for over 100 years. The only reason that their polite (and not
> so polite) racism has become antiquated is that black people themselves
> would not tolerate it.


Richard Kreitner
Intern, *The Nation
*(212) 209-1398

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