Modern Mainstream Views of Reconstruction

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    Brion, I enjoyed your lectures on Reconstruction very much and particularly your emphasis on “Reconstruction” as extending much further along in both time (i.e., beyond 1877) and place (i.e., beyond than the South) than I have previously seen it presented.

    Do modern mainstream historians still consider the Indian Wars and western settlement legislation as parts of Reconstruction policy?

    If I were to say that the corruption of the so-called Gilded Age was part of reconstruction, or at the very least a direct result of reconstruction policies, would the typical mainstream historian find that acceptable?



    Thanks. William Dunning and his students viewed Reconstruction in the long view, but since they were dubbed racists and historians liked to neatly package Reconstruction as a Southern “problem,” that view quickly evaporated. Progressive historians like Charles Beard also attached the programs of the Reconstruction period to the Gilded Age, and diplomatic historians like Walter Lafeber at least marginally recognized that Reconstruction was a larger issue in regard to foreign relations. Susan Mary Grant’s “North Over South” is a fairly recent study that attempts to show how Northern ideology dominated after the war in all aspects of American policy. It is not bad, but still misses the mark for a comprehensive picture. In other words, no one has put everything together. It needs to be done, and frankly is always one of those projects I have in mind when thinking about another book.

    Good question!


    Another worthy book is Bensel’s “Yankee Leviathan.” Good, but dense, reading.


    Thanks very much for your response. I look forward to reading the literature you have recommended and look forward to the time when you do decide to publish on this topic which I hope is sooner rather than later.

    I am very interested in the reorganization of science into the federal government during this period, in particular with the civilian scientist-run (rather than military-run) western geological surveys and the founding and early activities of the USGS, but also in the newer field of anthropology and the use of anthropologists in Indian policy. I am moderately well read in this area (I hope to pursue a Masters degree with this field in mind after I finish my Masters in geology later this year) and I’ve found that historians have treated this reorganization as a reflection of people becoming more enlightened and less distrustful of science as they supposedly were in the past – it’s always treated as great progress. However, without going into detail, the goals of the scientists and politicians and the problems that arose in pursuing those goals seem to me to fit very well into your reconstruction framework.

    I wondered if you are very familiar with Hilary Herbert. Would he be considered a Bourbon redeemer or does he not fit that definition? The Allison Commission of the 1880s scrutinized the role that government should (or shouldn’t) play in the promotion and patronage of science and most historians who have written about this tend to emphasize that Hilary Herbert, who headed the opposition, was “anti-science” and he is typically portrayed as very ignorant (which I strongly disagree with after reading the testimonies). I’m wondering if Herbert’s role in the Allison Commission could instead be at least partly due to a push-back against reconstruction policy (in this case, the policy of largely increasing the role of government in the practice of science and the use/misuse of science in public policy). What do you think?

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