Thursday, February 22, 2018

Booknotes: Reconstruction

New Arrival:
Reconstruction: Voices from America's First Great Struggle for Racial Equality edited by Brooks D. Simpson (Library of America, 2018).

Teaming up with three different editors over several years, the Library of America has published a series of document collections emphasizing a wide breadth of Civil War era voices. The first was 2011's The Civil War: The First Year Told by Those Who Lived It, with The Second Year, Third Year, and Final Year volumes following it at twelve-month intervals. Editor or co-editor of three of the Civil War volumes, Brooks Simpson returns for what is presumably the capstone of the series with Reconstruction: Voices from America's First Great Struggle for Racial Equality.

From the description: "This Library of America anthology brings together more than one hundred contemporary letters, diary entries, interviews, petitions, testimonies, and newspaper and magazine articles by well-known figures—Frederick Douglass, Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, Andrew Johnson, Thaddeus Stevens, Ulysses S. Grant, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Mark Twain, Albion TourgĂ©e—as well as by dozens of ordinary men and women, black and white, northern and southern, to tell the story of our nation's first attempt to achieve racial equality. Through their eyes readers experience the fierce contest between President Andrew Johnson and the Radical Republicans resulting in the nation's first presidential impeachment; the adoption of the revolutionary Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments; the first achievements of black political power; and the murderous terrorism of the Klan and other groups that, combined with northern weariness, indifference, and hostility, eventually resulted in the restoration of white supremacy in the South.

Throughout, Americans confront the essential questions left unresolved by the defeat of secession: What system of labor would replace slavery, and what would become of the southern plantations? Would the war end in the restoration of a union of sovereign states, or in the creation of a truly national government? What would citizenship mean after emancipation, and what civil rights would the freed people gain? Would suffrage be extended to African American men, and to all women?


  1. I don't have it yet, but I have heard very good things about this collection.

  2. An excellent review by Allen C. Guelzo has me hoepful but worried. He indicates that Brooks was constrained by Library of America's insistence that the collection emphasize the "literary" character of the era, leading to some subjects like the Freedmen's Bureau getting inadequate coverage.
    Will Hickox


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