The Reconstruction of the Nation, by Rembert W. Patrick
We know more about how quarrels among historians begin than about how they end. The debate over Reconstruction after the American Civil War, for instance, has origins which are easy to discover. Up until a generation ago most historians accepted the standard view of the period as outlined by William A. Dunning and his students. Everybody knew that this was “The Tragic Era” or “The Age of Hate,” during which self-interested Northern Radicals joined with ignorant Negroes, corrupt carpetbaggers, and slimy scalawags to loot the prostrate South. But beginning in the 1930′s, new social values produced challenges to this venerable stereotype. Young white Southern rebels, unconvinced that the Dixie of Theodore G. Bilbo and Herman Talmadge was Utopia, took a kindlier view of the social and economic legislation of the Reconstruction governments; Negro historians, who had never accepted the Dunning clichés, pointed to the remarkable advances made by the former slaves during their first decade of freedom; and civil-rights advocates found new value in the work and words of Thaddeus Stevens and Wendell Phillips. For the past quarter of a century the Reconstruction period has therefore become, as Bernard A. Weisberger says, “the dark and bloody ground” over which professional historians have fought.
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