Progressives have been on a mission to fundamentally transform the United States for over 150 years. The great leap from federalism to nationalism couldn’t have happened without the War of Northern Aggression and Reconstruction. Southern secession became a catalyst for centralized power and ironically will lead to the dissolution of a union the Yankee invaders purportedly wanted to save.
Before anyone gets offended, I want to emphasize this post is about Progressives, the U.S. Constitution and the federalist principles therein and not about slavery. I realize this distinction can be difficult for some; however, one must try to analyze this perspective from a federalist viewpoint.
How can one define Reconstruction? You would think it a term for an epoch in American history where the conquerors helped the vanquished get back on their feet by easing them into the union after a devastating civil war. This interpretation is completely false. What happened was the equivalent of the Progressive Era’s Eugenics Movement: Southerners will restructure the way they think, act and live their lives according to the dictates of their Yankee masters, or be sterilized from the political process. Congressional Reconstruction was all about power and control and to hell with federalism.
The Radical Republicans wanted to ensure their hegemonic rule by forcing the 14th Amendment upon a prostrate people. Twelve states refused to swallow this poisoned pill, which had a provision that disenfranchised southerners who volunteered to fight for the Confederacy. This act of defiance brought about the third phase of Reconstruction: the South was divided into five military districts and ruled by military governors.
Military occupations breed resentment and enmity which ultimately leads to failure. Reconstruction was and is considered a colossal failure. A generation of historians, often referred to as the Dunning School, documented the abuses and corruption of the Radical Republicans and their agents of occupation. This resentment manifested itself in the rise of the KKK and Jim Crow laws that were implemented shortly after the Northern occupation was lifted.
If you are a student of the Reconstruction era, you’ll notice that today’s colleges and universities are filled with Marxist who has a bitter resentment toward the so-called Dunning School. Almost every book I’ve read on this subject contains what can only be considered a smear campaign against these early historians. Eric Foner in particular impugns the character of these men by assigning racist motives. Ironically, these men were northerners and one reporter, James Pike, served in the Lincoln administration. I’ve never experienced this kind of vitriol in other disciplines of history.
However, one must note today’s Reconstruction historians subscribe to the tactics of W.E.B. Du Bois who invented one of Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals: "Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it." Cut off the support network and isolate the target from sympathy. Go after people and not institutions; people hurt faster than institutions.
Du Boise seems to be a guiding figure for today’s historians, not to mention the fact that he too was a Marxist. There seems to be a consensus by Progressives that the failures of Reconstruction were the defunding of the Freedmen’s Bureau and a lack of willingness to redistribute land and money which translates into confiscation of property. Some even consider the withdrawal of troops a contributing factor as well. Few are willing to accept that invasion, occupation, disenfranchisement, and forced homogenization were the main factors for the failures of Reconstruction.
One thing is for sure; Progressives will not accept the failures of a top-down centralized government, perhaps that’s why today’s Marxist historians are so vitriolic in their condemnation of critics of Reconstruction.