American History: Reconstruction Era

The American Civil War the period following it was critical in the nation’s history and it has deeply influenced subsequent social and political developments.  The Civil War would have its most important effect on the lives of millions of African American slaves, as a large proportion of them would be decreed ‘free’ toward the end of the war.  Despite historical injustices suffered by them, black Americans exhibited bravery in the battle grounds as they joined forces with fellow Unionists and staked their lives for the promise of emancipation.  Having achieved their freedom from their white masters, African Americans would celebrate their newly won liberties and rights in the years following the war – also referred by historians as the period of Reconstruction.  In the book America: A Concise History by James Henretta and David Bordy, we get in-depth analysis and commentary on this crucial period in American history.

We learn from the text that the Reconstruction project is largely a failure.  The acceding of eleven defeated Southern states into the Union was going to be a highly challenging process due to cultural and political dissimilarities between the two former warring groups.  Indeed, the non-viability of this proposition had what ultimately led to the abandonment of Reconstruction efforts; and much of the bipartisanship seen in American politics today is proof of this deep division in the country’s social and political makeup.  Immediately after the Civil War an atmosphere of euphoria prevailed, when intellectuals and common people alike dreamt of a radically new American society.  But as the initial excitement of the Reconstruction era faded out, people came to the realization that old, established institutions would not change readily.  In many ways the Civil Rights movement that occurred a century later was a reaction to the failure of the Reconstruction project.  In this sense, the progress of American society was effectively held back for a hundred years.


James Henretta and David Bordy, America: A Concise History (Fourth Edition), Published by Bedford/St. Martin’s, January 20, 2009.