Eric Foner's Idea Of Reconstruction Era In The United States

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Eric Foner’s idea of the reconstruction period in American history is viewed differently than most historians. He proclaims it is an unfinished revolution. Foner being the great American historian that he is explores the argument that post-revisionists did not acknowledge the revolution that happened between 1863-1877. Those years were a time of change for a new country, rebuilding from the ashes of bloodshed. Foner discusses the revolution and how it impacted the people living in the country, notably through the black experience. Foner highlights four motifs during the Reconstruction era. Foner’s book sheds light on how the black experience became consolidated through the transition from slave to a free person. Foner then touches on how Southern society was changed after the war. Foner then examines how race and class functioned in a new Southern society. Foner’s last point shows how the government dealt with identifying the newly freed slaves and how national citizenship and race would factor into social and political decisions. These motifs in Foner’s work are aided with the insight from a few pieces of literature. Foner explores a vast range of writings from W.E.B. Du Bois’s Black Reconstruction in America to work done by Fredrick Douglas. 

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Foner’s use of Du Bois 1935 book, Black Reconstruction in America, is brought up to discuss how former slaves adapted to modern day society in the South. Rising out of the ashes of the Confederacy was an insurmountable thought for any slave. Du Bois’s work perfectly aided Foner’s argument. Du Bois book showed an impact on the country when slaves became free people. It was the largest social and political change the United States had ever seen. That significant event its self was revolutionary not just for the former slaves, but everyone who lived in the United States, especially the South. Foner’s argument is backed by evidence alluding to a revolution. His analysis of the reconstruction era breaks down how the United States was changing, socially and politically. The country had to account for 20,000 freed individuals. After 1863, a revolution was set in place and new Southern society was being constructed. Foner’s argument is convincing, he goes on to discuss how the end of free labor in the South contributed to a major economic, social, and political change. Foner’s idea of a revolution becomes clearer and well oriented with the introduction of the Ku Klux Klan. 

Change in the South was hard to digest for the population. As blacks continued to push out the old ways of Southern society by introducing schools and social institutions, the Klan would strike with bloodshed and burnings. Foner points out that Southerners had no patience or time for a new social order. Foner aides his argument with descriptions of Klansmen beating and lynching blacks to demonstrate how they feel usurped of their old ways. Foners work did lack some attention to how the agricultural element of the South’s economy played a part in their society. Stemming from their major cash crop cotton, the South’s agriculture scene was declining due to the dropping price of cotton. This created a major problem for the South and put them in agricultural poverty. This problem played a big part during the reconstruction period and changed parts of society. Foner’s book Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution, was an engaging read. It was informative and drew light on issues I had never thought of before. His look at the Reconstruction era through the black experience was also a thrilling viewpoint. 

I would recommend this book to a friend or family member based on the factual detail provided by Foner. The book’s robust structure and punctual records make the book a great read for any ordinary Joe. I would say that the book offers a great amount of detail, but not too much to scare off anyone. That is why this book is great for general readers who are looking to brush up on their post-civil war history. Foner’s work looks at a new interpretation of the Reconstruction era. As discussed earlier, Foner looks at how the era was a revolution. His work hints at new arguments aided with the use of established framework of previous scholars. Foner’s work provides useful judgment of the Reconstruction era as he focuses on the revolution that occurred for the black population. Foner, Eric. A Short History of Reconstruction, 1863-1877. New York: Harper & Row, 1990. 

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