The literature on the Reconstruction is extensive and has shown sharp changes in interpretation. The first major historical writing on the period was done early in the 20th cent. It reflected the rising tide of nationalism that followed the Spanish-American War and incorporated the then current assumptions of black racial inferiority. Reconstruction was portrayed as a tragic era during which vindictive, scheming, radical Republicans imposed harsh military rule on a vanquished South and supported corrupt state governments dominated by unscrupulous carpetbaggers, scalawags, and uneducated freedmen. Typical examples of this school of historiography are J. W. Burgess, Reconstruction and the Constitution (1902, repr. 1970); W. A. Dunning. Reconstruction, Political and Economic (1907, repr. 1962); W. L. Fleming, The Sequel of Appomattox (1919, repr. 1921); C. G. Bowers, The Tragic Era (1929, repr. 1962); and E. M. Coulter, The South during Reconstruction (1947).
The first major attack upon this interpretation came from W. E. B. Du Bois in Black Reconstruction (1935, repr. 1969). It stimulated a complete rethinking of the meaning of Reconstruction. The old Burgess-Dunning school of thought was revised and to a large extent discredited. The moral idealism of the radicals has been recognized and their sincere concern for the rights of the freedmen applauded. Historians now agree that the radical state governments were no more corrupt than their predecessors and successors, and that they made notable contributions toward restoring a devastated Southern economy, protecting the rights of freedmen, and extending public education to whites and blacks alike.
Some of the best examples of revisionist writing are C. V. Woodward, Reunion and Reaction (2d ed. 1956, repr. 1966); J. H. Franklin, Reconstruction (1961); W. R. Brock, An American Crisis (1963); K. M. Stampp, The Era of Reconstruction (1965); J. P. Shenton, ed., The Reconstruction (1963); K. M. Stampp and L. F. Litwack, ed., Reconstruction: An Anthology of Revisionist Writings (1969); R. Cruden, The Negro in Reconstruction (1969); H. L. Trefousse, Reconstruction: America's First Effort at Racial Democracy (1971); E. L. Thornbrough, comp., Black Reconstructionists (1972); and L. and J. H. Cox, Reconstruction, the Negro, and the New South (1973). See also E. L. McKitrick, Andrew Johnson and Reconstruction (1960, repr. 1988); R. N. Current, Those Terrible Carpetbaggers: A Reinterpretation (1989); E. Foner, Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution, 1863–1877 (1988) and Forever Free: The Story of Emancipation and Reconstruction (2005); P. Dray, Capitol Men: The Epic Story of Reconstruction through the Lives of the First Black Congressmen (2008); A. C. Guelzo, Fateful Lightning: A New History of the Civil War and Reconstruction (2012).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.