Historiography of the Reconstruction Era

2225 Words Feb 6th, 2013 9 Pages
Riham Elshazli
Professor Clement Price
Civil War and the Reconstruction
12/11/12

Historiography of the Reconstruction Era At a time when America was trying to piece itself back together, the Reconstruction Era is one of the most important chapters in history. It is also, however, one of the most debated. After the Civil War, the South was devastated and thousands of freed slaves needed to be integrated into society. When Andrew Johnson took office, he was moderate in his views as to what should happen to restore order to the United States. However, some Republicans had other plans in mind. They wanted to impose harsher terms and used Congress to do so, justly giving them the name Radical Republicans. Opinions about this time period have
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Dunning’s work popularized derogatory terms such as “carpetbagger” and “scalawag.” Soon, his academic view of Reconstruction became the widespread view held by everyone around the country as movies such as Birth of a Nation and Gone with the Wind became popular. These movies portrayed Reconstruction as an era of tragic exploitation of the South by the North. They depicted blacks as being ignorant and pathetic savages, upholding the picture that Dunning first painted. In short, Dunning’s theory had a massive impact on the way the average citizen viewed black people and offered an excuse to continue to deny them their rights for years to come.
It wasn’t until the 1930s when some historians, such as Vann C. Woodward, began to significantly challenge Dunning’s traditional view of Reconstruction. During 1910, there an attempt by W.E.B. Du Bois to counter his opinion but the attempt did not hold. In Black Reconstruction in America, Du Bois argues that the corruption spoken about was highly exaggerated and that Dunning overlooked many of Reconstruction’s achievements. Historians disregarded what Du Bois had to say because his use of the Marxist theory and because he was seen as a radical at the time. It was not until 20 years later when other historians, known as revisionists, began to echo Du Bois’ arguments. While these revisionists still saw Reconstruction as a failure, they disagreed with Dunning…