Sunday, May 27, 2018

the last book I ever read (Grant by Ron Chernow, excerpt eighteen)

from Grant by Ron Chernow:

Americans today know little about the terrorism that engulfed the South during Grant’s presidency. It has been suppressed by a strange national amnesia. The Klan’s ruthless reign is a dark, buried chapter in American history. The Civil War is far better known than its brutal aftermath. Without knowing that history, it is easy to find fault with Grant’s tough, courageous actions. For Grant, Reconstruction amounted to a tremendous missed opportunity: “There has never been a moment since Lee surrendered that I would not have gone more than halfway to meet the Southern people in a spirit of conciliation. But they have never responded to it.” To protect blacks, Grant had been forced to send in federal troops whose presence provoked a virulent reaction among southern whites who believed their home states had been invaded by hated Yankees a second time. Despite Grant’s best efforts at Appomattox, the breach of the Civil War never healed but became deeply embedded in American political culture.

By the end of Grant’s second term, white Democrats, through the “redeemer” movement, had reclaimed control of every southern state, winning in peacetime much of the power lost in combat. They promulgated a view of the Civil War as a righteous cause that had nothing to do with slavery but only states’ right—to which an incredulous James Longstreet once replied, “I never heard of any other cause of the quarrel than slavery.” In this view, Reconstruction imposed “an oppressive peace on honorable men who had laid down their arms.” But the South never laid down its arms. When it came to African Americans, southern Democrats managed to re-create the status quo ante, albeit minus slavery.

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