Reconstruction: Nine Things That Should Have Happened After the Civil War

hmy7Nmwwsc_1399142816204In the aftermath of the Civil War and the defeat of the Confederacy, there was a moment–ever so brief–filled with promise and hope for a future of equality for former slaves.  But the promise of Reconstruction withered, largely due to the failure of the Union leadership to bring the former Confederate states into line.

In spite of General Sherman’s initial plan to provide all former slaves with “forty acres and a mule,” those former slaves got nothing.     And  over generations, a Southern culture of racism and brutality has flourished.  We live with the consequences of the failure of Northern leadership (which wasn’t exactly a paragon of equal rights sentiment) to this day.

Here are my thoughts on what should have occurred–but didn’t–in the months, years and generations after that bloody war.  This program would have been harsh, but civilized, without resort to capital punishment or torture.  It would have inflicted sufficient hardship on those responsible for the confederate treason, over a multi-generational period– to shape and make clear what kind of society we were–and were not–going to be.  We might live in a very different sort of country now if we had fulfilled the promise of Reconstruction in this manner–by decisively crushing the southern Confederacy.

Here are the steps that should have been taken.  Perhaps some of them can even be taken today.

1)Public tribunals with lifetime, or near-lifetime incarcerations for all persons involved in the confederate leadership;
2)Public tribunals with shorter incarceration periods for all individuals who voluntarily joined or otherwise supported the confederate army;
3) Near-total confiscation of land, money, and personal chattel of all those in the leadership and of those who voluntarily joined or supported the confederate army;

4) Near-total confiscation of all assets of those who owned slaves;
5) Re-distribution of that property to former slaves, who had made that wealth possible with their forced labor over generations;
6) Reward of individuals who were loyal to the Union, and who refused to participate in the confederate treason (via re-distribution of wealth);
7) Widespread, consistent criminal prosecution of violence against black people, with long prison sentences and enforcement of anti-segregation laws  using the powers of the federal government;
8) A lifetime ban on any person in the confederate leadership or anyone who voluntarily fought or supported the confederate army, from ever serving in public office;

9) Ban on the display of any forms of the Confederate flag, except as artifacts in museums.



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3 responses to “Reconstruction: Nine Things That Should Have Happened After the Civil War

  1. Sam Swope

    Great post! I’m glad you mentioned the fact that the Confederate secession, and the Confederacy’s subsequent war against the United States, were acts of treason. This obvious fact is often not often mentioned in our current national discussion of the display of the Confederate battle flag, which was, after all, a flag carried in battle against America’s armed forces. As an American, I find it deeply disturbing that this flag is displayed anywhere. Frankly, displaying it is as offensive as displaying the Nazi flag (or the flag of fascist Italy, or imperial Japan…the list goes on.)

    I often wonder what would’ve happened if Hannibal Hamlin had not been dropped from the Republican ticket in 1864. I suspect that he would’ve treated the defeated South very differently than Andrew Johnson did. Of course, I cannot resist mentioning the irony that today’s Republican party is essentially the opposite of the Republican party of Lincoln’s day. Today’s GOP’s electoral base is, of course, the former Confederacy, and its positions–social conservatism and the ideology of “states’ rights” and of a correspondingly weak federal government–are the opposite positions of those that the GOP took back then.

  2. Heckdor

    So……you’re saying you would have economically ruined every soldier that served in the Confederate army, imprisoned them, ensured their families starved, and you would have expected them to just lay down? This would have been a great way to create Civil War 2.0 and get even MORE people killed.

    • Laura L. Wilson

      The long jail terms would be for those in leadership positions of the Confederacy. Shorter jail terms, or somewhat lesser punishment for those who were simply soldiers. No need for their families to starve. The families can be cared for by letting them keep minimal assets (land) for farming. I think you may be missing my larger point that there should have been harsher consequences for the South’s attempt to secede, which was really their attempt to preserve slavery. More important, the consequences for post-war violence (lynching, etc), and post-war discrimination against former slaves should have been harsher. Instead, it was virtually non-existent.

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