In 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.