By Alan Wallace
Published: Saturday, Feb. 1, 2014, 9:00 p.m.
What happened outside Washington provides a fresh take on the post-Civil War years in Douglas R. Egerton's new book “The Wars of Reconstruction: The Brief, Violent History of America's Most Progressive Era” (Bloomsbury Press).
A professor of history at LeMoyne College in Syracuse, N.Y., and the author of six previous books, Egerton uses “progressive” here not in its current political sense but in the sense of efforts toward delivering on the promise of liberty for all Americans. Exploring why Reconstruction didn't fulfill that promise for freed Southern blacks, he looks at not just Washington politics — the focus of most prior histories of Reconstruction — but at state and local politics and “some 1,500 African-American officeholders, in both the North and South, who fought entrenched white resistance,” according to the publisher.
Taking the lead in efforts to help freed Southern blacks, Republicans were following the late President Abraham Lincoln's moral leadership but also saw political opportunity in the South. By 1870, Congress had given black men the right to vote and had its first black senator and representative, a black jurist had taken a seat on South Carolina's Supreme Court and blacks had been elected to hundreds of local offices.
One key point for Egerton in explaining why such gains proved ephemeral is an unintended consequence of Lincoln dropping Maine abolitionist Hannibal Hamlin from his 1864 re-election ticket in favor of Tennessee's Andrew Johnson. As a Wall Street Journal review noted, Johnson's succession to the presidency after Lincoln's assassination “put Reconstruction in the hands of a racist, formerly slave-owning alcoholic who sabotaged efforts to extend civil rights — and physical protection — to newly freed slaves.”
And when the presidential election of 1876 didn't produce a clear Electoral College majority for Democrat Samuel Tilden or Republican Rutherford B. Hayes, the price demanded by former Confederate states' Democrats in Congress for electing Hayes was federal troops' withdrawal from the South. Combined with waning Northern interest in Reconstruction, that paved the way for racial oppression, often violent, to continue, not ending until the civil rights movement of the mid-20th century.
To Egerton, Reconstruction was sensible, admirable policy defeated by a violent racist minority — and thus, a missed opportunity. Had Reconstruction turned out differently, the nation might have been spared much turmoil and blacks might have been able to exercise their full civil rights before the 19th century ended.
MEDICINE MILITARY & MODERN, ANGLOPHONE EXCEPTIONALISM
“Wounded: A New History of the Western Front in World War I” by Emily Mayhew (Oxford University Press USA) — Medical advances that have enabled more U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan to survive what once would have been fatal wounds build on innovations in military medicine that quickly arose a century ago amid the horrors of the Great War. The author, a research associate at Imperial College, London, and an examiner at its medical school, draws on letters, diaries, memoirs and journals to trace actual World War I cases from battlefield to stretcher, aid station, ambulance, operating tent and beyond. This system of quickly beginning treatment near the front lines saved millions of lives while dealing with the effects of new weapons such as poison gas and recognizing not just physical injuries but mental ones, too. Along the way are individual stories that a Weekly Standard review called “inspiring and often deeply moving.”
“The Cure in the Code: How 20th Century Law is Undermining 21st Century Medicine” by Peter W. Huber (Basic Books) — Spotlighting an area where federal laws and regulations lag far behind technological innovation, the author, a Manhattan Institute senior fellow, maintains that medicine's rapidly developing capacity to decode individual human genomes and tailor patients' treatments accordingly — as with breast cancer — is being hindered by what the publisher calls “outdated drug-approval protocols developed decades ago during medicine's long battle with the infectious epidemics of the past.” He urges doing away with FDA-mandated large-scale clinical trials in favor of “adaptive trials” in which patients and doctors digitally share what they learn from modifying treatments. He also calls for reforming intellectual-property rights and tort law to encourage investment in this new “molecular medicine.” In his view, it's a matter of whether or not America will lead the world in treating such diseases as cancer, diabetes and Alzheimer's.
“Inventing Freedom: How the English-Speaking Peoples Made the Modern World” by Daniel Hannan (Broadside Books) — The author, a British member of the European Parliament, views “Western values” as a misnomer, insisting that those cherished rights and liberties should be credited specifically to speakers of English — the British, who spread them worldwide via their empire, and their American cousins. He points out that America's Founders thought of themselves as Englishmen wronged by an errant king and Parliament, not as revolutionaries, and that most of the rest of the world today groups Brits and Yanks together, thinking of them almost as one nationality. Starting with the 10th-century origins of English common law, he traces that shared political heritage through its milestones and landmarks — the Magna Carta, the English Civil War and Glorious Revolution, the U.S. Constitution. And he covers how that shared heritage contrasts sharply with that of continental Europe, where statism is on the rise.
Alan Wallace is a Trib Total Media editorial page writer (412-320-7983 or awallace@ tribweb.com).
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Garden Q&A: Firecracker vine OK for trellis?
- Starkey: Penguins’ arrogance astounding
- Three ejected after Pirates, Brewers brawl
- Egg decorating turns to fight, charges in Brookline, police say
- Plum man revels in Keystone hall of fame induction
- Matt Calvert’s goal in double OT evens series for Blue Jackets
- Bridge work planned for Route 68 in Brady’s Bend
- Cool chemistry: Programs at Springdale library take inspiration from late science professor
- Six NA students finalists in Musical Kids competition
- Hillside repairs to cost $35K more than expected
- Study to target pool use at Belmont Complex