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Civil War Reconstruction

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Southern plantation owners rebuild their devastated lands and attempt to negotiate new labor arrangements with their former slaves. When black men are given the right to vote, they elect hundreds of black legislators to state and national offices, even though the elections are preceded by threats and violence while some northerners travel South to enforce post-Civil War order and protect former slaves. White Southerners view the new arrivals as "carpetbaggers" -- opportunists and exploiters bent on grabbing economic and political benefits. The war is over and a central element of the Southern economy -- slavery -- has been abolished. As former slaves demand wages and former masters strive to maintain profits, an inherently unfair system of sharing labor and land develops. Faced with the growing threat of African American political, economic and social power, white Southerners put aside their differences to unite. With rough politics and terror they seek to restore their supremacy.

From about 1900 to 1960, the dominant Dunning School argued that Reconstruction was a mistake, at least after 1866. In the 1940s a different approach was pioneered by Howard Beale and C. Vann Woodward. As disciples of Charles A. Beard they focused on greed and economic causation and downplayed the centrality of corruption. In the 1960s neoabolitionist historians, with strong sympathy for the Civil Rights Movement rejected the Dunning school and found a great deal to praise in reconstruction. They argued that it was never completed, and that a Second Reconstruction was needed in the late 20th century to complete the goal of full equality for African Americans.

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