The Romance of Reunion: Northerners and the South, 1865-1900

The Romance of Reunion: Northerners and the South, 1865-1900

The Romance of Reunion: Northerners and the South, 1865-1900

The Romance of Reunion: Northerners and the South, 1865-1900

Synopsis

The reconciliation of North and South following the Civil War depended as much on cultural imagination as on the politics of Reconstruction. Drawing on a wide range of sources, Nina Silber documents the transformation from hostile sectionalism to sentimental reunion rhetoric. Northern culture created a notion of reconciliation that romanticized and feminized southern society. In tourist accounts, novels, minstrel shows, and popular magazines, northerners contributed to a mythic and nostalgic picture of the South that served to counter their anxieties regarding the breakdown of class and gender roles in Gilded Age America. Indeed, for many Yankees, the ultimate symbol of the reunion process, and one that served to reinforce Victorian values as well as northern hegemony, was the marriage of a northern man and a southern woman. Southern men also were represented as affirming traditional gender roles. As northern men wrestled with their nation's increasingly global and aggressive foreign policy, the military virtues extolled in Confederate legend became more admired than reviled. By the 1890s, concludes Silber, northern whites had accepted not only a newly resplendent image of Dixie but also a sentimentalized view of postwar reunion.

Excerpt

One of the most noteworthy features of the reunion process was the transformation in white northerners' racial outlook. Never known for racial enlightenment, northern opinion, nonetheless, underwent a noticeable change from the 1860s, a period characterized by a certain optimism regarding the position of African Americans, to the 1890s, when northerners seemed uninterested, pessimistic, and derisive regarding the status of southern blacks. Increasingly, northern whites bowed to the racial pressures of reunion, to a process that depoliticized the legacy of sectionalism, overlooked the history of American slavery, and came to view southern blacks as a strange and foreign population. At the same time, northerners began to view southern white people in a more sympathetic vein, adopting a more exalted opinion not only of southern white womanhood but also, by the 1890s, of certain "manly" features among some sectors of southern white society. This new orientation paved the way for northern acceptance of some of the most virulent forms of racism which American society had ever produced.

In contrast to the extreme prejudice of the fin de siècle, discussions of race in the late 1860s and early 1870s often took on a more compassionate tone. After the Civil War . . .

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