Emancipation and Equal Rights: Politics and Constitutionalism in the Civil War Era

By Herman Belz | Go to book overview

4

Making the South
Safe for Democracy
Reconstruction and the
Preservation of State-Rights
Federalism

LONG BEFORE the war ended, Reconstruction had become a practical political question, and determining the status of the freed slaves was one of its principal aspects. It would be a mistake, however, to view the freedmen's problem, as many recent historians have, exclusively as the central issue in Reconstruction politics and constitutional development. 1. Without denying the relevance of such a perspective to the modern civil rights movement, it is more accurate to say that the organization of state governments in the former Confederacy and their resumption of an active role in the federal system were the most compelling requirements of the time. Together they formed the fundamental issue in Reconstruction.

The question of freedmen's rights was obviously a vital part of this problem, for the constitutional and political legitimacy of

____________________
1.
Cf. John H. Cox and LaWanda Cox, Politics, Principle, and Prejudice, 1865-1866: Dilemma of Reconstruction America (New York, 1963); Eric L. McKitrick, "Reconstruction: Ultraconservative Revolution," in C. Van Woodward, ed., The Comparative Approach to American History (New York, 1968), 146-59; Michael Perman, Reunion Without Compromise: The South and Reconstruction, 1865-1868 (Cambridge, 1973).

-75-

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