Reconstruction in History
In his Second Inaugural Address, delivered to Congress on the eve of the Confederate surrender, President Abraham Lincoln exhorted the people of the victorious North to “strive on to finish the work we are in” and to “do all which may achieve a just, and a lasting peace.” Even though the Civil War itself was almost over, its ultimate out- come had not yet been decided. Therefore, the next few years, so Lin- coln seemed to be saying, would determine whether the war to save the Union and give the nation “a new birth of freedom” had really been won.
When he referred to the work that remained, Lincoln undoubt- edly had in mind the two initiatives that he had already set in motion: the emancipation of the slaves and the reconstruction of the defeated southern states. Carrying both out successfully would complete the nation's task. Unfortunately, the President's hopes for the postwar South, like his own life, were soon extinguished, for things did not go well after the war. As a result, a residue of disappointment and bitter- ness has lingered over the entire era. Indeed, historians of Emancipa- tion and Reconstruction have been virtually unanimous in their disen- chantment with the period.