Reconstruction history--and that of the scalawag--lives in the shadow of the Civil War. Apparently, no end is in sight to the celebrations and commemorations of that romantic wartime era. But a nation that lavishly celebrated a Civil War centennial and a Revolutionary War bicentennial, that sat glued to the television screen to watch such productions as "The Blue and the Gray" and "North and South" several years ago and recently "The Civil War" and "The Divided Union," ignored the anniversary of the Reconstruction era of American history. North or South, there was no centennial for Reconstruction.
If scalawags had endured a bad press before 1977 when this book first appeared, their reputation fifteen years later is improved among scholars but hardly better among the general public. Scalawags are associated with the oppressor in an era when the South emerged from its shattered dreams of independence to find itself occupied by a conquering army-- an experience unique to the South in American history. Their physical world in ruins around them and their regional psyche thoroughly battered, Southerners retained only their pride in a glorious and prosperous past. Anyone who collaborated with the oppressors was identified as a disgraced traitor who deserved ostracism. The reputations of nineteenth-century Republicans and the Reconstruction era probably will never be entirely rehabilitated, despite the fashionable chic that surrounds Alabama Republicans in the twentieth century. Few Southerners willingly acknowledge an ancestor who was a Republican during Reconstruction.
Much of this contempt stems from the belief that Alabama and the South were treated unfairly after the Civil War. Viewed in the world context of the aftermath of civil wars--summary executions of defeated leaders, confiscation and redistribution of the property of the defeated people, massive eviction and resettlement elsewhere--the clemency of the Federal government after the Civil War is noteworthy. Southerners who complain about the harshness of Republican Reconstruction refuse to admit what they do not wish to see: that the South lost a civil war that had grown increasingly unpopular with its contemporaries.
If what was not done affects our appreciation of the stigma attached to Reconstruction, what did occur also needs to be placed in perspective.