A More Perfect Union: The Impact of the Civil War and Reconstruction on the Constitution

By Harold M. Hyman | Go to book overview

Chapter XVII
Reconstruction: On Every Putrid Spot?

Lincoln's murder only briefly dimmed the optimistic mood that swept in with news of Appomattox. It derived in significant part from contrasts between the nation's futile flounderings during the 1860-61 secession winter and the smooth swiftness with which in 1865 the government coped with the assassination and Andrew Johnson's succession. No administrative crises, frantic punishments, or halts in wrap-up military operations occurred. Civilian control remained firm over the immense military establishment. The Union's armies gathered in Washington after Lee's surrender not to awe civilian overlords, but to celebrate with them in a grand review. Then bluecoats returned pacifically to the civilian society with which they had never cut connections. Demobilization, historically the moment of greatest risk involved in establishment of a military dictatorship, went off without hint of a coup. General Sherman's armistice with Confederate General Joseph Johnston was an unwarranted intervention into policy-making which Sherman's civilian and military superiors properly disavowed. But it was foolish, not sinister.

Victory initiated also the almost immediate disappearance of conscription, internal-security, and trade-control apparatuses so distasteful even to stanch patriots. Recollections of unfettered wartime elections, especially those of the preceding autumn, added to these evidences of federalism's durability and democ-

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