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The Era of Reconstruction, 1865-1877 (Vintage books) [Mass Market Paperback]

Kenneth M. Stampp
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Product details

  • Mass Market Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Random House USA Inc (15 Nov 1988)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 039470388X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0394703886
  • Product Dimensions: 18.5 x 11.2 x 1.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,168,767 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


A review of the controversial period in America which followed the Civil War examining the political situation in the South.

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In much serious history, as well as in a durable popular legend, two American epochs-the Civil War and the reconstruction that followed-bear an odd relationship to one another. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
Format:Mass Market Paperback
Stampp really helps to dissuade readers of the old Reconstruction interpretations that still exist. These old interpretations from the Dunningite era need to be exposed, deconstructed, and put in their proper place--an example of what happens when personal biases and agendas are placed before history, thereby leading to a slanted, subjective view. Stampp sets things straight, and really sheds new light on our nation's past, and turns traditional beliefs upside-down.
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Amazon.com: 4.2 out of 5 stars  12 reviews
44 of 47 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent summary of revisionists' Reconstruction 20 May 2001
By John A. Cusey - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Mass Market Paperback
This book is not and it does not pretend to be an in-depth analysis of all relevant aspects of Reconstruction or a detailed narrative of all of the events that took place in this period. Rather, it is an excellent summary of the revisionist scholarship about Reconstruction that gained currency in the '50s and '60s, and it is essential reading for anyone interested in this era of history.
The Dunning view of Reconstruction, which had almost universal scholarly and popular acceptance from the turn of the 20th Century until the '50s, held that rapacious and vindictive Radical Republicans hijacked the Reconstruction process from the just and magnanimous policies of Andrew Johnson and installed in the South state governments dominated by unscrupulous and incompetent white carpetbaggers and scalawags. These state governments were monuments to misgovernment and corruption, and the entire region (indeed, the entire country) breathed a collective sigh of relief when the white "redeemers" finally forced them out of office. The black freedmen were portrayed as ignorant, infantile, incapable of self-government, and prone to political and economic manipulation in this account of Reconstruction.
Revisionist scholars, beginning as early as 1909 with W.E.B. DuBois seminal paper about the subject but really not gaining momentum until the '50s, held that the Dunning school was substantially in error about the progress and nature of Reconstruction, and that this error was largely caused by bald racial prejudice. While the Radical Republicans did have crass economic motives, they honestly believed that the freedmen ought to have civil and political rights. While the Reconstruction state governments were often corrupt and incompetent, they were not out of the ordinary for state governments of the time, and the redeemer governments were frequently as bad or worse. Despite the corruption and the base motivations that did exist, much was accomplished during Reconstruction that should inspire pride: the Reconstruction Amendments to the Constitution, which guaranteed blacks civil and political rights; the Civil Rights Acts of 1866 and 1875, which guaranteed blacks the equal use of public accomodations and which provided the Federal government with the legal basis to prosecute those who would deny the black man his civil rights; the institution of truly republican governments in the former Confederacy; the beginning of the reconstruction of the South's infrastructure, which had been largely destroyed by the Civil War; and the foundation of such worthwhile institutions as state-supported schools.
Stampp does an admirable job of summarizing both the historiography of Reconstruction and the revisionist view of it. His prose may be somewhat dry at times, but nevertheless it is lucid and engaging in its totality. The key merit of this book is not, however, its groundbreaking scholarship -- indeed, there is nothing groundbreaking about this book -- or its literary style. This has been an enormously influential book because it makes revisionist scholarship about Reconstruction accessible to the masses. In so doing, it has performed the invaluable task of popularizing the revisionist conclusions about Reconstruction, thus making popular acceptance of our later-day Reconstruction, the Civil Rights movement, more readily attainable.
As wonderful and influential as this book is, it is not without its shortcomings. Stampp does an insufficient job of citing his sources. This is, in part, because this book is largely the written and polished version of lectures about Reconstruction that he has given over the years; unfortunately, understanding why there are so few citations does not excuse it. His ending bibliographical essay, while very useful, ultimately does not take the place of detailed in-text citations, and his book suffers for it.
Secondly, his depiction of the freedman leaves something to be desired. One of the great modern-day complaints about the Dunning school of Reconstruction is that it does not treat Reconstruction-era blacks as actual agents in Reconstruction history. They have no will, and they are not actors in the drama. Rather, they are acted upon. Stampp certainly does not share the racist assumptions of the Dunning scholars that he seeks to replace, but he does share with them the assumption that the black man was not a prime actor in this story. It is rather amazing to me that Stampp discusses the freedman as incessantly as he does and yet fails to talk much about him.
Neither of these two criticisms should take that much away from this otherwise excellent book. Read it as an introduction to the era, and treasure it for its salutary historical influence.
31 of 35 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Essential work on Reconstruction period 29 Mar 2000
By Tyler Smith - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Mass Market Paperback
Call this effort from the great historian Reconstruction deconstruction. He deconstructs the notion, all too lazily accepted even today, that Reconstruction was a failed political movement, the only accomplishment of which was pocket-lining by Carpetbaggers from the North.
Far from it, Stampp convincingly argues. While he does not deny that the Radical Reconstructionists had a political agenda that included punishing the South and forcing through a pro-industrial, high-tariff program that a populist South was bound to oppose, he also points out Reconstruction wrought many positive changes, including bringing the newly freed African-American into the political process.
Stampp also is able to show the social programs launched by the Reconstructionists under the aegis of the Freedmen's Bureau were necessary in a South that was all too eager after the war to force black citizens into a new servitude. For example, the federal officials were instrumental in monitoring court proceedings in the South, ensuring that justice was served for all citizens, not just those holding money and political power.
The reasons for Reconstruction's demise have been well documented, and Stampp does not shy from acknowledging the obvious instances of corruption and soaring taxes. But he points out that in the decades following the end of the war, corruption was hardly unique to southern governments and that tax increases were to be expected in states and local communities whose infrastructures had been badly damaged by war.
Finally, Stampp reminds us, lest we forget, that Reconstruction failed because of a determined effort by diehard white supremacists and secret organizations such as the Klan. This effort was best characterized by the Mississippi Plan of 1875, in which anti-Reconstructionists set out openly to ensure that black citizens would not make it to the polls to vote. This perversion of democracy spelled the end until the 1950s, essentially, of efforts by the U.S. to achieve political and social equality for blacks.
This is essential reading for students of American history. It represents an important contribution to the literature that illuminates this country's self-inflicted racial problems.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A dated, but still good, introduction 2 Aug 2013
By Andy Lowry - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Mass Market Paperback
Southerners like myself who learned zilch about Reconstruction in school - or, worse, who "learned" the racist version of it - can profit from this short, highly readable book by one of the great American historians. Foner's book is more up-to-date, but I have not found it an engaging "read." (I might should have cheated & bought the abridged version.)

Stampp briskly lays out how Reconstruction began, why Congress needed to take it over, the strengths and errors of Congressional Reconstruction, and the sad collapse of the North's willpower to protect the blacks it had liberated in 1865.

As other commenters note, Stampp's 1965 book differs from contemporary views; Grant's stock as a president has gone up, and more attention should be paid to blacks themselves as agents (as was the complaint about Spielberg's "Lincoln" movie). Due to when it was written, Stampp's book also has to consider and rebut pro-Southern arguments that were taken much more seriously in his day. In that regard, the book reminds me of books on evolution that don't go into sufficient detail because they are too busy rebutting creationists.

But for the reader new to Reconstruction, the book is still very much worth reading.
5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Well argued theory 31 Aug 2005
By Bomojaz - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Mass Market Paperback
The standard view of reconstruction up to the middle of the last century was that it was very bad: the radical Republicans, opposed to Lincoln's desire to show leniency toward the people of the South after the rebellion was terminated, went out of their way to see that the South was "punished." Historians began revising this view during the 1960s; Stampp's book is among the best of these revisions. Stampp admits there were many mistakes committed by the radical Republicans, and their idealistic aims, especially toward the blacks, might not have been so pure, but he believes if it wasn't for the radicals there would be no 14th or 15th Ammendments to the Constitution. As with most controversies, there is probably truth to be found on both sides of the argument. Stampp develops his argument carefully and fairly. What was truly tragic was the utter failure of the government (and the people) to prevent or even care any longer about the South's "experiment" with two separate societies, which began in earnest after Grant's two disastrous terms as President. Jim Crow would end up being almost as bad as slavery itself.
5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Solid History of Reconstruction 14 Jan 2004
By Mike Kilianski - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Mass Market Paperback
What amazed me the most about this book by Kenneth Stampp is its readability. The book is suprisingly entertaining despite what some may consider its dry subject matter. Although, some of the revisionist ideas of Mr. Stampp have been taken to task by recent historians, The Era of Reconstruction still remains one of the essential tools for any student of American history.
Mr. Stampp can perhaps be taken to task for some of the far-fetched psychological connections he makes when trying to surmise the motiviations of historical personages, most notably Lincoln and Andrew Johnson, but the fact that Stampp used psychology in his historical speculations is remarkable because of the fact that his work was written in the mid sixties. By delving deeper than any historian before him into the motivations behind reconstruction, Stampp's work remains fresh and readable even today.
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