The Reconstruction Era--the years immediately following the Civil War when Congress directed the reintegration of the former Confederate states into the Union--remains, as historian Eric Foner suggests, "America's unfinished revolution." But Reconstruction is more than a story of grea... t racial injustice; it has left a complex legacy involving both blacks and whites, Southerners and Northerners, that is reflected today by the fact that many of the states with the highest rates of poverty were part of the former Confederacy. In Southern Reconstruction, Philip Leigh examines Federal wartime legislation in order to broaden our understanding of Reconstruction, revealing how it led to African Americans being used as political pawns, first to ensure continued Republican rule, and finally to be blamed for the South's hardships in order to draw poor whites away from Populism and back to the aristocratic white Democratic banner.
Civil War laws, such as the Confiscation Acts, Pacific Railroad Acts, Homestead Act, Legal Tender Act, National Banking Act, and Veterans Pensions Acts, transformed America's banking system, built a railroad web, and launched the Gilded Age in the North and West, but it also created a dubious alliance between banks and government, sparked corruption, purposely depressed Southern industry, trapped Southern farmers--both black and white--in endless annual peonage cycles, and failed to provide lands for freedmen. While Reconstruction was intended to return the South to the Union, it could not be effective with laws that abetted Southern poverty, disfranchised many whites, fostered racial animosity to a point where lynchings and Jim Crow laws erupted, and lined the pockets of wealthy or politically well-connected business leaders outside of the region.
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