Reconstruction: A Concise History
By Allen C. Guelzo
Oxford University Press
Over the years, I have read many books about the Civil War, but not nearly as many about Reconstruction. I acknowledge that I probably should learn more about the period after the war, so I have found and acquired a few books on this era. The first I decided to read is Allen Guelzo’s Reconstruction: A Concise History.
This is a fine book, and certainly is concise, with only 130 pages, plus a timeline. Brevity, however, does not equate to quality, as this is an enjoyable and well-written introduction to the subject at hand.
This book has seven chapters and an epilogue, each almost like its own story, concentrating on a single main issue of Reconstruction. This organization is most appropriate for this book and adds to its effectiveness.
Some of the major discussions of this discussion include: Andrew Johnson’s Reconstruction vs. Congressional Reconstruction, white supremacy groups resisting the federal government’s plans, U.S. Grant’s presidency, and the Supreme Court’s intrusion into Reconstruction. Infighting and political inexperience among the Republicans and even African-Americans were also factors that hindered Reconstruction from realizing its full potential.
Guelzo claims that saying “Reconstruction failed” is an oversimplification as it did have some successes, or at least half-successes, such as reuniting the nation and ending legalized slavery. He also claims it did not fail as much as it was overthrown by a combination of white Southerners and Northern Democrats. His description of this conspiracy reminded me of Abraham Lincoln’s pre-Civil War talk of a “slave power” that had conspired to spread the influence of that peculiar institution. How accurate that comparison is will be something I need to study and ponder a bit more, but I appreciate that this work brought such a question to my mind. Good books have such effects.
For anyone familiar with Reconstruction, this book can serve as a brief review of that period, but it would be more effective for those just starting to learn about the post-Civil War era and wanting to get a quick overview, perhaps with the hope of figuring out what aspects of Reconstruction might be of particular interest. It is not a long book, nor a detailed look at its subject, but those were not its purposes. It is meant as a concise look at Reconstruction and it certainly meets that goal in well-written, easy-to-read volume. I am glad to have read this book and now to recommend it to others who may want to brush up on their knowledge of this era in United States history.
I thank Oxford University Press for providing a review copy of this book. I have done my best to be completely honest in this review