Book Review of A Splendid Failure: Postwar Reconstruction in the American South

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Book and Media Review

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Review of: Splendid Failure: Postwar Reconstruction in the American South. By Michael W. Fitzgerald. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee Publishers, 2007. x, 234 pp. $26.00 (cloth). ISBN 978-1-56663-734-3. $16.95 (paper). ISBN 978-1-56663739 -8

Excerpt: For more than twenty years, Eric Foner’s Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution (New York, 1988) and A Short History of Reconstruction (New York, 1990) have introduced a wide variety of readers to the turbulent period that followed the American Civil War. Since the publication of Foner’s books, however, the study of Reconstruction as a set historical period and as a social, political, economic, and cultural process has evolved significantly. Scholars have advanced our understanding of gender relations within the household, African American political activities before and after emancipation, the effects of Reconstruction on regions beyond the South, and several other related topics. Such recent scholarship has underscored the need for a new synthetic treatment of Reconstruction, which Michael Fitzgerald’s Splendid Failure: Postwar Reconstruction in the American South strives to fulfill. Fitzgerald summarizes Reconstruction “as a contest between those who attempted the doomed, but mostly right thing, and those who were doing the very wrong thing and prevailed. But only for a time” (p. 212). These sentences conclude a survey of Reconstruction that encompasses chapters on slavery, emancipation, Andrew Johnson’s failed self reconstruction policy toward the South, the Ku Klux Klan’s violent campaign to reclaim home rule and reassert white supremacy, changes in gender and social conventions, and redemption with a moralistic eye on what might have been had the postwar conflict over the meaning of citizenship within the United States turned out differently. [...]

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