Vision one: The reconciliationist vision -- this vision had its roots in the "process of dealing with the dead from so many battlefields, prisons, and hospitals," the author writes on page 2; and it also developed in ways prior to the process of Reconstruction; people were weary of war, and many Americans longed for a time of forgiving, in the Christian sense; vision two: The white supremacist vision -- this vision was manifest through terror, violence, and its legacy promotes a memory of the Civil War aftermath as one of segregation on southern terms; those of white supremacist / racist leanings would never consider giving in to a Constitutional mandate to allow all blacks freedom, the vote, and other equal rights; vision three: The emancipationist vision -- this includes much of what African-Americans remember about gaining their freedom, it also includes the politics of "radical Reconstruction" and in the view of the Civil War as the "reinvention of the republic and the liberation of blacks "to citizenship and Constitutional equality."
Who were the main shapers of each vision, and how did they conceptualize the causes, construct their distinctive histories, and promote those visions of the Civil War?
Reconciliationist Vision: As president, it was incumbent upon Lincoln to lead the way towards some reconciliation-related policies, to try to heal the wounded nation. He wasn't saying that the nation could forget (in his Gettysburg Address, he said "The world ... can never forget what they did here) (13), but he was re-stating the principles of the founding fathers (the "proposition that all men are created equal") in terms of reconciling the awful, brutal and savage slaughter that was the Civil War.
Blacks used the word "equality" as a synonym for "reconciliation" (24) because they "expected a soldier's due out of this war -- safe firesides, public recognition, and a place in at least some form of reconciliation between blacks and whites," the author writes. On page 31, reconciliation's needed impact is very poignantly expressed by Blight: "The task was harrowing: how to make the logic of sectional reconciliation compatible with the logic of emancipation, how to square black freedom ... with [the South's cause] that had lost almost everything except its unbroken belief in white supremacy."
Among the events that helped promote reconciliation was the publishing of the poem, "The Blue and the Gray" in the Atlantic Monthly; Frances Miles Finch's poem "gave the causes of reconciliation verses of sweetness, mutual sympathy, and the universality of death and mourning" (84-85), Blight explains. "Sadly, but not with upbraiding, The generous deed was done; In the storm of the years that are facing, No braver battle was won ... " the poem began.
The "culture of reconciliation" (184) suffered a setback of sorts by the publishing of Civil War "prisoner agony" narratives by Century magazine. Men reportedly were treated "like dogs" in the prisons of both the Union and the Confederate sides; floors were "covered with vermin" as men felt "doomed to suffer a living death," Blight writes.
Emancipationist Vision: The author writes that the emancipationist vision was expressed well by Lincoln on December 8, 1863, as he extolled the virtues of 100,000 former slaves who were then turned into black soldiers: "The policy of emancipation, and of employing black soldiers, gave to the future a new aspect, about which hope, and fear, and doubt contended in an uncertain conflict." Emancipation, Lincoln continued, had turned America's "great trial" into its "new reckoning"; further, the slaves who were now soldiers had brought the effort of the Union in sync with a "total revolution of labor throughout whole states."
Meantime, there was moment in early 1865 that seemed to truly define emancipation; after General Sherman had finished his "March to the Sea," which resulted not only of driving a large portion of the Confederate armies out of the cities along the way, but had "wreaked devastation" (24) on all cities and people in his path (including ex-slaves, who were displaced by the thousands), Sherman and Secretary of War Edwin Stanton sat down with black leadership to discuss what should happen now. Twenty black ministers exchanged ideas and proposals with Stanton and Sherman, which formed "an enduring testament to the meaning of the revolution ... [and] laid down for all time what would be both cherished and denied in Civil War memory.
The black ministers basically asked that their emancipation could lead to a way for them to take care of themselves: "We want to be placed on land until we are able to buy it and make it our own," said Rev. Garrison Frazier, a 67-year-old Baptist preacher, who had bought his own freedom (and his wife's) in 1857 for $1,000 in gold and silver.
Was their "intelligence enough" among the freed slaves to maintain their lives and live peacefully, Frazier was asked. "I think there is sufficient intelligence among us to do so," he answered.
The emancipation vision had a strong life in the early part of the twentieth century, and "blacks and a neo-abolitionist tradition" drove that vision to the point that it "never died a permanent death on the landscape of Civil War memory," Blight explained.
American blacks' interpretation the war's impact on their new-found freedom: In April, 1883, on the 21st anniversary of the abolition of slavery in Washington, D.C., blacks participated in an elaborate parade -- a mile and a half long with 150 chariots and carriages, military companies, drill teams, and 25 civic organizations -- to show their unity in continuing to promote their post-war legacy. That night renowned author and abolitionist Frederick Douglass spoke in a local church and put his spin on how reconciliation and reconstruction were affecting the lives of freed slaves (307). Now that the war is over and "the negro is no longer needed to assault forts and stop rebel bullets," he said, "he is in some sense of less importance."
Peace with the "old master class," Douglass went on, "has been war for the negro. As one has risen the other has fallen." The Negro was the "inexhaustible topic of conversation" during the war, he continued, and as to the greatest legacy of the war, he said: "Americans can consider almost any other question more calmly and fairly than this one. I know of nothing outside of religion, which kindles more wrath, causes wider differences, or gives force ... To ... more irreconcilable antagonisms," than the issue of black folks, their past, present, and future in America.
White Supremacy Vision: As for the main shapers of the white supremacy vision, the one symbol for racial loathing that stands out among all the white supremacist symbols -- perhaps even more than the Nazi swastika -- is the hooded specter of the KKK, the Ku Klux Klan. Two books by Thomas Dixon Jr. (The Leopard's Spots and The Clansman) provided the "Klan and its violence with its most enduring romantic mythology," Blight writes (111). In Dixon's books "Klansmen -- white men -- had to take the law into their own hands in order to save southern white womanhood from the sexual brutality of black men," Blight explains.
The Klan was a very successful organization in realizing the war's impact -- at least up into the early 20th Century -- as Dixon's twisted vision "captured the attitudes of thousands and forged in story form a collective memory of how the war may have been lost but Reconstruction was won -- by the South ... "
White supremacy was also "the cornerstone" of a campaign run by the Democrats in 1868 (101). With Frank Blair, an avowed white supremacist, running for president on the Democrat ticket, their campaign was "one of the most explicitly racist presidential campaigns in American history," the author asserts. It seems amazing that in the bloody aftermath those hundreds of thousands of deaths, all those injuries, the families shattered and cities burned, that such blatant hatred and racist attitudes would be found in a major political party.
Blair spoke in viciously racist tones, accusing the Republicans of oppressing the south, by subjecting it to the rule of a "semi-barbarous race of blacks who are polygamists." Also, Blair continued, blacks are certain to "subject the white women to their unbridled lust." Even a pro-Democrat newspaper, the Louisville Daily Courier got into the white supremacy act and ran a headline over an editorial that read, "Let white men rule America!" The editorial asserted that Republicans preferred "native negroes to native whites."
The ideology of hate was also a theme of former Confederate senator Benjamin Hill of Georgia, in July 1868; Hill insisted that Georgians who went along with Reconstruction were "rendered slaves" (102) to the Republican Congress, and among their colleagues they were simply "becoming a negro." The presidential election of 1868 had turned "upon the glorious ancestral doctrine that the States are equal and that white blood is superior," Hill declared.