A Documentary History of Reconstruction

As you may know, I have been part of a team working with the Library of America to produce a documentary history of the American Civil War in four volumes. Three volumes have appeared, with a fourth on its way (it will appear next year).

My attention is turning to Reconstruction. Currently I have several projects that I have to address, but I’m wondering that a documentary history of Reconstruction would look like (and I’ve sampled what’s out there) and what documents I should consider to include. Any ideas?  Thanks.


14 thoughts on “A Documentary History of Reconstruction

  1. Patrick Young August 6, 2013 / 10:45 am

    Schurz’s Report on the Condition of the South provides a synoptic view of several Newly deConfederatized regions right after the fighting, if not the hostilities, ceased.

    • Brooks D. Simpson August 6, 2013 / 10:55 am

      That was part of the very first book I edited/coedited: Advice After Appomattox (which included Schurz’s correspondence to Johnson).

      • Patrick Young August 6, 2013 / 11:27 am

        Johnson’s forward is so weird in that he completely mischaracterizes the report’s conclusions. Did he assume no one would read it?

        • Brooks D. Simpson August 6, 2013 / 11:31 am

          He sought to discredit it, thus pairing it with Grant’s report, which he also mischaracterized. Schurz’s is the more impressive document, Grant’s is the more impressive name.

  2. Barky August 6, 2013 / 5:29 pm

    I have nothing of value to add, other than to say I think this would be a very important book to write.

    What saddens me about the Civil War is the 100 years of deep-seated racism that followed, partly as a result of the failures of reconstruction.

  3. Will Hickox August 6, 2013 / 7:47 pm

    Reconstruction certainly began before 1865, and arguably before 1863, as slaves took advantage of the war to leave the plantations and the Union military had to figure out how to govern captured territory. That at least is what I say in my upcoming encyclopedia article. There wasn’t a neat divide between war and reconstruction but actually a long overlap.

    So if the scope of the volume allows it, I think the early emancipation acts, beginning at least with the EP, should be included. How about an a description or two of the freedmen societies on abandoned plantations during the war? Also necessary is
    Sherman’s field order giving land to the freedmen.

    Some other obvious choices include a sampling of Black Codes, testimony on Klan terror, accounts of Johnson’s godawful “Ring Around the Circle” campaign, and black political conventions.

    For the Freedmen’s Bureau you can’t go wrong with selections from John Willi De Forest’s “A Union Officer in the Reconstruction” (if you can get permission from LSU Press).
    There should also be editorials or such by Northern whites documenting the swing in public opinion away from the freedmen. But none of this, I’m sure, is new territory for you.

    • Dan Weinfeld Weinfeld August 7, 2013 / 8:04 am

      De Forest is unquestionably a great writer, but his jaded, cynical, “pox on both their houses” approach to his role as Freedmen’s Bureau agent is not particularly informative about that job. He is better for his depiction of the poverty (white and black) and isolation he encountered in his remote district. Since the Bureau men were encouraged to be expansive in their reports, it is pretty easy to find reports from younger, more energetic Bureau men who took their jobs and their African American constituents much more seriously and who serve as better reporters of the on-the-ground struggle of implementing Reconstruction policy.

  4. Will Hickox August 6, 2013 / 7:57 pm

    It would also be nice to see a description or two by one of the travelers who toured the war-ravaged South in 1865. You can’t understand the need for Reconstruction or the worldview of Southerners (white and black) unless you know just how chaotic and torn-up the region was by war’s end.

  5. Tony August 7, 2013 / 5:43 am

    I recently read through some of the testimony before congress concerning the elections of 1872 … interesting stuff.

  6. Patrick Young August 7, 2013 / 10:23 am

    The ads that blacks took out looking for their families and the letters from them inquiring after relatives are very affecting. The fact that this was going on long after April 1865 shows that reconstruction of families was a major part of the grassroots Reconstruction effort.

  7. Chris Evans August 7, 2013 / 2:54 pm

    I would like to see some of Albion Tourgee’s writing on Reconstruction included. He was quite humorous, with a dry wit, confronting one of the toughest situations in American history (including the Civil War that he survived with the 105th Ohio).

    I think it would be good because he has become unjustly obscured over the years.

    He seems to be a amazing man and I just loved his regimental history ‘The Story of a Thousand’.


  8. Allen C. Guelzo August 11, 2013 / 9:00 am

    Brooks: Here’s a short collection of documents on Reconstruction I’ve used in the past. Bear in mind that it doesn’t look to pre-1865 material (so there’s nothing on the Stanly reconstruction, the Freedmen’s Commission, Lincoln’s proclamations and speeches, or the Louisiana upheavals), it’s Washington-centric, and it deals mostly with political/constitutional issues in Reconstruction. If I were doing a full-dress course on Reconstruction, I would want to expand this with more on-the-ground material in the South and a number of federal court decisions on other issues besides civil rights (Texas v. White, for instance). But the list might be a place for some people to begin, and it includes some material not in the few document collections on Reconstruction currently available (the best of which, I think, is still Harold Hyman’s LLI volume on the Radical Republicans and Reconstruction)
    1. Freedmen’s Bureau Bill (March 3, 1865)
    2. Andrew Johnson’s Amnesty proclamation (May 29, 1865)
    3. Andrew Johnson’s Proclamation concerning the re-admission of North Carolina to the Union (May 29, 1865)
    4. Black Codes – Mississippi and North Carolina (1865) — Laws in Relation to Freedmen, 39th Congress, 2nd session, Senate Executive Doc. No. 6 (1867), 192-199
    5. “Interview with a Colored Delegation respecting Suffrage” (February 7, 1866), in The Political History of the United States of America During the Period of Reconstruction (from April 15, 1865, to July 15, 1870), ed. Edward McPherson (Washington, 1875), 55
    6. Senate & House Debates on the Civil Rights Act – Henry Wilson and John Sherman, Congressional Globe (December 13, 1865), 39th Congress, 1st session, 41-42 and “Rights of Citizens,” Congressional Globe (March 2, 1866), 39th Congress, 1st session, 1154-1155.
    7. Andrew Johnson’s Veto of the Civil Rights Act – Johnson, “To the Senate of the United States” (March 27, 1866), in Richardson, Messages and Papers, 6:410, 413
    8. Civil Rights Act (April 9, 1866)
    9. William Grosvenor, “The Rights of the Nation and the Duty of Congress,” The New Englander 24 (October 1865)
    10. James Garfield and Thaddeus Stevens on the 14th Amendment — Garfield, “Reconstruction—Again” (May 8, 1866) and Thaddeus Stevens, “Reconstruction—Again” (June 13, 1866), Congressional Globe, 39th Congress, 1st session, 2459, 3148
    11. Passage of the 14th Amendment in the House (June 13, 1866)
    12. “On Trial by Military Commissions, Dec. 17, 1866,” in Political History of Reconstruction, ed. McPherson, 209-220.
    13. Passage of the 15th Amendment in the Senate — Garrett Davis, “Article XV” (February 26, 1869), Congressional Globe , 41st Congress, 2nd session, 1630-1631
    14. Thaddeus Stevens on the 1st Reconstruction Act — “Reconstruction” (January 3, 1867), Congressional Globe, 39th Congress, 2nd session, 252-253.
    15. 1st Reconstruction Act (March 2, 1867)
    16. 2nd Reconstruction Act (July 19, 1867)
    17. Force Acts (May 31, 1870/February 28, 1871/April 20, 1871)
    18. In re: Slaughterhouse Cases (1872)
    19. U.S. v. Cruikshank (1875)
    20. Civil Rights Act (March 1, 1875)
    21. Daniel H. Chamberlain, “Reconstruction and the Negro,” North American Review 128 (February 1879)

  9. Noma October 5, 2014 / 8:43 pm

    Curious about the Documentary History of Reconstruction — did it ever get published?

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