Hillary Clinton’s Clarification: More Confusion?

As you might have expected, Hillary Clinton issued a clarification of her controversial remarks about Reconstruction, made in the context of her speculation on what might have happened had Abraham Lincoln not been assassinated:

HRC clarification

Nice try, but strike two.

Ms. Clinton’s statement now indicts the federal government, saying it gave up too soon, and its lack of persistence “led to a disgraceful era of Jim Crow.”

That this was due in part to the behavior of “defiant” white southerners, including terrorist activity, is a link she’s unwilling to make, although one can make it when she reminds us about “racist efforts against Reconstruction.” How exactly a president could achieve “equality, justice, and reconciliation” while protecting black rights — not exactly a good way to reconcile white southerners — remains unanswered. Nor does her response consider the role played by the racism of some white northerners, most of whom were Democrats (that might take more explaining).

We’ve been over this before: it’s rather difficult to envision a policy that would have successfully sought both equal rights for blacks and reconciliation with southern whites. That the federal government Ms. Clinton blames was first headed in the postwar years by someone who led “the racist efforts against Reconstruction” when it came to black rights is also omitted. It’s also wishful thinking to speculate about what Abraham Lincoln would have done (to say that he would not have been Andrew Johnson doesn’t get us very far).

No one expects Hillary Rodham Clinton to be a Reconstruction historian. One could even forgive her verbal fumble and vagueness. Now, however, we have a more considered statement, and it is also problematic.

She would have been smarter to have had Harold Holzer speak for her. Really. No doubt he and others may have learned something from the troubles of Tony Kushner.

12 thoughts on “Hillary Clinton’s Clarification: More Confusion?

  1. Michael William Stone January 27, 2016 / 4:24 am

    And does it matter anyway?

    Once the Union Army shrank back to peacetime levels, it would be too small to police the South in any effective way. And there’s no way Lincoln or anyone else could keep the Army at anywhere near its 1865 levels. No Congress, however “radical” would have been willing to vote the money. So neither Lincoln nor anyone else could have prevented the undoing of Reconstruction.

    At the risk of falling into abominable heresy, I wonder if Andrew Johnson’s accession wasn’t a good thing in the long run. Lincoln (or just about any President other than Johnson) would probably have ordered the Southern provisional governments to enfranchise literate Blacks and ones who had served in the Union Army. This might well have satisfied enough Congressional Republicans to get the South readmitted, but without providing enough Black voters to seriously challenge white supremacy. And if the South comes back on those terms, you may well not even get the 14th Amendment, and certainly not the 15th. As it was, Johnson annoyed Congress sufficiently to get those Amendments enacted, so that they were there on the books against the day when northern public opinion was ready to take them seriously. A classic example of the law of unintended consequences.

  2. Sandi Saunders January 27, 2016 / 5:58 am

    Seriously? “…most of whom were Democrats (that might take more explaining)”. I know you are not joking, but that is really pitiful and fully Chastain worthy.

    • Brooks D. Simpson January 27, 2016 / 7:31 am

      To the contrary. Making people understand the path of the parties on race between the Civil War and today is challenging. But the best part of your reaction is that it will bemuse those critics who see me as an advocate of the left.

      • John Foskett January 27, 2016 / 8:28 am

        That’s because they have difficulty in the realm of reading for comprehension. Ignorance of American history on the part of pols knows no “left or right” boundaries and this blog has exposed it from both/all sides.

      • Sandi Saunders January 27, 2016 / 8:42 am

        And how do you see that as “Making people understand the path of the parties on race between the Civil War and today” in any way? What is it I missed?

        • Brooks D. Simpson January 27, 2016 / 11:41 am

          Trying to explain to people that the racial views of Democrats a century apart are different, to say nothing of how Democrats and Republicans alike have flipped when it comes to the federal government and the economy, is an educational mission that should not be a candidate’s task to accomplish in a short verbal exchange.

          • James F. Epperson January 27, 2016 / 2:47 pm

            I’ve had first-hand experience with this, although not as a candidate for public office. Some years ago I got in to an extended argument with a FB friend of one of my nephews. This loon (not my nephew) simply did not understand how the parties had “flipped” regarding race and many other positions, nor did he want to understand it.

          • John Foskett January 27, 2016 / 4:53 pm

            Which is why, IMHO, they should shut up about those topics rather than further diminishing the already minimal fund of knowledge among the general public.

  3. MSB January 29, 2016 / 1:54 pm

    Lucky she’s running for president, not a job as a historian, no? As far as the clarification makes clear that she rejects the Lost a Cause narrative, I’m happy with it. Can we keep in mind that all this grew out of an on-the-fly answer to “who’s you favourite president?”
    Kevin Levin’s taking part in what sounds like a great forthcoming course on a Reconstruction, but I think Hillary Clinton may not have the free time to take it.

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