The Broken Promise of Reconstruction & the Need for Restitution

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TERM PAPER
HISTORY 367
CIVIL WAR and RECONSTRUCTION

Sheldon Teicher
HIST 367
Hunter College
Spring 2013
8 May 2013

THE BROKEN PROMISE OF RECONSTRUCTION &
THE NEED FOR RESTITUTION

The Civil War is the most widely written about event in American history and Reconstruction is the most mis-understood and least appreciated subject within this wider issue. Most people would prefer to escape into the heroic exploits of the battles that were fought than deal with the difficult social problems that the former enslaved population had to deal with. I am offering this essay since I believe that the African-Americans have been done a great disservice by the Nation. As a people they were forcibly brought to this land, they were enslaved in an illegal and immoral system, and then they were abandoned by that same Nation ostensibly after having their freedom returned. What happened to them was not fair and there is a debt due to them. I hope to show in this paper some of the offenses that I find glaring. What was Reconstruction supposed to accomplish? Was it supposed to provide a new economic start for the freed peoples? Was it supposed to rebuild and reorder the state governments that had seceded? Was it supposed to prosecute and imprison former Confederate officials? These questions were never fully answered, and for the most part they were never even adequately addressed. Liberals and African-Americans are more sensitive to the burden of the unfulfilled promise of Emancipation and Reconstruction, while so-called “realists” and conservatives proclaim that too much help has already been given (think: “Affirmative Action”). The truth though, does not lie neatly in the middle between these extremes. Horrific treatment was an unpleasant fact for the enslaved peoples, and they were denied an equal opportunity to enter fully the American body politic. To make matters worse this bitter cup of “denied citizenship” is still too often a fact today. Recently, the folk singer Bob Dylan (Rolling Stone, Sept. 2012) has said “…the country will never be able to rid itself of the shame of being founded on the backs of slaves.” I would like to rehearse some of the story of Slavery, some critical events in the war and afterwards, and to offer a reasonable suggestion for Restitution. These are some of my views of this story but there are many more: INTRODUCTION The introduction of African Slavery to these shores was an unplanned event although the Spanish and the Portuguese had been involved with this trade for almost 100 years in this hemisphere before it appeared here. These are some of the highlights of that practice here: The first African slaves were 19 people, who in 1619 were captured by Dutch sailors from Spanish slave traders. Subsequently they were sold to the colonists at Jamestown for food.1Initially, these people worked as indentured servants but they ultimately gained their freedom after completing a “work contract” for the colonists. The phrase “indentured servant” is misleading in this case since its modern usage means someone who works for a fixed period and is then manumitted. This was not the arrangement that was applied to the African captives who arrived later than these initial individuals did, since the practice gradually evolved to treat the adults as well as the children of the female slaves as also enslaved people (partus sequitur ventrum)2. Another misleading statement is that the term “servant” was widely used in the South, even past 1865, to refer to African people who were actually enslaved. Therefore, not much credence should be put into the seemingly benign phrase of “servant”3 when applied to these unfortunate human beings. The cost of this labor was attractive to the colonists since by 1638 an enslaved African laborer could be purchased for $27 while a European indentured servant cost a planter $255 for one year’s work.4 The economic...
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