I finally finished 1/ Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men, 2/ The Fiery Trial, and 3/ Reconstruction, by historian Eric Foner, and found myself feeling a bit down.
Understandable you might say, but until now I’ve had a high tolerance for reading history and uncovering the past.
Although these are excellent textbook histories, Reconstruction, with its unvarnished truth, was the most challenging book I’ve read lately.
After a hopeful start following the Civil War the US experienced a series of dismal failures in its treatment of “others” (Blacks, Indians, etc.). And not just in the South, although it was worse there because it was as decimated as Europe following WWII.
Reconstruction was about changing the status of Blacks from slaves to citizens, integrating newcomers, AND rebuilding a country shattered by war.
Two graduate courses in American History, I took a couple of years ago, ‘History of the Corporation’ and ‘The Gilded Age’, examined the last half of the nineteenth century in the US known as The Gilded Age.
During this era, the US economy underwent a huge expansion, vast fortunes (ex. Rockefeller, Carnegie) were made, and the US experienced several bad recessions. ‘Special Interests’ took over politics, presidents were assassinated, and one president was accused of fathering an out-of-wedlock child.
Terrorists abounded, the KKK was everywhere, and the Irish Fenians became a labor problem. Immigrants poured into the United States after the Civil War. The railroad (a huge New York City Investment dream) expanded, the US military rounded up Indians, slaughtered many of them, and put the remainder on reservations. The Supreme Court decided corporations were people.
It was a great time…just like ours…and every president from Lincoln to Teddy Roosevelt was a Republican.
Gene Wilder died this week. If you lived through the 1960s and 1970s you probably appreciate the groundbreaking work Wilder and others did with Mel Brooks.
When I finished Reconstruction, to cheer myself up, I watched clips from the film, Blazing Saddles. At the time it was released, I thought he was exaggerating, but Mel Brooks sure got it right.
Don’t get me wrong, despite its awful at times history, the US has a mostly glorious past. I love my country where sadly, we progress two steps forward and one step back.
Elijah Cummings (D-MD), who currently serves as the Ranking Member of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform Committee called for a review of the way the US classifies documents. Duh, ya think that might need overhauling?