Reconstruction’s Enduring Bitterness of Heart
Despite fictional statements about malice toward none and charity for all, the reality of Radical Reconstruction in the American South left an enduring bitterness toward anything Northern. There was to be no happy reunion of formerly fraternal States; the recently liberated black man had a new Republican master his vote was securely shackled to.
Bernhard Thuersam, Director
Cape Fear Historical Institute
Reconstruction’s Enduring Bitterness of Heart:
“The issue of whether the Negro should be the ward of the South or the ward of the Nation, took on a more sinister expression when the Republican party asserted a proprietary interest in the freedman. It is a truism of Reconstruction history that the Radicals enfranchised the Negro in order to build a Republican party in the South. This leads to a study of politics as the most important of all the divisive forces separating the sections and preventing the realization of harmony.
The divisions over the Negro and
The South later professed forgiveness to the men who fought in the fair fight of war. But to those who came victorious and “heaped indignities upon a fallen foe” it exhibited a “bitterness of heart that lasts as long as life endures.” The South, as one of its spokesmen said, came to believe “that what was desired and intended by the party in power was not a restored Union of equal States, but a subjected South, a dominant North, and a radical faction ruling all.
Distrust of the Northern people, such as the fortunes of war and all the bitterness of surrender had failed to arouse, began to stir in the South; and her people began to look upon their brethren of the North as possessed of a cruel hatred which rejoiced to believe evil, and by a malignancy which would not stop at wrong or oppression.”
“Whether right or wrong,” said General [John B.] Gordon before a Congressional Committee in 1871, “it is the impression of the Southern mind – it is the conviction of my own mind, in which I am perfectly sincere and honest – that we have not been met in the proper spirit.”
There is not a page written in the vast literature of war and Reconstruction which does not corroborate Gordon’s judgment. Joel Chandler Harris poured out the emotional content of the Southern heart when he wrote, “It was the policy of lawlessness under the forms of law, of disenfranchisement, robbery, oppression and fraud. It was a deliberate attempt to humiliate the people who had lost everything by the war, and it aroused passion on both sides that were unknown when war was in actual progress.”
The yawning chasm thus remained unclosed. Southerners still looked upon their connection with the Union as something forced and inevitable rather than something desirable.”
(The Road to Reunion, 1865-1900, Paul H. Buck, Little, Brown and Company, 1937, pp. 69-71)