Eric Foner, Chapter 15: “What is Freedom?: Reconstruction, 1865-1877”

1.) Read and interpret the Dunning article (Note: you can use Wikipedia or any of the YouTube videos that feature Eric Foner to help you understand the Dunning School interpretation of Reconstruction). Then, you should read/review chapter 15 from the Foner textbook and review your notes from class lectures on Reconstruction.

2.) Explore the primary source documents in the Freedom and Southern Society Project website linked below. (Hint: you should use at least 2 to 3 of these sources in your essay.)

3.) Put everything together. Think in-depth about the questions above.

4.) Craft an essay with a clear thesis/argument statement in the first paragraph. Your body paragraphs should support the thesis. You should address the questions above and incorporate the sources contained in this assignment (e.g. Dunning, the Foner textbook, class lectures, and the primary sources in the Freedom and Southern Society Project).


1.) The “Dunning School” interpretation of Reconstruction as it appeared in an Atlantic article, Oct. 1901. Note: this excerpt consists only of the last two paragraphs of the longer article. If you wish to read the entire thing, you can find it here: “With the enactment of these constitutional amendments by the various states, the political equality of the negro is becoming as extinct in law as it has long been in fact, and the undoing of reconstruction is nearing completion. The many morals that may be drawn from the three decades of the process it is not my purpose to suggest. A single reflection seems pertinent, however, in view of the problems which are uppermost in American politics at present. During the two generations of debate and bloodshed over slavery in the United States, certain of our statesmen consistently held that the mere chattel relationship of man to man was not the whole of the question at issue. Jefferson, Clay, and Lincoln all saw more serious facts in the background. But in the frenzy of the war time public opinion fell into the train of the emotionalists, and accepted the teachings of Garrison and Sumner and Phillips and Chase, that abolition and negro suffrage would remove the last drag on our national progress. Slavery was abolished, and reconstruction gave the freedmen the franchise.” “But with all the guarantees that the source of every evil was removed, it became obvious enough that the results were not what had been expected. Gradually there emerged again the idea of Jefferson and Clay and Lincoln, which had been hooted and hissed into obscurity during the prevalence of the abolitionist fever. This was that the ultimate root of the trouble in the South had been, not the institution of slavery, but the coexistence in one society of two races so distinct in characteristics as to render coalescence impossible; that slavery had been a models vivendi through which social life was possible; and that, after its disappearance, its place must be taken by some set of conditions which, if more humane and beneficent in accidents, must in essence express the same fact of racial inequality. The progress in the acceptance of this idea in the North has measured the progress in the South of the undoing of reconstruction. In view of the questions which have been raised by our lately established relations with other races, it seems most improbable that the historian will soon, or ever, have to record a reversal of the conditions which this process has established.” 2.) Eric Foner, Chapter 15: “What is Freedom?: Reconstruction, 1865-1877”

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