Retreat from Reconstruction, 1869-1879 - Cover
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Retreat from Reconstruction, 1869-1879

Jules and Frances Landry Award

464 pages / 6.00 x 9.00 inches / no illustrations

Southern History

  Paperback / 9780807110065 / January 1982

Retreat from Reconstruction is a prodigious work of scholarship. Mr. Gillette’s conclusions are sensible, reasonable, and significant. This is a major book on an important and neglected topic in American—and particularly southern—history.” —David Herbert Donald

According to William Gillette, recent reinterpretation of Reconstruction by revisionist historians has often tended to overemphasize idealistic motivations at the expense of assessing concrete achievements of the era. Thus, he maintains, the failure of both the purpose and the promise of Reconstruction has not been deeply enough analyzed.

Retreat from Reconstruction is the first and most comprehensive analysis yet published on the course of the development, decline, and disintegration of Reconstruction during the decade of the 1870s. Gillette sets forth the idea that these years provided the true test of the effectiveness of Reconstruction. By using the primary sources to back up and amplify his premise, he offers a detailed, thoroughly convincing study of Reconstruction and a significant interpretation of why the political programs of the Republicans ended in failure.

Focusing on Reconstruction as national policy and how it was made and administered, Gillette’s study interweaves local developments in the South with political developments in the North that resulted in the withdrawal of support of that policy. His broadly based work includes an examination of federal election enforcement in the South, the southern policies of the Grant and Hayes administrations, the presidential elections of 1872 and 1876, the congressional election of 1874, and the Civil Rights Act of 1875. In addition to political developments, Gillette touches on the social, economic, intellectual, educational, and racial facets of Reconstruction; and by demonstrating how they bore on the political processes of the era, he deepens our understanding of a crucial but controversial period in American history and the workings of the American political system. 

William Gillette is associate professor of history at Rutgers University and author of The Right to Vote: Politics and the Passage of the Fifteenth Amendment. He received his doctorate in history from Princeton University.

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