Letter: Losing grasp of history
Joyce Appleby, Lynn Hunt and Margaret Jacob start their book "Telling the Truth about History" (publ. 1994) with the words, "We have lost our grip on historical truth." The Roberts Report, "Listen to Lyndon," (Gazette-Journal, Aug. 5) in which Shirley Sherrod’s firing and Senator Webb’s article, "Diversity and the Myth of White Privilege" are reviewed against a backdrop of (President) Lyndon’s (Johnson) words, attests to the truth of these historians’ opinion. The Roberts Report states, "To equate black resentment against whites with white racism aimed at blacks dangerously ignores hundreds of years of American history" and then proceeds to review, not American history, but the "sorry history of both blacks and whites in the post Civil War South."
In his last public address on April 11, 1865, President Lincoln explained that 12,000 white men in Louisiana had sworn allegiance to the Union, held elections, organized a state government, adopted a free-state constitution, provided for public schools equally to black and white, and empowered the new legislature to confer the vote upon the colored man as it had already ratified the 13th amendment.
The president voiced his joyous hope of a righteous and speedy peace as the former Confederate states were not only complying with, but were exceeding, the requirements of his reconstruction plan. President Lincoln was under attack for his 10 percent plan and offered these final words to his attackers, "Now, if we reject, and spurn them, we do our utmost to disorganize and disperse them, we in effect say to the white man ‘You are worthless, or worse—we will neither help you, nor be helped by you.’ To the blacks we say ‘This cup of liberty which these, your old masters, hold to your lips, we will dash from you, and leave you to the chances of gathering the spilled and scattered contents in some vague and undefined when, where, and how.’ If this course, discouraging and paralyzing both white and black, has any tendency to bring Louisiana into proper practical relations with the Union, I have, so far, been unable to perceive it."
The murder of President Lincoln was a "godsend" for those attacking his reconstruction plan. Vice President Andrew Johnson was seen as a man who had no mercy for the South and would let the Northern "mailed fist come crashing down" upon the "dead carcasses lying within the Union" after "driving the nobility into exile" (Representative Thaddeus Stevens, Senator Charles Sumner). Unfortunately for these Republicans, President Johnson depended more upon our Constitution than his resentment towards the nobility of the South. He continued President Lincoln’s 10 percent plan and by December 1865 all of the former Confederate states had complied with or exceeded its requirements.
Newly elected Southern Senators and Representatives arrived in Washington where the Republican-controlled Congress refused to seat them. President Johnson continued the battle to restore proper practical relations. In 1867 he was rewarded with impeachment from the House and a trial for high crimes and misdemeanors from the Senate. President Johnson was acquitted by one vote. And so it was in 1867 the 10 percent plan of reconstruction was officially changed to the crashing mailed fist plan. The South was divided into five military districts while Ohio, Kansas, and Minnesota defeated bills to give blacks the vote.
Unfortunately for the mailed fist Republicans, 1867 also gave rise to new Republican leaders. These new Republicans were not interested in war or reconstructions. They had one goal—the acquisition of money and power. Towards this goal these new Republicans used the South, the 14th amendment, as well as blacks through the financial crash of 1873 up until 1877 when, unfortunately, they had to "sacrifice their Negro allies to gain the Presidency" (Reconstruction, Richard Current, 1965). And so it was that the crashing mailed fist reconstruction plan morphed into the careless rape, pillage, and plunder plan under which we live in our Global Village today.