The Failure of Reconstruction and Its Consequences

Photo by Tory CC BY 2.0

Why are we here in the year 2017 still having to deal with racist morons flying the battle flag of a traitorous slaveowners’ rebellion that was defeated more than 150 years ago and other manifestations of white supremacy that draw on that utterly reactionary heritage?  One of the main reasons, I would argue, is that the Confederacy was never put six feet under in the grave yard where it belonged.   In the name of national reconciliation, the traitorous rebels were never properly punished. Moreover, they remained largely in control of their old plantations, if no longer owning human chattel.

The failure by the victorious Union to provide condign punishment for the secessionists and, even more so, to deprive them of their underlying economic power as large-scale landed property owners enabled them to make a political come-back later in the 19th century, to undo much of the progressive work of Reconstruction, and to reverse the historical verdicts against them.   This history of not having been thoroughgoing and stern enough against the overthrown ruling elite holds invaluable lessons for other places today with struggles against reactionaries, such as the ongoing threats faced by Venezuela’s Bolivarian Revolution.

Robert E. Lee resigned his commission from the U.S. military and violated his loyalty oath in order to side with the Confederacy.  As head of the Army of Northern Virginia, he had been responsible for the deaths and maiming of…

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