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Society & Culture

The Reinvention of Reconstruction

American conservatives have rightly viewed the post-Civil War Reconstruction period as a tragic era rife with corruption, scandal, mismanagement, and unconstitutional uses of power at both the state and federal level. Unfortunately, many have also been deceived by a leftist narrative of Reconstruction as a flawed but ultimately virtuous project, and this has distorted their view of the entirety of American history.

During Reconstruction, radical leaders of the Republican Party orchestrated a process by which the post-Civil War United States was transformed, rather than remade as it had been. Under the influence of these radicals, the Constitution ceased to be the anchor of the federal republic, and dangerous utopian ideals of “equality,” political centralization, and mass democracy that had been incubated in the beer halls and socialist clubs of central Europe crossed the Atlantic and took root on American shores. European revolutionary “Red Republicans” like Carl Schurz found common cause with American-bred reformists Thad Stevens, Benjamin Wade, Charles Sumner, Schuyler Colfax, and Henry Winter Davis, all leaders of the radical faction of the Republican Party. These discontented souls thought America needed to be remade in righteousness, by eliminating the slavery-tainted Southern influence on U.S. government.

Abraham Lincoln’s pithy 1863 Gettysburg Address allowed the Radical Republicans...

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