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View Diary: Open thread for night owls: Love 'em or hate 'em or just plain indifferent to 'em, it's the Oscars (239 comments)

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  •  Not quite sure how the portrayal of Thaddeus (0+ / 0-)

    Stevens is pro-Southern revisionist. From what I've read of him Stevens was pretty progressive for his time. Can you elaborate?

    •  Stevens is presented,... (0+ / 0-)

      ...especially in his basement talk with Lincoln is an extremist, the kind of fellow who would provoke violence via Radical Reconstruction. In fact, the postwar violence got started by Southerners before the Radicals were in charge. See Masur:

      When Thaddeus Stevens and Lincoln meet in the cellar of the White House to talk about cooperating on the 13th Amendment, for example, Stevens says that after the war, land owned by ex-Confederates should be divided into small tracts to be settled by a free people. Lincoln says "the people" will not support that. Stevens says "I shit on the people!" He represents them in Congress, he says, but he doesn't care what they think. On the one hand, this scene alludes to the reality that northerners probably wouldn't have favored confiscation of Confederates' land. On the other, by making Stevens look like a dangerous extremist and an autocrat, the film reiterates the interpretation of Reconstruction offered up by Birth of a Nation and the now-discredited "Dunning school" of academic scholarship. According to that interpretation, it was the radical Republicans who posed a threat to the peace—not the recalcitrant white South—and had Lincoln lived, we would have avoided all the ugliness of Reconstruction.

      Later scenes in Lincoln affirm that fantasy. Lincoln rides past bodies of Confederate and Union soldiers mingled together on the Petersburg battlefield. He is moved by what Tony Scott earlier called "the terrible tragedy that pitted brother against brother" and immediately afterward tells Grant to go easy on the Confederates. As Lincoln departs for home, Grant tells him he must now lead the nation into peace. We all know that Lincoln won't make it, so we mourn for him and all that we imagine he would have done to avert the bloodbath of the postwar period. Then comes the assassination and the Second Inaugural.

      As historian Nina Silber put it: "As the movie ends, we are presented with a nation ready to live under Lincoln's charitable and malice-free directive."

      The real history of the months after Appomattox contradicts this "reconciliationist" narrative. White southerners' continuing malice became clear in 1865 and early 1866, well before "radical Reconstruction" began. As President Andrew Johnson generously pardoned all but the highest-ranking ex-Confederates, white southerners in the states rejected the 13th Amendment, passed state-based "black codes" that sought to restore slavery in all but name, and elected ex-Confederates to state and federal offices. It wasn't the federal government's unbending stance toward the white South that brought forth a reign of terror; it was white southerners' own refusal to come to terms with black freedom.

      Don't tell me what you believe, show me what you do and I will tell you what you believe.

      by Meteor Blades on Mon Feb 25, 2013 at 08:00:24 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Bad argument. (0+ / 0-)

        Yes, there's a lot of hogwash about Reconstruction pushed by southern historians. That doesn't mean we should deny the realities of history and create new distortions to refute them, which is what this writer is doing.

        Sherman did act to divide up confiscated plantation lands to freedmen. A conversation about this between Stevens and Lincoln may not have happened the way the movie portrays, but the character of Stevens is being used to represents a viewpoint that many people held. It's a direction Reconstruction really could have taken.

        And even though they were often thwarted, there was the "Radical Republican" Congress who wanted to take a punitive approach to Reconstruction and Stevens was one of its leaders. There are quotes suggesting Lincoln would have taken a more charitable approach to Reconstruction than what was advocated after his death by Stevens and Congress. The film very accurately portrays the conflicting views that existed at the time.

        •  We'll have to respectively disagree about this... (0+ / 0-)

          ...I'm in the Eric Foner, Kate Masur camp on this. Obviously, some other historians are not in their camp.

          Don't tell me what you believe, show me what you do and I will tell you what you believe.

          by Meteor Blades on Mon Feb 25, 2013 at 09:54:31 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  It happened. (0+ / 0-)

            It's where the 40 acres and a mule promise came from.

            Andrew Johnson rescinded the order giving the confiscated lands of confederates to freed slaves.

            Andrew Johnson also vetoed the Freedman's Bureau Act pushed by Stevens, which started the showdown toward Johnson's impeachment.

            The film very accurately portrayed the central conflicts that existed after Lincoln's death. It would be dishonest to pretend those arguments didn't exist just because a group of southern historians vilified Stevens and Reconstruction. I disagree with the historian who believes that showing Stevens fighting for the government to do more for freed slaves is somehow a negative portrayal. I thought it painted him as a hero.

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