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Dubious Victory

Dubious Victory: The Reconstruction Debate in Ohio

Copyright Date: 1992
Pages: 216
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  • Book Info
    Dubious Victory
    Book Description:

    "To the victors belong the spoils" is a time-honored cliche. When in 1865 northern armies defeated the greatest challenge ever posed to the Union, issues of spoils and peace terms dominated public debate. But precisely what did the victorious North want from the Reconstruction process? Historians generally have shown far less interest in northern goals than in what terms southerners were willing to accept. Robert Sawrey now seeks to redress the balance by examining the post-Civil War attitudes of a representative northern state, Ohio.

    Sawrey's probing study explores precisely what the key issues were for politically active Ohioans and what they sought in a Reconstruction policy. Through extensive research in contemporary newspapers, manuscripts, legislative debates, and diaries, he offers the most complete picture ever presented of northern attitudes on the two crucial issues of Reconstruction -- the terms of readmission and the fate of the former slaves.

    Ohioans' struggle to find an equation for restoring a Union that now included nearly four million free blacks was complicated, he finds, by their prejudices and their belief in white superiority. Because they regarded the "planter conspiracy" as a primary cause of the war, they sought to assure future peace through control of the planters -- a position that compelled them to advocate basic rights for ex-slaves. At the same time, they continued to support white supremacy throughout the nation. To reconcile these contradictory positions was a daunt-ing task. Yet by 1870, Sawrey finds, most politically involved Ohioans believed Reconstruction had secured their basic goals.

    Dubious Victoryoffers a fresh approach to understanding the limits of what was achievable during Reconstruction. It also explains why the achievements of the period now seem to have been so limited.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-5920-1
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xii)
    (pp. 1-6)

    Of all eras in American history, perhaps none has been more universally criticized as a failure than the years after the Civil War when the nation struggled with the tangled web of issues that arose from the war. The overall disgust, dismay, and disappointment with Reconstruction is apparent in the titles of scholarly and popular studies of the period—The Tragic Era,The Age of Hate,A Compromise of Principle,White Terror,Black Scare, to mention only a few. Eric Foner contends inReconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolutionthat the nation failed to complete a revolution that the war had begun.¹...

    (pp. 7-25)

    Nearly bursting with pride, thanksgiving, relief, and more than a trace of self-righteousness, an Ohioan from Sandusky wrote in mid-May 1865, “The great war is now virtually closed & if we read it aright, it has taught us an important lesson. I think too it is felt to be so by the whole nation, i.e. that God rules. In my view the Jews of old were no more God’s peculiar people in their day, than we are now.”¹ As sure as he was that God’s hand had preserved the Union and that God would continue to watch over the country as...

    (pp. 26-46)

    In August 1865 conservative Republican Lewis Campbell of Hamilton, Ohio, wrote reassuringly to President Johnson.¹ The letter, written just as the campaign to elect a new governor and state legislature in Ohio began, accurately reflected political views in the state. In a campaign dominated almost entirely by Reconstruction issues, both parties endorsed Johnson’s policies. Ohio voters, however, understood that real differences existed between the parties on Reconstruction, and they gave the Republicans a significant victory.

    The Democratic and Union parties did not enter the campaign of 1865 on an equal footing. Both enjoyed certain advantages and labored under some liabilities,...

    (pp. 47-70)

    Balmy, springlike temperatures greeted members of Congress on Monday, December 4, 1865, as they headed up Capitol Hill to convene the first session of the Thirty-Ninth Congress. The weather might have reflected the hope of most northerners, including Ohioans, that the long nightmare of sectional strife might end reasonably soon. Less than two months earlier these Ohioans had underscored their insistence that the Reconstruction process must defuse the threat of further conflict by voting for the Union party, which had endorsed President Johnson’s Reconstruction policy. In early December the president remained enormously popular and trusted in Ohio. Soon, however, the...

    (pp. 71-89)

    Tremendous uncertainty about Reconstruction accompanied Johnson’s desertion of the Republicans in the summer of 1866. Northern Republicans had to concede that Johnson had aligned himself with prewar Democrats in both the North and South, creating the possibility of a political coalition that would rally behind his Reconstruction policy. In the 1866 congressional election voters would have the opportunity to endorse the policy of either Congress or the president. Throughout the North, but particularly in Ohio, the elections would amount to a referendum on Reconstruction. No other issues intruded, and if contemporary Ohioans analyzed the election correctly, neither did factors such...

    (pp. 90-119)

    Ohio Republicans barely had time to savor their victories in the 1866 elections before southerners destroyed their hopes for a quick end to Reconstruction. Only four days after the election Texas refused to ratify the proposed amendment. Over the next four months the remaining nine Confederate states did the same. The Republican expectation that the proposed amendment would quickly conclude Reconstruction had evaporated.

    Despite this setback, Radical Republicans in Ohio decided to push in 1867 for black suffrage in the South and in Ohio. They reasoned that the voters had endorsed a Republican plan of Reconstruction and, particularly in light...

  11. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
    (pp. 120-141)

    Republicans in Ohio had struggled through an extremely difficult and disappointing year in 1867, particularly in view of the high hopes generated by the 1866 election. As the Republicans meditated on the causes and consequences of the recent debacle during the winter of 1867-1868, attention focused on how to avoid a repeat performance in 1868. A national election disaster would have far greater significance than the state elections, and it must be avoided at all costs. In the heated atmosphere of the Reconstruction era Republicans might quarrel among themselves over policies and spoils, but they almost unanimously agreed that the...

    (pp. 142-145)

    After the 1868 elections Ohio Republicans concluded that the basic framework of Reconstruction, developed by Congress between 1866 and 1868, had been endorsed by the American people. Because that program had resulted in the readmission of most southern states, they also concluded that Reconstruction was no longer the most pressing national concern. While recognizing that all of the war-related problems had not been overcome, they were nevertheless basically satisfied with the results.

    The 1868 elections had shown that even if Republicans could deflect voter attention from racial and economic issues in the future, Reconstruction was no longer a winning issue...

  14. NOTES
    (pp. 146-177)
    (pp. 178-186)
  16. INDEX
    (pp. 187-196)