The Dunning School Historians, Race, and the Meaning of Reconstruction. Finding it impossible to believe that blacks could ever be independent actors on the stage of history, with their own aspirations and motivations, Dunning, et al. Though the state of affairs in the South was for years a party issue of the first magnitude, the legislative deadlock had for its general result a policy of non-interference by the national government, and the whites were left to work out in their own way the ends they had in view. At the present day, in the same states, the negroes enjoy practically no political rights; the Republican party is but the shadow of a name; and the influence of the negroes in political affairs is nil. The Republican party organization was maintained almost exclusively through the holders of federal offices in the postal and revenue service. The Dunning School argued that Reconstruction was the most calamitous and corrupt period in the nation’s history because imperialistic Radical Republicans empowered riotous, sub-human blacks to rule over the respectable white South. These were at once devoted as remorselessly to the extinction of black preponderance as they had been before to the repression of the whites. They were prepared, it was said, in order to enable the blacks who wished to vote the Democratic ticket to do so secretly, and thus to escape the ostracism and other social penalties which would be meted out to them by the majority of their race. Expertly introduced by John David Smith, these essays trace the careers and contributions of William Archibald Dunning himself and eight of his students, as well as those of Dunning's own mentor, John W. Burgess. Historian Eric Foner’s course on Reconstruction was videoed a few years ago and posted on-line. As the racial and political climate changed in the middle of the century, scholarship shifted drastically away from the Dunning School. During the Hayes administration the latter laws were the subject of a prolonged and violent contest between the Democratic houses and the Republican President. A corollary of this idea that the negroes were Democrats was generally adopted later in the period, to the effect that, since there was practically no opposition to the democracy, the negroes had lost interest in politics. Instead of competing with its rival for the black vote, the stronger faction, headed by Mr. Tillman, promptly took the ground that South Carolina must have a “white man’s government,” and put into effect the new Mississippi plan. William Dunning and John W. Burgess led the first group to offer a coherent and structured argument. The term Dunning School is a shorthand for the interpretation of Reconstruction that dominated historical writing and public consciousness for much of the twentieth century. More important, the concentration of "evidence" in this single scantily researched volume suggested that Dunning's "racist" generalizations were more unexamined than "inflexible. The view of Reconstruction developed by William A. Dunning, John W. Burgess, and their students; interpreted Reconstruction as a disaster for white southerners resulting from the abolition of slavery and attempts to grant civil rights to African Americans. ", Even James Wilford Garner's Reconstruction in Mississippi, regarded by W. E. B. But the peculiar form of this particular provision was confessedly adopted, not from any consideration of its abstract excellence, but in order to vest in the election officers the power to disfranchise illiterate blacks without disfranchising illiterate whites. In view of the questions which have been raised by our lately established relations with other races, it seems most improbable that the historian will soon, or ever, have to record a reversal of the conditions which this process has established. The Southern Democratic leaders fully appreciated the opportunity of their position in this controversy, and, through one of those bargains without words which are common in great crises, the inauguration of President Hayes was followed by the withdrawal of the troops from the support of the last radical governments, and the peaceful lapse of the whole South into the control of the whites. In February, 1894, an act became law which repealed all existing statutes that provided for federal supervision of elections.  Historian John Hope Franklin wrote of Coulter: No sooner was revisionism launched, however, than E. Merton Coulter insisted that "no amount of revision can write away the grievous mistakes made in this abnormal period of American history." From start to finish, they argued, Congressional Reconstruction—often dubbed "Radical Reconstruction"—lacked political wisdom and legitimacy.. It was part of the edifice of the Jim Crow System. The generation-long discussions of the political conditions in the South have evoked a variety of explanations by the whites of the disappearance of the black vote. The Initial Interpretation of Reconstruction. By Lyndsey Collins, with comments by Adrianna Abreu and Jena Viviano  All history is socially constructed; the same event or time period can be interpreted in various ways depending on the individual or group. This last motive had a plausible and widely accepted justification in the view that the rights of the negro and the “results of the war” in general would be secure only if the national government should remain indefinitely in Republican hands, and that therefore the strengthening of the party was a primary dictate of patriotism. But, as Gates recently explained to a group of Beaufort County middle school students, even more overlooked than Reconstruction is the period directly after, known as the "Redemption" era. As a result, the audience at the circus was notable in respect to numbers, but the negro vote at the election was insignificant. With these events of 1877 the first period in the undoing of reconstruction came to an end. Side by side with the removal of the preventives, the Southern whites had made enormous positive advances in the suppression of the other race. It left the blacks practically at the mercy of white public sentiment in the South. , Primary sources (by Dunning School members), Adam Fairclough, "Was the Grant of Black Suffrage a Political Error? Of course, past actors should not be expected to live up to the standards and outlook of the present. As the racial and political climate changed in the middle of the century, scholarship shifted drastically away from the Dunning School. I think that it is important to look closely at Dunning’s two works on Reconstruction to see how they helped shape how Americans thought about Reconstruction well into the 1960s.. One of Dunning’s influential books was Reconstruction, … As compared with the Mississippi device for evading the Fifteenth Amendment, the “grandfather clause” has the merit of incorporating the discrimination in favor of the whites in the written law rather than referring it to the discretion of the election officers. The act was therefore held unconstitutional. Thus the last vestige disappeared of the system through which the political equality of the blacks had received direct support from the national government. There was still one contingency that the whites had to face in carrying out the new policy. While William Dunning is often discussed in Reconstruction Era Studies, he is little read today except by academic historians and Neo-Confederates. As a consequence, no partisan legislation could be enacted. The Democrats put great stress on the terror and intimidation of the whites and the violation of freemen’s rights due to the presence of federal officials at the polls, and of federal troops near them. Jefferson, Clay, and Lincoln all saw more serious facts in the background. Between 1872 and 1876 the Republican party split in each of the states in which it still retained control, and the fusion of one faction with the Democrats gave rise to disputed elections, general disorder, and appeals by the radical Republicans to the President for aid in suppressing domestic violence. But loss of Congressmen was by no means longed for, and the possibility of such a thing was very carefully considered. It has been said above that indictments under these acts had been many, but convictions few. , Stampp then noted that "Dunningites overlooked a great deal", and revisionists rejected "the two-dimensional characters that Dunning's disciples have painted. William Harris, author of The Hanging of Thomas Jeremiah: A Free Black Man's Encounter with Liberty He contended that freedmen had proved incapable of self-government and thus had made segregation necessary. But the moral effect of what was done was very great, and the evidence that the whole power of the national government could and would be exerted on the side of the blacks produced a salutary change in method among the whites. were building rapid progress towards recovery before the congress's interference. A constitutional amendment was adopted in 1895 which applied the “understanding clause” for two years, and after that required of every elector either the ability to read and write or the ownership of property to the amount of three hundred dollars. Or if an untraceable rumor that trouble was impending over the blacks was followed by the mysterious appearance of bodies of horsemen on the roads at midnight, firing guns and yelling at nobody in particular, votes again were lost, but no crime or misdemeanor could be brought home to any one. He then declared that he had not attempted to do so, and with that he subscribed to virtually all of the views that had been set forth by the students of Dunning. But exploitation of the poverty, ignorance, credulity, and general childishness of the blacks was supplemented, on occasion, by deliberate and high-handed fraud. Dunning believed that allowing blacks to vote and hold office had been "a serious error". This, known commonly as the Ku Klux Act, healed many technical defects in the earlier law; reformulated in most precise and far-reaching terms the conspiracy clause, which was especially designed to cover Ku Klux methods; and, finally, authorized the President, for a limited time, to suspend the writ of habeas corpus, and employ military force in the suppression of violence and crime in any given district.In addition to the punitive system thus established. Under all the circumstances, therefore, extralegal devices had still to be used in the “black belt.”. They are not, however, chiefly characterized by their hostility toward ethnic groups. It was named after Columbia University professor William Archibald Dunning (1857-1922), whose works and teachings in the early 20th century on Reconstruction were influential. One rather ingenious scheme is recorded which presents a variation on the old theme. Hence that long series of practices, in the regions where the blacks were numerous, that give so grotesque a character to the testimony in the contested-election cases in Congress, and to the reminiscences of candid Southerners. This “grandfather clause” has been adopted by North Carolina, also, and, in a modified form and for a very limited time, by the convention in Alabama. Drawn from the Dunning School dominated scholarly and popular depictions of the present portrait Reconstruction., this page was last edited on 9 January 2021, at.! 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