Eric Foner

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History, however, is not a linear narrative of progress. Rights may be won and taken away; gains are never complete or uncontested, and popular movements generate their own countervailing pressures.

Eric Foner (born 7 February 1943) is an American historian from New York City, best known for his writings on the American Civil War and its aftermath.

Quotes[edit]

The United States was not the only nation to experience emancipation in the nineteenth century. Neither plantation slavery nor abolition were unique to the United States. But Reconstruction was... Alone among the societies that abolished slavery in the nineteenth century, the United States, for a moment, offered the freedmen a measure of political control over their own destinies.
The vast majority of white southerners, supported vociferously by the Democratic Party of the north, were deeply opposed to any equality for the former slaves.
For most Republicans, antislavery action meant not attacking slavery where it was but working to prevent slavery's westward expansion. Lincoln, however, did talk about a future without slavery. The aim of the Republican Party, he insisted, was to put the institution on the road to "ultimate extinction", a phrase he borrowed from Henry Clay. Ultimate extinction could take a long time. Lincoln once said that slavery might survive for another hundred years.
To the South, Lincoln seemed as dangerous as an abolitionist, because he was committed to the eventual end of slavery. This was why his election in 1860 led inexorably to secession and civil war.
Slavery, Confederate Vice-President Alexander H. Stephens proudly affirmed, was the cornerstone of the Confederacy. Accordingly, slavery's disintegration compelled the Confederate government to take steps to save the institution...
The more fiercely the Confederacy fought for its independence, the more bitterly divided it became.

1980s[edit]

The New View of Reconstruction (1983)[edit]

"The New View of Reconstruction" (November 1983), American History, Volume 34, Issue 6. p. 5
  • The United States was not the only nation to experience emancipation in the nineteenth century. Neither plantation slavery nor abolition were unique to the United States. But Reconstruction was.
  • Alone among the societies that abolished slavery in the nineteenth century, the United States, for a moment, offered the freedmen a measure of political control over their own destinies.

The South's Inner Civil War (1989)[edit]

"The South's Inner Civil War" (March 1989), American Heritage, Volume 40, Issue 2
  • The more fiercely the Confederacy fought for its independence, the more bitterly divided it became.
  • Slavery, Confederate Vice-President Alexander H. Stephens proudly affirmed, was the cornerstone of the Confederacy. Accordingly, slavery's disintegration compelled the Confederate government to take steps to save the institution, and these policies, in turn, sundered white society.

1990s[edit]

A Short History of Reconstruction (1990)[edit]

A Short History of Reconstruction (1990)
  • In effect, the Klan was a military force serving the interests of the Democratic party, the planter class, and all those who desired the restoration of white supremacy. It aimed to destroy the Republican party’s infrastructure, undermine the Reconstruction state, reestablish control of the black labor force, and restore racial subordination in every aspect of Southern life.
    • p. 184

2000s[edit]

  • American ideas about freedom certainly resonate abroad. Eastern Europeans embraced them after the collapse of Communist rule. Indeed, the years since 1989 have witnessed an unprecedented internationalization of current American concepts of freedom.
  • Shortly before the 1860 election, Frederick Douglass offered a succinct summary of the dilemma confronting opponents of slavery like Lincoln, who worked within the political system rather than outside it. Abstractly, Douglass wrote, most northerners would agree that slavery was wrong. The challenge was to find a way of 'translating antislavery sentiment into antislavery action'. The constitution barred interference with slavery in the states where it already existed. For Lincoln, as for most Republicans, antislavery action meant not attacking slavery where it was but working to prevent slavery's westward expansion. Lincoln, however, did talk about a future without slavery. The aim of the Republican Party, he insisted, was to put the institution on the road to "ultimate extinction", a phrase he borrowed from Henry Clay. Ultimate extinction could take a long time. Lincoln once said that slavery might survive for another hundred years. But to the South, Lincoln seemed as dangerous as an abolitionist, because he was committed to the eventual end of slavery. This was why his election in 1860 led inexorably to secession and civil war.

The Century: A Nation's-Eye View (2002)[edit]

"The Century: A Nation's-Eye View" (10 December 2002), The Nation
  • The collapse of communism as an ideology and of the Soviet Union as a world power has made possible an unprecedented internationalization of current American values, among them free choice in the consumer marketplace, reduced government economic regulation and an emphasis on individual self-fulfillment rather than the social good, all promoted by an internationalized mass media and consumer culture.
  • America's historic sense of mission has been redefined to mean the creation of a single global free market.
  • Even as the United States has risen to become the predominant international power, however, conflict has persisted over the nature of American society itself and what its role in the world should be.
  • History, however, is not a linear narrative of progress. Rights may be won and taken away; gains are never complete or uncontested, and popular movements generate their own countervailing pressures.
  • America at the turn of this century is a far freer, more egalitarian society than in 1900.

If Lincoln Hadn't Died (2009)[edit]

"If Lincoln Hadn't Died" (2009), American Heritage, Volume 58, Issue 6
  • [T]he hallmarks of Lincoln's greatness were his ability to grow and his willingness to change his mind. During the war, he had come to embrace the Radical position on immediate emancipation and the enlistment of black soldiers. In 1864 he privately suggested to Governor Hahn that Louisiana allow some blacks to vote under its new constitution, singling out the educated, propertied free blacks of New Orleans and those who had served in the Union army. In April 1865, shortly before his death, Lincoln for the first time publicly stated his support for this kind of limited black suffrage.
  • Andrew Johnson lacked Lincoln's qualities of greatness. While Lincoln had been open-minded, willing to listen to criticism, attuned to the currents of northern public opinion, and able to get along with all elements of his party, Johnson was stubborn, deeply racist, and insensitive to the opinions of others. If anyone was responsible for the wreck of his presidency, it was Johnson himself, first by establishing new governments in the South in which blacks had no voice whatsoever, and then refusing, when these governments sought to reduce freedpeople to a situation akin to slavery through the Black Codes, to heed the rising tide of northern concern. As congressional opposition mounted, Johnson refused to budge.
  • The vast majority of white southerners, supported vociferously by the Democratic Party of the north, were deeply opposed to any equality for the former slaves.

2010s[edit]

  • Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. challenged the underlying premise of prevailing Civil War scholarship. The South, he pointed out, had shown no evidence of a willingness to end slavery; indeed, over time it had become ever more hysterical in its defense. With one eye firmly on the recent past, Schlesinger insisted that a society closed in support of evil could not be appeased, and if it was worth a war to destroy Nazism, surely it was worth one to eradicate slavery. But not until the 1960s, under the impact of the civil rights revolution, did historians en masse repudiate a half-century of Civil War scholarship, concluding that the war resulted from an irreconcilable conflict between two fundamentally different societies, one resting on slavery, the other on free labor. Historians pushed Emancipation to the center of their account of the Civil War, and it has remained there ever since.
  • Grant's famous motto, "Let us have peace", adorns the entrance to his tomb in New York City. Brands rightly emphasizes that this was a call not simply for national reconciliation but also for consolidation of what had been won in the war. Union and emancipation. By the time Grant died, the first was secure. It took a long time for the nation to try once again to fulfill the promise of the second.
  • Lincoln asked the nation to confront unblinkingly the legacy of slavery. What were the requirements of justice in the face of this reality? What would be necessary to enable former slaves and their descendants to enjoy fully the pursuit of happiness? Lincoln did not live to provide an answer. A century and a half later, we have yet to do so.
  • The Democratic Party, whatever that is, lacks a vision or an ideology. But many people have said this. Why? That is because it is a conglomeration of mutually exclusive parts. It contains a large part of the American working class, which has suffered greatly since the Great Recession began. But it also contains a lot of Wall Street people and well-to-do people, and new technologists. What policies is going to unite these people? It's hard to find a unifying theme among them, other than they don’t want the Republicans in power. Now, that often gets you fairly far, but it doesn't allow you to govern very effectively.

External links[edit]

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