What was Reconstruction, and why did it represent such a sharp break with America’s past?
In a talk in New York City last month, historian Eric Foner offered some blunt truths about nineteenth-century America that help explain why the twelve years following the end of the Civil War were such a bold political and social experiment.
Thomas Paine: Collected Writings. He delivered his talk at an event for Library of America’s new anthology Reconstruction: Voices from America’s First Great Struggle for Racial Equality, a collection of firsthand historical writings edited by Brooks D. Simpson.
Eric Foner: “Slavery was not going away” (2:06)
In his conclusion, Foner touched on Reconstruction’s inescapable relevance to the present moment.
“Our history is not, as some people like to think, a straight line of greater and greater freedom, greater and greater rights,” he said, “but a much more complicated and much more interesting story of ups and downs, of rights gained, and then lost, that have to be fought for another day.”
Eric Foner: One lesson of Reconstruction (1:28)
Watch Eric Foner’s complete talk on Library of America’s YouTube channel.