The Role of Violence in the Politics of Reconstruction

This revolved around a mentality that sought to contain the inevitable presence of violence, rather than attempting to remove it from society. It was also a culture marked by violent ‘taming’ of the Indians and repression of slave revolts.Rable also rejects recent interpretations of the South as essentially conservative during this period. He argues, rather, that for the southerners of this period there was such a level of economic, social and political upheaval that to call this period conservative would be absurd. He blames this very turmoil on the explosion of violence in the south. For Rable, it was not a question of inherited violence but rather of ‘time and place’. The south became violent because of the specific conditions after the civil war, not for any violence inherent in southern society. Rable goes on to explain the way in which the south drifted out of the ‘mainstream’ and was left to have its fate decided by the victorious North. Under such conditions of continual political disappointment, violence erupted.This chapter deals with the fundamental problem facing the south after the Civil War – the position of the slaves. Although the constitution was founded on the idea of the equality of men, there was still a gross difference between white southerners and the recently freed slaves. For many southerners, it was certainly difficult to accept the new status of men who had previously been considered far below them. Reconstruction in the south, argues Rable, therefore became a crusade to maintain the white status quo. History of white supremacy was cited in order to show how the black man should not be allowed to participate on an equal level with the white man in all aspects of life. Rable sums up that ‘for many whites, it was an article of faith that the old order could bepreserved’. As Rable argues, this manifested itself as a belief in a paternal relationship between the inferior negro and the superior white landowner.Attempts, which were ultimately unsuccessful, were made to maintain a post-slavery, master-servant relationship.

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