A Dangerous Stir: Fear, Paranoia, and the Making of Reconstruction / Edition 1

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Overview

Reconstruction policy after the Civil War, observes Mark Wahlgren Summers, was shaped not simply by politics, principles, and prejudices. Also at work were fears—often unreasonable fears of renewed civil war and a widespread sense that four years of war had thrown the normal constitutional process so dangerously out of kilter that the republic itself remained in peril.

To understand Reconstruction, Summers contends, one must understand that the purpose of the North's war was—first and foremost—to save the Union with its republican institutions intact. During Reconstruction there were always fears in the mix—that the Civil War had settled nothing, that the Union was still in peril, and that its enemies and the enemies of republican government were more resilient and cunning than normal mortals. Many factors shaped the reintegration of the former Confederate states and the North's commitment to Reconstruction, Summers agrees, but the fears of war reigniting, plots against liberty, and a president prepared to father a coup d'etat ranked higher among them than historians have recognized.

Both a dramatic narrative of the events of Reconstruction and a groundbreaking new look at what drove these events, A Dangerous Stir is also a valuable look at the role of fear in the politics of the time—and in politics in general.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"There is perhaps no scholar more capable than Mark Summers to write with authority about the political culture of Reconstruction. With insight, skill, and wit, he recovers and explores a persistent but neglected theme in the writings of the era. In the process, he sheds new and valuable light on such traditional problems in Reconstruction historiography as the curious reaction of Southerners during the summer and fall of 1865, the behavior of President Andrew Johnson, and the increasing radicalization of Republican Reconstruction policies. This is an important book that was waiting to be written."
-Mitchell Snay, author of Fenians, Freedmen, and Southern Whites: Race and Nationality in the Era of Reconstruction
From the Publisher
"Summer's clear prose dances with apt flourishes. . . . fresh, insightful, and relevant."--North Carolina Historical Review

"Carefully researched and congenially written. . . . An important and convincing book, as a well as a very engaging one. . . . Should encourage historians to pay more attention to the role of fear in Reconstruction-era politics."--Journal of Southern History

"A fascinating departure from much of the existing literature on the postwar era."--The Alabama Review

"Summers carefully teases apart the myriad strands of wartime and postwar political discourse, finding more similarities than one might think between Republican and Democratic rhetoric. . . . Richly detailed and tightly argued. . . . A powerful and fascinating contribution to the literature of Reconstruction politics."--Journal of Interdisciplinary History

"Based on extensive research and written in readable prose, this stimulating study is not a general study of 1865-1869. . . . Provides excellent brief biographies. . . . Recommended."--Choice

"Deeply researched and cleverly written, this new examination of the dark side of Reconstruction will inform, enlighten, and may create a 'stir' of its own."--The Journal of American History

"Summers's premise is an intriguing one and his book maintains a feeling of uncertainty, even though the story is well known."--H-Civil War

"Offers provocative historical context for thinking about the reactionary rhetoric of today."--Civil War Book Review

"Most historians write about what happened in the past. Summers, in his new history of Reconstruction, instead writes about what failed to occur. . . . [And] chronicles the fears that gripped the people of the era."--Virginia Quarterly Review

"Both a dramatic narrative of the events of the Reconstruction and a groundbreaking new look at what drove these events, A Dangerous Stir is also a valuable look at the role of fear in the politics of the time--and in politics in general."--McCormick Messenger

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780807833049
  • Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press
  • Publication date: 10/1/2009
  • Series: Civil War America Series
  • Edition description: 1
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 344
  • Product dimensions: 6.50 (w) x 9.40 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Mark Wahlgren Summers is Thomas D. Clark Professor of History at the University of Kentucky, Lexington. He is the author of seven books, including Rum, Romanism, and Rebellion: The Making of a President, 1884 and Party Games: Getting, Keeping, and Using Power in Gilded Age Politics (both UNC Press).

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Posted October 12, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Unique look at Reconstruction

    People who read history know how the story ends. We have read the last chapter of the mystery novel and are now working are way to the inevitable conclusion. Knowing the story can result in seeing history as fixed and the participant's actions as predestined. We forget that they have not read the final chapter. They do not see a predestined course to an inevitable conclusion. Things were no clearer, to them, than they are today. Both see a myriad of possibilities fraught with perils real and imagined. The media works to attract business not to tell the truth. Personal considerations, public prejudiced, irrational fears and silly unreasonable expectations play major roles in what did or did not happen. All to often, this gets lost in the history of large political events.
    Mark Summers brings all the fear, unreasonable expectations, paranoia, public prejudices and media overstatements together to produce a unique look at Reconstruction. This is not a clear dispute between Presidential and Congressional Reconstruction policies. This is not a contest between the radical and moderate/conservative Republicans in Congress. This is not politics "as usual" between Northern Democrats and Republicans over control of the country. Yes, all of this is occurring and the author includes it in the proper perspective. What sets this book apart is the author's concentration on these fears, delusions and assumptions that occurred in making and unmaking of Reconstruction policy.
    America had just put down a rebellion. For the first time, a president is murdered. Emancipation freed millions of blacks but what would happen to them? The government was badly in debt, taxes high and thousands of men were invalids. Thousands more were trying to put their lives back together, adjusting to civilian life after the years of war. Much of the nation was in ruins and business had to switch from military to civilian production. Over all of this is a series of options and legal questions on reconstruction that victory had not settled. The author does an excellent job of covering the legal questions and political problems the nation faces in 1866. This very impressive foundation, allows readers to understand the reasoning behind the many parties decisions. Of equal importance is the state of newspapers, North and South, during this time. Highly partisan, reporting speculation as fact while often lacking resources to do more than copy stories from other papers, they play a major role in shaping public opinion. Often, the newspapers do little more than confirm the prejudices of their subscribers, echoing the position of the party to which they belong.
    The President and the Congress cannot work together. The public fears a second civil war. The President leads an army fighting for a Congress of Northern Democrats, Copperheads and former rebels saving the nation from radicals and preserving the Constitution. A Congressional army of state militia and GAR veterans fights to preserve the victory of 1865. Did it happen, no it did not. At the time, people did not know if it would or not happen and newspapers use a lot of ink reporting this story.
    This book takes us back to the fears and dangers of the years immediately following the Civil War. We see Reconstructions not as a failed process or a conflict between branches of government but as a real moving item. [Review is truncated to fit B&N limits]

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