AuthorHOSMER, JOHN HARELSON.
KeywordsReconstruction -- Historiography.
Southern States -- History -- 1865-1877 -- Historiography.
Dunning, William Archibald, 1857-1922.
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PublisherThe University of Arizona.
RightsCopyright © is held by the author. Digital access to this material is made possible by the University Libraries, University of Arizona. Further transmission, reproduction or presentation (such as public display or performance) of protected items is prohibited except with permission of the author.
AbstractBetween 1900 and 1925 a score of young Southern historians graduated from Columbia University and quickly became the leading authorities on the subject of the Civil War and Reconstruction. Students of the eminent historian William A. Dunning, they included such influential authors as U. B. Phillips, Walter Lynwood Fleming, Charles W. Ramsdell, James W. Garner, and Joseph G. deRoulhac Hamilton. Producing over one-hundred works on the post-Civil War era, these Dunning students depicted Reconstruction as a time of horror for the South. A vindictive group of Northern Republicans, they argued, forced through Congress a series of Reconstruction acts designed to allow the inferior black man, only a few years out of "barbarism," the right to vote and to hold political office. Horrified by the presence of freedmen in politics, Dunning and his students insisted that the newly enfranchised Negroes, along with Northern carpetbaggers and Southern scalawags, began a decade of misrule through the former Confederate states by imposing exorbitant taxes on the landowning class and by squandering state treasures for selfish and criminal purposes. White Southerners became prosperous again, they concluded, only after political power returned securely to white hands. While the antipathy that these authors felt for American Negroes appeared frequently in their works, the major flaw in the writings of Dunning and his students lay not with their racial bias, but with their use of disreputable scholarship to justify that bias. Using history as a discipline to defend the status quo in 1900, members of the Dunning school distorted and fabricated factual information in order to exonerate the existence of segregation and disfranchisement during their lifetime. The historical scholarship of these authors, therefore, illustrates the enormous power historians exercise when justifying the contemporary beliefs of their era, but more importantly, it serves as a classic example of the problems inherent in presentist historical writing.