Title: The Road to Redemption: Southern Politics, 1869-1879
Author: Michael Perman
Categories: Political History, Reconstruction, Redemption, Coalitions, Political Theory
Place: The American South
Time Period: 1869-1879
Michael Perman describes the political landscape of the South during the periods of Reconstruction and Redemption. He argues that these were not two discrete events and instead should be linked together as an episode in the continuing political history of the South. Perman describes a rise of a two-party system after the Civil War that was constantly reshaping itself, in particular with regards to internal divisions within the Republican and Democratic parties. He outlines two major phases: a period of "convergence" from 1869-1873 and a period of "divergence" (Redemption) from 1874-1879. Perman uses a political theory of competitive vs. expressive political mobilization, with competitive politics emphasizing inclusiveness, coalitions, and flexibility, and expressive politics emphasizing ideological purity.
During the first period of CONVERGENCE, both Republicans and Democrats fought over gaining the political center. For the Republicans, this meant reaching out to white voters and relaxing the punitive restrictions on Confederates during Reconstruction. These were often led by local white Southerners and emphasized conservative economic development rather than radical social reordering. They faced an internal challenge from the party by Regular Republicans who, often led by transplanted Northerners, focused on cultivating their black constituency. On the Democratic side, Democratic-Conservatives learned their lesson from backing hard-line candidates during the 1868 election, and instead turn towards accepting the basic tenets of Reconstruction (black suffrage) trying to build coalitions within that system - the "New Departure." They stressed economic development (particularly railroad promotion) and trying to peel off dissatisfied Republicans. This coalition-style culminated in lead-up to 1872 election, when a fusion ticket of Democrats and Liberal-Republicans put forward Horace Greeley to challenge Ulysses Grant's re-election.
Grant's crushing victory in 1872 marked the height of convergence politics, and subsequent rise of the second period of Southern politics: DIVERGENCE, from 1874-1879. Perman describes the increasing power of the "Bourbon" wing of the Democratic party in the mid-1870s, which lobbied for maintaing ideological purity to its Jacksonian-era roots: smaller and lower-spending government, ending subsidies for industry and manufacturing (spurred by backlash against railroads from Panic of 1873), and repudiation of state debts incurred to enact earlier Reconstruction policies. Perhaps most importantly, the Bourbon insurgency turned to race as a means to differentiate themselves from the Republicans: they eschewed any attempts at attracting black voters and instead made white supremacy a crucial plank in their platform. Perman argues that much of this came during state constitutional conventions during the mid-1870s, during which Bourbons made inroads by attacking Whiggish political economy tenets. By the late 1870s, the Republicans had been largely expelled from the South and the Democrats faced a rising agrarian interest within their party that caused them to enact legislation that severely restricted the rights and mobility of laborers in favor of the planting class. Perman argues that the Democrats, while in control, were not a coherent hierarchy of interests but a disaggregated coalition. In conjunction with their repressive labor policies and slashing of public support for economic development, this directionless, nebulous political character hamstrung the region's prospects for development.
Key Themes and Concepts
- Emphasis on two-party politics
- Internal factions within parties
- Competitive vs. Expressive political mobilization
- Rise of centrism, decline after 1872
U.S. History Qualifying Exams: Book Summaries
by Cameron Blevins
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