Textbook Reconstruction: The First Battle to “Re-white” American History

In the decades following Reconstruction, a decade-plus (1863-1877) effort by Congress to enfranchise and empower the 4,000,000 formerly enslaved people who resided in those states, American history textbooks, academic histories and popular histories constructed a narrative that provided white citizens absolution by positioning Reconstruction as a “tragic era” of “scalawags” and “ignorant negroes” manipulated by invaders from the North, “carpetbaggers,” who “swarmed” South after the Civil War to pillage and humiliate.

This essay traces the development of this supposedly “tragic” narrative through a review of American history textbooks published in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.