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Sometimes Reconstruction gets short shrift, but there is a proper historiographical debate concerning the twelve years following the Civil War. Eric Foner has talked about how Reconstruction represented a “splendid failure” because it offered African Americans a vision of how a free society should function (albeit temporarily). Therefore, Reconstruction gave African Americans something to which they could aspire in the subsequent Civil Rights movements. Other historians argue that Reconstruction was not a “splendid failure” so much as it was just a failure. They argue that the simple fact is that any political leader (even Lincoln had he survived) could not have managed to secure permanent political, economic, and social gains for former slaves. That being said, whether a splendid failure or simply a failure, Reconstruction contributed to the secondary status of African Americans (and resolving that status represents one of the key threads running through the second half of American History).

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What do you believe: Was Reconstruction a “splendid failure” or just a failure? How can we measure success or failure in this situation?

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