Brooks Simpson on Ulysses S. Grant and the Politics of Reconstruction

Brooks Simpson
Brooks Simpson. Image courtesy of ASU.

By Ashley Whitehead Luskey

Over the course of this year, we’ll be interviewing some of the historians scheduled to speak at the 2016 CWI conference about their upcoming talks and their thoughts about Reconstruction and its legaciesToday, we’re speaking with Brooks Simpson, ASU Foundation Professor of History at Arizona State University. His numerous publications include: The Reconstruction Presidents (University Press of Kansas, 2009), Union and Emancipation: Essays on Politics and Race in the Civil War Era (Kent State University Press, 2009, a volume co-edited with David Blight), The Civil War in the East, 1861-1865 (Potomac Books, 2013), and The Civil War: The Third Year Told by Those Who Lived It, an edited volume published in 2013 by the Library of America. He also maintains the blog Crossroads.

CWI: What were Ulysses S. Grant’s goals for the newly reunited nation during the Reconstruction period? How did his vision for postwar America evolve over time?

SIMPSON: Grant sought to balance sectional reconciliation and reunion among whites with protecting the freedpeople in the aftermath of the destruction of slavery. Over time, he came to realize that African Americans needed protection and assistance as they defined what freedom meant, adding political rights (including suffrage) to the need to secure equality before the law regardless of race. Grant contended that reconciliation did not require the acceptance of continued rebellious behavior. Furthermore, he believed that the continued resistance to Reconstruction by those people in the North who had not wholeheartedly supported the war effort should not be tolerated. Grant never doubted the cause for which he fought and saw no reason to apologize for or tolerate criticisms of the Union war effort. Continue reading “Brooks Simpson on Ulysses S. Grant and the Politics of Reconstruction”

A New Angle on the Freedmen’s Bureau: A Conversation with James Downs

Jim Downs
Jim Downs. Image courtesy of Connecticut College.

By Ashley Whitehead Luskey

Over the course of this year, we’ll be interviewing some of the historians scheduled to speak at the 2016 CWI conference about their upcoming talks and their thoughts about Reconstruction and its legacies. Today, we’re speaking with James Downs. Downs is an Associate Professor of History and American Studies at Connecticut College. He recently published Sick from Freedom: African-American Illness and Suffering During the Civil War and Reconstruction (Oxford University Press, 2012), which tells the largely unknown story of the many former slaves who died at the moment of freedom. Dr. Downs has also published on the representations of slavery in museums and historic landmarks in the United States, England, and the Bahamas. He is currently working on two book projects—the first on the international outbreak of the 19th-century cholera epidemics, and the second on the history of sexuality. The recent recipient of a prestigious New Directions Fellowship, Dr. Downs is spending the 2015-2016 academic year on sabbatical as an Andrew W. Mellon fellow at Harvard University.

CWI: What was the Freedmen’s Bureau? Who operated it, and what purposes did it serve?

DOWNS: The Freedmen’s Bureau was a federal government agency that helped to ease former bondspeople’s transition from slavery to freedom. Established by Congress in 1865 as the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Land, the Freedmen’s Bureau negotiated labor contracts; established provisional schools; constructed schools and began the first-ever system of federal medical care—building over forty hospitals, employing over 120 physicians, and treating an estimated one million formerly enslaved people. Continue reading “A New Angle on the Freedmen’s Bureau: A Conversation with James Downs”