This book covers the major political events and people in Washington D.C. and the South from 1865 to 1877, when Reconstruction ended, and features fascinating details of the lives of fifteen of the key political figures of the period, and how they played significant roles in the effort to bring Reconstruction to the South.  Some of these individuals are well known, others are not, but each had an important part in the events of their time.  All of them are woven in to a very well written account of this period of American history.  The twenty chapters begin with the night of President Lincoln’s assassination and go on to detail the politics and machinations of people such as Andrew Johnson, William Henry Seward, Jefferson Davis, Thaddeus Stevens, Nathan Bedford Forrest, O. O. Howard and others who struggled over the aftermath of the Civil War. There was much strife trying to pass legislation for Reconstruction, with the South and most Democrats against it, while radical Republicans wanted to punish the Southern states and correct the evils of slavery.  All of this, plus an unpopular president and divided Republican and Democrat parties in Congress made progress impossible in Reconstruction or reconciliation of the nation.  Sound familiar?  Perhaps politics have not changed that much.

The book gives the reader a clear picture of the conflicts and issues involved in efforts to pass Reconstruction amid the corruption, graft, bribes, threats, and corrupt special interest groups seeking favors.  Two chapters cover the rise of the Ku Klux Klan and Jim Crow laws implemented by the South to prevent blacks from realizing the rights guaranteed to them by the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments.  Only after the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 – 99 years later – under another Southern President named Johnson and with the full force of the Federal government, were these goals achieved.

This book is very well written and full of fascinating details of the people, events, and “back stories” of what actually happened in Congress as the struggle to bring real democracy to the South went on.  For those who think today’s politics are vicious and partisan, they are nothing compared to the battles fought over Reconstruction.  While some parts get a little mired in political detail, such as the real story behind Johnson’s impeachment – much more complicated than we learn in school – the author’s research is thorough and well documented, and very readable. The details of the “rest of the story,” about Congress, Negro efforts to take advantage of their newly won freedom and implacable Southern resistance, will be an eye-opener to readers.

Title: After Lincoln – How the North Won the Civil War and Lost the Peace

Author: A. J. Langguth

Publisher:  Simon & Shuster

Pages: 446

Price: $28.00

Hard cover

-Courier book review by Duane Benell