Too often discussions can swing from one extreme to another
From 85% venerated to 85% condemned.
When it was recognized that he was a racist, too much of what previously had been of value in his writings was dismissed.
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Simplistic: North good. South bad.
The discussion is too polarized. The situation was more complex.
Wilson said the enslaved people were generally not treated as badly as portrayed by Northerners. Can we dare to imagine the reality?
The reality was racist. Is a “but” allowable? Wilson said the productivity of horses was of great value. The plantation owners wanted their horses to thrive. Of course, not for the innate happiness of the horses (though some people have a benevolent empathetic feeling toward their domestic animals), but generally out of self-interest. Most bosses want their workers to thrive for the sake of productivity. Some plantation owners wanted their enslaved workers to thrive for the sake of productivity.
The situation was racist: Thrive to the point of being able to labor, but not thrive to the point of having agency.
Nonetheless, the sudden change of circumstance after the Civil War actually had an element of cruelty for at least some of the Blacks … being suddenly cut loose. The Northern government had promised help, but little was provided. In many cases the circumstances were suddenly daunting. The way the Reconstruction was conducted made the plantation owners especially hateful … hateful of the occupying troops, hateful of the carpet-baggers, resentful of the enfranchisement of the Blacks at their expense, etc. The reaction resulted in Jim Crow.
Woodrow Wilson was a racist. But he had a point of view on Reconstruction and Southern life (antebellum and postbellum) that contained some alternative information that could be appreciated for the sake of perspective. The official perspective was biased and Wilson’s was biased.
Wilson said there was an element of despotism in Reconstruction and in the advancement of a toxic program that, arguably, poisoned relations more than necessary.
Wilson was a racist, but he did not support slavery or the Confederacy. He was generally liberal and progressive in most policy areas. Had there been no Civil War I think other Southerners of his generation would have ended slavery. It was being abolished all over the world during the nineteenth century. A more populist-voluntary and more gradual process would have worked out better for everyone in the long run. I think it would have avoided a hundred years of Jim Crow.
A good deal of the critique of Reconstruction has some validity. Can we dare to acknowledge complexity?