[There was a video here]

At last night’s uneventful Iowa “town hall” discussion on CNN, Hillary Clinton was asked which president she most admires. Her answer: Abraham Lincoln. Her reason: a terrible muddled mess of Dixie revisionism that puts Reconstruction in the same dark bin as Jim Crow.

As most people north of the Mason-Dixon Line learn in seventh grade or so, Reconstruction was the phase of post-Civil War recovery in which the defeated Confederate states were essentially whipped into shape and permitted back into the Union. During Reconstruction, the Freedman’s Bureau was established to protect the civil rights of freed slaves (to at least some extent), the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments were ratified, and “enforcement acts” were passed to protect black Americans as they voted and held office for the first time.

Then, in 1877, Rutherford B. Hayes agreed to terminate Reconstruction in exchange for being granted victory in the disputed presidential election of 1876. United States troops withdrew from the South, and white supremacist terrorists resumed control of the state governments, disenfranchising the black population and creating the long-lasting set of segregation laws known as Jim Crow.

The ascendant Southern racists also promulgated, with a great deal of success, a revisionist history in which Reconstruction had been a tyranny visited on the South by Northern interlopers (“carpetbaggers”) and Southern criminals (“scalawags”), and its reversal a moment of liberation. Generations of schoolchildren learned of Reconstruction as another terrible chapter in American history, rather than as a brief interlude of decency.

And so Clinton, lamenting the premature death of Lincoln, explained that America could have been:

“A little less rancorous,a little more forgiving and tolerant that might possibly have brought people back together more quickly...but instead, we had Reconstruction, we had the re-instigation of segregation and Jim Crow, we had people in the South feeling totally discouraged and defiant...”

This is a Democratic presidential candidate delivering the “War of Northern Aggression” version of American history. To be sure, it was probably what she was taught in junior high school. But she’s had a bit of exposure to other ideas since then. She went to Yale! She was our Secretary of State! If you’re going to be a member of the American power elite, at least have your middle-school history up to date.

Contact the author at biddle@gawker.com.
Public PGP key
PGP fingerprint: E93A 40D1 FA38 4B2B 1477 C855 3DEA F030 F340 E2C7