The Clansman is divided into four books covering a period from about 1865 to 1870. The first two books are centered on the activities in the nation’s capital, delineating the death of President Abraham Lincoln and the ensuing power struggle between Capitol Hill and the White House on how the South is to be treated. Books 3 and 4 shift to South Carolina and outline the havoc that the Reconstruction-era state governments have brought to the South, resulting in the rise of the Ku Klux Klan.
The Clansman has an omniscient narrator who relates events, allowing major characters to voice the author’s philosophy. The novel opens with the celebration of the Union army in Washington, D.C., at the close of the Civil War, while thousands of soldiers from the North and the South lie in makeshift hospitals. At the height of the celebration, President Lincoln is assassinated, and while the nation mourns, Andrew Johnson, a southerner, becomes the next president. Lincoln’s intention was to bring the South back into the Union; Johnson, a less resolute leader, attempts to effectuate Lincoln’s design, but he is met with stiff opposition in Congress under the leadership of Austin Stoneman. Stoneman, who controls Congress but who appears to be under the control of Lydia Brown, his mulatto housekeeper, prevents Johnson from bringing the South back into the Union. Instead, Stoneman persuades Congress to enact laws that put the government of the South in the hands of blacks. This new dispensation in the South alienates whites, causing them to retaliate against blacks. Because Johnson balks at penalizing the South, he is impeached and tried by the members of the Senate. He is saved from conviction by one vote. While the political battle rages on Capitol Hill, Elsie Stoneman, who is nursing wounded soldiers, meets Ben Cameron and the Cameron family. She introduces her brother Philip to...
(The entire section is 775 words.)