A Fool's Errand

by Albion Winegar Tourgée

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What did Servosse come to hate about America after the war, besides the KKK?

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Servosse (Colonel Comfort Servosse) 1. Servosse's family were French Canadian who lived in Michigan before the Civil War. He joined the Union army and was made colonel of a regiment of black troops. 2. After the war, he moved to North Carolina, where he became involved with politics and local issues. 3. Servosse became disillusioned with Reconstruction due to political corruption and violence against blacks by the Ku Klux Klan. He moved back to Michigan in 1871, where he wrote A Fool's Errand about his experiences in Greensboro, NC., between 1865-1871.4.

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Difficult to Comprehend

Even though Albion Tourgee's 1879 novel A Fool's Errand was based on Tourgee's actual post-Civil War Reconstruction experiences in Greensboro, North Carolina, it is the fictional tale of Colonel Comfort Servosse--of French Canadian descent but at the time an American living in Michigan--who practiced law before joining...

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the war effort.

This is a difficult novel to comprehend for three reasons. The first reason is that, although it is fictional, it has an undertone of truth--rightly so as it is based on Tourgee's own life experience--and this undertone can prove confusing and distracting to readers. The second reason is that, having been written before the turn of the twentieth century (i.e., in 1879), the language is more elaborate with longer sentences expressing longer, more intricately related thoughts; the logic developed by thoughts is more complex and intricate in connections from one idea to the next. This is one is the most difficult cause behind the struggle to comprehend Tourgee's thoughts.

The third reason is that the Southern black characters speak in their dialect. A dialect is more than just different accent on words or different pronunciation of words: dialect includes different vocabulary and sentence syntax (word order and thought construction) for expressing thoughts. In conclusion, with the narrator using more elaborate language for expressing more complex logical trains of thought and with some characters speaking in dialect, the language of the novel is harder for modern readers to comprehend. (It presents consequently a valuable exercise for learning to follow and then to express more complex logical constructions framing and expressing your own academic and personal thoughts.)
What Servosse Came to Hate About America

While there are many individual instances that illustrate what Servosse came to hate about America, they fall generally into two main thematic categories depicting what Servosse (representing Tourgee) came to hate. The first main category is restricted or stolen freedom. The second main category is an indictment against the Federal government (or as he calls it, the General Government) for failing to fulfill its duties. This second one, the indictment against the Federal government, is certainly something that was "national in scope and power" as it impacted the North and West even though its main focus and failure was in the South.
Restricted or Stolen Freedom

The practical question for you to consider is, How far and
how fast shall the freedmen be enfranchised? You have to-day assented to the assertion repeatedly made, that the South would
never submit to 'nigger suffrage.' But again I say, the South has nothing to do with that question either. The war settled that also. [speech by Servosse]

There are many examples throughout the novel of restricted or stolen freedoms. Freedoms are accurately depicted as being restricted or stolen by violent men with violent opinions who enact violent punishments, of varying degrees, upon those who question, rebel, express, or even suggest that an action or opinion or belief ought to be something other than those engaged in or held by the violent men. [One would like to say the violent men were narrow minded or small minded or ignorant, but the truth is that they perceived and thought well enough with sometimes more than ample intelligence, they just perceived and thought wrongly and misspent their intelligence.] These freedoms were restricted and stolen from both black and white citizens.

Bear in mind, though, that it cannot be overemphasized that the most horrific and ghastly abuse and theft of freedom occurred to blacks. The Ku Klux Klan (KKK) was indeed the most horrific part of this attack against and theft of black freedom, and even though one point Tourgee makes addresses what he saw as the overall national decline in the existence and activity of the Klan, the KKK is the most forceful illustration of loss of freedom: Horrific as it was, the grizzly KKK fits within the overarching theme of restriction and theft of freedom that Servosse hated about post-Civil War America.   

Tourgee emphasizes this destruction of freedom--and of life--by drawing a contrast between the concept of freedom as lived in the North and the concept of freedom as lived in the South. The narrator, speaking for Servosse, expresses the idea that, in the North, freedom of action, political involvement, opinion, speech was assumed as a birthright, while, in the South, that birthright is stamped out by violent men, violent opinions, violent perpetuation of an wrongly wrought culture, restrictions, oppression and exclusion participation in culture and government.

Accustomed [as Servosse was] to command for four years, and previous to that time imbued with the spirit of ready and hearty co-operation and participation in matters of public interest which is almost the birthright of the Northern citizen, he was vexed and troubled at the retiring hesitancy of the Union men by whom he was surrounded.

Indictment Against Washington Government

Servosse came to hate what he saw as the powerlessness, or the impotence (impotence: weakness; lacking power; lacking ability), of the Federal government in Washington; Servosse called it the "General Government":

"As I said," continued the Fool, "with the general question of colored suffrage you have nothing to do. It is a fact accomplished. It is not yet recorded in the statute-books; but it is in the book of fate. ... Wait, hesitate, refuse, and all will be enfranchised at the same time by the General Government."

In his indictment against the Washington government (indictment: an accusation about or charge levied against someone for some wrong or criminal act for which there is cause to blame someone) Servosse (speaking probably for Tourgee himself) makes three major points. He indicts the government for:

1. allowing violence under sovereignty of the state doctrine.
2. failing to restructure the South in terms of culture as well as in terms of law: the Old South reasserted itself in the new government edifices.
3. presenting incompetent reconstruction plans.

"The North is simply a conqueror; and, if the results she fought for are to be secured, she must rule as a conqueror. Suppose the South had been triumphant, and had overwhelmed and determined to hold the North? Before now, a thoroughly organized system of provincial government would have been securely established. There would have been no hesitation, no subterfuge, no pretense of restoration,..." [Letter from Servosse to Dr. E. Martin]

In summary, the second thing that Servosse came to hate about post-Civil War America was the weakness of the Northerners in the Washington general government to rebuild the South in the image of the North; the failure of the North to act like the conqueror and replace, restructure, reshape instead of "reconstruct" (reestablish what was) the South.

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