Reconstruction Era

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Should the Reconstruction era be considered the Second American Revolution? What criteria should we use?

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Several historians refer to the War of 1812 as the second American revolution. However, historians are a diverse group and not always in agreement. In recent years there has been a move by some historians to claim the Reconstruction era as the second American revolution. The claims stem from the parallels to the first American revolution, the revolution for independence from Great Britain. For example, historians make a correlation between Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation and the Declaration of Independence. Both declared independence and freedom from tyranny. In the case of the Declaration of Independence, independence from Great Britain. The Emancipation Proclamation decreed freedom from the tyranny of slavery.

Critics claim the two instances are not comparable. There is a demonstrable difference between independence from a foreign power located an ocean’s distance away and freedom from the unjust imposition of laws in your home country. Additionally, equating British rule with the harshness of slavery is not a valid comparison. The vast majority of American colonists were free to move about the colonies, conduct business, socialize, and were not coerced as a free labor source for the British. The same cannot be said of the slaves who were denied all civil rights and coerced as a free source of labor by the colonists. Ironically it was the colonists who thought the British rule was harsh but had no problem with implementing extreme measures to protect the institution of slavery.

Change is the goal of revolution. If your idea of revolution is a dramatic shift or change in the social structure of the society, then another way to look at the question is through the amendments (13th, 14th, and 15th) that were added to the United States Constitution during Reconstruction. These amendments guaranteed the rights of freed slaves and African Americans to be the same as the Constitutional rights as other citizens. From this perspective, the case can be made these changes altered and revolutionized American society. The Reconstruction Amendments, as they came to be known by historians, altered the social fabric and resulted in the civil rights movement. Using the term the second American Revolution is appropriate in this context.

The term revolution is used to describe other periods in American history that resulted in dramatic changes to the structure of society. For example, the Industrial Revolution created enormous shifts in wealth, immigration, and the role of government. The same is true of the revolution we now find society going through; the Technological Revolution. Both may be more comparable revolutions to use as a criterion for comparison with the Reconstruction era, given similarities such as economic or cultural during these time frames.

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