Richmond during presidential reconstruction, 1865-1867

Smith, Leslie Winston, Corcoran Department of History, University of Virginia
Gaston, Paul M., Department of History, University of Virginia
Flanigan, Daniel John, Department of History, University of Virginia

Historians who have examined Virginia during Reconstruction have concentrated upon the political struggle, the role of th2 blacks, and the influence of the Freedmen's Bureau, but on a state-wide level. None has focused solely upon the critical years of Presidential Reconstruction, local politics, or the role of the city. . Richmond, the headquarters of the United States Army and the Freedmen's Bureau in Virginia after 1865, has been ignored almost completely.

Yet, the problems of Presidential Reconstruction were not necessarily the same in rural and urban Virginia. Unlike the counties, Richmond had to cope with the consequences of a major conflagration and wartime devastation. The close proximity of civilians and United States military personnel enhanced the possibility of physical confrontations. It also created problems of jurisdiction, both political and judicial. Richmond was called upon to provide food and employment for thousands of refugee blacks and whites. Moreover, segregation practices which had emerged in antebellum Richmond persisted.

The first half of the dissertation is arranged chronologically and emphasizes the political aspects of Presidential Reconstruction, including military 8Dd civilian relations, the problems of blacks and loyal unionists in the city, and the restoration and consolidation of the position of the middle class, business-minded, Whig-oriented politicians who had managed the city for decades. The last half of the study examines topically such problems as the adrninistr2tion of justice, relief for the indigent, the plight of the black laborer, and the expansion of de facto segregation. Most of the information is drawn from contemporary newspapers and official city records, Freedmen's Bureau documents, and numerous letters and diaries of Richmonders.

For those who hoped to reform southern society and to make the Emancipation Proclamation more than an empty gesture, Presidential Reconstruction in Richmond was a dismal failure. Central to that failure were white recalcitrance and conciliatory reconstruction programs which always offered the South a choice of compliance or rejection. Thus, President Johnson and Congress actually encouraged southern intransigence during Presidential Reconstruction.

Given the shortage of military and Freedmen's Bureau personnel in Virginia, the implementation of any reconstruction program would have been difficult. Moreover, many of the Bureau and military officials were as conservative as white Virginians and often discriminated against blacks. Richmond whites shrewdly ingratiated themselves with conservative generals like E. O. C. Ord, Henry Halleck, and John Schofield.

The opportunity for substantial changes in the city was minimized by the attitude of Governor Pierpont who, as an enthusjast3.c supporter of the President, was determined to achieve a speedy reconciliation. As a result blacks and loyal unionists suffered. Even if Pierpont had never intended to appoint blacks to office, an infusion of loyal unionists in the city government might have proved beneficial. Unfortunately, the governor shamefully ignored them. Pier··· pant did advise the state legislature to cooperate with Congress, but to no avail. At the forefront of a dissident legislature was the delegation from Richmond.

Caught between the conciliatory programs of Johnson and Congress and the determination of whites to keep blacks in their place, many Richmond freedmen abandoned their Sambo image and fought back. Although whites retaliated the belligerency of blacks boosted morale and pride and strengthened the position of the emerging black leaders.

If Presidential Reconstruction failed to generate constructive change in Richmond, especially for the blacks, it was because officials in Washington erroneously assumed that such change could be achieved through moderation and reconciliation. The sad fact was that only a program which left no alternative but immediate compliance was the answer.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Reconstruction (U.S. history, 1865-1877) -- Virginia -- Richmond, Richmond (Va.) -- History -- Civil War, 1861-1865, Richmond (Va.) -- History -- 19th century

Digitization of this thesis was made possible by a generous grant from the Jefferson Trust, 2015.

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