I spent Saturday morning reading Eric Foner's account of the collapse of Reconstruction following the American Civil War.

In many respects, at least in the short term, the Congressional Reconstruction efforts in the American South following the bloody War Between the States enjoyed great success. For a brief moment, the liberator-occupiers installed public education for all Southerners, built public hospitals and policed free elections. In so many ways, the vast majority of Southerners had never been freer or enjoyed more opportunity to improve themselves.

Northern proponents of "free labor" ideology optimistically weaved an enchanting plan for a new South in which public schools, railroads, small towns and independent farmers would prosper and proliferate. However, as the promised economic progress failed to materialize in the South, a backward-looking white insurgency gained momentum. A "reign of terror" against the occupying army, the new government and its civilian supporters made the South an increasingly dangerous place for citizens working toward the "free society" vision.

Although the violent insurgency was deadly and ubiquitous by 1870 and 1871, President Grant decisively responded with determination and vigor to crush the Klan by 1872. For a year or so, the project to reform the South moved forward in relative peace. But victory in the former Confederacy was not secured. The occupying Northerners had problems of their own at home. A faction of Republicans objected to the ruling party on grounds related indirectly to Reconstruction; they also believed that the former slaves, freed and given political rights, should now take the lead in maintaining their newly acquired status. It was time to draw down; it was time to focus on problems nearer to home.

After a devastating economic downturn in 1873, and the mid-term elections of 1874 in which the Democrats captured the House of Representatives for the first time since before the Civil War, President Grant observed that the public was worn out by Reconstruction.

By the election of 1876, the insurgency was back--and more brazen. This time, four years later, President Grant lacked the will to respond. Most of the Northern visionaries who had predicted a successful, dynamic and peaceful reformation were long gone. And the people of the North were mostly fatigued with the ten-year project. They had done their best. They had offered the South an opportunity. High minded and well-intentioned people had professed the ability to remake a distinct culture in their own image--but they had failed.

Note to readers: this is a simple telling of a complicated story from an occupiers point of view. I am hoping that my unreconstructed friends will accept it as that and not argue the finer points of Reconstruction historiography; that was not the point of my yarn--but, if it happens that way, I will engage in that conversation.