Propaganda and the Reconstruction

Labels and slander have been used as a form of control amongst different groups of people, probably as long as people have been using words for communication. Post-civil war America can be seen as a great example of this. 

Many harsh words were used to focus on aggressively specific, and short-sighted aspects of different groups of people to hide their own fear and ignorance of any general factors of the components that every person is made of and that makes up a person’s personality. 

This can be used even more broadly when referring to the components that make up an entire society. A society can be seen as a sort of living organism with many different groups making up the vital infrastructure. When you point out oddly specific and perceived contemptuous aspects of any group or individual, you can convince anybody with an ear to lend, that any group is less than sanctified.

The term “carpetbagger” refers to a specific myth attributed to the group of northerners that were, that which was perceived as, a disproportionate number of Republican governors, as well as congressmen and senators.

The mythos was that they came to the south with nothing but a carpetbag filled with the stolen loot they took from helpless people they found along their journey. They “hoped to build the south in the image of the free-labor North”, and “many were college graduates at a time when less than 2% of Americans had attended college.”

The northern Americans were met by a hostile South at a time when the majority of southern whites were still holding onto the war and were not disposed to any kind of change. From the opposite point of view, Americans and their European ancestors as a whole can be seen to be far too brash in putting their values on others, when humans as a whole can be seen as opposed to any drastic change.

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“Scalawags” were a group of native-born southern white Republicans. They came from the mid-eastern states of North Carolina and Virginia, as well as eastern Tennessee and other close quartered areas.

They brought with them a Whiggish philosophy and had values aligned with those of the northern Republicans. Their mosaic philosophy was simply, “Yankees and Yankee notions are what we want in this country. We want their capital to build factories, and work shops, and railroads.”

The “scalawags” were met with the same sense of irreverence as the “carpetbaggers”, but this time it was due to a disbelief in the coalition of such disparate elements.

“Negro rule” was the bit of propaganda that espoused the idea of “Africanization” with the perceived power they had over the 10 southern states. This can be easily brushed off as a misnomer since “nowhere except in South Carolina did blacks hold office in numbers anywhere near their proportion of the population” and “blacks held only 15 to 20 percent of public offices, even at the height of Reconstruction in the early 1870’s.”

In my personal opinion, and I will state it because this is my essay and there is no purpose in me repeating facts that can be easily obtained by perusing the text, the southern “conservatives/post-confederates” were acting, and are still acting (at least in the case of the parts of America that I’m from), to a certain extent, in a way that is detrimental to the survival of any nation.

Bigamy and slander toward an outsider group in the equivalent of making fun of the slow kid at recess. It undermines the personal growth of a nation and breeds hate. It shows a complete lack of self-reflection and enlightenment.

The brave ones in the south during the Reconstruction period were not the Ku Klux Klan, Red Shirts, or the White League. The ones with the true grit were the ones that stuck around in a country (despite Abraham Lincoln’s proposal to emigrate to all black countries) where their human rights were in constant jeopardy, as well as the people that had the progressive mindset to give them equal rights, while also trying to reconstruct a torn country anew.

It was easy for Andrew Johnson to act in personal interest and restore the south to its antebellum days because that is what he knew. That is an act of fear. Putting his fellow white southern yeoman into power was an act of pure foolishness, with no concern for the country he was appointed to lead.

It was easy for him to attempt to denigrate Frederick Douglass’ character in an act of a pathological ideology, but that wasn’t helping anybody.

To base propaganda on nothing but pure anger, hate, and fear will do nothing but tear a country down. To look at your fellow man and call him a “carpetbagger”, a “scalawag”, or a “barbarous African”, while ignoring the former’s desire for a country in the image of the free-labor north and the latter’s contributed fighting in the civil war just leaves a country divided, and made the lives lost in the civil war nothing more than a mass homicide. 

All lives lost for not, and a country devoid of the freedom it was founded upon. 

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