Democratizing Violence in the Post-Civil War South
Scholars of Reconstruction typically depict violence of this kind as the terrain on which African Americans, supported inconsistently by institutions of the state, fought for an expanding pursuit of democratic rights against a white southern population hostile to popular rule and committed to maintaining antebellum hierarchies. That understanding of the post-Civil War South tends to situate violence and democracy as antagonists, and in so doing misses a central transformation of the era. After emancipation, a new political culture emerged that embraced violence as a prerogative and even the duty of all white men in order to enshrine white supremacy as both the goal and foundation of a racially exclusive democracy. Our panelists aim to show that in the Reconstruction era, robust debates about who could wield violence made more complex contributions to the political culture of the American South than simply casting violence as a tool of racial domination. Instead, they were part of integrated visions of citizenship rooted in competing notions of the relationship between order and belonging in the wake of the twin social ruptures of emancipation and Confederate defeat. Violence thus was a problem of democracy as much as it was a problem for democracy. Our panel will speak to scholars of the Civil War and Reconstruction as well as those interested in state formation, liberal subjecthood, and post-emancipation and post-colonial studies.