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Defining Moments


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Defining Moments: Reconstruction tells the story of the tumultuous period immediately following the Civil War, when the United States faced the enormous challenges of restoring ties with the shattered South and helping four million formerly enslaved people make the transition to new lives as free citizens. The volume begins by exploring the long struggle over slavery that culminated in a bloody armed conflict between North and South. It then offers a detailed account of the postwar Reconstruction era (1865-1877), beginning with the lenient policies pursued by President Andrew Johnson, and continuing through the Radical Republican takeover, which resulted in a military occupation of the South and a brief period of equal rights for African-American citizens. The volume then chronicles the racial discrimination, segregation, and violence that characterized the Jim Crow South following the end of Reconstruction, along with the twentieth-century civil rights movement that finally fulfilled Reconstruction’s promise of racial equality and justice. It concludes by examining how the legacy of Reconstruction persists in the sectional differences between North and South today. The volume is organized into three distinct sections—Narrative Overview, Biographies, and Primary Sources—which offer a one-stop resource for student research.

  • The Narrative Overview section provides a detailed, factual account of the events leading up to the Reconstruction era, the issues that arose during the twelve-year period, and its legacy in American society
  • The Biographies section presents valuable biographical background on leading figures associated with Reconstruction
  • The Primary Sources section collects a wide variety of pertinent primary source materials from the era, including official documents, first-hand accounts, memoirs, editorials, and other important works

Other notable features include a glossary of important people, places, and terms; a detailed chronology featuring page references to relevant sections of the narrative; an annotated listing of selected sources for further study; an extensive general bibliography; and a subject index.

Standard Features

  • Library binding, 7 1/4 x 9 1/4
  • 240 pages
  • 30-40 photographs and other illustrations
  • Narrative Overview section: Provides a detailed, factual account of the “defining moment”
  • Biographies section: Presents valuable biographical background on leading figures associated with the event
  • Primary Sources section: Collects a wide variety of pertinent primary source materials from the era
  • Research Topics: Proposes a list of topics suitable for conducting historical research and writing reports, a valuable starting point for student research
  • Source Attribution: Contains references for primary sources and other quoted material that guide users to other historical research resources
  • Glossary of Important People, Places, and Terms: Gives brief definitions for the many terms used in the book
  • Chronology: Highlights the related events in chronological order, along with “see” references that direct the reader to pages in the narrative with additional information
  • Sources for Further Study: Provides annotated citations for selected sources that are most useful to students
  • Bibliography: Lists books, periodicals, web sites, and videos consulted in preparing the volume
  • Subject Index: Includes people, places, organizations, events, and other topics

Research Topics

Each volume in the Defining Moments series covers a wide range of topics that students can use as starting points for further research. Potential research topics for Defining Moments: Reconstruction are below:

  • Although slavery faded away in the North during the early 1800s, it expanded rapidly in the South during this period. Compare the two regions in terms of history, culture, population, climate, and economy. What differences account for their opposing views of slavery?
  • Imagine you are a resident of the South whose home was destroyed during the Civil War. Choose the perspective of a person from a slave-owning white family, a non-slave-owning white family, an enslaved black family, or a free black family. Write a journal describing your feelings, experiences, and concerns during the first few weeks following the Confederate surrender.
  • The end of the Civil War raised a number of important questions that had to be addressed during the postwar Reconstruction period, including how to rebuild the war-ravaged South, what conditions to impose for readmission of the Southern states to the union, whether to punish Confederate leaders, and how much assistance to provide in securing the rights of freedpeople. Choose one of these questions and contrast the answers that might have been given by a radical Republican from the North and a conservative Democrat from the South.
  • List the main elements of President Andrew Johnson’s Reconstruction policies. What factors in Johnson’s personal background may have influenced his handling of the situation? Why did Presidential Reconstruction generate both opposition in the North and resistance in the South?
  • If President Abraham Lincoln had lived, how would he have handled Reconstruction? Would his policies have been more similar to those of Johnson or to those of the Radical Republicans? What personal qualities did Lincoln possess that might have affected the outcome of Reconstruction?
  • Although the South lost the Civil War, it ultimately “won the peace” by dismantling most of the social and political changes that the North had imposed during Reconstruction. What, if anything, could the federal government have done differently to make lasting change possible?
  • The scholar W. E. B. Du Bois once described Reconstruction as a “splendid failure.” What did he mean by that?
  • Discuss some of the political, social, and economic factors that led to the segregation of people by race in the United States for nearly a century after Reconstruction.
  • The Fourteenth Amendment—one of the three constitutional amendments passed during the Reconstruction era—has been cited in more Supreme Court rulings than any other part of the Constitution. Explore the impact of the amendment on citizenship, equality, civil rights, or the powers of the federal government by researching how it was applied in such landmark cases as Brown v. Board of Education, Roe v. Wade, Bush v. Gore, or Obergefell v. Hodges.
  • Some historians have drawn comparisons between the postwar U.S. involvement in Iraq (2003–2011) and the Reconstruction era in the South after the Civil War. In both cases, the United States faced the challenges of rebuilding infrastructure, maintaining order, restoring the economy, establishing a new government, resolving conflicts between population groups, and sustaining public support through a long and costly military occupation. Evaluate and compare the government’s success in completing one of these tasks during the two historical periods.
  • Research the results of presidential elections between 1900 and 2012. Ask each member of the class to prepare an electoral map for one election year by using red for states won by the Republican candidate and blue for states won by the Democratic candidate. Post the maps in chronological order and discuss similarities, differences, and trends over time.
  • Many Americans believe that political, economic, and cultural gains by African Americans and other minorities—most notably the election of the nation’s first black president in 2008—show that racism in the United States is mostly a thing of the past. Many others, however, contend that the deck is still stacked against African Americans in numerous respects. Present facts to support both sides of this argument.
  • Some people consider the Confederate flag a proud symbol of Southern heritage, while others view it as an ugly reminder of slavery and segregation. Present the main arguments on both sides of the debate. Should the Confederate flag be displayed in public spaces?
  • Discuss the legacy of Reconstruction and explore the relevance this era in U.S. history holds for Americans today.


“An ideal and exceptionally well organized and presented resource for student papers, ‘Reconstruction’ is unreservedly recommended for community, high school, college, and university library American History collections in general, and Post-Civil War Reconstruction Era supplemental studies reading lists in particular.”

—Library Bookwatch, Sep ‘16

“A detailed overview of the tumultuous 12-year period from 1865 to 1877 that followed the American Civil War. … Teachers of secondary (high school) students will find this a quality narrative for the basics of Reconstruction.”

—ARBAOnline, Nov ‘16