Reunion and reconciliation, reviewed and reconsidered
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CitationN Silber. 2016. "Reunion and Reconciliation, Reviewed and Reconsidered." Journal of American History, v. 103, Issue 1, pp. 59 - 83.
At the close of the Civil War in 1865, many Americans began talking about “reunion” and “reunification,” even “healing” and “reconciliation,” although the precise meaning of those words would remain elusive. From 1865 down to the present day, these sentiments have reverberated in American culture and American politics, and they sounded at gatherings of Union and Confederate veterans and then of their descendants, in the pages of newspapers and magazines in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, in the speeches of presidents and politicians, and in countless films and theatrical productions that imagined northern and southern men joining hands in unity and fraternal love. Two years after the surrender at Appomattox, the former abolitionist Gerrit Smith told of his longing “for a heart-union between the North and the South.” Seventy-one years later, in a final gathering of ancient soldiers on the once-blood-soaked fields of Gettysburg, Franklin D. Roosevelt dedicated an Eternal Light Peace Memorial and honored the “joint and precious heritage” that Gettysburg had come to symbolize. Speaking in July 1938 to the “men who wore the blue and men who wore the gray,” fdr praised all the soldiers, “not asking under which flag they fought then—thankful that they stand together under one flag now.” Roosevelt’s tribute to a peace-loving and unified America, coming at this moment when the world was poised on the brink of an even more catastrophic war, may have offered its own small measure of comfort to anxious Americans.