I'm not a big fan of happy endings—at least ot the kind 0f book that ends up with “And then we all lived happily ever after.” Bull feathers! “Happily ever after” only lasts until the roof leaks or the toilet backs up. In the case of my own books, i had readers actually complain to me about “Beyond All Price” because Nellie died in the end. Well, I’m sorry to tell you, but everyone dies eventually.
Readers were happier with “Damned Yankee” because it ended on a more optimistic note. The family moved back to Charleston, found the family mansion intact, and gathered around Susan’s new melodeon for a family sing-along. Ah, but I didn’t like it! I knew better.
It’s a truism, perhaps, that most Civil War buffs don’t look beyond 1865. The war was over. The soldiers came home to their family’s welcoming arms, business could get back to normal, the slaves were free, all was right with the world. Except that it wasn’t! The historian in me knew that the next dozen years would strain the newly reunited family of states to further crises and arguments. The Ku Klux Klan was waiting in the wings to make trouble. Political parties were torn by corruption and greed, forcing both Republicans and Democrats to reverse their beliefs and policies. Local lawlessness replaced battlefield violence, and life was no more secure than it had been in wartime.
To make that point, I decided to write a second novel about the Grenvilles and about the curious phenomenon that we call “Reconstruction.” What a can of worms that term turned out to be. Even now, most people cannot adequately define the term—maybe because most definitions describe a process without identifying the object being reconstructed.
In my own mind, I think of Reconstruction as the process of putting a fractured nation back together—finding a way to bring the states of the Confederacy back into the fold of the United States of America. Most Northerners would, I think, agree with that interpretation, but they think of it as “making the South act like the North!” The North won the war. The victor makes the rules. Here’s what the South needs to do.
In the South, however, the dream has always been, “The South shall rise again.” And from the very beginning of Reconstruction, they thought they were rebuilding the old ways, restoring the privileges of the white masters and reducing the blacks to servile status once more. When one party (the reconstructers) decided what the end result should be, and the other party (those being reconstructed) expected a different outcome, trouble was sure to follow.
That’s the real story of Reconstruction, and it makes a great topic for a novel!
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