Early in The Ordeal of the Reunion, Summers challenges Reconstruction historians to speak less to “our time” and more to “their time” by placing “the Reconstruction of the Union,” not the search for “black civil rights,” at the center of the story (3). Summers does not cast his book primarily as a “Reconstruction of Southern Society with a particular emphasis on Southern Race Relations” but as a national “search for security” to ensure that the Union would be “held together forever” (3–4).

At the outset, the book seems poised to challenge both the old Dunning School and its critics—from DuBois to Foner—all of whom place the struggle to redefine labor, race, and democracy in the South at the center of the story.1 Although a few post-revisionist historians like Benedict and Cox emphasized the centrality of securing the Union, most scholars have taken for granted that Reconstruction was...

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