Lately, I’ve been researching the 1870’s as background material for my upcoming novel,”By Streams of water”. I’ve been struck by how that time laid the groundwork for issues that have carried forward to today. I won’t go into a lot of detail about that. You can them through their various points of view.
Here are some things I personally learned by vicariously living through those times with my characters.
1) The hanging chads of a few elections ago were nothing new. The compromise of 1877 was due in part to disputed election results from where? From my beloved birth state of Florida. Other returns in dispute came from South Carolina, Louisiana, and Oregon. The election confusion was not solved until the March after the November 1876 election, and during the intervening months, the country was without a clear executive leader. America survived in the 1870’s just as it did during the Bush/Gore election dispute.
2) When Rutherford B. Hayes came to office, his presidency was controversial. Even today, historians debate whether his presidency was legitimate and whether or not he was an effective president. We can’t expect that politics will always run smoothly or assume that controversy means our country is doomed to fail.
3) Failures, misunderstandings, and even corruption among Republicans, Democrats, northern, southern, whites, blacks, farmers and businessmen set up a political and social climate that still haunts us today. We still debate many of the same issues. How far should the federal government intrude into state government or even into an individual’s personal life? we ask. How do we ensure the rights of minority groups without curtailing the rights of majority groups. Not only that, but we are all more affected by 1870’s stereotypes of what it means to be a native American, a Southern white, a black person, a Northerner, a conservative, or a liberal than we realize. We are rightly appalled by the racism intertwined in 19th century society, but we still react to certain groups for what their ancestors did or didn’t do in the nineteenth century.
4) We are fortunate to live in a society in which we, as citizens, can be part of the governing process. There are positive things that can come from a representative form of government.
5) Having said that, it’s time to acknowledge the limits of government, science, and business to provide the deep answers to life’s problems. Individual and group sin really does interfere with our ability to understand each other and to deal with each other in an equitable, just, and beneficial way. Thus, Reconstruction era politics could only do so much, and the country abandoned the effort. Likewise, the Progressive era that followed failed to achieve its objectives. To be properly related to others, we all need divine grace and wisdom. We need our Savior, and when we reject his ways, we suffer. Only Christ’s kingdom stands when human kingdoms falter.