Educating a Pagan Land
After the South had been subjugated by Northern armies, Radical Republicans used social reformers and Northern businessmen to defeat Andrew Johnson’s softened postwar policies. The following year, the entire South fell under their absolute domination once they enfranchised 700,000 freedmen. This allowed Republican Ulysses Grant to become President with a mere 300,000 majority over New York Democrat Horatio Seymour. Republican national political hegemony would not be broken until the election of Grover Cleveland in 1884.
Educating a Pagan Land
“Education was the key to Reconstruction success and nation building. On the heels of the soldier came the Yankee teacher, who used, according to Henry Highland Garrett, “the spelling book, the Bible, and the implements of industry” as the weapons of ideological war, and “schoolhouses and the Church of Christ” as forts.
It is no surprise that Radicals such as O.O. Howard (known as the “Christian soldier”), national superintendent of the Freedmen’s Bureau and author of Our Christian Duty to the South (1866), and Superintendent of Bureau Education John W. Alvord, in his biennial reports, considered education as the cornerstone of Reconstruction and recommended compulsory attendance.
The soldiers in this ideological war came from various backgrounds and various levels of commitment . . . [and] most educators hailed from above the Mason-Dixon Line. Of the 9,503 teachers in Southern freedmen schools in 1869, approximately 5,000 left family and friends in the North and traveled south mainly to be missionaries in what many believed to be a pagan land. Many were Radicals, militantly devoted to abstract ideas such as positive liberty, and worked to establish a Republican party in the South.
Although concerned with teaching numbers and letters, Radical educators considered socialization and civic instruction important. For what America most needed, argued Reuben Tomlinson, the superintendent of the South Carolina Bureau, was an “intelligent and loyal population.”
A “proper education” eliminated a need for martial law and judicial activism, for children would be molded into Puritans . . . A “proper education” also incorporated the Republican emphasis on free labor and ensured that freedmen evinced “Christian virtues” and demonstrated an ability to make a profit.”
Radical Republicans worked to establish their party in the South and considered freedmen, according to historian John Hope Franklin, to be the “best hope for building and maintaining a strong political organization that would keep the Radical in power.” [But what] they seemed to have wanted, however, was a republicanism [in freedmen] that demanded obedience instead of participation.”
(Education to the Rescue: How Radical Republican Teachers Reconstructed the South, Troy Kickler; Chronicles, September 2006, excerpts pg. 21)