History at its core is an argument over what truly happened through the course of the human story and why it happened. Because the human lifespan is so short, the argument frequently occurs over the analysis of documents left behind. In a period of heated contention, these documents offer contrasting views that, when combined, could lead to the truth. The Reconstruction Era in the United States is one of the those intense times. The period leading up to Reconstruction saw a range of political documentation and analysis, such as firsthand accounts and complex, questioning analyses.
In the article “A Press Insider’s View of Reconstruction Era Journalism in Washington, D. C., 1865-1877” author Joseph P. McKerns offers a limited view on these changes. Through his article, he decides to look at the world of journalism scholastically through the view of only one person, Benjamin Perley Poore (34). Such a view is extremely limited and potentially biased as it does nothing to defend the views of Poore’s contemporaries. This viewpoint also seems to gloss over some of the details and motivations in order to get to the most interesting points. However, the choice of subject offers a large amount of credibility and opportunity to examine change over time in politics as Poore was involved in journalism for so long (McKerns 50). For example, because Poore was a Congressional committee clerk, he was intimately aware of the transition from decisions happening on the house floor to the committee chamber better than any other source. Such a perspective is incredibly valuable to historians as it sheds a light on this subject in personal and relatable way.
In contrast, the analysis of the political motivations behind the deal which ended Reconstruction offers a more objective, distanced view on political changes. From the beginning of the article, writer Allan Peskin clearly develops an argument of the true factors behind the Compromise of 1877 based on the widely accepted view and that of author C. Vann Woodward (64). This choice to analyze and compare other secondary sources allows for a more comprehensive argument and conclusion that does not always result from the analysis of a primary source. Additionally, the writer can make the conclusion more relevant to the situation of their time. Perhaps most important aspect of this debate was the amount of legitimate questioning that Peskin conducts concerning how the political compromise could have gone, as demonstrated by the sentence “What made Randall take this course?” (Peskin 67). Through this question, the consideration that another result beyond that of the removal of reconstruction in the South was possible becomes vividly apparent. For historians and particularly history students this perspective makes history a living, transformative field that challenged and discussed later.
History is a constant conversation of historians and people through research and writing. Because these writers will always have their own bias and research, each article and text will reveal a new perspective and answer to the questions of how and why a specific event occurred. Such is the case of writers McKerns and Peskin who came at the Reconstruction Era through a single person perspective and a complex analysis, respectively. Due to this, the reader can see this era as a complex, ever changing time that may not have happened. Like with any perspective, this view can be valuable but must be approached with caution.
McKerns, Joseph P. “A Press Insider’s View of Reconstruction Era Journalism in Washington, D. C., 1865-1877.” American Journalism 20.2 (2003): 33-56. Print. 17 Feb. 2014.
Peskin, Allan. “Was There a Compromise of 1877.” The Journal of American History 60.1 (1973): 63-75. Web. 17 Feb. 2014.