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An Example for All the Land reveals Washington, D.C. as a laboratory for social policy in the era of emancipation and the Civil War. In this panoramic study, Kate Masur provides a nuanced account of African Americans' grassroots activism, municipal politics, and the U.S. Congress. She tells the provocative story of how black men's right to vote transformed local affairs, a An Example for All the Land reveals Washington, D.C. as a laboratory for social policy in the era of emancipation and the Civil War. In this panoramic study, Kate Masur provides a nuanced account of African Americans' grassroots activism, municipal politics, and the U.S. Congress. She tells the provocative story of how black men's right to vote transformed local affairs, and how, in short order, city reformers made that right virtually meaningless. Bringing the question of equality to the forefront of Reconstruction scholarship, this widely praised study explores how concerns about public and private space, civilization, and dependency informed the period's debate over rights and citizenship.


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An Example for All the Land reveals Washington, D.C. as a laboratory for social policy in the era of emancipation and the Civil War. In this panoramic study, Kate Masur provides a nuanced account of African Americans' grassroots activism, municipal politics, and the U.S. Congress. She tells the provocative story of how black men's right to vote transformed local affairs, a An Example for All the Land reveals Washington, D.C. as a laboratory for social policy in the era of emancipation and the Civil War. In this panoramic study, Kate Masur provides a nuanced account of African Americans' grassroots activism, municipal politics, and the U.S. Congress. She tells the provocative story of how black men's right to vote transformed local affairs, and how, in short order, city reformers made that right virtually meaningless. Bringing the question of equality to the forefront of Reconstruction scholarship, this widely praised study explores how concerns about public and private space, civilization, and dependency informed the period's debate over rights and citizenship.

30 review for An Example for All the Land: Emancipation and the Struggle Over Equality in Washington, D.C.

  1. 5 out of 5

    robin friedman

    Washington, D.C. In The Reconstruction Era Among the many studies of the Reconstruction Era which followed the Civil War, surprisingly few focus on its history in Washington, D.C. I was drawn to this new book, "An Example for All the Land: Emancipation and the Struggle over Equality in Washington, D.C." (2010) because it offered a combination of national history with the local history of Washington D.C. on a subject which continues to fascinate me. The author, Kate Masur, is Assistant Professor o Washington, D.C. In The Reconstruction Era Among the many studies of the Reconstruction Era which followed the Civil War, surprisingly few focus on its history in Washington, D.C. I was drawn to this new book, "An Example for All the Land: Emancipation and the Struggle over Equality in Washington, D.C." (2010) because it offered a combination of national history with the local history of Washington D.C. on a subject which continues to fascinate me. The author, Kate Masur, is Assistant Professor of history and African American Studies at Northwestern University. Dr. Masur received her PhD from the University of Michigan in 2001. This is her first book. Within the United States, Washington, D.C. is unique because under the Constitution Congress has plenary power for its governance. There are no complicating issues of states rights and Federalism. During the Civil War and Reconstruction, Congress used Washington, D.C. as a laboratory for experiments with democracy and racial equality. The title of Masur's book derives from a statement by Senator Charles Sumner that Washington, D.C. was "an example for all the land." While many studies of Reconstruction focus on freedom as the most important concept, Masur concentrates on the difficult concept of equality in tracing the course of Reconstruction. Understanding the course of Reconstruction in Washington, D.C. requires knowing how Congress had provided for its governance. In fact, there were three local governments at the time of the Civil War: Washington, D.C. Georgetown, and Washington County. Congress had granted by charter elective self-government to D.C. and Georgetown while providing an appointed body, the Levy Court, for Washington County. The three jurisdictions were not consolidated until 1871, but that is getting ahead of the story. Masur's history basically has two parts. The first part, from roughly 1862 -- 1871, discusses the rise of Reconstruction in Washington, D.C., including strong concepts of equality. During the Civil War, President Lincoln and others had tried to distinguish among legal, political, and social equality, an exercise which proved slippery, shifting and difficult. Congress abolished slavery in Washington, D.C. in 1862. The influx of many former slaves, or contrabands, into the city, combined with the free African Americans who called the city home, gave African Americans a considerable power base. They frequently advanced what Masur describes as "upstart claims" in which they got ahead of Congress in the types of equality they sought. Masur describes a politically active African American community in the capital city which took the lead in expanding equality. Masur's book shows how the concept of equality played out differently in different contexts. After the abolition of slavery, Congress at first opted for a narrow concept of equality which involved removing discrimination from statutory law. Masur shows community activism leading to the expansion of equality in areas such as housing, education, police protection, public accommodations, transportation on streetcars and railroads, and public education. In these areas, African American activists, Masur argues, were ahead of Congress, which eventually followed their lead in enacting anti-discrimination measures. These efforts culminated in 1867 when Congress enacted legislation providing for the vote for all African American men. This enactment led to the election of a mayor and city council in Washington, D.C. which made substantial strides for racial equality and opportunity. If Washington, D.C. was a proving ground for the early stages of Reconstruction, it also was a harbinger for Reconstruction's demise. This story is told in roughly the second part of Masur's book. She begins with an interesting discussion of how the feminist movement under Elizabeth Stanton and Susan B. Anthony felt the need to distance themselves from suffrage for African American males. But most of her account concerns the retreat from the 1867 voting rights act in Washington, D.C., the rise of bossism, and the eventual loss of the franchise for African American and white voters alike. The local government that followed upon the grant of the franchise was regarded as fiscally irresponsible. In 1871, Congress consolidated the three jurisdictions of Washington, D.C., Georgetowwn, and Washington county into one jurisdiction. Congress then provided for an appointive government for the jurisdiction, with the exception of a lower legislative house, which continued to be elective. This change provided the basis for political cronyism under President Grant, who appointed a powerful financier to govern the city. In addition, it provided for the rise of Alexander "Boss" Shepherd, whom Grant had appointed as the head of the Board of Public Works. Shepherd ultimately became the most influential figure in the City. He modernized it substantially and allowed for its development but at the cost of great corruption. Shepherd became known as Washington D.C.'s equivalent of the notorious Tweed Ring of New York City. Shepherd liberally distributed local patronage to African Americans and others even though African Americans had no role in electing Shepherd. In 1874, Congress took away the franchise in its entirety from D.C. residents. It provided instead for a Commission form of government with appointment by Congress. Thus African Americans, and other residents, were deprived of the right to vote which had been hard-won in 1867. This brought Reconstruction to an effective end in the capital city. Masur sees parallels between the end of Reconstruction in Washington, D.C. in 1871 and 1874 and the subsequent abandonment of Reconstruction in the South. Washington D.C. would not have home rule for 99 years until its restoration in 1973. The history Masur relates is complex, and she might presuppose too much background knowledge in her readers. A chronology and perhaps an introductory chapter would have been welcome. As much as it is a history, Masur's book is a "meditation on the meanings of equality at a pivotal moment of American history." (p.7) Masur has many insightful things to say about changing concepts of equality, which makes her history all the more challenging to read and important. This book will appeal to readers with a strong interest in the Reconstruction Era, African American history, or the local history of Washington, D.C. It also requires readers wanting to engage with different historical understandings of the nature of equality and the development of this understanding with time. Masur has written a valuable book about a too little studied part of the Reconstruction Era. Robin Friedman

  2. 4 out of 5

    Robert

    It is a gratifying when an author delivers not only the book you expect, but goes on to give the reader even more. Having heard Kate Masur discuss her book at the Library of Congress, I was sure that “An Example for All the Land” would be an interesting read. If you are a student of the history of Washington, D.C. and its governance, and especially interested in the history of the struggle for racial (and eventually gender) equality in our capitol city, you must read this book. Professor Masur fo It is a gratifying when an author delivers not only the book you expect, but goes on to give the reader even more. Having heard Kate Masur discuss her book at the Library of Congress, I was sure that “An Example for All the Land” would be an interesting read. If you are a student of the history of Washington, D.C. and its governance, and especially interested in the history of the struggle for racial (and eventually gender) equality in our capitol city, you must read this book. Professor Masur focuses on the Civil War and post war changes in Washington, D.C. - its changing governance, and the role its African-American population played in these changes, especially during the period of reconstruction after the Civil War. The effects of that conflict upon America’s capital city were numerous and significant. The city’s population changed as former slaves became freedmen and residents of the District of Columbia, and the war brought men and women from across the country to serve in or otherwise support (or hinder) the North’s war effort. In addition, the revolutionary changes in the nation brought about by the war and the final Northern victory altered expectations for political and social change and eventual expressions of impatience and frustration with these changes on all sides. As Professor Masur makes clear, this political evolution from civil war, to Radical Republican domination, to post-war ennui and fatigue pretty much defined the political, social, and even economic life of Washington, D.C. for at least the following century. In seven chapters, the author recounts the events of the period from 1862 to 1874 when Congress took upon itself the government of the District from its inhabitants, putting an end to possible democratic majority self rule in a city with an increasing population of free African-Americans. The author’s research makes it very clear that the growth of the freedmen population in Washington was an important factor in this evolution. The details offered in “An Example” reflect an impressive research effort, further demonstrated by almost 27 pages of sources that include numerous period newspapers and U.S. Government reports on the District of Columbia. The text is further supplement by some 40 pages of end-notes and supports it with 20 illustrations and four maps.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Josh Reid

    An excellent and focused look at the limits of Reconstruction in a narrow case study (DC).

  4. 5 out of 5

    David Bates

    In an Example for All the Land Masur outlines the struggle over issues of racial equality in Washington D.C. during the Civil War and Reconstruction. She begins by exploring the period before universal male enfranchisement was implemented. The enthusiasm shown by African-Americans for participation in civic life through the maintenance of schools, aid societies, military service and fraternal organization is discussed through the lens of 19th century conceptions of the link between benevolent so In an Example for All the Land Masur outlines the struggle over issues of racial equality in Washington D.C. during the Civil War and Reconstruction. She begins by exploring the period before universal male enfranchisement was implemented. The enthusiasm shown by African-Americans for participation in civic life through the maintenance of schools, aid societies, military service and fraternal organization is discussed through the lens of 19th century conceptions of the link between benevolent social involvement, full membership in the community and political power. The agency of the African-American community is demonstrated through advocacy of equality expressed outside formal politics, such as the insistence of black union soldiers that they be allowed unsegregated access to the streetcars, and crowds demanding the cessation of slave catching activities. Likewise, Masur examines informal political influence which is exerted through negotiation with, and sometimes resistance to, the operations of the Freedman’s Bureau. Following the adoption by the federal government of a policy of universal manhood suffrage Masur focuses on the change in the policies of the city government toward increased infrastructure spending and public aid, as well as the issues surrounding legislation both municipal and federal designed to enforce civil equality. The reactionary resistance to the resulting state of affairs is traced to two sources. First, the interests of elite tax payers who opposed the increase in spending. Second, the battle over quasi-public areas such as restaurants, streetcars and schools where moderate and conservative Whites perceived an overreach of government legislation into the private life, but African-Americans perceived the necessary protection of their full social equality. The debate over the further extension of the franchise to women which occurred in the district is briefly touched upon, mainly as a way of illuminating the tensions which existed within the White upper class around contending visions of the vote - as a universal right to be enjoined by every American on one hand, and an opposing school of thought which favored the enfranchisement based on class. The inability of the suffrage movement to reconcile issues of race and class is then used as a segue into the eventual breakdown of the local Republican Party and the gradual replacement of local elected government with a commission appointed by the federal government and acting on behalf of elite taxpayers.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Jason S

    This is a must read for anyone studying Reconstruction. Arguing that DC was a key site of experimentation by both the Radical Republicans and the return of segregation as Reconstruction waned, this book persuasively argues that DC was a crucial site for understanding the period. Well argued and a pleasure to read.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Raja

    I'm grateful for the reminder that an exhaustively-researched book of history can be engagingly written and a pleasure to read, rather than just a useful source of information.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Frederick Douglass

    Read this book if you are interested in DC after the War.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Shauna

  9. 5 out of 5

    Malin

  10. 4 out of 5

    Emily Borchardt

  11. 5 out of 5

    Ashleigh Sharland

  12. 5 out of 5

    Kidada

  13. 5 out of 5

    Koritha Mitchell

  14. 5 out of 5

    Elizabeth Bell

  15. 5 out of 5

    Kathleen Fraser

  16. 4 out of 5

    Kate

  17. 4 out of 5

    Miguel

  18. 4 out of 5

    Sandeep

  19. 4 out of 5

    Chris Asch

  20. 4 out of 5

    John Bloom

  21. 5 out of 5

    Matthew Gilmore

  22. 4 out of 5

    Michele

  23. 5 out of 5

    Angus

  24. 4 out of 5

    Amber

  25. 5 out of 5

    Erika

  26. 4 out of 5

    Priscilla

  27. 5 out of 5

    Roger Bridges

  28. 5 out of 5

    John

  29. 5 out of 5

    Joe

  30. 5 out of 5

    Michael Chornesky

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