The Lost Cause

the lost cause

Thomas Nast, “The Union as It Was. The Lost Cause, Worse Than Slavery.” October 24, 1874

On October 24, 1874, Harper’s Weekly, published a realistic painting revealing the true image of the Reconstruction Era. Harper’s Weekly was an American newspaper that covered the American Civil War and the Reconstruction Era. In 1863, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation that freed the slaves. The Reconstruction Era was from 1865-1877. During this time the South was divided into districts that were enforced by the military. This was designed to enforce the freedom of slaves and to get the South integrated into the Union as quickly as possible. Many white southerners were not content with the suffrage of African Americans and created secret groups like the Ku Klux Klan and the White league. The aim of these groups was to frighten African Americans and prevent them from practicing their rights. Although the Constitution supported the freedom of African Americans, secret societies made up of white men took matters into their own hands in order to regain their white supremacy and make the American Civil War seem like a “lost cause” by depicting in this image the union of two powerful White men against a scared African American family.

The image shows the merging of two terrifying white groups symbolizing an unofficial war after the Civil War bringing a lot of trouble to African Americans. This is signified by the dominance that the two white men have within the picture. They are so tall that they cover the whole length of the frame. This also shows how they are supposed to be the upper class and the African Americans are the lower class that will always be below them. The dominance that these white supremacists thought they deserved is revealed in this image.

It also shows their union because they are shaking hands. This can signify the American Union that they believed in, because their union is only between the white men while the freed blacks were being suppressed by them. It shows their malice behavior because they are making their pact on top of a skull and cross bones. This can be implied to mean that they are making a pact to murder those who try to go against their will. These secret societies had the same aim, retrieve their supremacy by scaring he freed men by any means possible.

Inside the shield that the African Americans are in, it shows a story that might have led to the position in which this family is in now. On the far left it shows a lynched man. Closer up on the right it shows a schoolhouse that is burning down. In the center is the African American family scared on their knees. In front of them are books that have been thrown on the floor. The white men seem to be upset because the African Americans were learning how to read. If they knew how to read, then they would gain the knowledge and intelligence to understand what their rights are. If this were to happen the whites would no longer be able to control them.

Through these details and several others that I have not mentioned, like the words all over the image, it is clear that the Reconstruction Era was much worse than slavery. White southerners formed groups to scare African Americans. They terrified them with the horrible acts of violence they were committing.


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