Nystrom, Justin Andrew
MetadataShow full item record
This dissertation is an urban study of New Orleans during Reconstruction. Using the technique of prosipography, it tells the tale of a diverse group of people, their struggle to adapt to the uncertain world of postbellum society, and how the volatile politics of the period changed their lives. The events of Reconstruction re-ordered New Orleans’s political, social, and cultural institutions, leaving behind a legacy whose influences are still felt today in the areas of politics, race, and Mardi Gras. The focus of this work is on the Redeemers and their quest to restore the Democratic Party to power in Louisiana. The Republican Party in Louisiana did not merely collapse under the weight of its own considerable contradictions; it was actively ejected from power. This dissertation looks at the difficulties encountered by the Redeemers as they worked toward their objective. It also reappraises the Redeemers themselves, revealing that Lost Cause mythology had purposefully distorted their crusade and greatly overstated the level of unity among conservative southern white men. The rifts in the Redeemers’ ranks were so profound that they frequently prevented these men from successfully capitalizing on an otherwise weak and divided Republican opponent. Ultimately, discontent over the repeated failure of moderate political movements in New Orleans such as Fusionism and the Unification movement soured the more progressive of Redeemers on the idea of compromise and brought about a far more strident agent of Redemption – the White League. The paramilitary nature of the White League emerged from both the need to intimidate the Republican Party, but to also obviate white ambivalence about the political process. The political drama of Reconstruction also brought about profound change for New Orleans’s Afro-Creole population. As a political issue, race increasingly polarized the city’s inhabitants. The White League campaign drove some fair-skinned Afro-Creoles to “pass” into white society – either in New Orleans, or by starting anew in another city. Reconstruction also completely reshaped New Orleans’s Carnival. The Krewe of Rex emerged not only out of the pressures of Republican rule, but also from the infighting between conservatives themselves. Carnival helped to reestablish the political legitimacy of the Redeemers in New Orleans by first firmly establishing their cultural authority.