"It is known that sometimes narrow topics may yield illuminating interpretations. Such is the case with Elizabeth Lee Thompson's study of the Bankruptcy Act of 1867. It has much to tell us about southerners and states' rights, the immediate debt problem of the postbellum South, the ideological constraints operating on Republican congressmen, the gendered quality of mid-nineteenth-century legislation, and the timing of the end of Reconstruction. This is a fine contribution to the history of Reconstruction."
—James L. Huston, author of Calculating the Value of the Union: Slavery, Property Rights, and the Economic Origins of the Civil War
Thompson determines that because the vast majority of the Bankruptcy Act’s southern beneficiaries were propertied white men, the legislation served to stabilize and entrench the postwar economic--and thus social and political--power of the sector that included those who were recently leading secessionists and Confederates. Their participation in a federal process, through federal tribunals, during an era of intense white southern opposition to policies emanating from Washington reveals the complex interaction of states' rights ideology and self-interest. However, Thompson shows, white southerners ultimately sacrificed neither in relation to the Bankruptcy Act. After thousands had received economic relief through the statute and the number of filings had slowed to a trickle, southern congressmen supported the Act’s repeal in 1878.
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