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Clinton campaign clarifies her support for Reconstruction

Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

Hillary Clinton got into hot water Monday night over the not-obviously-hot-button subject of 19th-century American historiography: She made some comments that seemed to suggest the tragedy of Abraham Lincoln's assassination was that it led his successors in the leadership of the Republican Party to pursue postwar Reconstruction too vigorously.

In my explainer on the controversy, I ended with the prediction that Clinton would swiftly flip-flop on this. And now she has, with campaign spokesperson Karen Finney issuing a statement Tuesday night clarifying that Clinton meant no such thing:

Her point was that we might have gotten to a better place under Lincoln's leadership. What we needed after the Civil War was equality, justice, and reconciliation. Instead we saw the federal government abandon Reconstruction before real change took hold, which ultimately led to a disgraceful era of Jim Crow.

And as she talks about frequently, too many injustices remain today. Attempts to suppress voting rights go back to racist efforts against Reconstruction, and in fighting for voting rights and equality today we are continuing a long struggle that still has to be fought and won in our own generation.

Professional historians have a continued lively debate among themselves as to whether or not, factually speaking, Reconstruction could have been successfully pursued under different political leadership. But as a matter of 21st-century politics, this puts Clinton exactly where she ought to be: The people who fought for racial equality in the 1860s and 1870s were doing the right thing, and the tragedy is that they were defeated.