Reconstruction: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
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Reconstruction: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly


The American Civil War ended in 1865. And a new conflict immediately began. The North won the first war. The South won the second. To truly understand American history, one
needs to understand how this happened, and why. The years immediately following the end of
the Civil War—1865 to 1877—are known in American history as “Reconstruction.” What should have been a glorious chapter in
America’s story—the full integration of 3.9 million freed slaves—instead became
a shameful one. It began with the assassination of Republican
president Abraham Lincoln. One week after the Civil War effectively ended,
the one man with the political savvy and shrewdness to have guided Reconstruction was gone. His successor was Vice-President Andrew Johnson,
a Tennessee Democrat. Johnson was the rare Southern politician who
stayed loyal to the Union during the Civil War. Lincoln added him to his reelection ticket
in 1864 as a gesture of wartime bi-partisanship. But Johnson was wholly unprepared for the
task. Under his Reconstruction plan, the defeated
rebels would be allowed to return to power, almost as if they had never left. The only requirement to rejoin the Union was
that they agree to ratify the 13th Amendment that abolished slavery. This was fine with the old Southern Democratic
ruling class. By agreeing to abolish slavery, they would
actually increase their political power. Whereas the Constitution’s old 3/5ths clause
limited slave states to counting only 3/5ths of their slaves for the purpose of determining
representation in Congress, after the Civil War, the Southern states were able to count
100% of the freed slaves. This would ensure the return to Congress of
Southern Democrats, and in even greater numbers than before the rebellion, allowing them—with
the help of their Democratic Party allies in the North—to fight Republican efforts
to secure the citizenship rights of the former slaves. Johnson’s plan set off three years of bitter
political warfare. The Republicans in Congress created their
own Congressional Reconstruction plan. Still in the overall majority there, they
reorganized ten of the Southern states into military occupation zones, requiring them
to write new state constitutions that recognized black civil rights before they could be readmitted
to the Union. Over fierce Democratic opposition, the Republicans
also managed to pass two new amendments to the Constitution—the 14th and 15th Amendments— guaranteeing
due process in law and voting rights in elections. Those rights enabled the former slaves to
help elect new state governments, to hold office, and even to send the first black representatives
and senators to Congress—all Republicans. Most important, in 1869, with the help of
500,000 votes from newly-enfranchised blacks, a new Republican president, Ulysses S. Grant,
took office. Grant was solidly behind the Congressional
Reconstruction plan. But a new problem arose: Disgruntled Southern
whites organized themselves into ad hoc militias to terrorize Southern blacks and their white
Republican supporters into silence. The largest and most famous of these militias
went by a still-familiar name: the Ku Klux Klan. President Grant fought the Klan and other
like-minded terror groups. But the fight required an extended military
intervention to keep the peace, and that cost time and money. Grant also had to deal with Northern Democrats,
who were sympathetic to Southern racism. With each new election—1868, 1870 and 1872—they
gained more congressional seats and more power. And then, in 1873, a major financial depression
began. Economically desperate, anxious to put the
remnants of the Civil War behind them, voters gave control of the House of Representatives
back to the Democrats in the 1874 midterm elections. Grant left office in 1877. Soon after, the last Republican state governments
in the South were overthrown. Black voters were disenfranchised, “Jim
Crow” racial segregation became the order, and the South returned to social and economic
backwardness. What could we have done better? First, we should have imposed a real occupation
on the defeated Confederacy, until a new political generation grew up in the South which learned
a newer lesson about race and rights than white supremacy. Second, we should have gotten landownership
into the hands of the freed slaves and brought the South into the same world of free markets,
economic mobility, small-scale manufacturing and industry that Lincoln’s Republicans
advocated. But the truth is that the North had won the
war. But the South had won the peace. That’s the real story of Reconstruction. I’m Allen Guelzo, professor of American
history at Gettysburg College, for Prager University.

100 Comments

  • djan959

    A bit on the Egghead. The military zones or the occupation versus the militias that sounds like something you want to highlight not just the racism for the protection of an old order

  • Yiffox

    this guy is a fool. I am not for slavery at all, but he glosses over what republicans did and actually advocates turning the south into a military DICTATORSHIP for a longer period. He advocates giving land to the former slaves. Um, who is he going to illegally take that land from to give to them? Do poor whites get land too? or only former slaves? This would have crashed land values, maybe across the country. That sounds fair. He also neglects to mention carpetbaggers, northerners who came to the same to be elected, because anyone who fought for confederacy could not be, so being ruled by strangers. It was these problems that caused the rise of the first KKK, and he wanted it to be longer and harsher. The republicans wanted to punish the south. They did not just allow OMG elected members of the south to rule over their own lands. Imagine that foolish idea. The republicans were also antislavery, not because they hated slavery or that it was wrong, but they feared cheap labor from slaves. So this guy is so for freedom, that he wants the military ruling over you in an unelected dictatorship. Seems to me, the south were right to rebel if that was their future.

  • The Man With No Name

    It could have been worse. The Confederacy's plan, once it had destroyed the Union, was to – as Jefferson Davis put it – "build a vast tropical empire."
    God only knows the tyranny and suffering that would have brought 🌵

  • Rational Being

    Prof Guelzo asks "what could the north have done differently?" He then answers that the brutal occupation of the south should have been extended for at least a generation, while the youth were indoctrinated.

    The real answer is, not to start the war in the first place. And then not to use slavery as a cynical propaganda tactic 2 years into the war.

    There real issue of the war was high-tariff big government pandering to a special interest (northern manufacturers), versus low tariff small government. The issue had continued to smoulder since the 1832 constitutional crisis over the same subject. Lincoln refused to back down on the tax and was prepared to fight a bloody war to impose it. It is no accident that the first shots in the shooting war were at Fort Sumpter, a Federal customs fort.

    Lincoln was a gradualist on the slavery abolition issue. In the 1860 election he repeatedly promised that he would do nothing to change that odious institution in existing slave states. And between his election and inauguration he was prepared to back a constitutional amendment freezing the status quo re slavery. It made no difference to the south because the urgent issue was the tax which Lincoln wanted to double.

    War has a way of purging moderation. Southern white resentment at the Yankees was transferred to the blacks, because they were powerless against the Yankee occupation.

  • Silver Bear

    This narrative assumes that the soul reason for the civil war was slavery. It wasn't. It was about two political parties that went to war to get their way. It was about securing votes, economics, and power. Slavery was just a tool for both sides to exploit.

  • SociallyTriggered

    Probably in the long term it would have been better to have deported the slaves. Or repatriate them in their former nations. As well they should have been compensated so they could re-establish themselves there. Many of the issues facing the US could have been avoided this way.

  • Michaelangelo Right

    1960s Malcolm X said it best about White Liberals Elitist creeps! and Poverty Pimps control over the US Inner-cities. Thank you Malcolm X, RIP.

  • cr 95

    This presentation lacks alot of facts and analysis. This is just the old "north good south bad" Well professor what was Lincolns plan for the emancipated slave? He freed them, he must have had a plan for integretation.

  • InglescomoVine

    You guys from PragerU should start producing content to Latin America. I'm brazilian and I can pretty much tell you guys that leftism propagated by the big media (TV Globo) has ruined our family, religious and social values.
    Here, the conservatives or at least, those who conserve any value, are the "weird ones" due to this shifting we've suffered. But after all, I still prefer to be the "weirdo" than one of the all-new "normal ones" with all their misconceptions and emptiness.

  • Xsell Epoch

    So you’re telling me people you’ve militarily subjugated and forced at gun point to unwillingly be part of your country AREN’T going to peacefully bend over to your rule? Yeah, seems like a pretty important lesson to learn 😏

  • Yangster Supreme

    If you knew anything about history you'd know that southern democrats back then were vastly different from northern democrats and even more different than today's democrats

  • Elpidio Valdez

    As long as the lobbing jewish mobsters have their claws sunked deep into the US political system America will continue to degenerate !!

  • L1GHT D3M0N

    This is why the Dems change history to fit their worldview – if no one knows what bad things – horrible things, even – you have done, people will vote for you

  • Theseus

    Talks about how democrats are the racists and republicans were totally innocent but fails to take into account the 'southern strategy', created by white republicans that caused a political realignment into what we see today. He is a history teacher but ignores major historical events to present a virtue signaling narrative? I feel bad for all the people who goto his college and learn his lies.

  • Gregory Cotter

    I like PragerU videos, but you really can't compare the DNC or GOP from 1870 to modern day practice and beliefs. It's a different world in so many ways. Comparing a modern day party affiliation with ancient practice is a cheap shot.

  • John Reynolds

    One of the rare times I give prager u videos a thumbs down.

    "What could we have done better" this "professor " asks…..well for one thing the North and the tyrannical lincoln could have not started the war of northern aggression in the first place. As "backwards" as they believed the southern states to be, the southern states had EVERY RIGHT to secede from the Union–just as much of a right as the colonies did when they seceded from Great Britain! Lincolns war finished the experiment started by the founders and transformed us from "these united States" to "The United states" …….

  • Mr Awesome

    America should have returned the slaves to Africa. Obviously Liberia was set up but most didn't want to go back to Africa. Maybe give 1 state or territory to blacks

  • Scott Conatser

    A 'real' occupation? how much time have you spent south of the Mason-Dixon line out side of any urban area? Re-construction was a protracted economic and social torture inflicted on the people of the south.

  • B Shea

    So what lessons can we learn from this and apply today? Reconstruction Republicans had plans to redistribute land ownership and capital to newly freed slaves. Isn't that exactly what some leftist groups are trying to do today, especially in the form of reparations? I understand that it's now too late as a lot of history has passed since then, but what can be done? Should it be done?

    I also understand that a lot of society has been built on the back of slavery, racism and prejudice. I don't agree that we should throw it all away to right the wrongs of the past, as some on the extreme left advocate (tearing down statues, renaming colleges, etc.), but what can modern society do? Again, whatever it is, should it be done?

  • ____

    Nobody sees the irony of how the slaves were freed by enslaving the whole of the south to the ideal of the totalitarian government of the north?

  • Matthew Rosen

    Funny this video has nothing but facts and truth of history, yet 296 dems give it thumbs down. 😂🤦‍♂️ Unreal. It’s not an opinion piece that you can chose to believe or not. It’s real history that your not taught in school by your liberal masters. Grow up and quit being such big pussies.

  • Herp Derp

    When a Democrat terrorist watches this, their mind does gold medal winning mental gymnastics and STILL think Republicans are the racist ones. Cognitive dissonance at its best.

  • Johnny Cuyana

    A question, somewhat related: in 1776, we declared ourselves a nation — actually, a federation, i.e., a union of the 13 independent sovereign States — and then we made a few FEDERAL Constitutions — at present, we are living under the 2nd one — which was an agreement, again, among these 13 sovereign States, on HOW their GOVT would operate. Moving ahead to the 1860s, the seceding Southern States each published their own "Ordinance of Secession", which declared, respectively, that they were seceding; and, then, these Southern States came together to write the Confederates States of America Constitution.

    My question is: did these Southern States, before, they agreed to their Constitution, also have some sort of "Declaration", announcing to the world that, indeed, they were a "separate and equal" federation of the 11, or so, independent sovereign Confederate States; and, after Reconstruction, was there some formal document which "declared" that they were now RETURNING TO THE UNION? Note: I have heard it argued, by more than a few people, that, because the SECESSION was entirely ILLEGAL, that there was no need for such documents. Hmmm … very curious regarding this portion of our national history.

  • FoxhoundAK74

    Lincoln: Destroys the limited, states focused government that the Founding Fathers created and replaces it with a powerful centralized government that is now able to do things like welfare, income tax (Which he started by the way) heavy taxation, business regulation, basically everything wrong with America today, has one redeeming quality that he ended slavery, but also advocate a constitutional amendment to make slavery permanent forever if the South would rejoin the Union.

    Republicans: "What a great small Government hero we want to be associated with!"

  • GerardPedrico

    Socialism has become so bad nowadays because Stalinists have surfaced and created a huge stir/commotion/racket by bluntly labelling Capitalism as just profiteering when in fact the basis of Capitalism is really a combination of hard work, trust, value creation, systemized-documented work, accountability, cooperation-collaboration, and self confidence.

  • Dusty Pellerin

    Another smug Anti-Southern video. The pious North never passes up the chance to kick us Rebels in the dirt. I love this channel 98 percent of the time but when they start down this path i just wanna turn them off. Sorry To tell you Yankee's you weren't as perfect as you think

  • Anon Ymous

    I agree with the narrator, that to REALLY UNDERSTAND AMERICAN HISTORY, one needs to understand HOW things happened.
    The narrative given here is of the victor and the victor writes the narrative. The vanquished never write history.

    I submit Thomas DiLorenzo and his three books, The Hamiltonian Curse, The Real Lincoln, and Lincoln Unmasked as a primer to those who really hold Allen Guelzo to his word on REALLY UNDERSTANDING AMERICAN HISTORY.

  • leonard Langner

    Abraham Lincoln wanted to send the blacks back to Africa he had no intention of integrating them. He just didn’t want them to be slaves seeing as he found it to be inhuman and not effective.

  • AnOriginalName

    …..What? I'm a little baffled by how uninformed this guy is, or at least how slanted he is. He derides Johnson as being too forgiving and praises Lincoln… forgetting that Lincoln's reconstruction plan was about as forgiving, it was Congressional Republicans who wanted to bring the South through hell and back. There's also little mention of the racist black codes passed in the Republican North as well. Now he goes in and says that enfranchising blacks would've been great for the Southern Democrats, but then he says they all voted Republican. So which was is it? Then later he says the North should've kept occupying, and then forcibly redistributed land to freed slaves, so as to teach the South the value of free markets and industry. Now this is the most baffling part of the video to me at least. First of all, that's forced government redistribution of land to poor people, this is PragerU favoring the seizure of private property and redistributing it to poor black people. This is unironically the kind of thing that the US overthrew governments for because it was too left wing. How this promotes "free markets" and "industry" is beyond me and again contradicts with PragerU's stance on Socialism. There's a reason this era was looked favorably by socialists of the era, Karl Marx himself even sent Lincoln a letter congratulating him on his re election. Not saying the Republicans were Communists/Socialists of this era, but their platform mainly favored policies more in line with the kinds Socialists would idolize.

    Anyway, there are more missing pieces to this story. In 1876, one of the most disputed elections in US history happened. In return for ending Reconstruction, the Democrats dropped their contentions and let the Republicans take the Presidency. It was backroom corruption at its finest.

  • ArcherWarhound

    This is a horrifically stupid take: the Union shouldn't have been harder on the South after the war, they never should have had a war to begin with. Slavery was dying in America just like in the rest of the world. If slavery had died naturally, the KKK, Jim Crow and all these issues would not have existed, or at least never been so pervasive for so long, but the poverty caused by the war and the occupation caused far more sever tribalism than would have been present under better economic conditions and the totalitarianism and post-war punishment of the South by of the Union increased hatred and division as only 5% of the southerners owned slaves but the whole south suffered for it.

    The Civil War was wrong and stupid and only about slavery insofar as slavery was as states' rights and tax issue. Lincoln repeatedly stated that his war was caused by taxes and said "I have no purpose, directly or in-directly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so," in his first Inaugural Address on March 4 1861. Even if you buy false narrative that Lincoln wanted to end slavery because he was so morally righteous you are faced with the fact that (supposedly) in the name of some of the principles which underpin the Constitution Lincoln trampled the Constitution and the other principles upon which it rests and nearly a million Americans died because it.

  • Daniel Coe

    The most consequential moment in modern American history was the assassination of Lincoln. We are still today surrounded by the echoes of that shot fired in Ford's Theatre.

  • Kenneth Thwing

    I have a problem with the idea that the south won the peace. (I am from NC) The worst part of us certainly came out on top in all parts of southern society but that was no real victory for us. Our own "victory" was much more of a loss than a win.

  • marcus aurelius

    Yeah I can see that, The Republicans being blinded by their victory of the American Civil War and desire for unity didn't realise they left the backdoor open.

  • Nick Himml

    the south was right. the totalitarian regime of the north was a greedy, abusive, power hungry dictatorship who only wanted slavery banned because they wanted southerners to pay extreme amounts to buy shitty untested machines the north built so they could even further limit southern states freedom and independence and increase their reliance on the north even more. the tariffs imposed on the south making them pay double in import fees if they bought goods from anyone other than the north was criminal..

    put it this way, if the founding fathers of the United States were alive in 1861, they wouldve all unanimously been fighting for the south. government tyranny, as the north had been for over two decades at this point, was something the founding fathers despised more than anything else. Dont get me started on the mass importation of low skilled immigrants the north participated in, because with machines requires more low skilled workers to clean and work alongside them for a slave wage anyways, the only people willing to do it were blacks and immigrants because white americans expected fair pay, which the northerners refused to pay.

    the north had no right to invade the south. theres a reason its known in the south as the war of northenr aggression, as it was. secession is a right, no a duty every state has if the federal government becomes totalitarian, the founding fathers such as jefferson stated as much. but since the north won, history gets written by the victors.

  • IWG Inc

    This vid is wrong in so many ways. The speaker didn’t tell that the THE EMANCIPATION PROCLAMATION only freed slaves in Confederation held areas. There were Parishes in Louisiana that did not secede from the Union which made slavery legal in their Parish. Slavery was still legal in the Union. The Emancipation was Lincoln’s purpose to start a slave rebellion like happened in Haiti. The nation flag of Haiti was that of a white baby impaled with blood dripping from its body on a Speer and held up in the air as a sign of victory and hoisted over the country as the official flag of Haiti . If you want to see what the south would have looked like ; spend a week in rural Haiti.

    Johnson was a drunken hater of his own constituency empowered to do all kinds of crimes against the south and individuals living in that area regardless of who they supported during the war. Quakers were treated with the same cruelty as Confederate citizens.

    If the Union had occupied the South; the number of soldiers would have been spread out to the point that the organized Confederates (KKK, NIGHT RIDERS) would have picked the Union Army apart so brutally, that the war with North Vietnam would seem like a Sunday picnic.

    When naming the the things that happened during and shortly was the Corporation being formed to make the corporation United States. The bylaws consisting of some of the constitution’s laws of The United States of America which was replaced by The corporation United States. The voting rights laws were assigned to the States as well as Citizenship by the USA constitution. People were citizens of a State they lived in and were merely counted by the Federal Govt before the incorporation of the United States of America This was usurped by The corporation US. The changing of the election rules for Senators were changed by a so called constitutional amendment which didn’t take place, the same for income tax amendment later. It was amended by the rules of the US inc. Do you recognize that a Senator is named a US Senator, a Rep is a US Representative. The President is the President of the US. A corporation by incorporating law must have rules called bylaws , the US Constitution a President and a voting board, US House and must meet at least once a year with minutes taken and recorded.

    You talk about knowing history. The biggest psy-op ever recorded was the Civil War has concluded. In no time in history has the surrender of a standing army equaled the surrender of a country. Under this logic The Japanese won WWII when the Philippine islands were surrendered by Lt. General Wainwright in 1942. The Unions chased President Davis to capture him to make him sign the instruments of surrender and steal the CSA treasury. It was so late after Lees surrender nobody wanted to tear down the illusion of surrender and the gold of the treasury was probably take by Union officers.

    The principles of the south was honor. God, country, family. slavery had only the use of turning the United States of America into a Federal Government that turned its citizen into slaves at the point of a gun. Not only does the IRS have guns, they have swat teams to terrorize to insure they get the slaves property as opposed to their labor. They figured slavery controlled by the lash of the whip was not economical because the had to house, feed, clothe, and doctor the slave. It’s much more efficient to,tell the slave they have property rights and to keep them you must give your 55% to 65% of property to the master or the,gun is,going to go off. For clarity the biggest desertion with the deserters going to Canada was not the Vietnam Nam war. It was the Civil war after the Emancipation proclamation. The soldiers did not know that Lincoln was trying to start a Bloody rebellion against whites in the south they thought the reason for the war had changed from keeping the Union to freeing the slaves thus record desertion. Their only concern for slaves is they were unfair competition for wages. If the stated purpose for the war was to eliminate Slavery, the capital of this nation would be Richmond Virginia the flag would be the CSA Flag. Slavery would have been taken care of by a Government by out plan to reimburse the owners for their lost property’s this is how slavery was eliminated in Europe. No bloodshed their over Slaves.

    I could go on for days. My grandfather never met his grandfather. Every year we would go to his family grave yard and look for large field rock that fell over that may have been his grandfather that died in the civil war. I found out through the internet that he was captured and died at Camp Morton in Indianapolis Indiana of dysentery long after he died. The were Scott-Irish and never bought a slave. They had slaves but they got them the old fashioned way. They sired children.

    Remember the issue of slavery of the rank and file soldiers was not about slavery but Union which meant little states rights. Most soldiers didn’t know why there should be a Union.

    If anybody,thinks the civil war is over your wrong. Just look at this guy in the video. Military installments in the conquered south. The seizure of land to give away at a their whim. The Yankees are still trying to disarm us and have been trying since 1865. How’s that worked out for them. Most Yankees are city dwellers and think food comes from a store, water from a tap, and housing from the government. 1 neutron device set off on Yankees would cause the awakening of the walking dead. The ones whose escape, where do you think they will go. The CSA that’s where.

    Prager, I’m ashamed of you. Try to break the cycle. General Ulysses S. Grant cut a field order that prohibited Jew merchants to operate any where Us troops were billeted due to the Jews selling tools of war to both the North and Southerns. I know you don’t know Jesus but you better find him and ask for a little clarity. The guy listen to might not be who you think he is. He may be a deceiver.

  • David Tucker

    I am skeptical of his "solution" to reconstruction… A bigger occupation would have caused MORE hatred and division, and cost MORE money.

  • Heavy D

    flip sales i will take $100000 to debate you Candace. lol actually you would school me but i will gladly get schooled for that 🙂 peace from Canada. TRUMP 2020 .

  • James Mac777

    Reconstruction was ugly, but there is no easy answer, because this was born out of the American Civil War. In order to bring the wayward South back into the United States of America and with representation in Congress, this ugly step was used. Despite its problems, the Union has been reformed.

  • Papa Bless

    Do people really not realize the political parties went through a realignment in the 30s when they essentially switched their beliefs? The Democratic Party used to be for small government. The old beliefs of the political parties have nothing to do with how they are today. The only similarities they share are in name.

  • Chad Disrud

    “We should have imposed a real occupation on the defeated Confederacy until a new political generation grew up in the South.” What does that mean! Who is “we”? This is about the most anti-American, unpatriotic anti-liberating Statement I’ve ever seen. So in essence he is saying after defeating nations, the USA federal government should have occupied those nations even more until their governments had been replaced by those with foreign ideologies. I could see a NAZI leader in 1940 saying the same. Defeat some nations which simply wish to be independent, then occupy their lands and governments until their governments are replaced with our ideology. Every person who loves liberty should be greatly offended by the historical inaccuracies presented in this video and the absolutely crazy ideas thus professor is presenting. It’s terribly unAmerican.

  • Michael Delia

    After the civil war, we should have become the black and white America of the u United states. This is our, black and white united country. Our black Americans have invented, and created and invented so much. I am sick with liberal attitudes. But we dont learn in history books about the American blacks contributions to our there country.

  • Olivia Rubio

    First off, you can't gloss over how the south was split into military districts and the states were forced to write new constitutions as if it was done NICELY by the republicans. All southern soldiers were treated like shit by the north and (if I'm remembering correctly) were never given back their american citizenship. Then, the formation of groups like the KKK sprung up in order to protect themselves, mainly widows and their children, from violence of former slaves and northerners. The KKK and other similar groups were formed as a REACTION to REPUBLICAN POLICIES after Sherman's scorched earth and the anaconda plan that starved the south. Grant wasn't a great leader either he was a drunk with a temper who pulled it together for the war but not for peace. What the republicans/northerners did to the south/democrats is just as bad as what the Treaty of Versailles did to Germany after WWI, to pretend like the republicans didn't do anything wrong is no better than the democrats claiming they were the party that ended slavery and opposed jim crow and the kkk. Both are lies.

  • Mike B

    Leftism is genetic. We should have put every democrat to death in 1865. Republicans are too nice. So now we are doomed to repeat the civil war.

  • KnightmareRaider93

    A lot of these videos I must take with a grain of salt, but I must take my hat off for this one. If there’s one thing it fails to mention, it’s the political realignment stemming from Nixon’s “Southern Strategy”. This effectively swapped the positions of the two parties, setting up today’s political landscape.
    For decades from reconstruction until the ‘60s, the predominantly democrat south was known as the “solid south”. White southerners with long memories wanted nothing to do with “the party of Lincoln”. Oh, how history turns itself inside out…

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