Abraham Lincoln and the second American Revolution

by James M. McPherson

Paperback, 1991




New York : Oxford University Press, 1990.


The main argument of this collection of essays is that Abraham Lincoln was the main catalyst of the American Civil War, a revolution with consequences as dramatic and far-reaching as the French Revolution. The author offers unusual perspectives on Lincoln's involvement in the war.

User reviews

LibraryThing member kencf0618
Interesting legal analysis of the insurgency, which technically was nothing but a rather large riot. Lincoln never, ever referred to "the Confederacy," and for good reason, too!
LibraryThing member dougwood57
James McPherson (Battle Cry of Freedom) is the preeminent Civil War author and scholar of our time. The Princeton University professor provides fresh insight into A. Lincoln in these seven essays.

McPherson demonstrates conclusively that the Civil War was indeed the Second American Revolution - it
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abolished slavery and smashed the political, economic, and social status quo. Before the War, southerners dominated American politics - after the war it was decades before a son of the south could be elected President. The absence of the south from the national legislature during the war allowed the passage of the great progressive and modernizing legislation; the Homestead Act, enabled a continental railroad, and land-grant colleges. After the war, blacks made great (if far from complete) progress in education, politics, and economics.

Unfortunately, the reactionary forces led a counter-revolution that attempted to turn back the massive changes in society with much success. That counter-revolution eventually yielded to a Second Reconstruction in the mid-20th century.

McPherson repeatedly returns to Lincoln's political evolution as the War changed from a limited war for limited ends to a total war for revolutionary ends. In the end Lincoln insisted on unconditional surrender.

I particularly enjoyed the essays entitled 'How Lincoln Won the War with Metaphors', which contrasts the communication abilities of Lincoln and Jefferson Davis, and 'The Hedgehog and the Foxes', in which McPherson favors us with a description of Lincoln as the single-minded hedgehog outlasting the multifarious foxes such as Horace Greeley and William Seward.

My only small quibble is that similar points are made using the same quotes in multiple essays (perhaps unavoidable in a collection of previously published essays), but the quotes are so evocative of Lincoln's thinking that the repetition is not only forgiven, but enjoyed.

Highly recommended for anyone interested in US history, Lincoln, or the Civil War era.
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