Abraham Lincoln and the Second American Revolution
This book largely looks at the Civil War and the role that Lincoln had in many of the transformations that came about from it. For example, the slaves that were liberated, the political and social order in the South that was overthrown, and other issues. The author of the book, McPherson, claims that the 16th president was a conservative and a revolutionary, and sees Lincoln's goal as preserving the Union because of the founding fathers and their revolutionary heritage. One of the most significant things about this book is that McPherson looks at something that many other Civil War scholars and historians do not examine. He looks at the war leadership ability and the strategy that Lincoln had and addresses this subject quite strongly throughout the book.
He sees Lincoln as being entirely responsible for the unconditional Union victory and bases this on the apparently astounding leadership that Lincoln gave as president, commander-in-chief, and also as the head of the Republican Party. McPherson believes that this great leadership helped with the second American Revolution and also worked to ensure its success. McPherson also points out that the issues that Lincoln dealt with at that time and the words and ideas that he used to convey the issues that he was dealing with will actually never be obsolete. These included the limits that should be imposed on the power of the government, the liberty of individuals in times of world and country crisis, the difficulties and complexities of leadership in wartime, and the meaning of freedom.
All of these issues are dealt with in the book, and McPherson looks at them in a rather unique way while still reminding readers that these are undying traits that will remain throughout history. The book is broken down into seven specific essays and they not only provide important historical information but also very original observations and beliefs about Lincoln and what type of political philosophies he held. Not only did he demand the unconditional surrender in the Civil War, but he had very effective speech writing and used metaphors very strongly in much of what he said and wrote. He was also completely dedicated to the opinion that all men are created equal. This was not just something that he said that something that he truly believed was true and accurate.
Not only is McPherson an excellent writer with a very flowing style but the clarity with which he presents his ideas and beliefs about Lincoln is very illuminating and it is clear that he has an extremely strong grasp of the history which he discusses. He is becoming one of this country's finest historians. Throughout this book, McPherson looks very closely at what type of role Lincoln played when he was commander-in-chief of the Union forces. Among the issues dealt with in that regard is that Lincoln actually created victory by forging a military strategy that would ensure a win. Because Lincoln had such great skills as a writer and as a speaker, McPherson also explores this issue and looks at how Lincoln communicated why the war was going on and what liberty meant to individuals in the North.
Lincoln tended to use a lot of parables and a lot of figurative language in his speeches but despite the fact that this might seem confusing to some it actually came across very well and helped all individuals see exactly what it was that Lincoln was trying to convey. Basically, Lincoln's ability to speak in this way and show individuals a picture of what was happening and what would continue to happen in the world helped others come to a more comprehensive understanding of it. McPherson also looks at the Civil War as being a second American Revolution, hence the title of the book. He discusses the Republican Congress, which was elected in 1860, and how they began to pass an amazing amount of new regulations and laws. The also discusses the war and the destruction of the old South's social structure. Not only did the war change the social structure of the South, but it also altered the balance of power throughout the country and brought to an end the southern power that had been so strong in the national government for over 70 years.
Because the Civil War was so significant it became the defining experience and the most transforming experience anywhere in American history. Abraham Lincoln still remains the most important individual in that part of history, and some would argue in all of history as well. In the South, they claimed that the Civil War was for American independence and they termed it the second war. McPherson helps to make that case because the information he provides and deals with in his book begins to show that perhaps the Confederates were right about this. This means that not only from a social perspective but from a political perspective as well the very nation that we live in underwent a very strong and radical transformation throughout the course of the Civil War. McPherson suggests comparing how the war altered the country not to the actual American Revolution but to the French and some of the things that they had gone through during war and unrest.
Even though six of the essays contained in the book have either been given as speeches or published elsewhere, they are still very important as a collection here, as they bring together many of the ideas and beliefs that Lincoln had. His leadership and how he dealt with the Civil War is what unifies these essays and brings them all together. It is easy to see, by reading through the book, that Lincoln worked to re-create the nation during and after the Civil War so that it became almost completely unrecognizable to individuals who had survived and lived before the Civil War took place. Even though the book is not very big, it contains a great deal of information and much of this has to do with the fact that McPherson is very good at being concise in his arguments. He does not put in a lot of extra fluff and he does not digress from the topic at hand, but rather provides just what is asked for and necessary so that readers get a complete picture without being overwhelmed by small details.
He looks at complicated issues and analyzes them sharply but still manages to give fair and just consideration to all of the various points-of-view. There are times that his language is almost poetic but even when it is not reaching to this height it is still clear and concise enough that the book is extremely easy to read. Even those who do not have a great love for history or wish to avoid textbooks would likely not be bored by this book because it is short and because it flows so well. In the first essay in the book, McPherson argues about the change that took place in the United States during the Civil War and how the nation changed from a republic of slaveholders into one that was free. Another important issue that occurred during the Civil War was that the political center of gravity was moved to the North when it had previously been located in the South.
The Industrial Revolution also began to expand. Originally, it remained in New England but with the coming of the Civil War it began to spread and it eventually defeated the plantations. The prevailing social and political order in the South was also weakened, but it was not completely destroyed. However, many of the blacks in the South had much better living and working conditions than they previously did. This is not to say that these individuals had any kind of equality, and there are those that will still argue that the equality that should have been present then is not available even today. That notwithstanding, however, McPherson takes a very accurate picture of blacks in the South and what did and did not improve about their situations.
However, what McPherson is most interested in and looks at the closest in this group of essays is a philosophical change. During the Civil War, there was a change in what McPherson terms negative liberty, in other words freedom from government oppression, to positive liberty, in other words the right for protection. This was guaranteed by the federal government and the Civil War helped to make it possible. The second essay in the book looks at the role that Lincoln played as leader of this particular revolution and much of what made Lincoln so popular. Most of the reason that what he did worked so well was the fact that he held very strongly to the principle of democracy. He was not planning on the second American Revolution, but it happened based upon his willingness and ability to defend that principle.
Still, however, many individuals saw Lincoln as despotic…