Book Review: “Abraham Lincoln and the Second American Revolution”

By Ricki DeLeon, student, Center for Distance Learning

June 13, 2013

Book Review: “Abraham Lincoln and the Second American Revolution”

Author: James M. McPherson

Publisher: Oxford University Press, 1991.

The Civil War resulted in more causalities than other American wars combinedand was the last major war between two factions of Americans on their own soil. While historians and economists debate whether the war was caused by the expansion of industrialization among the bourgeoisie or the move to abolish slavery, another difficult question plagues historians: can we justly term the Civil War a second American Revolution?

James M. McPherson’s book, “Abraham Lincoln and the Second American Revolution,” is a truly informative and exciting book, which explores this simple, yet difficult question. Through his own documented lectures and published papers, the author defends the premise that the Civil War was indeed a second revolution by exploring various definitions of the word “revolution” and investigating data related to the wages of African-Americans, employment, property ownership, education, etc., in antebellum and postwar America. The author presents his research in a lucid, clear and easily understandable manner, and immediately engages the reader without redundancy in his analysis. McPherson quotes researchers who intend to disprove the notion that the Civil War was revolutionary, and systematically sets out to refute the naysayers through quantitative data and primary sources of the era. Both sides of the argument present crucial and debatable evidence to support its theories, and although the author clearly outlines his opinion of the debate, the book also leaves the reader with food for thought. The author additionally outlines President Lincoln’s opinion of the war, while adding some interesting information about Lincoln himself, the importance of the familiar parables and metaphors Lincoln used to communicate, and the differences in Lincoln’s leadership qualities versus those of Confederate President Jefferson Davis.

McPherson’s book is a short must-read for future historians who wish to focus on American history, and is intellectually provocative with regard to its debatable theories and postulations. “Abraham Lincoln and the Second American Revolution” explores a significant era in American history, and forces the reader to determine for themselves whether the outcome of the war envisaged by Union leaders lived up to its reality.

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