45 pages 1 hour read

James M. Mcpherson

Abraham Lincoln and the Second American Revolution

Nonfiction | Biography | Adult | Published in 1983

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Important Quotes

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“The Declaration of Independence, said Garfield in a speech on July 4, 1865, proclaimed the equal birthright of all men in the need for the consent of the governed for a just government. This meant black men as well as white men he said, and to exclude emancipated slaves from equal participation in government would be a denial of ‘the very axioms of the declaration.’” 

(Chapter 1, Page 5)

This is the first mention of the Declaration of Independence as an emancipation document in the text. Rhetorically projective of more modern arguments from the civil rights movement, the statement is undeniably just and stands against a much less egalitarian viewpoint among Southern opposition to emancipation. However, Garfield also believed that all plantation owners should be executed, and emancipation assisted the North in winning the war by destabilizing the Southern economy. As such, this passage is a good example of how political motivations underlay the lofty rhetoric of the era.

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“The war was a struggle between two conflicting capitalist systems—one reactionary, based on slave labor, and fearful of change; the other progressive, competitive, innovative, and democratic. Although the slave system presented no obstacle to the growth of industrial capitalism as an economic system (Here is where Moore differs from Beard), it did present a ‘formidable obstacle to the establishment of an industrial capitalist democracy […] at least any conception of democracy that includes the goals of human equality, even the limited form of equality of opportunity, and human freedom […] Labor-repressive agricultural systems, and plantation slavery in particular, or political obstacles to a particular kind of capitalism at a specific historical stage.’”

(Chapter 1, Page 9)

Barrington Moore’s layered analysis of the Civil War establishes the economic undercurrents to its idealized struggle. While the North objected to slavery, this emerged equally out of a desire to empower its industrial economy over the Southern agrarian economy as it did to eradicate the oppression of African Americans. As such, the Civil War can be seen as a conflict between two economic systems as much as it was a conflict between two armies.

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“Many secessionists conceded that their movement was essentially a counter-revolution against the anticipated revolutionary threat to slavery […] The Black Republicans were the real revolutionaries, southerners insisted, ‘a motley throng Sans culottes […] infidels and freelovers, interspersed by bloomer women fugitive slaves and automation an amalgamationists […] active and bristling with terrible designs and as ready for bloody and forcible realities as ever characterized the ideals of the French Revolution.’” 

(Chapter 1, Page 27)

Southerners saw secession as a revolution against rising Republican power in line with the initial revolution that founded the nation, or alternatively as a counter-revolution to the Republican revolution against slavery.