45 pages • 1 hour readJames M. Mcpherson
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George Ticknor, born in 1791 during the presidency of George Washington, reflected on the “great trauma” (vii) of the Civil War four years after its closure, remarking that the changes to the country seemed to make it a completely new place. During the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln liberated 4 million slaves, transforming the United States from an economy based on slave labor to one of democratic free-labor capitalism. In this change “liberty took on new meanings for Americans” (vii), and changes to the system of government were extensive: the federal republic became a national polity that taxed citizens, an internal revenue bureau was created to collect these taxes, the jurisdiction of federal courts was expanded, and a national currency and banking structure were established. The changes even extended to the country’s name—after 1865 the United States became a singular noun, where before it was plural.
In this preface McPherson provides a brief thematic introduction to the seven essays that follow, which analyze the scope of America’s transformation in the war and Lincoln’s leadership through it. He argues that alongside his historical impact, Lincoln has had a lasting effect on the American imagination, with public figures today measuring themselves against him and what he might do in regard to current political problems.
By James M. Mcpherson