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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The Civil War as the Second American Revolution

This book discusses Lincoln’s role in America’s second revolution, the Civil War. To do so, it must first justify the Civil War as a revolution, which requires clearly defining the very word “revolution.” These are not easy tasks, and particularly problematic is “the elastic meaning of the word revolution. The term is often thrown around with careless abandon. The concept has become trivialized” (14).

Faced with a multitude of theoretical definitions, McPherson proposes adopting “a common-sense working definition of revolution” (16). He defines revolution “simply as the overthrow of the existing social and political order by internal violence” (16), and then sets about describing how the Civil War served as a revolution because it reconstituted both the social and political landscape of the United States forever.

In defining the Civil War as a true revolution comparable in US history only with the Revolution of 1776, McPherson also finds the Civil War an upset in national trajectory on par with the British and French Revolutions, which drastically altered the course of their nation’s governments. Importantly, both of those revolutions instituted wholly new forms of representational government, eliminating the unitary control of monarchies. The United States at the time of the Civil War was already a constitutional democracy, but McPherson’s equation with these events, particularly in the first two chapters of this text, positions the changes the Civil War had on the nation as equitable to these more drastic redefinitions of government.