ABRAHAM LINCOLN AND THE SECOND AMERICAN REVOLUTION comprises seven essays drawn from lectures and papers McPherson presented on various occasions. To gather these into book form, as the author freely admits in his preface, runs the risk of redundancy. It is a risk that McPherson loses, as the essays frequently cite the same anecdotes, incidents, and quotations to make the same point. Simply put, there is material here for one excellent scholarly essay; there is not enough for a book.
Having said which, however, one must acknowledge McPherson’s mastery of his topic—the change the Civil War effected in America’s concept of liberty. Prior to the war, Americans thought of liberty as the restraint of government from tyrannizing over the individual (or state); after the war, liberty became the broadening of opportunity (particularly for its freed slaves), resulting from an extension of the power of the national government. McPherson’s thesis is that this redefinition of liberty and the role the government must play in fostering it was a direct result of Abraham Lincoln’s steady resolve, his genius as a communicator, and his recognition that the abolition of slavery had to be included along with the restoration of the Union as a war aim if the promise of the first America Revolution was to be fulfilled.
McPherson scarcely mentions the economic and social innovations or the political upheaval that mark the Civil War years, except insofar as...
(The entire section is 437 words.)