Abraham Lincoln and the Second American Revolution

by James M. McPherson
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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 245

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Though I would not generally use the word "characters" in the context of historical writings, in this case the term is quite applicable to the extent that in some sense all Americans were characters in the Civil War drama. Lincoln, as President, is of course the principal one, as James McPherson views the conflict. Part of McPherson's thesis is the rejection of the idea, expressed by some historians, that Lincoln himself was somehow not the driving force behind the war, the legitimate reasons it had to be fought, and the destruction of the system of slavery. Lincoln was, in fact, the major "character" whose persistence and fortitude largely enabled the Union victory.

As for the other principal characters in the conflict, one might consider the following individuals or groups and see why McPherson considers them significant:

  1. The abolitionists and all who believed slavery was wrong.
  2. The segment of the Northern population who wished to preserve the Union but were not against slavery.
  3. The enslaved people themselves.
  4. The Southern leadership and all those who held enslaved people and had a direct interest in perpetuating the system of slavery. Of particular importance would be, of course, Jefferson Davis as the Confederate President, and the contrast between his character and Lincoln's.
  5. Those Southern people who fought for the Confederacy but had no direct connection to the "peculiar institution" of slavery.

Each of these people or groups are part of the history McPherson brings to life for the reader.