Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 408
James McPherson's principal themes are stated and implied in the title of the book: that the US Civil War was, in fact, a revolution, and that Lincoln was the main driving force behind that revolution and its accomplishment.
McPherson elaborates on these themes by detailing the features of the war that made it revolutionary, and by stating why it was a furtherance, or at least a partial fulfillment, of the principles of our first revolution, the War of Independence. A revolution is an event that changes or overturns an existing political or social order. The Civil War did this in destroying the slaveholding oligarchy of the southern states. Contrary to what some historians have asserted, the elimination of slavery was not an accident but was the direct result of the issues that triggered the war in the first place. A key point made by McPherson is that after the war, the establishment of Jim Crow laws in the South was a counter-revolution. Yet both the English Civil War of the 1640s and the French Revolution were followed by counter-revolutions as well that partially restored the old order. In the US, the continued oppression of African Americans after Reconstruction, tragic and unfair as it was, did not result in the actual restoration of slavery. The Constitutional amendments of 1865 abolishing slavery and recognizing all Americans as citizens of the US regardless of color were permanent, and made possible what McPherson calls the Second Reconstruction, the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960's.
A corollary of McPherson's central theme about Lincoln being the...
(The entire section contains 408 words.)
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