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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Chapter 2

Chapter Summaries & Analyses

Chapter 2 Summary: “Abraham Lincoln and the Second American Revolution”

Scholar James G. Randall understood Lincoln as a figure of conservative change and compromise with regard to emancipation procedures. But the nature of history at the time was one of profound change that uprooted American institutions, making Lincoln’s leadership through this change revolutionary by default. Lincoln himself believed that the right of people “to revolutionize their existing form of government, and to establish such other in its stead as they may choose” (24) was sacred. Lincoln was a supporter of other European revolutions, and Marx was an ideological supporter of Lincoln.


Southerners also saw their own revolt against Republicanism as a revolution. Confederates invoked revolution to ideologically justify secession, creating the Confederacy to protect what they viewed as their constitutional liberty to property, namely slaves. Northerners such as William Cullen Bryant, editor of The New York Evening Post, understood the irony of a liberty to slave ownership, calling Southern secession “not in the interest of general humanity but domestic despotism” (27).

Other secessionists worked to define their movement not as a revolution but as a counter-revolution against the anticipated revolutionary threat to slavery. They did so to distance their movement from the bloody histories of other revolutions and to foist such accusations of needless violence onto the North.