Battle Cry of Freedom

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United States History i|
Battle Cry of Freedom|
The Civil War Era by: James M. McPherson|
|
Sandra Dunlap|
4/16/2010|

James M. McPherson was born October 11, 1936. He is considered to be an American Civil War historian and he is a professor at Princeton University. He received the Pulitzer Prize for his book Battle Cry of Freedom and Wikipedia states this was his most famous book. He holds a Bachelor of Arts and a Ph. D. and teaches United States History at Princeton University. “Battle Cry of Freedom; The Civil War Era id a work of such vast scope necessarily emphasizes synthesis at the expense of theme. If there is a unifying idea in the book, it is McPherson's acknowledged emphasis on “the multiple meanings of slavery and freedom, and how they dissolved and reformed into new patterns in the crucible of war.” In spite of the existence of a growing class of urban workers and a burgeoning immigrant population, McPherson finds that “the greatest danger to American survival midcentury was neither class tension nor ethnic division. I feel it was sectional conflict between North and South over the future of slavery.” He dismisses the idea advanced by some historians that conflicts over tariff policy and states’ rights were more central to the political tensions of the 1850's than the South's “peculiar institution.” McPherson emphasizes that “by the 1850s Americans on both sides of the line separating freedom from slavery came to emphasize more their differences than similarities.” McPherson is critical of previous literature that he says “lack the dimension of contingency-the recognition that at numerous critical points during the war things might have gone altogether differently” (857-858). The narrative style allows him to point out such critical moments that others would have missed or looked over. He carefully identifies instances where another outcome was possible, or even probable. His treatment of both sides in the war is evenhanded. The Compromise of 1850 was an attempt to brace a government ready to split apart with a few political two-by-fours: It gave the South a deferred decision on the question of slavery in New Mexico and Utah in return for a stronger fugitive slave law and the admission of California to the union as a free state. Four years later, the Kansas-Nebraska Act shattered this uneasy peace by repealing the Missouri Compromise line of 1820, which had banned slavery in the northern territories, and substituting the deliberately ambiguous doctrine of popular sovereignty, which left room for violent disagreement among the territorial settlers. The Kansas-Nebraska Act completed the destruction of the divided Whig Party and gave rise to the new, entirely Northern, Republican Party, whose stated objective was to prevent the spread of slavery. Although not all Republicans were motivated by sympathy for the Negro—indeed many were deeply antipathetic toward blacks and opposed slavery only in the economic interest of working-class whites—and although the party was pledged not to disturb slavery where it already existed, Southerners regarded it as a threat. The election of Republican Abraham Lincoln in the “revolution of 1860” precipitated the “counterrevolution of 1861,” the secession of the lower South and, after the firing of shots at Fort Sumter, of the upper South as well. In stressing the formation of the Confederacy as a “preemptive counterrevolution,” McPherson follows the model of historian Arno Meyer, who applied it to twentieth century Europe. Such a counterrevolution does not attempt to restore the old orders; it strikes first—preempts revolution—in order to protect the status quo before revolution can erupt. The secessionists magnified the potential threat posed by Lincoln's election, arguing that waiting for an “overt act” against Southern rights was comparable to waiting for a coiled rattlesnake to strike. The time to act was before the North decided to move against...
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