The Civil War’s Real Causes: McPherson’s View Essay (Article)

James M. McPherson is an American historian specialized on the Civil War period. McPherson is a well known historian and a winner of Pulitzer Prize for one of his books, Lincoln Prize and Pritzker Military Library Literature Award. McPherson was born on North Dakota and graduated from college in Minnesota, after which he got his PhD in Maryland. He currently works as a Professor Emeritus of the United States History.

“This Mighty Scourge: Perspectives on the Civil War” is a collection of essays written by James M. McPherson about the Civil War in the United States. McPherson is convinced that the main role of a historian is to educate his contemporaries about the events of the past letting them view these events though the unprejudiced perspective of an expert taking into consideration only facts, but not emotions and feelings. In his essays McPherson studies various views of the causes of the Civil War and namely the role of slavery as one of the reasons of rupture of the armed conflict. The scholar explores the newly developed point of view, which argues that slavery was definitely a debated issue of that time, but it could not be considered as the main cause of the Civil War. McPherson points out a number of other aspects between the South and North of the country that were more likely to lead to an armed conflict and studies the validity of all of these arguments

The intended audience of “This Mighty Scourge: Perspectives on the Civil War” are McPherson’s fellow scholars, teachers of history, students and other readers willing to understand the complex subject of the Civil War better. In his essays McPherson mentions the points of view of the most influential Confederates such as Jefferson Davis and Alexander Stephens before and after the War, before and after the abolition of slavery, citing their exact words and explaining the citations and opinions. The language of the document is rather scholarly, yet it is still understandable for a non-professional reader. The supporters of both sides of the Civil War would be interested in reading McPherson’s argument.

McPherson cites more recent opinions of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, which state that the “overemphasis of the slavery issue rankles them”.1 The author also explains of the opinion of the Progressive school about this problem. According to the progressive School, the causes of the Civil War lied in the confrontation between the agricultural and industrialized capitalism.2 The author mentions that many scholars state that the actual causes of the Civil War were the financial policies, banking, tariffs, taxes, manufacturing and transportation which continuously heated up the misunderstanding between the industrial and planting interests. McPherson disarms this point of view stating that these issues were a part of the American being though the centuries, they were not new, they exist nowadays too. The author points out that slavery was the only institution the North and the South did not share, this is why this was the main reason of the armed conflict.3

In my opinion, the author disarms the Progressive school and the revisionists, he professionally studies all of their arguments and finds clever and strong counter-arguments to each statement supporting his opinion with facts.

Citing multiple documents and speeches of the Southern pro-slavery politicians of the Civil War times, McPherson makes his argument. The author points out that the Southerners in fact fought only for the sakes of preservation of slavery and when they lost this battle, they decided to vindicate state sovereignty. Through the course of the essay McPherson’s argument was validated.

Bibliography

McPherson, James M. This Mighty Scourge: Perspectives on the Civil War. Cary:

Oxford University Press, 2007.

Footnotes

1 James M. McPherson, This Mighty Scourge: Perspectives on the Civil War (Cary: Oxford University Press, 2007), 4.

2 James M. McPherson, This Mighty Scourge: Perspectives on the Civil War (Cary: Oxford University Press, 2007), 5.

3 James M. McPherson, This Mighty Scourge: Perspectives on the Civil War (Cary: Oxford University Press, 2007), 10.

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