Where the format might lead some readers to anticipate a simplified primer, this second collaboration by Hennessey and McConnell (The United States Constitution: A Graphic Adaptation, 2008) again finds them probing the implications of history through incisive analysis and compelling art.
What the narrative terms “probably the most famous and influential speech in American history,” “just 271 words in length and requiring no more than a few minutes to recite out loud,” might not initially seem like enough of a hook for such an expansive examination. Yet practically every one of those words proves significant, as the scope of the book extends from the American Revolution to the present day, casting the Civil War as tragic and transformative but likely inevitable as well. It finds the country’s two most revered and renowned documents—the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution—at odds with each other, as the equality celebrated in the former (though the degree to which that equality was intended to extend remains open to interpretation) finds itself on a collision course with the rights of the states (and distrust of a strong central government, after the tyranny of England) inherent in the latter. Add the profound differences between the North and South—in demographics, climate, economy, political orientation—and the intensification of those with the passage of time, and you’ve got an explosion waiting to happen. Resisting the temptation to reduce the conflict to a morality play—the evil of slavery vs. the ideal of emancipation (though there is that)—or to make President Abraham Lincoln more enlightened on race relations than a man of his time was likely to be—the authors combine historical depth with art that also finds shades of gray amid the black and white.
Even Civil War buffs should find this graphic adaptation engaging, provocative and deftly nuanced.