This book's purpose is mainly pedagogical: to provide a concise, up-to‐ date, and reasonably wide-ranging introduction to a very large subject. The existing literature on the origins of the American Civil War is so voluminous that it would be quite possible to devote the length of this book to a review of the main controversies between scholars and still leave much unsaid. On the whole, however, I have avoided historiographical debates. One consequence of this approach is that I often simplify very complex arguments formulated by historians. I trust that I have committed no gross injustices in my attempt to produce a terse and reasonably straightforward discussion of the most important developments in America's sectional crisis. But the reader should be warned at the outset that virtually every paragraph in this little book concerns a topic that has been extensively written about and debated by other historians.
This book is a by-product of teaching. I therefore owe a considerable debt of gratitude to students at Middlesex Polytechnic in 1974-6 and at Glasgow University since 1977 for questioning my analyses and stimulating my interest in the subject. Colleagues in the British Association for American Studies and in the institutions just mentioned have also provided much stimulation; I should particularly like to thank Mr Donald Ratcliffe and Mr David Scarboro among the former and Mr Bernard Aspinwall and Mr Christopher Black among the latter. Mr Black kindly read an early draft and made valuable suggestions for further work; Mr Geoffrey Finlayson gave timely and important advice; and Miss Patricia Ferguson typed the manuscript with her customary expertise and speed. I owe a great deal to Professor Michael F. Holt for guiding my initial education as an historian of the 1850s and to Professor William Brock for constant support, advice, criticism, and encouragement. My wife — Dr Linda Nash — most generously read, criticized, and improved an earlier draft.
University of Glasgow