Barney offers no drastically novel thesis about the crisis of the 1840's and 1850's, but a first-rate synthesis of its causes and an account of the momentum of Southern radicalism under the leadership of a new stratum of young planter-politicians. The book convincingly demonstrates the acuteness of the slaveowners' felt need for Western expansion through a discussion of the economic problems of highly mobile, debt-ridden, speculation-mad farmers who abused the land and quested for more. As early as 1848, Barney says, the idea of Southern independence gained organizational meaning; and the free-soil versus slavocratic-expansion polarization soon precluded compromise -- the book is especially good on the difficulties of the accommodation-minded Douglas Democrats and Southern Whigs in the late '50's. The conclusion seems to be that the Civil War really was inevitable; Barney parenthetically notes the irony of the slavocrats' inability to imagine a docile black peasantry on the order of Russia after Emancipation or the system they finally got with Reconstruction. The consolidation of the secessionist movement is contrasted to the anti-secessionists' impotence and the clash of interests between the upper South and the deep South, and Southern ambivalence about a Confederacy that would reopen the African slave trade. Although less vividly conceptualized than Charles Beard's theory of the ""Second American Revolution"" or William A. Williams' ""all-out for laissez-faire"" characterization of the Northern radicals, this is an indispensable source on antebellum Southern attitudes and the period as a whole.