A concise and clear treatment of the diverse issues and social changes that precipitated the Civil War. Working largely with the results of recent scholarship on the antebellum period, Levine (American History/Univ. of Cincinnati; ed., Who Built America?, 1990) argues that the American Revolution occurred in two distinct stages. The first, liberation from Britain, came about only through a fragile alliance between separate social orders, one based on servile labor and the other on free labor--but the compromises between these systems (an integral part of the fabric of the Constitution), Levine tells us, failed to hold up as America expanded westward. The Civil War was the second stage, the result of friction that grew increasingly heated as other factors came into play. Changes in work life and cultural life in the North and South, Levine says, led to clearer class distinctions, sharpening the perceptions of laborers who toiled as free men and as slaves. Assessing the contribution to the debate from free blacks in both regions, from abolitionists and proslavery rabble-rousers, and especially from the hard-working German and Irish immigrants who had little use for plantation society, Levine sees the polarization in attitudes manifesting in specific political platforms, most notably in the rise of Republicanism in the 1850's as Whigs, Democrats, Know-Nothings, and other parties proved unequal to the task of curbing slavery. Intelligent, eminently readable sociopolitical history.