A dramatic narrative that depicts how secession struck at the heart of republican government itself in the five months leading up to the Civil War. Klein (History/Univ. of Rhode Island; The Life and Legend of Jay Gould, 1986, etc.) notes that the 1860 presidential election featured three candidates (Stephen Douglas, John Breckinridge, and John Bell) splintering the Democratic Party along sectional lines, with the successful Republican, Abraham Lincoln, taking only 40 percent of the popular vote, and all of his electoral votes were from the North. The party system, Klein writes, mirrored a country riven by differences arising from a growing immigrant population and, more important, from state and local customs regarding ""every shared national concept--democracy, religion, [and] freedom."" Slave states, threatened by John Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry in 1859 and Republican opposition to extending slavery into new territories, seceded one after another. Klein's focus on how individuals on both sides stumbled their way through this crisis throws these issues of nationalism into sharp relief. In Washington, lame-duck Democratic president James Buchanan, exhausted by sectional controversies, impotently declared that the South had no right to secession and the North no power to impede it. In Charleston Harbor, Major Robert Anderson, after waiting in vain for explicit orders from Buchanan, sought a more fortified position by moving his command to the supposedly secure ""island prison"" of Fort Sumter. Meanwhile, Congress debated and peace commissioners from North and South met to no effect; Secretary of State William Seward gave private assurances to Confederate emissaries that Fort Sumter would be evacuated; and Lincoln, whose inscrutability matched his inexperience, finally hit upon how to place the onus for starting the war on the new Confederate government: by providing provisions to Sumter but no reinforcements. A compelling account of the folly and brilliance displayed as the nation veered toward collapse.