In the final chapter, Wilentz details the final motions as the tensions that had long been building break out in civil war. As AJBEANE says, there had been many attempts to reduce the tension and prevent a civil war, but the fundamental problem was never addressed, and so, looking back, it is clear that the war was inevitable. Lincoln’s election proved to be the straw that broke the camel’s back, as, despite his vowed intention to not touch slavery where it already was the law, Southern Slave owners were terrified that Lincoln intended to deprive them of their “property.” With the election of Lincoln, and the secession of South Carolina, it would prove only a matter of time before most of the Southern slave-holding states would follow suit. For a time it was thought that, perhaps, the states which had seceded could be cajoled back into the union, but with the fundamental issue still looming, such attempts would prove doomed to failure, and civil war became a certainty.
Fort Sumter is where it became apparent that there would be, must be, war. Initially Wilentz points out that some believed that Fort Sumter could be given up to cool secessionists tempers, and perhaps aid in bringing the secessionists back into the union and preventing more states from seceding. But the political climate insured that such thoughts proved only wishful thinking as it seemed that to give up Fort Sumter without a fight would be a sign of weakness. With the union being unwilling to surrender Fort Sumter, the newly formed confederacy could not stand allowing a hostile fort to remain in such a strategic location, and thus attacked it and set off the final spark to set the civil war fully ablaze.