Biographer and historian Stephen B. Oates tells the story of the coming of the American Civil War through the voices and perspectives of thirteen principal players in the drama, from Thomas Jefferson and Henry Clay in the Missouri crisis of 1820 down to Stephen A. Douglas, Jefferson Davis, and Abraham Lincoln in the final crisis of 1861. This innovative approach shows the crucial role that perception of events played in the sectional hostilities that pushed the United States irreversibly toward a national calamity. Nat Turner, William Lloyd Garrison, John C. Calhoun, Frederick Douglass, Harriet Beecher Stowe, George Fitzhugh, John Brown, and Mary Boykin Chesnut also provide perspectives. Each character takes a turn onstage, narrating critical events in which he or she was a major participant or eyewitness. For the dramatic monologues, Oates draws on the actual words of his speakers-in letters, speeches, interviews, recollections, and other recorded utterances-and then simulates how, were they reminiscing aloud, they would describe these events in which they were the principal actors or witnesses. All the events and themes reflect the historical record.