Bruce Levine’s work Half Slave and Half Free: The Roots of the Civil War is an excellently written and well-argued work on the central cause of the Civil War. He also expands on what the other factors were that led the South to secession and ultimately the nation to war. Levine argues that slavery was in fact the central cause of the Civil War. Furthermore, he argues that the other events, “the growth of sectional animosity, the breakdown of the Whig party, the fragmentation of the Democrats, the rise of the Republicans, and secession…grew organically out of…societal changes.”
Bruce Levine successfully shows how even when considering the other factors that caused the Civil War, slavery was at the core of even those. In Chapter 8, “‘Keep it Within Limits’ Western Lands and Free Soil,” Levine shows how some of the sectional divisions between the north and south were caused by the argument of whether or not slaveholders should be allowed to expand slavery into the newly acquired western territories. The antislavery sentiment in the North was growing as well as the North’s feelings against “slavery’s expansion beyond its current borders.”
On the other hand, for many Southerners, they did not feel that Congress had a right to regulate whether or not slavery existed in any territory. “According to their “popular sovereignty” plan, Congress would make no a priori judgement about slavery in any territory but would leave the that issue to local voters and legislators to decide.”
In terms of how this work fits into the overall historiography of the subject, his arguments are right in line with many other works. Historian David M. Potter also argues that slavery was a central cause of the Civil War in The Impending Crisis: America Before the Civil War 1848-1861. He states that, “it was increasingly clear that slavery was not in the process of extinction and the issue would not take care of itself.” This would ultimately lead the nation to war.
Steven Mintz, in Moralists & Modernizers, also argues that societal changes led to the outbreak of the Civil War. He specifically discusses the growth of antislavery sentiment as being, “one of the most dramatic changes in moral values in history.” This falls in line with Levine’s argument that the North’s growing antislavery feelings was a cause of dissension between the North and the South.
Overall, Levine’s work is a good contribution to the historiography of the causes of the Civil War. His argument is not unique, as there does not seem to be many highly respected historians that would argue against Levine. However, his method of delivering his argument for the central and outlying causes of the Civil War is unique as many historians often focus on one or two causes, usually including slavery as a central cause. Levine, on the other hand, gives a thorough overview of the events leading up to the Civil War, without overwhelming his intended audience with information.
 Bruce Levine, Half Slave and Half Free: The Roots of the Civil War (New York, NY: Hill and Wang, 2005), xi.
 Ibid., 177.
 Ibid., 181.
 David M. Potter, The Impending Crisis: America Before the Civil War, 1848-1861 (New York, NY: Harper Perennial, 2011), 41.
 Steven Mintz, Moralists & Modernizers (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995), 119.