Brands (The General vs. the President: MacArthur and Truman at the Brink of Nuclear War), a University of Texas at Austin history professor, uses the life stories of three consequential early-19th-century American politicians—all with unfulfilled aspirations to become president—to show how tensions inherent in the founding fathers’ vision of the country led to the calamity of the Civil War. Those schisms played out most notably in the debate about whether new states entering the union, or new territories acquired by annexation or purchase, would be allowed to legislate on their own about the issue of slavery. Each of Brands’s three leads, who competed against each other for the presidency, was tested by slavery. Clay (1777–1852), who served as house speaker and John Quincy Adams’s secretary of state, successfully proposed the Missouri Compromise, linking the admission of that slave state to the admission of Maine, a free state. Webster (1782–1852), a senator and secretary of state to three presidents, abandoned core antislavery principles to advance his prospects for the presidency. And Calhoun (1782–1850), the South Carolinian who was vice president to both Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson, responded to calls for abolition by doubling down, insisting that slavery was “a positive good, an ornament of the South’s superior culture.” Requiring of readers no prior knowledge of the period or the players, this fascinating history illuminates rifts that still plague the country today.