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No war is inevitable, so no, the Civil War was not inevitable and not the only way the crisis over slavery could have been resolved. Proponents of slavery, for example, could have more readily acknowledged what most people understood: that labor-intensive agriculture was giving way to the industrial revolution. They could have been willing to work with the North and start taking proactive steps to begin dismantling slavery and switching to a machine economy in a way that would have been less shattering and painful than losing a war. Whether that would have been better or worse for the enslaved is an open question, but war was not the only answer.

Slavery has sometimes been compared to the so-called automobile culture that is changing the climate of the planet. Overwhelmingly, people who have studied the science have agreed that climate change is human-made and that we must move away from fuels that spew carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. However, in some parts of the world, people are dependent on cars, even while knowing the technology supporting them is unsustainable. In much the same way, wealthy white Southerners were dependent on slavery. In both cases, a backlash of denial set in. Climate change could lead to wars over dwindling resources, but like the Civil War, that is not inevitable.

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Nothing in terms of human society and politics is inevitable.  The North could have simply allowed slavery to expand. The South could have accepted being hemmed in.  The North could have let the South secede.  There is nothing that is inevitable when it comes to wars or other human actions like this.

That said, the closer the country came to 1861, the more inevitable the war became.  It could still have been prevented, but it would have been much harder to do so and would have taken more moral courage on the part of political leaders.  The reason for this is that, as time went by, more and more issues arose between the two sections of the country.  These issues drove them further and further apart.

In 1820, for example (or even 1840), there were not yet many issues that had divided the North and South.  They had crafted the Missouri Compromise and seemed to have the issue in hand.  From then on, however, more and more issues arose.  The Mexican War split the two sections.  The Kansas-Nebraska Act did the same.  So did the Dred Scott case.  The point is that issues arose and grievances accumulated.  As this happened, it became harder and harder for the sections to feel as if they could continue to get along together as part of the same nation.  In that sense, we can say the war was inevitable.

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