I wish a robot would get elected president. That way, when he came to town, we could all take a shot at him and not feel too bad. –Jack Handey
Question #49765 posted on 02/14/2009 3:01 a.m.

Dear 100 Hour Board,

What would the Confederate States of America look like today if they had been allowed to secede? What areas of North America might follow under their jurisdiction? When might slavery have been outlawed there?


A: Dear Portia,

To research for this question, I tried reading Newt Gingrich's alternate Civil War history series. My dad is in love with them and has been trying to get me to read them for some time. Unfortunately, they didn't help much so I will turn to my own speculation. To justify myself, reading this question sent my mind off on a jag that, upon further review, had nothing to do with the original question. I was thinking and speculating on different outcomes of the Civil War, when the question clearly had nothing to do with that!

I think that the Confederate States of America would not have lasted too long. Sure, there were almost four million slaves in the United States at the outbreak of the Civil War, a figure that had doubled from 1830, but it was a boiling kettle ready to go over. Had Lincoln allowed the South to secede, what would they have done? They would have created a huge empire on cotton. I think with their infrastructure intact and their population not depleted by war, the cotton industry would have gotten much bigger. Remember, however, what happened during the Reconstruction era: having cotton as the major crop seriously depleted the soil and nearly crippled the economy as it was. George Washington Carver arose from that era and became famous for encouraging farmers to rotate their crops and introduce nutrients into the depleted soils. If Carver was just an anonymous Missouri slave, that may never have happened. Sure, some farmer may have figured that out eventually but a scant 30 years after the Civil War ended, the South was hit again by the invasion of the boll weevil. I don't think they could have survived that without Carver's influence. I believe it would have taken a federal government intervention from the United States to help the Confederate States, and part of that intervention would have been reunification.

Your second question: I think that the CSA would not have grown beyond the original seven states. If you look at those states, South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisana, and Texas, they are all deep south states. These states all seceded in the first two months of Lincoln's presidency and had there been no war, I think that it would have stopped there. Virginia was a slave state, as were Tennessee, Arkansas, and North Carolina, but so were Delaware, Missouri, Maryland, and Kentucky, and they all officially stayed with the Union. I think that those eight states would have stayed with the United States purely for patriotic and economic reasons. If you subscribe to the argument that the Civil War was fought purely over the issue of states' rights (which I don't) then you must see that the abolition of slavery was done on a state-by-state basis until the passing of the thirteenth amendment.

There was not much room for growth in the CSA. There is a distinct possibility that they would have included the New Mexico territory which at the time was New Mexico and Arizona, because they claimed territories south of the 34th parallel and the Territory of New Mexico formally seceded from the Union. I don't think that would have lasted too long, though. The numerous Mormon colonies in Arizona would have stayed loyal to the Union. I suppose that they could have tried to annex Cuba and Nicaragua (the US tried in the early 19th century) but with their limited economy, the CSA would not have succeeded.

Slavery. Ah, that sticky issue. Provided that war had not been started over that question, the Confederate States would have made overtures to Great Britain. Britain would have made overtures to the South, which would have included becoming part of the commonwealth. Imagine that, having Canada to the north and the Confederate States of America, commonwealth of Great Britain to the south. We would have been a veritable Canada sandwich. I think the Confederacy would have refused that offer, however. Britain would have provided much financial support, but with an increasingly heavy hand and lots of demands. Assuming the soil held up and the boll weevil had not wiped out the South, the CSA would have rebelled and rejected British demands eventually. Britain would have withdrawn all support, the CSA would appeal to the USA and BAM! War or reunification. In either case, I think that one of the conditions for either a deal with Britain or a deal with the USA would have been abolishing slavery. Great Britain formally abolished slavery in their empire in 1834, which included Canada. Had they desired to expand to include the cash cow that was the American south, they would have been forced to abolish slavery anyway. I think the border states in the USA would have abolished slavery by 1865 no matter what, Virginia would have been the last, and the CSA would have abolished slavery by 1890. By that time, the south would have been crippled by a lack of economic diversity and likely been in worse straits than they were after Sherman's march. A final worst-case scenario was the possibility of a slave uprising. Provided the economy was fine and the soil held up, the number of slaves was absolutely exploding. One third of the population of the south was slaves by 1860, and as I said before the number of slaves had tripled from 1830 to 1860, and if it tripled over the next 30 years, violent uprising was certain. A sleeping giant of that size could not have been tamed.

In sum, I think that the aftermath of the Civil War was inevitable. Lincoln was right when he said a house divided against itself can not stand, and if there were two nations, the smaller one would fall. The south simply could not sustain itself forever on an economy based on slavery. If for some reason it could, people could not have tolerated slavery forever, especially if they were the majority.

Dr. Smeed