Monday, August 27, 2012


Look away, look away, look away, Dixieland...

Not long ago I wrote about the Confederate Constitution, which was basically a more specific and updated US Constitution with a sad section tacked on about slaves and the slave trade. There were many good aspects of this document, things I wish the founding fathers had made part of the original constitution, and some that were simply pointless, misguided, or awful.

The Civil War was largely that way too: the South was right in many ways - they were fighting partly for state's rights and against federal encroachment on liberty. They were fighting against the same thing the founding fathers did; a government that was beginning to ignore basic rights and liberties for its own power. At the same time, they did so for very bad reasons too. The reason slavery is enshrined in the Confederate Constitution is because they were so determined to keep that institution as long as they wished against all possible question. Slavery was such an institutional part of their culture and the way of doing business they were willing to fight and die over it.

The South nearly won. For a while, they were beating the North comfortably, humiliating overconfident and contemptuous northerners. The North saw the South much as they do now: a bunch of ignorant, inbred, bigoted hicks. When the first battles were fought, the South pounded the North comfortably because they were better with their weapons and hardier people more used to outdoor and rural life, on the whole.

Over time, the South's limited manufacturing ability, weak Navy, and lack of diplomatic ties were their undoing, but it was a very near thing. Even Gettysburg almost was a win for the South, and with that, it would have turned the war around. Its even likely that against Lincoln's wishes, the government would have sued for peace. All the South wanted was to create their own country, a Confederate States of America. If the North stopped fighting, the South would have just pulled back, so they argued. And that would have been a lot more persuasive if the North faced disaster in the battlefield again.

The problem is that would have just been the start of problems. Several states such as Kentucky wanted to be neutral - even declared neutrality - and the Confederacy was having none of it. Confederate forces invaded Kentucky, and Union forces from the North invaded to fight them. States such as Kansas and Missouri were ripped to pieces by internal fighting and murderous raids trying to force them to join one side or the other. So its not clear that the Confederacy would have been content to let states choose or stay within certain early borders, nor that the North wouldn't try to flip states back into the Union, continuing the conflict.

Further, later conflicts would have been heavily influenced. The Spanish-American War was largely one of Americans trying to expand into an empire of their own, largely by displacing Spanish interests in the west, although part of it was also an enforcement of the Monroe doctrine. The US viewed its self even that early as the dominant power of the western hemisphere and ordered European nations to stay out of the area. Spain refused, and kept meddling in western countries, so the US Responded, helping revolutionaries fight Spanish control in places such as Cuba.

Without Southern soldiers, ports, and agriculture, this would have been difficult. It is hard for me to imagine that the individual state conflicts and animosity between the Union and Confederacy would have ended by 1898 when the Spanish-American War took place. That would mean the Confederacy might have even helped Spain just to poke the Union in the eye or weaken its ability to defend or control states the South wanted to flip.

And consider World War II. Fought just 77 years after the Civil War, its unlikely that the Confederacy and Union would be on friendly terms. By that point, the states would probably have locked into which nation they were part of, and the infighting would probably have ended. But the Southern states to this day hold a heavy grudge over the Civil War (with good reason, given how they were treated afterward), that's not likely to have been any less pronounced just because they won. Decades of fighting over border states and new territories would have prolonged the conflict, I believe.

And why would the Confederate States of America have a problem with Pearl Harbor being bombed? Its not part of their nation. Sure, its a neighbor's nation, but not one they particularly like. They would very likely consider the conflict a European problem, none of their business. They almost certainly would have continued trade with Japan and Germany, because it would be good money and it would annoy the Union.

And without the Southern states, their men to fight, their industry to help with supplies, without the bases there, the ports, and the money from taxes, the entire war could have turned out differently. Needing to blockade Confederate ports and air travel to keep them from trading with Union enemies would have weakened the war effort. That's just not a pretty thought in any sense. And certainly it would be significantly easier for German and Japanese spies, saboteurs, and agents provocateur to work from a neutral Confederate States of America. They already were working through Mexico - Germans at least.

Slavery was a crumbling insitution already by the time of the Civil War, and it likely would have been ended for good by the 1940s even in the Confederate States, although its possible there would be some still kept in very wealthy homes. The problem is its unlikely many would be very wealthy in the Confederacy. Faced with a nearly hostile Union on its border, ravaged by war, and limited in its manufacturing ability, the South was already very dependent on the North. Rebuilding after the war would have been hampered by a lack of larger federal funds, deliberate interference by Union diplomatic efforts, and a continual desire by the North to make the Confederacy collapse and rejoin the Union.

There are those in the North who think that a Confederate victory would have been good, though. Ilya Somin at Volokh Conspiracy writes about how some on the left dream of a country without those more conservative southerners causing problems for their schemes in Washington DC. Without Southern congressmen to cry states rights and liberty, Northeastern leftists would have had a much easier time of pushing their agenda. Roosevelt continually battled southern congressmen and judges appointed from the south. Without that heritage, how different would the United States have been politically and culturally?

It is not inconceivable that the waning Union would have fallen into weakness and disrepair we generally think of in the south, and the Confederacy would have exploded with economic power and world influence. Manufacturing could be built in the south, they certainly have the space, manpower, and resources. Some of the best ports in the USA are in the south, and there's a reason we fire rockets off from Florida: the weather and nearness to the equator. Make no mistake, losing the Confederate States would have severely harmed the Union both economically and politically.

So a lot of things would have been different, and few of them very good. Its just too bad that the Civil War was fought to begin with when it could have been avoided, and that having been fought the North were so evil in how they dealt with southern states. We treat enemies we've defeated overseas better than we treated the would-be confederacy.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

I wonder how Mexico would look know if France had stayed in control of it. But, I think they realized it wasn't worth the head ache and probably post Civil War the USA in whatever form would have invaded them.