7 Comments

One problem that the Confederacy would have faced had all this happened is that it was a confederacy. That form of gov't had already demonstrated its weaknesses (i.e., the Articles of Confederation) and, I believe, even during the war Jefferson Davis had troubles convincing the states to act uniformly. I suspect that the Confederacy would have gradually crumbled with various southern states seceding from the secession and returning to the Union, leaving the diehards increasingly isolated.

Expand full comment
Jun 9, 2022·edited Jun 9, 2022

Agreed with most thoughts on the South. Any reading of Oakes's scholarship shows the Stephens/Cruikshank of slavery forever had completely waned. I recommend Scorpion Sting for anyone who lives in this modern lens of Civil War scholarship that acted like slavery was not on its death throes is simply ignoring the vast majority of primary sources as well as all respectable historiography.

As I mentioned previously, manumission was never reversed as the idea of re-enslavement was odious to 18-19th century sensibilities (partly why Dred Scott was so incendiary to most people). Also, to claim "racism" ignores that the vast majority of northern immigrants (Irish and German) had little "racial" in common with most northerners. Hence the desire to send hundreds of thousands to kill each other. The modernist historian fights this battle with slavery being the most important thing to the South despite few besides Stephens and some rabid folks caring about it. Also, ignores the absolute hatred of the Planters and the overseer class. Heard one attempt recently to square the circle by claiming Genovese was racist. Genovese as neo-agrarian? God help our academy...

Economically "what ifs" are detailed extremely well by Brian Schoen's book, "The Fragile Fabric of Union." He details the attempts to create merchant banking between the UK and the South to bypass NYC and Boston. The concern of that point reminds us that NYC attempted to secede from the Union during the Civil War.

As regards the North, may I be so brash to suggest that I think Dr. Brands might be overlooking the potential immigrant unrest after a losing war. Think of the inability to potentially bury dead ("This Republic of Suffering" in Reverse) for these poor veteran families. The Michael Walsh (Wilentz discusses him in detail in Chants' Democratic, yet a forgotten voice post Civil War) ethos of workers plight being worse than the slave now has a key data point with a harmonious South/gradual emancipation, and factory workers' bodies rotting throughout the South. Perhaps the industrial labor strife accelerates. Perhaps the Irish do not join the Union army in droves for the push West. Do the Indian Wars succeed without the Irish? Does the reconstituted South with a strong merchant banking system out of Charleston to the world purchase the rights to some Western territories? Does an independent NYC become closer aligned to the UK? Interesting questions to ponder for sure.

Thank you for the post.

Expand full comment
Jun 9, 2022·edited Jun 9, 2022

I am much less sanguine that a nation hardly worthy of being called a Republic and explicitly resting on the "cornerstone" of slavery would have given it up anytime soon. As you point out it was already becoming obsolete yet the South went to war to protect it. The Confederacy's racist culture would have led to just as bad a period whenever slavery DID end. Finally, the cause of republican government globally would have been set back decades as the pre-eminent example would have been perceived to fail. The soft landing you posit seems more compatible with the "Moonshine and Magnolias" conception of the South than the reality.

Expand full comment

Excellent alternate history essay by H. W. Brands! Along with Bruce Catton, Brands is one of the leading historians of the Civil War.

Charles Wukasch, Ph.D.

Expand full comment

The nation already split in 1776. Those that rejected the Revolution became the Anglo Canadians.

BTW if William Hackett Fischer had extended his Albion’s Seed story to Canada, he might have found a few more migrations than the four American ones.

What is interesting is that the Scotch Irish of America and the Orangemen of Toronto originated from the same region, and they are about as different as two cultures can be.

Expand full comment