On Secession: The State of Slavery, 1860

(second in a series)

In discussing secession, we might first want to look at some background considerations.  One of them is the state of slavery in 1860.  How did it fit economically and politically in the American polity?

Some people argue that slavery was on its way out in the United States.  According to them, in time it would become unprofitable; changes in the global cotton economy would have led to its eventual demise.  Thus, so goes the argument, Americans fought an unnecessary war in 1861-1865 to hasten by a few decades a process that was inevitable in any case.

The problems with that reasoning are serious.  First, those changes in the global economy happened in part as a reaction to the war and emancipation.  One can’t assume the same changes if the events that caused them did not occur.  Second, one errs in thinking that slavery was wedded to plantation cotton alone.  It was not.  One could employ slave labor with profit in other ways.  After all, the cotton economy in itself was a result of planters shifting away from other forms of plantation agriculture.

The argument also reflects poorly on the intelligence of southern whites.  Why would they risk all in a bloody war if slavery was already doomed?  Were they that stupid?

Continue reading