Why Not Let the South Go?

Over in a discussion newsgroup a retired professor of history has offered the following observations:

What did northerners have to gain from secession and the creation of the CSA?

I can’t see anything.

What did he [sic] have to lose?

1. The remant US would have to have a big army to keep the CSA intimidated.  Higher taxes.

2. The CSA might try to use the lower Mississippi as a choke point in negotiations with the US over sharing the western territories. Greater insecurity.

3. The CSA could forge closer trade links with Britain, cutting out ties with northerners. Bad for business.

4. Many believed the slave-power was inherently expansionist…. If the slave power had its own army
and foreign policy, then this might complicate relations in the western hemisphere.

5. An independent CSA could be expected to be used as a makeweight against the US in the international power struggle over supremacy in the western hemisphere.

6. With a little effort you can easily think of other problems. (Among these problems the poster later agreed to the addition of the statement “The end to the dream of Manifest Destiny.”)

The average man didn’t necessarily understand this. But the educated men, the opinion leaders, could see it with very little explanation.

That’s why the only question among the northerners was over whether the confederates might give up independence if the US gave them good re-enter-the-union terms.  Lincoln was completely against this, as far as I know from the get-go.

Since the secessionists had pulled out, that left the govt in the han[d]s of people who seriously wanted the CSA to disappear.  All these concerns were wrapped up in the slogan  “save the Union.”

Practically all the northerners agreed that the US should have supremacy over the territory claimed by the CS.  

I see many problems with this analysis, which seems to me somewhat ill-informed by actual scholarship.  For example, the historian in question tends to underestimate the economic relationship between the North and Great Britain; for another, letting the lower South goes means no Fort Sumter crisis and thus complicates what happens in the Upper South.  A Confederacy with the original seven states alone would have found life much more difficult than one with eleven states and secessionist sentiment in a few more.

However, it is a suggestive commentary.  What do you make of it?

13 thoughts on “Why Not Let the South Go?

  1. Helga Ross May 31, 2011 / 5:40 am

    I agree with your observation, Brooks. If Lincoln was as astute as you, he must have seen it, too, as an option. Therefore, I think Lincoln coulda, shoulda tried it. He had four years to test it and sort it out–not the four weeks he took.

    • Brooks D. Simpson May 31, 2011 / 8:38 am

      Obviously Lincoln dismissed it as an option, although I believe not as quickly as some argue. After all, it looked like he was negotiating with Virginia, and he accepted Kentucky’s quasi-secession (which is how I interpret that state’s neutrality). The sticking point remained Sumter, of course, but it need not have been.

      • Marc Ferguson May 31, 2011 / 1:26 pm

        A couple of important points here about the option of Lincoln allowing secession – I think he saw his options as constitutionally limited. He didn’t think he had the authority to interfere with slavery in the states, likewise, he didn’t believe he had the constitutional authority to recognize secession, or the CSA, as legitimate. Negotiating over a fort, in exchange for disbanding the Virginia Secession Convention, which he viewed as a move in opposing secession, is one thing, I don’t know of any evidence that he considered recognizing the CSA, the fact, or even the principle of secession.

        Another important consideration, what one commenter has referred to as Balkanization, which actually was on peoples’ minds, was setting a precedent for withdrawing from the Union over a lost
        election. What would have prevented states, or regions, in the future from playing the secession card to squeeze concessions from a majority? I also just do not believe that had Lincoln somehow brought himself to recognize the CSA, and treat with them as a legitimate government, that this would have been the end of it. I think the actions of determined secessionists demonstrate a determination to take the upper South and the border states out with them, and would have continue political agitation, as would have been willing to resort to violence, as happened in Virginia when secessionists pushed the Convention into action when they felt it wasn’t acting swiftly enough.

        Many of these states had their own internal political and social tensions that could easily have been exploited to bring about conflict, and what happens when these various factions turn to either the federal government or the CSA for support and protection? I know this is speculation based on a scenario that did not happen, but I think it is well grounded in the political and social realities of the time.

      • Helga Ross June 2, 2011 / 4:51 am

        The sticking point remained Sumter, of course, but it need not have been.

        Brooks, this could be a quote worth quoting, coming from you. (Or too much to hope)
        Do I take it you mean it from a Northern pov, given the topic? If so, please expand on it or point me to a Blog entry in which you already have.


        • Brooks D. Simpson June 2, 2011 / 7:28 am

          I don’t know what you mean by a northern point of view. See this post.

          I’ve posted on the choices Lincoln and Davis made.

          I’d argue that Lincoln did have choices, and that an evacuation of Sumter could be arranged for the right price. The wisdom of his choice is an open question, although I would not assume that a decision to evacuate Sumter and postpone confrontation would have served his long term goal of reunion. After all, Fort Pickens remained, and there Davis was pondering more aggressive moves.

  2. Mark Douglas May 31, 2011 / 5:59 am

    What do I make of a retired history professor, who doesn’t know history? Well, first, I feel sorry for his students.

    The professor seems unaware of just two thing — what happened, and what was at risk. The issue, according to the Southern leaders themselves, and according to Lincoln, was slavery — was slavery going to spread, like the cancer it was, or not.

    Lincoln said not. Davis, Lee, and the other slave owners said God ordained slavery, and it MUST spread.

    Apparently the professor never even heard of the Southern Ultimatums to spread slavery, or face war. Apparently he never read Jefferson Davis book, where Davis himself said the intolerable grievance was the North’s speaking out against the spread of slavery.

    Apparently the professor didn’t read Southern newspapers, Southern documents, Southern speeches at the time, all bragging that slavery must spread, or promising war.

    Apparently the professor missed what happened in Kansas, when the people there voted 98% to 2% to keep slavery out forever, but the Southern leaders issued war ultimatums that demanded slavery must be “accepted and respected” in the territories.

    Apparently the professor is blissfully unaware that for over a generation, the South had violently suppressed free speech, even arresting preachers for sermons which questioned slavery, and that the South had turned into to a totalitarian hell hole, stopping real elections, stopping free speech, demanding religious leaders preach only what the government wanted, that it’s citizens only read what the government allowed, and that people only say what the government would accept.

    Plus, the professor is unaware that women and children were being abused, raped, sold, whipped, all in the name of God. And that the Southern leaders gave war ultimatums that this barbarity MUST spread or the South would attack.

    And when Lincoln refused the Ultimatums to spread slavery, the South made good on their threats, and did in fact attack.

    Apparently the professor never read Hinton Helper or Abraham Lincoln, never realized that when Lincoln said we would be all slave or all free, he wasn’t kidding.

    Apparently the professor doesn’t realize the South was led by a cabal of violent and sadistic men, who not only regularly sold women and children, and used torture and threats of more torture to get what they wanted, but they demanded that this vile practice be “respected, protected, and spread” into the rest of the continental United States, and beyond.

    Apparently the professor thought such drivel Douglas Southall Fremann’s books on the glory of slave owners, painting them a Christ like, or nearly Christ like, were insane nonsense. Lee was not Christ, he was a man obsessed with his 13-14 year old slave girls and their babies, and paid six times his normal bounty to capture one girl, who he then screamed at while she waas tortured. Imagine a 50 year old man focused to the capture of one 14 year old girl, who he then pays dearly to catch, and personally taunts her during the torture he orders. What was her crime?

    She ran away, apparently to stop Lee from selling her child. This infuriated Lee. How dare one of his slaves go counter to God’s message? Lee said pain was necessary for the instruction of slaves, and he was very much up to the challenge to instruct her, and anyone else his bounty hunters could catch.

    So the professor swam, apparently, his whole life in the pool of myth. Someone should give the man a lift out of that foul water, and hand him a a towel, hand him Southern newspapers, Southern documents, Southern speeches, Southern books from the era. Not the nonsense made up by apologist since.

  3. TF Smith May 31, 2011 / 8:23 am

    From a purely realpolitik point of view, balkanization by threat of force of arms was a recipe for national suicide, which even the CSA recognized when it tried to occupy western Virginia.

    The very real nature of an oligarchy empowered via slave power vs. governance via free labor democracy (with all due regard for all the realities of the time in terms of the franchise and economic power, of course) seems worth considering, as well.

  4. Lyle Smith May 31, 2011 / 8:51 am

    Was the Mississippi River that important to Midwestern farmer with the coming of the railroads? I ask, because the lack of ownership of the lower half of the Mississippi seems like it would have been a major problem for Midwesterners who needed the river for entry into other markets. I imagine, depending on the good, they would have been hit with a CSA tariff.

  5. Chuck Brown May 31, 2011 / 9:45 am

    I don’t think much of his analysis. Why does he think the U.S. would require a large “army to keep the CSA intimidated?” Does he think the Confederacy would expand north, thus provoking war with the larger United States? Remember, as Brooks pointed out, no Fort Sumter would leave four more states in the Union. It’s hard to imagine seven Confederate states attempting to seize territory from the U.S.

    I don’t understand his comment regarding Manifest Destiny. There was nothing left to the west for the U.S. to expand into.

  6. Ray O'Hara May 31, 2011 / 10:42 am

    1} A cold War style militarization of the border seems unlikely and higher taxes would be a big reason, but lack of interest on the population would be a factor too. and if the Union had “just let the South go” the massive armies would never have been raised in the first place.

    2} closing the big river would be a great benefit to the owners of the Erie Canal. The Mohawk Valley corridor would have gained even more importance and NYC and Chicago even greater wealth as a result of all the commerce now taking that route and the RRs would grow faster. It could also be countered by the USN blockading the mouth of the river. but most likely a reasonable toll would be worked out as closing the river to the Union would impact NOLA economically and they be most unhappy with that.

    3] shorter distance means lower transport costs so the North could still have the lion share of the business selling manufactured goods but maybe the south gets lower prices on the imported goods. the CSA would need some revenue and tariffs were the usual way. the anti-tariff mentality would result in a chronically broke government.

    4} A major force in filling the CSA ranks was “cuz yuo’ins are down here” trying to recruit men for this expansionism would be extremely difficult. A draft for such schemes would most likely be violently resisted by the non-slave owning class. And who would pay for these expansionist adventures, there is the chronically broke Richmond Govt, the States which would have little to gain. It at best would be the usual privately financed Filibustering that didn’t work before and now England might get aggressive in stopping them as they might want to gain more clout in the region, the CSA could have never coped with the Royal Navy should it intervene, an Expansionist CSA would be a pipe dream for those advocating it.

    5} European attempts to expand influence tn the Western Hemisphere
    this would be more a threat to the CSA than the USA as it would be in their backyard. It would no longer a threat to the USA as they would have already lost what the region most under threat. French designs on Mexico and possibly on Texas which Lincoln so feared would now be of no concern to the Northern Republic but a serious worry to the South.

    And then there are the Northern banks, the planters still needed loans where could they go? Could they get loans from the UK and France. and all loans whether from NYC or overseas would be an international relationship. banks would be in a good position to get trade/economic concessions that would further hurt the CSA.Tthe planters would have no say in the governments the banks existed under, that couldn’t be beneficial to loan terms.

    Expanding slavery was a stated goal of the Slave-o-crats but I think they’d have found themselves even more hemmed in by their lack of ability to fund such expansionism.

    Westward expansion would be difficult too. Slavery needed a stable White base to protect it a planter moving with his slaves into virgin territory with no Whites around to intimidate slaves and to round up escapees would be faced with either all his property slipping away or an outright revolt without the means to suppress it.

    An independent South would be like the dog that catches the car, now what are they going to do with it.

  7. Al Mackey May 31, 2011 / 2:47 pm

    The retired history professor is apparently unaware of the arguments during the ratification of the Constitution regarding the evils of disunion, arguments which still played in 1860. Interesting, since he claimed to have read the LoA volumes on the ratification debates.

  8. Stephen McCullough May 31, 2011 / 9:17 pm

    I think the retired professor leaves out the strong sentiment in the North about the sanctity of the Union. The United States wasn’t simply a marriage you can dissolve in a divorce like Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton.

    • Brooks D. Simpson May 31, 2011 / 10:16 pm

      I think the retired professor simply didn’t do a lot of thinking, although he has an anti-North animus. For example, “the Union” would have dominated “the Confederacy” in a peaceful separation, since only the original seven would be part of that Confederacy. Then again, the retired professor confuses “the North” with “the Union,” for there would have been eight slaves states in that new Union; with southern votes out of Congress, “the Union” could have had a free hand with refashioning the nation’s political economy. Meanwhile, the Confederacy would quickly have become an economic colony of Great Britain or “the Union,” with its export-only economy making it utterly dependent on others for goods. And, of course, Manifest Destiny was not a “North”-only thing, although if the Union turned its eyes toward Canada, maybe another retiree from that discussion group would be a little more bitter. 🙂

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