The Sunday Question: Slavery Counterfactuals

Reader Bob Nelson has suggested that readers of this blog might well want to contemplate some counterfactuals concerning slavery and the Civil War.  First, he wants to know what people think as to when slavery would have ended in the United States had there been no Civil War. Second, he wants to know when slavery would have ended had the Confederacy won. I’ll simply note that in both cases an implied assumption is that slavery was doomed, and it was just a matter to time before it collapsed, regardless of what happened; I’ll leave aside other problematic aspects of this line of inquiry and its implications.

The floor is open.


81 thoughts on “The Sunday Question: Slavery Counterfactuals

  1. Pat Young February 10, 2013 / 7:23 am

    Slavery was considered a viable economic choice as late as 1945 by the Germans. I see no reason why it would not have survived into the early 20th Century if there had been no Civil War.

    If the South had secured independence during the war, slavery would have become untenable the minute the peace treaty was signed.The North would have become a refuge for escaping slaves and future John Browns would have become patriotic heroes to Northerners. Filibustering from the north to dismember the south would have been an ongoing feature of American life.

    • Lyle Smith February 10, 2013 / 10:59 am


      I agree with your first paragraph, but I disagree with your second and subsequent paragraphs. I think the latter are wishful thinking.

      Maybe what you say happens, but the white South would be the same South that managed to suffocate major slave rebellions all throughout the antebellum period and the North would still be white supremacist. The North didn’t allow blacks to play major league baseball until 1947. So I’m not sure how enthusiastic some people would be for tens of thousands of black refugees flocking North to find work in the late 19th century. The great black migration north doesn’t happen until after the turn of the century or so.

      • Lyle Smith February 10, 2013 / 11:03 am

        It also has to be said that the white South did a fine job of controlling blacks after the Civil War and the end of slavery. If they could accomplish such control without their being legal slavery, I imagine they could have accomplished the same just as well under legal slavery.

      • Pat Young February 11, 2013 / 11:08 am

        Lyle, you seem to assume that a post-defeat North would be the same as the pre-war North (or even the actual post-Civil War North). This ignores the role that Northern revanchism would play, as well as the fact that the opposition to the Republican Party in the North would not be the Democratic Party that evolved during the late 1870s which combined Southern reactionaries with the urban industrial masses. Northern Democrats would be both weaker, because of the lack of Southern allies, and less tied to Jim Crow doctrines as the payment for Southern support.

        BTW, the North could be a refuge for escaped slaves and a staging ground for black rebels without ever embracing racial equality. If you are familiar with the story of the Palestinian diaspora, you know that the North could easily establish refugee camps for blacks that would both bar their movement into white society and serve as an incubator of militants for a low intensity conflict against the South. How long could this be sustained? Try seven decades, at least.

        • Lyle Smith February 12, 2013 / 8:33 am


          I am not assuming there would have been a war and the North defeated. All manner of events might have happened to sustain the institution of slavery.

          I don’t see how the North isn’t white supremacist for years after the 1860s. Maybe they could have proved me wrong though.

          • Pat Young February 13, 2013 / 8:53 am


            Large numbers of Northerners could have been White Supremacists and still have supported black guerrillas. After all, the North had large numbers of White Supremacists in 1865 and still supported roughly 150,000 blacks under arms. No reason that could not have continued after the official war ended. United States history is full of examples of us supporting insurgencies by people we don’t particularly like to afflict people we like even less.

            Peace treaties at the end of civil wars rarely bring peace. The civil war period typically ushers in a time referred to as the “interwar period”. A peace treaty at the end of our civil war would be particularly precarious, because through immigration and industrialization the North would be even stronger in 1875 than it was in 1865, while the South would still be reconstructing a war damaged economy. As we know, Southerners decided not to tax themselves to fund the war, but rather to borrow, and the debt crisis would hamper any attempts to modernize.

          • Lyle Smith February 13, 2013 / 8:40 pm

            Yeah, maybe.. or maybe not. Who knows?

          • Lyle Smith February 13, 2013 / 9:09 pm

            I do agree that many abolitionists, like Frederick Douglass, wouldn’t have shut up about slavery and would have advocated for war or violence, and I can imagine some following the lead of John Brown. That said John Brown didn’t get very far with his slave revolt and ended up being hung by the State of Virginia.

          • Patrick Young February 14, 2013 / 12:01 pm

            Since this counterfactual has already been described as pointless and ridiculous and since Lyle has correctly pointed out that we may need to shrug our shoulders on this question and respond “Who knows?” I’ll not add to further speculation. I would simply note that when I first read Brooks Simpson’s posing of the question, my first thought was not what would white people do, but rather, how much would blacks free through the frictions of war be willing to risk ti save their families and how long could that be sustained. The second question was whether they would find sources of funding and support. My speculations are based on my assumptions about African American agency in a post-Union defeat world.

          • Brooks D. Simpson February 14, 2013 / 12:18 pm

            Exactly. People who normally answer this question think in terms of its impact on white people. Let me recast it as follows:

            How many more people would have suffered being enslaved had the Civil War not happened when it did? How many more people would have been enslaved, and for how long, if the Confederacy won?

            One talks about the human price for freedom without considering the human price of being enslaved.

          • rcocean February 14, 2013 / 7:34 pm

            Did some sort of memo come out? I find this use of the phrase “enslaved people” instead of “slaves” weird and annoying. We’ve been calling slaves “slaves” from 1609 to 2012, but now we’re now all going to use the phrase “enslaved people” ?

          • Brooks D. Simpson February 14, 2013 / 7:37 pm

            That you find it annoying is your issue, not mine. I don’t mandate your terminology, and you don’t get to mandate mine.

      • Bob Nelson February 12, 2013 / 11:05 am

        Actually, it was a bit later. Beginning in 1916-18, a large number of blacks moved north to work for the Pennsylvania Railroad and in defense plants during WWI. Partly this was due to the boll weevil, which devestated cotton crops in the South. Labor agents went to the South to recruit black workers and another large exodus occurred in the 1920’s when thousands came north to work in the auto plants.

    • tonygunter February 11, 2013 / 9:03 am

      I’m not so sure that slavery would have been untenable. The south was a very tightly controlled society. For all the fuss made over the underground railroad and northern states refusing to enforce the Fugitive Slave Act, it surprised me to hear that little over 3,000 slaves managed to escape to freedom before the Civil War.

    • Bob Nelson February 12, 2013 / 10:53 am

      Why untenable? Also, why would a free North been any more attractive to runaways than it had been during the 1850s?

      • Brooks D. Simpson February 14, 2013 / 11:28 am

        Simple. No Fugitive Slave Law if there is an independent Confederacy. Generally speaking, people prefer freedom to slavery. You don’t see free whites seeking to be enslaved, and there is a reason it is called a Fugitive Slave Law … because there were people who sought to escape being enslaved. Wouldn’t you?

  2. Pat Young February 10, 2013 / 7:38 am

    If the South became independent, we can assume that a permanent state of low intensity conflict would become the order of the day. Northern abolitionism, always a minority opinion, would be strengthened by post-war revanchism that was more broadly felt among the public. This would lead to widespread support for John Brown-style raiding, that would eventually give way to support for a broader insurgency by black Southerners against whites. Blacks did not rise up and massacre their masters during the war, but I would not expect the same to hold true in the new CSA. Northerners would see such risings as the slaveholders just desserts for breaking up the Union. As a more sophisticated understanding of insurgency developed, covert governmental operations in support of rebel black armies would replace the machinations of evangelical ministers and a guerrilla prolongada would likely replace uprisings as the goal. This would make the South ungovernable and turn it into something akin to El Salvador in the 1980s. Slavery might still be in existence de jure, but it would be impossible to maintain pre-war levels of economic activity because slave would see non-resistance as collaboration.

    • Brooks D. Simpson February 14, 2013 / 4:14 pm

      One must also observe that defense costs would have skyrocketed from pre-1860 levels on both sides of the new USA/CSA border. That would have put a damper on economic development for both countries. One of the factors that led to the explosive nature of US economic growth during the 19th century was the relatively low cost of national security.

  3. Pat Young February 10, 2013 / 7:51 am

    A fact frequently overlooked in thinking about this is that at the end of the war there were approximately 150,000 black troops under arms. That is, there were more black men trained as soldiers than there were living veterans of the Army of Northern Virginia. They may well have taken the attitude that “Lincoln surrendered, but I didn’t” and continued the fight. Would white Union have felt called on to disarm them? Probably not. These 150 regiments of blacks could have launched what would later be called a war of national liberation to create an independent black republic somewhere in the South, or they could have waged a guerrilla war aimed at gradually freeing their captive family members and friends from some refuge in the north or from an inaccessible part of the south.

    • Brooks D. Simpson February 14, 2013 / 1:20 pm

      That’s a very important point. The arming of African Americans changes a number of things, and they could not easily be undone.

      • Pat Young February 14, 2013 / 2:46 pm

        The motive to continue the fight for black soldiers would be extreme. Those who had fled the South would face permanent and irrevocable separation from spouse, child and other family members if they could not either liberate them through raids or somehow overturn the slave regime. We know that after historical Emancipation many black soldiers went to great extremes to reunite their families, and i think we can assume that this most basic desire of humanity for family reunification would be a strong motivator. I have worked with war refugees who spent every non-working moment of their lives trying to save their families from being trapped in a horrible situation and I can attest that men in this situation will do whatever it takes at whatever risk to preserve the lives of those they love.

  4. wgdavis February 10, 2013 / 8:46 am

    Tough questions. Either way, the continuation of US slavery wold have been an enormous detriment to the cause of Civil Rights. It may even have had an effect on Women’s Rights, though the movement for that in England might have been strong enough to carry it through when it did.

    I suspect slavery would have petered out in the late 19th century. Almost 13 years of recession in the US economy between the end of the war and 1888 would have put a serious dent in the Slave economy, resulting in the value of the slaves on the market sinking considerably, thereby reducing the wealth of the slave owner. With the end of Brazilian slavery by Isabel, daughter of the Brazilian Emperor in his absence in 1888, there would have been little else for the Slavery Elites to point to that would sustain it any longer. Immigrant labor made a difference, too, and in Brazil, for example, it became cheaper than sustaining slaves in return for their production. It may well have done so here.

    That would have created a huge economic hole, as well, when probably 4-8 million suddenly freed Black slaves entered the labor market to compete with mostly Irish and Italian immigrants. That, also would have delayed civil rights for a very long time, perhaps even past our time. The lower number of that estimate is to account for the smaller farmers and businesssmen that could not sustain a slave population in recession after recession over a 23 year period.

    But quite frankly, I do not see history changing what actually happened over slavery. Slavery was dying out all over the Western World, and had too many enemies to allow it to continue, especially in this nation.

  5. rcocean February 10, 2013 / 9:16 am

    Had there been no civil war – probably 1885. By ending I mean the passage of gradual, compensated emancipation. Once enough free states of the West came into the Union, slavery was doomed, and I don’t see the South fighting too hard to save a anachronistic economic system in the late 19th Century. That’s when Brazil and Cuba got rid of it. If the Confederacy won, I’d say 1900. I think many Southerners in their hearts knew Slavery was wrong and need for it would’ve decreased as the South become more populated, educated, and urban in the 1880-1900 time period. As shown by real late 19th century, white landowners made almost as much money with free labor and they did with slave labor.

    • Bob Nelson February 11, 2013 / 1:17 pm

      We have also been having a good discussion of this topic on the Yahoo group, “Study of the Civil War.” Even if you consider the number of free states added during the last part of the 19th century, it still would have been almost impossible to a 3/4 vote by the states. A block of seven or eight slave states could have thwarted approval for a long, long time.

      • rcocean February 14, 2013 / 7:36 pm

        I wasn’t talking about a constitutional amendment. We didn’t need one to pass a civil rights bill, did we? But nice

  6. Nick Sacco February 10, 2013 / 12:09 pm

    Regarding the first question, it would have certainly lasted past 1860, although I differ slightly with Pat in that I believe there are several factors that could have prevented slavery from continuing into the 20th Century, although certainly plausible. The fugitive slave law would have continued to be a problem. More slaves would have attempted to free themselves, which would have forced the federal government to take further measures strengthening or weakening the law, which would have further angered at least one section of the country. With other Latin American countries abolishing slavery in the 1880s, popular opinion would have continued its shift towards an end to slavery in America. Abolitionism would have increased in popularity and literature similar to “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” would have continued to be published and widely consumed by the general public.

    The second question cannot be answered until we determine the point in which the Confederacy would have won the war. Since we’re dealing with counterfactuals, we could easily ask “What would have happened to slavery had the Confederacy won in 1862?” Had they won in 1862 instead of 1865, the Confederacy would had a much easier time of preserving slavery than in 1865, although it would probably be tougher to preserve in areas like Tennessee and Louisiana, where the Union military had more of a stronghold. The fact that slavery was completely wiped out in large areas of the Confederacy by 1865, combined with the passage of legislation granting freedom to slaves who joined the Confederacy that same year, would have certainly complicated any efforts to maintain slavery in the post-war Confederacy.

  7. Hunter Wallace February 10, 2013 / 12:41 pm

    Mechanization was retarded by the collapse of cotton prices, the scarcity of credit, and the extreme level of poverty that followed abolition in the late nineteenth century.

    It is impossible to pin down a precise date in such a counterfactual. My guess would be that slavery, at least in cotton, would have ended some time before the arrival of the boll weevil.

    • Bob Nelson February 11, 2013 / 1:21 pm

      True, Hunter, cotton prices took a nosedive after the turn of the century. IIRC, the first successful mechanical harvester was an IH in the 1940s. It may just not have been worth the effort for large comanies like JD and IH to develop them as cotton through most of the first half of the twentieth century was still being picked by hand (largely by share croppers).

      • Hunter Wallace February 12, 2013 / 10:45 pm

        The high slave prices and cotton prices of the 1850s was spurring the mechanization of cotton production in Memphis before the war intervened. The destruction of the Southern economy led to overproduction in the late nineteenth century. The low price of cotton retarded mechanization for decades.

        • Lyle Smith February 13, 2013 / 4:55 pm

          I thought the low price of cotton had to do with the world supply of cotton increasing because of an increase in supply coming mostly from India.

          • Hunter Wallace February 14, 2013 / 12:56 am

            India had been the world’s largest producer of cotton and textiles in the eighteenth century.

            In the early nineteenth century, free labor in India was unable to compete with slave grown cotton in the Old South and cheaper British textiles.

            After the war, cotton production in the South expanded dramatically due to the crushing poverty and decline in living standards that was imposed on the region by abolition and reunion. White yeoman farmers lost their land and became sharecroppers.

            Cotton production in the South peaked in the 1920s when the boll weevil tore its way through the cotton belt from Texas to South Carolina. It is true that world cotton production grew in places like Egypt and India, but the glut in cotton was mainly due to poor Southerners trying to rebuild their capital in a shattered economy.

            If there had never been a war, Egypt would have not have lost its independence, and “free labor” in India would have remained uncompetitive with Southern cotton. Slave prices would have continued to rise, cotton acreage would have continued to increase, and Southerners would have grown wealthier.

            In the 1850s, higher slave prices (which meant higher labor costs) was already spurring the mechanization of the cotton harvest. THAT was derailed for decades due to the abundance of cheap “free labor” and the poverty and cheapness of cotton after the war.

            World War 1 and the boll weevil finally broke that cycle by making labor and cotton more expensive. The New Deal programs of the Depression era and the Second World War accelerated mechanization by taking labor out of the South and by giving farmers the capital they needed to mechanize through farm subsidies.

            Of course, if slavery had never been abolished, and if crushing poverty had not been violently imposed on the South by religious fanatics, then slave prices and cotton prices would have remained high, and planters would have had the capital to divest themselves of slaves and invest in new technology.

            That would later happen … in the 1940s and 1950s, after world events intervened, but it would have certainly happened much earlier had the Confederacy just been left alone.

            BTW, the same thing would have happened in sugar in the Caribbean without abolition. It later did happen when the “American Sugar Kingdom” was created in Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, and Hawaii in the early twentieth century.

          • John Foskett February 14, 2013 / 11:23 am

            “[C]rushing poverty” “violently imposed” by “religious fanatics”. There go those danged New Testament and Human Rights lunatics again. Nothing beats an economic justification for human bondage and a concomitant explanation of how the slave would rather be somebody else’s property because he gets all of that free housing, clothing, and food.

          • wgdavis February 14, 2013 / 9:08 pm

            A lot of that superiority in cotton sales was because of the longer fibers and superior wear.

          • Lyle Smith February 14, 2013 / 10:26 am

            I should have said China too.

  8. TF Smith February 10, 2013 / 2:59 pm

    Q1 – Given that all it took to prompt secession in 1861 was the election of a candidate who was on the record as being against allowing slavery in any new federal territories that became states, my guess is if Lincoln had not won in 1860 (not sure how anyone else could have, given the demographics) my guess is the war breaks out in 1865…I think Seward and Lincoln had it bright; there was a conflict that was not going to be resolved by anything less than outright surrender by the free states to the concept of freely allowing the expansion of slavery into New Mexico, Colorado, the Dakotas, etc.

    Q2 – Never. The Confederacy, had it won independence, would have maintained slavery until it led to pariah status with the European powers, at which point they would have instituted slavery by another name – segregation, apartheid, whatever.


  9. Al Mackey February 10, 2013 / 8:06 pm

    As you point out, the questions assume slavery would end at some point. There’s slavery in the world today, so there’s no reason why it would necessarily have to end in a counterfactual.

  10. Mark February 10, 2013 / 9:38 pm

    >> If the South had secured independence during the war, slavery would have become untenable the minute the peace treaty was signed.The North would have become a refuge for escaping slaves and future John Browns would have become patriotic heroes to Northerners.

    Slavery would also have been untenable before the war if Congress had repudiated the Fugitive Slave Act and a few states had declared a safe haven for runaway slaves. The reason they didn’t are similar to the reasons that South Korea doesn’t declare that escapees from NK will be accepted. They don’t want the massive social dislocation and chaos of a collapsing society next to them. They’ll get it anyway eventually, and they should do it, but they won’t. The same as it ever was.

  11. Noma February 11, 2013 / 10:07 am

    I agree with Al. There is no particular reason to assume that slavery would have ended at some point. The growth of modern for-profit prisons, which incarcerate a substantial percentage of black males (30 percent in Alabama?) make it look pretty certain that we are headed back into an era of slavery (or its equivalent), especially in the South.

    “Made in U.S.A.” may soon cease to have the same implication that once did.

  12. Dan Weinfeld February 11, 2013 / 12:16 pm

    I’m guesing that the most likely Confederacy “winning” scenario involves McClellan defeating Lincoln in 1864. What terms was McClellan offering the South?
    As far as slavery ending without a war: in practicality, the XIII amendment really only ended the forced sale and movement of humans. Outside of the decade of Reconstruction, political and civil rights were still a long time coming, For example, the penal-leased labor system and share-cropping, show that nearly uncompensated labor, or de facto slavery, widely existed in much of the South well into the 20th century. I’m guessing that eventually a Southern religious awakening or Farmers Alliance-type progressive movement might have led to legal reforms of slavery that curbed its most obvious cruelities while keeping its economic fundamentals intact: basically the serfdom or peonage that more or less came to pass in much of the Jim Crow South.

  13. Cotton Boll Conspiracy February 11, 2013 / 12:54 pm

    I’m not certain why there’s a belief that slavery would have continued practically unabated well into the 20th century if the South had won the war when it was ended in every other nation in the western hemisphere by the late 1880s without bloodshed (except in Haiti, where it was the byproduct of a revolution).

    The US was among the most advanced, if not the most advanced, nation technologically in the hemisphere; it would make sense that as such, technology would have enabled southern planters to find better, more economical ways to grow cotton than relying on slaves, who required costs associated with feeding and housing. After all, cotton farming continued after the war, with blacks employed by former slave owners as sharecroppers, even if many blacks didn’t get a very good deal out of the arrangement.

    And as to the comment that “slavery was considered a viable economic choice as late as 1945 by the Germans,” that example seems hard to apply here because the Germans simply worked their laborers to death and then replaced them with new workers, expending little capital on food or resources. Slave owners certainly understood that slaves represented a significant capital expenditure and that it was in their own best interests to keep slaves at least minimally fed, clothed and sheltered in order to get a decent return on their investment.

    • Al Mackey February 12, 2013 / 12:58 pm

      “There is an important pattern in the history of slave emancipation in the Western Hemisphere, one of considerable significance for the Confederate States of America: and that is the intimate association of war, slave enlistment, and emancipation. From the American War of Independence to the last surrender of slavery in Brazil in the aftermath of the Paraguayan war, to virtually everything in between–Saint-Dominique, the Spanish-American Wars of Independence, the U.S. Civil War, the Ten-Years War in Cuba–slaves fought for and won their freedom in the context of war. It was in the context of war that slave men became the objects of state interest and the focus of intense competition between warring states for political loyalty and military service. In this respect, the American Civil War was hardly unique. In its two warring states as in so many others, military service and emancipation were temporally and causally linked, as manhood and citizenship would be in the aftermath of Union victory.” [Stephanie McCurry, Confederate Reckoning: Power and Politics in the Civil War South, p. 311]

      Slavery was usually ended as the result of a war, either a war that itself had slavery as an object or because the slave nation needed to use slaves as soldiers and offered emancipation as an incentive.

      Mechanization of agriculture occurred as a result of labor leaving agriculture to pursue higher paying jobs off the farm, necessitating the replacement of that lost labor. It did not occur in order to make labor that was still there unnecessary. See Willis Peterson and Yoav Kislev, “The Cotton Harvester in Retrospect: Labor Displacement or Replacement?”, Journal of Economic History, Vol XLVI, No. 1, March, 1986.

    • Michael C. Lucas February 12, 2013 / 7:04 pm

      Exactly! Thats a bright Cotton Boll. The cruelty of Jim Crow America would also have likely been curbed as well. It was the violence of war that manifested all the latter issues, if peace had been made earlier, it is highly likely that if the war had not occurred slavery would have met a more amiable and enlightened end.

      • Brooks D. Simpson February 14, 2013 / 11:33 am

        Well, that would appear to put the onus of white southerners who supported secession for all that happened afterwards. You make them sound stupid, cruel, and foolish, and then they took the bitterness of defeat out on the freedpeople.

  14. John Foskett February 11, 2013 / 2:29 pm

    I think that had there been no war in 1861 slavery would have been forcibly ended by 1870 or so at the latest. The secessionists correctly perceived the direction of things as more and more non-slave territories and states were added. While I disagree that the institution was economically doomed at that point in the deep South, it was already being eroded in the border South, and there was a growing recognition that it was immoral. (Neo Confeds always confuse northern views on the morality of slavery with views on race). If the South had won, I think it would have lasted in some form into the early part of the 20th century. A lot of folks assume gradual abandonment connected to changes in the cotton business. But as somebody pointed out above, the Third Reich found a use for slavery/equivalent in a fundamentally different economy in the 1940’s. If you’ve got something that needs doing coupled with the necessary racial views (and the need to keep the black population “in check” – i.e., no rights, no literacy, etc), limiting your costs to the purchase price and subsistence care in exchange for 12+ hours of work per day would have made sense to those so inclined. By the early 20th, however, things in that arena – child labor, women’s labor, women’s suffrage, etc. – were undergoing such fundamental change that slavery would have been unable to survive as a anachronism.

  15. William Houston February 11, 2013 / 3:57 pm

    Another thought. Considering the fact that southern slavery was an important reason why England & France held off from recognizing the Confederacy, I think it very possible that a victorious Confederacy would have soon faced overwhelming economic pressure to rid itself of slavery. During the war England developed new sources of cotton to replace that imported from the South. I don’t think it out of the realm of possibility that within a decade or two of the end of the war an economic blockade or other economic sanctions would have been imposed on the South. This might have done more than anything else to encourage a shift from slave labor to, say, share-cropping. Economic sanctions can be very effective at times. Who would have thought that majority rule would have come to South Africa in a manner so relatively peaceful.

    • Brooks D. Simpson February 15, 2013 / 1:21 pm

      The issue of slavery was not the reason Great Britain and France held off on recognizing the Confederacy. France held off because it made its action contingent on the decision of Great Britain, and Great Britain decided that it was not in the national interest to intervene unless it already looked as if the Confederacy had secured its independence (something many Confederates and subsequent students of the war fail to understand). Great Britain had no problem importing materials grown through slave labor. Why would there have been any pressure to change this situation, which would have resulted in either curtailing supply or raising prices? The antislavery forces in Great Britain were not in charge of affairs. Why would Great Britain refuse to import cotton from the Confederacy? Why impose a blockade on the Confederacy that would close off British imports? Neither action makes much sense.

      That Great Britain sought new sources of cotton during the war begs the question of whether they would have felt the need to do so had the Confederacy prevailed. Certainly the empire that gave rise to the expression “the white man’s burden” was not quite so egalitarian as you seem to imply or nearly so adverse to exploitation as you seem to assume, given their interest in importing American cotton in the decades before the Civil War.

      • John Foskett February 16, 2013 / 9:04 am

        Good analysis. I’d add that Britain hardly harbored homogeneous views about slavery, intervention, Canada, etc. during this period. It’s not as though there weren’t significant British interests involved in the North or a cohesive United States.

  16. Jimmy Dick February 11, 2013 / 10:06 pm

    Since about half of the wealth of the South was tied up in slaves and the cause of the war itself was slavery in all its aspects, why would anyone think the slaveowners were going to end slavery? Furthermore, why would the Union allow the southern states back in unless those states ended slavery? Also, who was going to control the west if the Union allowed the southern states to leave and made no attempt to stop them? The entire west was Union territory and the entire argument was over the expansion of slavery to the west. So does anyone think the South wasn’t going to try to fight to gain the West? At what point do the people in the Union dcide to fight against that issue alone? The South needed new land to expand to or it was doomed. So if it couldn’t tgo west tethen it had to go to Cuba and Mexico. Without the support of the North the South had zero chance of conquering Mexico. (Let’s not even bother with what the French did). That leaves Cuba. So was the Confederacy in a position to take Cuba? Would Spain have let that happen? I don’t think so in the 1860s. Spain had to have Cuba economically. It was unwilling to sell the island to the US at any point in the 19th century. They weren’t going to sell it to the Confederacy.
    Things in the South were going to go to crap economically for the plantation owners. They were going to get desperate and desperate people do stupid things like secede. They were in complete control of the state and national confederate government as well. I think they would have went to war out of sheer necessity and desperation. I think they would have fought for the American West. However, at no point were they going to end slavery. They damn sure would never have let the slaves become citizens with any shred of equality. Apartheid would have been far more likely if they ever had to end slavery and I don’t think it would have happened anyway. I think they would have ended up in a war with the Union and they would have lost. The Union would have gotten stronger and built up its own military to a far better state. The South was screwed no matter what it did once those states seceded.

    • Noma February 12, 2013 / 10:01 am

      The point that hostilities between North and South would have resumed if the Confederacy had been permitted to leave with slavery intact is very similar to the opinion that Grant shared with Congressman Elihu Washburne:


      The people of the North need not quarrel over the institution of slavery. What Vice President Stephens acknowledges the cornerstone of the Confederacy is already knocked out. Slavery is already dead, and cannot be resurrected. It would take a standing army to maintain slavery in the South if we were to make peace to-day guaranteeing, to the South all their former constitutional privileges.

      l never was an abolitionist, nor even what could be called antislavery, but I try to judge fairly and honestly, and it became patent to my mind early in the rebellion that the North and South could never live at peace with each other except as one nation, and that without slavery. As anxious as I am to see peace re-established, I would not, therefore, be willing to see any settlement until this question is forever settled.

      Ulysses S. Grant – Letter to Eli Washburn – Aug 30, 1863

  17. hankc9174 February 12, 2013 / 7:20 am

    the season of secession, from December 1860, through Fort Sumter, until May 1861, reveals the fractures within the southern slave society.

    The middle and upper south show the divisions, with even the ‘southwest’ south exhibiting symptoms of low slave ownership, increasing numbers of free blacks and high unionist sentiment.

    Arkansas, Tennessee, Virginia and North Carolina all require the great perturbations following Fort Sumter to join the CSA.

    the slave power in Missouri, Kentucky and Maryland are already below a political critical mass, keeping them in the union.

    as the secession crisis and history show, Texas and Louisiana, had strong union sentiment and lowering levels of slave ownership.

    unforeseen circumstances aside, slavery continues while dying from a thousand cuts…

  18. Brad February 12, 2013 / 3:29 pm

    I was thinking along the lines of rcocean, around 1885. At a certain point, some institutions simply become untenable and crack of their own accord and when that happens change can come very quickly.

  19. Bob Nelson February 12, 2013 / 4:02 pm

    Well first of all, thanks to the many folks who replied. I was tempted to write a summary of the answers but after three hours, five pages and 2,500 words, I have decided not to do that. If you’re interested, may I suggest that you go to “Civilwarhistory 2″ or Study” to see what others have written. The consensus is that slavery would not have ended in a unified U.S. (no war) until 1890 or even later. The biggest stumbling block would have been getting three-fourths of the states to approve an amendment ending the “peculiar institution.”

    By 1890, there would have been 28 free states and 16 slave states not including West Virginia, which would not have been established without the CW, and Kansas, which most likely would have been admitted as a slave state. With or without Kansas, that means that 33 states would have had to approve such an amendment assuming that Congress would have been able to agree on one in the first place. You can only get 33 “Yes” votes if some of the border slave states (Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky, Missouri, Tennessee, Arkansas or Kansas) defect.

    “John” reminded me that “Emancipation by purely peaceful means has actually been the exception rather than the rule.” He also noted, quoting Stephanie McCurry, that “from the American War of Independence to the last surrender of slavery in Brazil … to virtually everything in between …slaves fought for and won their freedom in the context of war.” “Bill” agrees, noting that abolition in Brazil was one of the last acts of the Imperial government before it collapsed. In Cuba and Puerto Rico it was done “in opposition to the wishes of the population.” Several have opined that it probably would have only happened in a unified U.S. in conjunction with compensation for the owners.

    As for mechanical harvesting of cotton putting an end to slavery, “Fred” notes, “In 1949 only 6% of the cotton in the US was harvested mechanically. In 1954, 22% … In 1959, it was 43%.” Even with the advent of successful mechanical pickers (the first really successful one was an International Harvester in the 1940s), most planters preferred hand-picked cotton well into the mid 20th century because it was cleaner and fetched a higher price. And finally this, also from “John.” “Remember that … the motivation for [a mechanical harvester] was to replace labor that had already been displaced from farms, not to displace labor from farms.”

    If the Confederacy had somehow managed to “win” the war or establish itself as a bona fide country by some other means, the consensus is that it would have lasted as long, probably longer. The CSA Constitution (Article II) read, “The right of property in said slaves shall not be thereby impaired.” From “Fred.” “Any attempt [to end slavery] would put the states in the same relationship to the CSA that they seceded to avoid from the U.S. Government.” “Dan” reminds us that the 13th Amendment only “ended the forced sale of humans” and that “de facto slavery widely existed in much of the South well into the 20th century.”

    And this from “Tom.” “The Confederacy … would have maintained slavery until it led to pariah status with the European powers at which point they would have instituted slavery by another name — segregation, apartheid, whatever.” As for my question about whether England or other world powers could have forced the CSA to end slavery, “Joe” writes, “Why would England care about slavery across the ocean? Who has pressured China to end slave labor today?”

    So there you have it — a brief summary of my very unscientific survey. No random sampling here. But for me, it has been a very positive discussion with numerous well-thought-out answers and for that I am grateful. I appreciate all of your input.

  20. Bob Huddleston February 12, 2013 / 4:55 pm

    For those who like to argue that a victorious Confederate States of America would have quickly and easily emancipated their slaves, I need to ask how was this CSA emancipation going to happen? One of the improvements the Confederates made was to prevent any of *their* states from becoming a free state. Article 2, Section 1 reads:

    “1. The citizens of each State shall be entitled to all the privileges and immunities of citizens in the several States; and shall have the right of transit and sojourn in any State of this Confederacy, with
    their slaves and other property; and the right of property in said slaves shall not be thereby impaired.”

    This was to prevent a Lemon Case from arising and also prevented state emancipation, compensated or not.

  21. Bob Nelson February 13, 2013 / 2:07 pm

    I agree, Bob. What we seem to have here is slavery ending in a unified U.S. (no CW) around 1890, maybe a little earlier if some of the border slave states had defected or had there been compensated emacipation. One person wrote to say he didn’t see compensated emancipation happening given the Panic of 1873. Nice thing about a counterfactual, however, is that had there been no CW there may not have been a Panic of 1873. As for an independent CSA, the answer seems to be around the same — 1890 or thereabouts. So what we have, in essence, is 630,000 dead to put an end to slavery, which would have died anyway in thirty or forty years. Let’s see. My old Tesas Instrument calculator (using an average of 35 years) says that 18,000 died during the CW for every year in the U;.S. in which slavery would have died anyway. Seems awful expensive to me.

    • Brooks D. Simpson February 13, 2013 / 5:44 pm

      And of course everyone understood that in 1860, eh?

      That’s why I find this counterfactual pointless and even ridiculous.

      • Bob Nelson February 13, 2013 / 7:45 pm

        No, of course not. LOL. And here in Michigan, many still don’t understand it, eh?

        • Brooks D. Simpson February 13, 2013 / 8:09 pm

          I don’t happen to think that residence in Michigan is a meaningful variable in this discussion. But perhaps you are in a better position to know.

          • Bob Nelson February 13, 2013 / 8:14 pm

            It wasn’t meant as a “meaningful variable.” Obviously you don’t pick up on a joke. I was replying to your “eh?”

          • Brooks D. Simpson February 14, 2013 / 8:06 am

            Whatever. I just don’t think telling 4.5 million enslaved people to wait several more decades is the stuff of giggles and guffaws. This is all about white people ignoring the costs paid by black people for white exploitation, laziness, and greed.

          • Bob Nelson February 14, 2013 / 9:21 am

            My apology. I was just trying to interject a little banter and certainly did not mean to trivialize the struggle for abolition. Sorry if I offended you or anybody else here. That was most certainly not my intent.

      • Bob Nelson February 13, 2013 / 8:11 pm

        Seriously (no offense to my many friends in the U.P., eh?), had anyone back then been able to forsee the loss of 630,000 men plus thousands of civilians and the utter devastation of the South, which impacted the U.S. economy for a hundred years or more, they probably would have had second thoughts. Interesting that you see such counterfactuals such as this to be “pointless and even ridiculous.” Obviously, I disagree. And I do appreciate the many, many thoughtful replies here and on “Study” and “Civilwarhistory2.” I have enjoyed the discussion a lot and I have learned something.

        • Brooks D. Simpson February 14, 2013 / 8:10 am

          I am glad you learned something. I read the returns differently than you do. In the end, if we frame things as you do, white southerners were supremely stupid and foolish. Please take that message to cwh2 and see how members there greet that news.

          • Bob Nelson February 14, 2013 / 9:38 am

            No thanks. FWIW, I posted the questions to “Cwh2” and got several well-thought-out answers although the majority did come from “Study” and “Crossroads.” “John” on “Study” came through with a very well documented reply. I also posted the summary to “cwh2” but only got one “Thanks for posting” reply as of yesterday.

          • Brooks D. Simpson February 14, 2013 / 6:39 pm

            You tend to defend the folks on cwh2 a great deal, and yet when I ask you to pursue your claims over there, you get real quiet. Never did see one of them say Dave Tatum’s smear on the American fighting man was repulsive, despite your claim that they disagreed with it. Indeed, one poster (who also comments here) challenged you as I did, and you had nothing.

        • John Foskett February 14, 2013 / 8:46 am

          I’m interested in the century-plus “impact on the U.S. economy”. That takes us past 1965, obviously. Awful lot of water under that bridge, old boy – industrialization, two world wars, a depression, the invention of the computer, new modes of transportation, globalization, etc., etc. etc .

          • Bob Nelson February 14, 2013 / 11:54 am

            I never cease to be amazed, John,how I write and send stuff without proofing it carefully. Should have been fifty years. I was thinking of the rebuilding of the South (especially construction of railroads), which led to the Panic of 1873, the effects of which were still being felt at the turn of the century.

      • Bob Nelson February 14, 2013 / 4:50 pm

        I find it interesting that you consider this topic “pointless and even ridiculous,” yet it has generated more than sixty replies here (way more than any other topic this month) plus another thirty or so on “Study” and “Cwh2.”

        • Brooks D. Simpson February 14, 2013 / 6:08 pm

          Bob, you sure like picking fights with me, don’t you? Such seems to be the case ever since I declined to advance your interests in publishing your Civil War Day-by-Day exercise. Nevertheless, despite the fact that you’ve been trashing me (and many of my friends) elsewhere for over a year before figuring out that perhaps you had behaved a bit unreasonably, I indulged you by putting the questions out there, despite what I thought about them. What are we going to see next? An apology some time down the line from you, mischaracterizing the point at dispute, and excusing it by speculating that you are quick to anger or that you’ve been imbibing a little too much? You’ve done that before. I saw that on cwh2 you took cheap shots at a poster who asked some very interesting questions by claiming that he was comparing buying and selling slaves to purchasing baseball tickets, when his point was about cost and market. Now, either someone starts drinking rather early in your neck of the woods before they go online, or they are quick to misunderstand what other people say and them blast them about it online before finding out that they were in the wrong. Then again, when you went to cwh2 some time ago (at my urging), you then took potshots at the members of the Yahoo group “Study of the Civil War” in an effort to ingratiate yourself with your new friends. I don’t think you shared that with the members of the “Study” group when you returned, did you?

          Let’s remind people what really set me off about your behavior in “Study of the Civil War”: my reaction to your claim in June 2008 that if you were a white ex-Confederate in 1865, you would have joined the Ku Klux Klan. That’s much different than someone saying that they could understand why some ex-Confederates in the wake of defeat would have joined a white supremacist terrorist organization … you simply say that you would have … as opposed to the many ex-Confederates who did not or the other white southerners who opposed that organization. To quote you:

          I have read a lot on the post-Civil War KKK including a number of primary sources such as Stanley Horn, Lester & Wilson and Susan Davis. Had I been an ex-Confederate officer or soldier in the South during Reconstruction, I probably would have joined the KKK, too. No, change that — omit the “probably.”

          Again, you would have joined the KKK in 1865 had you been an ex-Confederate. That’s what you said.

          Lots of queries generate replies, sometimes in great numbers. Maybe you need to read some of the replies more carefully, but I’m led to believe that you believe that anything that attracts such attention much have great merit, including Justin Bieber and the Kardashians. But let’s look at what I actually said. I said that I found this counterfactual “pointless and actually ridiculous” because white southerners in 1860 (and many white northerners as well) did not think that slavery was a dying institution. This is the comment you made that spurred my response:

          So what we have, in essence, is 630,000 dead to put an end to slavery, which would have died anyway in thirty or forty years. Let’s see. My old Tesas Instrument calculator (using an average of 35 years) says that 18,000 died during the CW for every year in the U;.S. in which slavery would have died anyway. Seems awful expensive to me.

          This seems to me to be a stupid statement on a number of levels. First, not all of those people died to put an end to slavery. Indeed, a good number died to preserve it. Second, some of those people who died were black, and for them it damn well was to put an end to the enslavement of their families, their relatives, their wives, their children, and their parents. How dare you dismiss that sacrifice. Nor is there any evidence that slavery “would have died anyway.” We don’t know that, although I guess it’s easy for a white guy to shrug his shoulders about the continued enslavement of millions of black people, not only those alive in 1860 but those born in the next generation. I don’t think it was “awful expensive” to them. After all, who had paid the price for enslavement for generations? Not white people.

          I could go on, but why bother?

          Hate to tell you this, Bob, but if I posted information to generate replies as opposed to advance understanding, I’d know how to go about it. But I also see what the readership has been while I let this discussion go on, and it went down. Only a few people have participated in the discussion. Me? I was busy at the 2013 Abraham Lincoln Association’s Benjamin P. Thomas Symposium at Springfield, Illinois, serving in a number of roles, so I figured I could let the blog go on automatic until people had had their say. So I would not go about patting yourself on the back about the number of responses, unless you have some need to do so. I can assure you, however, that readership will go up again, now that I’ve made this reply. Maybe you’ll take credit for that, too. Enjoy.

          • Bob Nelson February 14, 2013 / 7:14 pm

            Wow! I choose not to reply. Only wish you had sent this to me privately offline. You know my email address. IMO, whether you like me or hate me, it would have been much more professional.

          • Brooks D. Simpson February 14, 2013 / 7:20 pm

            Ah … now you tell me how to act professionally, although you don’t quite mind acting as you do. Do you always criticize people for not acting as you refuse to act? Do you hold others to a higher standard than you do yourself?

            Apparently in your mind acting professionally means letting you act like you do and not calling you on it. And let’s just say I was holding back some things.

            And yet you return.

            Of course, I can understand why you would not want me to remind people of your KKK comment or of your two-faced behavior. How would you characterize that?

            Yup, you would rather have me keep quiet about that.

            Please don’t mistake disgust with hate. It’s the former, not the latter.

          • Bob Nelson February 14, 2013 / 7:44 pm

            Yes, I return, because I think “Crossroads” is a really sharp group with a bunch of great thinkers. As for my comment about the KKK, I stand by that. You might also have mentioned that I’m an associate member of the S.C.V. Do I necessarily agree with all the hype and rhetoric? No, of course not. But it helps me understand the Southern POV. Still, I wish you had sent your lengthy message to me offline. If I was going to write something like that to you, I would have sent if offline. Better yet, I would have called you and talked with you on the phone.

          • Brooks D. Simpson February 14, 2013 / 7:48 pm

            So what I understand is that you can challenge me on the blog and when I respond, you want it done in private?

            Seems to me that you want to have it both ways … the freedom to be critical but not to be criticized.

          • Bob Nelson February 14, 2013 / 7:53 pm

            That’s not true. I was a superintendent of schools. That’s a position where you get criticized by almost everybody. I’m used to that. I don’t think I challenged you. I asked a question. It’s just that when you slam somebody (as you did me), it would better IMO done offline. Feel free to call me. 616-774-9405.

          • Brooks D. Simpson February 14, 2013 / 8:05 pm

            No, Bob. You have something to say to me here, you get your reply here.

  22. Bob Nelson February 14, 2013 / 8:29 pm

    See, Brooks, I like to talk on the phone. What was the weather like today in Phoenix? What are you teaching this semester? Do you like your assignment(s)? Did you manage to get in 9 holes of golf today? I(f so, what did you shoot? That’s what makes my relationship with Mike, Eddie, JT, Charles, Charles Cone, Robert and a bunch of others on “Cwh2” very special to me. I know them, where they live, what they do/did, a bit about their families. And they know the same about me. I would love to take with you. 616-774-9405

    • Bob Nelson February 14, 2013 / 8:31 pm

      Make that “talk with you.” And “if so, what did you shoot?”

      • Bob Nelson February 14, 2013 / 8:35 pm

        Forgot to mention, I’m about a 12-handicapper. Please don’t tell me that if I come down to Phoenix that I will have to give you strokes,

    • Brooks D. Simpson February 14, 2013 / 8:46 pm

      Sorry, Bob. That’s not happening. This line of discussion is closed.

      I am amused at how many times you chose to reply after you said you wouldn’t reply. So I’ll make you a man of your word.

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