How long would slavery have lasted in the Confederacy?


If the south won the Civil War how long would slavery have really lasted? Slavery was already a dying institution and condemed by international opinion. I can’t see it surviving past 1900. Would the CSA compenstate slaverholders for their loss of slaves? Who would pay for it? Would slaverey be abolished in phases (eg every slave born after 31 Dec 1899 is free)? After abolition blacks would still be anywhere near equal with whites. Without the 14th & 15th amendments even the pretence “Seperate but equal” would be unnecessary. Citizenship would likely be limited to whites (& Indians by treaty); which means blacks would have no political whites (CS constitution forbade states from letting non-citizens vote).

Harry Turtledove has written at least two different south-wins-the-civil-war scenarios. In one, slavery is banned almost immediately. In the other, slavery is banned in the late 1800s (as I recall), but blacks continue to be treated like serfs forever, or at least until the 1940s when

they are on the wrong end of the equivalent of the Holocaust

But I always thought the first scenario was a little facile… if nothing else, it would have to seem like a huge betrayal, after all of that effort of forming a new country and fighting a war to support the right to own slaves…

I think it probably would have ended by the turn of the century. Slavery was fast becoming an ineffiecient means of production as mechanization improved. If the south had been as industrialized as the north, they probably would have given up slavery at the same time the north did.

Crap-- hit “submit” too soon. (I seem to do that a lot.)

I think that racial relations would probably be better. The Civil War left a lot of residual anger. They couldn’t take it out on the north, so they ended up taking it out on the ex-slaves.

I believe civil rights for African Americans would have come about at the same time as womens’ suffrage if not for the Civil War. I think the movements of the time which included a lot of free thinkers would have embraced civil rights for all if not for the concerns that suffrage would be blacklisted in the south.

Note–by the late 1860’s, a British amateur botanist had developed a high-quality strain of cotten that would grow in India.

Given the hostility on the part of many Britons toward slavery, I doubt that the South’s cash crop would have had a market for long.

Large scale slavery would have vanished by 1885 or so.

Mmmm… I dunno. I have a lot of faith in human cussedness.

For one thing, those rich plantation owners from Gone With The Wind? They were wealthy, yes, but not by modern standards. Nearly all of their wealth was tied up in land, property, livestock, and dark-skinned humans used as farm equipment, as a general rule of thumb. Regardless of the way production trends and industrialization was going, I don’t know if Southern nobility would have been quite so quick to free the slaves. If anything, I can see a gradual disintegration of the MARKET for slaves, leading to a situation where the slaveowners were hard put to find something for all these slaves to DO.

My happy jolly side says, “They’d have eventually freed ‘em, because it was easier than shootin’ 'em, and the freed slaves would have taken jobs in cities and as farm workers, thus pretty much following the Reconstruction pattern, but without all the resentment and hate and craziness.”

My realistic side says, “They’d have ‘freed’ them by runnin’ 'em off the property, except for a favored few. The woods would have been full of starving black folks, which would have led to violence, which would have led to the army being sent in, which would have led to situations like Wounded Knee, but with one side being somewhat darker-skinned.”

It’s true that the Southern cotton markets overseas would have dried up anyway. This would simply have accelerated the process.

I don’t know. Slavery didn’t seem to be as ingrained in Tennessee (69 years) as it was in New York (201 years) and Virginia (246 years). To the best of my knowledge, we didn’t have as many large estates that were totally dependent upon slave labor. That makes me think that it would have been easier for some states to reform than others. Yet, if New York could do it after two centuries of enslavement…

People were fast finding out that you could pay workers a lot less than it cost to feed, house and clothe them. Owners had an incentive to treat their slaves well because if one sickened and died, they were out of their invetment. Industrialists were discovering that employees were expendable-- there was always a supply of people desperate for work.

Once the percieved need for slavery was gone, social pressures would have eventually destroyed it as it did in the north. Northerners didn’t eliminate slavery because they had high-toned moral values. They did it because they didn’t need slaves anymore anyway.

Once a slave’s labor is worth less than it costs to house him, the slaveowners would have gladly kicked them to the curb. They probably would have patted themselves on the back for their enlightened ethics, too. :wink:

Reconstruction was no picnic for ex-slaves as it was. A great number of them migrated to the north for factory work, or west where they could claim land.

I don’t envision that a natural death of slavery would have been sudden. The way I see it is that over time, economic pressures would have caused more and more slaveowners to free their slaves, possibly hiring some of them back at a cheaper price. As they did after the war, the ex-slaves probably would dispersed to industrialized areas where labor was needed.

Well, the real question I think is not could but would. If they give up slavery, that amounts to an admission they were wrong, and that they were wrong to kick off the Civil War. I wouldn’t be surprised if they still had slaves now, just on a smaller scale. For example, sex slaves are still a viable market; I can see them catering to “sex tourists” like some countries are reputed to.

I wonder if the Confederacy would have ended up having another war as the states that really wanted to keep slavery opposed those that didn’t.

So would there still have been a black exodus to Chicago and elsewhere in the North? If the answer is ‘no’, would a significantly larger black Southern population have sped up or slowed down white acceptance of civil rights?

Partly I think it would depend on how exactly the Confederacy won its independence. If the Union just told the first wave of seceding states “don’t let the door hit you on the butt on the way out”, then the resulting CSA (which may or may not have wound up including Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, or Arkansas, all of which only seceded once war broke out) might have been much less cohesive. Alternatively, if the war in fact drags on into 1864, by which time there were some calls for arming slaves (presumably in return for their freedom), but the CSA somehow manages to eke out a victory, one can come up with scenarios where even in an independent South slavery might still have been gravely weakened.

If we suppose something along the lines of a Southern victory mid-war–Special Order 191 never gets lost, as in Turtledove’s alternate history–then you could wind up with a CSA which has shed enough blood to become a cohesive nation, but not been battered into a complete wreck by war and blockade. In that case, I think slavery would have been a strong component of the Confederacy’s national identity, as the self-identified underpinning of the Confederate economy, the cornerstone of the Confederate political system, and the foundation of the Confederate social and moral order of white supremacy.

Although human societies lasted for thousands of years with slavery, it may be that by the 19th and 20th centuries it had become fundamentally incompatible with a modern economy; however, when a people become ideologically attached to an economic system, and make it part of their national identity, they can make it limp on for quite a while whether or not it makes any sense. Soviet Communism managed to last for 74 years, despite its manifest economic inefficiencies, so I’ll say Confederate slavery would have collapsed no earlier than the mid-1930’s.

Mechanization doesn’t put people out of work, it just increases productivity. Slaves could and probably would simply be moved out of the fields and into the factories.

My guess is that slavery would have been abolished by the 1880s, as it was in Brazil, which like the South, had a agricultural economy heavily dependant on slave labor.

I think de jure slavery would have been abolished before the end of the 19th century, since that was the trend internationally. I think slavery would have lasted for another 10 to 20 years before international pressure (including pressure from Yankee Country) forced it to fizzle out. But in the time leading up to this point, I think you would have found slaves working in factories. You might have seen a "rental’ system…whereby a factory owner rents a certain number of slaves from a slaveowner, who then houses, clothes, and feeds the slaves. Whites would also work in the factory, but perhaps their jobs would be less dangerous or their hours relatively more humane. It would be an expensive, unnecessarily convoluted system for getting labor, but it would be used for some time due to the fear of the Free Nigra. It would take a while for people to see the irrationality of this system.

The Civil Rights movement would be pushed forward at least a couple of decades, probably more, since black people would be largely uneducated for that extra period of time. I think the period of de facto slavery would be considerably longer and scarier than our Jim Crow era, since it would be harder for blacks to migrate to the North, it being a totally different country. For this same reason, you wouldn’t have a lot of rabble-rousing “Yankee outsiders” coming in, encouraging black people to vote or setting up schools for them. The Confederate government might see fit to keep these folks out, as well as blocking certain international publications they deemed as “subversive”. Black people living in the South would be in the dark about the success stories of their brethen in the North.* Black people would be more at the mercy of the white supremacists in their midsts (although there’s no reason to believe that all states in the Confederacy would be the same in regards to their treatment of blacks.) So while slavery would be banned in the law, in practice it would have continued for a really long time. And I don’t really know what would have been the motivation to change this system.

*The Civil War ended slavery all over, not just in the Confederacy. So the real question should be: without the war, how long would slavery lasted in the US?

only it was called sharecropping. A sharecropper was in many respects a slave-he was always in debt. The only thing that finally broke the cycle was the industrialization of the South, ca 1950-1980 :rolleyes:

I’m pretty cynical about the idea of dying out on it’s own.

I have a bad feeling that it would still be around. I believe that they would have kept it even in limited form as part of their “heritage”. “Heritage not Hate” would be the justification not for the Confederate Battle Flag but for slavery. Ignorant Southerners who haven’t ever owned slaves for many generations would defend it in bar arguments and on message boards.

I also wonder about slavery leveraged with technology. The South might have become the center for cheap slave labor. Kathy Lee Gifford would have been scandalized not for having sweatshops in Asia but for having sweatshops in the South. Maybe Nissan would have built their plant in Canton, MS earlier. Of course the fact that cars are being assembled by slaves might not be all that great for PR, but bad PR doesn’t stop corporations from doing all the other terrible stuff.

Slave labor would certainly create an hourglass Southern society. There would be a lot of resentment of black, slave and free, taking work from good white folk.

Sex slavery would be pretty bad too. High yellow females sex slaves would cause create great consternation or society would turn a blind eye. Runaway girls would disappear and probably reappear in cat houses with papers showing they had at least ‘one drop of negro blood’ and purchase documentation.

Yes, but they’d still be losing money. They could hire an immigrant to run the machine much, much cheaper than it cost to take care of the slave.

It makes more economic sense to hire people. With slaves you have to raise them, feed them, pay for their medical treatment, educate them enough to be able to work, clothe them, house them, etc. You had to treat them with at least a modicrum of humanity because a brutalized slave doesn’t work as hard. If one died, you would have to buy a new one and a healthy, biddable slave didn’t come cheaply.

There was a never-ending supply of immigrants who would work for pittance wages. The worker had to bear the costs of his own upkeep. You could be as mean to them as you pleased and if one of them got sick, you could just fire them and get a new employee with a minimum of fuss.

The popularity of slavery was starting to wane. Even in the south, there were abolition groups. If slavery hadn’t become such a polarizing issue with added symbolic value, it probably would have eventually crumbled unter societal pressure. With economic incentives to free the slaves, the movement would have had even more support. It would have been embarassing after a while to own a slave.

I think your figures are wrong. Tennessee was first settled in the 1760s, and it had slaves since the beginning. So it woul be about 100 years of slavery, not 69.

I think the issue is actually more complex (as is almost all alternate history - it’s one of the reasons I admire Turtledove so much; he makes it plausible).

First and foremost, I don’t know that there’s any guarantee that the CSA would have held together as a nation. They had some pretty hard core ideologists who took the idea of a loose confederacy of what amounted to essentially nation states pretty seriously, especially when doing something for the nation as a whole seemed to be of more benefit to other states than to their own. This was one of the serious problems for the Confederacy as they fought the latter years of the war; for example, Joe Brown, governor of Georgia, was completely unwilling to send his Home Guard troops to help the last ditch war effort (and apparently was taken by serious surprise when Grant/Sherman’s western effort ended up invading Georgia, requiring those troops to actually see action!) Assuming a Turtledove scenario, where the war ends shortly after the north loses at Gettysburg, a crisis of this nature would probably have taken some few years to arise, but it’s an issue that Turtledove ignores and I think is worthy of consideration. It’s possible that the ideologists would have moderated their stances when faced with reality, but as we’ve seen in recent years, it’s quite possible for high-level leaders to steadfastly cling to their ideology with a complete disregard for and unconcern with reality as it affects their citizens. I think it’s entirely possible that the CSA would have broken up into smaller nation-states, possibly even one for each state, as the needs of a nation made demands on individual states that the leaders of those states were unwilling to meet. The Civil War was the defining moment in US history that changed us from a federation to a nation, but since this very issue was at the core of southern opposition to the US in the first place, I think it’s safe to assume that victory would not have had the same unifying effect on a CSA that it did on the USA, at least for some years to come. Had the CSA broken up, all bets are off; I can’t begin to speculate on what would have happened, except that there’s a good chance that gradually each individual sub-nation would have been eventually swallowed up back into the USA.

But let’s assume the ideologists didn’t prevail and the states held together. In that case, I think Turtledove’s speculation of a second war is pretty much a given. The two nations, the USA and the CSA, would have been competing for the remaining, unincorporated territory and other economic assets in the North American continent, and there would have been a lot of bitter resentment between the two nations’ citizens. There would have been on-going tension between the two nations, and the USA would have considered it very important to maintain the elements of superiority it already commanded, most particularly the fact that it had direct access to the Pacific, while the CSA did not.

It’s a fair bet that the CSA would have for some time remained a nation whose primary economic bent was agricultural. That was, after all, the cultural inclination of the upper class, and I think the CSA was far more economically divided than the USA; there was not a large middle class presence there, while by the middle of the nineteenth century, the middle class was already in many ways the dominant class in the North. Certainly they would have, as they did during the war, developed some degree of manufacturing capability, but I suspect this would have continued to be a much smaller sector of their economy than it was in the North, and that the almost industrial farms that eventually developed in the grain belt would have taken a much smaller hold on southern agriculture. I can’t give you solid reasons as to why I believe this; it’s more of a gut feeling on my part, based on information that I can’t remember sufficiently well to use as arguments.

I think slavery would have continued for quite some time. Yes, economically it would have become burdensome to some degree, but history isn’t dictated solely by faceless economics. You have to look at the ruling class, again, a far greater distinction in the South than it was in the North. The slave methodologies were in place. To remain economically viable, I think field slavery probably would have become increasingly brutal over time, but the basic structures would have largely stayed the same.

The upper classes would have been very reluctant to give up slavery, in part because of the house slaves. Wealthy slave owners could live at a personal level like royalty, with every wish but a command away. The women would have pressed hard for it to remain in place, and this is a factor that I think shouldn’t be underestimated. Women may not have had official power, but they have always had the power to make their husbands’ lives hell, and this is an issue I think they would have used every means in their power to win. Who wouldn’t want a staff of twenty, thirty, or fifty house servants whose entire lives are required to be devoted to making your life easy and pleasant and indulging your every whim, and who would willingly give this situation up without a fight? Housekeeping in those days was a major job; to maintain a clean and pleasant household, not even touching on the personal service aspect, took serious labor. This is an area in which the economics of slavery would not have worked against it; the most important house servants were not interchangeable cogs as the agricultural or factory workers could be viewed. Favored, high-level house slaves in the better houses (i.e. those with any principals) would probably have been as they were portrayed in Gone With the Wind - more like the old family retainers in England, who tended to identify their interests with those of the families they served. You can’t get that from servants who can be and are hired and fired on a regular basis. I think the wives of the wealthy and powerful would have fought tooth and nail to keep slavery in place, and I think they would have won for many years.
But, as Turtledove portrayed in How Few Remain, I think the eventual (and IMO inevitable) second War between the states would have required the CSA, dragged kicking and screaming, into bringing the blacks into the war effort in order to prevent outright conquest by the USA, and this would have ultimately led to the freeing of the slaves. You can’t really take someone who has fought as a soldier next to his putative owners and turn him back into a satisfactory slave. It might have taken a few more years, but the slaves would have had to be freed.
But I think that the resentment would have been enormous, and that this action would have been every bit as difficult for the former slaves as Reconstruction was. Worse, because the freed slaves probably would not have had the option of leaving to go to the USA as freed slaves could go to the north in history as it actually happened. Turtledove has ordinary USA citizens bitterly resenting the blacks in general for having been the cause of the war in which they had been defeated (the Civil War), and that strikes me as highly realistic. Slavery wasn’t the biggest cause of the Civil War, but it was one of the most openly spoken of and obvious, and the powerless blacks would have been an obvious target for resentment for the guy on the street who sees his country as being halved in size and power due to the lost Civil War.
So unwelcomed by any English-speaking nation they could reach (and while I don’t know much about it, I don’t think the situation in Mexico would have been very inviting either), most blacks would have had to remain in the CSA, and without education or any recent heritage of freedom to help them, most would have had to take jobs either in the fields or in factories at pretty much slave wages, without the benefits of the economic investment that lead slave owners into making some effort to take decent care of their people. Resented by their own nation’s powerful for having been sufficiently necessary to be able to get their freedom, and the nearest alternative nation for having been the ‘cause’ of their humiliation, they would have been friendless and pretty much powerless. Freedom would have been granted, probably even the legal franchise, but equality would have been a very long time coming, and probably would not exist today unless subsequent events changed things significantly.

If, as Turtledove then goes on to speculate, World War I had occurred with a CSA/Canada/Britain/France alliance facing a USA/Germany alliance, and the USA/German alliance had won and imposed very hard term on the CSA (all plausible, given the long term hostility between the nations), it’s entirely possible that his further posited development of a Fascist government and a black-targeted pogram of essentially elimination would have arisen in the south. As we’ve all seen demonstrated once again in recent years, it’s far easier to do away with civil liberties (as a would-be tyrant must do to realize his full tyranny) if you create an easily recognized ‘enemy’ and have your people devote their time and energy to ‘defending themselves against’/‘punishing’/eliminating that enemy. The black population, almost entirely uneducated and crushingly poor, and readily identifiable, would have been the obvious choice - an easier target than the Jews in Germany and eastern Europe, since they would have had little in the way of educated, wealthy or powerful members, and virtually no allies among the powerful in any other nation close enough to help. Their only advantage would have been numbers, but I don’t think that would have been enough to really make a difference. They still probably would have been fewer than the whites, and the whites would have been in a far better position to impose their will on them than the other way around.

On the whole, ugly as the scenario that ensued from the Civil War as it happened, I don’t think it can hold a candle to the ugliness of the situation had the CSA retained its independence AND managed to hold together as a nation. How much of this has been influenced by Turtledove’s fiction is hard to say; certainly a great deal, but his speculations strike me as largely consistent with what facts we DO know.