What if the south had seceded?

I would be interested to know how things might be different today if the Confederacy had been allowed to leave the union and there was never a civil war. Would the north be better off today if it was a sovereign country and didn’t have to compromise with the redneck states? And how long, if ever, would it have taken for the south to abolish slavery?

I don’t know. Is Will Shetterly on the Dope?

My guesses ( and that’s all they are lacking a time machine ) :

If the breakup was peaceful, and had not resulted in two hostile nations, then I think that the South would have had a good chance of further disintegration. Given that the idea that you should have the right to secede was central to them even existing. If the North and South were hostile, I suspect the South would hold together longer out of fear.

The South would be economically exploited by the North; in essence, they were bound and determined to be the equivalent of a Third World country. A resource producer with little industry and a huge, utterly impoverished underclass.

The South would have held onto slavery for much longer, quite possibly into recent decades.

The North would be more progressive today, and probably wealthier for it’s size without having to carry the South. The South would be an impoverished hellhole, crippled by it’s own bigotry. Much worse than it is now. I expect that by now the North wouldn’t want the South to rejoin if it offered.

Yeah, it’s so terrible in the South these days that you Yankees keep coming down here to get jobs. :rolleyes:

Sooooo, “impoverished hellhole, crippled by it’s own bigotry” isn’t “much worse than it is now” ?

I think it’s that the impression is made that the south is currently “somewhat of an impoverished hellhole, crippled by it’s own bigotry”.

It would be like saying “If Israel was created larger, the Jews would control a whole lot more than they do now”.

It’s true, but it implies bad things about how things are currently.

He is not a Yankee, he is from California. Please reserve the digs against Yankees to those of us that really are. We Yankees eventually head south for the cheap real estate & taxes and the warmer climate when we get too old to handle the cold where the big money is made. :wink:
Back to the Op, I think the South would have eventually phased out slavery. I think it would actually have remained a racist country though. The various segregation laws would have driven many ex-slaves and descendent’s of slaves to try an emigrate and the North would have ended up trying to restrict entry. I think that the North would have been slower to work out it’s own racist policies if not for the ability up North to draw a direct comparison to the South.

I also fear that WWII would have went horribly worse for the world as the USA would have had far less resources and possibly the worry of a hostile nation far more powerful than Mexico as a border country. It could have been a war in North America.

Overall, it is a very good thing that the Union won and a shame it did not happen quicker. If General Lee had stay loyal to the USA instead of his home state, the war probably would have ended sooner with far less bloodshed. Hell, if Lincoln had just found better Generals early the war would have ended faster. The Union had better manufacturing capacity, transportation and more manpower. It really had to win in the end.


Well, I think you’re overlooking the problem of runaway slaves. hat would still have been a source of serious friction between North and South.

On the other hand, if the South had been allowed to give up slavery in its own way in its own time, perhaps the racial divisions of the twentieth century would not have been so extreme.

Problem is, with questions such as this, the farther away you get from the original point of departure from actual history, the more and more difficult it gets to make any sort of plausible speculation. About all we can be reasonably sure of is that the Southern states would have continued with slavery for at least a few more decades, and the North American continent would have been much more politically unstable.

This is exactly the line that Larry Turtledove took in his “Great War” series of alternate history novels. However, it’s entirely possible that a divided American people, who had parted peacefully instead of fighting one of the bloodiest wars of the West in the 19th century, would not have entered into WWI, which would probably have thrown the victory to the Central powers rather than the Allies. In that case, WWII might not have taken place.

Well, I’m skeptical that the Union victory was a foregone conclusion. The South only had to hold on long enough for the North to get sick of the war, while the North had to deal a knockout blow. Northerners were often lukewarm about the war, there was significant opposition, and support tended to ebb and flow with victory and defeat on the battlefield. Shucks, if Jefferson Davis hadn’t replaced Johnston with Hood at the battle of Atlanta, the South might still have won its independence. Lincoln’s greatest political achievement was holding together the sometimes awfully shaky political support needed long enough to win the war.

Still, you’re right to say it was better that the Union won. It’s impossible to see how Anglo-American civilization in North America would not have been badly crippled by the Balkanization that would almost surely have followed a Confederate victory.

Posting in haste. Please forgive any typos or badly written sentences.

LonesomePolecat, those are some good points, I overlooked the will to fight. The North had all of the material it needed to win but as the draft riots point out in NYC, it was not so sure it had the will to win.

I think the US helped speed the end of WWI, I am not sure the US was vital to Ally victory but as in all these what if scenarios, maybe a longer war that depleted Germany further would also have prevented the rise of Hitler and the Nazis. So that is a another good point.

I think the early incompetence of General McClellan and his ilk is all that kept the confederacy going early on though. However, I realize that is debatable.

Why do you think the racial divides would have been better if the Southern States had time to do away with the practice on their own timetable? I don’t see that outcome as very likely.

Right, the South had two basic prinicples: that a State had the right to secede, and that a State had the right to allow slavery. In Guns of the South HT has the South winning the Civil war, but the President of the Confederacy immediately taking steps to outlaw slavery. Mots unrealistic possible ending as one of two things would have then happened: either they’d remove him from office or the other parts of the Confederacy would secede.

Note that slavery was enshrined in the CSA Constitution :No bill of attainder, ex post facto law, or law denying or impairing the right of property in negro slaves shall be passed [by Congress] … (wiki)The constitution likewise prohibited the Confederate Congress from abolishing or limiting slavery in Confederate territories (unlike the United States, where, prior to the Dred Scott decision, Congress had prohibited slavery in some territories). The legal basis for slavery in the Confederacy is largely presented as an extension of property rights.
Bit by bit most of the Confederacy would secede from each another, over various things- taxaction, slavery, standing army, what not.

wiki "
Historian Frank Lawrence Owsley argued that the Confederacy “died of states’ rights.”[66] According to Owsley, strong-willed governors and state legislatures in the South refused to give the national government the soldiers and money it needed because they feared that Richmond was encroaching on the rights of the states. Georgia’s governor Joseph Brown warned that he saw the signs of a deep-laid conspiracy on the part of Jefferson Davis to destroy states’ rights and individual liberty. Brown declaimed: “Almost every act of usurpation of power, or of bad faith, has been conceived, brought forth and nurtured in secret session.” To grant the Confederate government the power to draft soldiers was the “essence of military despotism.”[67] In 1863 governor Pendleton Murrah of Texas insisted that Texas troops were needed for self-defense (against Indians or a threatened Union invasion), and refused to send them East.[68] Zebulon Vance, the governor of North Carolina was notoriously hostile to Davis and his demands. Opposition to conscription in North Carolina was intense and its results were disastrous for recruiting. Governor Vance’s faith in states’ rights drove him into a stubborn opposition.[69]

I agree that the South was not 100% united on it’s stand *vis a vis *slavery. That would have made things worse, not better. A fairly progressive state might well have taken slow steps towards getting rid of slavery. But there’s no way those steps could have been taken by the CSA as a whole.

The Southern economy was a trainwreck waiting to happen. There was a reason most countries had abolished slavery by 1860 - in addition to its immorality it was a bad economics. So the CSA would have been ideologically committed to an economically bad system.

In addition, the southern states were committed to agriculture at a time when industry was becoming the dominant sector of the economy. Each year, the CSA would have found itself falling further and further behind the USA and Europe.

And the southerners were not really all that great at agriculture. Most southern plantations were very poorly managed and ignored developing agricultural science. The agricultural center of North America was shifting from the south to the great plains.

So while I don’t agree with everything Der Trihs wrote, I think he was on the money when he said the CSA was “bound and determined to be the equivalent of a Third World country”.

Right. WWI would have been won by the Allies without the USA. The entry of the USA did give the German’s a reason to surrender, however. If the USA had not entered, the war would have ground on- with two possible endings:

starvation in Germany would cause a revolt


The Allies would have grown tired and brokered a peace. The peace would not have been as bad as the treaty of Versailes, but it would not have been favorable to Germany.

I don’t believe slavery would have lasted until recent decades. We put a lot of pressure on South Africa because of their racist policies, and they didn’t have slavery and were on the other side of the ocean. There is no way we would have tolerated a slaveholding nation on our borders for long. At the latest, I’m sure we would have forced them to abolish slavery, even if it meant invading and occupying, by the 1940s. I personally think that the Confederacy would have abolished slavery by the 1890s, although blacks would remain officially second-class citizens considerably longer unless there was a revolt, which would be highly likely if the USA funded them - we might end up with a black-run puppet government south of the border. If that didn’t happen, by the latter half of the 20th century blacks would be a strong enough political force in the USA that the government would feel compelled to do something about that, if for no other reason than to stem the tide of illegal black immigrants sneaking over the border.

A generation or so after secession, I’m sure the Confederacy would start to change their mind about the direction they were going in (especially seeing how the USA was doing compared to themselves) and start industrializing, but of course they would be way behind the USA. I think they would probably be about like modern Mexico by now, with a lot of the same problems as modern South Africa, unless the USA had aided a black revolution earlier in the 20th century, in which case it might be like some of the more prosperous Carribean countries.

They would have had to amend their Const to do so,:dubious: and even if they* had*, the States that voted NO would simply have seceded from the CSA.

I also don’t understand why there is such a widespread belief that slavery would have died out in a CSA that successfully seceded. They had strong enough beliefs about it to fracture the nation. They enshrined it in their founding documents. Even if their economy changed enough to make it not worthwhile to keep large numbers of slaves, they had plenty of reason to keep some. Machinery can replace a lot of the slaves, but why wouldn’t they keep a few slaves on hand to run the machinery? There are other uses for slaves besides brute field labor as well.

I think they would have been more practical than that. That would lead to a second civil war, between the slave holding and slave abolishing confederate states, as they would realize that allowing that would lead to a continuing erosion of their nation, leaving a bunch of small weak countries that the USA could easily snap up. A compromise would be reached that would appeal to the majority (slavery being abolished but strict laws limiting the rights of free blacks and protecting those of whites, perhaps a clause to allow owners to keep slaves they already owned but requiring them to free their children at the age of majority). There would be resistance, but I doubt whole states would leave - probably some armed uprisings put down by the state governments with assistance from the stronger states.

Essentially, it was rapidly becoming less expensive to hire laborers instead of buying and maintaining slaves. The South was holding on to slavery mainly for cultural reasons, but it was hurting them economically and that position could not be sustained. When the country became industrialized, it would be even harder - machine operators do require a higher level of training than cotton pickers, and there would be a much higher rate of worker injury - a slave who loses fingers in a machine is the loss of an expensive investment, an immigrant laborer can simply be replaced.

A couple of interesting points. Arkansas did not secede until the Federal government asked for a draft of troops to help kill their neighbors in Tennessee and Mississippi. The Emancipation Proclamation freed only the slaves in the “States in Rebellion”, not Delaware or Maryland.

I wonder if any Southern states would not have seceded given the peaceful secession of the others and no immediate abolishion of slavery.

Almost certainly fewer states would have seceded if peaceful secession had been allowed. Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Arkansas (and Missouri and Kentucky if you consider them seceding states) probably would have stayed in the Union.

Actually, the economics of slavery was mixed, not being neccessarily negatiuve or positive. The South held onto agriculture because of cultural factors and profit.

But regardless, the Civil War was ultimately not a battle of manpower or economy or whatever. It was a battle of willpower, and eventually one side lost. But both were riven by dissension from the word go (deep-Southern writers tended to ignore this and mythologize it). Both had a large populations with uncertain loyalties and sizable peace factions.