Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Editorial: Could the Confederacy Survive Independence?

For being an Alternate Historian, I still haven't talked about the American Civil War much. Part of the reason is that while it's interesting, I just don't know enough about it to write a full POD/TL with a Civil War theme. Also, because of the current political climate in the US, I really don't want to start a huge flame war, even if it won't directly effect me. Being a Canadian has its advantages and disadvantages.

By the way... THIS is the actual Confederate National Flag. Actually, one of them. The "Stars and Bars" was a battle flag, not the national flag. The more you knooooowww...

But, I'm not going to talk about how the CSA is independent. Instead, I want to talk about if the CSA could actually survive as an independent state in the long run. And, to be honest, the prospects don't look good.

First, a few things I'll mention. This though came up when I recently started re-reading Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty by Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson. Their basic argument is that only society's that allow political and economic inclusiveness, i.e. allowing the vast majority of people to have a say in politics and have little to no barriers to participating in the economy will have constant, steady growth. On the flip side, "extractive" societies that have neither political or economic freedom or a large percentage of the population may have the illusion of growth, but eventually would collapse without "creative destruction," infighting amongst elites, or the destruction of the state by outside forces. Also, as AltHistorians would be pleased to know, they are very much supporters of the ideas of small changes changing everything. They call it critical junctures, but it's basically a Point of Divergence.

This is a very brief and simple oversimplification, but I want to use this model for explaining how an independent Confederate States of America would act.

Pretty sure this won't be the way. And, frankly, I don't give a damn what you think. This is my blog!

So, which is more important in the inclusive/extractive divide? The politics or the economics? Acemoglu and Robinson claimed that both are necessary, and you can't have one without the other, but that either inclusive politics can lead to inclusive economies, or inclusive economies to inclusive politics. But they also stressed that changes to make things more inclusive can also be reversed to make them extractive.

What is the Confederacy that would theoretically start in 1865 be then? It would, by far and large, be an extractive economy with minor inclusive, but mostly extractive politics. The biggest reason is slavery.

The CSA had about 9.1 million people in the 1860 Census, of which 3.5 million were African-American slaves. That's over a third of the population held in bondage, mostly on agricultural plantations growing cotton and other produce mostly for export. Of the non-slave population, there were only 132,000 free blacks, and then only 316,000 slave owners. For the most part, as a bit of a generalization, the slave owners were the political, economic, and military leaders of the CSA: the majority of the government and the top military leaders were either slave owners or fully agreed with the idea of keeping blacks down. So, that leaves 5.2 million white men, women and children in the rest of the country, and most of them were farmers, but mostly ill-educated, growing food on subsistence levels on land that wasn't as good as the wealthier plantation owners could purchase and grow cotton on, with whatever extra they made being sold in local towns for products they couldn't make on their farm.

After all, you can't exactly eat cotton. 

So, with a small percentage, like 2.89 percent, of the population owning another third that had no rights at all, this isn't exactly an "inclusive" economic of political situation. The CSA is also a major Agricultural nation, with "King Cotton," the dominate product being produced, mostly for export to European factories. The North, on the other hand, was rapidly developing industry, railroads, technology, etc. that was far ahead of the South, with a very small industrial capacity, with a large chunk of the workers being slaves. It's often said that the North basically out built and out produced the South in everything, even food production, during the war. This wouldn't change after the war.

But this is details that most people who have an interest in the Civil War knows. What I want to know is if the CSA could survive as an independent nation. And my answer is: if the CSA doesn't reform it's society and economy (free the slaves for a start, then not allow something like Jim Crow develop), then it wouldn't survive as an independent nation without outside support, say from the UK and France.

With a large chunk of the economy and the population owned by a small portion, who jealously guarded their rights, land and property, it's hard to see how the CSA could experience economic growth as the Industrial Revolution began to spread out from the UK and the USA around the world. If the plantation owners want to keep their slaves on the land, they wouldn't like factories that could offer a chance, however slim, to allow slaves to increase their standard of living (even if the wages are a fraction of the wages that whites would be paid). There would also be poor white farmers, muscled off their land to allow plantations to grow bigger to grow more cotton or food, who would go to the cities to industries, where they would be closer together, and eventually agitate for more rights. This is seen time and time again in history, as poor farmers/peasants left the land to the cities to work in the factories for a wage barely above living, who eventually demand, strike, and fight for better wages and conditions. The US, UK, Germany, France, Russia... they all had it. The CSA would be no different. But would a small elite that made it's wealth from plantations allow factories, owned by other people, to make fortunes and join them? Maybe, sure. If a middle class develops, would those same individuals allow them a bigger say in government? Perhaps. Would they allow slaves? Very unlikely.

And... uhh... *sigh* you know, it's really hard to make jokes about slavery. It's just generally depressing.

This doesn't even take into fact that, by the end of the Civil War, the UK and France had gotten India and Egypt to grow more cotton to make up for the blockaded CSA. Where before the war the South was the biggest source of cotton in the world, by the end of the war, Egypt had taken the title. So even if the South won, the cotton that was backed up in warehouses all over the South would be virtually worthless. King Cotton was no more.

So, unless the political leadership of the South, mostly powerful plantation and slave owners, were willing to free the slaves, and allow them to compete with poor whites in a broad, market oriented economy, the South wouldn't be able to survive economically. In the long run, tensions between the US and the CSA would most likely lead to more wars. Every decade after the Civil War, the US would grow more rich and powerful, while the CSA may have some growth toward an industrial economy, but never to the same degree. As long as the CSA has allies in Europe that aren't dragged into other wars (say World War 1), then the CSA could survive for a long time. But if those alliances falter, the US has a chance to knock the CSA down a few pegs without anyone in Europe caring.

Even if the CSA survives past a possible World War, it's unlikely they would make it to a second one, especially if a third of the population is still considered a second class (or slave) to the whites, and a few people control the vast majority of the wealth and political power, and their economy lags behind as the rest of the world advances in an industrial revolution.

This is just one theory, and mostly based on a book that some people agree with and some people don't. I won't get into that.

This is the book I'm talking about, and you can get it from Amazon here. It's not Althistory, but it can help to explain why things in history happened the way they did, which is important!

But what do you think? Could an independent Confederacy survive the Civil War? Or if you have a topic or idea you would like me to talk about, please leave comments below, email me at tbguy1992@gmail.com, or tell me on Twitter @tbguy1992.

1 comment:

  1. One might look at how long the Republic of Texas survived alone, just 1836-1845. It was annexed by the USA in exchange for clearance of the debts it had managed to run up in that time.

    If the CSA had survived, in the pre-oil usage era, it would have struggled to be more than an agrarian country. It would have been open to semi-colonial exploitation the way that Chile and Argentina were by British commercial interests; interests that remained even into the 21st century. Consequently the CSA may not have been as 'free' as it likes to think.

    The CSA is likely to have had a 19th and 20th century like many states to its South and so there are liable to have been a number of coups d'├ętat and military dictatorship. Furthermore foreign companies, whether US or European, exploiting CS cotton and then oil, are likely to have overthrown any leader that they felt ran counter to their interests, as happened in Guatemala, Chile, et al.

    A further factor is given the booming economy of the USA, it is probable that you would have had CS citizens, whether white or black, flocking into the USA for work and ironically, there might now be a US President talking about building a wall along the Mason-Dixon Line.

    The CSA might have survived but it is likely that it would have ended up pretty much like modern day Mexico, though with a greater race relations problem and it may have even have become like Guatemala or Panama.

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