Follow the Money

The Confederacy WAS a Viable State.

By Hans Kuenzi
The Cleveland Civil War Roundtable
Copyright © 2008, All Rights Reserved

Editor’s note: The subject of the annual Dick Crews Debate at the January 2008 Roundtable meeting was: “The Southern Victory of 1865: Was the Confederacy a Viable State?” Five members made presentations on the topic; the article below was one of those five presentations.

For purposes of this debate, I have assumed that the Confederacy survived the Civil War as an intact sovereign nation. This may have occurred in a number of ways: through victory on the battlefield, as the result of some domestic calamity or due to the intervention of a foreign power. In any case, it is my position that with the conclusion of hostilities, the Confederate States of America would have not only survived but thrived as an independent republic.

Any analysis must begin by considering the territorial size and likely borders of the two neighboring American states. Although the United States was much larger, the Confederate States of America was comprised of a great deal of valuable property in terms of the resources which could be grown upon and extracted from the land. From the standpoint of organization, the Confederate States had also established all of the bureaucracy necessary to manage and efficiently govern the country.

The social fabric and institutions of the South were very strong, perhaps even stronger than in the North. The Confederates also had the political experience necessary to adapt to any changes the future might bring. The Confederate Constitution looked very much like the Constitution of the United States. The governance of the nation would be conducted by educated leaders with means that had proved successful in the North. The only question remaining is whether the Confederate States of America would have enjoyed the economic fortunes necessary to thrive as a nation. Clearly, it would have.

Please consider the following facts:

  1. The South was a wealthy land, due primarily to its cotton production. In 1860, cotton comprised two-thirds of all United States exports, and this cotton was produced by slaves. Thirty-eight percent of the population of the South was slaves. 400,000 slave owners held more than 4 million slaves. The Southern economy prospered on the ability of its slaves to produce cotton more efficiently than any other region in the world. Clearly, cotton was king in the Land of Dixie.

  2. The economy of the South did not suffer from sectional divisiveness. There was economic and political cohesion in the South, unlike that seen in the northern and western states. Less than 7% of the population lived in towns or cities having a population of over 2,500. In other words, 93% of all Southerners lived in small towns. Southern cities did not drain the countryside of their resources. As slavery would have continued, sharecropping would not have occurred. There would have been no need to offer cheap land in small parcels to pioneering families in order to maintain economic vitality. Southerners required few government-sponsored improvements in transportation, like the construction of the Erie Canal in the North. There was far less pressure upon the Confederate government to maintain economic stability when compared with circumstances in the North.

  3. With the end of the war, the naval blockade of the South would have been lifted, and trade with other countries would have resumed and then grown exponentially. During the war, the European powers favored the Confederacy over the United States, and these countries would have imported far more from the South after the war ended. Britain, who had lost two wars against the United States, feared an American invasion of Canada. France, which already had relations in Louisiana, had thoughts of taking over Mexico. Both of these countries would have willingly supported the Southern economy to the detriment of the North. A modest export tax on cotton in the South could have generated huge revenue for the Confederate government. The rampant wartime inflation which had occurred in the South would have quickly abated after the war. With a dramatic rise in exports, the South would have been easily able to rebuild its infrastructure. The Confederate government would have prospered by the resumption of business as usual.

  4. The inevitable discovery of oil in the West would have generated immense profits for Southern landowners and, in turn, for the Confederate economy. Consider the reserves of oil in Oklahoma and Texas still in production today. With the central government being subject to far less pressures than its northern counterpart, economic cooperation could have produced fantastic awards for the Southern economy. Industrialists and venture capitalists would have flocked to the South. Growth seen in cities like Cleveland and Chicago would have also occurred in Mobile and Houston. Some of the automobile companies that flourished in Indiana and Ohio during the early 1900s could have certainly found their way south. Atlanta would have likely surpassed Detroit as the automobile capital in North America. The economy of the Confederate States of America would have been rewarded accordingly.

As the South would have enjoyed great economic fortune, political stability would have followed. I submit that North America would now be comprised of two independent republics, each engaged in trading their goods with the rest of the world while remaining a proudly sovereign nation.

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