The Great Debate of 2008

The Southern Victory of 1865:
Was the Confederacy a Viable State?

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

Was the Confederacy a viable state? Could it have survived as a nation? If so, what made it viable? If not, what did it lack?

The 2008 Dick Crews Debate posed the question: The Southern Victory of 1865: Was the Confederacy a Viable State? Five speakers presented on the topic of how the Confederate States of America won its independence and how it did or did not survive. Below are the texts of those five arguments, along with moderator William Vodrey’s opening remarks, presented in the order the speakers addressed the Roundtable.

Debaters Hans Kuenzi, Thomas Stratton-Crooke, C. Ellen Connally, Paul Burkholder and Peter Holman (left to right)

Opening Remarks

By William F.B. Vodrey – Debate Moderator

Many of you have probably heard the old children’s rhyme:

For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
For want of a horse the rider was lost.
For want of a rider the battle was lost.
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.

“What if” is a question as old as history itself. The earliest known piece of alternative or “counterfactual” history was written by the Roman historian Livy, who speculated more than two thousand years ago, around 25 B.C., in his Ab Urbe Condita (translation: From the Founding of the City) about what might have happened had Alexander the Great attacked Rome and not expanded his empire to the east. It might not surprise you to learn that Livy decided the Romans would’ve kicked Alexander’s ass, if it came to that.

More recently, in 1931, Winston Churchill wrote the essay “If Lee Had Not Won the Battle of Gettysburg.” Other noted authors and historians who asked “what if” have included Nathaniel Hawthorne, Hilaire Belloc, Mark Twain, Vladimir Nabokov, MacKinley Kantor, John Keegan, Stephen Ambrose, Stephen W. Sears, David McCullough, James McPherson and Philip Roth. Alternative history – the tantalizing question of “what if” – is even at the core of that beloved Christmas classic It’s A Wonderful Life, which asks us, just what would have happened if George Bailey had never been born?

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A Captain-Less Raft Floating On a Sea of Problems:
The Confederacy Was NOT a Viable State.

By C. Ellen Connally

We are faced tonight with a question – a burning question in the minds of most of you – was the Confederacy a viable state? It is the conundrum of the hour, a question that historians and Civil War buffs will argue into time immemoriam. But tonight, we, the Great Debaters of the Cleveland Civil War Roundtable, will provide the wisdom and the knowledge so that all of you can answer the question and decide the fate of us, the humble debaters.

I intend to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the Confederate States of America was not a viable state; not in its beginning, not in its end and not in the minds of a sufficient number of its citizens to allow it to survive as a nation.

The Confederacy was a captain-less raft. It was so crowded with internal problems that its sinking was inevitable. The class conflict among and between its diverse citizens resulted in a lack of the necessary nationalism that was needed to compel the Confederacy into a real state. The internal problems – social, economic and legal – were insurmountable. Any critical analysis of the Confederacy will clearly show a flawed state based on flawed principles whose citizens would have come begging back to the glorious Union.

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The Myth of a Weak Confederacy:
The Confederacy WAS a Viable State.

By Paul Burkholder

I think most of us would agree that, with a not too absurd twist of fate, there were several points before 1865 when the Confederacy could have won its independence. The Confederacy’s best chance for a viable independence with the least absurd twist of fate occurred in the fall of 1862 when Lee was invading Maryland, Bragg was invading Kentucky and Lord Palmerston’s government in London was seriously deliberating English intervention.

IF Lee’s Special Order No. 191 had NOT fallen into Union hands, McClellan would have been blind to Lee’s troop deployment and very likely unable to prevent Lee’s moving on Washington, Baltimore or Philadelphia. Just as significantly, Lee’s non-defeat at Antietam would have left the Emancipation Proclamation locked in Lincoln’s desk and the Union cause without the moral high ground that ultimately obstructs European intervention.

Additionally, IF Bragg seizes Louisville at that same time rather than bypassing it as part of a misbegotten plan to install a Confederate governor in Frankfort, then defeats at Perryville and Stones River are averted and Kentucky is perhaps drawn into the Confederacy.

With Lee in Washington, Baltimore or Philadelphia, Bragg in Louisville and the Emancipation Proclamation in Lincoln’s desk drawer, I believe the Confederacy enters 1863 as an independent state. But, was the newly independent CSA viable?

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Follow the Money:
The Confederacy WAS a Viable State.

By Hans Kuenzi

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.

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‘Too Small for a Republic…Too Large for a Lunatic Asylum’: The Confederacy Was NOT a Viable State.

By Peter Holman

After the order of secession had passed the South Carolina legislature in December 1860, the old anti-nullification attorney James L Petigru was asked if he would now, at last, support his native state. “I should think not!” he replied. “South Carolina is too small for a republic and too large for a lunatic asylum!” And that, despite the fantastical notions we discuss tonight, is the key to answering the question – was the Confederacy a viable state following their victory of 1865?

Seven states had seceded by February 1, 1861: South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana and Texas. These seven could not form a viable nation – their human, social and material resources made them too small for a republic and too large for a lunatic asylum.

After the firing on Fort Sumter and Lincoln’s call for troops, four more states seceded: Virginia, Arkansas, North Carolina and Tennessee. Now the size might be right – even the social, human and material make-up might be right for a nation if allowed to depart in peace – but war was joined and the brute fact of war ensured that the Confederacy could not become a viable nation regardless of success on the battlefield.

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The Second Shot Heard ‘Round the World:
The Confederacy WAS a Viable State.

By Thomas E. Stratton-Crooke

The “genesis” of the Civil War may be found at the time of the American Revolution which began in 1776. Therefore it might be construed by some to say that the Civil War started in 1776.

“By the rude bridge that arched the flood
Their flag to April’s breeze unfurled.
Here once the embattled farmer stood
And fired the shot heard ’round the world.”

The question that now begs the answer is when was the second shot heard ’round the world fired? And the answer of course is as night follows the day: April 12, 1861 at Fort Sumter.

The concept of viability is caught up in the concept of unity, that is, the viability of all the people in all the states, since the power of the nation is derived from the power of the people, which is the underpinning premise of the Constitution of the United States of America. Remember, please, we are speaking unity, not disunity. We are speaking peace, not war. We are speaking of conciliation and reconciling acts of kindness. We are speaking of winning the peace as a greater factor than winning the war. Wars are not won per se. Might is right. In 1813 the British outlawed slavery because the British were doing everything in their power to gain back their colonies in recognition of the greatest blunder in history in losing the United States of America. E Pluribus Unum.

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Epilogue: At the conclusion of the debate, the Roundtable members chose Peter Holman’s argument as the most persuasive. In fact, in considering all of the votes cast for each of the five debaters, the Roundtable members indicated that their opinion – by a margin of three to one – is that the Confederacy was NOT a viable state.