The Confederacy never ceased planning for survival after the Civil War. Although the South had lost the war, they still had an army and a navy to rely on, and there were plans for a reconquest of the lost states and a stand against the federal government. The Confederacy was not interested in a political solution to the postwar crisis, rather a military one. To be sure, they would have to take a few more hits, but the South was ready to respond in kind if necessary.
When the Civil War ended and the Confederacy was completely crushed, the South’s social elite had a lot of work to do to rebuild their culture, their economy, and their society. After all, they had been defeated so completely, they had no choice but to surrender.
In the months following the firing on Fort Sumter in 1861, the Confederate States of America began planning for a war they believed would soon be upon them. Speculation about war, war tactics, and the actions the Confederacy might take seized the public’s imagination. Speculation about the war’s scope and outcome also occupied the minds of officials and citizens of the Confederate States. What would the war mean for the Confederacy, and what would it mean for the future of the South?In his book Colossal Ambition, published in 2023: Confederate Planning for a Post-Civil War World (University of Virginia Press, $45), Adrian Brettle of Arizona State University details the world that Confederate politicians and planners envisioned after a Southern victory in the Civil War. Using a large number of speeches, articles, letters, and diaries from this period, Brettle examines the plan by which these men hoped to establish a postwar Confederacy. They imagined a new country, based on slavery, independent of the United States and equal to it in trade and politics.
In the traditional historiography of the Civil War, Confederate leaders believed that their armies would eventually win on the battlefield and that life would return to the South
. However, their study reveals a number of surprising assumptions that contradict this assessment.
Confederate leaders thought they were fighting to preserve a society and economy based on slavery. At the same time, they portrayed the Republican Party and the Union as a kind of return to old-fashioned European tyranny, especially in their military aggression. They insisted that slavery would be the basis for a modern, even progressive, nation-state that would pursue an international agenda of free trade, peaceful cooperation, civilization of less developed areas, and opening up of newly accessible tropical areas.
Modern and progressive ? Did they not believe that the future of the South
depended on slavery and its continued expansion because a system of forced labor was necessary to grow staple crops and control the African-American population?
White Southern leaders saw territorial expansion as necessary to maximize the production of staple foods and to create the conditions for the expansion and spread of the African-American population. This is the safety valve argument – that expansion from the West or South would reduce the concentration of the enslaved population in a particular area of the East, as a social and economic protection against competition of Blacks with Whites for wages. The abundance of cheap land also gave non-slave owning whites the best chance to own enslaved people. This is partly because of the fear of slave uprisings, but also because of what I call the giddy excitement that we are on our way to a bright future that will open the way for the rest of the world. The Confederates insisted that maintaining slavery and an agrarian-based economy would prevent the social revolution they believed would result from the formation of a white working class in the new factories of Britain and the United States.
In an address to the Congress of the Confederacy on May 29. 1861 Jefferson Davis insists: All we ask is to be left alone – a statement that contradicts the idea that the future of the Confederacy was progressive.
I call this moment a Greta Garbo Davis moment. Left to his own devices, what to do? That is the question I am trying to answer, as Davis went on to describe the ambition he and his colleagues had for the new nation. He saw the example of an all-white, egalitarian democracy as a model for Europeans. With increased mobility and the onset of global economic expansion, he saw racial contact as inevitable and assumed that the racial harmony in which Southerners believed so strongly would be exploited abroad. The world would follow the Confederate example of a stable society based on a hierarchy of races, including Native Americans and Latin Americans, as well as African Americans.
Discuss expansionism and the traditional conception of a southern agricultural empire and contrast it with the planners’ dream of an industrial and commercial empire with a naval force.
In 1861-62, the goal was to create a world without borders, in which Confederation would become a global center of trade and communication. Leading figures, including oceanographer Matthew Maury, proposed establishing steamship lines in southern ports to open new trade routes to the Caribbean, Brazil, and southern Europe. There are proposals to lay undersea cables through Brazil to southern Europe, which the North has yet to implement. In the pre-imperial era, the Southern Empire was considering new trade routes as part of a free trade alliance (hence the importance of naval power in protecting its merchant fleet). Sometimes the dream was to become the world’s largest producer of raw materials and consumer of industrial goods. Plans change, of course, and during the Civil War there is sometimes a desire for industrialization and economic self-sufficiency, especially in the defense industry. Some Confederates, especially in the high and frontier South, certainly saw an industrial future as a good in itself, but most Confederates recognized that slavery and factories were incompatible. Instead, Davis and his Secretary of State, Judah Benjamin, hoped to capture the world market for raw materials, timber, precious metals and other mined minerals.
Some scholars argue that Lincoln skipped the winter of 1860-61 because he did not favor compromise with the breakaway states. Was compromise possible?
Lincoln wasn’t wrong. If there is anything to be gained from this book, it is the confirmation that Lincoln was against secession and the expansion of slavery. With the exception of a minority of committed Southern Unionists, most leaders-both separatists and cooperatists (who called for Union reform)-insisted that the indefinite expansion of slavery in the South would be the price of any reunification. Moreover, despite all the compromises the Confederates had offered the Federals during the war, these leaders intended to support a new division of the Union into a Pacific Confederacy and a Northwest Confederacy. Such fragmentation would secure the Confederacy’s northern frontier while planners focused on colossal ambitions elsewhere.
To read the full interview online, visit the Colossal Ambitions website.It’s been a couple of years since the Civil War ended, and the country is still divided over the legacy of the war. In the South, the war is remembered as an attempt by the North to sow chaos and destruction amongst the states. The South is still trying to preserve the memory of the war and keep it alive.. Read more about american history net and let us know what you think.
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