Civil War Delayed is a series written by Rosemary Jenkins that presents an alternate future had the U.S. Civil War not been fought in 1861. This is the sixth of six essays. Click here to read the first essay. Click here to read the second essay. Click here to read the third essay. Click here to read the fourth essay. Click here to read the fifth essay.
John Bright of the House of Commons can be singled out for arousing sympathy among the disenfranchised commoners in England for the cause of freedom in America. The workingmen in Great Britain came to believe that the Confederacy would degrade the laboring class to "chattel of the capitalist" while their hopes for their own enfranchisement rode with the North coming out triumphant. In 1867, the passage of Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli's revised Reform Bill insured increased enfranchisement, more equal voting qualifications, and more proportionate representation between the boroughs--large and small (unlike our own Senatorial representation). Thus, the anti-slavery sentiment went hand-in-hand with the trend toward the broader franchise. John Bright wrote to a United States official on December 6, 1862:
The antislavery sentiment here has been more called forth of late, especially since the Proclamation was issued [referring to the Emancipation Proclamation (the preliminary Proclamation was originally issued on September 22, 1862)], and I am confident that every day the supporters of the South among us find themselves in greater difficulty owing to the course taken by your Government in reference to the negro question. . . . The Proclamation had had a large effect here, and men are looking with great interest to first January.
It is true there existed in England a pro-Southern sentiment as well, but it failed to gather a significant amount of support for the Confederacy. Even the manufacturers in Lancashire who were somewhat being hurt by the Conflict did not feel an economic pressure of sufficient force to provoke hostile feelings toward the North or any special sympathy for the South.
To paraphrase Donald Jordan and Edwin J. Pratt--Emancipation, the comparative success of Northern forces in the field, the passing of the crisis of the cotton famine, the close economic ties of England with the [industrial] North, and the increasing fear of European complications [such as a possible war between the United States and Great Britain, which had transpired more than once before]--all acted to prevent the development of further hostility toward the Union.
France was witnessing a division over attitudes toward the American Civil War (similar to the division that England was experiencing). Napoleon III, his Ministers, the Catholics who disliked the growing power of the United States [a predominantly Protestant country], and the middle classes who supported Napoleon, united in believing that the Northern Government had no right "under pretext of emancipating four million Negroes, to impose slavery upon six million whites." Although the French Government supported the embargo on the South, France, under Deputy Arman built warships for the Confederacy, much like England was doing. French newspapers were also sympathetic with the Southern cause.
However, the supporters of the North in France between 1861 and 1864, "were the spiritual successors of those who had supported American Independence in 1775 and the precursors of the American friends in France in 1914. The pro-Union sentiment in France was kindled by the hope to "see a great democratic state survive an attempt at dismemberment and continue to set an example of the most complete liberty." Of course, as in England, some circles chose to remain neutral.
In the same vein, "(t)he educated and intellectual French liberals very soon decided that a slaveholding Confederacy asking for admission to the society of nations was offensive to the spirit of the age."
What was true of England and France, held for other countries in Western Europe. Assessing the expressed feelings of Europeans at the time, the overwhelming sentiment favored the Northern cause of union, freedom, and equality. It is not inconceivable to suppose that Western Europe, if there had been no Civil War, would have united in pressing America for abolition of our peculiar institution and might have gone to such extremes as enforce an economic embargo or threaten to break diplomatic ties until this system was ameliorated or obliterated altogether. One bit of evidence to corroborate this theory is the fact that interest in American affairs concerning the Civil War waned soon after the Emancipation Proclamation. In the same vein, "(t)he educated and intellectual French liberals very soon decided that a slaveholding Confederacy asking for admission to the society of nations was offensive to the spirit of the age."
[History certainly does repeat itself. Only a few decades ago we saw an expression in Europe of antagonism toward our foreign policy (Viet Nam), with a concomitant exertion of pressure for America to alter her policy. Today we are making enemies of our friends because of our policies in Iran, Afghanistan, the United Nations, NATO, the Paris Accord, reference to "shit-hole countries," and so forth. It will take a dedicated commitment on our part to earn the bona fides we have lost because of our unfortunate, insensitive, America-first, and self-serving policies which are often indifferent to the needs of others (whether within or outside our nation). Before we can cast aspersions on others, we must recognize just how guilty we are of human rights violations. We cannot be indifferent to how other nations think about us, let alone how our own people think about our government policies at every level.]
Without the War, America could have continued as a slave power. The Spanish-American War of 1898 would have been welcomed by a slaveholding South in the hopes of gaining territory (as heretofore mentioned) for the purpose of ultimately increasing Congressional representation which would have been particularly propitious for the South. Such incursions could have transformed conquered provinces into expanded holdings which ultimately could have become slave states (consider Cuba and Puerto Rico).
Entering the twentieth century as a slave nation, being under economic pressure from abroad, enduring social discontent from the working class (particularly the working poor), undergoing psychological frustration and paranoia--the South, as the home of the peculiar institution and the defender of what was commonly considered by the Western World as a moral and ethical evil, would have believed itself insecure, its position uncertain and threatened; the South would be enduring constant and severe condemnation through the communications media, literature, diplomatic associations, ad infinitum. Thus, with the outbreak of World War I and America's entrance into it, a slaveholding South may very well have taken the opportunity to secede from the United States.
The possible results of such an action are both interesting and thought-provoking: The Federal Government, confronted with fighting on two fronts--foreign and domestic--would have been compelled to withdraw from the World War (as it was, we didn't enter it until April of 1917 although the War began in 1914), much like Russia was forced to do because of its Civil War) in order to concentrate on maintaining a united country. The Union would likely have found it expedient to make a separate peace with Germany just as Russia had done in October of 1917.
This latter action would have had overwhelming effects. Without American intervention in WWI, the Allies would probably have proven too weak to win the war on their own, and Germany and its Axis powers would then have had the upper hand. Conquest by the Central Powers would have precluded any possibility for the humiliating Versailles Treaty (as mentioned earlier). Finally, with Germans in the ascendancy for a time--at least psychologically and politically--there would have been no breeding ground for Hitler's rise; without Hitler, it is likely there would have been neither a World War II nor a system of extermination in the form of concentration camps.
As a consequence of these events, America's role in world history might have been permanently altered in many respects. Her emergence as a world power would have been delayed, greatly diminished, or prevented entirely. Instead, Germany, Russia, or even Japan might then have emerged as the uncontested world power or powers (as indicated from their recent performance in world affairs).
To adjust and adapt to such results, work would have had to be done to create a new framework of governance for our country. If, however, such changes proved unstable and weak, the government might soon have collapsed. The possible outcome then might have been the ultimate division into two nations--not just North and South, but Black and white. If such division were not to have occurred, there might have been a call for another Constitutional Convention in which compromises would be reached in setting up the structure for a new system "in order [this time] to form a more perfect Union." The cycle of events would begin again.
If America had become a socialist nation, she might have evolved a pattern of development quite different from the one we have. With a significant loss due to the War and a subsequent Depression, America might have experienced previously inconceivable outcomes. We must consider, however, that America's background is considerably different from that of many other Western nations. For generations, despite all our flaws, we have grown as a nation with a history of representative democracy and, thus, it is extremely unlikely that the citizens would have ever been willing to erect a system by which they would relinquish their "unalienable rights"--then or now.
A more progressive government might have been created. We would have worked toward creating a nation that our foreparents had envisioned but without all the imperfections. Remember, as flawed as people like Jefferson were, they wrote a document with the understanding that it could be altered and amended until we got it right. Such a government would have pushed the American citizen to adjust to a different, more "liberal" set of morés: open housing laws, broadened franchise, equal employment opportunities, fair wages, war on poverty, environmental improvements, demilitarization, educational opportunities for all, etc. The public would have had to pursue some fundamental changes in order to achieve these goals (something that many of us, with increasing numbers, are trying to accomplish today).
In the final analysis, we can't go back to before. We have to make up for before. Trump seems to relish the good ol' days of the 1950s with legal segregation in many places, with "suburban housewives" happily staying at home taking care of family and hearth, with women working well below the glass ceiling, with redlining and restrictive covenants the rule of the day, with the GI Bill and the FHA not granting mortgages so that minority communities (even headed by Black soldiers from WWII and Korea) not being in a position to purchase homes and start small businesses to build equity for their progeny, with Black and brown people overwhelmingly being jailed often for relatively minor offenses, with overt biases in policing. The list goes on.
Many of these issues remain, of course, and are prevalent even now. Thus the necessity for radical change. Hence today's Black Lives Matter Movement and so many others whose goals are relevant to the issues which dominate our headlines today must be addressed and resolved. It becomes obvious that we need a genuine change in leadership at every level from top to bottom. We can accomplish this through many actions but particularly through the vote, a vote which has been suppressed for generations but will not be repressed this time. We can BUILD BACK BETTER and move forward to remediate the wrongs that have be tolerated for far too long.