WI: CSA a Cotton/Tobacco/Oil Banana Republic?

Discussion in 'Alternate History Discussion: Before 1900' started by Lycaon pictus, May 18, 2011.

  1. Lycaon pictus Author of "Locksmith's Closet" Donor

    Apr 19, 2011
    I know the last thing we need is another CSA thread, but I've had some ideas going around in my mind about how an independent Confederacy would turn out, and as I started typing I realized the scenario I'd imagined was a little too involved to dump into somebody else's thread.

    At the same time, I can't quite flesh this out into a full timeline. So I'm just going to put it here where everyone can throw things at it.:)

    And if it's too much like an earlier thread or scenario that I don't know about, I apologize most humbly and sincerely.

    For my purposes, the exact POD doesn’t matter. Let’s say it’s some time in 1861 or early 1862 (when the states of the Confederacy have suffered the least damage) and posit the following:

    • The CSA consists of the original 11 states and the Indian Territory.
    • European powers don’t try to beef up the CSA, economically or industrially, as a military counterweight to the United States.
    • The United States abolishes slavery a few years after the end of the war.

    Confederate citizens will be calling themselves “Southrons” as a way of establishing their own identity.
    Last edited: May 18, 2011
  2. Lycaon pictus Author of "Locksmith's Closet" Donor

    Apr 19, 2011
    The Confederate Golden Age (Comparatively Speaking)

    For the first few years after secession, there are a lot of people on the move — Confederate sympathizers from Kentucky, Maryland, etc. pulling up stakes and moving south while Union sympathizers move north. By 1870 pretty much everybody is in the country they want to be in.

    This doesn’t mean everybody’s happy. Many (not all but many) of the Unionists who left the CSA came from the Appalachians, the Ozarks, and other places where the land isn’t suitable for plantation agriculture and slaves are few on the ground. But the people who moved to the CSA did not do so with dreams of becoming subsistence farmers in the Ozarks. They are working odd jobs and living in small towns while desperately waiting for the chance to buy land they really want.

    To satisfy these people, the Indian Territory is opened up to settlement. In the resulting land rush, the Native Americans are, as usual, the losers. Around 1880 or so the territory applies for admission as, let’s say, the State of Davis.

    There is industrial development, but it is slow and small-scale — no mad rush to catch up to the rest of the Western world. The coal mines of Tennessee and Alabama are an exception, as ships stopping in Confederate ports need to refuel. (A lot of the people who came south and don’t manage to get land in Davis end up working here.)

    The “Underground Railroad” continues, and is a little more successful than before, since the United States has no further interest in enforcing any Fugitive Slave Laws. Those who are caught by the U.S. border patrol are given free passage on the next ship to Haiti or Liberia:(, but those who manage to survive and find work up north are ultimately (sort of) accepted.

    This is remembered as the “Golden Age” of the Confederacy, in comparison to what comes next.
  3. Lycaon pictus Author of "Locksmith's Closet" Donor

    Apr 19, 2011
    The Boycott and the Coup

    The rest of the world isn’t getting any fonder of slavery. In 1888 Brazil abolishes slavery, and a popular movement arises in the West to put an end to this abomination once and for all… peacefully. Around 1890 or so, the United States, Britain, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, the Scandinavian countries and Mexico all join an economic boycott of the CSA. Those countries that still trade with the CSA soon realize they can dictate prices at which they will buy or sell. Those who sell often demand payment in specie.

    This has a devastating effect on the CSA’s economy, which is still mainly built around the export of raw materials — cotton, tobacco, coal and, before aniline dyes become popular, indigo. (On the plus side, every other part of the world where these things are grown is making out like bandits.)

    In an attempt to make their country economically self-sufficient, groups of wealthy Southrons invest in more factories. These factories offer very low wages, and in many cases rent slaves from the plantations en masse to do the work. (This is also how they break strikes, creating even more racial tension than there was before.) But all this takes money, and the Confederacy is bleeding hard currency.

    The Confederate government is desperate. They can’t end slavery without amending the Constitution, and even now, the Southrons are too proud to do this. They do succeed in amending the Constitution to allow internal improvements to benefit industry, but there still is no money to make the improvements.

    In fact, the government itself no longer has enough money at this point. A proposal to raise taxes goes nowhere — the rich Southrons swear that, what with the boycott, they aren’t rich enough to afford a tax increase. The government prints bonds, but with specie getting so scarce, gold and silver coins are a better investment than bonds. In the end, the money has to come from the only available source — the printing press.

    With the CSA now plagued by runaway inflation, doctors, lawyers, engineers and all sorts of skilled workers start moving north to where they can make real money. In a desperate attempt to hang on to these people, the state governments start imposing travel restrictions on their citizens. These vary from state to state, but the strictest are the states bordering the USA.

    Finally, around 1900, in a desperate (that word is coming up more and more often — I hope you haven’t made a drinking game out of it) attempt to save his country from plunging into the abyss, the Confederate President (I don’t know who he’d be) has a long talk with his generals about the situation the country is in, and the need for some sort of decisive action. Once he has them on board, he suspends the Constitution, announces that he will henceforth rule by decree, and sends a message to the boycotting states announcing that if they will just give him the money to do so, he will manumit the slaves and abolish slavery. They don’t give him the money, but they do loan him the money.

    There is, of course, a good deal of resistance to this. The Confederate Civil War lasts for a year or so, and gives the President all the excuse he needs to tighten his grip. He declares himself President for Life, because once you’ve taken power like this and used it to piss off a lot of rich and important people, you don’t dare let go.
  4. Lycaon pictus Author of "Locksmith's Closet" Donor

    Apr 19, 2011
    The New Underground Railroad

    Unfortunately, by the time the boycott ends, the damage is mostly done. The Confederate dollar is still worth only a small fraction of the Union dollar, and the loans the President-for-Life took out (payable in specie, thank you very much) guarantee that things won’t get better any time soon. (Oddly enough, one effect of this has been to solidify the grip of the planters on the country. They were the ones who could afford to have some of their money invested in foreign currency.)

    This has had its effects in the Union as well. The winners are anyone importing things from the CSA, now that the boycott’s over. The losers are anyone selling things to the CSA. There are more losers than winners. In short, the economy, though not depressed, isn’t flourishing either.

    So the Confederate government is trying to prevent a brain drain. The Union government wouldn’t mind at all if a few more Southron brains drained its way, but they have nightmares in which everybody south of the border pulls up stakes and heads north. It’s one thing to bring in immigrants a shipload at a time, it’s another to wake up and find the whole state of South Carolina camped out in your front yard. So the Union-Confederate border is well patrolled on both sides.

    But there are many people and institutions in the Union that want to help at least a few Southrons come north. Secession happened less than a lifetime ago, and a number of families still have brothers, cousins, in-laws, etc. on the other side of the border. Then there are industries that want engineers and artisans, hospitals that want doctors, universities that want professors, theaters (and soon cinemas) that want actors, and so on.

    And if the people who are wanted in the U.S. want to go there in return, the New Underground Railroad steps in. Unlike the old one, it is motivated by profit. It's a network of smugglers that seeks out defectors, makes contact with them and sneaks them over the border for a price. It is technically illegal, but the U.S. authorities are inclined to turn a blind eye to it. The Southron authorities are not, but, the disparity in cash value being what it is, the NUR can easily bribe a police chief, an army sergeant or, in extreme cases, a judge.

    Even in the U.S., the NUR becomes a force, and not entirely a force for good. Having gotten so good at smuggling, it turns its talents to smuggling liquor, drugs and so on. It even contributes to advocates of Prohibition, dreaming of the happy day when the U.S. outlaws alcohol and it can really clean up.

    And at least one of the NUR’s lines of business is flat-out evil. Some of its agents in the CSA seek out Southron teenage girls from poor and unimportant families and promise them careers in show business, or the opportunity to meet rich handsome Yankees, or whatever works… just come with me and don’t tell anyone you’re leaving, the border patrol is everywhere. You can send your daddy a postcard when you get to New York City. You get the idea.:eek:
  5. Lycaon pictus Author of "Locksmith's Closet" Donor

    Apr 19, 2011
    The Discovery of Oil, and Why it Doesn’t Help

    Another effect of the crashing Confederate dollar has been to allow Union-based companies to buy up their Southron counterparts at bargain prices. The planters who now preside over their nation like lords have themselves become vassals of New York-based textile and tobacco firms, and the coal-mine bosses answer ultimately to governing shareholders in Philadelphia.

    When oil is discovered in Texas, Davis and Louisiana, the story unfolds in an unsurprising way. The people who happen to own the land where the oil is get very rich. Oil companies headquartered in Chicago secure the leases under terms that L. Paul Bremer would wholeheartedly endorse. They send Yankee oilmen south to set up the wells. The drilling equipment is manufactured in Pittsburgh. And so on.
  6. Lycaon pictus Author of "Locksmith's Closet" Donor

    Apr 19, 2011
    The Status Quo and Its Foes and Defenders

    At this point (say, 1910 or so) the CSA has become a very familiar sort of country — a poor, debt-ridden, corrupted undemocracy beholden to foreign powers. Poor blacks (mostly sharecroppers) are only marginally freer than they were when they were slaves. Poor whites are freer still, but not by much. The governing elite, although monarchs of all they survey, nonetheless feel that they have somehow been cheated and defeated, that the foreign liberal abolitionists who couldn’t conquer them on the battlefield have won by other, less honorable means. They probably take out their frustrations on anyone who advocates re-democratization or social reform.

    (I completely forgot about the boll weevil. This doesn't help either.)

    One cause that gets mentioned from time to time is reunification. In the CSA, no one ever gets around to asking The People (white or black) what they think of this. But the People In Charge don’t care for this idea at all. If it ever happened, they would go from being big fish in a small pond to medium-size fish in a huge lake. Their little empire is all they have left.

    In the USA, there are quite a few people who like the idea. Some are idealists. Some are Southrons who succeeded in moving north and feel guilty about what they left behind. Some are businessmen who see the CSA as a potential ocean of cheap labor, or (once they get richer) as new potential customers. Some are construction firms dreaming of the contracts to be won building roads and railroads in the underdeveloped Confederate states. And then there are those who feel that the U.S. was robbed in ‘61 or ’62 and want to reconquer the Confederacy by force.

    But there are also those who think things are fine just as they are. These include the companies that are doing well out of the CSA, the labor unions that don’t want to have to compete with all those dirt-poor Southrons at once, the racists who don’t want more blacks in their country, and, of course, the NUR.

    And if you asked the President of the United States what he thought of the idea of conquering the Confederacy, he (assuming he wasn’t Teddy Roosevelt) would probably say something like this:

    “What can we possibly get out of them by conquest that we don’t already have? Our tourists are treated like kings on their beaches. Our ships are welcome in their ports. Why conquer what we already rule? Have you read what it was like before they left? Do we want their senators and representative screwing things up in Congress again? Do you think I want to go down there next election and ask them for their vote?”

    * * *

    So… could this situation arise, and how long would it last if it did? Have I overlooked something?

    What would be the likeliest agent of change? An Egypt-style popular uprising in the CSA? A U.S. war of conquest? A Confederate President-for-Life going the full Featherston and declaring war on the United States?

    Questions? Comments?
  7. pieman97405 I need a Ford Nucleon.

    Apr 19, 2011
    I'm thinking the more desperate the CSA gets, the more likely a war between them and the United States is... what will they rename Davis?
  8. Lycaon pictus Author of "Locksmith's Closet" Donor

    Apr 19, 2011
    Maybe Jefferson. (Then the Southrons could pretend it was still named after J.D.);)
  9. David S Poepoe Banned

    Jan 1, 2004
    El Segundo, California
    Well, at least you posted some resembling an ATL. Why don't you flush it out a bit more? I have quibbles with it but you posted it and I'll give you credit for it. Keep up the good work.
  10. Alternatehistoryguy47 Member

    Sep 17, 2010
    I really like what you said in the very last bit, about why the President of the US doesn't want to invade the CSA. That was pretty sweet.
  11. SavoyTruffle Going For The One

    Sep 14, 2010
    Moskau Moskau
    Now that's the best way to end up with a pariah CSA.
  12. Socrates Well-Known Member

    Mar 13, 2011
    I don't see why their hard currency would be in such immediate danger. During the "golden era" they would have a extremely export-oriented economy. Think what China has been doing but with an extra twenty years. Prior to the civil war the slaveocrats would use their huge profits to buy up more land, but I imagine this process would have been completed by the 1890s, and there would have been a few years of putting it somewhere else - either into industrialisation or investment abroad.

    I also don't buy that Brazil would get rid of slavery in 1888 if there was another similar sized economy holding out: it was no easy task there despite them being the last ones, and it probably took down the monarchy. I can imagine a situation developing where both countries point to the other as an excuse. Economic turmoil is much more likely to come from a commodity bubble bursting than a boycott.

    Are government-sponsored internal improvements really the requisite to industrialisation they are always assumed to be? I agree its needed if you want to go at a Soviet Union pace transition, but I think if the profit opportunity is there private railways will be built, although probably not for the most efficient routes.

    I can imagine a lapse into autocracy happening before this, for the opposite reasons. As plantations made huge profits and used them to buy up land, there would be increased concentration of cotton-land into the hands of a few. New slaves aren't forthcoming, and thus the price of slaves will gradually increase. That will mean it's really not profitable to use them on other crops at all, and places like Appalachia, the Ozarks and the Indian territory will be slave-free. Meanwhile, there will be an increased amount of non-land holding whites working in the towns, and getting pretty sick of being undermined by slave labour. Abolitionist and labour union sentiment will increase, which will likely result in increased restriction of the franchise in a similar manner we saw in Brazil.
  13. Lycaon pictus Author of "Locksmith's Closet" Donor

    Apr 19, 2011
    I have to say, your scenario makes as much sense as mine does. The reason I thought of a boycott is that it seemed to me that the loathing of the rest of the Western world for outright chattel slavery would lead to some sort of action against the Confederacy, probably economic rather than military.

    As for the money problem, it seemed to me likely, in an age when money was either gold or the promise of gold, that any country unscrupulous enough to do business with slaveholders in the face of the boycott would also be unscrupulous enough to take advantage of the situation by demanding payment in gold, and lots of it… or just by overcharging generally.

    There isn't really any logical reason why the Confederacy wouldn't industrialize, with or without prompting from the government — but then, there never was. It never made sense for cotton grown in Mississippi to be milled in Massachusetts or Manchester (pardon my alliteration) but it was. The same could be said of a lot of countries in Latin America whose economies were built around plantation agriculture and the export of sugar, coffee or fruit. I've always pictured the CSA ending up the same way.
  14. Blackfox5 Well-Known Member

    Sep 2, 2010
    I think you need to give some consideration as to how domestic politics in the Confederacy will operate. Although the fire eaters truly thought they could create a government without partisan politics, that is pretty much not going to happen.

    We will see a two party system made up of old Democrats and old Whigs, maybe even a three party system (Jeffersonian Democrats, Jacksonian Democrats and Whigs) at some point.

    Just as a lot of the Continental Army officer corps made up much of the old Federalists leadership, I think we'll see a lot of Confederate officers join the "Whigs" for a stronger government. They'll know how inefficient and self-defeating the CSA government was, and they'll look forward to reforming things to be more practical. Officers who saw their troops starve and not have enough ammunition tend to want to make sure the next war will see a more professional army that will provide regular food and other supplies.

    The Deep South will see the slaveholder elite retain political power, but the Upper South will see a much stronger "Whig" party that will come to represent industrial concerns and government reformers. And Jacksonian Democrats wanting to keep poor whites enfranchised will either try to take over the "Democrats" or defect to the "Whigs".

    There may be parity in the Confederate Senate, but the Confederate House will be dominated by the Upper South. Depending on how particulars develop, we could see wholesale reform of the Confederate Constitution, political paralysis which lasts for decades, or a crisis which sees a new civil war within the Confederacy.

    The slaveholder elites that made up the fire eaters had very peculiar notions of an aristocratic democracy that was very much at odds with American notions in the Age of Jackson. If they are able to retain power, I think your scenario is plausible. I don't think it's guaranteed they can do so. There are going to be some very strong challenges to them, and entire states are going to be dominated by the other party. Especially in the Upper South, you will have states with a very strong "Old Unionist" bloc that will be crucial in elections. Slavery may not be at stake, but all the other positions the fire eaters hated will be.
  15. Alternatehistoryguy47 Member

    Sep 17, 2010
    I think we won't see political parties forming around the issue of slavery, the existence of the Confederacy would make slavery a non-issue in that nation for decades. The real politics will center around a strong central Confederate federal government vs a weak one with more powers being given to the states. I think there might be a Nationalist Party and another party advocating states rights (Sectionalist/ early Libertarian maybe?).
  16. Elfwine Byzantophilic Brony

    Dec 18, 2010
    West of Constantinople
    I'm not sure the army will see "let's have a Federalist government" as quite as much tied to things as the Continental Army did.

    The Confederate army did have confiscation, left, right and center of horses and food and sons and it still couldn't keep up with what was needed.

    By contrast, the Continental Congress couldn't even demand that North Carolina send anything. Period.

    Doesn't mean the army guys wouldn't want to see a more functional government, but I don't think it would be as much of an issue of centralized vs. states.
  17. Alternatehistoryguy47 Member

    Sep 17, 2010
    On an unrelated note; I found an interesting loophole in the Confederate Constitution a few minutes ago. The Confederate President, as you know, is limited by the constitution to one six-year term. However, no such term limits exist for the Vice President. So, technically, the Vice President of the Confederate States could be re-elected. And nothing anywhere says that a former president couldn't be the Vice President. So... if some ambitious and sadistic dictator wanted to keep being President, all they would have to do is keep a stranglehold over a political party (and considering the Aristocracy of the South, that might not be that hard) and keep securing the Vice Presidential nomination after their term as president ends. Then, once (if) their supposed successor is elected, simply kill the new president and inherit the office. It probably wouldn't work in practice, but it is still theoretically possible.
  18. Elfwine Byzantophilic Brony

    Dec 18, 2010
    West of Constantinople
    The worst part is, I'm not even sure that would be the most evil thing someone out to hold on to power would do in the CSA.
  19. Super Parker Brothers Banned

    Mar 23, 2011
    Do what Huey Long did with state employees. Before they get a ob have them turn in a signed, undated letter of resignation.
  20. Spengler Free AG! Banned

    Oct 12, 2007
    Minnesota in the Place of Mayo
    Could you make this into a timeline? BTW could there be internal confederate resentment to this large amount of union interference?