Hypothetical History Without the Civil War

Today I was thinking about the outcomes of the American Civil War. The War, and the Union victory, affirmed the fact that the individual states do not have the right to seceded. The war resulted in the loss of hundreds of thousands of American lives. I would like to go through the possibilities of history if the war had never come to fighting.

The North was generally more technologically advanced and industrialized, which allowed them to win the war. The South was rather stuck with an outdated agricultural system. The North would have had outpaced the South economically.

All around the world, the practice of slavery was slowly declining. The agricultural system of the south was highly dependent on manual labor, which economically encouraged the practice of slavery. With technological advancements, the dependence on slave labor would diminish and slavery would become less important. Eventually the South would give up on slavery.

So here is my question: would the USA and the CSA have recombined at a later point without going to war? How long would that have taken? Would we have seen any other secessions at later points in our history? Would blacks have made progress toward equal rights in the 1960s, sooner, or later? Most importantly, would we be more free today?

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It is commonly thought that

It is commonly thought that slavery in the South would have died off on its own very quickly, but this is not the case. The cotton trade was reaping huge profits right up to the civil war. Before the rise of the railroad and industrialist elite, the majority of the super-rich were Southern plantation owners, and contrary to popular belief small farmers in the South were somewhat better-off than the homesteaders of the North.

In fact, slavery was a very efficient system; by one estimate large farms with over a dozen slaves saw a 17% increase in productivity. This was essentially because of labor specialization; cotton was a very labor-intensive crop and slave gangs could function as agricultural assembly lines. Productivity dropped dramatically after the war, when big plantations were broken up into smaller farms that couldn't get these economies of scale.

So I guess what I'm saying is that slavery was not a dead-end, at least for decades after the Civil War, and would not have died out through pure market forces. It is possible, however, that importers like Britain and France might boycott slave-produced cotton out of moral abhorrance, thus making the slave trade obsolete. This is a case in which the market can effectively produce a moral outcome.

Morrill Tarrif

Look into the effect of the Morrill Tarrif on slavery. Tom DiLorenzo has a speech, an article, and two books on the "War to Prevent Southern Independence" that talk about how this high (~25% to ~50%) tariff on imported manufactured goods raised the cost of farming tools in the Southern States.

It would be ironic if this tariff impeded modernization in the South and thus increased dependence on manual labor, including slavery. I'm not sure how the timing would work out, though, in your hypothetical history--if the the Southern States were successful in either nullifying the tariff or seceding from the Union, they wouldn't be affected by the tax.

The war was about states rights, not slavery

Prior to Lincoln's War, "state" meant sovereign nation.

A Different Alternate Scenario


Slavery wasn't slowly declining from some mysterious economic reason. Which you seem to imply by bring up southern economic issues in your next sentence. It was being outlawed elsewhere. The slave owners were compensated and the practice outlawed.

So your alternative history should be, "What if Lincoln had compensated slaveholders and outlawed slavery?"

The economic and political are not mutually exclusive

To point out that something was outlawed is not to refute the claim that it was driven out by economic factors. Laws are not purely arbitrary decrees by the state but often track social conditions, sometimes putting an official stamp of approval on a trend that had already been underway, and perhaps accelerating the trend but not necessarily initiating the trend.

One obvious point is that rich societies tend to defeat poor societies in war - thus an economic reality leads to a political outcome. This is one of the main reasons why the US is so influential. We have a very strong economy. Thus who defeats who in war - and thus whose politics are spread - is determined in part by economics.

I will anticipate the response, "sure, economics influences politics, but politics is still the path by which economics influences results". My answer is, "maybe, maybe not." Richer societies have a tendency to influence poorer societies by means other than war. Many people who are hostile to the richest societies complain about this, talking about the evil influence of American culture, talking about economic imperialism, and so on.

In a nutshell, maybe slaveholders started losing the political and military battles because they were getting weak, and they were getting weak because they were getting poor, and they were getting poor because slavery was losing ground economically.

States rights

I was not trying to start a discussion on slavery itself, I was just saying that one way or another slavery would disappear. My thought was that eventually the North and South would have had a reconciliation and recombined, much like East and West Germany after the collapse of communism (although, that is a bit different situation since Germany was ripped apart by foreign powers.) My original question was how the country would be different if the states had retained their powers?