What was the Confederate plan to pay for the war and keep the Southern economy afloat? Was the plan successful? Why?

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pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The Confederate plan to pay for the war centered around cotton.  The South felt that cotton would allow them to keep their finances strong and would also gain them the support they needed to win the war.

The South’s main plan was to place an embargo on cotton.  This may sound counterintuitive, but it was what the South tried.  The Confederacy felt that an embargo on cotton would force European countries (England in particular) to support them.  They felt that England was so dependent on Southern cotton that it would side with them as a way to get the South to start shipping cotton again.  The idea was that the embargo would persuade England to support them both financially and politically.  This would help their economy and help them win the war.

This plan did not work.  The main problem was that the English and French had bought so much cotton in previous years that they had a large stock pile.  In addition, they developed other sources.  For example, European countries started to get cotton from India and from Egypt.

What happened, then, is that the strategy of using "King Cotton" as a bludgeon to hammer Europe into helping the Confederacy did not work. Instead, it was completely counterproductive. The embargo caused the French and the British to become less supportive of the Confederacy, not more. The Confederacy lost tremendous amounts of money and, partly because of this, there were women rioting in places like Richmond (the capital of the CSA) by early 1863 because the CSA lacked the money to feed its people. We will never know what would have happened if the CSA had tried a different strategy, but it is very clear that the strategy that they did try was a dismal failure. Thus, the South’s plan to use cotton as a lever to force the Europeans to support them did not work.