Rifles for Watie

by Harold Keith

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If the Confederacy had won the Civil War, what would they have done with their slaves?

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I believe that the majority of slaveowners would have kept their slaves until some other development forced a change. The South was almost completely dependent economically on slave labor and would have continued with this economic structure until it was untenable. It’s no cliché that the pace of life in the South is slower than in the rest of the country, and this would have been particularly so in the pre-Industrial South.

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This is an interesting and controversial question.  I don't think that it is logical to argue that slavery would have expanded if the South had won.  I actually think that it would have dissipated or eventually been abolished just as England abolished slavery earlier. 

I also don't know if slaves would necessarily have had a more difficult time than they already had with the North winning.  Many of them chose to stay in the South and had to endure the horror of Reconstruction (a movement, which by the way, did nothing to make the lives of African Americans better--the freed slaves themselves deserve the credit for that). 

A couple of interesting facts from the 1860 US Census (the last taken before the Civil War) are that 74% of Southern households did not own slaves, and the top 5 states with the highest percentage of free African Americans were Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, and Louisiana (all located in the South/Upper South, with the exception of Delaware).

The truth remains that the practice of slavery is an extremely ugly part of our history, but both the North and South (of that time period) must bear the blame for it.  The North because it contained the two primary slave trading states to begin with (Massachusetts and Rhode Island), and the South because of their participation and extension of the practice.

I do think that we would still have come to the point of abolishing slavery if the Confederacy had won.  The question is how long would it have taken, and how many more lives would have been lost?

Additionally, if a victorious Confederacy would have chosen to keep slavery, it is doubtful that it would have expanded because the Confederate states were not interested in taking over the North; they wanted to be left alone to form their own country--that's why they seceded instead of invading.

I'm from Michigan so I grew up seeing this issue purely from the Northern point of view, but I now think that we tend to place the blame of slavery squarely on the South when our whole country during that time period must accept the blame.

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I am not sure there would have been any change.  It was evident that the South wanted to expand slavery wherever it could, in addition to holding on to what it had.  I think if the South had won, it would have been taken as a validation of slavery and the institution would have been expanded into the North and fortified in the South.

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