Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Civil War Questions

With the stock market dropping an additional 600 plus points yesterday--essentially meaning that we can look forward to a retirement eating out of dumpsters, considering the shape our 401ks are in now--there is one thing everyone's talking about. The 150th anniversary of the Civil War.

While a lot of the usual questions have been answered in most texts on the subject--such as why foreign countries never intervened on behalf of the Confederacy, or why slaves didn't rise en masse once the word was out that the war was on and the South needed all its own manpower to fight Union armies--there are still a number of puzzling "what ifs":

1) What if after South Carolina seceded, the other southern states just turned and said "see, we didn't think you'd really be going through with it. We happen to like our wealthy plantations and aren't about to wreck them when a much bigger professional army comes rolling in."

2) What if a northern state--say, Iowa--took the opportunity to secede hoping no one would notice?

3) What if the question of secession was brought up in court, rather than through armed conflict? The Constitution doesn't specifically deny the right to secede, and the Supreme Court had never ruled on that matter, so this wasn't exactly settled law at that point.

4) Related to this, why didn't the North pass a constitutional amendment immediately after the war making it abundantly clear that no state could secede? It could have gone along with Amendments 13 through 15.

5) If Lincoln had been assassinated a few years earlier, the then-VP, Hannibal Hamlin, who was also serving as a private, would have had the most spectacular promotion in military history. Also, Maine would have had its first U.S. President.

6) If the South had been successful in seceding, how long would it have been before a revanchist North invaded to reclaim that territory? And how much more destructive could such a war have been, using more modern weaponry?

7) How did the abolition of slavery go down in the non-rebellious slave states (Kentucky, Missouri, New Jersey)? This is not so much a "what if" but a subject that seems to be glossed over in history books. Were slave owners resistant to this? Was there compensation?

Instead, we know how things did go down--what each side thought would be a quick war turned into anything but--and this was as much due to battle tactics not catching up to extra-destructive weapons of the time as it was due to each side having much more will to fight than the other was willing to credit them. In the end, it was settled--no more slaves, no more secession, and the South is allowed to name streets after rebel generals. Then we could finally get back to what we did best--attacking other countries.

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