Editor's note: The subject of the annual Dick
Crews Debate at the January, 2008 Roundtable meeting was: "The Southern
Victory of 1865: Was the Confederacy a Viable State?" Five
members made presentations on the topic; the article below was one
of those five presentations.
We are faced tonight with a
question – a burning question in the minds of most of you - was the
Confederacy a viable state? It is the conundrum of the hour, a
question that historians and Civil War buffs will argue into time in
memoriam but tonight, we the Great Debaters of the Cleveland Civil
War Roundtable will provide the wisdom and the knowledge so that all
of you can answer the question and decide the fate of we the humble
I intend to prove beyond a
reasonable doubt that the Confederate States of America was not a
viable state; not in its beginning, not in its end and not in the
minds of a sufficient number of its citizens to allow it to survive
as a nation.
The Confederacy was a captain-less
raft. It was so crowded with internal problems that its sinking was
inevitable. The class conflict among and between its diverse
citizens resulted in a lack of the necessary nationalism that was
needed to compel the Confederacy into a real state. The
internal problems – social, economic and legal - were
insurmountable. Any critical analysis of the Confederacy will
clearly show a flawed state based on flawed principles whose
citizens would have come begging back to the glorious Union.
The first point of my argument
relates to the failure of Confederate leadership and more
specifically the failures of Jefferson Davis. The failure of the
Confederacy started at the top.
Davis was a man who suffered from a
myriad of health problems. He was an indecisive micro manager of the
war and the government who didn’t really want to be president but
wanted to be a general. Unlike Lincoln who formed a cabinet out of
various segments of his opposition, Davis was unable to form a
cohesive unit and had difficulty keeping cabinet members. Lincoln
was wise enough to look for a general to command his forces and let
him lead. Davis did not.
Not only did Davis fail as an
administrator but Davis, as a card-carrying member of the planter
class, failed to secure the support of the South’s non-slave holding
yeomen, who made up the bulk of the population and made up the bulk
of the Southern fighting force. Davis failed to identify with the
yeoman farmer and they with him. But yet the Confederacy needed the
devotion of all its citizens both planter and yeoman in order to
transform a region of a country into a nation. The Davis
administration fatally failed to respond to the problems of the
common people who where the backbone of the Confederacy. Economic
suffering, military exemptions for slave owners, class resentments,
and political controversies sapped the strength of the Confederacy
and was at the core of an internal collapse which preceded and
promoted military defeat. Davis failed to establish Confederate
Nationalism, the only glue that could have held the Confederacy
As we are all aware, the birth of
the Confederate States of America was initiated by the concept of
secession. But even as the lower South left the Union there were
signs of ambivalence and opposition in other parts of the South.
There was never a landslide of support for secession. Many
supporters of secession advocated it as a means of promoting a
settlement over the question of slavery and its expansion. In the
upper South substantial majorities refused for months to secede.
Here was a government whose
founding principle was states' rights yet Davis had to build a
central government capable of meeting the requirements of war.
States' rights and a central government present an oxymoron. In
addition, constant internal criticism of the administration did much
to undermine the integrity of the Confederate state.
The ship of the Confederacy floated
on a sea of other problems, problems that would have undermined even
the most competent leader; namely, the formation of a new government
which could provide goods and services to its people – essentially
from scratch; not to mention the myriad of legal problems arising
from the war. And yet the Confederacy never had a Supreme
Court to serve as the final arbitrator of legal questions.
But let us look then at some of the
other problems – the economy. We can all agree that King Cotton was
dead. The Southern economy had to be totally retooled for the
economy to succeed – and that by a limited government. There was a
major problem of a lack of skilled labor. The Confederacy faced a
crazy quilt of fiscal problems including the necessity to create a
stable national currency. It had to supply and arm and create a
national army from state units. It had limited internal
transportation routes. It was faced with naval blockades.
There was a total disruption of the social order as it related to
women, lower class whites and, most obviously, blacks. The inability
of the Confederacy to gain foreign recognition is yet another
iceberg in the stormy sea in which the Confederacy floated. And all
the while it had to fight a war.
The Confederate States of America
was an impossible dream based on a peculiar institution trying to
maintain a pre-modern society while the rest of the nation forged
ahead to the industrial revolution, emancipation and the 20th
Ladies and Gentlemen, I urge you to
accept my arguments and recognize the truth of the matter. The
Confederate States of America was never viable and to accept the
arguments of my worthy opponents is to accept a myth, a mirage and a
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