If the South Would Have Won, Would Hank Have Had It Made?

One thing I love about the internet is that you can have primary sources right at your fingertips within seconds, so when you’re writing about Hank Jr., you can pull up a copy of the Constitution of the CSA and read through it. I wasn’t very familiar with it. But it’s kind of cool to look at, just from a “if you were going to set up your own country, how would you do it?” way. But one thing that struck me, and struck me hard, is exactly how slavery is built into the Constitution. I expected there to be a part like “And we can own Negros forever, it is our Right!!!!!” And there is.

But I think there’s something else going on in that Constitution that any white person who’s all “If the South would have won…” should consider. In the Confederate Constitution they specifically close the slave trade. You can’t import slaves from any foreign country other than the slaveholding states and territories of the United States and they reserve the right to cease importing slaves from the U.S.

Just think on this. Say you have an ice cream maker and you’re churning out ice cream cones. But you’re the only creamery in the South. So, you charge $20 per ice cream cone. That ice cream maker is making and keeping you rich. But then I import an ice cream maker from Mexico. And I’m selling ice cream cones for $15. Then all our friends catch on and they import ice cream makers from Mexico and all of a sudden a lot of people have them and ice cream cones cost $2 a piece.

The CSA’s Constitution is specifically designed to keep slaves only in the hands of the wealthy. If slaves can’t be imported from the Caribbean or Africa, there’s no danger of a glut in the marketplace which would reduce the value of slaves and make it possible for more people to own them. So, while on the one hand, the promise of Confederate white supremacy is that you could, one day, own a slave (and with him or her the financial well-being he or she represented), the constitution was set up to keep the value of slaves too high for most white people in the South to actually afford.

It’s no wonder you had places in Alabama and in the mountains where poor white communities were like “Not my war, Richie Rich.”

If the CSA did succeed, you have to wonder how long it could have stood with no room for social mobility. Even assuming that there wasn’t widespread almost constant slave rebellion, it would have behooved white people who couldn’t afford slaves to emigrate to the United States, where there was at least some possibility of social mobility, because life in the CSA would have sucked for them. And then who would be the merchant class? Would that fall to the second and third sons of the slave owners?

So, the internet is not telling me much about Hank’s granddad, but if he wasn’t a wealthy slave owner then, Hank would not have had it made in the CSA now. And as for Elvis and Patsy Cline? Patsy Cline’s hometown hated her and treated her like they thought she was trash, even at the height of her fame. Elvis and his family were dirt poor. They were not the kind of people the CSA would probably have devoted national holidays to. Especially in Elvis’s case, since his dad would have had to move to St. Louis to find work, instead of Memphis.

In a way, losing was the best worse-case scenario for rich people who were benefiting from white supremacy. If they’d won, when soldiers got home, they would have, oh, you know, read the Constitution and seen how it dicked most of them over (One wonders how the CSA planned on settling up with soldiers. They had no land to give them and getting a country off the ground takes a lot of funds, so they probably didn’t have money for them. Non-rich white people would have left the country in droves looking for a place with some social mobility (north or west). And the slave owners would have been alone with a hostile workforce who hated them. It’s not hard to imagine them burning through their fortunes just trying to hire people willing to help them maintain order.

But by losing, they get to keep the myth of white supremacy alive, coupled with the the false promise that someone like Hank Jr. could have risen up to become President of the Southern States, and sit back and keep their power.

Man, what strikes me is that, if your ancestors fought for the South in the Civil War and they didn’t own slaves, they were on the verge of getting screwed over so bad by the rich people of the South that it’s almost breath-taking. If the South would have won, a lot of people would have had to leave the South just to feed their families. It’d be like the Great Migration, but earlier and whiter.

Edited to add: I feel like this point may not be clear, so let me make it explicit. If you were a white Southerner who could not own slaves because you had no way to buy them–they didn’t come on the open market often and you couldn’t import them from out of country–you were literally existing in a world that had given you a wealth cap. The monetary value of slaves was so high that, if you could not invest in slaves, your wealth would be curtailed. You would never be able to accumulate enough money to be of the same class as the planter class, who had slaves and could increase the amount of slaves they had through pregnancy. That might be fine for some people, of course, but just some.

14 thoughts on “If the South Would Have Won, Would Hank Have Had It Made?

  1. Aunt B.,

    The cynicism of the Southern leadership goes even farther. For all their whining about being left alone, it was the slaveocracy that wanted the conquest of Cuba and other areas so that they could expand slavery to places where it would be more economically viable.

    I also believe that the prohibition on the importation of slaves was in part an effort to make it easier for England and France to recognize Southern independence. Both those hoped-for allies had abolished slavery years before so the South’s leaders could have figured that ending the importation of slaves would help in gaining their recognition.

  2. Well, Bocephus had two grandfathers. But since his father was pretty much brought up in a whorehouse, I’m guessing that side of his family didn’t come from money.

  3. I was assuming that, in a closed system, there wouldn’t be a lot of inheritable wealth coming from women. Hank Sr’s dad was a train engineer for a logging company, according to Wikipedia, which doesn’t sound like a job people from money do (though let me say, thank god for railroad jobs. Brought the Phillipses literally out of a chicken coop.).

  4. Pingback: The American Dream « Newscoma

  5. I see a speculative fiction novel in the making, right here.

    But also, what you say about the non-slave-owners needing to go somewhere else to make their fortune rings true. I did some research on western gold rushes, and they were great draws for southern veterans. First, the possibility of getting rich! Not that many did, mind you. But also living in a sparsely populated area with fairly loosey-goosey laws was a pretty good idea if you were a veteran (of either side really) who was all screwed up with PTSD in a world that didn’t have any treatment to offer you. At least if you went up in the mountains without any close neighbors, and your distant neighbors were other stressed-out vets like yourself, well, that’s as good as it’s gonna get.

    Not what you were talking about, but, y’know, I think it’s interesting.

  6. O.C. that’s what got me thinking along those lines. A lot of soldiers headed west after the war as it was and for similar economic reasons. If there had truly been no chance of improving one’s lot in the CSA, I think we’d have seen even more.

    So, I think it is broadly on topic!

  7. But there has already been CSA, the fake documentary. IIRC the writer maintains that there would be a real oligarchy, but they have managed to contain – to a degree – slave rebellions,

  8. The only way the South could have won would have been by allying with an outside power, or else somehow convincing the US to let them go. Scenario 2 seems impossible, and Scenario 1 would have meant an outside power having a foothold in the US, which the US could not possibly allow. So basically there is no way for the South to have won, at least not and have a recognizable country left.

  9. Bravo, B. Excellent points. If I’m reading you correctly, one could follow your logic to suggesting that many non-slaveowning whites were little better than slaves themselves, and were insulated from the psychological impact of that solely by the marginal privileges afforded to their white skin. The marginal privileges were enough, apparently, to buy their loyalty to the CSA and the doomed war effort. Your point about the loss working in the wealthy planter class’s favor follows naturally from that, too. Brilliant.

    I think it’s not just a historically confined question, either. It’s the basis of a mentality that propelled the conservative revolution that began more or less with Goldwater in the ’60s, and has spread and decayed to the teabaggers of today. (Once again I will refrain from calling upon the ghost of Lee Atwater, because it just rolled its ‘eyes’ at me and sighed and shook its ‘head’.)


  10. emjb,

    Scenario 2 came perilously close to happening. Had Hood not tried to defeat Sherman outside Atlanta but simply continued to hold the city, Lincoln loses the election of 1864 and McClellan makes peace in 1865.

    As for Scenarion 1, if the British had decided to intervene, the Northern blockade would have been toast. That would mean the South would have been able to sell cotton abroad and buy lots of weapons. That would potentially have turned the tide. Also the British could have made loans to the South and done a number of other non-violent things to end the war on favorable Southern terms.

    Happily the British stayed out for several reasons including the potential threat to Canada, the opposition of the British working class to slavery and Queen Victoria’s veneration of her departed husband, Albert, who was an ardent opponent of slavery. Any government seeking to aid the South would have had a very unamused HRH Victoria on his hands.

  11. Good call on the western migration/metal rush connection. Part of the virulence of the anti-Chinese movement can be attributed to post/unreconstructed Rebs who saw in the importation of contract “coolies” the resurrection of an engrossment of cheap labor in the hands of oligarchs.

  12. Sam, one thing I’ve really been mulling over is Jr.’s performance of masculinity. Don’t get me wrong. I think you’re absolutely right that white supremacy does prevent poor white people from seeing who they truly have common cause with.

    BUT I do think it’s important to not let slip by the crucial difference–white males were men. And not just legally recognized as human beings. They were able to act like men. They could hunt down and kill the people who kidnapped or murdered their wives and kids (and leave their heads on poles in Kentucky, as previously discussed), if anyone would dare try to even take their wives and kids. They could duel with other men who insulted their honor.

    And, of course, enslaved men simply could act on the very basic urge to protect and defend their loved ones.

    Does masculinity, when that’s all you’ve got, become exaggerated? And, if so, is Hank’s strutting and preening an echo of that?

  13. I think I see where you’re going, B., but I’d like to make one tiny clarification: I don’t believe that white supremacy prevented poor whites from recognizing their more natural allies, but it gave them ample excuse to do so. With that in mind, I believe we have to consider the costs (or penalties, if you prefer) that were attached to certain exercises of masculinity, particularly the ones to which you refer. If a rich white planter’s son sexually assaulted a poor white farmer’s wife or daughter, the odds of the farmer successfully securing licit justice depended on the ability and willingness of the planter to shield his son from the same. If the farmer understood that taking the law into his own hands would likely result in his own death or incapacitation, thus leaving his family vulnerable, he might reconsider such action. Obviously, the odds were even more daunting for a slave.

    So in a caste system where the combination of wealth, white skin, and a penis equaled a certain level of impunity, the frustrations of lacking wealth (frustrations felt by the majority of whites) could be channeled into the economically constructive (for the wealthy) exercise of keeping the easily identifiable and traditionally feared and loathed enemy within (the black slave) in check. In other words, for a poor white man, the cost of lashing out at a rich white man were usually too high. On the other hand, the cost for lashing out at blacks (in approved circumstances, of course) were low to nil, and even offered occasional rewards.

    I’m thinking of how this translates into our time, and I’ve got that John Steinbeck quote on my brain. Also, it makes me think that the Occupy Wall Street protests have the potential to be quite revolutionary in our historical context, because you have ordinary citizens taking to the streets to speak out against their economic and political overlords (the Southern planters of our day, in a sense). It would be revolutionary if the numbers of protesters were multiplied by more working class white folks.

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