With the anniversary of the start of the Civil War days away, consider that timing is everything in life. To illustrate, bear in mind the following brief points as to how the Civil War’s outcome could have been altered but for the timing. Assume the South seceded not in 1861, but just 10 years earlier.
Part of the North’s advantage was its superior production capability as opposed to the largely agrarian South. The ability to churn out weapons gave the Union a decided advantage. The decade 1850-1860 represented enormous economic growth as the Industrial Revolution took hold in the states.Indeed, manufacturing output approximately double in the decade. Thus had the South seceded in 1850, the North’s advantage in this regard would have been negated.
The Union was also aided by its superior ability to move men and material, chiefly by way of the rail network. Similar to the preceding point, there was a dramatic expansion of the rail system during the 1850’s. Thus then years earlier, the North’s transport system more closely approximated that of the South.
The significant recession known as the Panic of 1857 largely hit southern business disproportionately greater. Thus by 1860 the South was in an inferior economic position vis-à-vis its neighbor states to the North.
Abolitionist sentiment was not nearly as developed in 1850 as it came to be ten years later. Thus the North may not have had the political will for a protracted struggled in the earlier period. Consider that many of the events that stirred northern hearts, such as the publication of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, bleeding Kansas, the Dred Scott decision and John Brown’s raid, all occurred after 1850.
The South eagerly and in vain courted British assistance.A number of factors deterred the British in the 1860’s, one of them being the growing alarm that France’s Napoleon III was exhibiting imperialist tendencies and might have to be checked. Thus the Brits could not afford entanglement in an American conflict. However in 1850, there was relative comity between the British and French. The two cooperated in several military campaigns, notably in the Crimea and in China.
In 1851 the Union leader was Millard Fillmore. In 1861 it was Abraham Lincoln. Enough said.
Kenneth T. Zemsky is the author of the recently published novel The Nation’s Hope, about the 1965 NYC mayoral campaign. He is also a managing director at AndersenTax and teaches constitutional law at Rutgers. You can follow him at KennethTZemsky.com.