The Confederate World in the Civil War

Saturday, January 4, 2014
Exhibit Hall B South (Marriott Wardman Park)
Adrian Brettle, University of Virginia
The poster will be a visual representation of where leading Confederates saw themselves in the world upon independence, which international relationships were most important to them and what types of links with other nations and regions of the world mattered.  Some connections were imperial, Confederates wished to annex neighboring territories; but others reflected the primacy of the preservation of slavery and the development of commercial relations in how Confederates envisaged which countries would be allies, enemies and neutrals in their foreign policy assumptions. Confederates not only possessed expansionist ambitions to be realized after the war, but also they implemented policies during the war to prepare for that peaceful outcome. Hence the poster will demonstrate how the nature and scope of Confederate expansionist ambitions changed over time; driven by the ebb and flow of the fortunes of war, which dictated when Confederates expected peace to occur, how long they would need to recover from the wartime devastation and in what condition the United States would likewise be in. These factors, especially the perceived imminence of peace, influenced how much attention Confederates devoted to their future in an independent Confederacy. At times when peace seemed distant, expansionist ambitions assumed an abstract nature; at other times, when peace appeared as reality just months away, plans to prepare a new major world power became urgent and important. Hence the poster will be a series of maps charting the future world to the Confederates from the time of secession in 1860-1 through to 1865. Secessionists needed to present a destiny of unlimited staple crop exportation and slavery expansion to compete in appeal against the Union that had hitherto delivered exceptional prosperity to the South.  Therefore the future Confederacy always possessed significance in the world through its current monopoly in cotton production and its guardianship of a labor system that seemed ideally suited to exploit the newly accessible areas of the tropics around the world, what Confederates termed the ‘southern world.’ Later maps will show how this changed; Confederates increasingly saw their future independent state as an emergent military, manufacturing and racial power; but they never, at least until late 1864, dispensed with their core slavery-staple crop mission.  At the same time, although their state would be independent, the maps will show that Confederates expected it to be interdependent on other nations. From the beginning, Confederates assumed other nations, including the United States, to continue to provide the manufactured goods they needed. Later maps will show that these economic relationships changed; but Confederates always placed their nation in an international economy underpinned by free trade, political economy theory and competitive advantage. Closely related to this economic interdependence was Confederate thinking on how their nation would fit into a balance of power; both in North America, where Confederates hoped the further secession of California and the states of the old North West would enable the Confederacy to offset the rump Union and in the world large, as a significant factor in especially British and French diplomatic calculations.  
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