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The USA without Abraham Lincoln

A month ago, on Feb. 12, we celebrated the birth of two men, Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin, who had profound impacts on history, both of whom were born on that date 200 years ago.

Today we will focus on Abraham Lincoln, who had a tremendous effect on American and consequently world history, and speculate how history might have differed without his presence. Next time we will do the same for Darwin.

The issue of slavery had haunted the United States from the very beginning, even influencing the structure of our Constitution. Congress was deeply divided over the issue, and wrestled with compromise measures in 1820, 1850 and 1854; all of which were just that ” compromises that did nothing to resolve the issue. Without the resolve of Lincoln to preserve the Union and fight a prolonged bloody Civil War, the North would have given up the fight after the South’s early victories; or it is even possible there might not have been a Civil War, and we would have the Confederate States of America (CSA) as a trading partner on the south, like Canada on the north.



How would a separate CSA have affected history? What little slavery there was in the remaining United States would have ended, and racial integration and civil rights might have proceeded at a rapid pace, and by now might be a nonissue. Even in the CSA, slavery was on the way out both economically and morally, and probably would have lasted only another 20 years. But civil rights for blacks would have come much more slowly, if at all, and the CSA could have become an “apartheid” country. Would the USA (and 11 other countries) have imposed sanctions as they did against South Africa in 1985?

The next question is whether there would have been a reunification of the CSA back into the USA, and if so, when? Without the suffering and destruction of a long, cruel Civil War, and the domination of forced emancipation and the bitter reconstruction experience, the rift would have been more easily healed.



What effect would a separate CSA have had on world history? The USA undoubtedly would have built the Panama Canal without the CSA, and entered World War I. Would the CSA have followed suit? Would the CSA have blamed the USA for the excesses that brought on the Great Depression and the resulting economic hardships, driving another wedge between them? Would the Great Depression have left the CSA with a much-diminished economy? Without the CSA, or even with it (in its much-poorer condition), would the USA have had the economic and military power needed to tilt the slender balance in our favor in World War II, and would Germany have won the war? Or would any of these crises have brought about the reunification of our country under a common flag?

It is very likely without Lincoln the Civil War might not have occurred. He was seen in both the North and the South as a bellwether of the emancipation cause. His election precipitated the secession of the southern states and formation of the Confederacy even before he took office. Without Lincoln, the Republican Party would probably not have been able to win the 1860 election, and John C. Breckinridge (James Buchanan’s vice president), who ran as a pro-slavery Democrat, would undoubtedly have been elected, and the country might have blundered along until slavery died a natural death. This leads to the postulation that if Abraham Lincoln had not run for president in 1860, there would have been no Civil War, and we probably would be unaware of a little-known Illinois lawyer and politician of that name.

Glenwood Springs resident Hal Sundin’s column runs every other Thursday in the Post Independent.


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