Friday, March 22, 2013

The Constitutional Convention Does the Right Thing

Alternative History

Alternative histories have an annoying tendency to say "X happened instead of Y, therefore rainbows, puppies and unicorns." A few people, like S.M. Stirling in his Drakian novels, dare to imagine much darker alternative histories. His thesis was "what if history turned out in the worst possible way?" I suspect a lot of alternative histories would have ended up a good deal less rosy than we like to imagine.

The rainbows, puppies and unicorns machine kicked into high gear when James W. Wagner, president of Emory University, praised the 1787 three-fifths compromise, which counted slaves as three-fifths of a person in determining Congressional representation for slave states. Wagner apparently had good intentions, hoping to show how even sharp polarization can be eased by compromise, but detractors of the three-fifths rule weren't having any of it. The three-fifths compromise wasn't inspired. It was one of those clumsy, ugly compromises with evil we sometimes have to make, like allying with the Soviet Union during World War II, backing nasty regimes during the Cold War, paying for a defense attorney for a serial child molester, or pretending that protecting the rights of Charles Manson protects anyone else's rights. So what if we hadn't made it? An outcome like the one below is at least possible.

No Compromise

As discussion of the new, and completely unauthorized, Constitution of the United States proceeded, representation in Congress became a sticking point. Northern states wanted the slave population of the South excluded in determining Congressional representation, on the grounds that slaves had no rights, and therefore they should not be counted toward the voting power of the South. Southern states wanted slaves counted, because they would then have greater strength in Congress. Northerners were convinced the South would have too much power, especially Virginia, the most populous state. Some delegates proposed a partial count, with slaves given one-half or three fifths representation, but those proposals were angrily dismissed. Since there were seven non-slave states and six slave states, the final vote on representation was rammed through. Slaves would not be counted.

When the new Constitution was presented to the states, all the slave states except Delaware quickly voted against ratification. Although Delaware was a slave state, slavery was relatively unimportant there (there were even handfuls of slaves in other northern states, too.) Since nine states had to ratify the Constitution for it to go into effect, the Constitution was dead in the water. Attempts to reconvene the Convention failed when the southern states insisted that the Constitution explicitly preserve slavery.

As 1787 dragged into 1788, the southern states called a convention of their own for the purpose of drafting a constitution. Their Constitution was closely aligned with the original, which most agreed had been a good piece of work, but it did include an explicit protection of slavery and strict prohibitions on the central government regulating internal affairs of the States. The Southern states, except Delaware, which had already ratified the original Constitution, ratified it immediately. They invited the northern states to join but none did. The southern Constitution allowed the ratifying states to convene a convention to declare the Constitution in force, which was done in mid-1788. Since the Southern States adhered to the notion that they were simply reforming the Articles of Confederation, they styled their union the Confederate States of America. The northern states waited until most of the states had ratified the original Constitution, then voted in Congress (still under the Articles of Confederation) to declare the new Constitution in effect. The few stragglers climbed on board by 1790. The US, bound by its obligation to create a separate district for its capital, selected a tract on the Niagara River, with a view toward encouraging settlement inland and commerce on the Great Lakes. The CS chose Charleston, South Carolina for their capital.

One proviso from many of the northern States was that Congress would draft a Bill of Rights to be added to the Constitution. Congress drafted a set of thirteen amendments protecting freedom of religion, speech, the press, the right of due process, and abolishing slavery. Most of the amendments were ratified swiftly, including the abolition of slavery. The handful of northern slaveowners were compensated for their slaves. The southern states had already incorporated a few rights guarantees into the Confederate Constitution, mostly property rights, but specifically permitted individual states to regulate speech and the press as well as set up established churches. Eventually, Confederate states banned all anti-slavery advocacy, as well as publication of anti-slavery literature. They also made escape, and harboring escaped slaves, capital offenses. Kentucky and Virginia militias patrolled the border regions, making escape nearly impossible.

The question arose immediately what to do about the territory west of the Appalachians. Since Virginia extended to the Ohio River (1), the Confederacy claimed all territory south of the Ohio River. There was already an extra-legal state of Franklin west of North Carolina, which was admitted to the Confederacy in 1789. Slave owners settled Kentucky, which was admitted in 1792. The Confederate presence in Kentucky was too strong to challenge, and indeed the United States moved rapidly to encourage settlement north of the Ohio to forestall Confederate expansion northward. With the Ohio forming a western boundary, the Appalachians preventing easy movement in the center, and the Potomac on the east, both countries had eminently defensible borders. Maryland, though part of the CS, recognized uneasily that it would not be defensible if it ever came to blows. On the other hand, Philadelphia was within easy reach of the CS.

Both the US and CS eyed the territory west of the Mississippi. When Napoleon offered to sell the Louisiana Territory, the US and CS entered into a bidding war, to the delighted surprise of Napoleon. With scant knowledge of the geography of the region, Napoleon simply offered the CS everything south of 37 degrees latitude, roughly the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers, and the US everything to the north. For $5 million each. The CS snapped up the offer with glee, since it gained control of the mouth of the Mississippi. The US realized to its horror that the interior was now landlocked, and took Napoleon up on his offer. The US and CS hammered out a treaty guaranteeing free navigation on the Ohio and Mississippi.

Both the US and CS sent expeditions to map out their new holdings. The US Lewis and Clark Expedition found a route to the Pacific, laying the foundation for a territorial claim extending to the Pacific. The CS sent out an expedition headed by Zebulon Pike, who reported a formidable mountain barrier and no easy route through. The only easy southern routes lay across Spanish territory.

Meanwhile a slave revolt in Haiti embodied all the worst fears of the CS. Even in the US, initial sympathy turned cool as reports of atrocities against white French settlers poured in. In the CS, the fury could only be described as incandescent. Private organizers raised volunteer brigades that offered their services to the French, who cheerfully accepted. CS settlers were better used to heat and humidity than Europeans, and some European troops had already gone over to the Haitian rebels. Pro-slavery Americans would have no such qualms. Over 100,000 volunteers signed up. The pay was paltry, but most were motivated by a belief they would be able to bring back their own slaves, or even acquire a plantation in Haiti.

The Haitians, having been in battle for several years, gave the upstart Confederate volunteers some solid drubbings at first. It was frontiersmen from Franklin and Kentucky, used to fighting Indians, who gave the volunteers some skills, aided by a few officers from the Confederate military academy in Richmond. Once the Confederates could hold their own in battle, the war became one of no quarter on either side. Night raids by masked CS troops massacred entire villages. The Haitians were fighting for survival and the Confederates were driven by a desire to teach blacks once and for all what happened to slaves who dared resist. With no non-slave territory in the CSA, and opposition to slavery suppressed, there was no countervailing public opinion in the CS. Non-CS observers were barred from Haiti, and so the CS press reported Haitian atrocities in gruesome detail, but CS atrocities went unreported. More than half the population of Haiti was wiped out before the exhausted and terrified survivors surrendered. Napoleon had by now decided an American empire was not in the cards, and was also glad to distance himself from CS actions in Haiti, so he ceded Haiti to the CS. Its new masters ruled with an iron fist, determined not to make the same mistakes the French had.

During the Napoleonic Wars, the US fought a naval war with Britain over the right to trade freely with Europe, and mounted a botched invasion of Canada. The CS, on the other hand, openly cheered Great Britain. Most of their trade was with Britain's Caribbean colonies and their new territory of Haiti, many CS traders were cheerfully supplying slaves to Jamaica, and they were delighted to see the US weakened economically. The only thing that saved the US was the fact that, from the British perspective, the War of 1812 was a series of trivial skirmishes on the outer fringe of the wider conflict with Napoleon. At the conclusion of the War, the US and Britain agreed to disarm the Great Lakes and the border with Canada, a surprisingly good ending to a badly run war.

When revolution broke out in Mexico in 1819, the US cheered on their fellow revolutionaries, while the CS was a lot more ambivalent. They already had ambitions in the Caribbean and wanted to see Spain weakened, but were not enthusiastic about a strong, independent Mexico, either. The CS had already purchased Florida from Spain, and, with Spain occupied by Napoleon, the CS occupied Santo Domingo and Puerto Rico in 1814, ostensibly to protect them from the French and British. Cuba was now effectively surrounded by American possessions, but the CS held out reassurances to the slave-holding Cuban elite. Cuba entered into an alliance with the CS, then progressively deeper trade relations, and soon became effectively a CS satellite.

By 1820, the CS had created the new States of Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana, as well as admitting Santo Domingo. CS settlers coveted the lands of the settled Cherokee, and launched a campaign of terrorism that sent the Cherokee fleeing west beyond the Mississippi. Ostensibly the CS deplored the violence, but turned a blind eye to it, although they did supply military escorts to the refugees. Soon after, CS settlers streamed into Texas, and the enlightened dictator Santa Ana outlawed slavery specifically to discourage them. The enlightened Santa Ana had also managed to provoke rebellions in about half the states of Mexico. In 1836, Texas declared independence and defeated Santa Ana's forces. It immediately petitioned to join the CS and was admitted as a state in 1838. Santa Ana declared war. Instead of mounting an invasion, the CS held a defensive line along the Nueces River while offering volunteers to the breakaway Republic of the Rio Grande and Republic of Zacatecas. The CS plan, as it had worked in Santo Domingo and was working in Cuba, was to achieve economic dominance over its allies and eventually absorb them. The separatist revolts succeeded, leaving Mexico as a rump state with only a narrow waist in the west connecting the settled south with the nearly vacant north. The CS occupied the far north and declared itself owner of a strip between 37 and 42 degrees north, extending indefinitely far west. With almost no settlement or military presence there, Mexico was scarcely in a position to challenge the CS. The US insisted everything north of 37 degrees was theirs by virtue of the Louisiana Purchase, but there had been no US exploration of the territory, whereas the CS had been actively exploring. The CS had little trouble enforcing its claim.

In 1849, gold was discovered in California, which was still part of Mexico. Gold seekers from both the US and CS poured in, the latter with slaves. US settlers had no sympathy for Confederates whose slaves escaped, and openly encouraged them. There were frequent pitched battles between US and CS camps, and any blacks taken in arms against the CS were summarily executed. Both US and CS settlers declared rival Republics of California. Mexican forces in California mostly confined themselves to protecting the Mexican population. At roughly the same time, Mormons fleeing persecution in Illinois settled by the Great Salt Lake and proclaimed the state of Deseret. The CS was scandalized by Mormon polygamy but delighted with the Mormon belief that blacks had inherited the curse of Cain. Since the Mormons were fleeing persecution in the US, their loyalty to the CS was assured. The CS decided polygamy was an internal state matter, and Deseret was admitted to the Confederacy in 1863.

In 1858, gold was discovered near Pike's Peak, triggering the Colorado Gold Rush. Control of both Colorado and California would give the CS control of most of the gold between Mexico and Canada and give them economic dominance. The US decided such a state of affairs could not stand. It declared the CS annexation of Colorado and Deseret to be invalid, and the US-leaning California Republic to be the lawful government of California. US Marines landed in San Francisco and the Army marched south into Colorado. About a quarter of the Marines were lost when pro-CS settlers, using seized Mexican artillery, sank a steamboat taking Marines upriver to Sacramento, and fierce ambushes forced the Army to retreat from Colorado. The CS settlers in the West included large numbers with battle experience in the Caribbean and the Mexican separatist republics. The short California War was a resounding debacle for the US. The US awakened to the shocking reality that they shared a transcontinental border with a totalitarian slave state that was both richer and militarily stronger.

With a vast swath open to slavery, the expansionist drives of the CS were temporarily sated, but the Southwest was too arid for slave-intensive agriculture. Individual adventurers still dreamed of carving out their own states in Latin America and the Caribbean. One of these was William Walker, who led a coup in Nicaragua in 1860 (2). Not only was Nicaragua a fertile territory, it commanded the easiest route across the continent. Although longer than the route across Panama, most of the route across Nicaragua was easily navigable, and the only barrier was a mere 150 foot high range of hills. Walker launched a company to build a canal. Supported by the CS monopoly on gold and inexhaustible slave labor, the canal was completed by 1870, at a cost of 75,000 lives.

One beneficiary of the North American military stalemate was the independent Kingdom of Hawaii. As the 19th century drew to a close, it was obvious that some foreign power would see Hawaii's strategic value and annex it. US and CS settlers both established landholdings in Hawaii, and both eagerly desired annexation, but both the US and CS feared that a conflict over Hawaii might spill over into a general war. So in the Treaty of Honolulu (1892), Hawaii, the US and the CS jointly agreed that Hawaii would remain neutral and the US and CS would protect it from external aggression. So Hawaii remained independent, and the US and CS warily watched each other. The US annexed Midway and the CS annexed several other outlying atolls for naval bases. The CSA had become a bit more refined in its foreign policy and realized that pliant client states could be as useful as actual possessions. Cuba and the Mexican republics began to breathe a bit easier.

Since the CS constitution allowed states to support established churches, most did. These evolved into denominations that emphasized the legitimacy of slavery and social hierarchy, and the importance of obedience to authority. Slaves were kept illiterate and had only a fragmentary knowledge of the Bible, so slave churches preached a random mix of Christianity and folk beliefs. Slave owners encouraged superstitious fear of punishment for disobedience. When Charles Darwin published Origin of Species in 1859, any concern over the non-literal interpretation of Genesis was offset by the ease with which evolution could be used to legitimize slavery. Also, interpreting Genesis figuratively opened the door to figurative interpretations of Christ's social teachings, as well. But the philosopher who really struck a chord in the CSA was Nietzsche, who cited the CSA in his writings as an example of a society evolving toward the ubermensch.

Although in theory the CSA was a democratic republic, the scope of its democracy was limited to white male property owners. Citizenship and free status was limited to full-blooded whites. The CS Congress was prohibited from limiting free speech, but states and local governments had a free hand, so anti-slavery agitation and even journalism were suppressed. Slave revolts generally remained unknown outside the local area. Trial by jury was guaranteed for whites, but slave owners dealt with blacks summarily. The only limitation was that capital offenses (murder, attempted escape, plus pretty much any violent crime against a white) had to be reviewed by a judge and sentence carried out by law enforcement. In practice, slave owners needed do little more than inform the sheriff. Along its long land border west of the Mississippi and its short land frontier in the Appalachians, the CS established a no-mans-land where slaves could be shot on sight. These fortuitously furnished shelter for wildlife. The last surviving flocks of passenger pigeons survived in these strip refuges after being driven to extinction elsewhere (3). Despite radically different ideologies, neither side felt a desire to attack the other, apart from cross-border raids by pro- and anti-slavery hotheads. For all its abhorrence of slavery, the US felt no desire to take control of millions of blacks. Neither the US nor the CS felt any eagerness to assimilate large numbers of hostile whites. 

As the race for colonies intensified in the late 19th century, sentiment in the CSA was unabashedly pro-imperialist. Meanwhile, slavery was coming to be seen as gauche, so the CS "abolished" slavery in 1878, but replaced it with a system of indenture that was every bit as difficult to escape. Mostly the abolition consisted of replacing "slavery" with "indenture" in the laws. It dawned on the CS that indentured servitude had no racial connotations, and could be applied to whites as well as blacks. Increasingly, poor whites in the CS found themselves in virtual slavery. They could buy their way out with a stint in the military, a source of easy manpower for the CS. A large pool of indentured labor also had the advantage, from some points of view, of keeping wages rock bottom.

During World War I, the US favored Britain and France while the CS favored Germany. Neither especially wanted to become embroiled in a European war, so both observed a semi-neutrality where each traded with its preferred partner and fired back in self defense. US volunteers flew aircraft for France, and CS volunteers flew for Germany, and occasionally faced each other in aerial combat. The war ground to an exhausted end in May, 1919. Meanwhile, Russia had dropped out in 1917 and been overtaken by the Bolshevik Revolution. Between its persecution of religion and its attacks on property, Bolshevism whipped the CS into a fury not seen since the slave revolt in Haiti a century earlier. 20,000 CS volunteers went to Russia to fight for the Whites, but only 5,000 returned.

As new armed camps began to coalesce in the 1930's, public opinion in the US favored neutrality, but leaned toward the democracies. In the CS, public opinion favored Japan in its invasion of China. The Japanese were seen as civilized, industrious and disciplined in contrast to the corrupt and moribund Chinese government, and the openly racist Japanese attitude toward China was admired strongly in the CS. When the Nazis came to power in Germany, the CS welcomed them with open arms. To the CS, anti-Semitism was no sin, and indeed was widespread and open in the CS, but the real appeal of the Nazis was their hatred of Bolshevism, and the Nazis in turn approved of CS policies toward blacks. When Germany invaded Poland, and Britain and France unexpectedly declared war, CS diplomats in Germany cautioned the Germans to keep their focus on the East, and allow the Western Sitzkrieg to continue to sitzen. When the US stopped shipments of oil and other strategic materials to Japan in protest of its aggression in China, the CS gleefully continued to send Japan whatever it wanted. When Germany invaded Russia, even though it technically faced a two-front war, it had no real threat in the rear. The US signed an agreement with the Soviet Union to supply food and munitions, and the CS did the same with Germany. The difference was the US convoys ran a gauntlet of German submarines, while the CS convoys were escorted by the German navy. And there was a steady stream of CS ships carrying supplies to Japan. (4)

Not only was Germany well supplied by the CS, but with Britain only formally at war, but not inclined to do anything rash, Germany's infrastructure and industrial plant remained intact. The CS also manufactured armaments for Germany, allowing the CS to copy the most advanced tank designs as well as prototype Messerschmidt jets. By 1944, Russia was reeling and in headlong flight. The Germans decided to hold at the Urals. Meanwhile, Japan saw its opportunity and invaded eastern Russia as far as Lake Baikal (5). Russia's orphan province Alaska, which it had tried a number of times to sell to the US or Canada, was now in danger of invasion by Japan. As Japan gobbled the Aleutians, the US and Canada jointly occupied the rest. The war ended in 1946 with Germany occupying Poland and Russia west of the Urals, Japan occupying eastern Siberia, the Aleutians and southwestern Alaska, and Russia reduced to central Siberia. The former non-Russian Soviet republics became independent. Japan imposed puppet regimes in eastern China and took on a leadership role among the former central Asian Soviet republics, who feared both Russia and China. Japan and Britain vied to assume the role of protector of Tibet. Britain and France reigned supreme in Africa, the Middle East and south Asia.

After the war, the world settled into an armed peace. Neither Nazism, Japanese or British imperialism or CS quasi-slavery were ideologies that lent themselves well to foreign export, and Bolshevism, blamed for Russia's defeat, had been purged from what was left of Russia. Petty dictatorships around the world styled themselves followers of one brand of totalitarianism or the other, depending on personal taste and strategic convenience. The only voices for democracy and human rights were the US, Canada and various countries in Western Europe, including, ironically, Britain and France, which considered themselves as civilizing forces in their colonies. Colonial rule by Britain and France in Africa and Asia was infinitely superior to what the Nazis would have done. But the overwhelming balance of military force in the world favored the totalitarian empires. Both the CS and Germany dreamed of colonizing Africa. They were not pretty dreams.


(1) Virginia originally included present West Virginia, which rejected secession and seceded from secession. West Virginia was admitted as a state in 1863. This and the splitting of Maine from Massachusetts in 1820 are the only two times states have been split in US history.

(2) In our world, Walker ended his days before a Honduran firing squad in 1860. In this alternate timeline, his occupation of Nicaragua took hold. Moreover, with the Caribbean and Central America in the CS sphere of influence, he was able to avoid the fatal mistake of making an enemy of Cornelius Vanderbilt.

(3) Why not? The former East German frontier zone served as an inadvertent wildlife refuge, too.

(4) In this alternative time line, the Japanese, with no oil or strategic materials shortages, see no need to seize oil fields in Burma or Indonesia. With no reason to go to war with Britain, they see no reason to seize Hong Kong or Singapore, and though they're irritated by the US, they have no strategic reason to invade the (still Spanish) Philippines, Wake, or Guam. With Hawaii neutral and protected jointly by the US and CS, there is no Pearl Harbor to attack.

(5) Before our World War II, Japan was divided between a northern plan, to seize eastern Russia, and a southern plan, to seize the oil fields of Burma and Indonesia. In August, 1939, at Khalkin Gol, the most important battle most people have never heard of, the Japanese probed the Russians and got mauled. They then decided on the southern plan, which inevitably meant war with Britain and eventually the US, hence, Pearl Harbor. But in this scenario they don't need the southern plan and by 1944, whatever had happened in 1939, Russia had been bled white.