Published online by Cambridge University Press: 01 June 2015
Economic analyses of American Civil War causation typically focus on longue durée structural arguments neglecting specific context and contemporary observers’ predictions about disunion’s effects. This article suggests secession heightened concern about government solvency and intensified a conversation about the nature of American inter- and intra-national trade, one hinging on ideas about relative dependence and positioning within the world economy. Deep South secessionists rested their claims on a cotton-centric economic worldview, trusting that their coveted commodity could finance independence and attract foreign partners. Pro-compromise northerners greatly feared that possibility. Less compromising Republican political economists countered that secession would reveal northern economic superiority and the South’s underlying weakness, eventually leading to voluntary reunion. Though competing sides envisioned peaceful pathways towards their ends, the actions of insolvent central governments—who feared that any compromise on contested forts and revenue ports would undermine the confidence of underwriters—militated against these imagined peaceful ends.