1863 Confederates Fear Union Will Conquer World by 1963

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What a reconstructed Union might be like a hundred years after Gettysburg

As the month of July in 1863 drew to a close, the American Civil War had reached its mid-point. The most dramatic events of the war (prior to the final surrender at Appomattox) had occurred in the first few days of that month, and the Confederacy was reeling. Not only had Vicksburg, Mississippi surrendered to Union General Ulysses S. Grant on July 4, but the South's greatest hero, General Robert E. Lee, had been compelled to retreat from Pennsylvania after his Army of Northern Virginia suffered a devastating defeat in the battle of Gettysburg.

As news spread of these reverses, a rising tide of despondency began to grip the minds of many Southerners. To combat this growth of discouragement on the Confederate home front, the Richmond Dispatch newspaper published, in its July 30, 1863 edition, an editorial designed to encourage its readers that the recent disasters to Southern arms did not portend the ultimate defeat and dissolution of the Confederate States.

Why Confederates expected European intervention to save them

The point of the article was that the “Western Powers of Europe” would never permit the reconstruction of the Union, because they understood that a unified America would become an unstoppable force that would eventually rule the world. In attempting to make its case on this point, the Dispatch laid out a fascinating vision of what a reconstructed American nation could become in the next hundred years.

Basing its deductions on census figures and previously observed population trends, the Dispatch projected that a reconstructed United States could achieve a population of 200 million by 1932 and double that figure by 1963.

The Union at the last census, (1860) to the best of our recollection contained about 28,600,000 of inhabitants. From the time of its establishment it had always doubled its population every twenty three years. Supposing it to have 25,000,000 now, (which is a moderate estimate) in twenty three years from this time — that is to say in 1886, it will number 50,000,000, in 1909, 100,000,000, and in 1932, 200,000,000. Only think of a single nation of 200,000,000 of men, descendants of Europeans, and civilized after the European fashion! The bare array of figures makes the brain reel.

Richmond Daily Dispatch, July 30, 1863
Richmond Daily Dispatch, July 30, 1863 | Source

A reunited US would be literally too big to fail

In 1863 the prospect of a single nation reaching a population of 200 million, especially when that nation was comprised of people the writer considered to be racially superior because of their European heritage, was an amazing and alarming possibility. The Dispatch editorial writer had no doubt that “the resources of the country would be fully adequate to the enormous population it would contain in the next seventy years.” But his concern was with the military implications of the existence of a unified government with such boundless resources at its disposal.

The first of those predicted implications was that by 1932 this unified country of 200 million inhabitants would field the greatest standing army in the history of the world.

In France the proportion of the standing army to the population is one to fifty. The proportion would not be less in this restored Union, and the world would behold the astounding spectacle of a standing army reaching the enormous figure of four millions of men — What power could resist such an army. What nation would dare to assert its most indubitable rights in (the) presence of it?

Once such a force was available, and given what it considered the power-hungry nature of the United States government, the Dispatch was in no doubt of that army being used.

It must be recollected, too, that from this time forward the policy of the Yankee Government is to be highly aggressive. It designs to go on conquering until nothing shall be left for its arms to be tried upon ... Let the Union be restored, and France will be driven from Mexico, while Great Britain may (find) it impossible to hold Canada. ...

Let the Union be restored, and let it exist seventy years and it will have conquered and possessed every foot of land from Hudson's Bay (to) Cape Horn. Its population of 200,000,000 and its army of 4,000,000 will call for a fleet of at least 10,000 steamers. What, then will become of British India, of China, of Asia down to the Dardanelles? What will become of England herself, of France, of all Europe, one century from this time, when the Union if allowed to be restored and to run its natural course will have 400,000,000 of inhabitants.

Based upon these seemingly reasonable projections, the Dispatch anticipated that by 1963 a reconstructed Union would become an aggressive and unmanageable behemoth that, by pure military might, would be the unchallenged ruler of the entire planet.

US troops on D-Day, June 1944
US troops on D-Day, June 1944 | Source

Of course, the Dispatch writer’s purpose in projecting such a future for the United States was not to celebrate American Manifest Destiny. Rather, his intent was to reassure his readers that in light of these possibilities, there was absolutely no chance that Europe in general, and France and Great Britain in particular, would ever allow a nation of such irresistible might to come into being.

It is true that such a civilized nation as that we have just depicted never has existed yet and never can exist. ... Now here is a nation promising to number 400,000,000 in a century, all under one Government, and speaking one language. It evidently cannot hold together — The thing is preposterous. It has already been broken in fragments, and England and France will take care that the fragments shall not be united. One hundred years is scarcely a day in national life, and they see what a nation this would be in one hundred years and how completely it would rule the world.

Where the predictions went wrong

Looking at these predictions with the advantage of 20-20 hindsight, it’s easy to see where the editor of the Dispatch went wrong. First of all, his article was written with a particular political agenda in mind, and that always tends to distort any analysis of current or future trends. His aim was to reinforce the widespread belief among white Southerners that as soon as it became apparent that the South was about to be overwhelmed by the admittedly much greater military might of the North, European nations would intervene in the war to prevent the reunification of the nation. Thus the writer had an obvious reason to be biased toward seeing the reconstructed US of a century later as being as big and as threatening to other nations as possible.

More importantly, the Dispatch article is an example of the dangers of straight-line predictive thinking, which simply extends current conditions into the future.

Since the Civil War, has the U. S. become the nation the Dispatch predicted?

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For example, the article’s population projection for 1963 was off by more than 100%. Rather than 400 million, as a straight-line analysis would imply, the population of the US as reported by the 1960 census was just over 179 million. The US military reached a maximum of about 12 million in uniform at the end of WW2, three times what the Dispatch considered to be an unimaginable force. Yet no government in the world, including our own, believes that the idea of the US ruling the world by virtue of its military might is a reasonable possibility. And the prediction that the US government would pursue a “highly aggressive” policy in the 20th century would surely sound strange to anyone able to anticipate the tide of isolationism that would engulf the country prior to its entrance into both WWI and WWII.

What the Dispatch got right

And yet, the editor of the Dispatch did capture something real about what the United States could become. His article reflected the unshakeable faith that animated most Americans in the 19th century, both North and South, that their country was fated to lead, if not to rule, the world. That its destiny was to set a standard of freedom and prosperity that the rest of the world would aspire to reach. And even today, almost 150 years after the Richmond Dispatch encouraged Southerners to persist in their efforts to break apart the country into separate and competing nations, that vision of a transcendent United States still animates and motivates many of the citizens of a united American nation.


© 2011 Ronald E. Franklin

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Comments 16 comments

carcro profile image

carcro 5 years ago from Winnipeg

That is a very interesting article, history can sure give us an insight into how the world has changed. The predictions or forcasts on how America would dominate the world is quite notable for that time. Great content! Thanks.


khrys24 profile image

khrys24 5 years ago from pa

I enjoyed your article, hope to see more.


WesternHistory profile image

WesternHistory 5 years ago from California

This is an excellent and very interesting hub. I think you made a good point regarding the incorrect predictions made in the editorial. The media even then made predictions based on individual political agendas and or wishes. To try to make a hundred year straight line projection is not possible although it's attempted almost every day. Thanks again for your informational hub.


DzyMsLizzy profile image

DzyMsLizzy 5 years ago from Oakley, CA

Welcome to Hub Pages! What a great start you have here with a very well-done and researched article. It definitely underscores the errant penchant for fear-mongering predictions, still practiced today. An important lesson is presented here.

20-20 hindsight also needs to realize that history is written by the victors; so is in and of itself biased to the opposite slant as the losers (or potential losers, as from the perspective of the Richmond Dispatch articles you quote.) Ergo, no history and no projection can ever be construed as accurate.

Voted up, interesting and useful! Great job! You have a new follower.


conradofontanilla profile image

conradofontanilla 5 years ago from Philippines

The North had only to show that it could govern to discourage foreign intervention from France and Britain. I have a Hub "During the American Civil War with the South, How Did the United States Preempt War with France and Britain?." You are right in saying that the editorial writer wanted to make the civil war an international war with France and Britain taking the side of the South. But right from the start it was clear that the South had no chance against the North. Its only only hope was that the civil war would turn into an international war duplicating what happened in the American revolution when France came to the aid of the 13 colonies, sending armies and navy, and Spain and the Netherlands joining the fray, checking Britain's navy in the European seas.State's right was pinned as the South's strong foundation but it proved to be the root of its downfall, the way the South interpreted it. Some of the offshoots were resistance to taxation, dodging of conscription, maintaining state army to the expense of an overall army. Lack of taxation resulted in printing of paper money that gave way to 9,000% inflation;state bodyguard was easy to destroy as Gen. Sherman had shown.


FlourishAnyway profile image

FlourishAnyway 3 years ago from USA

What a fascinating hub, looking at predictions from the Richmond Times Dispatch all those years ago. It's hard to even venture a guess what the world will be like a century from now. I'm impressed that they did foresee the US' world leadership role, especially since we were such a new country.


RonElFran profile image

RonElFran 3 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA Author

Thanks, FlourishAnyway. I've read a lot of Civil War editions of the Dispatch to understand the Confederate perspective on the conflict. One thing I've seen is that even after secession, and even as they used the harshest invective they could think of against the Union, there still seemed to be some latent affection and even pride toward the United States. Perhaps that's one reason North/South animosity abated as quickly as it did after the war.


pstraubie48 profile image

pstraubie48 2 years ago from sunny Florida

The lessons we learn from knowing our history is so so important. I have learned so much as an adult. I will keep reading and learning becaue of articles like this one.

I grew up reading the Richmond Times Dispatch...o what i did not know....


RonElFran profile image

RonElFran 2 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA Author

Thanks for reading, pstraubie48. I wonder if the Richmond Times Dispatch has actual physical copies of the Civil War editions of the Daily Dispatch. They would be fascinating to read.


dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 2 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

At the time of the Civil War I think the USA was still in a defensive mode.Also, the Railroads were being developed at that time and we most likely need cooperation with Canada to make it work. I am guessing at the moment but I think we had our hands full at the time.

Voting up and sharing.


RonElFran profile image

RonElFran 2 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA Author

Thanks, dahoglund. Actually, during the war there were a lot of tensions between the U. S. and Canada. Confederate agents based in Canada mounted several espionage/sabotage operations across the border. Plus, the Confederates were hoping for, and doing all they could to provoke war between the U. S. and Britain. The Lincoln administration went out of its way to maintain a good relationship with Canada. As you say, the Union already had its hands full fighting the Confederacy.


markjayharris profile image

markjayharris 2 years ago from Smithfield, Utah

Excellent article. Interesting attempt by the South to gin up support to take on the North. Kind of ingenious really, even though it looks like it didn't work.

I find it interesting also, the extrapolation from population as to what the US would be like in a hundred years. There is a lot of truth to it, only the US ended up being much more fair minded, and less empire-building than the writer assumed. Our greatness did rise to the top, but fortunately we've tried (for the most part) to use our strength and position to partner with other countries, build up the enemies we've vanquished, spread human rights and constitutional forms of government. In other words, we are completely unlike any other nation that has risen up to rule the world in all of human history.

Not too shabby!


RonElFran profile image

RonElFran 2 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA Author

Thanks, markjayharris. I think you're right that for the most part, the U. S. never had the imperialist impulse. In fact, we had to be more or less dragged against our will into world leadership. Of course the Dispatch's editorial writer took it as a matter of faith that the aggressive nature of the Yankee government was proven by its decision to go to war to restore the Union rather than just let the Confederate states go.


Kristen Howe profile image

Kristen Howe 17 months ago from Northeast Ohio

Ron, this was another great hub from you. Real informative and useful to know about the Civil War and the newspaper's remarks. Voted up!


RonElFran profile image

RonElFran 17 months ago from Mechanicsburg, PA Author

Thanks, Kristen. I particularly appreciate that because this was my very first hub!


Kristen Howe profile image

Kristen Howe 17 months ago from Northeast Ohio

How cool is that, Ron! My pleasure!

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