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October 17, 2014


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The assumption that Chihuahua would be a Union territory is dependent on what happens between 1848 and 1864. Sure the travel routes run north-south, but for Chihuahua that would mean running north-south from a pro-Confederate southern New Mexico, i.e. what became Confederate Arizona

And since Chihuahua is fairly good for cotton production (ranking 8th in both hectares under cultivation and metric tons produced in 1969 (above both Nuevo Leon and Tamaulipas) and it would have been bordered by Sonora and Coahuila (which are both very, very good for cotton production) it would seem that Chihuahua would both have at least begun an evolution towards being a cotton-producing slave territory (which could still be pro-union admittedly but even the Union would probably have been uncertain over its loyalties) and it would have been effectively surrounded by territories likely to be definitively pro-Confederate (Sonora, Arizona, Coahuila and the State of Texas). The secession of Arizona before the Texans mounted the invasion of New Mexico (in fact the secession of Arizona facilitated the New Mexico Campaign if I am not mistaken) might well enable the Confederates to mount an invasion of Chihuahua rather than New Mexico in order to secure their rear areas in Arizona and establish more possible links with Sonora territory (which may well have seceded as well in favour of the CSA).

Would Chihuahua still be Confederate controlled in 1864 if that came to pass? Who knows? That would depend on how the Trans-Mississippi theatre played out IF the Texans/Confederates went for Chihuahua instead of northern New Mexico. Perhaps the Union reconquers Arizona and Chihuahua in 1862. In which case Juarez could escape into Union held territory in 1864. But if for whatever reason it was still Confederate held territory by the time Juarez is on the ropes, then Juarez would likely have to smuggle himself into Union held territory.

um. Tell me how I am being stupid.

Is there any chance Juarez might go south to, say, the Yucatan instead? Then through promises and whatnot get support there? Maybe even from the Mayans if the Haciendos are against him?

Wouldn't the US North have given much of that land back to Mexico in return for campaigns against the Confederates?

Christ. I just lost a lengthy response.

J.H.: It gets weird, doesn't it? You're suggesting the Silbey's campaign might have headed south instead of north. That's unlikely, in the sense that California was a more tempting target than Chihuahua ... but it's almost certain in the sense that Silbey would have needed only to detach a battalion or so to take and hold Chihuahua City. As you say, there would have been a lot of sympathizers by that point --- attempts at cotton cultivation in the 1840s failed due to bad transport and a lack of irrigation; both would have been slightly ameliorated by 1860 in American Chihuahua.

That said, the New Mexico Campaign was always batshit crazy, and it would have been equally easy for the California Column to divert south and dislodge the Confederates. In that world, Chihuahua is in Union hands by the middle of 1862.

It is certainly possible that Chihuahua would have been more pro-Confederate by 1860, but that's not my instinct.

Will: That would have been a rather bad idea for at least three reasons.

If you expand the map in the post, you can see the movements of the French and Republican armies. It unfortunately lacks dates, but a southward retreat from the D.F. would have taken the Republican government right into the French army.

Moreover, the areas to the south were bastions of Conservative support during the War of the Reform; they are not good places for a government-in-exile to retreat through, let alone hole up in. It also would have taken Juárez away from his base of support in the United States. The Republicans raised a lot of money there and imported a lot of arms from there; they also knew that the U.S. government would be adding its muscle to that support once the Civil War ended.

Finally, the Maya are in no position to help. It wasn't as though they had a lot of unmobilized resources sitting around for President Juárez to mobilize. Civil strife was constant in the region (which was, not surprisingly, heavily Conservative in the ladino areas) and the Empire had gained some support among the Maya once Maximilian proved to be a soft-hearted liberal. In other words, support for the Second Empire was lukewarm on both sides without generating any commensurate fervor for the Republicans, and neither side could have given substantial support anyway.

Shah8, I don't understand the question.

Yep it does get weird. I strongly suspect that if Chihuahua isn't outright pro-Confederate by 1861 like Arizona was (and like Coahuila and Sonora would likely be) then Silbey would send a detachment south first to secure Chihuahua city (and the Chihuahua region) before then going into northern New Mexico with California as the ultimate aim (and quite possibly a campaign into Baja California from Sonora if that happens to be a part of the Mexican Cession under the counterfactual scenario). This might push the New Mexico campaign back slightly, but I think the ultimately outcome would be the same unless there were substantial changes to the Theatre as a result of the different Mexican Cession (I just can't see what kind of changes would make it so that the CSA could do better in the Trans-Mississippi Theatre due to a larger Mexican Cession). Thus as you say Chihuahua would be in Union hands again by mid 1862 (maybe mid to late 1862 at the worst). Especially as taking Chihuahua would cut off any Confederate Sonora that might exist.

Shah8, I’m still not sure I understand the question. The real United States won the civil war without Mexicand help, so I’m not sure why this alternate United States would need it.

Moreover, Mexico was in no position to help the United States. The Lincoln Administration was wholeheartedly opposed to the Second Empire (and certainly to its European backers) ... and that was shared with the Democrats. Lincoln would be abandoning a deeply-held position to ask Maximilian for assistance.

Giving up U.S. territory in return would have been an even bigger non-starter, especially when you consider the principle that Lincoln was fighting over.

What if something had possessed Lincoln to reverse his Mexico policy? Well, the Second Empire was in no position to help: it was fighting its own civil war. Had he asked it for help, Lincoln would have betrayed Benito Juárez, renounced the Monroe Doctrine and given up treaty-acquired American territory (populated by American citizens) ... for no substantive gain.

I may not have provided sufficient context for this to be obvious. If that’s the case, I can put some up! But do tell me if I misunderstood the question.

Am I answering something that you’re not asking?

So, returning to the Maya and the Caste War, what are the consequences of rump Mexico on that effort? Might we see the Brits extend British Honduras? Or just their economic hegemony which you have called their informal empire?

Until the French get clubbed by the Prussians, I could see the Brits running guns and weapons to the Yucatan until the fall of the French invaders.

Would we get a fractured Mexico as a result?

The British did run guns to the Maya! In fact, their statelet only collapsed after the British gave up on the effort, many decades later.

I don't think we're looking at any sort of systematic change.

So, the loss of more of the north would not mean a weaker mexico?

Christ. Lost a response again.

Depends on what you mean by weaker.

The last threat to the ladinos' survival in Yucatán was in 1848. Support from central Mexico was key to pushing the Maya back in 1848-50, but the ladinos continued to hold on despite two consecutive Mexican civil wars and the general chaos of the Restored Republic. It's hard to see why the loss of the north would change that.

More concretely, circa 1850 the north did not provide key tax revenues, sources of manpower, or strategic materials. Mexico would clearly be weaker without the territories --- you'd strip away 8% of the population, a bit less of the tax revenues, a bit more of the GDP as we'd define it today. But it wouldn't be so much weaker as to enable other territories to spin off or make it impossible for Porfirio Díaz (or his analogue) to establish order.

And the United States would inherit the Indian wars in Sonora and Chihuahua, no small burden.


A disturbing thing I encountered reading about the Balkans might apply. A Hungarian minister of the Austro-Hungarian Empire apparently replied to some minority (context lost) threatening (paraphrase) Don't make us do to you what the Anglo-Saxons did to the Native Americans in North America. This was circa the 1890s +/-.

I could see some pretty brutal Indian Wars there as well as what we already did. Whither Geronimo?

Sorry for not responding sooner. I was thinking in terms of "This is not worth the trouble of keeping" rather than that aid was genuinely desired.

First, I think that the further south one kept Mexican territory, the greater the Catholic-Protestant conflict would occur, especially with the Know-Nothings. Moreover, don't forget that the Mexican War was a fundamental cause of the Civil War through the expansion of slavery. Forget freakin' Kansas, what would Bleeding Coahuila been like? What states in the Northern territories would have been broken up to balance slave and free, and how much would local northern elites have felt with any breakup?

Second, I think that places like Tampico and even Chihuahua under US rule would have had tremendous political significance that places like Santa Fe or San Diego would not have had. If Mexico wouldn't let Spain have Tampico, why should any proud Mexican allow the US to do so? In that sense, I think there would almost certainly have been Mexican supported rebels and Native American raiding parties on a constant basis.

Lastly, I think that the US would have faced greater international intrigue from the UK (long term) along with France.

So my feeling was that Lincoln would be trying to give away a booby prize or a greater autonomy package to native elites because I do not think there truly was any natural path to any sort of genuine solidarity to Confederate aims. If Nuevo Leonians had to deal with crazy Baptist southerners, no matter how aligned their material interests were, I think there would have been strong antipathies developed by the Civil War.

Why not an Independent Northern Mexico, dominated in the way we have Spanish, and then Independent Cuba? Or just give it back to Mexico. I think there would have been sizable population in favor of this in a way that wasn't true of the annexation of Hawai'i.

The independent North Mexico idea makes no sense, considering the context. Think it through; I dare say it's obvious why nobody had any interest in that in 1848.

Giving the territories away later is off the table. Period. First, there's the principle of the Union that Lincoln is fighting for. Second and third as well.

Fourth, there was no sacred significance to those territories and Mexico was in a continual state of civil strife.

Fifth, there is no way to have more "intrigue" than the French Intervention short of taking the CSA side; I don't know what that even means.

Sixth, there is no "bleeding Coahuila"; it's pro-slavery and under the complete control of the Vidaurri regime. There is strife in Chihuahua, but that's as likely to be channeled in a pro-Union direction rather than as irredentism; just like New Mexico. Anti-Catholicism is a valid concern, but these are far away underpopulated territories. They will have unpredictable effects on US politics after the war, but not before.

Mexican nationalism was weak and elite-driven before 1857.

Oh, and I mentioned the Union?

Giving up the territories would have been a total nonstarter; it wouldn't even be seriously discussed. I can't discount later nationalist movements (although I have strong doubts) but we know a lot about northern Mexico in 1850. There is no substantial non-Indian resistance ... and nobody in the US is going to accept surrendering because of the Comanche.

The above needs some editing; apologies, Shah8. iPhone during commute is my excuse.

OK, longer answer, from a real keyboard.

We have an example of a populated area switching to American rule. New Mexico had a population about as large as Coahuila's and a little more than half of Nuevo León or Chiahuahua. It provides a perfectly valid template for how those territories would have developed under American rule; with one wrinkle that I'll get to later.

We also know what American troops experienced during the occupation. Mexican politicians in the D.F. were horrified at the level of indifference, shading over in many cases -- not least Nuevo León -- outright collaboration.

The wrinkle, which would make Coahuila and Nuevo León different from New Mexico, is that the elites in the northeastern states actively desired American annexation and the extension of slavery. We know this because they asked for it! Santiago Vidaurri wrote a letter to Richmond in 1861 volunteering Coahuila and Nuevo León to the Confederate cause. (Vidaurri annexed Coahuila to N.L. and installed himself as the governor of Tamaulipas.)

These sympathies predated the Civil War. In fact, Vidaurri had been perfectly happy in 1855 to return escaped slaves to Texas. The agreement failed because the Texans wanted to send in their own people to recapture the escapees, not principled opposition; ironically, he made a whole bunch of antislavery proclamations in 1857, only to reverse them and start sending slaves home in 1858. It is hard to believe that Vidaurri or the elites that supported him would have opposed slavery, given their opportunism and their incessant complaints about labor shortages.

More poignantly, Martin Robinson Delany, the biggest proponent of free black emigration to Mexico encouraged them to settle far away from the border; Mexicans in the north were not to be trusted. Moreover, the illegal status of the refugees meant that they were denied the most basic rights and often abused. (Rosalie Schwartz is the best source; I'd also look at Sarah Cornell if you're interested.)

There is a huge amount of fallow land at this time and no organized peasantry -- that's why there were labor shortages with migrants from the south brought up on indentures. So land grabs are not a problem. Moreover, the locals will control the state governments; the techniques that Anglos used in South Texas won't be applicable. Land grabs by slaveowning Anglos aren't the issue, although there will be some anger from smallholders. This could get particularly nasty in Chihuahua; thus our earlier speculation that Chihuahua would have strong Union sympathies. (Not unlike New Mexico.)

Mexico, meanwhile, isn't supporting any organized rebellion in the north. It barely exists as an organized state during this period.

The Indian Wars will be severe, of course, but not much more than they were in our world. The U.S. and the whites had a lot of power; and the lack of a southern refuge would in fact weaken the native nations over the long run. The U.S. didn't abandon Arizona and it won't abandon hypothetical new territories in Sonora and Chihuahua.

In short, there is no social basis for anti-U.S. guerrilla movements, an equivalent of Bloody Kansas, or widespread unrest.

The effects on the U.S. side are less than you might think. I wish I could pull up the thread where David Tenner convinced me of this, a long time ago. Having one or two new slave states right south of Texas does make the Compromise of 1850 somewhat less contentious. I thought it might also head off Bleeding Kansas. Only he convinced me that it probably wouldn't for two reasons. First, the Democrats had large majorities and Douglas actually seemed to think that he was supporting the spirit of the Missouri Compromise while completely destroying it. So a Kansas-Nebraska Act is likely. In addition, angry settlers from Missouri were pouring into Kansas. (Against the expectations of the pro-slavery Democrats, I should add!) A civil war in Kansas was likely even if more slave states in the south headed off the Kansas-Nebraska Act.

So there's all that ... but it's all moot, really. Lincoln cannot fight a war against secessionists while condoning secession. (What, he's gonna tell the Texans that they're different, they can leave? Not a chance.) Lincoln does not have the political room or the political desire to allow them to secede.

These are very interesting responses and I learned something from them. I didn't know much about this sort of history before this blog post, and learned a lot with the aid of Wikipedia. Though a Rosalie Schwartz monograph for a hundred bucks made me pale...

A rebuttal, weak they may be...

1) Vidauri and his sort were opportunists, and they were operating in a political context that would be fairly different by the time they really exploded onto the scene in the 1850s. Given the sort of investment money and spoils political system that would have poured in, Vidauri would have had to compete with people with more money and better connections than he. I doubt he wouldn't have done some Real Mexican shtick. And with the constant fight between liberals and reactionaries in Mexico, there would have been any number of slogans he could have customed himself to in opposition.

2) Mexico might barely exist, but countries that barely exist traditionally have made it troublesome for neighboring powers--think the Raj and the Afghani wars or the great border bandits like Liu Yongfu. People would have been able to make a name for themselves while making a great deal of trouble. The later raids into Texas after independence makes that pretty clear. A US border at Tampico would have been a security nightmare.

3) I suspect that you underestimate the degree to which the slavery issue would have been terminally controversial. At the end of the day, northern Mexico support for absorption into the US was driven entirely by emancipation and the lack of NA/Mestizo peasant labor. How much else such people share in interest with Texans and US? On the other side, I really rather doubt that the politics of free labor and slavery wouldn't have made for some extremely heated politics. The overweening political power of Southern aristocrats were at the issue here rather than any real interest in balance of power or interests. The war itself was largely interpreted as being about perpetuating power, and in the context of the settlement with the British over Canada...that much more Mexican land would have meant that much more scrutiny and controversy as the Wilmot Proviso effort clearly shows. I wish you could have dug up David Tenner's argument, because I seriously doubt his contention on face. If it was otherwise, all of the expeditionary filibusters that went on at the time probably would have gotten more support from DC. Suppose there was a conquest and integration of Northern Mexico into the slave state regime. The Civil War provoked a splitting of Virginia and some interesting political developments along the border states. How would the President Lincoln react with a Unionist Army of Northern Mexico, filled with prominent rural Mestizos (who've probably killed a lot of white people prior to meeting) that speak Spanish? Union? With them?

4) Given the general behavior of the British during this time, I strongly doubt they wouldn't have had some pretty strong opinions about the integrity of Mexico (and its debts) or worries about greater dependence on Southern cotton. And I doubt that they wouldn't have acted on said concerns. Perhaps more discreetly than they were in South America, but with some determination to be heard.

Response to the responses (this is fun!). Short version: great point on (1), good point in general but not applicable to this episode in (2), not sure I understand (3), and no on (4).

(1) Excellent point: it is not clear that Vidaurri has any sort of political career in American Nuevo León. (New Leon? That sounds horrible, but would almost certainly be the name.) That said, Vidaurri had a lot of support among the elites of the state.

But I'm quibbling.

(2) As a general rule, you're correct. But not in this case. I'm not sure which raids into Texas you're referring to --- there were a lot over a wide period of time, made for wildly different reasons. But none of them were more than a sideshow. Moreover, the Liberal side of the War of the Reform would have no interest in antagonizing the United States. The Conservatives, meanwhile, would have no interest in antagonizing their biggest sectional supporters inside the United States. Raids? Probably. Ones that Washington would even notice, let alone devote serious bandwidth to combating? No.

(3) I'm not sure that I understand this sentence: "At the end of the day, northern Mexico support for absorption into the US was driven entirely by emancipation and the lack of NA/Mestizo peasant labor." But that's because I'm not sure what you mean by "emancipation" in this context. So I can piece that together, but I apologize for saying that I can't follow the thread of the rest of the paragraph.

The last sentence is clear, but it seems obvious that widespread local support for the Union cause would only cement the territories' position within the United States. I have no idea what effect they'd have on the later development of U.S. politics or if the U.S. would develop a Quebecois or Irish problem in those states. But that's a bit outside the remit here, which ends in 1866.

(4) The British were incredibly circumspect in dealing with the United States during this entire time period. Nobody wanted war with the Americans; nobody even wanted to risk a hostile United States. So no meddling in California, no meddling in Texas, no objections to U.S. attempts at Caribbean expansion, no position on Mexico. Even when the British joined the ill-considered expedition against Mexico in 1861 it was in the hopes of constraining France, and London rapidly pulled out of the idiot episode once it became clear that was impossible. The idea that Britain would care about greater U.S. possessions in Mexico, let alone try anything that might annoy Washington in the slightest, runs completely against the grain of British policy.

We haven't mentioned Tamaulipas, but it's worth noting that the inhabitants of the northern part of the state actively supported the secessionists during the Texan Revolution.

"Take Sonora, Chihuahua and Coahuila out of the federation and you remove both the factions and personalities that drove the Mexican Revolution. "

You forgot about Emiliano Zapata, from Morelos, a southern state. His revolutionary ideals are still present today.

Sure. But it was Francisco Madero, from Coahuila, who kicked off the Revolution; Zapata's movement emerged from disillusionment about Madero's ability to fulfill his promises. Even then, the agraristas didn't present a threat to Mexico City except when northern rebellions dsitracted federal forces.

Without northern Mexico, any agrarian revolts in the south will be wildly different. You could wind up with anything between some sporadic easily-suppressed incidents to full-scale decades-long civil war. What you won't get is anything resembling the Mexican Revolution as we know it.

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