Putting the life back in science fiction

Silly Summer Thoughts, Part 2: Lincoln survived
July 29, 2017, 7:58 pm
Filed under: alt-future, American politics, Speculation | Tags: , ,

This is inspired by my disgust with HBO for wanting to create a series where the South won the Civil War.

Like we need that right now.

So I’m going to pose the counter: what would the US (and the world) look like if Booth missed, Lincoln was not assassinated, and Andrew Johnson, the second or third worst president we’ve had, never came to power and didn’t totally screw up the Reconstruction?

It’s kinda shocking that this doesn’t get asked more often.  Here’s a few places I found it on Google:

Here’s CNN punting on the idea.

Cody Sisco saw a crippled Lincoln leading to a breakup of the US.

Here’s someone on Quora asking whether Lincoln would have sent blacks back to Africa.

There’s the Alternatehistory forum’s post on it, which is the most detailed timeline although the discussion is fairly short.

What’s interesting is that racism is so embedded in US culture right now that people seem to be incredibly uncomfortable contemplating the idea that, just perhaps, Reconstruction could have worked and civil rights could have come decades earlier.   I suspect that part of the problem is that it lays bare our current failures all to clearly.  Perhaps another problem is the excuse that, “oh, that won’t sell in the South/Red States,” so why create anything like that?

Feel free to play with the idea.  It’s not something I’m working on, but I do think we need more diversity in our alt-histories.  If someone created “Lincoln Survived,” would you watch it?

EDIT: some of my second thoughts on this idea.

–Racism would go away slowly if at all, and I’d use the evidence of British Imperial and Spanish attitudes about race. In the 19th Century, even more than now, race was a thing, in part due to colonial imperialism.  However, it could *change,* and that’s where things get interesting.  Would a black man have higher status than a white woman, for instance, and what would emancipation do to suffrage?  Would being whiter equate with being of higher intrinsic status? (more strongly than it does now, I mean.  I’m actually thinking of Latin American racial constructs here)

–What would Marx have made of it?  Remember that he lived until 1893 and wrote the Communist Manifesto in 1848.  If race barriers had eroded in the US, would class barriers have become stronger?  What would happen if poor whites and blacks had put aside their differences and united as the oppressed poor to fight for collective rights?  Trade unionism was forming around this time.  American unions were often racist, and as a counterfactual, it would be interesting to contemplate what might ensue if being poor became a worse tag than being black.  It’s worth remembering that the Anarchist threat gave rise to the FBI (Hoover was much happier going after left-wingers than mobsters), so likely similar threats to Gilded Age Capitalism would evoke proportionally violent reprisals from the US government.  Or not….

–A more diverse settling of the West.  A lot of this is wrapped up with Mormon history, which is a separate topic in itself.  Still, black homesteading was a thing, and there were all-black frontier towns (source).  If Reconstruction had been more successful, I suspect there would have been far more such settlements, leading to some interesting dynamics.  Conversely, Indian and Latino would be in politically worse positions as conquered peoples, and this leads to a cluttered dynamic where white and black might have been seen as being better than brown (the stupid racial version) or being American was seen as more important than skin color, which would lead to more violent assimilation or extermination.   Note that I’m not saying any of this is morally right, simply speculating on how the nastier sides of American history might be warped by changes in Washington.

–Confederate exodus.  This apparently happened, in that people who had been involved in the US slave trade moved to Australia and got into blackbirding to supply (dare we call it slave?) labor from captured Pacific islanders in Australian cane fields and elsewhere.  One might speculate that, in the absence of Jim Crow, there would be a bigger exodus of former slavers to other places, including South America and Australia.  After all, slave plantations were the driving engine of the American economy up until around the 1850s, so one might expect amoral businessmen to export the model to anywhere that slave plantations might be the cheapest way to produce industrial crops like sugar or cotton.

–How would this play out with American imperial ambitions? The World War I equivalent, where the colonialist system starts to crack?

SECOND EDIT (I’m thinking about this while doing chores, and tossing my thoughts up here, quite unlike my normal deliberate mode of writing…).  If I wanted to pitch a Lincoln Survived series to HBO, I’d suggest something like the following (which will show why I’m not the person for the job):

Booth misfired, Lincoln survived, and now it’s 1915, fifty years after the end of the Civil War.  The US is riven between two alienated political parties: the party of the rich factory and farm owners, a largely nihilistic puppet organization whose main goal seems to be to give power back to the rich, because Social Darwinism has proved they are the Great Men our society needs.  Also in their camp are various racist remnants from the antebellum South and similar luddites.  This is the Democratic Party of 1915.  On the other side are the Republicans, a multi-ethnic party of labor and innovation, whose major problem is getting all their squabbling factions, particularly the Communists, to work together towards achieving power once again.  1915 is the third year in the term of the worst president in American history (insert in-joke here), a Democratic businessman who follows the Hawaiian metaphor of being a shark going inland and consuming all who can’t outrun him, and who is faced with a totally dysfunctional Congress and Senate.  War is threatening to break out in Europe, Russia is teetering on the brink of revolution (with US Republican agents stoking the rebellion), the Koreans want our help freeing them in fighting the Japanese conquest, and the whole world is set to explode.

What happens next?  I haven’t a clue.  Tune in for next week’s exciting episode in alt-history.



2 Comments so far
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History counterfactuals are always interesting, even if highly speculative. There are so many possibilities. Just witness the latest discovery of a failed plea for Trump’s grandfather to avoid deportation from Germany. A real potential Butterfly Effect.

Allied with such Alt-History speculations is SF time travel stories where history is altered, often with very unexpected results.

I think the idea where Lincoln was not successfully assinate would make for an interesting story, as long as the rich tapetry of people and events made for a cogent and logical outcome, especially an unexpected one.

Who will watch it depends on the quality of the story. Does it matter if certain segments of society won’t watch it if overall those that do make it successfull? I don’t watch religious tv series or movies (except the classic ones) and I doubt I am alone in this, but that doesn’t stop them being made, and apparently successfully in some cases.

Comment by Alex Tolley

Would I watch it?
Answer one: only if it’s Daniel Day Lewis. Answer two: no, don’t have a teevee. Haven’t since my first dog got annoyed with it in no uncertain terms. Roughly seventeen yrs ago.
BTW, this isn’t meant to be flippant. I’m worried about the suffering of the creatured who’ve cast their lot in with humans. Already, in places like Detroit, there’s news of abandoned animals every single day. Local authorities are overwhelmed. Parvo has become a big deal again there….

Comment by petra

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