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The Pacific Republic and the Golden Circle

#1
I've mentioned a few times on here that I've been working (very slowly) on a project about an independent republic in the Oregon Country, founded in the 1840s in response to slower US expansion. While researching, I've come across a side topic that I won't be using but which is interesting in its own right: Civil War secessionist plots on the West Coast.

The idea of an independent Pacific Republic was already in circulation during the 1840s and 50s, but in the run-up to Lincoln's election it caught on with a certain set of hardcore Democrats. A handful of politicians on the West Coast (including Senator Gwin of California and former Oregon State House speaker William T'Vault) openly advocated secession; a larger number (such as Oregon's Governor Whiteaker) talked about neutrality. Allegedly, there was a plot by the Knights of the Golden Circle to arrange a declaration of independence - I'm still trying to figure out how true that story is. This is a murky topic.

There was a degree of support for secession in southern California, both from old Californios who resented the federal government and from Southern emigres. At the start of 1861, both of California's senators, the governor, and the commander of the state's federal troops, Albert Sidney Johnston, were all Confederate sympathizers. As the war began, parts of Southern California were placed under martial law, and occasional skirmishes and confrontations went on during the following years.

In Oregon, outright secessionism was less common, but soft support for the Confederacy was widespread in the south of the state - particularly in the mining camps above the Rogue Valley. There was no rebellion but the political atmosphere in Jackson, Josephine, and Douglas counties was poisonous and occasionally violent.

Could the balance have tipped into secessionist insurrection? A couple PODs for an abortive Pacific Republic:

1. Albert Sidney Johnston leads a coup in California. Johnston was a former leader of the Republic of Texas, and a few months into the war fled California to join up with the Confederate Army. Supposedly, he was approached by Golden Circle conspirators to help them seize federal buildings in San Francisco but declined. If this is true it's an obvious POD. I don't imagine most of Johnston's troops would have followed him into revolt, but it could have kicked off political chaos in California.

2. Joseph Lane dies on his way home. Lane was a leading doughface and served as Breckinridge's running mate in 1860; when his Senatorial term expired in 1861 and he returned to Oregon it was widely assumed he was about to launch the Pacific Republic. In the event, he was met by hostile crowds when he disembarked and simply retired to his home in Roseburg as a private citizen. However, one source I read claims that when Lane arrived back in the Umpqua Valley, he accidentally shot himself in the chest while unloading his baggage. His wounds were tended to by Jesse Applegate, a well-known Republican. What if Lane had died - either on the spot or, worse, in Applegate's care? Conspiracy theories would spread quickly if the leader of the Democratic ultras was killed at such a convenient time, and Lane might become a martyr by mistake.

In either of these scenarios (other suggestions welcome) I don't think a Pacific Republic uprising would be able to conquer much territory, let alone win. The majority of the population was, if not Republican, at least passionately Unionist. More likely is irregular warfare, vigilante violence, and attempts to disrupt Union supply chains. From what I understand the Pacific states' main contribution to the Union effort was material (gold in California's case, flour and other food staples in Oregon's).

The main national impact, imo, would be political and historiographical rather than military. Rebellion behind Union lines could stoke fears of treachery back east and provoke harsher treatment of Copperheads. In later years, Lost Causers could point to the free-state uprisings while making the case that the war wasn't just about slavery. (Expect greater discussion of the NY draft riots, too.)

Locally, a secessionist uprising would probably polarize CA and OR politics sharply along regional lines, and could temporarily kill off the state Democratic parties. That means very different policies on railroad routes, Chinese exclusion, the use of public lands and other issues of the day.

What do you all think?
 
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#2
I think it should be noted that Asbury Harpending, one of the men involved in the 1861 plot, later returned to California with a letter of marque from the Confederate government and planned to get various other Confederate sympathisers to join him in raiding ships on the Pacific and carrying the gold back to support the Confederacy.

It's not that relevant, but it's interesting.
 

Avalanches

darkly horny
Location
Tampa, FL
#3
Really fascinating stuff here - Johnston would have failed to build a lasting secessionist state, but a movement needs a martyr, and he could be the unifying figure for Confederate sympathizers in California for decades.
 
#4
I think it should be noted that Asbury Harpending, one of the men involved in the 1861 plot, later returned to California with a letter of marque from the Confederate government and planned to get various other Confederate sympathisers to join him in ships on the Pacific and carrying the gold back to support the Confederacy.

It's not that relevant, but it's interesting.
And he would have got away with it were it not for those dastardly abolitionist Russians #Justice4PeterPinguid

Actually though, the privateer incidents are a good example of the kind of romantic adventurism that would probably characterize any Pacific Coast theater. Pirate republic!

Really fascinating stuff here - Johnston would have failed to build a lasting secessionist state, but a movement needs a martyr, and he could be the unifying figure for Confederate sympathizers in California for decades.
I could see TTL's equivalent of the Workers' Party and other anti-Chinese movements adopting neo-secessionist rhetoric.
 

Coiler

Connoisseur of the Miscellaneous
Location
Nu Yawk
#5
Locally, a secessionist uprising would probably polarize CA and OR politics sharply along regional lines, and could temporarily kill off the state Democratic parties
That would have big butterflies down the line if both states (especially California) stay "New York Red[1]" and grow massively in population at the same time.

[1]Large GOP (upstate New York didn't even vote for FDR), but one based more on residual ACW attitudes than any ideological reasons.
 

Japhy

Harry Turtledove thinks I'm funny
Published by SLP
#6
Johnson, for a slaver and a traitor was not a man to betray an oath if that betrayal violated his personal code. Just like those officers who served though the Siege of Fort Sumter only to resign upon arriving into New York. It's terrible logic to us but it's what they had.

That said there were men who violated that code, who were general officers in the US Army who could be put into command on the Pacific Coast and would based on their actions have gleefully embraced the Presidio Plot. Johnson's alternative won't get Federal Troops to revolt but he can simply allow a Militia centered coup to succeed. A good comparison would be General Twiggs defecting and ordering the surrender of Union forces in Texas. And mind you he's a potential figure to get the post. Johnson only got it because he went out west to deal with the Mormon Rebellion a few years prior.
 
#7
The issue is that cheap labor in the west if i'm not mistaken was done by chinese and mexicans, not blacks. There is no institution to defend out west and both sides are already white supremecist.
 

Japhy

Harry Turtledove thinks I'm funny
Published by SLP
#8
The issue is that cheap labor in the west if i'm not mistaken was done by chinese and mexicans, not blacks. There is no institution to defend out west and both sides are already white supremecist.
California was a free state but that's not the nature of the Pacific Coast secession movement in 1860-61 it was that Pro-Slave Staters made a plurality of the population.
 
#9
Johnson, for a slaver and a traitor was not a man to betray an oath if that betrayal violated his personal code. Just like those officers who served though the Siege of Fort Sumter only to resign upon arriving into New York. It's terrible logic to us but it's what they had.

That said there were men who violated that code, who were general officers in the US Army who could be put into command on the Pacific Coast and would based on their actions have gleefully embraced the Presidio Plot. Johnson's alternative won't get Federal Troops to revolt but he can simply allow a Militia centered coup to succeed. A good comparison would be General Twiggs defecting and ordering the surrender of Union forces in Texas. And mind you he's a potential figure to get the post. Johnson only got it because he went out west to deal with the Mormon Rebellion a few years prior.
I did come across an article entitled "The Mythical Johnston Conspiracy" which argued, not that the plot itself was mythical, but that the idea Johnston would have deigned to consider it was slanderous. I guess this a bit like the Business Plot in that the idea is so contrary to the figurehead's personal code that you'd have to completely replace them.
 

Japhy

Harry Turtledove thinks I'm funny
Published by SLP
#10
I did come across an article entitled "The Mythical Johnston Conspiracy" which argued, not that the plot itself was mythical, but that the idea Johnston would have deigned to consider it was slanderous. I guess this a bit like the Business Plot in that the idea is so contrary to the figurehead's personal code that you'd have to completely replace them.
The big difference being that the Business Plot was entirely made up by Smedley Butler but yes.