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History As It Happens

Nov 30, 2023

This is the second episode in an occasional series examining major counterfactual scenarios in history. The first, published in September, asked whether President Kennedy would have withdrawn the U.S. from Vietnam had he lived to serve a second term.

The destruction of human chattel slavery in the United States was a process of world historical importance. It took a terrible civil war and the passage of a constitutional amendment to bring about its complete demise. Could slavery have been ended peacefully? If so, how long would it have taken, had the Civil War not broken out in 1861? In this episode, historian Jim Oakes, an expert on slavery and antebellum U.S. politics, takes on this counter-factual question.