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Colossal Ambitions

Confederate Planning for a Post–Civil War World
Adrian Brettle

BUY Cloth · 330 pp. · 6 × 9 · ISBN 9780813944371 · $45.00 · Jul 2020
BUY Ebook · 330 pp. · ISBN 9780813944388 · $45.00 · Jul 2020

Lincoln Prize - FINALIST, Gettysburg College & Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History (2021)

Leading politicians, diplomats, clerics, planters, farmers, manufacturers, and merchants preached a transformative, world-historical role for the Confederacy, persuading many of their compatriots to fight not merely to retain what they had but to gain their future empire. Impervious to reality, their vision of future world leadership—territorial, economic, political, and cultural—provided a vitally important, underappreciated motivation to form an independent Confederate republic.

In Colossal Ambitions, Adrian Brettle explores how leading Confederate thinkers envisioned their postwar nation—its relationship with the United States, its place in the Americas, and its role in the global order. Brettle draws on rich caches of published and unpublished letters and diaries, Confederate national and state government documents, newspapers published in North America and England, conference proceedings, pamphlets, contemporary and scholarly articles, and more to engage the perspectives of not only modern historians but some of the most salient theorists of the Western World in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. An impressive and complex undertaking, Colossal Ambitions concludes that while some Confederate commentators saw wartime industrialization as pointing toward a different economic future, most Confederates saw their society as revolving once more around coercive labor, staple crop production, and exports in the war’s wake.


Colossal Ambitions is a polished, well-researched, and well-written book. The level of detail about how Confederates imagined economic development, international relations, cotton production, and slavery is impressive. Brettle has provided a significant work that will help readers grasp what is at stake in understanding the imagination of Confederate thinkers and planners.

John Majewski, University of California, Santa Barbara, author of Modernizing a Slave Economy: The Economic Vision of the Confederate Nation

[A]n engrossing investigation into the scale, but in some ways also the startling modernity, of the South’s territorial ambitions.

The New Statesman

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