Seeing Lincoln as national martyr and endowing him with a recognition of mythic proportions is very poor history, which makes even worse alternate history. He was assailed by Radical Republicans for his moderate views on Reconstruction, War Democrats who desired more compromise and Copperheads who wanted peace with the South. Modern historians have cast doubt to his credentials as the "Great Emancipator" and his pro-business and nationalist views make him more likable to modern American conservatives than liberals. Alternate historians cannot get caught up in wishful thinking about Lincoln. He was a politician who was just as capable of failing to make the right decision. He was not a superhero and alternate historians should not paint him as such.
That brings me to my next point: the bias of the author is more often reflected in American Civil War alternate histories then in any other alternate history. Thus we tend to see American Civil War alternate histories being categorized under two extremes: wanks and grimdarks.
This movement tended to portray the Confederacy's cause as noble and most of its leaders as exemplars of old-fashioned chivalry, defeated by the Union armies through overwhelming force rather than martial skill. Proponents of the Lost Cause movement also condemned the Reconstruction that followed the Civil War, claiming that it had been a deliberate attempt by Northern politicians and speculators to destroy the traditional Southern way of life. It is not difficult to find examples of Confederate wanks, especially on the Internet.
Many have criticized this movement, saying it gives a false view of history and even going as far as to say it promotes racism. Nevertheless, being overly infatuated with the South makes for a poor alternate historian. Wanks are rarely, if ever, plausible (unless you subscribe to the idea that we exist in an American wank). In the case of the Confederacy, alternate historians often ignore major issues inherent with Confederacy, such as their economy which attributed to the Confederacy's defeat in the Civil War. Alternate historians should not allow romantic notions of any culture to replace good, old-fashioned research.
This applies to the other extreme as well. Grimdarks where the Confederacy is used as a historical villain can be just as implausible as wanks that paint the Confederacy as shining beacon of civilization in the altered timeline. It is this blogger's personal opinion that history is rarely black and white. While the Confederacy stood for things that are abhorrent to many people in modern day society, it is truly difficult to vilify them when you consider the number of people in slavery today is higher than in any point in history. It is often hypocritical of a modern-day alternate historian to paint a picture of a grimdark Confederacy, when our own world can be pretty grimdark for millions of people under the bonds of slavery.
This brings me to my last major point about American Civil War alternate histories: do your research. It is possible to create a timeline that gives the reader a realistic portrayal of an independent Confederacy, especially in the Information Age where you have access to virtually infinite amounts of content on the war, along with the opinions of scholars with varying viewpoints. Do not allow your bias or the myths on the Civil War (many of which are still taught in American schools) to cause you to sacrifice the hard work necessary to make a plausible timeline.
Nevertheless, whether your American Civil War timeline leans to the implausible extremes or tries to be as realistic as possible, it is still likely to be controversial regardless of where you publish it. Many Americans are still fighting the Civil War in the public arena. Some of the worst arguments I have witnessed between alternate historians involved the American Civil War. Lost Cause enthusiasts, militant Lincoln advocates and plaid old Internet trolls will tear apart whatever you create. So be warned when writing an American Civil War alternate history, a hard skin and cool demeanor is a must.
In conclusion, American Civil War alternate histories are very difficult to write. The most common PODs tend to be implausible and should be avoided. Do not allow your personal bias to replace good research and be ready to deal with intense criticism from every side. I do not mean to discourage would be alternate historians who wish to tackle this significant period of history, just be warned that to do it right is a lot harder then it looks.
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Mitro is founder, editor and contributor of Alternate History Weekly Update. When he is not busy writing about his passion for alternate history, he spends his time working as a licensed attorney in the state of Illinois and dreams of being a published author himself one day.