Tuesday, July 15, 2014

An Anglo-American Empire

It is true that, ultimately, considering what are known as alternate histories is a waste of time. We can never know for sure what would have happened, what might have been or how this or that would have worked out. However, if kept in its proper place, such speculation can be of at least some benefit. As well as providing some creative exercise that might generate valuable ideas, I also have found it a good tool for bringing people to an understanding of free will, that the way the world is today did not just happen inexorably but was the result of past decisions. If different decisions had been made, we would be living in a different sort of world. Actions have consequences and this is a point that can be brought home by considering alternate possibilities. “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars. But in ourselves” as Shakespeare wrote and the life we have is what we have made it, to a large extent, because of the actions or inactions of ourselves or people like ourselves. As we recently saw the annual celebration of America’s Declaration of Independence, it may be worthwhile or at least entertaining to consider what might have happened if such a declaration had never been made. Likewise, if it had, what might have happened if Britain had won the war and the American colonies remained in the British Empire?

First of all, despite the way most people make it sound, America would not be some sort of oppressed, downtrodden land of miserable tyranny. Under the British Crown the American colonies already had a higher standard of living and more individual freedom than most people in the world. King George III was no tyrant, he did not get his way all the time and he never refused Royal Assent to any acts of Parliament. In many ways, life would not be all that different in America if the war had never happened or if the British had won. After all, standards of living are not terribly different in the modern United States compared to Australia or Canada. Given that calls for greater unity in the colonies already had a history by the time of independence, it seems likely that they would have come together under one government. The United States would also probably look much the same as it does today. It could be argued that the French Revolution might never have happened if the American Revolution had not been successful but that seems doubtful. If it did not happen, America would probably be smaller but the safer bet would be that it would have happened anyway. The “Enlightenment” mentality that helped inspire the American Revolution had been spreading in France far longer and there were major problems in France that were exacerbated by intervention in America but which were not caused by it or restricted to it. So, let us assume the French Revolution broke out as it occurred in history.

America would have then expanded just as it did, with Anglo-American forces seizing the Louisiana Territory during the war with France. During the time when Spain and France were allied it is also likely that Anglo-American forces would have seized Florida and possibly even more but that becomes increasingly less likely. With North America supporting the British war effort rather than hindering it, the allied victory over France might have been easier or come a bit sooner and the British Empire might have expanded even more but perhaps in different areas. Would India have been such a priority for Britain, for example, if all of North America was part of the empire, including the cotton states of the deep south, the coal fields of Pennsylvania and West Virginia? Suppose that British North America expanded southward in a way similar to the United States and, just like the United States, was drawn into a war with Mexico over border disputes. In actual history, Britain tried to prevent the war because it would disrupt their lucrative trade with Mexico, however, events on the ground could have provoked such a conflict in any event and there probably would have been less trade with Mexico if what became the United States had remained in the British Empire with the increased inter-imperial commerce that would provide.

The events after the conflict might have been different though. In reality, the USA annexed the northernmost reaches of Mexico but paid compensation for it and resisted the urge to take over the whole country -which would have been too blatantly imperialist for the United States even though there were a few in Mexico at the time who thought that would have been best. Over time, a number of Britons expressed amazement that the US did not just annex Mexico and be done with it, rather than having to return to intervene periodically. As Britain certainly had no problem with imperial expansion, perhaps British North America would have grown to include Mexico. From there, it would only be a short step to expand into Central America. Britain had interest in the region (British Honduras, the Mosquito Coast) and might have been compelled to go further once France started looking into the idea of building a canal across Panama. From Gibraltar to Singapore, control of strategic maritime “choke points” has long been a priority for Britain. Given that, it is not beyond the realm of possibility that the British Empire would have expanded into Central America and, with all of this going on, Britain might have been too busy to have intervened and expanded into other areas or perhaps not to the same extent as happened in history.

In Africa, for example, the foothold in South Africa would have happened in any event as it was a result of the Napoleonic Wars. However, it might have stopped there with Britain content to let the Boers move into Botswana and perhaps the Portuguese might have been able to realize their dream of linking their east and west coast possessions, an aspiration thwarted by Britain in actual history which put some strain on the oldest alliance in Europe. The American Civil War would, of course, have been averted both because energy would be expended toward grander schemes and because the slave areas would have had much more opposition as well as a government that was not averse to giving compensation for slave owners. The war with Spain would likely have been avoided. A young Winston Churchill observed the rebellion in Cuba and came away convinced that the island would be much the worse off under their rule than that of Spain and hoped that the United States would not compel Spain to give up the “Pearl of the Antilles”. Many did not share his view and he later approved of the U.S. conquest of the island (being a lifelong admirer of America) but in the event, it is possible Britain would have stayed out of the conflict so long as Germany or some other colonial rival did not intervene.

King George V & General John J. Pershing
As it concerns Germany, the First World War might not have happened at all if America had remained in the British Empire or, at least, it might have been a much smaller conflict. Britain, like many countries, had no real reason to get involved but anti-German hysteria had been growing in Britain for some time due to the perception of Germany being a rival in the colonial, naval and economic spheres. More or less since the time of the industrial revolution, combined with the extensive trade routes controlled by the Royal Navy, Britain had been the largest economy in the world. However, in 1870 it was surpassed by the United States and has never regained the top spot ever since. If, however, America had remained in the British Empire, the economic powerhouse of America would have been a boost to Britain and might have allowed Britons to view the German economic rise more dispassionately. Even at its height, it would never have been a challenge to the economic supremacy of a British Empire that included North America. If, however, Great Britain still became embroiled in World War I, with the manpower, money and industry of America within the British Empire, it would likely have been a much shorter conflict, ending in a swift Allied victory.

Had such a thing occurred, the Russian Empire might not have collapsed, if the war had ended before the situation in Russia became too severe and thus the subsequent Cold War and all the proxy conflicts that entailed would never have happened. Similarly, a swift end to the war might have meant that the German and Austrian empires would have come to terms before being overthrown and so there might have been no World War II at all and we would all be living in a world with a balance of powers rather than one or two superpowers in constant standoff. And yet, if the Social Democrats in Germany managed to use the defeat to their advantage and bring down the monarchy, giving room for the rise to power of Hitler and so on, World War II might have happened anyway. In that event, it would have certainly been a much shorter and more localized war. American strength would have been present at the outset rather than only from 1942 onwards and it would have been focused on Europe alone. This would mean that the war might have ended in a German defeat even before the invasion of the Soviet Union and thus there would have been no Eastern Bloc and Soviet domination of half of Europe. It would also mean a completely different picture of Asia.

King George VI & General Mark Clark
The British Empire and the Empire of Japan had been close allies after all and it was only when the United States demanded that Britain choose between friendship with America or friendship with Japan that Great Britain repudiated the Japanese alliance in favor of pleasing the United States. If there was no United States but a British North America, that would never have happened, the alliance would likely have been maintained and while Britain was focused on defeating Germany in Europe, few would have likely cared if China was being defeated by the Japanese. Japan would also have had no reason to go to war in 1941 as the primary source of vital resources, North America, would have been an ally. So, even if World War II had happened, it would have likely ended with Poland and Czechoslovakia independent, the Kingdoms of Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia and Albania intact (though possibly under the Italian Crown, depending on how things might have changed for Italy). With monarchy being so dominant, and the war ending without massive Soviet involvement, perhaps it would even have been that the Hapsburgs would have been restored to at least some portion of their former territories. In Asia there would still be an Empire of Japan, an Empire of Manchuria and a Kingdom of Tibet with a less expansive China. It would likely also mean that it would be the Republic of China rather than the communist state that exists today. With monarchy such a strong force in the world, and trends and fashions do matter immensely, whether they should or not, the Chinese might not have embraced republicanism at all.

Similarly, without the influence of the American Freemasons, Mexico might have remained a monarchy under the Iturbide family though the rest of Latin America (outside Brazil) is more doubtful given that Spain was reluctant to recognize the independence of rebel colonies whereas Britain supported this. Much of Africa would also be a very different picture. Without the United States and Soviet Union competing during the race for de-colonization, the African colonies might have gained independence at a more moderate pace and in cooperation with native elites as Britain tended to favor doing or more newly independent countries might have chosen to maintain ties with the Crown as Commonwealth Realms. And, even in the event that this did not happen, the British Empire such as it was would have remained a dominant force considering that the primary source of strength would be North America and Australia where the people had greater bonds of history, culture and nationality with Britain as opposed to India which did not. In actual history, the loss of India was a blow from which the British Empire never recovered as India was, as one German observer put it, “the strength and greatness of England”. If, however, North America had remained and grown up united with the British Crown, the strength and greatness of the empire would have been in a land more loyal and less likely to cut ties but remain in union with the Crown as Canada, Australia and New Zealand have done.

Of course, this is all inherently speculative. The point is to simply provide some ‘food for thought’ for those who tend toward the Wilsonian view of the United States as the “savior of the world” and who tremble at the thought of America losing her War for Independence. That is quite a negative view, but it might have been more positive such as in the scenarios laid out here. Rather than suffering under British rule (which had never happened in the first place), things might have worked out quite well if the American colonies had remained under the British Crown. With all of the strengths, resources and admirable qualities of both, I tend to take a more positive view that if America and Britain had remained together, it would have been beneficial for both. I have long thought and often said that the Americans suffered, consciously or not, from being cut off from the rest of the English-speaking world and from the lack of the shared loyalty to the monarchy and that, likewise, the British Empire suffered from its lack of Americans, American resources, energy and vitality. They would, I think, have been stronger together and a great many others may well have benefited as a side-effect as well.


  1. If Japan had acted more like the Manchu rather than the Mongol, who knows, probably today we still has an Emperor reigning from The Forbidden City in Beijing; an Emperor whose subjects are proudly addressed as T'ien Tzu,Hwang-je, Khagan, and Tenno Heika.

  2. I always figured that if that dustup in the 18th century had worked out differently, the United States would have simply become something like a slightly more conservative version of Canada, most likely including Canada in a larger North American dominion.

    There were a lot of politicians within Britain (mainly Whigs) that regarded some sort of greater self-governance for the colonies as inevitable and desirable. Many American Loyalists were loyal to the Crown, but not necessarily to Parliament and were fine with the idea of political independence but not total separation from the monarchy. Of course, many of those Loyalists migrated north after the Revolution and wound up helping shape modern Canada.

    As was seen throughout the history of the British Empire, the British people are ones that tend to learn very quickly from their mistakes and even in the event of a victory over the rebels would have been inclined to effect the reforms needed to prevent such a revolution from happening again.

    1. MM, I'm not going to go off on an anti-George III rant on your website, but this does come rather close, so if it comes too close, don't make this visible and I'll see if I can tone it down while keeping the gist of my comment intact.

      About that "Many American Loyalists" thing, that's the first I've herd of it, but it certainly wouldn't surprise me. If that's true, it saddens me, because they are so so close to being Rebels (I support the Rebels). If thy weren't loyal to Parliament, and if they opposed Parliament's violations of the colonists rights as Englishmen, then they should have been rebels. Problem is, they were loyal to their king, George III took Parliaments side against the colonies (I don't know why he did that), so by extension they had to be loyal to Parliament. If George III were neutral, or better yet a rebel, there's nothing to stop them from being rebels.

      The system you describe of "independence but not total separation from the monarchy" and "self-governance for the colonies" is pretty close to the pre-revolution British Empire. Parliament's authority outside of Britain itself (and arguably Ireland) was extremely limited, in a colony the overwhelming majority of legislative authority was in the hands of the colonial legislature. Of course, the colonies and the mother-country had the same monarch. Well, that was the American interpretation of the British Empire's Constitution, the problem was Parliament believed that they had total authority over not just Britain itself, but the whole empire (the principle of Parliamentary supremacy taken to an extreme). Remember, at first the Rebels weren't fighting for independence from British Empire or to separate form the monarchy, they were fighting to uphold the colonist's rights as Englishmen and (their interpretation of) the British Constitution.

      It's a mystery to me as to why George III was a loyalist, because if Parliament assumes total power, that leave the monarchy with no power. Whereas if the (pre Deceleration of Independence) Rebels won, it would mean that Parliament's power would be mostly limited to Britain itself (and maybe Ireland), and the body that had authority over the whole Empire would be the monarchy.

      Here's a PDF from William & Mary Law Review that says more about this: http://tinyurl.com/klpwrnm

  3. I wonder: would the American Civil War still have occurred? The landed elites of the South were heavily dependent on slave labor, and I don't see them just acquiescing to the Slavery Abolition Act, even with Royal Assent.

    It probably would have occurred four decades earlier, but on a much more limited scope: and with the full force of the Anglo-American empire opposing them, it certainly would not have been as bloody as in OTL (our time line).

  4. Australia was colonised to replace America. If America had stayed Australia might have fell to the Dutch Portuguese or French


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