Take the Long Way ‘Round

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70 Responses

  1. North says:

    Good stuff, I like it!

    Of course it goes without saying that Hawaii would have likely remained mostly free of American influence if California remained a geographically isolated region. Really one thing your alternative history says loudly to me is that Imperial Japan would have very easily become the hegemon of the far east. Likely so definitively and overwhelmingly that the European powers would have likely not contested them too hard. England, for instance, would have probably accepted trading away everything north of Australia and east of India if it meant they didn’t have to go to war to try and keep those two essential parts of the Empire.Report

    • LeeEsq in reply to North says:

      American influence in Hawaii dates from the 1820s when lots of New England missionaries travelled there to save the Hawaiians. Acquiring California made things easier but there was plenty of influence before than.

      My guess is that if the United States does not acquire Hawaii, there would still be a lot of Asian immigration for plantation labor, eventually leading to a Japanese majority population and Japanese annexation of Hawaii. Either that or Hawaii remains an independent monarchy.Report

      • North in reply to LeeEsq says:

        I’m inclined to lean independantward. Hawaii is a long way away from Japan and absent a war with America I don’t see Japan being particularily interested in seizing it. There were no serious industrial resources there and they would have had all of Oceania to pacify.Report

      • Kolohe in reply to LeeEsq says:

        The US extending to the Pacific coast made the plantations profitable enough so that the power of their (white, culturally American) owners was enhanced enough so that they would be able to subvert and then overthrow the monarchy within the lifetime of a 1850’s young person.

        But without the plantation economy, you don’t have the influx of foreign workers (both from the Pacific Rim and Portugal), and the entire economy sits moribund like the standard Western Pacific island nation. The king remains the king, but he’s not the king of as much.

        By the end of the 19th century, everyone with world wide ambition is looking for coaling stations anyway, so someone’s going to eye Pearl Harbor and ask for basing rights. Though without the plantation owners, without a substitute government to go to if the one you ask doesn’t give you your way. On the other hand, without the plantation economy, the queen may just sell out basing rights for the cash without as much of a fuss. it’s all an interlocking puzzle.

        A lot of people often forget that the main islands of Hawaii are really far away from anything else, so without a substantial nisei population, and not much in the way of natural resources (those that would feed a war machine), they may be further away then Imperial Japan wants to deal with.Report

      • North in reply to LeeEsq says:

        Your thoughts and mine are highly aligned on the subject Kolohe. I agree with every word.Report

    • greginak in reply to North says:

      I’d also guess the US would never have bought Alaska from the Russians also. I’m not sure who they would have sold to but the UK makes the most sense i would guess. That would have ended up being a major windfall for the UK once oil was discovered.Report

      • Will Truman in reply to greginak says:

        Would depend on when they sold. My impression is that there weren’t a while lot of buyers lined up after the USA, which could have delayed sale. The UK might have been less interested depending on the status of Canada at the time. I’m not sure when Canada would have had the money to purchase it, though the price could gave fallen to a real pittance.

        Russia could have been stuck with it until they discovered how valuable it was.Report

      • greginak in reply to greginak says:

        Yeah AK wasn’t a hot commodity, so to speak. I can’t see any other country with any money or nearby who would have wanted it and the Russians certainly didn’t. I can’t see the Russians holding onto it until well after ww 2 though.Report

      • LeeEsq in reply to greginak says:

        If Russia managed to settle Alaska but still end up with a Bolshevik Revolution, which is plausible, the results would be fascinating. Either you have the Soviet Union on the North American continent, certainly to up the Cold War jitters, a White Russian satelite in Alaska, or the UK invades Alaska through Canada in order to prevent it from going to th Bolsheviks.Report

      • Will Truman in reply to greginak says:

        Canada would have wanted it, I think. The question is when they would have been able to afford it.

        I could imagine an interesting alternate history tale where Alaska becomes a hot point in the Cold War, through an independence movement propped up by the west.Report

      • Will Truman in reply to greginak says:

        Lee, I’d imagine that fighting another war for some icy land (even given strategic importance) we old have been a tough sell after the Great War.Report

      • Will Truman in reply to greginak says:

        On the other hand, no American superpower means a USSR Republic in North America is more plausible, before and after WW2. Depends on what the timeline is, I suppose. No American superpower means a lot of things happen differently in the 20th century.Report

      • LeeEsq in reply to greginak says:

        Will Truman, the Western countries were really spooked out about a Bolshevik victory. Japan invaded Siberia and Western powers like the UK and the United States did send in some troops to aid the Whites during the Russian Civil War. A scenario where Alaska could fall into the hands of the Bolsheviks would scare the Western powers even more. Canada was also a very conservative place at this time filled with devote religious people that didn’t believe in commercial entertainment on Sunday (yes really). They would be rather disturbed by a Communist outlet in North America.Report

      • greginak in reply to greginak says:

        The Russians did settle AK a bit; that mostly consisted of pushing the Russian Orthodox Church on the Native peoples and gobbling up every fur bearing critter they could find. But AK, in the 1800’s to early 1900’s, didn’t have anything much the rest of Russia didn’t have plenty of. It was very far away from European Russia so it was of little use to them.

        I think Canada via the UK would have been the best buyer of AK. When the US bought AK it only cost 7 million dollars or so. Even a few decades later it wouldn’t have been that much, any of the big powers could have scraped up loose change from behind the couch cushions at the palace to buy it.Report

      • North in reply to greginak says:

        Canada would have taken it much the way the US took a lot of western territory: Canadians would have moved in for the gold rushes in the Alaskan south and agitated for annexation. We’re not talking a lot of people but we are talking more people than there would have been Russians. The Russians would have either sold it (most likely, they clearly wished to) or it would have rebelled and ended up added to Canada.Report

    • Kolohe in reply to North says:

      “Really one thing your alternative history says loudly to me is that Imperial Japan would have very easily become the hegemon of the far east. Likely so definitively and overwhelmingly that the European powers would have likely not contested them too hard.”

      This is a more knotted thread to unravel. Perry’s expedition to Japan came after, but not too long after, California statehood. So there was definitely the notion of Manifest Destiny (and future empire) in Perry’s mind. But if America’s power is not a waxing as it was in the mid-19th century, does Japan open up? Does someone else give it a go? Does the Meiji restoration get stifled or goes a different direction?

      Overall, there are ample opportunities for Japan to follow China’s path of a sclerotic government and civil society unable to meet the challenges of European imperial pressure. Even with a Japan that did emerge in the 20th century as a leading power more or less the way it did, there’s still a lot of imperial hubris in the European capitals that thought they had the preeminent right to rule the world. The British Empire was fully committed to being top dog in the Western Pacific until December 8, 1941 when their illusions were shattered quite suddenly. Even after that, Churchill thought he could go back to the way things were when WW2 ended. (ditto for the French in Indochina.)Report

      • North in reply to Kolohe says:

        You have an excellent point in the question of opening Japan up Kolohe but I’m inclined to give Japan the benefit of the doubt on this. Either by having a Perry like stand in event occur or watching what happened to their neighbors I do think the Japanese would have adapted and opened up to some degree or another. I think an industrialized and imperial Japan was going to happen with or without specific American prodding.

        That asserted while I grant that many Europeans may have had the desire to contest a Japanese Empire I do not think they would have had the will and the ability to do it. Japan fought a united America AND England to a standstill in WWII. In a WWII without America? I don’t see it being even a contest. I don’t know if it’d have even come to war. Japan would have been so strong that they might simple shove the French and the Dutch etc out. Now the English could have thrown down but with Germany on their plate*? Would they have really? If they did I’d presume they’d lose and I’d hope the English would have had the sense to accomidate the Japanese in the interest of retaining their more valuable eastern holdings (Australia, New Zealand, India above all).

        *This assumes a World War II happens absent America. I’m middling inclined to say yes.Report

      • Kolohe in reply to Kolohe says:

        yes, I could readily see the UK and Japan reaching an accommodation for spheres of influence that touched each other at the Strait of Malacca. Of course, that presupposes that neither Cascadia nor the Bear Flag Republic have their own power projection capabilities and intentions.

        (but it’s also worth remembering that Germany is only at war with England in 1940 because an industrial powerhouse in a single political entity was able to provide military and other assistance to England in 1917 and made that war more lopsided than it should have been. And with peace terms a lot more lopsided than the military and diplomatic end states should have allowed)Report

      • LeeEsq in reply to Kolohe says:

        The Tokugawa government was collapsing long before Perry landed in Japan and Japanese society and government was much more dynamic than people think. They have a long history of adopting to changing times. Even without Perry opening Japan, I think that Japan could have done well during the late 19th century. The also weren’t a great a prize as China. Korea managed to remain very independent until the very end of the 19th century because they weren’t much of a prize either. Conquering a well-organized archipelago with a working economy and sophisticated, educated population is going to be difficult.

        What I think would happen would be that the British would open Japan rather than Perry as part of their free trade policy but things would otherwise proceed close as possible to what happened in our time line.Report

  2. Jim Heffman says:

    Would there have even been colonization as far as the Rockies, though? It’s not as though there are big population centers right on them even today. I’d think that, if people heard “there’s nothing but endless plains bordered by impassable mountains”, they’d have just stayed home.


    I always like proposing “counter-counter-histories”. A popular WWII what-if is “what if the American Navy had got advance warning of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor”, usually followed by some blazing triumph and the destruction of the IJN. My counter is “yeah, they’d have sortied, got sunk in deep water by IJN air power, and all those battleships would have been gone forever rather than repaired and back to service within a year or two.”Report

    • I think they would, at least up until the land becomes desert. It would likely (I think?) have taken longer, though. I mean, it’d be nice to imagine that they’d look at that land and say “The Indians can have it”… but I don’t think they would.Report

    • Jaybird in reply to Jim Heffman says:

      Easily. It probably wouldn’t have been called “flyover country”, given a lack of a need to get to the East Coast, but it would have been a frontier for longer with a handful of weirdos who still wanted to do stuff like “get the hell away”.Report

    • Your first question is a good one. The Great Plains is the big example in US history where settlement followed the transportation system — rail in this case — rather than the other way round. For example, when the northern route transcontinental railroad was under construction, the rail company recruited in Germany and Scandinavia for immigrants to move to the plains stretching from western Minnesota to eastern Montana to be dryland wheat farmers (who would be captive customers for the railroad). With less reason to reach the Pacific, the northern route might not be built until many years later.

      Denver probably still happens on some scale. If there are mountains there are prospectors, and the modest gold and silver deposits of Colorado would still be there and found. The rail connections might have been very different, though. Given a southern transcontinental railroad route, the logical link is up through Sante Fe, rather than south from Cheyenne.

      In support of your point, except where there are hydrocarbon deposits, the Great Plains are gradually reversing the settlement pattern, with population slowly collapsing back to the few rivers and the transportation corridors. I’ve spent most of my adult life around the edges of the Great Plains, and love all of the different ecologies that exist there, but these days am inclined to think that the Poppers might be right: “the largest longest-running agricultural and environmental miscalculation in American history”.Report

  3. Will Truman says:

    My pseudonym is Will Truman, and I approve of this post.

    You didn’t actually go with this where I thought you might. My thinking is that without the carrot of manifest destiny, the USA might have had a more natural stopping point at the rockies, and the west coast would have remained in Spanish, then maybe Mexican, hands (though perhaps splitting away itself at some point, New Spain, even just the North American part, would have been hard to hold together.

    With regard to the USA/CSA, one thing I believe a lot of people get wrong (including Turtledove) is that if the south had won, or been let go, that we probably wouldn’t have three non-Latin American countries in North America, but four or five or six. One thing I thought Turtledove didn’t explore – except pertaining to Utah – was the western states totally shrugging off the apparent weakness of the USA. Then again, maybe Utah serves as the cautionary tale that the US isn’t quite as weak as it appears, at least after the 1880’s.

    One thought that has been in my mind lately is the prospect of the UK winning the Revolutionary War, and instead of the tories going to Canada, the patriots escape to Louisiana. I would need to brush up on my 18th and early 19th century history to really explore that. (That Louisiana was in Spanish hands instead of French complicates things.)Report

    • Kim in reply to Will Truman says:

      Yeah, big time. But what people dont’ get out of the 4-5 different english speaking countries is that the North would have gobbled up the south piecemeal.Report

    • LeeEsq in reply to Will Truman says:

      I could see the western territories still remaining part of the United States if only for pragmatic reasons rather than actual patriotism. Manpower was low and the western territories really did need the United States Army to wage war against the Native Americans in order to make white settlement possible. They also needed federal funding for public works projects to make economic development possible. California was the most populous state in the West and they only had about 1.4 million people in 1900. The western territories do not have the resources to be on their own during this time.Report

      • Will Truman in reply to LeeEsq says:

        Maybe, but California was ready to go it alone if they needed to, which was how they were able to set their own state boundaries. They may not have seceded immediately, but I think once the precedent had been set, they likely would have when they could have.Report

      • LeeEsq in reply to LeeEsq says:

        California would have demographic issues as an independent country, especially if they wanted to avoid Asian immigration. Without a direct connection to Europe provided by being a state in the United States, I can’t see how immigrants from Italy or elsewhere would make it to California. They would stop in the United States, Canada, Argentina, or Brazil and that would be that.Report

      • Kolohe in reply to LeeEsq says:

        Lee, I don’t know about the strength of that pragmatic impulse. This country was practically founded on a version of ‘keep the government out of my medicare’, in that, at the close of the 7 years/ French and Indian War, the British Empire provided security from Native American peoples and other European powers, and all (some) colonists did was whine and complain for the next 10-20 years.

        I’m also thinking you undersell the overseas movement to the west coast around South America which became not as risky when the steamship was developed. And that many migrants do move on even when landed at an intermediate point. (and even if there for many years). Heck, the Pilgrims did it first, jumping first to Holland, then to Massachusetts.Report

    • Richard Hershberger in reply to Will Truman says:

      I have argued for years that the French and Indian (a/k/a Seven Years) War was the last (and arguably the first) war in North America that really mattered to the big picture. If you look at the various North American colonies in the 17th century you have a string of various European nations establishing settlements: Spain in Florida; England in Carolina up through the Chesapeake; an abortive Swedish settlement along the Delaware Bay; the Dutch in New York; a different bunch of English in New England (who didn’t get along with the English in Virginia); and finally the French along the St. Lawrence River, with a thin but extensive presence in the Great Lakes and trans-Appalachia hinterland.

      This is followed by gradual consolidation: the Dutch absorb the Swedes, then themselves get taken over by the British, resulting in British colonies along the bulk of the eastern seaboard, with the Spanish at the southern end and the French at the northern. The Spanish weren’t serious players, being pretty much overextended, and regarding Florida as a bulwark for the Caribbean empire more than an important territory in its own right. The French are a different matter. They have a substantial presence in Canada, and better Indian diplomacy skills in an era where that still matters. They don’t have the population of the British colonies, but they have far more centralized command than do the British colonies, which still don’t play well together.

      Then comes the French and Indian War, resulting in the Union Jack flying over Quebec City. None of this was inevitable: the war happening in the first place, or it going the way it did.

      Going as it did, my argument is that the broad contours of North American culture were inevitable: a largely Anglophone polity or polities from ocean to ocean (I don’t believe for a moment that Spain/Mexico could have held the far west, especially once gold was discovered) organized along more or less democratic lines. There might, had the War of Independence either failed or never happened, have been a Governor-General, and the queen’s head on the currency, but in the big picture this is a “so what?”

      In the alternative history version, where the French and Indian War never happens, or at least where France comes out of it still holding Canada, things go differently. The American War of Independence never happen, of course. You end up with a militarized border between Anglophone and Francophone America, and the Indians remain real players for far longer, as they still have two sides to play off one another. The British were huge winners in the Seven Years War, and not just in North America. If that war never happens, the French remain in a far stronger position. (If we want to go large in our speculation, we can wonder if the French Revolution might not have been forestalled.) Even if, as seems likely, the British colonists move west over the Appalachians, it would be into a very different, and more militarized environment. For all the dramatic imagery we have of pioneers fighting off Indians, that scenario was actually pretty uncommon. When it did happen, it routinely turned out that those pioneers were not too enthusiastic about risking their scalps (literally), much less their kith and kin, to go farming out west. At what danger level would they have decided to try to make a go of it in the East? Good question!Report

      • An excellent analysis. I suspect, in the long run, that French North America was a doomed project. Acadia was in English hands after Louisburg fell and Louisburg was such a poorly conceived fortress that I don’t see any scenario where that fortress holds even if Quebec herself (an excellent fortress) did weather the siege.

        With Acadia and Halifax in English hands French North America would have been badly isolated from France. Eventually the much vaster English presence on the continent would have overwhelmed the French. I do agree, however, that the Indians would have been massively more deadly and discouraging to westward expansion (and, let’s be frank, that energy would have been redirected into hostile militarism directed at Quebec). Also note that England would have seized French North America during the Napoleonic Wars if they hadn’t held it prior to that.

        I very much see the French presence and more powerful Indians aborting the American Revolution (or at least delaying it until French North America was defeated). I’m more dubious about the French Revolution being forestalled. Delayed possibly but in the long run I think it would have been inevitable.Report

      • Richard Hershberger in reply to Richard Hershberger says:

        You are likely right about Louisbourg being doomed, once the British decide to take it, but if the French are still holding Quebec at the end, then they have a strong incentive to hold out for its return in the inevitable peace-talk land swap. It had happened before, after all. As for the Napoleonic Wars, it doesn’t take much of a butterfly to have those never happen. A delayed French Revolution and Bonaparte’s career goes off in a different direction. Would this have resulted in a politically distinct French Canada today? Probably not. Britain and France would have come to blows at some point, and all those loyal British subjects in America would inevitably turned their eyes north. But it surely could have thrown the course of American history onto a different course.

        For anyone interested, and who hasn’t already read it, I highly recommend The Crucible of War by Fred Anderson. It is centered on the war in America, but he does a terrific job of including the larger context, and also of treating the Indians as having agency rather than being background characters with occasional speaking parts.Report

      • It’s not entirely clear to me that, absent the American and Irish revolutions, that Britain would have allowed the sort of evolution that Canada and others had, and that there would have been the peaceful transition. I mean, maybe, but I’m not sure.Report

      • Kolohe in reply to Richard Hershberger says:

        I agree great comment.

        I had thought for everyone in the late 18th century (not just the Spanish) the Caribbean colonies were far more important than those on the North American mainland, as the former were significant revenue sources, while the latter were cost sinks.

        It’s also my understanding that the British empire circa 1760’s understood the untenable security situation west of the Appalachians as it existed in this timeline, and tried to stop white people from crossing the mountains. Who ignored the edict, and eventually, literally revolted against it.Report

      • That’s a good point. The British were not as big on westward expansion as the colonists were.Report

      • Richard Hershberger in reply to Richard Hershberger says:

        “It’s not entirely clear to me that, absent the American and Irish revolutions, that Britain would have allowed the sort of evolution that Canada and others had, and that there would have been the peaceful transition. I mean, maybe, but I’m not sure.”

        It may not have been peaceful, but I think it was inevitable. We are talking about colonies not of subjected natives with a foreign elite imposed upon them, but of settlers from the homeland. In this case with a tradition of elected legislative assemblies. This only works within an imperial system so long as the system has the cooperation of the colonists. The events of the ten years leading up to the War of Independence are what you see when the locals withdraw their cooperation, and the empire tries to pull off imposing a viceroy. London was in the process of pulling back, but was ham fisted about it and matters came to a head. This wasn’t inevitable, but substantial local autonomy (which had been the case before the Seven Years War) was. Britain simply didn’t have the resources to impose direct rule.

        Now fast forward a century. In our timeline the population of the US surpassed that of Great Britain around 1860. This might occur later in our alternate history, but the point remains that you are going to reach a point where the “colonies” are collectively larger, more populous, and with greater resources than the home country. Which is the colony?

        Some sort of accommodation would have to be found. It might not be a commonwealth such as developed, but it wouldn’t be subservient Americans ruled by a British elite.Report

      • This might occur later in our alternate history, but the point remains that you are going to reach a point where the “colonies” are collectively larger, more populous, and with greater resources than the home country.

        One of the alternate worlds in Charlie Stross’s Merchant Princes series does something along these lines, with an alternate version of the Seven Years’ War where the French successfully invade Britain in 1759 (a plan that I was surprised to learn actually existed). The British royal family (along with the army and naval assets) move to North America and set up shop. For various reasons Charlie has that alternate world being behind ours technologically at the present point in time, but fighting a sort of global Cold War against the French Empire…Report

      • Kolohe in reply to Richard Hershberger says:

        If British Empire were to hold onto her North American territory (as it existed in 1770) until the 19th century, it unlikely France (or possibly Spain) would have ceded the Louisiana territory without a fight.

        I would also speculate that the longer the various colonies were administered by Great Britain, the longer they would have had to grow politically and culturally distinct from each other, leading to several independent nations once and if direct British rule was terminated.

        I also have the wild idea that since Britain was slightly more accommodationist with Native Americans than the United States governments would be, there would be a possibility of sovereign Cherokee and Seminole nation-states arising in the middle of the 19th century. (I doubt the northern peoples, e.g. members of the Iroquois federation, would have been able to withstand the onslaught of European settlers into the Ohio valley and Great Lakes, which was inevitable)Report

      • Richard your diplomatic point is an excellent one that I hadn’t considered. Failing to take Quebec the British might have simply traded Louisburg back again. That said Halifax and Mainland Acadia was never going to be ceded and Louisburg was never going to become a true rival to it, merely a speed bump on the way to Quebec. I feel that the French were simply badly outnumbered and those English colonists would have invaded given any excuse. Foreign language AND catholic AND arming Indians against western expansion? England likely would have had to spend money and treasure to STOP the colonies from attacking FNA. Note that before England successfully took Quebec New England had made a couple of attempts pretty much on their own initiative prior to that.

        Will, it is far from well-known (outside Canada) but Canada did have some ruckus and rattling that did snap England’s head around. Now you can make the case, perhaps, that without the American Revolution that England would have stomped down brutally on it instead of accommodating it but I’m inclined to think differently. England was moving towards a different (the Commonwealth) model and I think they would have gotten there both because of the English’s own inclinations and the realities of one small island in Europe trying to rule a continent worth of people from across the Atlantic. I submit that the Irish revolution was pretty much inevitable so England would have retained that as a cautionary tale and she would still have been pondering the French question had she taken Quebec. I’d refer you also to Richard’s excellent points. Remember this would have been Anglo protestant colonies demanding a place at the table; a far cry from the “heathen Hindu’s” and the British would have been much differently inclined.

        Hell, absent the American revolution we could have been talking about some kind of North American federated mega state with a constitutional monarchy executive perched atop it. That could have conceivably prevented World War I for God(ess?)’s sake!Report

      • Kolohe, I am very sad to say that I suspect the British accomodation to the First Nations was a stance consciously adopted to contrast them against independant America for strictly realpolitic reasons. Absent independant America I suspect the fate of the first nations peoples would have been potentially even more bleak than it was in the real world.Report

      • @kolohe “If British Empire were to hold onto her North American territory (as it existed in 1770) until the 19th century, it unlikely France (or possibly Spain) would have ceded the Louisiana territory without a fight”

        With all respect to France and/or Spain unless they somehow deputized every alligator, deer and squirrel in the Louisiana Territory and equipped them all with LWA’s pulse cannons there’s no way they’d have held onto that territory the moment England went to war with Spain and/or France. The colonists in BNA would conquer it with their feet at first and with arms in reality the moment they had an excuse. England probably wouldn’t have even had to even send over any infantry, just Royal Navy support to besiege New Orleans.Report

      • Kolohe in reply to Richard Hershberger says:

        Is the squirrel accompanied by a moose?Report

      • Kolohe in reply to Richard Hershberger says:

        wait, sorry, that’s the Russian North America alt-history.Report

      • LeeEsq in reply to Richard Hershberger says:

        I’m actually fascinated with the idea of the Bourbons colonizing New France more succesfully. There were lots of French people compared to English people during the 1600s and even if the Bourbons kept to their no Huguenot policy, they should have been able to settle just as many people as the British. They did adopt the British strategy of making sure fertile, young women go over as much as men and the French in the New World had lots of kids that survived to have lots of kids. If the Bourbons managed to send over just as many French people to New France, we could get a North America that is dominated by the French instead.Report

      • A terrifying thought Lee!Report

      • Saul Degraw in reply to Richard Hershberger says:


        What do you have against the Marseillaise?Report

      • My family is German on one side and English on the other. What don’t I have against the French?Report

      • LeeEsq in reply to Richard Hershberger says:

        Saul, if the French managed to retain control of their North American colonies than French history would be very different. A lot of the economic misery that led to the French Revolution was caused by the financial difficulties encountered in France because they supported American independence as revenge against the British. If they still have Canada and what would become the Louisiana Purchase than the Bourbons would have less of a need to support the American colonists as an act of revenge. France could have remained a moanrchy to this day.

        Another issue is that the French who settled in New France tended to be more conservative than the French who remained in France. Just as the British settlers in the Thirteen Colonies set up their idealized version of England filled with independent, yeoman farmers and craftsman; the French set up an idealized France filled with devote Roman Catholic farmers. Until the Quiet Revolution, Quebec was as close as you could get to a Roman Catholic theocracy in a parliamentary constitutional monarchy. The Roman Catholic Church had a lot of willing influence on French-American society for centuries.Report

    • …and the west coast would have remained in Spanish, then maybe Mexican, hands…

      I thought about this, but decided that it was awfully hard to support. Fundamentally, it would have required a Mexico that was very different from the chaotic, incompetent Mexico that was there. The Mexican-American War was, to a large extent, a Southern thing, with the South looking for means of balancing Northern expansion. Ulysses S. Grant wrote in his memoirs, “The Southern rebellion was largely the outgrowth of the Mexican war.” I don’t agree completely, but include that when I argue that the Civil War didn’t just suddenly happen one day — there was a long period of increasing friction between North and South from at least 1828.Report

  4. James Pearce says:

    The alternate history I’d like to see starts much, much earlier and concerns a completely different North-South arrangement. (In all my fantasies, the CSA doesn’t survive her birth.)

    I’ve always thought it was interesting how completely different the Spanish experience was from the English experience. The English built a fort…and the Spanish conquered cities and murdered kings.Report

    • Richard Hershberger in reply to James Pearce says:

      I’m not sure what you are aiming for, but (at the risk of being facile) the north-south divide we got was arguably the result of the malaria and/or yellow fever line. South of this line, Europeans had a bad habit of dying rapidly. North of this line, outbreaks were only occasional events and the overall fatality rate was within acceptable limits. This is (again, vastly oversimplifying things in a facile way) why in the South and in the Caribbean Islands they imported African labor as much as possible. Europeans were willing to go there because the cash crops were valuable enough to be worth the risk so long as they were at or near the top of society, both metaphorically and literally building their mansions on high ground which caught the breeze. In the North, on the other hand, Europeans were eager to settle in large numbers on freehold farms, content in the knowledge that their chances of surviving were reasonable. So the north-south divide is a matter of biology and geography.Report

      • James Pearce in reply to Richard Hershberger says:

        My point was that alternate histories are interesting, but they get less interesting if the point of divergence starts in the late 1800s and concerns the CSA “winning” the Civil War and becoming a world power.

        Much more interesting to go back further, taking a more continental view.

        For instance, the first European settlers in Colorado didn’t hit the nearly impassable Front Range. They came up from the South, walking alongside the Rockies. Kit Carson wasn’t blazing a trail to Santa Fe because it’s a good route to the west coast. The west coast? Who cares (at the time) about the west coast?

        Mexico City…..that’s where it was at.Report

  5. Kolohe says:


    Now that’s out of the way

    1) a) this is one in the most interesting map series in American history, imo. The two week contour extending up the Platte river into the Southern pass illustrates exactly what you are talking about, methinks.
    b) but, one can readily see it’s still a hard slog to the coast even if you’re able to cross the Divide. The Oregon trail went up an over the three and four week contour to pass through (present day) Idaho, then over the 5 and 6 week lines to get to the Columbia River valley. The California route is briefer, but still passes through near equally vicious (to the Sonoran & Mojave) Great Basin desert to get to SF Bay. And of course, up and over the Sierra Nevada. (Wasatch ain’t slouches either) So, none of the overland route settlers of the mid-19th century were *that* impeded by geographic constraints. (“Except for that, Mr. Donner, how was your trip?”)

    2) (I’m using this as a crutch for this section, so some assumptions may live up to their name).

    There was no pressing need to split the Northwest with Britain. Without American settlers in northern California, the Mexican-American War may have a very different shape.

    a) The final agreement of the Pacnorwest boundaries with British Canada (1846) preceded much of the American settlement there (‘peak Oregon Trail’ would start that year and last until the start of the civil war), and was the culmination of a generation’s successive claims and counterclaims, driven mostly by fur. And as mentioned in the previous section, getting there overland from the headwaters of the Platte to this of the Columbia was not easy.

    b) The American presence in Alta California at the time of the Mexican War was minuscule. The battles fought in that theater of operation were mostly naval battles. Fremont (who took over 5 months to get from Divide to the California Central valley) took advantage of the political soup sandwich that formed the relationship between (Mexican) Califorinos, Mexico proper and its capital, and the dysfunctional and shifting relationship each had with ‘foreigners’ (which included Spaniards)

    3) Southern influence.
    a) The Mexican-American War was largely instigated by, and fought on behalf of, Southern Slave holding interests. So they had some first mover advantages to begin with. There was some alternatives floating around in the run up the 1850 compromise that would have extended the Mo Compromise line all the way to the Pacific. Ultimately, though, the final vote to admit California as a free state was the the most decisive of any of the votes that made up the Compromise of 1850.

    b) the map in part 1 I think is instructive on this matter too. Southern infrastructure was such that the most credible jumping off point would have been St Louis, in a slave state, but on the border. The Gadsden Purchase was conceived and executed by slave owning interests for the express purpose of a transcontinental railroad that would increase Southern power. However, the South’s general antipathy to industrialization and specific antipathy a uniform regulation of commerce that would spur interstate railroad growth almost torpedoed the Gadsden purchase from the get go, and likely would have made any transcontinental railroad with key linkages in the South economically ineffective (and thus politically).

    c) One of those nodes would have no doubt been New Orleans, which was a lynchpin of the US economy in the 19th century (and still today), but also which at the time and now, is an odd duck politically. A New Orleans that became alt universe Chicago makes a far different New Orleans, I think.

    d) The main thing is that the gold rush wasn’t a diffusion of settlers across the plains the way the later 19th century land rushes were, but a leap frog from wherever the fortune seeker started to where they ended up, bringing their cultures with them. A route through the south to Sutter’s mill et al wouldn’t ipso facto make those migrants southerners. And as you say, half of the them already came by sea. A more arduous overland journey may have reduced to total numbers, but also would have just shifted the mode from wagons to ships. (as we saw later with the Alaska gold rush)Report

    • Lyle in reply to Kolohe says:

      Re Point 1a. If you read the book Hard Road West on the the geological conditions on the California Trail (essentially the Oregon Trail to South Pass). You find that beyond the Great Basin there was the Sierra Nevada to cross. There were quite steep pitches on the donner and sonora pass routes since the east side of the Sierra is so steep. (The hard topography is what caught the Donner party).
      As an alternative recall that steam boats made it to Fort Benton Mt From Fort Benton is less than 200 miles to the divide at Marias Pass. The east side of this pass is an easy slope, From there you would go to the Clark Fork, and could travel by boat to Oregon. I took two to three months from St Louis to Fort Benton according to this web site: http://montanakids.com/history_and_prehistory/transportation/steamboating.htm. The article notes that because you could get so close to the mountains by steam boat, it was a faster way to Oregon. While in real life this route did not develop until the late 1860s, in other realities in might have developed faster. Note that the first steam boat to the mouth of the Yellowstone was in 1819.Report

      • Kolohe in reply to Lyle says:

        6 steamboats in almost 50 years? jeez, I thought the bus service near my grandmother’s house was terrible.

        One of the things that immediately came to mind looking at the map (and having driven in that area last summer) was if Yellowstone would have been a more frequently travelled route if uplift had made the South Pass more like the Tetons.Report

  6. LWA says:

    Even though I didn’t get my pulse cannon, I agree this is a terrific post, and comments. Still trying to digest them.Report

  7. Zane says:

    Good stuff. The lack of an easy way to travel over the Rockies certainly might have led to an Argentina/Chile-like split.

    You mention that Turtledove’s USA/CSA split leaves the CSA with stronger geographic access to petroleum, in particular. Now, I really like Turtledove’s ideas, but I find I just can’t wade through his books. (I want Reader’s Digest to just abridge them for me. Or maybe I just want the Cliff’s Notes, with all the major POV characters nicely summarized and differentiated.)

    I have only read a couple of that series, but I know that the USA occupied all of Canada at some point. I don’t know how long Canada was occupied, but it would make sense that having access to Canada’s resources (minerals and eventually petroleum) would be a strong incentive to remain.Report

  8. Saul Degraw says:

    Americans were taking the long way around long before the discovery of the Pass you mention.

    Richard Dana’s voyage to California started in 1834 and Two Years Before the Mast was published in 1840. This is years before the discovery of Gold at Sutter’s Mill.

    Lee also notes how American missionaries and whalers have been around in the South Seas for a long time. Herman Melville worked as a clerk in the South Seas in 1842.

    My theory is that the Manifest Destiny was simply too strong an urge to be combated by a Rockies without the pass you mentioned. This was at least true since the Louisiana Purchase if not since the Paris Treaty which ended the American Revolution and gave the States what was then called the Northwest Territories. Americans began pushing into Ohio and other midwestern states quickly after the American Revolution and during the early Republic.

    We also probably would have invented our own version of the pass via dynamite.Report

    • We also probably would have invented our own version of the pass via dynamite.

      We did — in the form of rail tunnels through the Sierras in the 1860s when nitroglycerine became available. For the Central Rockies, well, the Moffat Rail Tunnel in northern Colorado wasn’t built until the 1920s, and the Eisenhower Tunnel for I-70 in central Colorado until the 1970s. You’re underestimating, by orders of magnitude, how much rock has to be movied in order to create a pass with a controlled grade under 6%, pretty much the limit for animal and steam-locomotive power for freight loads. Brief steeper stretches on the pioneer trails meant winching wagons up and down, reducing forward progress to almost nothing. For a couple of the pre-tunnel passes on the Northern Pacific route, trains had to be broken up into five-car lots, and two locomotives used to take each of those over the pass safely.

      One of the amazing things about the South Pass is that the grade on the natural approaches on both sides and across the pass proper are almost insignificant for a couple hundred miles.Report

      • Lyle in reply to Michael Cain says:

        Actually the UP does not really travel thru south pass rather thru the great divide basin south of there (once called the Saline Plain). The wagon trains went to Casper, then up the Sweetwater river to near the pass. So the UP took advantage of the last remnant of the Burial of the Wyoming rockies the Gangplank just west of Cheyenne to get up and over to Larmie, instead of heading to Casper up the North Platte river. (Water was not as much the issue for the Railroad as for wagon trains.). To see how hard it was to build railroads with 1860s technology read the various stories of the construction of the CP over the Sierra Nevada.
        A better description of the region of low elevation would be from South Pass across the great divide basin to Bridger Pass (used by stages before the railroad was built)Report

      • @lyle
        Absolutely right. As I said — in a footnote, and perhaps poorly phrased — for my purposes I used “South Pass” to cover the entire 100-mile “gap” from the actual South Pass to Bridger Pass. Excellent point about water dictating which specific pass different forms of transporation used.Report

  9. Jim Heffman says:

    Is there a bit in Southern Victory where someone eats a cat? Because that seems to be a thing in Harry Turtledove books.Report

  10. Lyle says:

    Another geographic route Recall that the first transcontinental railroad in the Americas was in Panama, in 1855. At that point one would take a ship from New Orleans to Colon the Railroad across the land and a ship from Panama City up to Ca. (This was how the better off class made it to Ca and back for example Collis P Huntington used this to get to and from Ca until the UP/CP was more or less done).Report

  11. Michael Cain says:

    This was how the better off class made it to Ca and back…

    Exactly. This was not how a farmer and his family moving from Iowa to Oregon carrying 2,500 pounds of everything he would need to start a new farm traveled.Report

  12. Alan Scott says:

    What I want to know is how much the practical concerns over transportation affect the themes of the 1844 presidential election.

    It was a fairly close election, and Manifest destiny was one of the things that put Polk in the white house and lead to the annexation of Texas and the Mexican-American war. If there’s no Oregon Trail, do northerners still care that much about the Oregon Border dispute? Because if they don’t then Polk’s support for Texas annexation becomes a more obvious bid to extend slavery and less a part of some noble dream of a country that extends from sea to shining sea.

    What are the chances that, under those circumstances, Henry Clay ends up in the white house?Report

    • @kolohe , based on your comment up above, do you want to take a crack at this question?Report

    • Kolohe in reply to Alan Scott says:

      I’ve been mulling it over since reading it last night. While, as said above, the bulk of Oregon immigrants came after the administrative boundary disputes ended, and they had a tough journey even with this world’s geography, the “Great” Migration of 1843 was a tipping point and obviously was the impetus for getting a deal done. So, a Pacnorwest that was even harder to get to wouldn’t have led (as strongly or at all) to the 54-40 or Fight clarion call. Thus less political traction for the Polk insurgency.

      But Clay’s team really downplayed the issue of Texas annexation in his campaign, because slavery was tearing the Whigs apart (despite neither the northern faction nor the southern factions really wanting Texas – the North Whigs because slavery was wrong and the act would provoke an expensive war against Mexico, the South because the addition land would make their land value decrease and the price of slaves increase – possibly the most cynical FYIGM in American history)

      Which goes back to something Mr. Cain said in his original post (but I dismissed – in the context of California and Oregon settlement). If the settlement tsunami wave crashes on the Rockies, and doesn’t pass them, then maybe settlement is augmented on the east side of the Divide, and that gives Texas Annexation a stronger motivation (and maybe a move towards popular sovereignty for the entire former RoT). Thus enhancing Polk’s hand, and possibly canceling out the fact that the Oregon question is diminished or completely mooted.Report

      • Lyle in reply to Kolohe says:

        If you read the book Seizing Destiny on the geographic expansion of the US, you find that in 1845 the British proposed the Columbia river as the border, up to the 49th in eastern Wa. Their main goal was to get the Puget Sound Region with its excellent harbors. The US position was further north. The compromise was to use 49 on the mainland and go south of Vancouver Island.Report

      • Michael Cain in reply to Kolohe says:

        Which goes back to something Mr. Cain said…

        If you can’t hijack your own post, why write them? This is the best argument for picking a catchy one-word pseudonym for posting. Despite my advancing years, I still can’t shake the feeling that “Mr. Cain” is my father (even though he’s been dead for 18 years). Plus the experience in college with a professor from the Deep South who would look at all the confused faces in honors calculus and then, all too frequently, settle on mine and drawl, “Mr. Cain, what comes next?” (Frequently enough that a woman in the class once asked me, “Why does Dr. Lewis hate you?”) But I can’t just be “Michael” or “Mike”, because my parents blessed me with the most popular male name for the past 50 years and there are so darned many of us things get confused.

        Should have anticipated this 20 years ago, I guess.Report

  13. Lyle says:

    There is a web site : http://www.alternatehistory.com/ that has lots of alternative history schemes on it.
    If interested in this topic you might find the site interesting.Report