A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

[AH] How could New Zealand have ended up part of the United States?

My Feedly feed pointed me to a provoactive article by Gizmodo’s Paleofuture blog written by one Matt Novak, “New Zealand Could Have Been Part of the United States”. The title sounds sensationalistic, but Novak does make the good point that the young British colony of New Zealand in the mid-19th century did have very close ties with the United States.

New Zealand became a British colony in 1841, but white emigration to the island nation, which was inhabited by the native Maori people, didn’t really surge until gold was discovered in 1861. The gold rush saw New Zealand’s population explode in the 1860s from roughly 99,000 at the start of the decade to 256,000 by 1871. The gold rush brought plenty of Californians, and the colony became inundated with a relatively small but rowdy bunch of Americans who didn’t acknowledge any allegiance to the United Kingdom.

As historian Gerald Horne explains in the 2007 book The White Pacific, “When gold was discovered in Otago in 1861, it was the New Zealanders who attracted attention from California to the point where there was very temporary talk of New Zealand becoming a part of the United States. In both England and New Zealand it was widely believed that an independent New Zealand would gravitate toward the U.S. sphere.”

If the small colony of New Zealand had sought independence from Britain in the 1860s or 70s, Americans could well be calling it a territory, or even a state. After all, there were just 33 American states in 1860.

The New Zealand gold rush also happened to coincide with the beginning of the American Civil War. After the war, there was a Confederate diaspora to the South Pacific—former slave owners in the Southern United States who kept up the slave trade in places like Fiji and Australia. Former American Confederates fled to places like New Zealand, which itself had outlawed slavery, but was just a short hop away from where the trade of human beings was still tacitly accepted.

Anywhere from 60,000 to 120,000 slaves were brought to Australia to work in sugar and cotton fields there between the 1860s and 1900, despite the fact that the country officially forbade slavery. Trade skyrocketed between the United States and New Zealand in the second half of the 19th century as a result of this increased activity by Californians and Confederates in the South Pacific—traders trafficking in both the gold rush of human beings, driven by British and American demand for cheap cotton, and the literal gold rush.

These certainly were close links. For the United States to have been able to challenge British rule in New Zealand, however, would imply a United States with a much stronger navy relative to the British Empire than OTL. Too, there would be plenty of closer targets in the British Empire for the United States to aim for–Canada, to start, and the Caribbean if the United States had the appetite. Notwithstanding the significant American influence in Polynesia, a United States that was able to take over New Zealand would be a much bigger naval power than OTL.

Is there a scenario that could give us an American New Zealand? What would it involve? With minimal divergences, I could only imagine a United States that had waged a successful war against the British Empire in concert with other great powers. A Franco-American alliance, maybe? A peaceful handover is more difficult to imagine still, though perhaps if the United Kingdom thought it could not secure these islands passing it to an ally might be imaginable. Another possibility I can imagine would involve Americans actually preempting the British and the French in extending their sovereignty over the homeland of the Maori, something perhaps involving early whalers.

What would work? As importantly, what would an American New Zealand look like? I am afraid that, if the paradigm applied to the indigenous peoples of the American West was applied here, the Maori might encountered significantly worse outcomes than in our history.

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Written by Randy McDonald

January 25, 2017 at 11:29 pm

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