A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

Posts Tagged ‘alternate history

[AH] What if French Canada survived past 1763?

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Detail, The Death of General Wolfe (1770)

Early in January, before my trip to Montréal, I went to the Royal Ontario Museum where I saw–among other things–the museum’s copy of Benjamin Wolfe’s painting The Death of General Wolfe. This famous tableau’s depiction of the death of James Wolfe, the commander of the victorious British forces in 1759 Battle of the Plains of Abraham that saw the fall of French Canada and the end of New France but who barely lived to see the end of the battle himself, is literally iconic. This moment marks the end of one empire and the expansion of another.

Was the end of New France inevitable? Quite a few fans of alternate history suggest that it was. In perhaps the classic few, the value of France to colonize its North American territories nearly as thoroughly as England (and later the United Kingdom) did theirs ensured that, ultimately, New France would be overwhelmed by the colonists. Some even go so far as to argue that New France was a failing colony, that the failure to expand French colonization much beyond the Saint Lawrence valley demonstrates a fundamental lack of French interest. The Battle of the Plains of Abraham was irrelevant.

I’m not sure that I buy this. Conceivably there could have been more French settlement in New France, perhaps with a bigger push under Louis XIV, but it isn’t clear to me that France in America was a failure. New France’s economy was built substantially on trade with indigenous peoples and not on (for instance) the plantation colony of many British colonies, making increased French settlement irrelevant at best and potentially harmful at worst. As it was, French Canada was actually a dynamic society, the St. Lawrence valley becoming home of a colonial offshoot of France with outposts stretching far west into the basin of the Great Lakes and, not incidentally, managing to hold off conquest by the British for nearly a century and a half. New France was not nearly as populous as the Thirteen Colonies, but that no more proves that New France was a failure than (say) the fact that Spain’s Viceroyalty of the Rio de la Plata was less populous than Portuguese Brazil means that the Spanish colony was a failure. At most, there was underexploited potential. If French Canada has since largely contracted to the frontiers of modern Québec, it is because successive British administrations have taken care to hem it in.

Had the Battle of the Plains of Abraham gone even slightly differently, there could have been a French victory. The end of the Seven Years War could have seen the French flag continue to fly in Canada. Even if Canada had fallen, that it would be kept by Britain was by no means preordained: Had Britain preferred to keep the valuable French sugar island of Guadeloupe, or had the French government different priorities, Canada might have been restored to France in the peace.

What would this surviving French Canada have been like?

It’s certainly possible that a continued French presence in Canada would have helped discourage the Thirteen Colonies from rebelling against the British Empire, especially if it was perceived as a threat. It’s not clear to me that this would automatically be the case, especially if New France had been weakened in the conflict, demilitarized and/or territorially diminished. Perhaps, in this timeline, the Americans might revolt against Britain in anger that their interests were neglected in the settlement of the final peace. We might not see a conflict like the War of American Independence, but then again we might. If this war, or another great power Anglo-French war does come about, then France will face the same cascade of dysfunctional public financies than in our history triggered the revolution.

What will become of Canada in all this? I can imagine that it might, or might not, receive more attention from France. I suppose that, if history runs along the lines we are familiar with up to the French Revolution, Canada might be in an interesting position versus the metropole. (A French kingdom in exile?) It is imaginable that a populous French Canada might stay French, especially if the Americans are allies and Britain has interest elsewhere. The case can be made that French Canada could survive, within borders not wildly different from that of modern Canada, into the 19th century.

Here, I’m stymied. It is not easy to imagine the development of French Canada as a French territory for the simple reason that France had no colonies of settlement like (for instance) Britain had Canada. French Algeria eventually became a destination for European immigration, but most of these immigrants came from elsewhere in the western Mediterranean (Spain and Italy particularly) and they arrived in a territory that never stopped being overwhelmingly Arab-Berber and Muslim in nature. New Caledonia, in the South Pacific, also received substantial numbers of settlers relative to the native population, but the absolute numbers were low. There is no close parallel, not in the second French colonial empire, to a colony like Canada, a vast semi-continent with a substantial population mostly descended from French colonists.

I do think France could certainly colonize Canada as thoroughly as Britain later did, especially if France enjoys stability and peace. Franco-Canadian relations were broken by the Conquest and only began to pick up again a century later, as the French became dimly aware that the Canadiens survived. In a timeline where the relationship between France and Canada was never disrupted, Franco-Canadian relations would be far more intense. Trade and investment flows aside, we might see well see substantial amounts of French immigration to a prosperous Canada, and more immigrants coming from outside France, just as in the case of Algeria. The details depend critically on the borders of this Canada and its relationship to its neighbours, but I see no reason why French Canada could not be successful.

Even if–a big if–French history remains largely unchanged up to the mid-19th century, the existence of a large, populous, and growing French Canada will eventually change the French polity rapidly. How will the millions of Canadiens be represented in French political life? A populous American branch of the French empire will have very substantial consequences.

What do you think?

Written by Randy McDonald

May 16, 2017 at 11:59 pm

[BLOG] Some Wednesday links

  • Centauri Dreams looks at evidence that Ceres’ Occator Crater, an apparent cryovolcano, may have been recently active.
  • Crooked Timber’s John Quiggin wonders what would have happened had Kerensky accepted the German Reichstag’s proposal in 1917.
  • Dangerous Minds looks at some fun that employees at a bookstore in France got up to with book covers.
  • Cody Delistraty describes F. Scott Fitzgerald’s utter failure to fit into Hollywood.
  • A Fistful of Euros hosts Alex Harrowell’s blog post taking a look at recent history from a perspective of rising populism.
  • io9 reports on a proposal from the Chinese city of Lanzhou to set up a water pipeline connecting it to Siberia’s Lake Baikal.
  • Imageo notes a recent expedition by Norwegian scientists aiming at examining the winter ice.
  • Strange Maps links to an amazing graphic mapping the lexical distances between Europe’s languages.
  • Window on Eurasia argues that Russia is on the verge of a new era of population decline, and shares a perhaps alarming perspective on the growth of Muslim populations in Russia.

[BLOG] Some Thursday links

  • blogTO notes a threat to some of Liberty Village’s historic buildings through development.
  • Centauri Dreams looks at planetary formation around close binary SDSS 1557, which includes a white dwarf.
  • False Steps’ Paul Drye announces a new book project, They Played the Game, which looks at how different baseball players overlooked in our history might have become stars had things gone differently.
  • Language Hat looks at the linguistic differences between the two Koreas.
  • Lawyers, Guns and Money notes the exploitation of Syrian refugees by Turkish garment manufacturers.
  • The LRB Blog examines the phenomenon of myth-making regarding Sweden.
  • The Map Room Blog links to a website sharing the stories of cartographers.
  • The NYRB Daily notes the chaos that Trump will be bringing to American immigration law.
  • Peter Rukavina talks about his experience as a library hacker.
  • Supernova Condensate is optimistic about the potential of Space X to actually inaugurate an era of space tourism.

[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.

Written by Randy McDonald

January 25, 2017 at 11:29 pm

[AH] What would the post-war settlement of the Falklands with an Argentine victory be like?

The other day, I came across an article by Samuel Osborne in the Independent, “CIA had secret plan to give Falkland Islands to Argentina and relocate islanders to Scotland.” In it, Osborne describes American thinking on a settlement of the Falklands War assuming–as was entirely possible–an Argentine victory.

“For a period of three years the inhabitants of the Falkland Islands will be given a chance to consider whether they wish to remain on the Falkland Islands or whether they wish to relocate to an area of British jurisdiction, either in the UK or elsewhere under British sovereignty, with a relocation grant of $100,000 per person,” Mr Rowen wrote.

“It is likely that many residents will find this sufficient inducement to relocate to some other area, perhaps in Scotland or elsewhere where conditions may be similar to the Falkland Islands.”

He adds: “Any residents who do not wish to relocate will be free to remain and become Argentinian citizens at the end of three years.

“The cost of the relocation grants to be paid to any residents of the Falkland Islands wishing to relocate elsewhere will be borne fifty/fifty by the Argentinian and British governments.”

The plans were addressed to Paul Wolfowitz, a Department of State advisor to President Ronald Reagan.

They also called for “some appropriate penalty upon the Argentinians for having used armed force to seek to settle an international dispute.”

This sort of intermediate phase of British rule under Argentine sovereignty, followed by a complete reversion to Argentine sovereignty, seems like a plausible outcome assuming that the United Kingdom had decisively lost the contest to control the islands. Is it? What price would Argentina be forced to pay for its conquest of the Falklands? And how would this–the acquisition of the islands, also the cost of their acquisition imposed by the United States–complicate the democratic transition in Argentina of our timeline in the 1980s?

Written by Randy McDonald

January 25, 2017 at 11:14 pm

[BLOG] Some Tuesday links

  • ‘Apostrophen’s ‘Nathan Smith writes about how allies should not accidentally inflict trauma.
  • Centauri Dreams looks at Juno’s findings from Jupiter.
  • Dangerous Minds shares the photos of mid-20th century Japanese surrealist Kansuke Yamamoto.
  • The Dragon’s Gaze links to a paper suggesting the large majority of potentially habitable exoplanets have not been sterilized by gamma ray bursts.
  • Language Hat links to a New Yorker short story examining life in a university linguistics class.
  • Language Log argues, based on some questionable evidence, that either Chinese will transition to a Romanized script or English will start to displace written Chinese.
  • The Map Room Blog links to the MacLean’s review of the Nova Scotia Community College’s Centre of Geographic Sciences.
  • Personal Reflections’ Jim Belshaw reflects on the history and future of Denmark’s relationship with Australia.
  • Savage Minds wonders what future the traditional anthropological academy has under Trump.
  • Towleroad links to a crowdfunding effort for Leo Herrera’s film Founders, which will imagine a gay world unmarked by AIDS and where now departed luminaries of the 1980s and 1990s continue to exert influence. The last I checked, Herrera is already two-thirds of the way to his thirty thousand dollar goal.

[AH] What would have come of an independent Prince Edward Island?

In an article by CBC News’ Sara Fraser looking at how Prince Edward Island has had its choice of Confederation-related anniversaries lately now that we’re nearing the 150th–the Charlottetown Conference of 1864, the formation of Canada in 1867, the entry of Prince Edward Island into Confederation in 1873–local historian and folklorist David Weale raised the question of whether Confederation was necessary for the Island.

“The real problem on P.E.I. is that there is a really interesting story associated with Confederation and P.E.I. and we’ve turned it into a boring story,” he said from his Charlottetown home.

In 1864, he points out, Islanders wanted nothing to do with Confederation — P.E.I. politicians didn’t even really want to discuss Maritime union.

“Islanders had this feisty, independent spirit that they wanted to go on their own,” Weale said. P.E.I. was prospering, its population was booming and Island politicians had even held independent talks with the U.S. on free trade.

“Islanders have probably never been united on any other issue as much as they were in their desire to be independent and to stay out of Confederation,” Weale said. One Summerside newspaper, he said, was actively campaigning for P.E.I. to become a U.S. state.

“We’d been fighting against the British government control of us — now did we just want to turn it over to some people in Ontario? That was playing out in their minds,” Weale said.

They were “heady times,” he said, but whether P.E.I. would have been better off independent, he admits he doesn’t know — but that’s not exactly the point. It’s the whitewashing, whether intentional or through ignorance, that bothers him more.

As a fan of alternate history, I would suggest that we can develop a reasonably good idea as to whether or not Prince Edward Island would have been better off independent. Francis Bulger’s “Prince Edward Island and Confederation 1863-1873”, published in 1961 in the Report of the Canadian Catholic Historical Association, observes that the entry of Prince Edward Island into Confederation was triggered by economic catastrophe, the costs of building the Prince Edward Island Railway forcing the Island to choose between Confederation and bankruptcy.

Since Prince Edward Island had rejected Confederation based upon the Quebec Resolutions because it considered such a scheme “would prove politically, commercially and financially disastrous to the rights and best interests of its people,” the Dominion realized that it would have to make a more generous settlement to offset these declared disadvantages if it were to succeed in inducing the Island to enter Confederation. Accordingly, the terms of Confederation offered to Prince Edward Island in 1869 were more generous than those provided by the Quebec Resolutions. The new provisions were “better” in that the Dominion government promised to establish efficient steam service and constant communication between the Island and the Mainland and to provide a loan of $800,000 to enable the Island to purchase the proprietary lands if this compensation could not be obtained from the Imperial government.

The attitude of Prince Edward Islanders to these proposals revealed that they were still so bent on maintaining their independence that as the Dominion offered more concessions they were prepared to demand additional ones. They refused to accept the new proposals. They maintained that the proposed terms did not include an adequate solution of the land question because the $800,000 compensation should come from the Imperial government accompanied by a guarantee that the proprietors would be compelled to sell their lands. They also asserted that the Dominion should build a railway on the Island. The reaction of Prince Edward Island to the “better terms” made it apparent that only the presence of some compelling crisis would ever induce it to enter into union with Canada.

In the year 1871 the Island government unwittingly took a step that was destined to provide the emergency which led to Confederation. In the session of the Legislature of that year a railway bill was passed which was decisive in making the Island a province of the Dominion. Two years later railway liabilities so imperilled the Island’s position in the money market and brought its economy so close to callapse that the Island government reluctantly admitted that Confederation was the only possible solution. Delegates from the Island entered into negotiations with the Dominion and submitted terms of Confederation to the electors. The people were informed that their independence could not be maintained any longer since the Island was encumbered with a debt entirely disproportionate to its resources. They were also advised that increased taxation, besides being unbearable, would only postpone the inevitable which in the end would have to be accepted. The people reluctantly yielded to these arguments.

The role played by Prince Edward Island in the final act of the Confederation drama was in perfect harmony with previous performances. Confederation was viewed primarily in terms of the financial settlement. The electors while voting in favour of the principle of Confederation gave the mandate to the party that promised to secure still better terms of admission. The new government entered into further negotiations with the Dominion and obtained a few additional concessions. In May, 1873, the new terms were carried almost unanimously by the Island Legislature. Local patriotism had finally been forced to yield to economic necessity and on July 1, 1873 Prince Edward Island became a province of the Dominion of Canada.

Note, too, that the other major provision of the Island’s entry into Confederation was the buying out of absentee landlords, overseas proprietors who owned the land of the province.

Without the Island’s entry into Confederation, what could have happened but catastrophe? The province was unable to finance its debts, and Confederation was the only bailout that the British Empire was willing to offer. Had the Island persisted in maintaining its independence in Canada, the only outcome imaginable would be that of a failed state. Long before then, I suspect that popular pressure for relief on any terms would have seen Prince Edward Island join its larger neighbour, the only difference being much avoidable suffering.

If the Island had not entered into the destructive plan to build a railroad–why not is beyond me, since a railroad seemed to be a popular and rational way to further the economic development of the province–could it have done better? Was there potential, as Weale suggests, that were left unfulfilled? For the Maritimes as a whole, perhaps: Nova Scotia was a province particularly well-positioned to experience a mercantile industrial revolution, but the whole of the Maritimes could conceivably have shared.

What of the Island specifically, almost wholly agricultural, without significant industrial resources, and–until Anne of Green Gables–without any other economic resources of note but its mobile workforce? Was there the potential for the Island specifically to develop somehow, to avoid being the agrarian source of labourers that it was almost to the end of the 20th century? I would argue that the necessary resources were not there, that the Island developed much as you would expect any peripheral agricultural region on the fringes of booming industrial areas to develop. The Island’s pre-Confederation economic model, with the most promising proto-industrial sector being wooden shipbuilding, was failing by the 1860s. The scale of emigration had become so huge by the 1890s as to cause net population decline, but as Amanda Creamer noted emigration to New England had begun on a substantial scale as early as the 1850s in response to local problems.

Even in a best-case scenario, Prince Edward Island and its population would seem likely to lose out. Abandoning membership in a much larger and wealthier Canada would deprive the Island of resources that it simply lacked the wherewithal to acquire on its own, while independence would be unlikely to bring about a positive economic transformation. Particularly with absentee landlordism playing a role, the case could be made that Island agriculture would be worse off, and where agriculture went so would the entire Island. An independent Prince Edward Island might do better than Newfoundland, in that its agrarian economy would be more self-sustained, but not much better.

Written by Randy McDonald

January 10, 2017 at 11:59 pm