This blog post was originally scheduled for yesterday, the 4th Of July. The 2018 FIFA World Cup however, continues to be the best World Cup in my lifetime.
If life was a video game and you wanted to restart it back at the best sensible restart point, then the 1st Of July, 1776 is definitely a good one. Although the United States celebrates its independence on the Fourth, it was actually the Second of July that summer when the delegates met and the reason why the Fourth was selected is because it takes two days for the vellum to stabilise. The First Of July is the last date which the plan to unilaterally severe the ties to England could have been quashed and had that course of events taken place, then today's world would look vastly different.
You can distill all of reasons why the United States chose to break away into just four things:
1. Taxation - Namely the colonies' refusal to pay, despite the fact that running the civil administration of a nation is expensive.
Since there was no such thing as a police force until the Premiership of Robert Peel, this meant that soldiers ended up being quartered in places like public houses. The Boston Massacre ends up reading like a pressure cooker of a tale which came to a sudden and violent outcome.
2. Monopoly - Namely the one handed to the East India Company, over the terms of trade of goods in and out of the colonies.
Again, the Boston Tea Party is a specific instance where the East India Company's stock was thrown over the side. It is really interesting how practically nobody talks about the crates of booze on board the company's ships.
3. Representation - The fact that they didn't really have any in the British Parliament (and then would immediately deny to a black people, women, and white people who didn't hold land in America).
4. Slavery - A problem which the colonies actually wanted to perpetuate but which the government in London wanted to put a stop to.
If you actually look through the timeline of the so-called "Intolerable Acts" then what you find is the government in London responding to and trying to punish the colonies for their refusal to address and remove slavery, after it had been abolished at Common Law in England.
If we can somehow set these things aside (which is really easy if you're playing with history and producing weapons of mass distraction) then you can throw that switch in the pretend world and see what it does.
So let's get pretend Alexander Hamilton really drunk on Samuel Adams' finest ale. Let's distract Ben Franklin with some kite flying and fart jokes. Let's convince John Hancock, John Jay and Thomas Jefferson that Hamilton insulted them and that they should stay away. Let's give George Washington and Aaron Burr some pistols and a few cans of beans to shoot off of a wall, and let's start by making sure that Declaration Of Independence is never signed or published.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
Those opening few words from the Declaration Of Independence contain more than a few direct lies. The truth was that the country did not hold those truths to be self evident and when it came round to writing the Constitution 13 years later, some people would be held at law to be far less than equal, 3/5ths of a person to be precise. As for the statement about life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, there are very long shadows that are still being cast; with the Second Amendment giving people the ability to destroy all three at the pull of a trigger, court cases like Roe vs Wade which make the assertion that those rights are not only alienable but should be denied, and the repeated refusal by Congress to act on matters like healthcare which would provide for the general welfare and protect those rights practically.
If you work your way through the rest of the document, you'll find frequent assertions that King George III has done all sorts of horrible things but I have never actually read a proper treatise which actually bothered to investigate the claims therein. Indeed by the time of Thomas Paine's 1795 pamphlet entitled "Agrarian Justice" he openly says that no proper objection to the Declaration Of Independence had been put forth. This is hardly surprising when you consider that the United States by that stage was a newly properly constituted country and it would be madness to prosecute a document with no legal standing, and the British having fought an expensive war were never going to investigate a document which has no legal standing and in a set of colonies that they no longer possessed.
Nevertheless, the original sins of the Declaration Of Independence continued to echo through the history of the new nation supposedly conceived in liberty, to the point where under the Presidency of James Buchanan and then Abraham Lincoln the country would snap in twain because of it, and Martin Luther King Jr would accuse it of being a bad cheque which had been presented.
Ironically, I suspect that the last available date in American history which might have avoided many many decades of pain and suffering by millions of people who were never considered equal for a long time, is what would eventually Canada Day; that I July 1st of 1776; before there was a Canada.
If we assume for a second that someone in that hall in Boston in 1776 was able to convince everyone there that declaring independence was a hasty idea, then the whole entire course of North American history could have been different.
In 1772, Somerset's case kind of opened the door to the idea that people couldn't be owned and Wedderburn v. Knight in 1778 established that people couldn't be chattel goods and therefore owned by someone at English common law. As things go with common law, this is gloriously ambiguous as to whether or not slavery was legal in the rest of the British Empire and it wasn't until the Slave Trade Act 1807 and the Slavery Abolition Act 1833 that it was properly cleared up. The United States wouldn't properly address this until they first had a civil war in the most decidedly uncivil way.
If we assume that the American Revolution had gone ahead because of the list of grievances which was long and varied (but which mostly revolved around the execution of power, taxation and a lack of representation) then had the Treasurer Lord North bothered to finance the campaign properly, then maybe you would have seen more slaves join the loyalists; which would have meant that the revolution would have been put down at Saratoga in 1777. These same people would have won their emancipation at common law in 1778 and the resulting statutes would have had effect.
Instead though, the United States declaration of independence meant that slaves were considered as only 3/5ths of a person and the admission of new states into the union came with caveats about them being slave states otherwise or not.
The War Of 1812 would have never have happened and if you assume that Polk's push towards the Pacific was still policy, then the United States Of America might have been constituted on 1st July 1867, with the rest of Canada but I suspect that had the chain of events which led to thousands of Americans dead and strewn across the fields after fighting other Americans, then the theoretical combined country which might have 60 states as of now, would have likely been constituted in about 1816.
A 60 state America, dominating the whole top half of the North American continent
(and of course assuming that the War Of 1812 never happened because it would have been one country) probably also might have come up with better solutions for treating the first peoples better, if the Canadian experience is anything to go by. Canada still has an imperfect relationship with its first peoples but its better than their neighbours to the south who have never officially conducted treaty talks with theirs. The US Constitution insofar as it relates to first peoples within its own borders is so til of asterisks all the way down, that that blue field in the corner of Old Glory may as well be asterisks rather than stars.
The whole system of government would have never been imagined in the way that it was, and a Westminster style parliament probably would have been held in a place like Richmond, Virginia. At the moment, the Prime Minister would be Paul Ryan, as he is majority leader in the House of Representatives, and Donald Trump would have never have been President because that position would have never have existed and if he really wanted a career in politics, then he would have had to have won a seat in parliament and them won a caucus meeting decision. That seems highly unlikely.
Also, because America would have been still culturally aligned with Britain, then it would have likely been a Test Cricket playing nation and possibly even a Football World Cup winner by now. Instead of Football, Baseball, Apple Pie and Chevrolet, you could have had Football, Cricket, Meat Pies, Radio 1 and Hockey Night. That still doesn't mean to say that America would have qualified for this year's World Cup because Italy didn't either and at any rate, with only two countries on the North American continent, the whole of the Americas would have likely formed the confederation.
It's probably also reasonable to assume that the whole history of American expansionism and empire building would have been different as well. Officially the United States has never had an empire but this conveniently ignores that at one stage, that the Philippines was under US control, that the Kingdom of Hawaii was annexed, that great swathes of land (the last being Alaska) was simply purchased and with practically no input from the people actually living there, and that both Panama and Puerto Rico were won as the spoils of war.
America probably would have joined the United Kingdom from the outset in both World Wars rather than being distinctly isolationist in character, would have been more integrated in prosecuting the peace afterwards. Of course it does mean that during the Cold War, the only thing separating the Soviet Union from America would have been the Arctic Ocean; so maybe that would have played out differently.
A more integrated America on the world stage would have likely been less belligerent in stance, more accepting in terms of human rights, and maybe even would have solved the issues within its own borders relating to health care, education and the status of refugees and immigration in far kinder ways.
What's really interesting is that the Governor of Massachusetts, Thomas Hutchinson, published a dissenting pamphlet which basically argued that the whole American Revolution was nothing more than the work of a military conspiracy who wanted independence so that they could perpetuate their privelege and did so by enlisting mostly white people to rebel for the cause.
One signatory of the Declaration of Independence, William Whipple, was so disgusted that he had a fit of conscience and freed his slave because he could not in good faith both fight for liberty and deny it to someone else. Nevertheless he still fought in the Revolution in the hope that "it will be the means of dispensing the blessings of Freedom to all the human race in America"; a sentiment which is still being worked out imperfectly.