2015-09-02 / Voices of the People

What if Britain had won the Revolutionary War?

IYESKA JOURNALby JAMES GIAGO DAVIES IYESKA JOURNALAlternative histories are popular in fiction—what if Columbus hadn’t “discovered” America, what if the Confederacy had won the Civil War, what if the Nazis had invented the atomic bomb first?

Harry Turtledove writes some pretty good novels on such themes, except Indians are always bad or unnecessary in his alternative histories. He even has the New World populated by Homo Erectus when the white folks get here, because, of course, our pre-human ancestors are far more exciting and interesting than actual Indians. I was waiting for a novel from him about Indians eventually “discovering” Europe, and finding it filled with Neanderthals, but I guess his heart wasn’t in writing that novel.
If we speculate on alternate historical outcomes for reasons other than crafting cheap fiction, they can open our eyes to the actual nature of the society we live in, and we may see that we misunderstand the history that actually did happen.
Let’s focus on one intriguing possibility—Britain wins the Revolutionary War. So there is no United States, no Constitution, some of the leading Founding Father figures may have dangled from ropes; none of them would be regarded in any history books or popular folklore as heroes. After Napoleon is defeated some 40 years later, Britain would just annex the Louisiana Purchase. Not sure what they would have called the United States, but we will just call it America.
There would be no need for Canada to be a separate country, so America would include Canada, and British law would prevail. Britain was undergoing a massive social upheaval during the 19th Century; the Industrial Revolution was transforming the class structure domestically, and the British Empire dominated the globe, exploiting cultures filled with brown people, outsourcing their surplus or troublesome White population, particularly Irishmen, which is why there are far more Irish living outside Ireland than ever lived in Ireland. 
For the first half of the 19th Century Britain was a brutal power, but by the start of the 20th Century, slavery had been outlawed, the monarchy lost actual power to Parliament, and became just a figurehead, and social reform resulted in better education, better working conditions, for the White population in Britain.
Likely these reforms would have taken place in America. But before they even happened, American history would have gone quite differently. There would have been no second war with Britain in 1812. The war with Mexico, which resulted in the acquisition of Texas and the Pacific Coast, probably would have happened differently; maybe a war between Spain and Britain would have given Britain Cuba and the Philippines as well.
There would have been no Civil War, slaves would have been freed by decree, not conflict, and even if Dixie had rebelled against Britain like they did against the Union, having to fight the entire British Commonwealth and their allies, which included France at the time, and survive a blockade by the British Navy, would have resulted in a crushing defeat.
In actual history post-war Blacks started enjoying their new found freedom, were elected to office, were allowed to play professional baseball, but all of that was swept away by Reconstruction, and Jim Crow became the actual law of the land, but none of that would have happened under British rule. Blacks would have maintained their gains and expanded on them, so that by the 1890’s they would have already achieved the equality they did not achieve in actual history until the 1960’s.
How the British would have treated the aboriginal American, is a much more problematic consideration. Let’s face it; they treated him abominably in actual history. The Lakota had no real interaction with the British; by the time the Wasicu came into their world the British were long defeated. The big question becomes, by the 1870’s, would the British Army have treated the Lakota better than the U.S. Army did? 
Given how they were acting in South Africa and India at the time, the answer is probably no. The reserve system in Canada gives a fair indication of how reserves would have been set up in British controlled America. It’s not a great improvement.
So what’s in it for the Lakota, if history would have gone about the same for them whether the Brits or Yanks had been in charge? 
This is where we have to think long term. Controlling America would make the British the most powerful nation in human history, by an even wider margin than the USA enjoys now. They would have overpowered Germany economically, in a WWI war of attrition, secured far better piece terms than Versailles offered, and prevented WWII from ever happening. 
Perhaps there would have been other wars, maybe with the Slavic peoples, maybe with the Chinese or Japanese. But if we come all the way forward to the present day we would find an America much different than the USA.
There would be a much more robust infrastructure, and modernized electrical grid, better public transportation, high speed rail crisscrossing the nation, making for far less dependence on fossil fuels. Health care would be free. Education would be free. 
Money would not dominate politics to the degree it does now, corrupting Congress, subverting democracy. The Lakota would have received fair restitution for the Black Hills, and the badly implemented BIA programs, would run much more efficiently because many of these programs would be a right of every citizen. Not just wronged aboriginals in a cycle of dependency and self destruction.
So the wrong side won the Revolutionary War, cultural blasphemy perhaps to consider such, but bottom line, my Lakota life would have gone much differently, I would have eaten better, received a better education, and some of the people I loved would not have died before their time, in so many sad and tragic ways.   
And there damn sure wouldn’t be any Washington “Redskins.”

(James Giago Davies can be reached at

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