If the US Lost the Revolutionary War - Better Off Now?

I have no great knowledge of American history, but recently my husband commented that the US would be a better country if we had lost the Revolutionary War. It sounded like a cool idea for a GD thread.

What do you think? Presumably slavery would have been abolished sooner, and maybe we would have more social programs in place? Can we assume we would be subject to the same laws as England? Could something like the Civil War even happen? Would we have such stark division between the North and the South if slavery had not become so entrenched?

Thanks for your consideration.

Interesting question. I imagine we probably would have followed Canada’s path of semi-independence followed by real nationhood. One thing I wonder about is if the Louisiana Purchase would have happened like it did (I doubt Napoleon would have been willing to sell to his main enemy). Perhaps Spain would have bought it instead.

Your closest analogue would be Canada, which had the French and English tearing it up every 50 years on the average until that Great Misunderstanding in the early 1800s which more-or-less settled the issue.

The British may have been punitive to the upstart colonists for at least some time, imposing order in the form of their own (ever-stricter) officials and breeding a sense of resentment that would, if not lead to outright civil war, at least to prolonged guerilla campaigns. (See the Boer War, the Manitoba Revolt, and arguably the FLQ for historical analogues).

Would that “real nationhood” have involved a United States, or would each colony have eventually become its own independent nation?

It’s hard to say. The U.S. would probably look a lot different. Would we have expanded further West? Taken Texas?

World politics would have changed as well. How would the Allies have made out in both World Wars if the U.S. didn’t exist as it did?

What about the Soviet Union? Would they fallen to Germany or still become a world power, but unchecked?

Seems the entire world would have turned out differently had the U.S. lost the American Revolution.

Canada, Australia, and South Africa all began as several separate colonies that eventually merged into a single self-governing dominion. Most likely the 13 colonies would have joined with those that eventually became Canada in a similar dominion.

Initial US Westward expansion would be much slower - that was a major point of contention between the colonies and the UK. Louisiana Purchase wouldn’t happen (Napoleon selling land to his enemy doesn’t make sense), so the ‘non-Canadian colonies’ would be along the east coast. The UK abolished the slave trade in 1807 and slavery in 1833, and it’s possible that the Southern states would have had a revolution at that point. They’d have no real way to win though - they would be much weaker without the states from Louisiana and Mexico, and they’d have to fight the UK instead of hoping the UK would save them from the Union.

The path to independence in North America through the 1800s would be different. I think that historically Canada was kept together to help counterbalance the continent-crossing US. In this timeline, I definitely expect either all of British North America to form one big country or for an independent Quebec and lots of smaller states split off. Not necessarily each US state on its own, but definitely not the whole original 13 colonies plus limited westward expansion as one block. Whatever split off would definitely not be a superpower, so 20th century politics works completely differently.

However, since Britain was at war with Napoleon, they might have simply taken it. Part of Napoleon’s motivation for taking it was that he couldn’t defend it very well, especially after Haiti rebelled. By taking New Orleans, they basically could have controlled the entire territory.

Part of the motivation for US southerners to colonize Texas was to spread slavery. If slavery had been abolished, that motivation wouldn’t have existed so a war with Mexico - and a chance to take half her territory - wouldn’t have existed.

Some people are comparing a theoretical British America to Canada. I don’t think we can make that analogy. Canada is, to a significant extent, a result of America winning its independence. An immediate result was a lot of American loyalists moved to Canada. Longer term results were Britain building up Canada and acting conciliatory to any unrest because of the existence of the United States.

I feel if the colonies hadn’t won independence, Britain would have followed a program of keeping all of its North American colonies under separate governments. It was not in British interests to have its colonies presenting a united front against London. They would have preferred to keep all of the colonies distinct and been able to play them off against each other.

I would assume Britain would have ended up in control of most of North America. France lost most of its wars during this period and Spain was in decline. Britain would have stepped in and taken their colonies just as it had taken places like Quebec and Cuba.

One interesting question would be who would have settled North America. We’re a continent full of valuable land that was mostly available after the Native Americans died off. But Britain wouldn’t have wanted the land being settled by people from rival European powers. So they might have encouraged settlement from other parts of the British Empire which had population surpluses like India and Africa.

Except that’s not what happened in Australia or South Africa. The Union of South Africa even incorporated the Boer Republics that had been at war with the other colonies.

They were both formed after Canada. The establishment of Canada as a united dominion set precedents which were then applied to other colonies like Australia and South Africa.

It’s really hard to say. Contra all the propaganda about the tea tax and stamp act and whatnot, the main gripe of the colonists was not being able to seize more Native lands. The Crown would have to have somehow mitigated that issue to hang on to power for any amount of time.

If they did somehow smooth over the differences about expanding settlements and taxes and whatnot, slavery would be the next issue to tackle. We could very well have seen a delayed revolutionary war where the south rebelled against the prohibition of slavery, and having its territory expansions confined to the east coast. We may have even seen France intercede on behalf of the Confederacy to spite the British.

tl;dr once slavery was established, there was always going to be a bloody war over keeping it going.

I think we can assume slavery would have still been abolished in the British Empire in 1833, in the mainland colonies in North America as well as in the Caribbean colonies. I don’t feel the southern colonies that existed at the time would have been able to resist the actions taken by Parliament.

But the slavery debate in the UK was essentially about the West Indies, and in the end the price of getting the final abolition legislation through was massive compensation to the slave-owners. There’s no way a similar scheme could have been afforded for the American South from the British Treasury, even had the Southern slave-owners been willing to give in. Unless of course the Southern colonies were saddled with massive debt and/or special taxes were levied, oh I don’t know, maybe across the American colonies? One way or another it would have led to some bitter conflict.

The American revolution caused the french revolution and scores of others, seeking freedom and democracy. So the world would be a worse place.

How many Southerners actually owned slaves? One had to be wealthy to do so.

A good point. In the historical 1860, most southern whites didn’t themselves own slaves. But they were willing to fight for the states they held allegiance to.

In our hypothetical 1833, these local state governments wouldn’t have existed. Places like South Carolina and Virginia would have been provinces administered by governors appointed by London. The slave holding provinces would have lacked the network of political leaders to form a rebellion with.

And they would have been remembering a different history. These southerners would have looked back on a previous revolution against London that had failed.

So the plantation owners would have protested against the loss of their slaves. But the southern population in general wouldn’t have rallied to their cause.

There were about 3000 people compensated at the end of slavery in the UK, to the value of £20m (=something like £1200m in today’s money), for the “loss” of about 750,000 slaves. According to Wikipedia, there were as many as 4 million slaves in the US, presumably by the time of your Civil War. Even if there were only half that number at the time of abolition in the British Empire, that’s still a bill three times bigger than for the West Indies planters. They put up enough of a fight in Parliament, over years: hard to imagine the American slaveowners giving in any more easily or cheaply, especially given that they could point to a revolutionary war in the not too distant past.

Immediate emancipation isn’t the only way to eliminate slavery. You could also simply declare that the children of slaves were free. That’s the way that Panama eliminated slavery, over a period of time, with final emancipation of remaining slaves in 1851. And emancipation in the British colonies was progressive; former slaves would enter a period of “apprenticeship” before gaining full freedom. There are ways to lessen the economic impact of emanicipation.

The elimination of slavery in the UK was a very close run thing. That despite the relative unimportance of slavery to the British economy. If the UK was getting tax money from cotton plantations in the US there is no way they outlaw slavery when they do. There was an exception made to the freeing of the slaves for those under the East Indian company, which had more slaves than the US did. So either emancipation never gets passed or it exempts the slaves in the US.