Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Multiverse Profile: New England

New England is a region in the northeastern corner of the United States and a common actor in many balkanized North America timelines.  It usually consists of the six states known in OTL as Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut.  The area is known for being the home of the Pilgrims, a religious community from England who formed the Plymouth Colony in 1620 to avoid religious persecution.  They were followed  ten years later by the Puritans settled north of Plymouth Colony in Boston, thus forming Massachusetts Bay Colony.  It was these English settlers who gave the region its name and the foundation for it's culture.

Though it might be hard to believe, the region has a long history of rebellion and secession.  In the late 18th century, the New England Colonies initiated the resistance to the British Parliament's efforts to impose new taxes without the consent of the colonists. The Boston Tea Party was a protest that angered Great Britain, which responded with the "Intolerable Acts", stripping the colonies of self-government. The confrontation led to open warfare in 1775, the expulsion of the British from New England in spring 1776, and the Declaration of Independence in July 1776.

It is here we must consider what would have happened to the region if the Americans lost their war for independence or if the war was avoided all together.  J.C.D. Clark speculated in his short essay "British America: What if there had been no American Revolution?" that the Revolution could have been avoided if the British allowed the colonies to have their own Parliament and continued the Dominion of New England.  This Dominion could have come to dominate the entire British North America, making it more an alternate version of the United States than an independent New England.  For those interested in a New England that won its independence from the British without the help of the other colonies, you should check out The Alteration by Kingsley Amis, where New England is a lone protestant state in a world dominated by the Roman Catholic church.

After the success of the American Revolution, the region experienced the Shays' Rebellion, an armed uprising that took place in central and western Massachusetts from 1786 to 1787. The rebellion was named after Daniel Shays, a veteran of the American Revolutionary War.  The rebellion started on August 21, 1786, over financial difficulties and by January 1787, over one thousand Shaysites had been arrested. A militia that had been raised as a private army defeated an attack on the federal Springfield Armory by the main Shaysite force on February 3, 1787, and five rebels were killed in the action. 

The rebellion energized calls to reevaluate the Articles of Confederation, which were eventually disbanded and replaced by the current United States Constitution.  Yet even here a New Englander could have thrown a monkey wrench into the plans for a stronger Union.  In William H. Riker's short story "What If Elbridge Gerry Had Been More Rational and Less Patriotic?", Massachusetts delegate Gerry votes against the proposal, causing the entire convention to collapse, the United States to balkanize and a war to break out between New England and New York over Vermont (which at the time was an independent republic).  The Constitution, however, was adopted and bloodshed between the states was avoided.

Even the Constitution did not stop the calls for secession and independence. From 1814-1815, New England politicians opposed the War of 1812 met at the Hartford Convention to air grievances concerning the war and the political problems arising from the domination of the Federal Government by Presidents from Virginia. Despite many outcries in the Federalist press for New England secession and a separate peace with Great Britain, moderates dominated the Convention and such a proposal was never adopted.  There is an online timeline called Decades of Darkness by Jared where New England secedes even earlier then the Hartford Convention after President Jefferson dies earlier and his successor continues the Embargo Act.  This eventually leads to a world that looks something like this:


The World of Decades of Darkness in 1935.

Following the War of 1812, New England had increased tensions with the southern states and saw themselves as the victims of a slaveholders’ conspiracy.  These tensions arose throughout the 1830s and 1840s due to the Texas Annexation, the Mexican–American War and the expansion of slavery. Anti-slavery proponents began voicing the idea of separation from the South.  In the May 1844 edition of The Liberator, William Lloyd Garrison wrote the "Address to the Friends of Freedom and Emancipation in the United States." Garrison wrote that the Constitution had been created “at the expense of the colored population of the country”. With southerners continuing to dominate the nation because of the Three-fifths compromise, it was time “to set the captive free by the potency of truth” and “secede from the government.  On the same day that this issue was published, the New England Anti-Slavery Convention endorsed the principles of disunion from slaveholders by a vote of 250–24.

In fact there are several stories featuring a "mirror" American Civil War where New England secedes instead of the South.  In "How the South Preserved the Union" by Ralph Roberts in the anthology Alternate Presidents, David Rice Atchison takes office when both Zachary Taylor and Millard Fillmore are killed in a carriage accident. In the story, New England secedes, then attempts to overthrow the Washington government. In the end, Atchison orders all slaves freed and armed and New England fails.  In the same anthology we also find "Now Falls the Cold, Cold Night".  In the that story, Millard Fillmore is elected as the Know Nothing party candidate in 1856, resulting in ethnic tensions in New England over the fugitive slave laws. John C. Fremont becomes President of the New England Confederacy with William T. Sherman as his commanding general, opposed by the Army of the United States under Robert E. Lee.

Today there are very few major movements that wish to secede from the United States.  Nevertheless, the region remains a unique part of America with a long history of rebellion.  Alternate historians will never fail to find inspiration for a new nation in their balkanized North America if they take a look at the history of New England.
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Mitro is founder, editor and contributor of Alternate History Weekly Update. When he is not busy writing about his passion for alternate history, he spends his time working as a licensed attorney in the state of Illinois and dreams of being a published author himself one day.

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