What If the Glorious Fourth Hadn’t Happened?

One of the most enjoyable if ultimately frustrating games an historian can play is “what if?” Enjoyable, because everyone has episodes of history — personal or general — he wishes had worked out differently. Frustrating, because while one can imagine a different immediate outcome from this or that episode, he cannot imagine what that difference would have made in the long run. By virtue of sheer human limitation, the searcher for the alternative cannot know how all the many factors affecting and affected by every historical event would have actually worked out. Nevertheless, it is an eternal temptation, indulged in by such as G.K. Chesterton with his “If Don John of Austria had Married Mary Queen of Scots;” Sir Charles Petrie with “If: A Jacobite Fantasy;” and Harry Turtledove and Richard Dreyfuss with The Two Georges. It is this latter piece, describing an alternate world where the American Revolution had been settled peacefully and the colonies remained within the British Empire, that most claims our attention this Independence Day.

Despite Wokery and all the rest of the accompanying nonsense, July 4th shall be celebrated with its customary gusto this year. Across the country, celebrations shall occur in all the National Parks; not surprisingly the nation’s capital shall celebrate, culminating in a parade. So too shall such centres of revolutionary action as Boston, New York City, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Williamsburg, Charleston and Savannah. But every city and town, large and small, throughout the 50 States shall be enjoying fireworks, parades, barbecues, and much else besides.

Let us, however, imagine another reality, where the break with Britain was not accomplished, and the fireworks and so on are reserved for the King’s Birthday — the abandoned holiday from whence they came. We shall not repeat Turtledove’s and Dreyfuss’ speculations, but attempt with our own particular interests to gain some idea of a what a world in which the United States as we know them did not exist. We’ll start with government in general — and the effect of the non-Revolution on the King in particular.

Since part of the drama of the Revolution was the attempt by the Whig Oligarchy in Great Britain to frustrate the King’s reform plans, in this alternate world, George III has defeated them. The King has a central — though not absolute — role in governance, very much like the president of the United States when the constitution was still somewhat followed. But because George has not been turned against Catholic Emancipation by what he considered the French and Spanish Kings’ betrayal in their intervention in the conflict, Emancipation comes much sooner than 1829. He does not lose his personal popularity among the Irish as a result. Moreover, the unseating of the Whigs makes their ham-handed response to the Potato Famine unlikely, and so Ireland receives the necessary relief. The Irish are far less embittered as a result.

In the colonies, 100,000 Loyalists are not forced to flee. Instead, the Thirteen Colonies continue their development, albeit at a slower rate than actually happened. Without the New York and Maryland Manor Lords dividing over the revolt, their society continues its aristocratic tone. The maintenance of the Royal Proclamation of 1763 means that the settlement of the frontier is much slower, but with far less Indian conflict. At some point, as the Albany and Galloway plans would indicate, the colonies would form an autonomous Federation with the Empire, similar to what Canada and Australia eventually became.

Speaking of Canada, without the expulsion of the United Empire Loyalists, there would have been (save for a handful of merchants in Montreal, and the New England Planters who succeeded the Acadians in the Maritimes) no Anglo-Canada to speak of. Armed with the Quebec Act and a huge birthrate, the Francophone population of Canada might eventually have spread form Sea-to-Sea; this would have needed an ongoing effort to maintain their loyalty by the British Crown — the more so because what would become French-Canadian disaffection with the Mother Country over the murder of Louis XVI in our timeline would not have happened.

Of course, it was Louis XVI’s economic, governmental, and military reforms that made the French victory over Britain in the Revolution possible — after almost a century of defeats at the hands of the British and their Continental allies. But in the end, it was a pyrrhic victory. Not only were many of the French officers who served in North America infected with the ideas of the Enlightenment and had their Catholicism weakened thereby, the treasury was emptied by the conflict. As a result, when an Icelandic volcano’s aftermath ruined the French crops in 1788, the royal treasuries and granaries from which aid would have flowed to the starving were empty. Thus was born the Great Hunger, which in turn led successively to the convening of the Assembly of Notables, the Estates General, and at last the French Revolution, in which the King, his Queen, Marie Antoinette, his son the “lost Dauphin,” and his sister, Servant of God Madame Elisabeth, all lost their lives; his brothers, the future Louis XVIII and Charles X were forced into exile. The horrors of the Revolution engulfed France and all of Europe, raging on until the defeat of Napoleon in 1815.

But in our new timeline, none of this happened. No American Revolution meant no French Revolution: no driving of countless Monarchs into death or exiles; no slaughters in places like the Vendee and Tyrol; no Reign of Terror; above all, no assault on the Church, save what the Enlightenment — bereft in this timeline of the United States as a claimed example of their principles made concrete — could eat away at among the literate. Spain was not invaded by Napoleon, and so the bloody wars of Latin American Independence did not occur. Neither the Holy Roman Empire nor the Papal States collapsed; the Miguelist and Carlist Wars, the Mexican War, the 1848 Revolutions, the Crimean War, Italian and German Reunification, American Civil War, Franco-Prussian War, the Portuguese and Russian Revolutions, the World Wars, and so many conflicts down to our own time did not occur. Oceans of blood and countless architectural and artistic treasures were spared. Without this heavy historical burden, life to-day in our mythical 2023, where altar and throne remain as powerful as ever they were, is paradise!

Or is it? In truth, we do not know how the forces of the Enlightenment would have been dealt with, or the titanic societal pressures unleashed by the Industrial Revolution. Would there have been continuing struggles over the American colonies? Would these in some countries have caused governmental overthrows? Would the un-persecuted Church have produced the Saints she gave birth to in the 19th century in the new circumstances? The answer to each of these questions is a definite “Who knows?”

Enjoyable as the occasional discursion into alternate history can be, ultimately, it cannot really answer the questions it raises. But it can lead us to question what we think we know — both about history and its effects upon the present. Since we know that history is the working out of the Divine Will in time against the background of innumerable free and fallen wills, we can know that when “glorious causes” have been defeated in the past, it is not only present evils their defeat has caused; there are also positive aspects of what kind of another their very existence has engendered. King Charles I may have been murdered at Whitehall and Bonnie Prince Charlie defeated at Culloden; but the Cavalier and Jacobite cause has not only generated art, literature, and song that continues to inspire countless people throughout the Anglosphere, it has played a major part in creating the identities of those countries. Regardless of what one thinks about the Lost Cause of the Confederacy, the tragic sense it brought to the South has contributed to any number of Catholic converts in that region. So it is in any number of countries: the Vendee and the Chouans in France; the Carlists in Spain; the Miguelists in Portugal; the Cristeros in Mexico; and on and on. So too with individuals: the study of the lives of Bl. Emperor Karl, SG Empress Zita, Louis XVI, SG Mary Queen of Scots, Charles I, Nicholas II, SG Francesco II, SG Madame Elisabeth, SG James II, SG Queen Elena of Italy, and so many more is quite revealing. Had they won, would so many of their respective peoples revere them as Saints to-day?

At any rate, as we enjoy our Independence Day festivities, let us remember the Loyalists in the American Revolution, especially our co-religionists among them, such as the Roman Catholic Volunteers of Philadelphia, The Royal Yorkers (with their chaplain, the redoubtable Fr. John McKenna), and the Volunteers of Ireland — to say nothing of Quebec’s Bishop Briand and the French-Canadian militia. Had they and their side prevailed, the world would be a very different place to-day. It would lack many of the evils we know — but doubtless would have others to replace them!