With the same calm sense we display on Canada Day, we turn to reflect on the neighbor’s Fourth of July. Typically, our comments are admiring, with only a wry reference to their exuberance and our civility. We note contemporary shortcomings in both federations and generally leave the past alone. But there’s a restless spirit in the land: imagine how better things would be if British North America, rather than the United States of America, led the world.
Here’s Conrad Blackthe dream’s most popular voice, in his clearest English:
“If the Americans had just remained within the British Empire, they would have been running it in one long lifetime, would have ruled the world less than a century after Yorktown, would have made short work of any Confederate insurrection, and would have avoided the World Wars. (Not even Germany’s hyperactive Kaiser would have gone to war simultaneously against Britain, France, Russia, and the U.S.) The Declaration of Independence, 239 years ago, defamed poor old George III and even accused him of trying to impose French civil law on Americans.”
Of course. John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and all the other defamers of British rule would have (1) left notions of popular liberty to mature within the vast machinery of Britain’s empire and its Parliament or (2) they would have been hung.
Set aside all that the defamers inspired (supremacy of a citizen’s bill of rights, constitutional separation of powers, democratic federalism, a transcontinental political and economic union, the Atlantic Charter, the UN Declaration of Human Rights, Abraham Lincoln and Jazz, for starters) that, presumably, for lack of space, Black had to set aside.
Let’s go along with the proposition that the Europeans in the four original Canadian and the 13 original American colonies carried on as loyal British subjects.
Let’s grant that the less vehement and less arrogant voices on the two sides of the Atlantic had held the old heart and the young heart of the 18th-century British Empire intact.
Let Black savor the consequences of choosing “peace, order and good government” rather than “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” as the management vision for, at least, an economic and security commonwealth of the British colonies.
Imagine the old souls of the Westminster Parliamentary model keeping their grip on the machinery of government from the North Atlantic right down to Bermuda’s cane fields.
But that’s as far as Black’s British North America has the right to rearrange modern history on this continent.
Black suggests that in one “long lifetime” the English-speaking empire would peacefully move its head office and then lead a global talk-shop commonwealth—without, of course, the “gridlock” of America’s decentralized system of popular government. I should live so long.
The assumption that Tory loyalists would have promptly accommodated America’s ruthless, unruly mass immigration and their expansion west or would have promptly paid off their slave-holding aristocrats defies how they played the US Civil War and how they micro-managed the settlement of Western Canada.
Furthermore, would those British loyalists have actually received an offer from Napoleon to purchase the vast Louisiana territories? Without Motor City and the resources, industries and uncouth human capital from there to LA, would the loyal colonies of 1776 have stopped the Germans twice and won a global cold war on behalf of all sides of Westminster’s Parliament?
The implied narrative that the British Empire would, on its own, become less imperial defies precedent, including Britain’s own behavior in India and Africa. It didn’t even surrender unconditional independence to its loyal white dominions until well after WWI.
Great Britain lost the leadership of the English-speaking world before it decided to concentrate on being more civilized and a better listener than America.
There’s nothing wrong with being lucky, if you don’t confuse luck with virtue. The English Channel and the liberal American union, in fact, have helped mightily keep their island free and their liberal influence global.
Rather than "what ifs" to slag each other, it’s time we transcended the trivial insults of the 18th century and congratulate ourselves on the many smart ways both sides of the Atlantic have taken advantage of their dumb luck.