Loomis asks an interesting question:
I have been thinking about some of the implications of Michael Moore’s Sicko. Specifically, why is the United States the only nation in the developed world without some sort of equitable, government-funded health care? I am just wondering if we can look back to the American Revolution for some answers. To be exact, did the American Revolution undermine the modern United States’ willingness to engage in the sort of social democracies we see throughout Europe, Canada, and increasingly other nations as well?
I don’t have a solid answer for this. But I’m going to play a little counterfactual game to help think about these issues. Let’s say the American Revolution fails. What happens?
It’s an interesting question, but the devil, of course, is in the details.
The first thing I have to wonder about is the French Revolution. I’m assuming that in this alternative reality an abortive American Revolution was defeated by British military force. I have to think, though, that rump revolutionary sentiment would have been re-invigorated by the events of 1789, only under far more favorable circumstances. It’s hard for me to imagine that Britain, facing the full fury of a revolutionary France, would have been able to put down a second independence effort. Now, assuming that this “second” American Revolution didn’t succumb to Bonapartism (a big if), I think that a little extra radicalism might have produced a better architecture for the American Republic. Of course, it might have embroiled that Republic much deeper in the Napoleonic Wars than it eventually became, which could a) have severely wounded the young Republic, or b) helped Napoleon win the war.
Assuming that the British nevertheless maintained control, I fear that Erik is being far too sanguine about the slavery issue:
Second, Britain would have solved the U.S.’ slavery problem. Great Britain abolished slavery in 1833. Slavery was never as profitable in the US as it was in the Caribbean. So the US experience likely would not have affected British opinion. In addition, if we assume that the US becomes a free nation in 1867, the same year as Canada, that gives us 34 years to figure out our race relations. Do we still have racial problems? Of course. But they would be different, at the very least.
Yeah, I just don’t see it. British attitudes began moving against slavery in the late 18th century, but weren’t matched by a shift in American attitudes, even in the North. In the South, the pro-slavery position solidified over the early 19th century. I’m afraid that, rather than meekly accepting the abolition of slavery, the southern colonies would have pursued the same option in 1833 that they did in 1860. Now, maybe the combination of the northern colonies and British military power would have put a quick end to that rebellion, but maybe not, and if the south (along with any northern supporters) had won, the American Revolution of 1833 would have tightly tied with the preservation of slavery, and probably wouldn’t have included some of the northern colonies, resulting in what would have been a country far less amenable to progressive change.
I think that Erik’s on much more solid ground with regards to the West, assuming that the Revolution wouldn’t just have been delayed until 1789 (had that been the case, the seizure of Spanish territory in the West might have come even sooner, as part of a larger scale project of support for Bonaparte). Continued British control may have resulted in a kinder, gentler brutal imperialistic Western expansion, although it’s worth noting that remaining in the Empire didn’t help the Australian indigenous population very much. Britain might also have refrained from the Mexican land grab on the 1830s and 1840s. In any case, it’s hard to imagine how the situation faced by Native Americans could have been much worse.