What if France had won the French and Indian War?

Ross Douthat, the conservative columnist of The New York Times, speculates what might have happened if the British had lost the French and Indian War (1754–63):

In a way, the sheer importance of the conflict for subsequent events makes counterfactual speculation even more difficult than usual: The American and French Revolutions both immediately vanish from the timeline, taking much of modernity as we know it with them. Meanwhile the sheer unlikeliness of a French victory, given the odds against them, means that the easiest answer is that there would have been another war, eventually, and New France would have simply fallen in (let’s say) 1789 instead. (At the very least it’s awfully hard to imagine a timeline where the French permanently held the Ohio river valley, without some massive change in migration or population patterns.)

But since in the column I offered a positive depiction of what might have followed had Montcalm and Vaudreil defeated James Wolfe and Jeffrey Amherst — an enduring indigenous-French confederation, centered on the Great Lakes and the Saint Lawrence, that becomes a model for Catholic-mediated cultural exchange rather than simple conquest — in the spirit of historical complexity let’s ponder a darker hypothetical:

By surviving, New France doesn’t prevent deeper Anglo-American penetration of the continental interior; its existence just redirects settlement patterns southward, so that Yankeedom and Quakerdom are confined to the northeast but the southern frontier shifts more rapidly westward than in our timeline. The continued fear of French and Indian aggression, and the absence of the reckless attempts at imperial consolidation that helped provoke 1775-76, keep New Englanders loyal to the crown; there are no Sons of Liberty, no Boston Tea Party or Massacre, and Paul Revere makes his career skirmishing with French and Abenaki on the Maine frontier. But population and power move to the southern colonies, and over time the attempts by London to regulate westward migration — both to avoid yet another war with France and Spain and, eventually, under growing abolitionist influence, to prevent the spread of slavery — lead to an alternative-timeline American independence movement that looks like certain progressive caricatures of the real one: It’s led primarily by Carolinian planters and Jacksonian-type frontiersman, and explicitly inspired both by a fear of abolitionist sentiment in Britain and by a desire for a version of the slave empire that motivated certain proto-Confederates in the first half of the 19th century. 

So an American revolution comes in the early 1800s, the colonies split, the northeast remains part of the British Empire, and a southern-dominated United States gradually spreads the way slaveholders envisioned — west and south, overwhelming the French in Louisiana and the Spanish in Texas and New Mexico, creating a different center of gravity for the New World, a more resilient foundation for chattel slavery. The benefit to Native Americans from New France’s survival comes at a severe, sustained cost to African-Americans specifically and freedom generally; Greater Yankeedom’s empire of liberty is stillborn, so a Southern empire of slavery gets formed instead.


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