What If The United States Does Not Unite?

Huge question, huge topic, so huge, in fact, that it’s hard to get a firm grasp on a clear response or line of thought. To better do so, let’s narrow it down a bit.

Our focus will be fairly tight, say, in 1787-1789, as the moment when various States of the newly United States failed to come to an accord and unify behind the proposed constitution. The result would have been catastrophic to world history. There isn’t another national event that, if absent, if deleted, if gone another way, would have had a comparable effect on human affairs. (Note that this doesn’t account for spiritual events.)

To begin, multiple nations and nation-like communities would have emerged in the place of what we know as the United States. Some of them would have been nations in the literal sense of the term. Others would have been similar in size or scope but would have been colonial possessions of European or perhaps even Asian powers. In at least one of these nations or nation-like entities Native Americans would have either the dominant or a major role in public and civic affairs and day-to-day individual life. A few of these entities would have names that we would recognize, such as New York or others.

The multiplication of these nation/nation-like entities would have produced a multiplication of wars with global implications. As nasty and bloody as we now know war was between American and Native American combatants, such a scene would have been substantially worse with multiple entities formally arrayed across the girth of North America. Global-scale wars would have increased in number, intensity, and duration. As we’ve seen in another what-if essay, significant nations around the world would thrive based completely on dictatorial, authoritarian, and totalitarian grounds.

In addition, and coincidental to the rise in war, a parallel decline in inventions and innovation would have occurred. A vacuum of human progress in technology, material, devices, and equipment would have opened up, a yawning gap into which much of what we now as improvement in daily and lifetime patterns would have fallen and disappeared. Industry, though still in existence, would be unrecognizable and entirely imitative of industry on other continents.

The range of extremes would be wider. By this it is meant that the distance between wealth and poverty, advancement and status quo, cultural achievement and vulgarity, and so on would be more extensive than now. Some nation/nation-like entities would excel (or have pockets that do so), while others would fall further behind at a faster rate.

Slavery would still exist throughout vast parts of North America. A new effort would have emerged whereby great amounts of human creativity and energy would have gone into the further crystallization of exactly what defines enslavement and freedom. Race and racial factors would continue to be elements of slavery, along with other unforeseen developments in the evolution of the practice and institution. Beyond “racism” as a word and concept we would have “slave-ism” as a common feature of ideas, expression, and interaction. The nation/nation-like entities on North America might be pushing to export its slave system to other parts of the world.

Two new conceptions would be striking. One would be of the skies, with no extensive exploration beyond ordinary air flight. All flight would be downward-looking, its focus strictly on moving people at faster speeds and with greater efficiency from one land point to the next. The moon would be free of foreign objects, as would space itself.

And perhaps most unusually and surprisingly, a new, almost subconscious way of sensing direction would define us. Because of the prevalence of wars and, especially, harsh and long-lasting wars, more people would expect and fear hard times from specific directions—from horizons north or south or east or west. A disruption of life could come from any direction with the right combination of political, social, economic, and natural climate and weather factors. Family stories passed down from one generation to the next would tell the tales of these tides of war, ebbing and flowing from various directions.

In these and a hundred other ways we would learn what-if the United States had not unified during few critical years in the late 18th century.