Upon this occasion of our Union's centennial, we ought to reflect upon the way it came into being, the gradual expansion of its scope— and perhaps upon the misguided efforts of those who tied to kill it in the cradle. Considered an embarrassing and rather forgotten episode in American history, the so-called "revolution" against the establishment of the United Dominions of British America tells us a lot about attitudes that existed at the time. Although eagerly glossed over nowadays, prior to the Colonial Conference of 1765, tensions in the North American colonies were high.
Following the war, the French enemy had finally been defeated. Americans saw this as an end to the pervious need to maintain alliances-of-need with various Indian tribes— alliances which had, up until that point, prevented Anglo-American settlement of the Trans-Appalachian West. On the other side of the Atlantic, back in the mother country, Prime Minister George Grenville had proposed direct taxes on the North American colonies in 1764, in order to raise revenue which was needed to repay the war debt incurred in the defence of those same colonies. Many Americans felt that they had already paid their share of the war's cost in blood and toil, however. This in turn led many in Britain to find the colonials stingy and ungrateful for the British protection that had long ensured their safety.
Grenville was eager to avoid conflict over the matter. As such, he explicitly delayed passing the act that would introduce direct taxation, by all appearance on the grounds that he wished to see if the colonies would propose some way to raise the revenue themselves instead. Britain had long been wary of strengthening the colonial governments, but Grenville also knew that imposing direct taxation would cause all sorts of trouble. Letting the colonists devise their own scheme was the better solution.
Initially, Americans took little note of this opportunity to take the initiative in proposing their own solutions. Rabble-rousers and war-mongers screamed loudest. It wasn't until a friend in England wrote to Benjamin Franklin, urging him to take action and writing "the spirit of Albany is finally come upon Westminster
", that this esteemed leader of the American colonists fully grasped how crucial the moment was. Without even waiting to confer with his peers, he at once sent a missive to Britain, worded most diplomatically, in which he assured Grenville that the Americans were ready and willing to offer a proposal "able to fully repay the debt incurred due to the late war, and moreover in a way least likely to cause unrest and grievance of any sort
Immediately after, Franklin set about making his statement actually true, as he called for an assembly of representatives from all colonies to discuss this important matter. Franklin had been annoyed when his Albany Plan had been rejected by the colonial legislatures ten years earlier. He had accused his critics then of being "narrowly provincial in outlook, mutually jealous, and suspicious of any central taxing authority
". Now, he saw a chance to try again— and to succeed. He put his case before a gathering of colonial representatives once more. still, they were distrustful of a central government with the authority to tax them. Yet the alternative, he told them, would surely be the British Parliament taxing them all directly. "It it must be done; best that we do it ourselves
Franklin's arguments proved convincing to the Americans. By the year's end, they had drafted a proposal, the state legislatures had ratified that proposal, and they had dispatched it to Grenville— who correctly identified it as an opportunity to prevent a lot of trouble later on. The proposal to directly tax the American colonies (the so-called "Stamp Act") was postponed indefinitely. Instead, negotiations began concerning the exact future of British North America. Whereas the colonies proposed uniting under one general government which could then represent them, British politicians were more inclined to suggest uniting the various colonies into several larger Dominions. There was also the matter of colonial boundaries and the desire of the American colonists to expand further into the West. Soon, discussions evolved to become a whole conference, held in London.
The Americans, spurred on by Franklin, did their utmost to gain the favour of the King and his government. Noticeably, a number of affluent leading figures among the American colonists had assembled a sum of money, out of their own pocket, which they symbolically presented to Grenville as the colonial conference began— "Here we begin paying our debt
". A suave opening move, which delighted the press and curried a lot of good-will for the American cause. This whole strategy was not unsuccessful, and a compromise solution was ultimately reached that the King, the Prime Minister, a majority of Parliament and the American delegates found largely acceptable. The gist of it is familiar to most everyone, as it laid the foundation for the political order that endures to this day. The arrangement was laid out in three acts of Parliament.
The American Dominions Act
indeed amalgamated the colonies into greater Dominions (three initially, although more would of course be added later). Old colonial boundaries were altered to better fit within this new structure. Each Dominion would instead consist of multiple provinces, and each of them would have a provincial legislature. These would then elect the members of newly-formed Dominion legislatures— who would, in turn, elect the members of the Philadelphia Parliament that would we the supreme legislative body, its authority extending over the multiple Dominions. The American Dominions Act stipulated that each Dominion would send twenty delegates, each to serve at the pleasure of the Dominion legislature that had sent them there.
The chief executive of each Dominion would be a Royal Governor. While elected by the Dominion legislature, any candidate for that position would require Royal assent to actually be appointed. That assent would be granted by the President-General in Philadelphia, who was to be appointed by the Crown directly. Each Royal Governor would be supported by a Governor's Council, which would serve somewhat as a House of Lords for the Dominion legislatures— in that every act passed by the legislature would depend on the Council's approval. The President-General, similarly, would form a Ministry consisting of himself and six others, who would represent Philadelphia with seven seats in the Parliament (yielding an initial number of 67 parliamentary seats).
A strict hierarchy of authority was to be implemented within this new structure: a Dominion legislature would be able to void or overrule any act or decision of a provincial legislature, the Philadelphia Parliament would be able to do the same to any act or decision of a Dominion legislature, and the President-General would be able to proceed in the same way regarding any act or decision of the Philadelphia Parliament (in the name of the Crown).
The American Peerage Act
granted titles of nobility to the more esteemed members of the landed gentry in America, which in turn allowed for the creation of an Upper House for the Philadelphia Parliament. An American House of Lords, which—like the Governors' Councils and the British House of Lords—would have the power to block the passage of any act proposed by the American House of Commons. In addition to raising a number of Americans to the peerage, younger sons of British aristocrats—who had few perspectives to inherit anything of value in the mother country—were encouraged to settle in North America. To this end, the King granted them titles and estates in the colonies. This policy would enable the American House of Lords to become functional on relatively short notice.
The Colonial Boundaries Act
, finally, clearly defined the western borders of the newly-created Dominions, but also allowed for settlement in Trans-Appalachia and in the regions surrounding the Great Lakes (though subject to oversight on behalf of the Crown, to ensure that the integrity of the reserves set aside for the Indians was respected). Quebec, left outside the scope of the union of three Dominions, was clearly defined territorially within limited boundaries— which explicitly allowed for Anglo-American settlement of the northern shores of the Great Lakes.
In order to assuage American fears about a too-powerful general government, the Philadelphia Charter
was drawn up, clearly defining which tasks were to be within the exclusive scope of either the Philadelphia Parliament or the respective Dominion legislatures. All matters not listed would be reserved to the exclusive authority of the provincial or local authorities. The provinces retained the right to form their own legislatures in any form and by any method that they desired— and to decide equally freely on their methods of selecting delegates to the Dominion legislature. Those Dominion legislatures, all unicameral, were relatively powerless bodies, mostly tasked with matters of taxation. The Philadelphia Parliament, by contrast, would not
impose direct taxes, instead being owed a certain set percentage of the tax revenue raised by each Dominion. Using this revenue it would—besides paying off the war debt to Britain—maintain the American divisions of the Army and the Royal Navy.
And with this, we might be tempted to say, the matter was settled. Unfortunately, it was not so. Not yet. The policy which Britain pursued regarding the Indians, for instance, remained a source of irritation to the American colonists, who desired more land set aside for themselves. For the moment, however, Britain dictated terms on this matter, and the proposed compromise of limited areas opened up for settlement was swallowed. The decision to turn large parts of Florida—yielded to Britain by the Spanish—into an Indian Reservation no doubt played a part in the choice to integrate Florida proper (meaning the southern tip of the peninsula) with the Crown's Caribbean possessions, rather than with the three Dominions up north. It didn't ultimately succeed in preventing Anglo-American settlement in the wider region, but perhaps the continued existence of the Territory set aside for the Civilised Tribes (albeit in reduced form) may be ascribed to the initial choices Britain made to honour its promises to the Indians.
That matter was
, however, one of the leading grievances of the so-called "Sons of Liberty". This radical organisation of political criminals and agitators decried the British protection of the Indians at the expense of white settlers. Another grievance they presented was the re-organisation of the internal borders of the newly-created Dominions. This matter stung many colonists who had been politically active within the pre-existing structure. The fact that the Dominion legislatures were to enjoy the power of taxation—rather than being made fully dependent on the charity of local legislatures—also proved vexing to some Americans. The office of the appointed, rather than elected, President-General was also grieving to some Americans. Finally, there was the fact that an American peerage had now been established, which rubbed some egalitarian-minded colonists the wrong way. These matters would be the grounds for what the Sons of Liberty would come to call "the American Revolution".
In truth, it was a ten-year campaign of terror that began when the new political structure was first set up in 1766. Murders, attacks, intimidations and wanton destruction of property. These were the hallmarks of the "revolution". Nevertheless—and this is often conveniently ignored today—the Sons of Liberty and various associated bands of insurgents enjoyed a not inconsiderable degree of support among the American populace. Many initial critics of the British government, such as John and Samuel Adams, opted to embrace the Union as an acceptable solution, and laboured for years afterward to alter the new system from within. In other words: they formed the basis of the loyal opposition in America. Unfortunately, this left the poorly-defined movement of anti-British agitators in the hands of less reasonable men. And there were quite some Americans equally inclined to be unreasonable. Even though the Colonial Conference yielded the aforementioned acts of Parliament, it wasn't until the Philadelphia Charter was drafted that most Americans felt that their fears and criticisms had been sufficiently addressed.
It had already been decided in London how the basic principle of subsidiarity would be laid out in the Charter, but the actual document was to be drafted by a special committee. In the meantime, all the provinces and Dominions were to be organised as per the American Dominions Act. This entailed the drafting of provincial constitutions and electing provincial legislators by the methods devised in those constitutions. In most instances, such legal documents and electoral processes greatly resembled those of the earlier colonies. In fact, in excess of 80% of the elected representatives were men who had previously served in the colonial legislatures. The elections of the provincial chief executives—called Lieutenant-Governors—were somewhat more contested. By early 1767, however, all provincial legislators and all Lieutenant-Governors were duly elected. Delegates to the Dominion legislatures were duly appointed. By the time had all been chosen, and Royal Governors had been appointed for each Dominion, Representatives for the Commons in Philadelphia could finally be elected. Before this was all done, it was 1768.
The proposed Philadelphia Charter, too, was by then finished. Not a moment too soon: several provincial elections had been marked by political violence. Moreover, the first meeting of Hanoveria's Dominion legislature—in New York—had to be evacuated when insurgents set fire to the building. The Charter, it was ardently hoped, would bring an end to such violence. Indeed, the document was deliberately crafted to appease. It limited the powers of the Philadelphia Parliament, as well as the powers of the Dominion legislatures over the provinces. It guaranteed the territorial integrity of the provinces by stipulating that the Dominions could not alter their internal provincial borders without the consent of the provincial legislature(s) involved. It guaranteed the "rights of Englishmen" to all citizens of the American Dominions. In particular, it guaranteed that provincial legislatures would be free to form provincial militias, and that militiamen would not be deprived of their right to keep and bear arms. The chief domestic power that it granted to the Philadelphia Parliament was that it would be authorised to oversee the conduct of the to-be-created Royal American Mounted Police. This force would be charged with pursuing crimes that crossed Dominion borders.
The contents of the Charter greatly relieved many Americans, who had feared that a much more powerful government would be introduced to govern over them. The draft of the Charter was adopted by the Philadelphia Commons. The American Lords likewise approved the document, in the very first official gathering of the North American peerage. The draft would still need to be ratified by the Dominions, however. There, trouble awaited— for the skeptical opposition had insisted that ratification by the Dominions would require the consent of all the provinces within those Dominions. Many provincial legislators were of the "American Whig" faction, also styled the "Patriotic" faction. Critics of the newly-minted Union, then. Some even openly sympathised and colluded with the Sons of Liberty. Ratification began in late 1768, and would last nearly eight years. The Southern Dominion of Georgia (consisting now of the provinces of Maryland, Virginia and Carolina) ratified first, aside from the ratification provided by Philadelphia itself. The ratification debate in the provinces of Hanoveria (being New York, New Sussex and New Mercia) took several years, and would involve several tangential political favours being traded back and forth until a majority was reached in all provinces. A similar process occurred in New Britain, or at least in the provinces of New Scotland and New Ireland.
It was New England that would prove to be a thorn in the side of Philadelphia. This hotbed of dissent and egalitarianism held out, even when all others had ratified in 1774. Ultimately, it took a revision of New Britain's constitution, studding it with additional protections of citizens' rights, to obtain the ratification of the Charter by New England. This finally came to pass in early 1776. All the while, insurgents had continued to plague the Dominions— their methods growing more violent as their numbers and hopes dwindled away. This insurgency, however, was largely discredited when it was discovered in 1775 that it had been secretly supported by France. Money, supplies and military advisors had arrived via a support network in Quebec, with the apparent intent of making trouble for Britain. The notion of turning North America into a quagmire of constant insurgency must surely have appealed to France, which had been humiliated in the preceding war.
Discovery of this French involvement discredited both France and the so-called 'Patriots', who now became widely seen traitors and French lackeys. Still, even when New England finally ratified the Charter in the wake of New Britain's constitutional revision and the discovery of insurgents conspiring with France, not all
rebels disbanded. A small band of die-hards withdrew into the back woods, bent on carving out their own state, along what had once been the disputed border of the colonies New York and New Hampshire. This proposed state would conveniently border Quebec.
These last rebels were soon driven westward, into the Hudson River valley, where they plundered and pillaged, until an armed force commanded by John Burgoyne and George Washington finally confronted them. Burgoyne had been selected to be the first overall commander of the North American divisions of the army. Washington had long served in the colonial military, and was widely respected by the American populace. On July fourth, 1776, the last insurgents surrendered to their combined force near the town of Stillwater— in what was then still the State of New York. In the aftermath, John Burgoyne would be created the first Earl of Saratoga, whereas George Washington—already made a Viscount when the American Peerage act was passed—was likewise elevated, becoming the first Earl Mountvernon. Thus ended the so-called American Revolution, giving way to a bright American future. The first President-General was appointed by the Crown. Wisely, a man was selected who had, in parliament, always advocated for the rights of the American colonists: Charles Cornwallis, the Earl Cornwallis. Who could have been more qualified to win the loyalty and respect of the American populace?
Initially, of course, prospects for the United Dominions seemed somewhat limited due to being hemmed in by the Hudson Bay Company's territory of Prince Rupert's Land and Francophone Quebec in the North, as well as New Spain to the West. The situation in the West, however, would change dramatically due to developments in Europe. The discovery of French involvements in the affairs of the insurgents behind the so-called "American Revolution" had major effects on the French government. The involvement had been promoted by the Duke of Choiseul and his faction, backed by the Queen. The Chief minister of France, Jacques Turgot, had been opposed. The utter failure of the French involvement and the immense embarrassment it caused wrecked Choiseul's reputation, humiliated the Queen, and put a definitive stop to her plans to have Turgot removed from office. From that moment on, King Louis XVI saw Turgot in a much more positive light, and began to neglect his Queen's advice. Turgot implemented reforms that strengthened the monarchy at the expense of the aristocracy, broadened the tax base, removed undue privileges and began to make the ailing and debt-ridden French economy healthy again.
The recovery of France didn't have effects at once, but when the matter of the Bavarian succession—which had first led to an armed conflict in 1778, from which Turgot had caused France to abstain—reared its head again in 1785, many in France were certain that the time had come to prove the country's renewed strength. Interceding on Austria's behalf, France ensured that the Austrian plans to exchange the Austrian Netherlands for Bavaria were pushed through (although, contrary to initial Austrian wishes, the House of Habsburg retained no parts of Netherlands at all). It was a major benefit that Russia was at the time preparing joint action with Austria against the Ottomans, which stopped Russia from acting on Prussia's behalf. The conflict drew clear lines of division within Germany, once more pitting the Protestant rulers against the Catholic ones. As Prussia formed its Protestant league of princes, France and Austria worked to establish a similar league uniting the Catholic states of Germany.
With the cause of Charles August soundly defeated, and having taken up arms against his cousin, his claim to Bavaria became meaningless. So did, in fact, his claim to succeed Charles Theodore as ruler of the Netherlands. In a secret treaty, the French ensured that Charles Theodore instead willed the Netherlands to the French Crown, in exchange for extensive monetary backing for himself and exalted positions in France for his many illegitimate children. In 1799, France did indeed inherit the former Austrian Netherlands. This inevitably provoked war, for which France was well-prepared— having known that it was coming.
Nearly a decade and a half had been carefully spent building alliances with Spain, with Austria and with Russia. The compact of Catholic states in Germany had been strengthened. The loyalty and full support of the Two Sicilies and of Parma had been secured. Ties with the Holy See had been fastened, to ensure the backing of the Pope in the event of war with a Protestant alliance— which would bring both symbolic credibility and hopefully work to discourage Portugal or any of the minor Italian states to turn against France and her allies. Opposing France and her allies were Britain, Prussia, the League of Princes, Hanover, the Dutch Republic and the Ottoman Empire. A Protestant alliance with a Muslim ally in the Ottoman Empire, untied to oppose a Catholic alliance with an Orthodox ally in Russia.
The War of 1800, much like the Seven Years' War, was a global conflict. This brief essay is hardly expansive enough in its scope to outline the entire war, and we will mostly limit ourselves to its American theatre. Britain initially erred in allowing itself to be divided on grand strategy. The proponents of a colonial strategy and those who advocated for a European strategy were at odds, leading to many a compromise that yielded half-measures on both fronts. The French successfully invaded the Dutch Republic, and soundly defeated an improperly prepared British expeditionary force when it attempted to make landing. This so humiliated the advocates of a European strategy that Britain opted for a colonial strategy for the remainder of the war. This was not particularly easy, either, for the French navy was the only one on Earth that could match the Royal Navy of Britain. Ultimately, Britain did book great successes in the Americas— annexing the French and Spanish possessions in the Caribbean, successfully capturing the Viceroyalty of the River Plate, and supporting nascent independence movements in other parts of the Spanish domains in the Americas. In North America, of course, Britain annexed Louisiana from Spain.
The annexation of Louisiana was eagerly promoted by Thomas Jefferson, first Viscount Albemarle, who had succeeded Lord Mountvernon as Royal Governor of the Dominion of Georgia. Indeed, Louisiana was soon added to the United Dominions as a territory. The Caribbean, now almost exclusively British, became a separate Dominion, which would later join the Union. Perhaps just as important in the long term, the War of 1800 had seeded future rebellions in the Spanish Americas— a development furthered by Anglo-American aid via the United Dominions and the Colony of the River Plate. This eventually led to the independent Kingdom of Mexico and the Union of Gran Colombia— both British allies. Ever since, the Americas have been secured from war, although globally, the conflict against the powerful Bourbon-Habsburg compact shows no sign of abating.
Over time, the Louisiana Territory has been carved into two separate Dominions. Caribbea has been added to the Union after some hesitation. Permanent border agreements with Mexico have been established. More recently, a tripartite agreement between Britain, Mexico and Gran Colombia has resulted in concrete plans to begin work on a trans-oceanic canal in Panama. In the North, Quebec has been granted a great deal of autonomy over time, to ensure that the colony wouldn't be tempted to conspire with the Bourbon-Habsburg compact. Meanwhile, the West Coast has witnessed the rapid growth of British Oregon. After Anglo-Russian detente (preceded by Franco-Ottoman rapprochement) set in, and Russia sold its never-profitable Russian possessions to Britain, the united colony of Avalon was established. It has thus far opted to stay outside the Union. Some feel it is only a matter of time before that changes, but they might be underestimating the rapidly coalescing sense of a distinct Avalonian identity. Whether that identity will find a place within the Union or apart from it remains to be seen.
One region that will not be likely to join the Union for the foreseeable future is the corporate territory of Hudsonia. Formed out of what was once called Prince Rupert's Land, the region was long held by the Hudson Bay Company. While other such ventures slowly went out of business, a group of powerful British aristocrats bought out the HBC, along with the Royal Family (the Crown owns 51% of the company). With the establishment of Hudsonia, the HBC has become the first company to directly own a country (and sole exploitation rights). Hudsonia is technically not even a part of the British Empire anymore, ever since the HBC was turned into a formally private venture. Only the fact that the King of Great Britain is automatically the majority stock-holder of the HBC, and thus the "corporate head of state" of Hudsonia, unites this unique state with the rest of the Empire. A very capitalist sort of personal union, one might say.
In the United Dominions, Hudsonia remains largely ignored. Even the possibility of Avalon joining the Union is more hotly debated in that colony itself than it is in Philadelphia. Although the war with the Bourbon-Habsburg compact can flare up again at any moment, and very likely will on short notice, even that is forgotten in the moment. The centennial is upon us. America celebrates its past, and its future. Now and always, the United Dominions will be the jewel in the crown of the British Empire.