Miss C's Design Notes #4 - Believablity
I've always held that any alternate history should be logical, rational, and internally consistent. In short it should be believable. Or at least appear to be. People have occasionally commented this TL fits that bill, does wonders for my ego when they do, I have invested a lot of effort trying to craft this TL to be internally consistent, for events to follow naturally and to always be linkable back to the initial PoD, to make it appear believable. I think the more a TL does that, the better it is, so I do try very hard.
Unfortunately I also think the prime and almost sole determinant of an alternate TL's believability is how many changes are required to the OTL and how radical those changes are. Believablity is inversely proportional to both things. Again putting it simply, the more changes needed and the larger they are, the less likely they are to have happened. Seems obvious to me.
My favourite example of this is the Trent Affair, so often used to spark a war between the US and Britain, thereby saving the Confederacy. On the face of it, looks good. But even the slightest examination show the changes required to get a war from the Trent Affair are in the neighbourhood of large extraterrestrial flying mammals. Yes you can easily make the crisis associated with the Trent Affair worse, a lot worse even. And yes, this possibly could affect the course of the ACW (though I personally doubt sufficiently to save the Confederacy, the underlying causes of the likelihood of a union victory run deep).
However the changes necessary to make it bad enough to start a war are huge, both in number and scale. Why? Because when you look at the crisis, both sides were in reality going out of their way to avoid war. For the very good reason that in 1862, war between the US and Britain would have absolute madness for both. And neither Lincoln nor Palmerston were insane. Both would have gone to quite extreme lengths to avoid war. With the crisis as it was in the OTL, they didn't need to. But if it had been needed, they would have.
Trying to drag myself back on topic, the number and scale of the changes I need to make to get an Imperial Federation are actually on a par, if not greater, than the changes needed to get a war from the Trent Affair. However there are two other factors which play on apparent believability. The time available to make the changes, and the size of each individual change. A lot of small changes can have the same effect as one big change and small changes seem more believable. But you need time to do this. With Trent you have a week or two. To make enough small changes, they'd have to be coming at a mini-gun like rate, which makes them really obvious. With an Imperial Federation, you have decades, so you can slip them in here and there.
There's a reason when I used this TL as an RPG setting I included magic, other than the “magic is cool” factor. Given the number and total scale of changes required, magic is the only way it could work. I just have enough time use a lot of small changes, so I can hide them well enough to allow reasonable suspension of disbelief.
Sigh, this is another of my ego driven rambles lol. But FINALLY getting to the real point. The outcome of the Treaty of Washington of 1871 ITTL is a very large change almost immediately after the PoD. As I've written it, it's a single ASB level change, and even worse, there's no apparent justification for it. Gladstone's First Ministry being a bit more radical should not automatically lead to his government risking relations with the US for the sake of Canadian sensibilities. The British were in a position to push through virtually any deal regardless of what the Canadians thought, in fact they almost did.
As I'd always written it before, there was nothing ITTL to in anyway link this altered Treaty of Washington back to the PoD. There is a link; a logical, rational, internally consistent link even. I'd just never put it in. Initially due my concerns about word count, mostly forgetfulness since. It was hidden in what I call my design notes. A jumble of almost unintelligible jottings only I can decypher. Some of which are literal notes, written on paper, even occasionally the backs of envelopes, café napkins and the like. But it has always niggled me it wasn't there when I read the TL back to myself. There was just nothing for me to grab on to and suspend my disbelief. It's what I'd call lazy or bad writing if I saw it from somebody else.
So, with @durante
having reminded me about it (and I am very grateful they did), I've finally bitten the bullet and substantially rewritten it to include something to grab on to, hopefully making a little better writing.
January 1871: The British and US government agree to attempt to settle a number of outstanding grievances over fishing rights, the Canadian border and outstanding issues from the American Civil War. A joint commission is established to resolve these disputes, meeting in Washington. The British delegation is headed by Colonial Secretary Forster and includes Canadian Prime Minister John MacDonald, recognising Canada's status a partner rather than colony. The US delegation is headed by Secretary of State Hamilton Fish. However the bulk of the commission consists of respected Jurists from Britain and The US. The negotiations initially proceed well, but become deadlocked over the US claims for damage over the Confederate raider Alabama, built in Britain and Canadian demands for compensation due to the post Civil War Fenian Raids launched from the US in 1866 and new raids currently ongoing. Fish is adamant the raids should not be included in any settlement. However Forster, mindful of Canadian sensibilities due to his belief in an Imperial Federation, refuses to discuss the Alabama Claims unless the Fenian Raids are also Included.
May 1871: After tense and difficult negotiations, the Treaty of Washington is signed settling many of the disputes between Britain, Canada and the US. Most matters have been settled easily. A joint US Canadian Fisheries Commission is to be established to regulate the Halifax fisheries and the US will make an annual payment of $500,000 directly to Canada for twenty years, in return US vessels will be granted access to Canadian waters. The Vancouver border dispute is to be sent for arbitration. Despite this apparent goodwill, the issues of the Alabama Claims and Fenian Raids proved far more difficult to resolve. Eventually, while admitting no liability, the US agrees to pay the Canadian government $2,000,000 as “assistance” in repairing the damage done in the Raids and act to prevent its citizen participating in any future such raids. In return the British agree to also send the Alabama Claims for arbitration. The initial proposal for Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany as arbiter is rejected by the British due to the possibility of hostility generated by Gladstone's statement regarding Alsace-Lorraine in the wake of the Franco-Prussian War. King Christian IX of Denmark is selected as an alternative. Canadian public opposition to the Treaty is high due to US access to their fishing grounds and the token level of compensation for the Fenian Raids. However, it is assuaged to a large degree by a supposedly unrelated British loan to finance the construction of a Trans-Canadian railway. Despite disquiet, the otherwise generally favourable outcome of the Treaty does much to strengthen pro Imperial feeling in Canada.
October 1872: The arbitration tribunal of Swedish, Swiss, and Chilean jurists established by King Christian of Denmark after the Treaty of Washington releases it decisions. Regarding the Alabama Claims it finds by at two to one majority Britain was in error regarding international law covering the conduct of neutrals when it failed to prevent the delivery of the Alabama, due to the fact the US had presented evidence it was probably destined for the Confederacy. As a result they award the US $15,5000,000 in damages. Against this, the British are awarded $2,000,000 damages for illegal blockade practices during the Civil War. While neither side is required to “apologise,” both choose to express “regret.” On the matter of the San Juan border dispute, the tribunal finds in favour of the Canadians, establishing the Rosario Strait as the border. This immediately raises concerns in the US regarding Seattle's access to the sea, leading to their ambassador in Britain, Robert Schenk, raising the matter with Lord Granville, British Foreign Secretary. Lord Granville defers the matter until he has consulted with Canadian Prime Minister, John MacDonald. MacDonald clearly states his very strong opinion that any course of action other than guaranteeing the US unrestricted access to the seaway would be an extremely grave mistake. The matter is initially settle by an exchange of notes between the three governments, but the agreement will be formalised in the Treaty of Ottawa the next year which additionally permanently demilitarises the San Juan Islands.