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How we lost Louisiana and won Mexico

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POD: How would the world have looked like if George Washington had not died in 1799, as in OTL, but lived on for another year or so?

Well, what kind of a POD is that? George Washington was certainly an important figure in American and world history: General, Founding Father, President. But this active role was long over in 1799. By then, he was an old, ill man, living in retirement at Mount Vernon, resting quietly on his laurels. What significant difference could have possibly resulted from his lingering on for another year? Well, there IS a way in which it could have made very much of a difference for everybody. Read on.



In the hotly contested American Presidential elections of 1800, the Federalist Party – hitherto quite dominant in the politics of the young United States - was deeply divided and seemed headed for a crushing electoral defeat. In desperation, Federalist leaders prevailed upon the highly respected George Washington – whose health was deteriorating, but who was still able to make some public appearances and deliver speeches – to take an active part in the campaign and endorse the incumbent John Adams. Washington’s electoral involvement tipped the balance and Adams won a second term. Washington, too ill to attend the 1801 inauguration, died soon afterwards.

This American elections result was a disappointment to France, which had openly preferred Adam’s rival Thomas Jefferson. Adams’ second term, like the first, was a period of tension in relations between the US and France, several times coming to the verge of war. In 1803 President Adams rejected out of hand proposals made in Congress that the US purchase from France the port city of New Orleans and its attendant Louisiana Territory. Adams did not want to hand large sums of American money to Napoleon’s war chest. Also, Adams’ Federalist Party held that such acquisition of territory was altogether unconstitutional.

In 1804 Adams’ rival Jefferson was finally elected President, and he did embark on efforts to acquire Louisiana – but it was too late. In May 1805 Europe and the entire world were staggered by the news of a peace agreement achieved in secret negotiations between French and British diplomats – the greatest diplomatic coup of Tallyrand’s career. Napoleon agreed to cede the entire Louisiana Territory to Britain in return for the British recognizing him as Emperor of the French and making some concessions in Europe and the Mediterranean. This laid the firm foundation for the rise of the Bonaparte Dynasty, which was to rule France for the next century and more. The exiled Bourbons, their last hopes of restoration dashed, departed London for St. Petersburg - the Russian Czar being the only one willing to host them.

The British public was buoyed by the news of “gaining a rich new North American Empire, equal in size to what Britain lost in 1783” and with the prospect of a lasting peace in Europe. Conversely, Americans were faced with their aspirations of westward expansion blocked by the sudden solid British presence to their west. The British did allow Americans to settle in their new territory – but only on condition that they renounce American citizenship, swear loyalty to the British Crown and abjure in writing the Declaration of Independence, conditions which Americans found deeply insulting.

In 1811 British troops, patrolling the upper reaches of the Mississippi, discovered some two hundred Americans who had crossed illegally into British territory and established a community named “New Hope” on land purchased from a local Indian tribe. The British burned the houses, slaughtered the livestock and took the hapless Americans to detention at Fort St. Louis. There, the New Hope community leaders were subjected to a public flogging, after which the Americans were sent back across the river – unkempt, half-naked and in chains. The British added the stern warning that anyone trying the same again ”would be treated much worse”. The New Hope Incident inflamed public opinion on the American side, calls were made for revenge on the ‘Arrogant Cruel Britons” and in 1812 the increasing tensions burst into all-out war.

In the 1815 Battle of New Orleans, an American force under Major General Andrew Jackson made a valiant but futile effort to capture the heavily-fortified New Orleans, center of British power in North America. The mortally wounded Jackson, insisting upon being carried forward and with his last breath exhorting his troops to go on fighting, became the focus of an enduring American heroic myth. In later times, it was often fantasized that, had Jackson but survived, he would have won the war, gained New Orleans for the US and then swept to power as the greatest of all American Presidents. In later generations, bellicose American politicians often sought to be recognized as “The New Jackson”.

As it was, the war sputtered on, and the Americans did increasingly badly. The Royal Navy’s Mississippi River Squadron established complete naval domination, blowing out of the water any boats the Americans tried to build and interdicting any attempt at crossing, while British Marines seized commanding positions on the East Bank in order to prevent American batteries shooting at the British vessels. Though employing smaller vessels than the sea-going British commands, the Mississippi River Squadron soon became one of the most prestigious postings in the Royal Navy, the launching pad from which ambitious young British Admirals started their careers.

By 1823, Americans grew tired of the expensive and futile war. Under the Treaty of Ghent, all British forces were removed from east of the Mississippi, but the United States was constrained not to place any artillery on its side of the river – a stipulation which following generations of Americans would find extremely annoying. The war left a long-lasting legacy of bitterness and rancor – so much so that the name “Ghent” became synonymous with American defeat and humiliation, and American tourists to Europe often avoided that ancient Flemish town.

Adding to the American bitterness, British gunboats on the Mississippi habitually conducted searches of American civilian vessels, searching for contraband and arms, even in close vicinity of the American shore. American freebooters and vigilantes sometimes managed to mount night raids across the Mississippi, many of them killing indiscriminately anyone they encountered on the British side. Invariably, any of them caught was hanged out of hand by the British.

The US got its chance for retribution in the 1840’s, when the British for a time turned their attention in the other direction. The territory of British Louisiana soon filled up with British settlers and immigrants from various European countries, who quickly dispossessed the Indian tribes and took up all available land. By the early 1840’s some of these settlers were pushing westwards and southwards, across ill-marked borders, and making ever-deeper incursions into Mexican territory. Protests by the Mexican Ambassador to London were of no avail. Deteriorating relations between Britain and Mexico burst into war in 1846, the aggressive British aiming to add such Mexican territories as California, Texas and Arizona to the British Empire’s possessions. Initially, British forces advanced fast – but then, US President James Polk signed a secret treaty of alliance with Mexico.

While the British were busy on their western flank, American forces launched a mass surprise attack and captured most of New Orleans, as well as effecting landings at several other points across the Mississippi. The British eventually succeeded in repelling the American invasion and recapturing New Orleans, which was left in ruins – but at the cost of calling off their attack on Mexico. Britain had to be content with the minute gain of a short strip of Mexican Gulf shoreline west of New Orleans, extending the narrow access to the sea which was included in the original cession by Napoleon. For their part, the Americans - though having made no gains on the Mississippi Front, where they had to accept a restoration of the status quo including the renewed stipulations of Ghent - greatly celebrated the discomfiture of the British and the gain of Mexico as their major new ally.

The US and Mexico signed the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, affirming “Eternal Friendship and Alliance” between the two countries. President Polk, attending the ceremony in person, was cheered by a jubilant Mexican crowd and hailed as “The Savior of Mexico”. The US-Mexican alliance was clinched when gold was discovered in Mexican California. Prospectors flocked there, both from the densely populated areas of South Mexico and from the US – the latter having the full blessing of the Mexican government. In between looking for gold nuggets, Mexican and American prospectors alike held intensive militia training, preparing for the very real possibility of a renewed British attack. Many Americans also manned the series of forts hastily built along Mexico’s embattled border with British Louisiana.

In the 1850’s, American politics was increasingly dominated by a vociferous debate on slavery, especially acrimonious due to the Abolitionist Underground Railway smuggling escaped Black slaves across the Mississippi to freedom in British territory. The British authorities tolerated and tacitly supported the Abolitionist activities, both because they themselves had long since abolished slavery in their own domains and because it was a convenient way of driving a wedge into the hostile American society. Conversely, many Americans – including some who disapproved of slavery – regarded the Radical Abolitionists’ collaboration with the British as verging on treason.

Finally, it was realized that the United States – faced with the ever-present British threat – could not afford such a divisive issue. Moreover, planters in US South could look across the Mississippi and see that British planters had survived – and prospered – after their slaves were emancipated and became free, low-paid laborers. The Compromise of 1861, drafted jointly by Senators Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis, provided for a gradual emancipation of all slaves over a fifteen year period, and a gradual granting of civil rights to the freed slaves over a further fifteen years’ period after that. This was embodied in the Thirteenth Amendment, which gained wide support North and South and was ratified within less than two years.

The internal rift healed, the US turned to a new confrontation with the British – and with Canada, which increasingly developed into a player in its own right, becoming the United States’ formidable neighbor to the north and west. The British and Canadians rejected out of hand an American proposal to construct a Transcontinental Railway which would have stretched from New York in US territory, across the Mississippi and all the way to San Francisco in Mexican California. Instead, the British and Canadians embarked on a major project of their own – the north-south Toronto-New Orleans Railway, soon nicknamed “Canada’s Spine”. The Amerixican Alliance strongly protested this project and declared it “an act of aggression” – which London and Ottawa shrugged off.

In reaction, the Amerixicans constructed their own north-south railways, east of the Mississippi and from Mexico City to San Francisco. Also, the Amerixicans intensively developed their shipping lines through the Gulf of Mexico, so as to more closely link their two allied countries - which soon entered into a full Customs Union. This Amerixican shipping inevitably run across the similarly increasing British seaborne traffic to and from New Orleans. There were numerous incidents at sea, in some periods amounting to an undeclared naval war – both sides repeatedly accusing each other of piracy and both actively seeking to establish naval bases in the Caribbean. Spain, trying to protect Cuba and Puerto Rico, the remnants of its colonial empire, played off these two contending parties against each other. Both British-Canadians and Amerixicans would have liked to gain possession of the two islands, but each preferred Spain to keep them rather than let the other gain possession.

In the 1870’s and 1880’s, the increasing industrial development of North America tended to split the continent into two distinct spheres, almost completely cut off from each other. There were few bridges across the Mississippi River and trade in either direction was severely restricted by high tariff barriers and prolonged security checks of anyone seeking to cross. It was even more so at the Canadian-Mexican land border, heavily fortified and with border incidents frequently breaking out. While American shipping on the Mississippi was not formally banned, the constant harassment of any American vessel venturing on the river was an ordeal which few American shippers cared to try – except for radical American Nationalist groups, periodically provoking the British by setting out in boats bearing giant American flags as well as portraits of Andrew Jackson and of American and Mexican heroes of the War of 1846.

Both sides strove to develop their own trade and industry in fierce competition with the other, almost completely avoiding cross-border trade – each having sufficient territory and resources at its disposal. New Orleans, the capital of British Louisiana which comprised the entire Mississippi Valley and the fertile plains to its west, developed into a vast metropolis. North of the original urban nucleus of French New Orleans, ever new rings of suburbs were growing, housing poor immigrants from all over the world working in the booming industries. By the turn of the century, New Orleans’ population had already passed well beyond the two million mark and was fast approaching three millions, and there were repeated calls in the Canadian Parliament to move the capital of Canada from Ottawa to New Orleans.

East European Jews, seeking to better their position by crossing the Atlantic, endlessly debated the relative merits of New Orleans and New York – and knowing that whatever choice they made would be irreversible: there was no virtually way of traveling between New York and New Orleans short of going back to Europe

Elsewhere in Louisiana, such Canadian cities as Little Rock, Kansas City and Omaha also developed into major centers of industry. The fertile plains of North Louisiana and Manitoba became the world’s granary, the harvests of Canadian agriculture gathered into the vast depots at Des Moins.

Canada’s heavily fortified St. Louis, the main northern base of the Mississippi River Squadron, also housed the great sprawl of the Mississippi Shipyards, constantly turning out a great number of military and civil river boats. In addition, St. Louis also had numerous armaments industries, most notably the famed Mississippi Foundries – considered as producing the world’s finest artillery pieces, which were supplied not only to the Canadian and British Armies but also to various European militaries.

On the Amerixican side, Mexican California increasingly took the lead, its bilingual English-Spanish elites creating industries which equaled and then surpassed those of the United States East Coast, with San Francisco becoming the economic capital of Mexico. Canadian and Amerixican companies conducted an unrelenting, literally cutthroat struggle for control of the markets of the Central and South American countries. This fierce competition was the cause – or at least, a main contributing cause - to two major wars between Argentina and Brazil and one between Argentina and Chile, as well as to countless smaller wars, civil wars, coups and revolts throughout the continent.

In 1887 the British Royal Navy formally handed over responsibility for the Mississippi River defense to the Canadian Navy - a clear signal that Canada had indeed come of age as a nation in her own right, though keeping a tight alliance with the British against the common Amerixican foe. The song “We Pledge Thee, O Mississippi, Canada’s Sacred River”, written by a student from Toronto doing a stint of service on a river gunboat, gained enormous popularity and was eventually adopted as the Canadian National Anthem.

Though the Mississippi remained the hottest flashpoint, tensions mounted elsewhere - wherever Canadians and Amerixicans came in contact with each other. Both sides steadily increased their naval strength on the Great Lakes and their rival Atlantic patrolling off Maine and Nova Scotia. The land border was similarly fortified, passage across becoming increasingly difficult and actively discouraged by both sides alike. Even the sending of post between Canadians and Amerixicans became difficult, such mail being heavily censored and both sender and addressee liable to be suspected of espionage.

In the Pacific, Mexican Navy squadrons repeatedly sailed far northwards,  showing the flag off the Canadian shore and sailing very closely inshore, only turning back after Canadian gunners at Vancouver and Seattle shot across their bows (in some cases, the Mexicans did not tune back even then…). The Canadian and British Navies returned the favor, sailing down the Mexican shore to San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego, sometimes even further south. In 1879 one such expedition – bringing into explosive contact an irritable and short-tempered Canadian Admiral and a similarly minded Mexican one – culminated in the so-called Battle of Acapulco, in which seventeen Mexican sailors and thirty one Canadians were killed before the engagement was broken off.

The Kingdom of Hawaii was plagued by the violent struggle of rival cliques of nobles and tribal leaders, plentifully supplied with money and guns – some by the British and Canadians, their opponents by the Amerixicans. However, the Hawaiian Monarchs, striving to preserve what was left of their sovereignty, did manage to use the North American rivalries in order to greatly limit the entry of non-Polynesian settlers and their acquisition of Hawaiian land. Each of the contenting powers was gleefully happy to facilitate the Hawaiian Crown in keeping out the citizens of its rival.

Both seeking to establish bases throughout the Pacific, British-Canadians and Amerixicans came in contact with the new and fast advancing power of Japan. Diplomats from London and Ottawa, as from Washington and Mexico City, attended the Imperial Court in Kyoto – which had only a nominal power – as well as the Shogun in Eddo who had the real power in Japan. A new Shogunal dynasty had reversed hundreds of years of Japanese isolation and embarked on intensive modernization and expansion. The Shogun’s advisers welcomed all visitors, but were careful not to commit themselves. Japanese forces, moving southwards from Taiwan, had recently wrested the Philippines from the declining Spain, but then found themselves in a prolonged, bloody guerrilla war with Filipinos who did not fancy Japanese rule. For the time being, Japan was not ready to become entangled in the titanic struggle shaping up in North America.

Several US Presidents also sent delegations to St. Petersburg, trying to gain a Russian alliance. They hoped to get a Russian commitment to open a second front in Canada’s far north -  breaking in force out of their stronghold in Alaska in concert with a future American move at the Mississippi. However, a war in North America was a rather low priority for the Czar’s government, concerned with various hot spots nearer to home. Moreover, the cold desolate territory which might be conquered in North Canada was the kind of real estate of which Russia already had a surfeit. Therefore, Russia was always ready to welcome the Amerixican emissaries, and keep a military presence in Alaska which tied up Canadian and British forces across the border – but when it came to the crunch, the Russians again and again wriggled out of from making a commitment. In fact, the Amerixican feelers served the Russians as a bargaining counter, enabling them to get concessions from the British in other parts of the world in return for Russia maintaining neutrality in America.

In 1885 North America – and the whole world – was enthralled by the exploits of Nigel Jenks, considered the most daring (or notorious) spy of the 19th century. A skilled American engineer, Jenks had used fake British documents in order to successfully infiltrate St. Louis’ closely guarded Mississippi Foundries, aiming to gain possession of the special smelting process used there – one of Canada’s most important military and industrial secrets. Though born and bred very nearby, on American land just opposite St. Louis, his impeccable British speech and mannerisms utterly fooled the Britons who worked with him. Obtaining a complete set of plans and drawings, he was on the point of crossing the river by a small rowing boat when apprehended by the Canadians, purely by chance. When sentenced to death by firing squad, Jenks rose and addressed the judges of the Special Military Tribunal in words which would eventually be inscribed in stone and marble at numerous public squares from Boston to Yucatan, and would become part of the curriculum in all American and Mexican schools: “Gentlemen, I am ready to die in the most noble of causes. I will ask for no mercy – you have your duty, as I have mine. Only this do I ask – that my place of execution be set on the river bank, that my last vision on this Earth be the eternally flowing waters of the Mississippi!”. A chivalrous Canadian officer acceded to this last wish. Thereafter, however, there was less and less room for chivalry in what became an utterly cruel and ruthless struggle.

In the incident known by Canadians as “The Regrettable Misunderstanding”, and by Americans as “The Goat Island Massacre”, a group of American tourists at the Niagara Falls was decimated by fire from the Canadian side. In the aftermath, civilians were banned from approaching the area, both the American Army and the Canadian one declaring a military zone on their respective sides. Thereafter, grim forts bristling with artillery faced each other across the Falls. It would be decades before any human set foot again on the unhappy Goat Island, which became a forsaken No Man’s Land.

In 1894 all-out war nearly broke out when American shore batteries at Chicago shot and sank a Canadian boat driven by storm in their direction, with only a single member of her crew surviving. Though it had been a civilian vessel posing no threat, the US refused to issue any apology. Fiery editorials in American papers hailed The Chicago Artillerymen as heroes to be emulated. In Congress, a motion was only narrowly defeated aiming at denouncing the Treaty of Ghent, placing artillery along the Mississippi and proceeding to blow Canadian gunboats out of the water. In Canadian cities from Toronto to New Orleans, angry crowds vociferously demanded “Revenge for The Murdered Sailors” and burned the American and Mexican flags. The crisis was defused with difficulty through the mediation of the elderly Emperor Napoleon IV of France, a wise statesman who was on good terms with both sides. But war was deferred, not avoided.

The long-simmering North American War broke out following the election of the bellicose Theodore Roosevelt as President of United States and the Mexican Revolution bringing to power the equally militant Francisco (Pancho) Villa. Together, the two leaders hatched an ambitious plan for a two-pronged military offensive aimed at gaining the whole of British Louisiana – which, Roosevelt firmly held, “Should have been ours, but for John Adams’ indolence”. For a whole year, while outwardly pretending a relatively conciliatory attitude towards Canada, Roosevelt personally supervised an elaborate operation under conditions of utmost secrecy. A fleet of river warships of the latest model were constructed at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, disassembled, transported by rail and then reassembled and set afloat on the Mississippi.

Canada’s Mississippi River Squadron, grown complacent during decades of dominating the river, was caught by total surprise, outgunned and almost completely destroyed, its remnants withdrawing downstream to protect the approaches to New Orleans. Crowds in New York went mad with jubilation, as banner headlines proclaimed “The Mississippi is Ours!”, “Hundred Years of Humiliation Avenged!” and “Onwards to New Orleans!”. Congress unanimously passed “A Vote of Thanks to President Roosevelt, the Greatest of All American Heroes”. A hastily-commissioned giant painting was hung at Capitol Hill, depicting Roosevelt as the reincarnated Andrew Jackson - arising sword in hand from his tomb to smite the Canadians.

It was confidently expected that American forces, at long last free to cross the Mississippi, would advance fast and soon join up with the massed Mexican Army coming towards them from the west, commanded by Villa in person. Such was not the case, however. The Canadian and British forces soon re-organized and put up a stout resistance, and British reinforcements poured in from as far afield as India, Australia and New Zealand. Soon Amerixican advance on both the Eastern and Western Fronts completely bogged down.

Five years of grim trench warfare followed. The Black Hills of Dakota witnessed numerous failed offensives in which tens of thousands of soldiers perished in a single hour, when charging machine gun nests - achieving little if any advance. Similar scenes followed all the way down to the outskirts of New Orleans, which American forces never captured despite the countless soldiers killed and the harrowing situation of the city’s population. The coastal cities of the US and Mexico, as well as those of Canada, were the target of devastating bombardments by warships shooting incendiary shells. Following a particularly heavy Canadian bombardment of Boston and New York, an American squadron crossed the Atlantic and managed to launch a surprise attack in which thousands of Londoners were killed – though the retreating Americans were chased by the Royal Navy, cornered in mid-ocean and sunk with all hands. Britain’s total commitment to the North American War precluded its involvement in the similarly grim European struggle between rival Emperors – the young, hot-headed Napoleon V of France and his sworn foe, Wilhelm II of Germany.

Five years of bloodletting, with the loss of nearly four million lives, brought the contending North American parties to the verge of total collapse. Finally, to the relief of all but a handful of diehard nationalists and militarists on either side, Armistice was proclaimed at the St. Louis Talks. The ensuing peace treaty provided for the return of all military forces to their pre-war positions and the de-militarization of the Mississippi and the Great Lakes as International Waterways. The islands of Cuba and Puerto Rico, which had been the scene of intensive fighting causing great hardships to their populations, were given independence as neutral states committed to harboring no foreign military bases. Similarly, both sides undertook to honor the neutrality of the Kingdom of Hawaii, remove their respective expeditionary forces from its territory, and refrain from sending any military vessel to within fifty nautical miles of Hawaiian territory.

Six years after the end of the war, work at last began on the Transcontinental Railway - which crossed the Mississippi at The Reconciliation Bridge, designed jointly by Canadian and Amerixican engineers. Tariff barriers were lowered and the two long-segregated North American economies started on the road to integration.

This Wikipedia article [1] helped inspire this alternate history timeline.

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