Fascinating Places that Almost Existed

There are fascinating places in history almost existed. Had history taken a slightly different turn, entire countries and regions could have had entirely different cultures and political systems.

Colonialism was a game of chance for the conquered peoples. Many nations received different languages, economies, political systems, legal systems, and cultures from colonial conquerors.

India, for example, is a parliamentary democracy because of the British. Similarly, many African nations used a version of French Franc until 2020, 20 years after France itself adopted the Euro, because they were part of France’s empire.

Many nations; including the United States, speak French, Spanish, English, or Portuguese because of former colonial rulers. Thus, those nations could have had different languages if somebody else had conquered them.

Some fascinating colonial regimes that never existed include:

Dutch America

The Dutch founded the largest, richest, and most influential of the 13 colonies that became the United States of America; New York.

In fact, they originally called New York; New Netherland and New York City, New Amsterdam. New York City became America’s largest and richest city and remains the center of American commerce and culture.

Had the British not conquered New Amsterdam in 1664, Dutch America could have been a reality. Had the Dutch remained in New Amsterdam they would have controlled the gateway to the American interior, the Hudson River Valley and Lake Ontario.

Thus, the Dutch could have been the dominant economic power in North America and possibly its rulers. The Dutch influence is still great in the United States, capitalism, the stock market, and freedom of religion were Dutch notions that shape America’s culture and economy to this day. What a Dutch United States could have been like is a fascinating notion.

French India

The British Conquest of India which led to the Raj; and ultimately the modern republics of India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, was the work of the British East India Company.

Interestingly, the French East India Company almost conquered India. During the 1740s and 1750s, the French East India Company copied the British policy of building an army of Sepoys (Indian mercenaries) and conquering Indian states.

Operating from a base at Chandannagar near Kolkata, the aggressive French Governor General Joseph François Dupleix conquered much of Bengal. By the 1750s, the French East India Company’s empire was growing as fast of that of its British rival.

France’s Indian empire ended in 1757 when a brilliant British; general Sir Robert Clive, captured Kolkata (Calcutta) and Chandannagar. The French kept several Indian trading posts until 1954, but they became minor players on the subcontinent.

Had the Seven Years’ War in Bengal gone differently, the French East India Company could have conquered the subcontinent. India was vulnerable to conquest because the Mughal Empire was in terminal decay.

The prospect of a French India is intriguing because the French Revolution broke out in 1789. Introducing French Revolutionary ideology; which included republican government, racial equality, and secularism, in Haiti led to that nation’s long war of independence.

Would French Revolutionary ideology have had effects results in India? Would there have been an Indian Republic and an independent India two centuries earlier? We’ll never know, but the notion is intriguing.

Canada, USA

The United States almost conquered Canada twice. Thus, the United States could have extended from the Gulf of Mexico clear to the Arctic Ocean.

American forces used the element of surprise to overrun Canada; then comprising Southern Quebec, in 1775. The invasion of Canada was the most ambitious American campaign of the Revolutionary War.

A destructive smallpox epidemic and powerful British reinforcements ended the first American invasion of Canada. Notably, American forces never launched another invasion of Canada during the Revolution.

During the War of 1812, President James Madison (R-Virginia) thought America could easily conquer Canada. To elaborate, most of Britain’s armies were busy fighting Napoleon I in Europe.

Observers such as Madison; and former President Thomas Jefferson (R-Virginia), thought America’s armies could easily overwhelm the small British forces in Canada. However, the US Army was too unprofessional, untrained, poorly led, and disorganized to carry out a successful invasion.

The sole American success in Canada in the War of 1812 was the burning of York (Toronto) by US forces. Ironically, that success hurt America more because the British burnt Washington in retaliation.

The War of 1812 eventually ground to a halt after Americans realized the conquest of Canada was impossible. Ironically, the War of 1812 led to British invasions of America, at Washington and New Orleans.

Canada as several American states is an intriguing possibility. For instance, there could have been a French Catholic state of Quebec. In addition, one of the largest, richest, and most influential US states could have been Ontario.

Today, many people will argue that Ontario is Canada, and the rest of the country has no political power. In 2019, Ontario had a population of 14.57 million people. All of Canada, in contrast, had a population of 37.59 million people in 2019.

American dreams of Canada never entirely died. There was talk of a war to conquer British Columbia in the 1840s. President James K. Polk (D-Tennessee); a veteran of the War of 1812, wisely attacked Mexico instead.

In the 1860s, American diplomats tried to get Canada from the British as Reparations. To explain, US diplomats thought the British owed America reparations because the Alabama; a British-built Confederate warship, had sunk Union merchant ships during the Civil War. American diplomats believed the British owed the US reparations and wanted Canada as Reparations in the Alabama Claims.

Britain was then at the height of its imperial power and Her Majesty’s Government ignored the American requests. Eventually, the US government agreed to a face-saving settlement; the Treaty of Washington, in which the British paid the United States $15.5 million to make the Alabama Claims nuisance go away.

The American State of Cuba

Strangely, the United States made serious efforts to buy the island of Cuba in the 1840s and 1850s.

In 1848, President James K. Polk (D-Tennessee) offered Spain $100 million for its colony of Cuba. The Spanish Crown refused because Cuba was one of its oldest colonies. Polk’s hope was to add one or more slave states to the Union, to counter the new free states in the west.

In 1854, President Franklin Pierce (D-New Hampshire) made another attempt to buy Cuba with the Ostend Manifesto. Three important US diplomats, James Buchanan, Pierre Soulé, and John Y. Mason, held a secret conference at Ostend, Belgium.

At the conference, the three drew up the Ostend Manifesto or Ostend Circular, another offer to buy Cuba. The effort failed when anti-slavery members of the US House of Representatives learned about the Manifesto.

Without Congressional support, Pierce could not get the money he needed to buy Cuba, so the proposal died. American efforts to annex Cuba ended, although President James Buchanan (D-Pennsylvania); yes him again, suggested annexation as late as 1860, while Southerners were forming the Confederacy.

The American state or states of Cuba raise intriguing possibilities. For instance, Spanish-speaking Catholic states in the Union in the 1850s, the time of the highest levels of anti-Catholic prejudice in American history. The anti-Catholic Know Nothing Party controlled some state legislatures in the 1850s. Moreover, Cuba could have been a battleground in the American Civil War.

America’s entanglement with Cuba has never ended. American troops fought in Cuba during the Spanish America War. Havana was the playground for America’s rich and famous in the mid-20th Century. Some Major League Baseball teams even held Spring Training in Cuba before the 1959 Revolution.

There are millions of Cuban Americans and relations with Communist Cuba are still a political issue in the USA. However, the state of Cuba remains a fantasy in the minds of a few Cuban American extremists.

Dominican Republic USA or the State of Santo Domingo

Cuba was not the only large piece of the Caribbean the United States tried to absorb. Interestingly, President Ulysses S. Grant (R-Illinois) tried to annex Santo Domingo (the modern Dominican Republic) to the United States.

In 1869, Grant’s administration began negotiations with Dominican President Buenaventura Báez. Like the efforts to annex Cuba, the effort to annex Santo Domingo collapsed without Congressional support.

Grant faced powerful opposition from inside his own party, the Republicans. In addition, there was no popular support for Dominican annexation in the United States in 1869.

Grant’s efforts to annex Santo Domingo petered out even though Báez and others in the Dominican Republic wanted annexation. Báez probably thought the United States could protect his country from predatory European powers such as France.

Grant’s effort is interesting because it could have brought a Spanish-speaking Catholic state with a black majority into the United States. Notably, some historians think Grant believed Santo Domingo could serve as a haven for African Americans or offer them permanent Congressional representation.

One supporter of Grant’s efforts was America’s most prominent black leader, Frederick Douglass. Douglass was part of a committee that investigated the possibility of annexing the Dominican Republic. The committee turned in a report advising annexation, which Congress ignored. The US Senate voted down a Dominican Annexation treaty in 1870.

Today, the United States and the Dominican Republic have a good relationship despite two US invasions of Santo Domingo. There are many Dominican Americans (particularly in the bleachers at Yankee Stadium). However, the idea of a state of Santo Domingo is long forgotten.

So yes, there are many fascinating places that almost existed.