Some Alternate Borders for North America

I’d just like to share a little scenario I dreamed up recently: what if the borders of the United States circa the War of 1812 were never adjusted much? In particular, what if the Mississippi River watershed boundary from the original Louisiana Purchase remained in place, and was never simplified to the 49th parallel (in the case of the border with British North America) or the “step boundary” (in the case of the border with Spain)?

Sure, demarcating watershed lines is tougher, but if American diplomacy was less successful or there was less interest in simplifying the border the answer to the surveyors may well be “tough!” in some other timeline. In northern Minnesota and northern Maine there were other disputes, but for the purposes of my map I suppose they’re settled more or less the same as they were in real life, perhaps at a much later date.

One interesting effect of this boundary is that British North America takes in a significant chunk of what became American real estate: specifically the valley of the Red River of the North, centered around Fargo and Grand Forks. Eastern North Dakota and western Minnesota become British, later perhaps Canadian, assuming a Canada even forms in this timeline (let’s assume it does).

On the flip side, portions of far southern Alberta and Saskatchewan become American, because the Mississippi River drainage basin extends that far north. The boundary crosses over again into what’s now American territory as it approaches Triple Divide Peak, which serves as the northwesternmost corner of the United States under these borders.

Would the United States expand further west, as it did in real life? That was not preordained! Texas, notably, was independent for a time. What if it just stayed independent for the long haul? With this precedent, the Americans and British might be inclined to accept the Oregon Country becoming an independent republic, one united whole separate from either America or Britain, as opposed to being partitioned between the two, as was the case in real life.

This scenario isn’t nearly as far-fetched as it might seem. None other than Thomas Jefferson supposed that Fort Astoria was “the germ of a great, free, and independent empire on that side of our continent, and that liberty and self-government spreading from that as well as from this side, will insure their complete establishment over the whole.” And it wasn’t just Jefferson saying this. Mainstream opinion as late as the 1820s in America seemed to envisage that the sections of the continent west of the Great Divide would be separate entities from the United States. Independence for the Oregon Country was a mainstream concept in the region itself through around the time of the Civil War!

With the precedent of an independent Texas, this scenario coming to life is all the more likely. With the precedent also of the watershed lines from the Louisiana purchase, I use watershed boundaries on my map for independent Oregon. Mormons may well become active during this period, and settle Utah as well as other sections of the Great Basin and the Colorado’s watershed. The combined wholes of both of these hydrographic regions become the boundaries of the Holy State of Deseret, south of Oregon and west of the United States. California breaks off from Mexico too, flying the Bear Flag from the Sierra Crest to the Pacific Coast, from the Klamath Basin to Los Cabos, coming in as yet another free and independent republic in the Empire of Liberty.

Eventually I envisage Russian America expanding its boundaries to encompass the Yukon west of the Great Divide, and remaining part of Russia, just as Siberia does. The Gold Rush provides an impetus to solidify these claims.

Newfoundland, as in real life until after WWII (!), remains an independent Dominion. Prince Edward Island too remains independent; in real life they didn’t join confederation until relatively late (the 1870s), so why not suppose that they just keep going with independence, after it becomes clear they can manage just fine on their own?

Rebellions in California, Deseret, and Texas shear off these regions from Mexico, but the rather more loyal denizens of New Mexico stay with the country; in the absence of a full-scale war with the United States, Mexico retains the Rio Grande watershed, containing places like El Paso, Albuquerque, and Santa Fe.

For funsies, I break off the Yucatan as well; in real life it was independent several times, so like Prince Edward Island it’s not too hard to envisage it just staying that way. Voila, a rather different and more interesting map of North America:

Now isn’t that cooler than the freakishly straight line of the 49th parallel? Hehe.

Interestingly, the United States is smaller but still retains its geostrategic core in the Mississippi Basin, so it should still easily be a great power, just denied access to the Pacific (unless it makes very close friends with California or Oregon). I can’t help but wonder if there would be much greater interest in incorporating Cuba, which was a long-sought prize post-Florida-acquisition.

The other Spanish possessions, such as Puerto Rico and even the Dominican Republic, might be tempting targets as well. Perhaps alternate US is successful in grabbing these areas and even making them into states? Ooh…

The perhaps most intriguing possibility is an American takeover of the isthmus of Panama, which basically did occur in real life. But an America otherwise denied access to the Pacific may well see fit to incorporate the territory as a full-fledged state after the canal project is completed, and no doubt after extensive military assets are developed there. It would be just too strategically vital to pass up.

Expansion into the Caribbean coast of South America couldn’t be ruled out. Various island possessions could also be acquired, with the standout example in real life of course being Hawaii. I’m thinking that in this timeline Hawaii could become a Russian possession, concomitant with greater Russian interest in Alaska, opening up the Pacific to much greater Russian influence overall. California and Oregon would also be in prime positions to compete for overseas expansion, especially when it comes to Pacific islands.

The most realistic scenario? Perhaps not. But I for one think it’s kinda interesting.

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