Monday’s Mtg: Which One Event In U.S. History Would You Change?

This idea from Gale sounds like a fun conversation.  It’s basically an exercise in “what if” history, also known as counterfactual history.  Counterfactual history is a thing.  There are books and blogs and discussion groups on-line devoted to imagining how history might have unfolded if, say, some battle or election or catastrophe had turned out differently.

I thought I’d skip the usual opening presentation.  (Pause for cheering.)  Instead, I’ll just ask who has ideas on what they might change and why, and then I’ll moderate as the group discusses the possible ramifications of the counterfactual.

This stuff isn’t as easy as it seems.  Asking what if is basically asking another question:  What are history’s “hinges,” the moments when our future really did, or could have but did not, take off in a whole new direction?  If  Napoleon had not sold us the Louisiana purchase, we probably would have acquired it eventually, anyway.  But, what if Lee Harvey Oswald or Sirhan Sirhan had missed their targets, or if  the Supreme Court had not awarded the presidency to George W. Bush?   Or, if Hamilton had killed Burr in their duel and not the other way around?  When does history turn on the acts of individuals and when does it turn on impersonal social and cultural and economic forces?

Not many links this week.


Mistakes were made –

Alternate and counterfactual history –

Next Week:   Is more federalism the answer to our political divide?


2 responses

  1. In general, I am not a fan of “counterfactual” history.
    It is difficult enough to make sense of real history, without going off into speculation.
    Yes, if Napoleon hadn’t been feeling ill, he might have won the battle of Waterloo.
    But he didn’t.

    I think I’ll leave to speculation to the rest of you.

  2. Alright, for you alternative history fans out there, here are some I’ve come up with (sorry, they are not about US though):
    1. After the battle of Waterloo, Napoleon flees in his coach (as he did), reaches the coast
    and evades the British blockade, arriving six weeks later in the US.
    President Madison decides to let him reside in Washington on condition he not engage in politics.
    After six months, Napoleon is really bored and hearing of events in Mexico, decides to go there.
    He leads a successful revolt against his old nemesis, Spain, and becomes Emperor of Mexico. Eventually, he conquers all of Latin America which, in the course of the nineteenth century under dynasty, becomes the leading world power.

    2. Franz Ferdinand returns from Sarajevo. There is no war in 1914, and in 1916, he succeeds to the
    Throne. Against all expectations, he reforms Austria-Hungary as the United States of Austria. He also reconstitutes the Kingdom of Poland for his son. They become constitutional monarchies, as do Russia and Turkey. There is no World War I, or II.

    3. Lenin fails to get permission to return to Russia in 1917 and is interned in Switzerland. He is not released until well after 1919, when he returns to find that the Constituent Assembly has adopted a Constitution with a constitutional monarchy
    under Grand Duke Cyril. Social Revolutionaries have a majority. Lenin attempts a coup but is arrested and exiled to Siberia, where he soon dies of tuberculosis.

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