I am writing an historical novel based on the premise that the American Revolution failed to win American Independence. In some ways this is harder than writing about events as they actually played out, for to deviate convincingly down an alternate historical path requires getting so much of the actual history right. It is also a fascinating exercise to consider that the birth of the United States was neither inevitable nor a million-to-one shot, but an outcome that had much to do with contingency, risk, and choices made wisely or wrongly by great and small on both sides of the Atlantic.
My plausible contingency - the one that tilts the outcome of the war in a different direction - takes place at Trenton. To me it was this victory, and a week later the stolen march and audacious attack on the British rearguard at Princeton, that even more than Saratoga marked a true turning point in the war. Washington is the linchpin, for he alone among the American commanders was able to keep a fractious army from breaking into its disparate parts as enlistments ended, and so I must deny the colonies his services. The battle must not end with nearly 1000 Hessian prisoners and not one patriot combatant killed of the field of battle, but with the loss of the American commander and an outcome that guarantees that New Jersey, lower New York and Rhode Island remain under British occupation and the war becomes a prolonged irregular insurgency, even more internecine than it was in fact.
That's the background of the story. I weave historical personages and fictional characters into this setting and let the narrative play out against this alternate backdrop. Hessian Colonel Johann Rall gets to play Pontius Pilate at Trenton. Benedict Arnold gets another shot at glory. Washington's mulatto manservant William Lee has a new career after the fall of the General and it is not the role of the faithful retainer for which this most famous of Revolutionary-era slaves is remembered. Several of my ancestors provide fodder for the character development of my fictional protagonists. My heroine is inspired by the author of this 1779 letter from our family archives and she has an odyssey worthy of Ullyses. The Founding Fathers? Some find a gibbet, and some are sent to penal servitude in West Florida. Some come back to their allegiance and some go underground with the "Sons of Terror", as the Sons of Liberty were known to the British and Hessian occupation forces.
I've worked out a number of "reconstruction" scenarios for an occupation and counter insurgency under British hardliners rather than the moderate Howes. All the Colonial charters are revoked. The Quebec Act of 1774 remains in place, as does the permeable Proclamation Line of 1763. The Iroquois League remains intact and holds its home territory in central and western New York. An exodus reminiscent of the Acadian diaspora depopulates patriot strongholds, the deportees replaced by Tories and Hessian farmers. And the other European powers bide their time and wait for the opportunity to strike at British interests as they strive to win the occupation after defeating the rebel armies in the field.
It might be tempting to draw parallels between this scenario and current events, but I did not set out to make that point. I am, however, lead to the conclusion that the British would have found the countryside and frontier difficult to hold from their garrison towns and the blockaded coastline. As long as the rebellion remained alive in what is now called "asymmetrical" war, Britain would not have the resources to crush it as they had the the Irish and the the Jacobites a generation before.
Asking "What if" about the Revolution is newly furrowed ground and much less commonly encountered in historical fiction than "Lost Cause" fantasies. If there were no successful American War of Independence, would there have been a French Revolution, or a Napoleon? Would America have expanded from sea to shining sea, or shared this continent with many other nations? And what would it mean to be an American then? I can imagine a Battle of New Orleans in which Lord Wellington and the 60th Royal American rifles fight alongside their colonial American countrymen to dislodge another great power from Louisiana. I can imagine a Civil War that takes place not in 1861 but in 1834 when Great Britian abolished slavery throughout the Empire, and John Calhoun leading proto-confederate "voortrekkers" on a fillibuster into Mexico. I'm about 50 pages into my alternate history of the American Revolution and already I can tell I'm writing a series...