Balkanized America: California

This is my take on the balkanized North America trope.  I tried to combine some common themes with a few inventions of my own that tickled my fancy.  This is not meant to be 100% plausible, just a fun nation profile that might inspire me down the road.  Enjoy!

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The name “California” once referred to a large area of North America claimed by Spain that included parts of the modern day provinces of Shasta, Alta California, Colorado[1] and Baja California. Beginning in the late 18th century, the area known as Alta California, comprising the California territory north of the Baja Peninsula, was colonized by the Spanish Empire as part of New Spain. In 1821, Alta California became a part of Mexico following its successful war for independence.

Shortly after the beginning of the Second Mexican-Texan War in 1846, a group of American settlers in Sonoma declared an independent California Republic in Alta California. Inspired by the success of Texas in the First Mexican-Texas War, ethnic Americans overthrew the local Spanish government and defeated the small force that was sent to crush them. Following that easy victory, the new Republic spent the rest of the Second Mexican-Texan War establishing a government and sought recognition abroad. The early Republic was decentralized. Led by the Executive Committee, this early government of California had little control over the rest of the country and often encouraged vigilantism to maintain order.

Following the Texas victory in the Second Mexican-Texan War in 1848, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was signed, in which Mexico ceded Alta California and all territory north of the Rio Grande to Texas. This worsened relations between the two countries and after a delegation from Texas arrived in Sonoma to assert Texas authority, they were arrested and deported back to Texas. Luckily for the Californians, Texas was unable to retaliate due to open conflict with the Mormons around the Great Salt Lake and Native American tribes,  such as the Apache and Navajo nations.

The California Gold Rush beginning in 1848 led to dramatic social and demographic change, with large scale immigration from North American states and abroad, plus an accompanying economic boom. The Executive Committee moved the capital of the country to San Francisco, which quickly became the largest city on the West Coast of North America. One of the new immigrants who came to California during this period was Joshua Abraham Norton, who would go on to become the most influential man in Californian history.

Born in England, Norton spent most of his early life in South Africa. He emigrated to San Francisco in 1849 after receiving a bequest of $40,000 from his father’s estate. Norton initially made a living as a businessman, and thanks to his wise investments, became the richest man in the Republic[2]. Popular in the Republic due to his charitable nature, though he sometimes stirred controversy for his defense of Asian immigrants.

When the Great Southwest War began in 1853[3], California feared it would come under Texan domination if they ever establish a position on the Pacific coast, especially since Texas had refused to drop its claims on the Republic. With the Executive Committee lacking the will or the power to do anything, the filibuster William Walker requested funds from Norton to raise a volunteer force to take the Mexican province of Sonora before Texas could. Norton agreed to the plan, raising a force of volunteers that Norton would personally command, with Walker as his second-in-command. Due to Norton’s popularity, volunteers arrived en masse, giving him the numbers necessary to invade Sonora in 1854 and defeat the Mexican forces there. Texas, however, was not about to lose its desired Pacific port. A Texan army pushed through Sonora and besieged Guaymas, but thanks to the help of local Mexicans who preferred California rule over that of Texas, the Prussian trained Texan army was defeated.

After leaving Walker with a large enough force to defend Sonora, Norton returned to San Francisco with the rest of his army. While reinforcements were gathered, Norton met with the Executive Committee. They bestowed on him the title of Consul, but only for the duration of the war. This new title granted Norton virtually unlimited power in California. Norton than crossed the Sierra Nevada mountains where he campaigned against Texas for the rest of the war, aided by his Mormon and Native American allies.

With the signing of Treaty of New Orleans, Great Southwest War ended in 1856, California secured control over Sonora and Baja California and California’s eastern border to the 114th meridian. Norton ensured the Mormon nation of Deseret, the Navajo nation of Dinétah and the Apache nation of Apachería.  The three nations provided convenient buffers between California and Texas and helped secure the nations eastern border.

Returning to San Francisco, Norton continued to rule as Consul of the Republic, despite the war being over. Using his increased political powers, his popularity as a war hero and the loyalty of the only organized military force in the Republic, Norton replaced most of the Executive Committee with men loyal to him. His actions caused riots in several California cities, but most were crushed by the new Army of California, which was made up veterans from the Great Southwest War. Any remaining dissenters left for Oregon, where they settled and laid the foundation for the ongoing mistrust between California and Cascadia.

On September 17, 1859, with any opposition to his rule being silenced, Norton was crowned Joshua I, the Emperor of California. The ceremony was attended by representatives from the Roman Catholic, Protestant and Mormon faiths at Joshua I’s request to ensure religious harmony in his new empire. The Republic was organized into a constitutional monarchy, similar to the Virginia model[4], with the Executive Committee being disbanded and reorganized into a two-house parliament (though in reality the true power was with Norton). Important Norton supporters were granted titles of nobility (William Walker, for his role in the war, was named the First Duke of Sonora)[5]. The Bear Flag of the Republic was kept, though the wording on the flag was changed to say “Empire of California”.

Joshua I ruled over California for twenty-one years. During that time he worked to turn California into the most powerful nation on the continent.  His desire to expand California was likely bolstered by the threat of Texas, which began to expand north across the Great Plains. Wealth poured into the Empire during this time, especially after the Comstock Lode was discovered in Nevada in 1859. Meanwhile, Joshua I extended California’s sphere of influence. Formal alliances were signed with Deseret, Dinétah and Apacheria. Joshua I also extended diplomatic relations with the Kingdom of Hawaii.

During his reign, Joshua I worked to promote religious tolerance and civil rights for Asians. In 1870 his greatest success came when he helped found the Commonwealth of North American States (CNAS), a forum for North American nations in Dover, Delaware. Norton was also in correspondence with several important figures of the time, including Alexander II of Russia, Queen Victoria of Britain and President Lincoln of Virginia. He died on January 8, 1880. Over 30,000 people attended his funeral, along with foreign delegates from across North America and the world.

Joshua I was succeeded by his daughter Sarah, a Chinese orphan who Joshua I adopted and named after his mother. Sarah I was influential in the alliance negotiations with the Queen Liliʻuokalani of Hawaii  in 1893, that ensured the Kingdom’s status as a constitutional monarchy and leased Pearl Harbor to the Imperial Navy. Using Pearl Harbor as a base, California established control over several Pacific islands. Despite her diplomatic skills, Sarah I lacked her father’s flair for domestic politics and lost political authority to Parliament. This began the decline of the Imperial Family and by the 21st Century, they became figureheads for the true power of the Empire, the Parliament.

Key developments in the early 20th century included the emergence of Los Angeles as a major entertainment center of the world and the growth of a large, tourism sector thanks to looser set of rules governing Nevada. Following the Spanish-Japanese War of 1898, California grew close with Japan, which was a rising world power. Following the Partition of China in 1901, this relationship became a formal alliance out of fear that European imperialism would one day spread to North America.

California entered the Great War shortly after Japan, but gave little material support to the Entente and was one of the first nations to call for a white peace in Europe. The interwar years were a turbulent time for the Empire. Though the Empire had always supported free assembly, the Great Depression of 1929 caused the Socialist Party of California to reorganize itself as the Communist Party of California and began to espouse the violent overthrow of the Empire. Though Parliament outlawed the party and ordered the arrest of many of their leaders, Communist insurgencies sprang up in Shasta, where a growing secessionist movement had been brewing due to the cultural differences of the population compared to the rest of the Empire. Meanwhile, general dissatisfaction with the Imperial government grew as poor economic conditions and the inability to stop Communist attacks against civilians.

Matters were made worse after the Young Oregon movement, a fascist organization modeled after Mussolini’s black shirts, came to power in Oregon in 1933. Hoping to weaken the more powerful California and annex Shasta, Oregon put aside its political differences with the Communists and supplied them with weapons and other materials. By October 1941, however, Oregon became  impatient. Though California had yet to squash the Communist insurgents, dissatisfaction with the fascist regime was growing in Oregon. Hoping a short, victorious war would silence the dissenters and encouraged by vague Texan promises to enter the conflict, Oregon declared war on California, starting the Oregon War of 1941. Launching a bombing campaign on several California cities, the Oregon military hoped that the bombardment would ignite the Californian citizens against the Imperial government and allow the less powerful Oregon military to overwhelm the distracted Californian forces.

This prediction turned out to be foolish to the extreme. The Californians united against the invaders and the Imperial Air Force quickly regained control over the skies and soon bombed Oregon cities. California, however, decided to wait until spring to launch their invasion of Oregon. It was during this period of mobilization that the Japanese launched a surprise attack on Vladivostok on December 7, 1941, bringing Japan into the Soviet War. Though California honored their alliance and declared war on the Soviet Union and the rest of the Comintern, they adopted an “Oregon First” strategy and would not send troops to fight in Asia until Oregon was no longer a threat.

Finally in March 1942, California invaded Oregon. The outnumbered and outgunned Oregon military was no match for the modern Imperial Army which quickly gained control over the Willamette Valley, the heartland of Oregon. Though most of the fascist leaders managed to escape before Portland fell, the loss of the capital and the most important region of Oregon allowed anti-fascist elements across Oregon to rebel against the government and form the Second Provisional Government of Oregon. California helped the new government clean up the remaining fascist holdouts in eastern Oregon, the last surrendering in September. Meanwhile, California began sending troops to help the Japanese fight the Soviets in Siberia and China. Many Californian units fought with distinction and helped create stronger ties between Japan and California.

California’s involvement in the Soviet War ended following the defeat of the Soviet Union in 1945 with the nuclear destruction of Leningrad and Stalingrad by Germany. The destructiveness of this new weapon frightened the California government, who still feared European imperialism. As relations broke down with the Anglo-German alliance (the predecessor to the Grand Alliance), California became a founding member of the Greater Pacific Co-Prosperity Sphere (GPCPS) in 1955. In 1960 California exploded a nuclear bomb in the Mojave Desert. When Texas exploded a nuclear bomb in 1964, California was rudely reawakened to the fact that their old rival was still strong and an even greater threat due to its association with the Grand Alliance.

By the 1960s the growing differences between Britain and Germany led to the dissolution of the Grand Alliance and lessened the threat of nuclear war. California soon entered a period of economic prosperity thanks to their involvement with the GPCPS. The late 20th century saw the development of the technology and information sectors, punctuated by the growth of Silicon Valley. In addition to California’s prosperous agricultural industry, other important contributors to its expanding economy included aerospace, education, mining and manufacturing.

Despite its recent success, saber-rattling by its old rival Texas has put the continent on edge.  After accusations were made that Texas is supplying the Christian Confederation of Carolina with weapons, Texas left the CNAS.  Meanwhile, dissent is on the rise in Shasta, this time because of the green revolutionaries inspired by neighboring Cascadia.[6]

[1] There was a plan in 1854 to separate then southern, then sparsely populated, counties of California into a new state called Colorado.  It never happened and the name was taken by another territory.

[2] In our history he lost a fortune and went mad.  He declared himself Emperor of the United States, but was never taken seriously.  I was always fascinated by Norton, hence why I included him in this history.  Even though he is much more successful in this timeline, I still think he would seek political power.  You have to be a little mad to want to rule a country.

[3] Mexico is not doing well in this timeline.  It will only get worse when the Europeans get involved.

[4] Things back east are weird.  Ever since the Anti-Federalists successfully defended the Articles of Confederation, the former British colonies each experimented in governing themselves differently.  The Society of the Cincinnati found fertile ground for their ideas in Virginia.  To bad they ended up like the other American aristocracies.

[5] I always assumed this would never be enough for the House of Walker. Perhaps I ever write fiction for this setting I might make Walker’s children some of the antagonists.

[6] The Second Provisional Government of Oregon and became almost as bad as the government they replaced.  It was not until the Green Revolution that Oregon, now Cascadia, got a stable if slightly odd government.  Their desire the perfect “ecotopia” is not limited just to the Pacific Northwest.


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About mattmitrovich

Matt Mitrovich is the founder and editor of Alternate History Weekly Update, volunteer editor for Alt Hist magazine and, starting in 2013, blogger for the relaunch of Amazing Stories. His fiction can be found at Echelon Press, Jake's Monthly and The Were-Traveler. When not writing he works as an attorney, enjoys life with his beautiful wife Alana and prepares for the inevitable zombie apocalypse. You can follow him on Facebook or Twitter (@MattMitrovich).

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