In a time without speed of light communications, telegraph wires, radio or Internet, the fall of the British Empire in America still rocked the entire world. It was celebrated and welcomed from the Emir of Kuwait to the Tsarina Catherine in St. Petersburg.First question: Successful revolutions are always backed by foreign governments. Not all foreign-backed revolutions succeed, but revolutions without assistance always fail. Our NYC-based revolution was strongly backed by Louis in France, and we then rewarded him in typical NYC style by sponsoring the revolution that killed Louis. But what about Catherine? At that time Russia owned and occupied Alaska plus part of BC, and made a dubious claim to the entire West Coast. Russia certainly had interests on this continent. Did Catherine fund the revolution, hoping for a weaker power here? Morris, as always, answers the question: [p269 of the PDF]
France, it is well known, went into the war for the sole object of severing America from England, and she came out of it with no other gain, than the independence of the United States. In all the secret overtures for a separate treaty, that were made to Count Vergennes, (and they were several) by emissaries from the British Court during the war, he invariably insisted on the recognition of American independence as a preliminary step. When Russia and Austria proposed to mediate between England and France, Count Vergennes accepted the offer, but imposed as a condition, that commissioners should be admitted from the United States, and take part as the representatives of an independent power in the negotiations for peace. He maintained the same ground when Spain came forward as a mediator.Then as now, Russia was a mediator, not an aggressor. = = = = = Second question: The mention of telegraph wires raises a different question, also in my department. Electric telegraphs began around 1830, but visual semaphore systems were widespread in Europe and Russia around the time of the Revolution. In those countries, news traveled much faster than horseback but somewhat slower than electricity. Why didn't USA copy the idea? For 50 years those systems were well known and highly functional, but we didn't use them. We made do with horses and runners until Morse and others persuaded the government to try the electric system. = = = = = And this in turn raises a subquestion. Why were semaphores slower than electric telegraphs? The obvious answer is because electricity... but that isn't the real answer. Two reasons, one of which could have been solved with existing technology. (1) The moving parts of semaphores were big and heavy, requiring considerable strength and time to overcome inertia. The keyboards of the first electric telegraphs acted easily and instantly, with negligible mass and momentum. This could have been solved with the compressed-air technology of pipe organs. The English six-panel system would be best because its action was binary. Each key would valve air into its own combination of pistons, each flipping one panel. When the key was released, the spring-loaded panels would snap back to default. (2) More subtle but unsolvable. The first telegraphs were NOT significantly faster than semaphores. The Chappe system, with a dense network of stations and highly skilled operators, was able to send a message from Calais to Paris in three minutes under ideal circumstances, and one hour in typical usage. Early telegraphs shared the limitation of frequent human intervention. Batteries at each station had to overcome the resistance and reactance of long wires. The message might travel about 5 miles to the first receiver, where the operator would have to copy the complete message and then resend it. This is identical to semaphores except for the inertia and momentum. Telegraphs became instantaneous after the invention of the relay, which automatically transferred the information to a new circuit with its own batteries. Relays act instantly, so a well-formed and well-maintained line could send a message through unlimited distances instantly. There was no conceivable way to develop a relay for visual systems. It would be possible right now using video cameras and OCR technology, but it wouldn't have been possible even 20 years ago. A telegraph system solely USING compressed air would have been possible in 300 BC. The Romans could have built long concrete pipelines, running along aqueducts and roads in the same way that telegraph wires ran along railroads. Air relays work the same as electric relays, and would have been feasible with Roman tech. This setup could have spanned continents with the same speed as electric telegraphs. There were a few attempts at compressed air telegraphy during the semaphore era, but they didn't get anywhere. And let's take one more step, probably off the cliff.... An air-based telephone system would also be possible. A delicate leather sender diaphragm with a needle valve could modulate a very small flow, which could then modulate a larger flow. The larger flow could easily move a leather receiver diaphragm. Fluidic amplifiers were possible in 300 BC. More broadly, why didn't any of these developments happen before electricity? You don't need special instruments to detect the movement and pressure of air. You can feel and smell and hear it directly, and you can make the wires and resistors and amplifiers from wood and leather. Surely someone must have tried these ideas during the 2100 years from 300 BC to 1800 AD??? Even the phonograph, a simple mechanism that could have been built in the Stone Age, didn't happen until Edison was fiddling with ways to record electrical telegraph signals. Since I'm already off the alt-history cliff, one more step. If clay-disk phonographs had been developed in 3000 BC, would clay-tablet writing have been necessary? I think the answer is Yes, because writing didn't start with words. Writing began as bookkeeping and soon found ways to specify the items being bought or sold. You can't talk in columns.
The current icon shows Polistra using a Personal Equation Machine.