Compared to the vast majority of the world, North America is pretty bland when it comes to countries, we have the US, Canada and mexico, that's it. Now Cascadia, California and Texas were all at one point free, independent nations, what other section of North America could theoretically be free nations in the modern day?

For a nation to count, it must be able to run independent from other nations, so Texas would count while a Vatican State rip off would not. The Alternate history must not go back farther than the 16 century.

Also this ignores theoretical wars that did not happen, as to avoid broadness.

  • 5
    $\begingroup$ I guess it is hard to formulate an upper limit, considering the size of Mauritius or the Vatican! If you have additional requirements, they might help! $\endgroup$ – Ludi Sep 13 '16 at 15:29
  • $\begingroup$ Be, like in alternative history, or like break down from what is now? $\endgroup$ – Mołot Sep 13 '16 at 15:32
  • $\begingroup$ @Mołot alternate history (I'll add starting point) $\endgroup$ – TrEs-2b Sep 13 '16 at 15:33
  • $\begingroup$ No modern nation is able to run independent from others. And when you are okay with theoretically being able to exist independently, well I guess you have a single human. $\endgroup$ – Nobody Sep 13 '16 at 16:54
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Also, there are technically 41 countries in North America. Just because those three consume the vast majority of land and population does not make them the only ones. Even Greenland is considered part of North America. $\endgroup$ – Jesse Williams Sep 13 '16 at 18:03

Let's start by thinking of a historical region with a high density of at least partly independent states. The Holy Roman Empire springs to mind... which was neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire. It was more like a federation of various minor states run by monarchies, free cities, and theocracies. They elected an emperor who mediated disputes, theoretically ensuring the balance of power and independence of minor states.

Your question specifically asks for examples where independence could be guaranteed, but I'm going to side step this issue partly owing to the complexity of the idea. What is independence? Food security? Financial security? Military power? Are we speaking of super powers, great powers, major powers, minor powers? It's difficult to define, so I'm going to use the HRE as an example because of the idea that the USA could splinter into, or evolve into, something more like the HRE. At least, it's at one end of the spectrum of possibility. If you want a large number of diverse states, then an HRE-like model is probably the best way to go.

Holy Roman Empire

As you can see, there were lots of minor states. Their individual strength will be relative and varied, but ultimately they were at the behest of the emperor and his security blanket. At the time of that map Italy is also considered part of the HRE, and after the fall of the Roman empire, Italian history is littered with competing republics and kingdoms.

If your alternative history is from a relatively recent breakdown of established values then the below map of America's present cultural "nations" is worth examination. If not, and is a result of a different historical development from the early days of colonisation, then you have far more creative freedom. In the case of basing America's nation-states on present circumstance, perhaps a fall into cultural bastions would result in a more modest number of states like the below map shows. The former and latter maps illustrate the possibilities of more or less states than the current fifty.

America's Cultural Nations

In either case, national density will rely upon geographical and political questions. How much population can each region support? Desert and mountain regions will support fewer people, whilst fertile lands can provide much greater population and thus national density. Politically, if a central authority like the HRE discourages land grabs, then it's more likely that there will be many small states. Without that it's more likely that fewer larger states will emerge.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I hadn't even thought of the HRE, great answer! $\endgroup$ – TrEs-2b Sep 13 '16 at 16:05
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ That's a very good analogy. Nice answer $\endgroup$ – Ross Sep 13 '16 at 16:07
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @ryan there is something called trade that could provide a means of feeding everyone. Just think barely any food is produced in large cities but they don't starve to death because they buy food $\endgroup$ – depperm Sep 13 '16 at 17:17
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Just throwing this out there, but that map of the American Nations Today is total garbage. It is divided along county lines and shows basically no awareness of similarities or differences between counties. Quick, what is the difference between Riverside and San Bernardino in California? The answer is basically nothing, yet one is in 'El Norte' and one is in 'The Far West'. Similarly, Sarasota county Florida is 4.3% Hispanic but is included in 'Spanish Carribean' with Dade county (65% Hispanic) instead of in 'Deep South' with neighboring Manatee County (15.3% Hispanic). Very silly map. $\endgroup$ – kingledion Sep 13 '16 at 17:21
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @kingledion Though the borders of the "nations" are less accurate, that's not the point. Have a look at the link I put which explains the author's breakdown of the USA's cultural regions which was a bit too long to quote directly. It makes sense in general terms. If the borders were a long gradient rather than a hard line, it probably would make more sense! $\endgroup$ – inappropriateCode Sep 13 '16 at 18:01

Post-industrialization, very few.

The Civil War can be a good lesson here, as it showed how even with slave labor, the South's economy was untenable if it were to become a separate nation that was openly hostile with the North. It was heavily reliant on the industry of the Northern states for revenue and goods.

This is a very different question if for example each state struck out for itself tomorrow. Depending on any number of factors, fluid trade between "nations" could or could not be successful. Texas is a noteworthy exception, because their infrastructure and civic spending actually reflect some small desire to secede even to this day; in 2016, Texas is the most plausible standalone nation of all the states.

Pre-industrialization is a total playground for this question, and the nations on the continent could form any shape, with a few restrictions, such as the fact that Spain's colonial power would eventually wane by the end of the 19th century, and other things like that. I think this question could go many different ways.

EDIT: I want to add a small blurb here for some perspective. Europe is geographically small compared to the Americas, but the diversity in language and nationality belie a very tribal history. European peoples lived in close proximity for a couple millenia, often warring, becoming nationally distinct groups of people. The same happened in the Americas pre-1500. The number of native languages spoken belie a similar (more obvious) tribal nature, and were they awarded 500-1000 years more of relatively unmolested growth, we could have 300-500 nations across North America metastasizing in a way similar to Europe, the Mesoamerican tribes being particularly successful.


The United States are called United because they used to be 13 different British colonies. The colonies united in the 18th century for mostly one reason: To get independence from Britain. None of the colonies alone would have been strong enough to win a revolutionary war against Britain, but together they were.

But what if reaching independence would have been a lot easier? If for some reason Britain would have lost interest in their American colonies, then each colony would have been able to declare itself an independent state on its own. There would have been no reason to unite with the others. So each colony would have developed as a sovereign state.

However, all these states were concentrated on the east coast. Without an united country, the expansion to the west would have been a lot slower due to border disputes between the 13 American states and each individual states claim on the rest of North-America would have been a lot weaker.

This would have given opportunity to two kinds of actors:

  • The American natives might have been able to mount a defense against the displacement by the European settlers and might have been able to form one or more independent states in Central North-America.
  • With the colonist's expansion to the west blocked by the Natives and/or internal disputes, Asian actors (Japan, China, Korea...) might have seized the opportunity to form colonies on the west coast and claim the western parts of North-America.
  • $\begingroup$ Very interesting concept, sort of like the meeting point between Europe and Aisa $\endgroup$ – TrEs-2b Sep 13 '16 at 16:10
  • $\begingroup$ More likely native actors, and against 13 independent nations, trade would have been more one-sided in their favor. Asian immigration only kicked in in earnest after California was ceded. $\endgroup$ – Ross Sep 13 '16 at 16:11
  • $\begingroup$ With that edit, this answer's got my brain racing. With modern weapons and horses, how far North could the Aztecs go? What about the gold rush? Which Asian power in the 1700s had the resources for a trans-pacific fleet? boy oh boy $\endgroup$ – Ross Sep 13 '16 at 16:25
  • $\begingroup$ @RossC you should ask those $\endgroup$ – TrEs-2b Sep 13 '16 at 20:05

In it's simplest, every state could have been an independent country. Union is a country and a nation because that was convenient for the ones who wrote constitution. But Union like European one, just with stronger military aspect might be good enough to fight for independence from Britain.

When USA was formed, communication was much slower, and laws was, mostly, local ones. In practice it was acting like an union of independent countries. Difference was in the feelings of people. The only change you need is for that feeling to erode instead of solidify. That's all.

Of course later there would be issues with power grids. These couldn't look like they do now (3 in the USA). There would be more of them, and smaller, but still not all states / countries would be able to produce enough electricity for modern consumption. This might create more pressure for one country from countries that needs to buy, but also resistance from ones that are selling. Similarly, there would be water issues. And probably more. Played properly, these might be used to finally break the Union,and leave States as Sovereign States, with mild enmity between them.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ You can have international power, gas and water grids. We manage it OK in Europe. $\endgroup$ – Mike Scott Sep 13 '16 at 18:06
  • $\begingroup$ @MikeScott Gas? No, we don't. Not really. Not with Germans dealing with Russians against Poland, etc. And for electrical grids - we have national grids interconnected, but each is able to operate as separate unit. In USA, there are only 3 units. $\endgroup$ – Mołot Sep 13 '16 at 18:17
  • $\begingroup$ Are you telling me that Andorra, San Marino, Monaco, the Vatican and Liechtenstein all run their own electricity grids? $\endgroup$ – Mike Scott Sep 13 '16 at 19:04
  • $\begingroup$ @MikeScott Andorra, San Marino, Monaco, the Vatican and Liechtenstein don't count as countries in this question. $\endgroup$ – Mołot Sep 13 '16 at 20:24

You might look at Europe, for a set of countries that can and do exist in the modern world, with total area and population not dissimilar to the USA. They have mostly formed a voluntary association called the European Union (EU), but the constitution of the EU explicitly gives any state the right to leave the EU. (In contrast the USA fought a civil war to establish the opposite). My own country, the UK, is now in the process of leaving the EU. Interesting times, for sure. It'll take the next decade to find out where this leads.

Anyway, I don't know enough about the USA to answer this question, but since this is worldbuilding: imagine that in a near future alternate reality, Washington DC was suddenly struck by a large meteorite (total death and destruction). There's just enough advance warning that the natural cause of this disaster is known and WW3 is not triggered, but not enough warning to get anyone in DC to safety. Not even the president.

Might the states decide that since the federal government of the USA had effectively ceased to exist, it was time to decide that the country had likewise, and each state was now sovereign? If not, add whatever plot elements are needed to ensure that they do so decide. Then ask, which states would inevitably find sufficient common cause with their neighbours that they decide to join together into single bigger units?

You might also dig out that copy of Heinlein's Friday which paints a picture of a near-future Balkanised North America. The interstellar travel parts of the plot are far less plausible than the alternative non-USA it portrays.

One other point: "real" countries need coastlines so they can trade freely. Landlocked countries are always vulnerable to being squeezed by their neighbours, leading either to hostilities or to strong-armed mergers. Bear this in mind if you decide to draw a map of a fragmented North America. It's mostly because my country is an island, and the rest of Europe is not, that the whole Brexit thing has happened. Which other countries are feeling least happy with the EU? I'd suggest Spain, Italy and Greece. All have sea on three sides and a mountain range on the fourth. Coincidence? I don't think so.

One last datum: Singapore. It's a city-state. Unlike the Vatican City or Monaco, it's a "proper" country. (Also, technically at least, an island).

  • $\begingroup$ You bring up a nice example (cataclysm striking DC), but there's a more realistic one at hand that already took place in modern history. A revolution in the metropole, leading to an overthrown goverment effectively tramples the constitution. During the collapse of the Soviet Union the revolution in Moscow was cited by many member states as grounds to leave the union. Unlike a cataclysm (where the death of members of government is accounted for in and does not violate the constitution), this may actually give legal grounds for a break-up of the union. $\endgroup$ – LLlAMnYP Sep 13 '16 at 17:45

If you look at Europe countries can get pretty small. Theoretically, North America could contain hundreds of countries. If you wanted maybe a more realistic number you can counted just the states/provinces of Mexico (31), United States(49-not counting Hawaii), and Canada(10) there could easily be 90 nations/countries.

Wikipedia describes nation-building:

In the modern era, nation-building referred to the efforts of newly independent nations, ... to redefine the populace of territories that had been carved out by colonial powers or empires without regard to ethnic, religious, or other boundaries. These reformed states would then become viable and coherent national entities.

Nation-building includes the creation of national paraphernalia such as flags, anthems, national days, national stadiums, national airlines, national languages, and national myths. At a deeper level, national identity needed to be deliberately constructed by molding different ethnic groups into a nation, especially since in many newly established states colonial practices of divide and rule had resulted in ethnically heterogeneous populations

While most Mexican states don't have their own flags, each US states do and the provinces of Canada do. There is also already a vague ethnic diversity among the states/provinces, you can tell where someone is from just from their accent, slang, or language. Also to take into account is the Native Americans who were here before colonists. Their land could have become a country if colonists respected their land/rights more.


Well, as a starting point, let's set a baseline population. Greenland is actually the 11th lowest population country in the world with a population of ~57,000. That would make even the smallest state in the United States (Rhode Island) viable with a population of over 1,000,000. So, we have all 50 states that could be independent, as well as the 10 Canadian provinces and the 31 states of Mexico. Each of these could be successfully divided down, but let's just go with an average factor of 2 for all of them, which gives us (50 + 10 + 31) * 2 = 182. The three territories in Canada aren't likely candidates for splitting due to small populations, so we'll just add them which gives us 185. There are 38 countries in North America no including the three that we've already broken down. Some are very small, but if we again go with a rough factor of 2, we can add them into the mix: 185 + 76 = 261.

So, 261 seems a relatively reasonable number based on breaking up existing regions, states, and countries, which is 66 more countries than currently exist on Earth as is.

If you wanted to go overboard and use our baseline of 57,000 as a sustainable population, the total North American population divided by that 567,761,000 / 57,000 gives a staggering 9,960 countries, which is obviously not reasonable in so far as there would certainly be issues creating and maintaining borders and governments for that many variations.

But, ostensibly, the answer is between 261 and 9,960... so, potentially a lot.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Liechtenstein has a population of 37,000, and seems to be a viable country. It's been a sovereign state for longer than the USA has. $\endgroup$ – Mike Scott Sep 13 '16 at 18:09
  • $\begingroup$ Yeah, I semi-randomly chose Greenland. The required population could easily be far less than 57,000, but with a theoretical base of over 9,000 countries based solely on that population, going lower only makes things less clear. And they are pretty murky as I wrote them lol $\endgroup$ – Jesse Williams Sep 13 '16 at 18:11
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Small nitpick - The 3 Canadian territories were just 2 prior to 1999 (Yukon and Northwest Territories)..so they have split relatively recently. The NorthWest territories once included anything west of Ontario...its history tends to be a place holder that slowly gets divided up as needed, I'd fully expect it to get divided again as the area warms up and more people arrive. $\endgroup$ – Twelfth Sep 13 '16 at 19:21
  • $\begingroup$ That's fair. Obviously in reality there are constraints beyond raw population as well. $\endgroup$ – Jesse Williams Sep 13 '16 at 19:24

Ever heard of the concept of a City-State? So basically North America's area / 10km^2 per city = 2,470,900 countries...

Also the following are all countries or territories (essentially independent countries) in North America...

  • Anguilla
  • Antigua and Barbuda
  • Aruba
  • Bahamas
  • Barbados
  • Belize
  • Bermuda
  • Bonaire
  • British Virgin Islands
  • Cayman Islands
  • Clipperton Island
  • Costa Rica
  • Curacao
  • Dominica
  • Dominican Republic
  • El Salvador
  • Greenland
  • Grenada
  • Guatemala
  • Haiti
  • Honduras
  • Jamaica
  • Martinique
  • Montserrat
  • Navassa Island
  • Nicaragua
  • Panama
  • Puerto Rico
  • Saba
  • Saint Barthelemy
  • Saint Kitts and Nevis
  • Saint Pierre and Miquelon
  • Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
  • Sint Eustatius
  • Sin Maarten
  • Trinidad and Tobago
  • Turks and the Calcos Islands
  • US Virgin Islands

You also forgot Hawaii as a former independent country...

  • $\begingroup$ Almost every one of those are part of central america $\endgroup$ – TrEs-2b Sep 13 '16 at 16:23
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Central America isn't thing other than in the imaginations of some people. There is North and South America. Central America is just what the lower half of North America is called by some that don't understand how things are connected up. And then there are some people that argue North and South America shouldn't be a division either, even though they are different plates v.v $\endgroup$ – Durakken Sep 13 '16 at 16:31
  • $\begingroup$ True, but it is still a division if only an imaginary one; same as the difference between Europe and Asia, it is more of a thing that the people agree on. $\endgroup$ – TrEs-2b Sep 13 '16 at 16:33
  • $\begingroup$ Whenever this argument comes up, I just say that they are in the caribbean $\endgroup$ – Necessity Sep 13 '16 at 16:36
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @UncleTres You know when you say it's a cultural thing and then disagree with considering Mexico as part of it on geographical grounds you just show yourself to be wrong... Mexico should either be considered part of Centrial America or Central America shouldn't be considered a thing at all. $\endgroup$ – Durakken Sep 13 '16 at 17:00

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.