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The Spirit of Exmas Sideways
a "novelito" by L. Neil Smith

Introduction: A Brief History of the North American Confederacy

Ninescore and fifteen years ago, with the ink only just sanded on the United States Constitution, President George Washington and Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton decided it was time to try out their shiny brand-new powers of taxation.

Their first victims would be certain western Pennsylvania agricultural types long accustomed to converting their crops into a less perishable, more profitable high-octane liquid form. Unfortunately for the President and the Secretary, many of these rustics, especially near the frontier municipality of Pittsburgh, placed a slightly different emphasis than high school teachers do today on the Revolutionary slogan regarding "taxation without representation". In their view, they'd fought the British in 1776 to abolish taxes and they weren't interested in having representation imposed on them by that gaggle of fops in Philadelphia, the nation's capital. They made this manifestly clear by tarring-and-feathering tax collectors, burning their homes to the ground, and filling the stills of those who willingly paid the hated tribute with large-caliber bullet holes.

Feeling their authority challenged, George and Alex dispatched westward a body of armed conscripts equal to half the population of America's largest city (Philadelphia once again, later famous for air-dropping explosives on miscreants charged with disturbing the peace). Four hundred whiskey rebels, duly impressed by this army of fifteen thousand, subsided. The miraculous process by which the private act of thievery is transubstantiated into public virtue was firmly established in history. The results -- chronic poverty and unemployment, endless foreign wars, and reruns on television -- are with us even today.

Meanwhile, in another western Pennsylvania far, far away, one Albert Gallatin, Swiss immigrant, Harvard scholar, and gentleman farmer changed his mind about talking his neighbors out of an uprising which might get them all killed. Instead, he decided to organize and lead them, inspired by a single word in the Declaration of Independence which doesn't appear in our version of that august document. [See The Probability Broach, Del Rey 1980, by L. Neil Smith]

A highly erudite and persuasive fellow (in our universe he invented the field now known as ethnology and became Hamilton's replacement in Jefferson's Cabinet), he shamed the fifteen thousand federales into marching with him against the City of Botherly Love. Washington was shown a suitable backstop and shot for his transgressions. The Constitution was replaced by the revised Articles of Confederation it was supposed to have been in the first place. And the government, deprived forever of its looting privileges, grew smaller every year thereafter, guaranteeing the survival of individual liberty and giving rise to unprecedented peace, prosperity, and progress.

Albert Gallatin became the second President of what would someday be the North American Confederacy ...

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