Many loyalists would flee their homes, terrified by what they saw as mob rule, to Nova Scotia, the Cape Colony, India. Many colonies, like Canada and the Caribbean islands refused to go along with the rebels. British North America fractured and fought. One part became the United States of America.
For the first eight decades of the young Republic’s life, it was known as the United States of America in the plural. That is: the United States are free, not is free. There was little agreement on much beyond loathing of Native peoples, disinterest in world affairs, and frontier opportunity. But as the country began to merge into a nation, to go singular, thanks in large part to changes in the integrative effects of the telegraph and railways, it split - and eventually went to war with itself. Ultimately, it was the Second Civil War that fused the two nations into one Republic. After 1865, the United States was free, not were free.
But the union only went so far. Becoming singular, fusing the pluribus into the unum, came at a price. It meant turning a blind eye to people who did not identify with the narrative of oneness. It meant erecting statues to Confederate leaders in Richmond or flying the secessionist banner over statehouses across the Deep South. It meant not scratching too deeply below the surface of the icons of each storyline. Things were OK as long as one didn’t probe too much in order to hang on to the fiction of the unified nation.
Splintering began again in the 1960s as the Cold War consensus unraveled and as civil rights movements brought to the fore a different narrative of peoplehood, one that appealed to freedom as an unfinished quest. Great speeches and earth-moving legislation summoned a vision of the nation that would be more inclusive. But they also stoked a reaction. Those rebel statues and those flags of the Second Civil War got purposed decades later, in the 1950s and 1960s. They represented a narrative of nationhood threatened by the drive for union under the banner of a rising story of peoplehood for those who had not been allowed to belong. It was in the 1960s that the Confederate flag and its strange, polysemic, powers - as rebellious and conformist, liberty-loving and oppressive - got retrieved to flap over the statehouse in Columbus, South Carolina.
The undoing of the fiction of the singular nation, therefore, did not happen with the election of Donald J. Trump in 2016. It has been long incoming. Paradoxically, it was under President Barack Obama, the man who most exemplified the idea of a new post-racial, cosmopolitan unity, that the split flowered into the open, with the snarling Sarah Palin, the rise of the Tea Party, and the tribalization of political identities. The official symbolic split was, one might say, declared the day that the Confederate flag was lowered from the statehouse grounds in Columbus, South Carolina. After decades of protest against the banner, and after a white nationalist named Dylann Roof murdered nine African-American churchgoers on June 17, 2015, it was no longer possible to sustain the idea of this degree of pluribus in the unum.