On a map, the outlines of countries look like fixed, immutable borders, their names printed in thick, black letters that couldn't easily be erased. But in reality, countries come and go with alarming frequency. Where are the kingdoms of Tolosa, Alt Clud, Burgundia or Borussia? What about the USSR, Yugoslavia or East Germany? And just how united is the United Kingdom after the Brexit vote?
One problem is that defining a country is hard. Taiwan, for instance, considers itself a country and has its own elected government but no representation at the United Nations. Right now, all around the world, there are regions fighting for their independence, sometimes legally, sometimes violently.
Luck and historical circumstance determine borders and identities. As the following list of 10 briefly extant nations illustrates, there is no rule, or even set of rules, that can predict which countries will endure and which will flicker in and out of existence within days or even hours.
Head northeast out of Sacramento for about an hour and you might stumble across signs for the town of Rough and Ready, California. The current population barely scrapes 1,000, but once upon a time, back in 1849 or so, there were at least triple that number hard at work mining gold.
The California Gold Rush swelled the local population with independent-minded types. Legend has it that in 1850, when a new mining tax was imposed, they reacted unfavorably. On April 7 a Col. E.F. Brundage read out a manifesto at a mass meeting. He declared a new nation, independent of both California and the U.S. federal government, dubbed The Great Republic of Rough and Ready. The brand-new country elected Brundage as its president and set about creating a new set of laws.
But running a country can be onerous, especially if you're busy mining gold. Just 12 weeks later on July 4, the young republic called it quits and reunited with its mother country. Whether the miners ended up paying the revolting new tax is unknown [source: Hillinger].
For nearly 700 years, Japan was ruled by a military dictator known as the shogun, and the role of the emperor was largely ceremonial. But in 1868 a group of disgruntled nobles and court officials convinced Emperor Meiji to take back power. The sitting shogun abdicated, but when he later decided to fight back, a civil war began.
The emperor's forces eventually defeated the shogun's, and in January 1869, a remnant of the shogun's fleet retreated to Ezo, Japan's northernmost island. There, with the help of a French military adviser, the admiral of the fleet, Enomoto Takeaki, established the Ezo Republic. The constitution of Ezo was based on that of the U.S. and recognized universal suffrage for all members of the samurai (military) caste. For this reason, the Republic of Ezo is sometimes regarded as the first example of democratic governance in Japan.
But in the spring of 1869, imperial forces arrived. By the end of June, just 151 days into the newborn republic's existence, those forces overwhelmed it. The Japanese islands were consolidated under the Meiji Restoration, and Ezo was renamed Hokkaido [source: Hübler and Herbert].
In the 1890s Filipinos were growing increasingly sick of being ruled by faraway, despotic Spain, so they started agitating for independence. This, in turn, provoked the Spanish to suppress the nascent independence movement, and this suppression provoked a full-blown revolution.
In 1897 as Spanish troops closed in on the revolutionary leader Emilio Aguinaldo, he slipped through enemy lines with 500 men and disappeared into a wild region called Biak-na-Bato. There Aguinaldo declared the formation of the Republic of Biak-na-Bato and issued a series of proclamations, chief among them being independence from Spain.
Aguinaldo and his men had so much popular support among the Filipinos that the Spanish governor realized while he might be able to overwhelm the leader militarily, he couldn't destroy the movement itself. So he negotiated terms. In the end, Aguinaldo agreed to exile himself to Hong Kong in return for money and political concessions. The republic of Biak-na-Bato lasted 44 days [source: Aguinaldo].
By May 1898 the U.S. seized the Philippines from Spain. Aguinaldo returned, but his hopes for an independent republic were dashed. The U.S. essentially took Spain's place as a colonial power, and the Filipinos didn't win their independence until 1946 [source: History.com].
A palmetto is a type of small palm tree. Like big palm trees, palmettos grow in warm places — places like South Carolina, for instance. Back in 1860 when Abraham Lincoln was running for president, South Carolina was a committed slave-holding state that didn't like the sound of honest Abe's plans to limit slavery in the U.S. In fact, the state threatened to secede if he became president.
South Carolina made good on that promise in December 1860 in the wake of Lincoln's historic election, becoming the first state to secede from the union. The secessionists declared themselves an independent country known as the Palmetto Republic. Well, this was actually the Second Palmetto Republic. The good people of South Carolina had declared the first one nearly a hundred years earlier in 1776 during the lead-up to the Revolutionary War.
The Second Palmetto Republic didn't plan on going it alone for long. In short order it persuaded the other slave-holding states to secede as well. In February 1861, South Carolina and six other states created the Confederacy. The 2nd Palmetto Republic had endured for just two months [source: Woodworth and Winkle].
Memories of that brief nation have inspired modern-day secessionists to call for the formation of the Third Palmetto Republic. Maybe they'll manage to get a referendum going — Palmexit has a nice ring to it.
In the 1820s Brazil declared itself independent of Portugal and established the Brazilian Empire, complete with an emperor. But the spirit of independence didn't die there. In the 1830s, some gauchos in the southern end of the empire grew restless over grievances like high taxes on their salted beef products, and they started a republican resistance known as "The Ragamuffin War." Ragamuffin was a reference to the fringes on the clothes worn by the gauchos.
An Italian military leader exiled from Europe for fomenting revolution in the Old World decided to throw in his lot with these ragamuffins. Together, the Brazilian gauchos and the Italian forces had a number of military successes.
The Ragamuffins declared the Juliana Republic an independent country in July 1839, but they were overrun by imperial forces just four months later. Juliana was not to be — but Italy was. The Italian military leader who joined the Ragamuffins was none other than Giuseppe Garibaldi. In fact, it was in Brazil where the young nationalist cut his teeth before heading back to help unite Italy a decade later [source: Velho].
Founded around mid-day and dissolved before bedtime on Jan. 19, 1918, the Russian Democratic Federative Republic must hold the record for the briefest country in history. Mind you, its brevity is understandable considering the circumstances. The previous year had seen not just one but two violent revolutions shake the Russian Empire to its core.
Multiple factions from the right, left and center were fighting tooth and nail for power. In January 1918, a democratically elected Russian Constituent Assembly declared the establishment of a Russian Democratic Federative Republic. But an executive committee controlled by the Bolsheviks felt the core ideas of the new republic were too moderate and would not spark the necessary socialist reforms, at least not at the speed required by the radical left.
The executive committee promptly dissolved the nascent republic, and the chief Bolshevik himself, Vladimir Lenin, rose and delivered a two-hour address explaining how bourgeois the assembly was. Another country was in the offing, and this time it would last a little longer [source: Bunyan and Fisher]. That country, of course, was the USSR.
First of all, where are they? If you're a long-haul seabird leaving Norway and heading west on your way to Iceland, the archipelago called the Faroes would make a perfect halfway rest-stop. It seems they were probably settled by adventurers from Norway who'd spent some generations in Ireland and Scotland before setting off to broaden their horizons.
Norway ruled the Faroes for centuries but in the 1800s, Denmark gained control of the islands. The thing is, they've got their own language and culture, and they're a long way from Denmark. To be fair, they're a long way from anywhere. But that didn't stop the Danish from trying to impose the Danish language and laws on them at different points in the intervening centuries.
In 1946 the local parliament of the Faroe Islands held a referendum in which the population voted for independence. A country was born. But two days later, the Danish government dissolved the Faroe parliament and called a general election. The newly elected parliament negotiated a settlement that continued the archipelago's relationship with Denmark but awarded them greater autonomy [source: Government of the Faroe Islands].
No place has a cooler name than the African archipelago known as Zanzibar. Maybe that's why so many different groups have sought to control the islands. Actually, Zanzibar's popularity probably has more to do with its abundant spice harvest, tropical climate, superb beaches and handy trading location off the coast of present day Tanzania. But, you know, cool name, too.
Over the centuries, the Persians, Chinese, Arabs, Portuguese and British have all wielded varying degrees of influence over the islands. In 1963, the UK ceded its hold on the place to a constitutional monarchy under the sultan of Zanzibar. But in January 1964, two political parties joined forces to overthrow the sultan in what became known as the Zanzibar Revolution.
The leader of one of the parties, Abeid Karume, was appointed president of the newly formed People's Republic of Zanzibar. By the end of April, Karume had negotiated a merger with the mainland Tanganyika, forming the new country of Tanzania. The People's Republic of Zanzibar had lasted just 104 days [source: MacIntyre].
In 1798, revolution was in the air. Even in the remote fastness of rural Ireland the news had spread that the French had beheaded their king and declared a republic founded on the principles of liberty, fraternity and equality. Better yet, the American colonies had cast off the yoke of British rule in favor of government of the people, by the people and for the people.
That all sounded promising to a faction of Irish rebels known as the United Irishmen. By that time the Irish had been under the thumb of the English throne for 600 years. The United Irishmen secured the support of French military intervention, and Gen. Jean Joseph Amable Humbert showed up with the promised troops. Together the French and Irish forces won a major battle at Castlebar in County Mayo. Sounds promising, but the British viceroy of Ireland at the time? One Lord Cornwallis.
Cornwallis was still stinging from the drubbing he'd received across the Atlantic at the hands of George Washington. In fact, it was Cornwallis who surrendered to the colonial forces at Trenton, New Jersey, bringing the American War for Independence to an end. The viceroy wasn't about to endure the humiliation of losing another major colony. He hired enough mercenaries to defeat the Irish rebellion, snuffing out the Republic of Connacht just 12 days into its existence [source: World Heritage Encyclopedia].
In the 19th century as the Canadian government extended its reach westward with the establishment of the railroad and a mounted police force, indigenous groups sought to protect themselves from colonial encroachment on their land and rights. The indigenous resistance movement became known as the Northwest Rebellion, and Louis Riel was one of its main leaders. Riel was Métis, meaning his ancestry was a mixture of both French-Canadian and indigenous First Nation.
In 1885 he helped found and lead the Provisional Government of Saskatchewan on land traditionally inhabited by Métis people. After a series of battles that spring, the Provisional Government was defeated by Canadian troops. The country had been in existence for just 62 days. Riel was subsequently captured, convicted and hanged.
In the decades that followed, he was seen by many Anglophone Canadians as a traitor. By contrast, Métis, First Nation and Francophone Canadians have long viewed him as a heroic martyr. Either way, many scholars consider him to be one of the most important figures in Canadian history [source: The Canadian Encyclopedia].
The guys at Stuff They Don't Want You To Know break down some of the myths behind the Salem witch trials.
Author's Note: 10 Short-lived Countries
It seems that becoming a country isn't that hard. All you have to do is get a bunch of people together, stand up on a soap box and declare independence. Keeping your little nation going is the hard part, especially in the face of large-scale military action. Maybe the best thing is to keep your nation-hood quiet. Very quiet. The only people who need to know about your independent country are you and your fellow citizens.
More Great Links
- Aguinaldo y Famy, Don Emilio. "True Version of the Philippine Revolution." 1899. (Aug. 24, 2016) http://www.authorama.com/true-version-of-the-philippine-revolution-1.html
- Bookchin, Murray. "The Third Revolution." A&C Black. 2005. (Aug. 24, 2016) https://books.google.com/books?id=IBDCcHoPBiQC&dq=The+Third+Revolution&source=gbs_navlinks_s
- Bunyan, James and Harold Henry Fisher. "The Bolshevik Revolution, 1917-1918: Documents and Materials." Stanford University Press. 1961. (Aug. 23, 2016) https://books.google.ca/books?id=dTGsAAAAIAAJ&source=gbs_navlinks_s
- Canadian Encyclopedia. "Louis Riel." (Aug. 22, 2016) http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/louis-riel/
- Encyclopedia Britannica. "William Walker." (Aug. 22, 2016) https://www.britannica.com/biography/William-Walker
- Government of the Faroe Islands. "The Political and Legal Status of the Faroes." 2016. (Aug. 23, 2016) http://www.government.fo/foreign-relations/the-political-and-legal-status-of-the-faroe-islands/
- Hillinger, Charles. "Independent Bent: Rough and Ready Still Celebrates Its 1850 Secession." LA Times. June 13, 1990. (Aug. 24, 2016) http://articles.latimes.com/1990-06-13/news/mn-107_1_great-republic
- Hübner, Alexander Graf von and Mary Elizabeth A'Court Herbert. "A Ramble Round the World, 1871, Vol. 2." Macmillan. 1874. (Aug. 24, 2016) https://books.google.ca/books?id=P0sSAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA138&redir_esc=y - v=onepage&q&f=false
- Lezard, Nicholas. "Vanished Kingdoms: The History of Half-Forgotten Europe by Norman Davies – Review." Guardian. Oct. 9, 2012. (Aug. 18, 2016) https://www.theguardian.com/books/2012/oct/09/lezard-half-forgotten-europe-davies
- Library of Congress. "Mark Twain." (Aug. 24, 2016) http://www.loc.gov/rr/hispanic/1898/twain.html
- MacIntyre, Chris. "Revolutionary Zanzibar." Bradt Travel Guides. (Aug. 23, 2016) http://www.zanzibar-travel-guide.com/bradt_guide.asp?bradt=1608
- Martin, Kyle. "Duo wants to establish Third Palmetto Republic." The Augusta Chronicle. Sept. 10, 2010. (Aug. 23, 2016) http://chronicle.augusta.com/news/metro/2010-09-10/duo-wants-establish-third-palmetto-republic
- Poole, W. Scott. "South Carolina's Civil War: A Narrative History." Mercer University Press. 2005. (Aug. 23, 2016) https://books.google.ca/books?id=Ser4VWUBYmAC&vq=palmetto+republic&source=gbs_navlinks_s
- Robson, David. "The Countries That Don't Exist." BBC. Nov. 4, 2015. (Aug. 18, 2016) http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20151103-the-countries-that-dont-exist
- Velho, Gilberto. "The Challenge of Violence." Brazil: Dilemmas and Challenges. São Paulo: EDUSP. Pages 155-161. 2002. (Aug. 23, 2016) http://22.214.171.124:8080/iea/english/journal/39/velhoviolence.pdf
- Woodworth, Steven and Kenneth J. Winkle. "Atlas of the Civil War." Oxford University Press. 2004. (Aug. 23, 2016) https://books.google.ca/books?id=snPhwVSbbqcC&vq=second+palmetto+republi&source=gbs_navlinks_s
- World Heritage Encyclopedia. "Republic of Connacht: 1798." (Aug. 23, 2016) http://www.worldlibrary.org/articles/republic_of_connacht