Americans owe a note of thanks to King Gustavus III of Sweden. His assumption of power ended England's hope of retaining the rebellious colonies long before the troops lined up at Bunker Hill. Had Britain been able to procure an alliance with Russia (through support for Sweden), the French and Spanish would have never considered committing so much militarily to the Americans. Britain's failure to obtain a Russian alliance after the great European war weakened it to the point that it had little hope of maintaining control at home while quelling a rebellion on the other side of the Atlantic. With a few good friends in eastern Europe, Britain would have had the manpower and manifestation of European might to squash all minor foes. The colonial revolt would have ended even before the battles of Lexington and Concord were fought. Luckily, the Americans were aided in a most non-liberal way: by a limited monarch assuming absolute power.
The coup d'etat led by Gustavus III against the Swedish Diet in 1772 provided the final turning point that allowed the Americans to lead a successful revolution. Had this seemingly unimportant (in America's view) magistrate not risen to power and taken over the Swedish government, Britain would have been able to form the much needed alliances on the European continent and been able to quell the American Revolution. Fortunately, for America's sake, British ineptness had resulted in no major alliances until Gustavus III finally made it impossible.
During the 18th century, Europe was in a constant state of change. The buzzword of the day was unification. The small feudal manors and limited kingdoms gradually gave ways to large states. Land and gold were in the eyes of all the nations rulers as they tried to accumulate subjects and wealth, thereby assuring their dominance in European affairs. The large, socio-economically advanced countries roared, and the smaller neighbors quickly ran to another 'biggy' in hopes of obtain protection. In order to retain the balance of power, territorial boundaries were constantly changing, and alliances were regularly made and broken. Spain and Portugal had made an early start with their colonization endeavors. However, by the time of the American Revolution, their influence was thinning. Their vast empires stretched their resources thin, and they had failed to keep pace with the advancements of France and Spain. Meanwhile, in eastern Europe, Russia, Prussia, and Austria were all begging to make some serious noise.
During the Seven Years War, Britain, together with its allies, was able to defeat the French alliance. Britain's holdings in the Americas had increased, and its dominant role in world affairs was now assured. Unfortunately, the end of the great European war also marked an end to the Eastern Powers' need for an English alliance. Meanwhile, Britain had accumulated a nice size debt, not to mention a good amount of land and colonists to attend to. An eastern alliance would have greatly assisted England in putting down the problems it would soon encounter in the new world. Unfortunately, British diplomacy of the time, suffering both ineptitude and incompetency failed miserably.
Following the Seven Years War, Britain had sought in vain to procure a significant military alliance with Russia. Unfortunately, all they could muster was a rather small commercial treaty of 1766. In the early 1770s Russia initiated its own foreign policy maneuver. Russia had long exerted a great deal of influence in Poland. Thus it was only natural that Russia respond militarily to rebellions in southern Poland. Russia went to war against the Polish 'rebels', and eventually found its way in to the Ottoman empire. Shortly thereafter, Austria, fearing Russian domination became involved in the war. Eventually, in 1772, a peace was worked out where Austria, Prussia and Russia each got a slice of Poland to add to its empire. Russia was able to exert its power and prove its strength in eastern Europe without significant direct aid of western allies. Soon Russia was fighting the Turks again and further showed its force in the east. It became apparent that a Russian alliance with Britain would not provide much benefit for Russia. Russia had control of their part of the world, and would gain very little aiding England in their conflicts with its colonies and France.
Britain was opposed to the division of neutral Poland. However, it still joined in for a minor role in the war against the Turks. England desperately needed an Eastern alliance, and its hopes were gradually growing thinner and thinner. Lamentably, Britain was unable (or unwilling) to provide Russia with any significant advantage in signing a treaty. Furthermore, Russia's ally, Prussia, did not want anything to do with a British alliance. Already alienated with the British for ceasing (in 1762) to subsidies, and unable to see any Prussian advantage the English could provide, Prussian King Frederick opposed any British alliance. With the distaste shown by the other European powers, the Swedish back-door was the only way remaining to gain a much needed alliance.
In 1772, King Gustavus, in the name of self-preservation, saw to it that the back door was sealed shut. In a quest to gain favor with Russia, Britain had supported the Swedish Cap party. Britain had hoped to produce an alliance with Sweden, and soon thereafter with Russia. However, soon after the division of Poland, Swedish King Gustavus III feared that his country (also protected by Russia) might face a similar fate as Poland. Thus, by 1772, he had led a bloodless coup against the Diet (Sweden's parliamentary body) He then sought to strengthen his position, declaring himself an absolute monarch. With the Diet out of the picture, Britain's influence had now disappeared. Furthermore, the Russians had also become alienated by the turn of events, and now Britain's last recourse for gaining a Russian alliance had been finally eliminated.
Had Britain been able to secure an alliance with Sweden and Russia, France would have been much more reluctant to enter the war on America's behalf. Furthermore, Spain would have been an even less likely participant. (Spain's primary goal in seeking the Franco-American alliance was in hopes of regaining control of Gibraltar. With the prospects of fighting not only Britain, but also her two mainland allies, the Spanish would not have seen any personal gain in a an alliance with France and America. Furthermore, they would also fear the bad impression it would give their own colonists in the massive Spanish empire.)
A war against an allied Britain would take much longer, and would waste Spanish resources that would soon be needed for the unrest developing in their colonies. Instead, Spain would have been better served by an alliance with the British. Portugal's alliance with Britain had ended due to the peace reached between Spain and Portugal. Thus Spain stood little to lose in switching allies. Perhaps in allying themselves with Britain, the two could work together to squash rebellions in both empires. Furthermore, Spain would have greater prospects of receiving Gibraltar from a friendly England than through conflict.
With the powers Russia, England, Prussia (and possibly even Spain) aligned in Europe, the colonists would find little help in seeking diplomatic recognition. The French would still be willing to hear them; however any decisions made would be rather meaningless, as France would lack the power to enforce the decisions on the mainland. Furthermore, with the aid of Russian troops, the British would find it much easier to defeat any militant uprisings by the Americans. The Americans, with little outside support or recognition would have thought twice before engaging in warfare against the British. The independence declaration of 1776 would never have been signed.
Had Gustavus stuck with his Swedish Diet (bad pun intended), Britain may still have obtained a fragile English-Swedish-Russian relationship. Though strong enough to prevent an American the American Revolution of 1776, this alliance probably would not have lasted long. Eventually both Russians and Englishmen would tire of fighting wars in distant lands and would find it necessary to focus on their own localities. Perhaps they would become belligerent towards each other. Maybe later on, Spain, still trying to obtain Gibraltar, would join with France against Britain in a delayed version of the American Revolution.
However, had the revolution been delayed even a few years by a British-Russian alliance, the course of history would have changed drastically. With more time to watch and analyze the events in America, Britain could more carefully plan its future course of actions to appease its subjects and retain them as loyal Englishmen. The predominant liberal ideology of the enlightenment may also have changed in the course of years, possibly leading to a drastically different government should the United States proclaim independence. Had the French Revolution come about before the American Revolution, the colonists would have been much less willing to jump to a possible tyrannical state.
The American Revolution was a case of the right people with the right ideas being in the right place at the right time. Had Britain not been alone in waging the counter-revolution, the perfect alliance would not have occurred and the revolution in its present form would not have occurred. Luckily, (for America), the gurus of 18th century foreign policy were disjointed and inconsistent in their aims. They failure to align themselves with the Russians before the fall of the Swedish Diet made hope of an alliance impossible when they most needed it.
Soon after the Swedish coup, America would begin its revolution. Continuing its focus on its personal needs, Catherine of Russia would begin the League of Armed Neutrality. Russia would only do what would provide it the maximum utility. Had Britain been together with Sweden and Russia, it may have well been the League of Armed anti-Revolution anti-Democrats. (Hey LARD is too great an acronym to pass up!) America, without allies, and facing a menacing foe would never have won its revolution. If not for Gustavus' assumption of power, and the deterioration of British-Russian relations, America might remain today a British colony.