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Title: The English troubles in India, and our difficulties with Great Britain

Creator: Walt Whitman

Date: April 19, 1842

Publication information: New York Aurora 19 April 1842: [2].

Source: Original issue held at the Paterson Free Public Library, Paterson, NJ. Our transcription is based on a digital image of an original issue.

Whitman Archive ID: per.00414

Contributors to digital file: Jason Stacy, Lucas Reincke, Jake Byers, and Kevin McMullen




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The English troubles in India, and our difficulties with Great Britain.

It is evident to the most common observer that the English government is more humble about the difficulties in India than ministers would wish to be supposed. Heretofore they have by a mere display of force, or one or two sudden victories, completely destroyed the moral courage of the enervated natives, and ruled with a rod of iron from the Cape of Good Hope to beyond the Indies. The storming of Seringpatam and the death of Tippoo Saib half a century ago,1 left England in complete control of the greater portion of Indies; and rapidly, though in appearance gradually, has she extended her conquests over that portion of the world which Alexander the Great beheld as the bounds of his victories, and sighed for other worlds to conquer. Nor in an interested view of the matter can we blame England. India opened a vast accession to her revenue and to her manufactures, and it also gave to her the quartering of thousands of her aristocratic paupers in an honorable exile, to return home and spend their riches at a future day. Although a vast portion of India nominally acknowledged itself independent of England, in reality it was so completely under the power of that great nation, that whenever quarrels occured among the native princes, England always took sides with the party the most like to be governed by itself, and acquired in consequence complete rule. This method of conquering and breaking down the native powers, seemingly in a friendly way, has ended in giving the English complete sway over unhappy India. Powerful as that sway is, and has been, still its tenure has been uncertain; and the sudden destruction of six thousand English troops, will tend for a time to weaken the belief in British irresitibility in that country.

As some of the English journals remark, it is the most disastrous blow they have ever received in their Indian possessions. It not only weakens them materially at this time, but gives to the natives a greater belief in their own prowess.

The place where this bloody massacre occurred is Cabool2, a fortified city, situated in the cold and mountainous regions of north western India. It appears that the English, as usual, interfered with the troubles of the native rulers, and took sides with Shah Soujah3 against the energetic Dost Mohammed,4 the monarch of the victorious natives at Cabool. Mohammed Ackbar Khan,5 the son of Dost Mohammed, (whom the English kept as a hostage,) pretended to give way, but suddenly took up arms, and shut up six regiments in that city. The English laughed at such a rebellion, expecting that they would either conquer their opposers or be relieved. But the snows, combined with the attacks of the natives, prevented Colonel McLarin's brigade from reaching Cabool; and starvation and lack of ammunition soon compelled the English, in spite of their courage, to accede to terms of capitulation. That capitulation, as far as we understand it, led to an almost general massacre.

We thus have traced, in a few words, the critical state of English affairs in India. It will be utterly impossble to suppose that the Chinese will not hear of this affair overland, and they will magnify it with all the language of eastern hyperbole. Persia, upon whose borders Dost Mohammed's possessions lie, will be rather incilned to favor this trouble. Russia will not be seen in the matter, but her influence will be felt. She is decidedly opposed to all further English possessions in India, and the road to that country from Asia belongs of right to Russia.

Then does not every thing look critical for England? Will she dare to ask of other nations what in successful times she claimed as her peculiar right? No. Towards us she will now be yielding. The special messenger from Great Britain by the Great Western to Lord Ashburton,6 bears no common despatches.

We believe that England will be ready to settle difficulties with us peaceably. Sir Robert Peel7 is well aware that nothing can be gained by England in a conflict with us. On the contrary, she has, in the final result, every thing to lose. Now, our government should be firm. We should insist upon the settlement of the boundary question fairly and honorably, for the territory belongs to us. We should have indemnity for the Caroline, and negroes in the Creole. We should allow no right of search; and we should urge in the strongest terms the abolishment of the prohibitory duties upon American grain in England. We are aware that this latter suggestion belongs to the municipal regulation of individual nations; but still it can be looked at in a national point of view, and as such we should regard it. England will have to yield some day or other, and why should we give way to England? We never did—we never can. Now is the time when we should insist upon our rights. Let us do it firmly, honorably and honestly. Say to England, we wish no war, and as far as regards ourselves there shall be none; but we are united and determined as regards our rights—with you depends the answer, and GOD DEFEND THE RIGHT.

Let the government at Washington, therefore, not give way an inch—insist upon a just and true settlement of all our difficulties. Never was there a better time than the present—we ask for nothing beyond justice, and justice we will have. Say to England, look at your present situation and tremble. You are at war in China and India—your home population is riotous—engage in a war with us, and can you see the end? No—the end will be terrible, disastrous, fatal. Beware, then, of the future, and look wisely to the present. There is neither empire or man but MUST decay, and is England exempt from the general fall?


Notes:

1. The Siege at Seringapatam (1799) was the last conflict between the English East India Company and the Indian Kingdom of Mysore. The battle did not last long, as the war itself lasted less than one month, and ended with the English killing the ruler of Mysore, Tippoo Saib. The conflict was due in large part to the English fearing Tippoo Saib's attempts to make an alliance with the French. Thus, the English would lose influence and possibly their territory in India. The East India Company and the English acted quickly to stop this possible alliance from becoming reality (Edward Ingram, "The Defense of British India-III: Wellesley's Provocation of the Fourth Mysore War," Journal of Indian History: Golden Jubilee Volume [June 20, 1973]: 595-622; Ram Chandra, Rao Punganuri, Memoirs of Hyder and Tippoo: Rulers of Seringapatam, Written in the Mahratta Language [Madras, India: Simkins, 1849], 43–50). For further reading, see: Charles Hilbert, "The Fall of Seringapatam," Military Heritage 18, no. 1 (2016): 52–66. [back]

2. Cabool (Kabul) was an Afghani capital city with a population of 60,000 (circa 1831–1833). Whitman mentions the city's fortification; the city is built of sun-dried bricks and wood. Cabool was one of Afghanistan's biggest suppliers of fruits and wines from their vineyards. The British attacked the city in September 1842 in retaliation for the death of many British troops earlier in the year. The troops had been retreating from Cabool in January following a conflict over the British re-instatment of Soujah Shah during the First Anglo-Afghan War in 1839 (Alexander Burnes, Travels into Bokhara: being the account of a journey from India to Cabool, Tartary and Persia: Also, Narrative of a voyage on the Indus, from the sea to Lahore. Performed under the orders of the supreme government of India in 1831, 1832, 1833, Volumes 1-2, [Philadelphia: E.L. Carey and A. Hart, 1835], 10–35). For further reading, see: Everett Jenkings, Jr., The Muslim Diaspora: A Comprehensive Chronology of the Spread of Islam in Asia, Africa, Europe, and the Americas (Jefferon, NC: McFarland, 2000), 2: 22-25; Nathaniel A. Davis, "From Colonialism to Neo-Colonialism: Nationalism, Islam, and the Cultural Framing of Conflicts in Afghanistan." Journal Of South Asian and Middle Eastern Studies 33, no. 3 (2010): 1–21. [back]

3. Shah Soujah (alternate spelling: Shah Sojah) (1780–1842), King of Afghanistan, was dethroned by Mohammed Ackbar Khan in 1810. In the competition between Russia and Great Britain during the 1830s and 1840s, Soujah sided with the British, who returned him to his former post during the First Anglo-Afghan War (1839-1842). However, Soujah was assassinated after the British left Kabul in 1842. For further reading, see: "Shah Sojah, King of Afghanistan," Encyclopedia Britannica Online, Britannica.com, accessed September 23, 2016; Salman Bangash, "British First Adventurism in Afghanistan: (1838–1842) An Unjustified Aggression, a Fiasco, a Disaster, an Episode of Blunders and Errors," Journal of The Pakistan Historical Society 61, no. 4 (2013): 63–77. [back]

4. Dost Mohammed, or Dost Mohammed Khan, (1793–1863) was the emir of Afghanistan from 1826–1839 and returned to power after the First Ango-Afghan War in 1842 (Mohan Lal, Life of Amir Dost Mohammed Khan; of Kabul [Harlow, UK: Longman, 1846], 2: 205–265, 350–375). For further reading, see: Wendy Palace, "Afghanistan and the Great Game," Asian Affairs 33, no. 1 (2002): 4; "Dost Mohammad Kahn, Ruler of Afghanistan," Encyclopedia Britannica Online, Britannica.com, accessed September 26, 2016. [back]

5. Mohammed Ackbar Khan (1816–1845) was the son of Emir Dost Mohammed Khan and fought the British in the First Anglo-Afghan War. For further reading, see: Ludwig W. Adamec, Historical Dictionary of Afghanistan (Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2012), xxii–xxiii, 40–41. [back]

6. Lord Ashburton was the title of Alexander Baring, 1st Baron Ashburton (1835–1889). Whitman refers to what became the Webster–Ashburton Treaty, where the United States and Great Britain reached agreement on the hotly debated issue of boundary lines between the US and the British North American colonies in present-day Canada. The controversy was mainly over the borders in the Rocky Mountains and the border between Maine and New Brunswick. The dispute never became violent; however, Whitman seems to point out that Britain cannot afford this conflict with the United States to become so due to Britain's conflicts in Asia with Afghanistan and China (U.S. Government, The Public Domain: It's History, with Statistics, With References to the National Domain, Colonization, Acquirement of Territory, the Survey, Aministration and Several Methods of Sale and Disposition of the Public Domain of the United States, with Sketch of Legislative History of the Land States and Territories, and References to the Land System of the Colonies, and Also that of Several Foreign Governments [Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1881], 5–15). For further reading, see: John P. D. Dunbabin, "Red Lines on Maps' Revisited: The Role of Maps in Negotiating and Defending the 1842 Webster–Ashburton Treaty," Imago Mundi 63, no. 1 (2011): 39–61. [back]

7. Sir Robert Peel (1788–1850) was the Prime Minister of England for two nonconsecutive terms from December 1834 to April 1835 and again from 1841 to 1846. Peel was also known in the House of Commons for his legislation that allowed free trade for the British economy for over half a century. When Whitman wrote this, Sir Peel was in his second term as Prime Minister and was in conflict with India after an incident that led to the death of British civilians in Kabul. Whitman argued that the British did not want to be in conflict with the United States while also in conflict in Asian territories. Whitman brought this to light because the relations between Britain and the United States were still tense after the War of 1812, and the Britain and the US were in the middle of negotiations of borders between the northern United States and British North American colonies. These negotiations culminated in the Webster–Ashburton Treaty of 1842 (see previous note) (Henry, Lord Dalling, and Bulwer, Sir Robert Peel: An Historical Sketch [London: Richard Bentley and Son, 1874], 98–118). For further reading, see: John P. D. Dunbabin, "'Red Lines on Maps' Revisited: The Role of Maps in Negotiating and Defending the 1842 Webster–Ashburton Treaty," Imago Mundi 63, no. 1 (2011): 39–61; T. L. Fernandez, "Sir Robert Peel: Nineteenth-Century Parliamentary Orator," Quarterly Journal of Speech 52, no. 3 (1966): 249–254. [back]


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