Posts Tagged ‘British Empire’

How To Run an Empire

Posted in General, On This Day on March 22nd, 2010 by Eugene Finerman – 4 Comments

March 22, 1765:  Parliament Passes a Perfectly Reasonable Law

From a British perspective, the Seven Years’ War might have seemed effortless: victory after victory after victory. Britain gained domination over India and conquered Canada. The few setbacks were just enough to keep James Fenimore Cooper interesting. But all those triumphs did come at a cost–quite literally. Waging a world war is expensive. Britain’s national debt nearly doubled in those seven years, from 72 million pounds to 129 million.

Nor could its new Canadian empire immediately recoup the expenses. Maple syrup was not likely to become a staple of the British diet. Compelling some British regiments to wear bearskin hats would not quickly offset the cost of taking Quebec. Furthermore, peace was no bargain either. To garrison Canada and protect the American colonies from the tribes of the original landlords, a standing army of 10,000 men would be required and at a cost of 200,000 pounds a year. The Exchequer thought “Would it be too much to expect those loyal and grateful colonists to defer some of that cost?” So, on this day in 1765, Parliament passed the Stamp Act.

The surchanges on printed material, ranging from a half-penny to a shilling, was expected to raise 70,000 pounds a year. That was one third of what Britain would spend to protect the colonists. However, the Stamp Act raised rebellion rather than revenues. No matter how legitimate the expenses, the Americans did not like having taxes imposed upon them. It was a violation of their rights or at least British etiquette: no taxation without representation. Parliament backed down and repealed the Stamp Act, but the national debt could not be easily cancelled. Since the Americans had actually started the French and Indian War, and had simply dragged Britain into it, the Crown felt justified in asking the colonists, “Would you like to pay for your damn war?” But the colonists felt free to say, “No.” Neither George III nor his Tory ministers had the tact or charm to coax the Americans into compromise. (A Whig government would have.) The pompous, badgering presumptions of the Tory government drove America to Revolution.

Ironically, while Britain was losing money and colonies in North America, it was making a fortune in India. The management of the subcontinent was completely different: greedy, amoral, ruthless and so obviously successful. Britain basically subcontracted the control of India to a corporation: the East India Company. The British company was the Halliburton of its day, a private business with a lucrative–really quite incestuous–arrangement with the Crown. When its dealings required “muscle”, the Company was free to borrow the British army or navy; but the sly, insidious approach was preferred. The Company offered its services to the various rajahs and princes of India, providing “western” efficiency–at a considerable fee–while the Indian royalty was lulled into indolence and dependence. Company officials made fortunes as military advisors and tax collectors for the Rajahs. Occasionally, the incomes were so astronomical that Parliament had inquiries; after all, partners-in-crime don’t like being cheated of their share. The Company also preoccupied the Indian populace by the hallowed strategy of “divide and conquered”, princes, sects and castes were pitted against each other. And there was the company in the middle–arbitrating, encouraging and profiting.

Unfortunately for Britain, it never thought of using a similar strategy in North America. An Englishman can’t be treated like a Wog. But in hindsight, why not? What if a West India Company had been given license to manage the American colonies? The India Company approach might have set up the Lees as the Rajahs of Virginia, and then toy with the Randolphs and the Byrds about supplanting the Lees. Maryland and New Jersey would have been advised about the aggressive policies of Pennsylvania–those Quakers aren’t as pacificist as they claim–and Pennsylvania would have to be protected against its neighbors. (And New Jersey can’t really trust those Maryland Catholics.) The Dutch and the English of New York would be at each others’ throats–with only the Company to stop the bloodshed that it had incited. With 13 colonies, the Company could create and manage 52 crises–one for every direction.

And for these indispensable services, the Colonists would gladly pay pounds in taxes to the Company; and the Crown would get its share in shillings without any of the blame. Yes, the Colonists would finally catch on; Americans might have won autonomy or independence under a mystic pacifist named Lincoln. By that time, however, American taxes would have paid off Britain’s debts for several wars, and Sir Andrew Jackson would have won the battle of Old Orleans–against Napoleon.

June 23, 1757

Posted in General, On This Day on June 24th, 2009 by Eugene Finerman – 2 Comments

The Seven Years War could more accurately be called the Nine Years War; les Canadiens and His Majesty’s Virginia Militia were fighting for control of the Ohio Valley some two years before they had the formal permission of Paris and London.  In addition to its disputable length, the conflict could really be called the First World War.  While it might be a rebuff to our North American ego, our front was minor.  In fact, the French were reconciled to losing l’Amerique on the battlefield.  The French colonists in North America were outnumbered 20 to 1 by the British, and with Britain’s mastery of the sea, there was no hope of sending reinforcements to the embattled Canadiens.   Nonetheless, the French had a strategy.

The British navy did not control the Rhine, and so a hundred thousand French soldiers were ordered to march into Germany and seize Hanover from the British royal family.   Then, at the eventual peace negotiations, the French would exchange Hanover for the return of Canada.  Unfortunately for this French strategy, Hanover was protected by the nephew of George II, and he happened to be a military genius.  The man really was entitled to be called Frederick the Great.   Of course, the Prussian King was facing French generals who were chosen by their ability to flatter Madame de Pompadour.

Nonetheless, there was a third front–where the natives really were Indians–and the French had overwhelming odds in their favor.  Suraj ud Daulah, the Nawab (Viceroy) of Bengal, was not a genuine Francophile; he was not drinking his chai from Limoges teacups and none of his wives were wearing the latest from Paris.  Yet, he did have one trait that endeared him to France:  he hated the English.  Although the chosen successor of his grandfather, Suraj did have envious cousins (Well, who doesn’t?)  and there were inevitable conspiracies and attempted rebellions.  The East India Company, British imperialism’s corporate front on the subcontinent, had supported a losing claimant to Bengali rule, and the victorious Suraj was a vindictive winner. 

Within two months of ascending to the Bengali throne, the 23 year-old Suraj attacked the British fort at Calcutta.  According to folklore and British propaganda, on June 20, 1756 146 British prisoners were placed in a cell, 14 feet by 18 feet.  The next morning, only 23 prisoners were still alive.  This prototype and inspiration for airline seating is remembered as “The Black Hole of Calcutta”. 

The British navy was ever at the service of its corporate friend, and Calcutta was soon back in the portfolio of the East India Company.  But a chastened Suraj was still an enemy, and the Company was resolved to be rid of him.  As befits an empire, the Company had its own army.  Led by Robert Clive, a force of 3000 men–1000 Britons and 2000 native troops–marched into Bengal with the goal of overthrowing the Nawab.  Suraj probably did not feel too threatened; he had 50,000 men as well as fifty cannons from his new French friends. 

On June 23, 1757, Suraj’s army surrounded Clive’s meager force at a mangrove swamp near the village of Plassey.  Ironically, Clive had to be constrained by his war council from attacking.  Such confidence was not simply British arrogance; the Company had taken the precaution of bribing most of the commanders in Suraj’s army.   Of the 50,000 soldiers Suraj thought he had, 45,000 actually were just spectators.  The Nawab definitely had a personnel problem.  His own uncle already had been hired by the Company as the next Nawab. 

Suraj had to be quite disconcerted to see most of his army ignoring him.  Although his loyal troops still outnumbered Clive’s force, the Nawab now had more to fear from his generals.  With the enemy before him and traitors around him, Suraj decided to retreat; at least, he tried.  He did succeed in escaping the rout, but nine days later he was captured by soldiers of the new Nawab.  I think that you can imagine the nature of Suraj’s retirement package: abrupt.

For all the royal trappings, the new Nawab really was just an employee of the East India Company.  In return for British support, he had ceded the control of Bengal to the Company.  When he was just an ambitious courtier, he had not minded promising to pay 2.5 million Sterling to his British sponsor; but when he was an alleged sovereign, he rather resented the looting of the Bengal treasury.  Ingratitude is a bad attitude in an employee; the Company replaced him after three years, hiring his son-in-law instead.  But he turned out to be capable and conscientious, so he had to be fired, too.

Out of a British sense of protocol and pageantry, Bengal would continue to have Nawabs for another century; but there was no question as to who really ruled.  And Bengal was only the first province.  The rest of India would soon be part of the Company.

p.s.  For more on this topic:  http://finermanworks.com/your_rda_of_irony/2009/01/22/etiquette-and-empire/

http://finermanworks.com/your_rda_of_irony/2008/03/22/how-to-run-an-empire/

Khedives, Sultans and Kings–How to be an Executive in Egypt

Posted in On This Day on December 20th, 2008 by Eugene Finerman – 5 Comments

December 19th

Let’s offer a belated congratulations to Hussein Kamil on becoming Sultan of Egypt on this day in 1914. The promotion must have been a surprise to the 61 year old prince, an innocuous fellow who made no enemies or impressions. Of course, that is exactly what the British wanted in a regal stooge. Egypt was an unique political entity that demanded a well-mannered if contorted form of imperialism.

In theory and diplomatic protocol, Egypt was a province of the Ottoman Empire; however, for a century Egypt actually had been an independent monarchy. A Turkish-appointed governor named Mohammed Ali (1769-1849) decided that he really liked ruling Egypt and had no intention of leaving. Ruthless and efficient (he knew exactly the right people to assassinate), a fine soldier and excellent administrator, he proved invincible and forced Constantinople to grant him hereditary rule of Egypt. Yes, he and his descendants would acknowledge the nominal sovereignty of the Ottoman Empire; they assumed the title of Khedive–viceroy–as if they were only assistants to the Sultan. But their ties to the Empire were tenuous and whimsical; they would be loyal Turkish subjects if and when they felt like it. (South Carolina wanted a similar status with the United States.)

Unfortunately, the Khedives were not so adept at protecting the country from the British. Whatever Machiavellian brilliance the dynasty’s founder possessed, it did not extend to the third generation. The reigning grandson Ismail (1830-1895) had excellent intentions and some good ideas–such as the Suez Canal–but his efforts created more debts than progress. In 1875, to alleviate his financial straits, the Khedive sold the Suez Canal to the British government. Of course, as it turned out, he received much more than several million Pounds sterling; he also got the unsolicited but adamant British assistance in governing Egypt. The British felt that safeguarding the Canal required a protective buffer: the entire surrounding nation. In fact, the British called their imposition a “protectorate.” Neither the Turks nor the Egyptians seemed especially appreciative, but did they have any say in the matter?

Actually, there was a native uprising and the Khedive found himself in the middle of it. The Egyptian nationalists condemned Ismail as a traitor, while the British despised him as a weakling. He was no help to them in suppressing the rebellion. (Was it too much to expect Ismail to be an eager toady?) Looking for a more cooperative figurehead, the British ousted Ismail in 1879, sending him off to a comfortable retirement and appointing his son Tewfik as their Khedive. Tewfik (1852-1892) proved suitably pliant and even earned a certain esteem from the British; they thought of him as more European than Egyptian. He was a very Victorian Moslem, making do with just one wife.

But Victorian parents tended to produce Edwardian children, and the next Khedive was an affront to British propriety and the security of the Empire. Khedive Abbas (1874-1944) was all of 18 when he succeeded his father, and he wanted to rule rather than reign. There was a young Kaiser in Germany with both the same intention and a similar resentment of the British Empire. Wilhelm had an admirer–and a potential ally–in Cairo. Abbas was not exactly subtle; he was described as “the wicked little Khedive” and there were thoughts of ousting him. But unless he he declared open rebellion and invited the German army to Alexandria, but the British chose to ignore him…until 1914.

Abbas declared his support for the Central Powers. Of course, he was prudent enough to relocate to Constantinople before he denounced Britain. The British responded by anointing a new sovereign of Egypt: Hussain Kamil, the uncle of the now unemployed Abbas. (No doubt, he expected the Germans and Turks to win, and then restore him to the Egyptian throne. He would live his last 30 years in exile.) Furthermore, Hussain (1853-1917) would be no mere Khedive. The British promoted him to a Sultan. In effect, Britain had just fired the Ottoman ruler, too. The war between Britain and the Ottoman Empire simplified the status of Egypt. With a British fleet in Alexandria and a British army along the Suez, there was no further need to pretend that Egypt was a Turkish province. As a Sultan, Hussein was the equal in rank to the imperial figurehead in Constantinople. (In real power, Hussain had less authority than a British sergeant.)

And like God or Allah, what the British Empire gives, it can also take away. Once the Great War had ended, the idea of an Egyptian Sultanate became awkward. Now that the British fleet was anchored off Constantinople, the British wanted to preserve the Turkish Sultan as their figurehead in the Balkans and Asia Minor. To maintain the luster of the Turkish title, you couldn’t have a competing Egyptian Sultan. So, in 1922 the British demoted their regal stooge Fuad (1868-1936) to being the mere King of Egypt.

The Egyptian Sultanate had lasted six years. Ironically, the Ottoman Sultanate collapsed in 1923, but the Egyptian royal family did not attempt to regain the more prestigious title. Being King was good enough, and the dynasty lasted until 1952 when–finally without British protection–the entire family was sent off to a comfortable exile. They have been losing millions at Monte Carlo for years.

How to Run an Empire

Posted in General, On This Day on March 22nd, 2008 by Eugene Finerman – 1 Comment

March 22, 1765:  Parliament Passes a Perfectly Reasonable Law

From a British perspective, the Seven Years’ War might have seemed effortless: victory after victory after victory. Britain gained domination over India and conquered Canada. The few setbacks were just enough to keep James Fenimore Cooper interesting. But all those triumphs did come at a cost–quite literally. Waging a world war is expensive. Britain’s national debt nearly doubled in those seven years, from 72 million pounds to 129 million.

Nor could its new Canadian empire immediately recoup the expenses. Maple syrup was not likely to become a staple of the British diet. Compelling some British regiments to wear bearskin hats would not quickly offset the cost of taking Quebec. Furthermore, peace was no bargain either. To garrison Canada and protect the American colonies from the tribes of the original landlords, a standing army of 10,000 men would be required and at a cost of 200,000 pounds a year. The Exchequer thought “Would it be too much to expect those loyal and grateful colonists to defer some of that cost?” So, on this day in 1765, Parliament passed the Stamp Act.

The surchanges on printed material, ranging from a half-penny to a shilling, was expected to raise 70,000 pounds a year. That was one third of what Britain would spend to protect the colonists. However, the Stamp Act raised rebellion rather than revenues. No matter how legitimate the expenses, the Americans did not like having taxes imposed upon them. It was a violation of their rights or at least British etiquette: no taxation without representation. Parliament backed down and repealed the Stamp Act, but the national debt could not be easily cancelled. Since the Americans had actually started the French and Indian War, and had simply dragged Britain into it, the Crown felt justified in asking the colonists, “Would you like to pay for your damn war?” But the colonists felt free to say, “No.” Neither George III nor his Tory ministers had the tact or charm to coax the Americans into compromise. (A Whig government would have.) The pompous, badgering presumptions of the Tory government drove America to Revolution.

Ironically, while Britain was losing money and colonies in North America, it was making a fortune in India. The management of the subcontinent was completely different: greedy, amoral, ruthless and so obviously successful. Britain basically subcontracted the control of India to a corporation: the East India Company. The British company was the Halliburton of its day, a private business with a lucrative–really quite incestuous–arrangement with the Crown. When its dealings required “muscle”, the Company was free to borrow the British army or navy; but the sly, insidious approach was preferred. The Company offered its services to the various rajahs and princes of India, providing “western” efficiency–at a considerable fee–while the Indian royalty was lulled into indolence and dependence. Company officials made fortunes as military advisors and tax collectors for the Rajahs. Occasionally, the incomes were so astronomical that Parliament had inquiries; after all, partners-in-crime don’t like being cheated of their share. The Company also preoccupied the Indian populace by the hallowed strategy of “divide and conquered”, princes, sects and castes were pitted against each other. And there was the company in the middle–arbitrating, encouraging and profiting.

Unfortunately for Britain, it never thought of using a similar strategy in North America. An Englishman can’t be treated like a Wog. But in hindsight, why not? What if a West India Company had been given license to manage the American colonies? The India Company approach might have set up the Lees as the Rajahs of Virginia, and then toy with the Randolphs and the Byrds about supplanting the Lees. Maryland and New Jersey would have been advised about the aggressive policies of Pennsylvania–those Quakers aren’t as pacifist as they claim–and Pennsylvania would have to be protected against its neighbors. (And New Jersey can’t really trust those Maryland Catholics.) The Dutch and the English of New York would be at each others’ throats–with only the Company to stop the bloodshed that it had incited. With 13 colonies, the Company could create and manage 52 crises–one for every direction.

And for these indispensable services, the Colonists would gladly pay pounds in taxes to the Company; and the Crown would get its share in shillings without any of the blame. Yes, the Colonists would finally catch on; Americans might have won autonomy or independence under a mystic pacifist named Lincoln. By that time, however, American taxes would have paid off Britain’s debts for several wars, and Sir Andrew Jackson would have won the battle of Old Orleans–against Napoleon.