Karl Marx in the New-York Tribune 1858

The Annexation of Oude

Source: New-York Daily Tribune, May 28, 1858;
Transcribed: by Tony Brown.

About eighteen months ago, at Canton, the British Government propounded the novel doctrine in the law of nations that a State may commit hostilities on a large scale against a Province of another State, without either declaring war or establishing a state of war against that other State. Now the same British Government, in the person of the Governor-General of India, Lord Canning, has made another forward move in its task of upsetting the existing law of nations. It has proclaimed that

“the proprietary right in the soil of the Province of Oude is confiscated to the British Government, which will dispose of that right in such manner as it may seem fitting.”

When, after the fall of Warsaw in 1831, the Russian Emperor confiscated “the proprietary right in the soil” hitherto held by numerous Polish nobles, there was one unanimous outburst of indignation in the British press and Parliament. When, after the battle of Novara, the Austrian Government did not confiscate, but merely sequestered, the estates of such Lombard noblemen as had taken an active part in the war of independence, that unanimous outburst of British indignation was repeated. And when, after the 2d December, 1851, Louis Napoleon confiscated the estates of the Orleans family, which, by the common law of France, ought to have been united to the public domain on the accession of Louis Philippe, but which had escaped that fate by a legal quibble, then British indignation knew no bounds, and The London Times declared that by this act the very foundations of social order were upset, and that civil society could no longer exist. All this honest indignation has now been practically illustrated. England, by one stroke of the pen, has confiscated not only the estates of a few noblemen, or of a royal family, but the whole length and breadth of a kingdom nearly as large as Ireland, “the inheritance of a whole people,” as Lord Ellenborough himself terms it.

But let us hear what pretexts – grounds we cannot call them – Lord Canning, in the name of the British Government, sets forth for this unheard-of proceeding: First, “The army is in possession of Lucknow.” Second, “The resistance, begun by a mutinous soldiery, has found support from the inhabitants of the city and of the province at large.” Third, “They have been guilty of a great crime, and have subjected themselves to a just retribution.” In plain English: Because the British army have got hold of Lucknow, the Government has the right to confiscate all the land in Oude which they have not yet got hold of. Because the native soldiers in British pay have mutinied, the natives of Oude, who were subjected to British rule by force, have nob. the right to rise for their national independence. In short, the people of Oude have rebelled against the legitimate authority of the British Government, and the British Government now distinctly declares that rebellion is a sufficient ground for confiscation. Leaving, therefore, out of the question all the circumlocution of Lord Canning, the whole question turns upon the point that he assumes the British rule in Oude to have been legitimately established.

Now, British rule in Oude was established in the following manner: When, in 1856, Lord Dalhousie thought the moment for action had arrived, he concentrated an army at Cawnpore which, the King of Oude was told, was to serve as a corps of observation against Nepaul. This army suddenly invaded the country, took possession of Lucknow, and took the King prisoner. He was urged to cede the country to the British, but in vain. He was then carried off to Calcutta, and the country was annexed to the territories of the East India Company. This treacherous invasion was based upon article 6 of the treaty of 180 1,a concluded by Lord Wellesley. This treaty was the natural consequence of that concluded in 1798 by Sir John Shore. According to the usual policy followed by the Anglo-Indian Government in their intercourse with native princes, this first treaty of 1798 was a treaty of offensive and defensive alliance on both sides. It secured to the East India Company a yearly subsidy of 76 lacs of rupees ($3,800,000); but by articles 12 and 13 the King was obliged to reduce the taxation of the country. As a matter of course, these two conditions, in open contradiction to each other, could not be fulfilled by the King at the same time. This result, looked for by the East India Company, gave rise to fresh complications, resulting in the treaty of 1801, by which a cession of territory had to make up for the alleged infractions of the former treaty; a cession of territory which, by the way, was at the time denounced in Parliament as a downright robbery, and would have brought Lord Wellesley before a Committee of Inquiry, but for the political influence then held by his family.

In consideration of this cession of territory, the East India Company, by article 3, undertook to defend the King’s remaining territories against all foreign and domestic enemies; and by article 6 guaranteed the possession of these territories to him and his heirs and successors forever. But this same article 6 contained also a pit-fall for the King, viz: The King engaged that he would establish such a system of administration, to be carried into effect by his own officers, as should be conducive to the prosperity of his subjects, and be calculated to secure the lives and property of the inhabitants. Now, supposing the King of Oude had broken this treaty; had not, by his government, secured the lives and property of the inhabitants (say by blowing them from the cannon’s mouth, and confiscating the whole of their lands), what remedy remained to the East India Company? The King was, by the treaty, acknowledged as an independent sovereign, a free agent, one of the contracting parties. The East India Company, on declaring the treaty broken and thereby annulled, could have but two modes of action: either by negotiation, backed by pressure, they might have come to a new arrangement, or else they might have declared war against the King. But to invade his territory without declaration of war, to take him prisoner unawares, dethrone him and annex his territory, was an infraction not only of the treaty, but of every principle of the law of nations.

That the annexation of Oude was not a sudden resolution of the British Government is proved by a curious fact. No sooner was Lord Palmerston, in 1831, Foreign Secretary, than he sent an order to the then Governor-General to annex Oude. The subordinate at that time declined to carry out the suggestion. The affair, however, came to the knowledge of the King of Oude, who availed himself of some pretext to send an embassy to London. In spite of all obstacles, the embassy succeeded in acquainting William IV., who was ignorant of the whole proceeding, with the danger which had menaced their country. The result was a violent scene between William IV. and Palmerston, ending in a strict injunction to the latter never to repeat such coups d’état on pain of instant dismissal. It is important to recollect that the actual annexation of Oude and the confiscation of all the landed property of the country took place when Palmerston was again in power. The papers relating to this first attempt at annexing Oude, in 1831, were moved for, a few weeks ago, in the House of Commons, when Mr. Baillie, Secretary of the Board of Control, declared that these papers had disappeared.

Again, in 1837, when Palmerston, for the second time, was Foreign Secretary, and Lord Auckland Governor-General of India, the King of Oude was compelled to make a fresh treaty with the East India Company. This treaty takes up article 6 of the one of 1801, because “it provides no remedy for the obligation contained in it” (to govern the country well); and it expressly provides, therefore, by article 7,

“that the King of Oude shall immediately take into consideration, in concert with the British Resident, the best means of remedying the defects in the police, and in the judicial and revenue administrations of his dominions; and that if his Majesty should neglect to attend to the advice and counsel of the British Government, and if gross and systematic oppression, anarchy and misrule should prevail within the Oude dominions, such as seriously to endanger the public tranquillity, the British Government reserves to itself the right of appointing its own officers to the management of whatsoever portions of the Oude territory, either to a small or great extent, in which such misrule shall have occurred, for so long a period as it may deem necessary; the surplus receipts in such case, after defraying all charges, to be paid into the King’s Treasury, and a true and faithful account rendered to his Majesty of the receipts and expenditure.”

By article 8, the treaty further provides:

“That in case the Governor-General of India in Council should be compelled to resort to the exercise of the authority vested in him by article 7, he will endeavor so far as possible to maintain, with such improvements as they may, admit of, the native institutions and forms of administration within the assumed territories, so as to facilitate the restoration of these territories to the Sovereign of Oude, when the proper period for such restoration shall arrive.”

This treaty professes to be concluded between the Governor-General of British India in Council, 150 on one hand, and the King of Oude on the other. It was, as such, duly ratified, by both parties, and the ratifications were duly exchanged. But when it was submitted to the Board of Directors of the East India Company, it was annulled (April 10, 1838) as an infraction of the friendly relations between the Company and the King of Oude, and an encroachment, on the part of the Governor-General, on the rights of that potentate. Palmerston had not asked the Company’s leave to conclude the treaty, and he took no notice of their annulling resolution. Nor was the King of Oude informed that the treaty had ever been canceled. This is proved by Lord Dalhousie himself (minute Jan. 5, 1856):

“It is very probable that the King, in the course of the discussions which will take place with the Resident, may refer to the treaty negotiated with his predecessor in 1837; the Resident is aware that the treaty was not continued in force, having been annulled by the Court of Directors as soon as it was received in England. The Resident is further aware that, although the King of Oude was informed at the time that certain aggravating provisions of the treaty of 1837, respecting an increased military force, would not be carried into effect, the entire. abrogation of it was never communicated to his Majesty. The effect of this reserve and want of full communication is felt to he embarrassing to-day. It is the more embarrassing that the canceled instrument was still included in a volume of treaties which was published in 1845, by the authority of Government.”

In the same minute, sec. 17, it is said:

“If the King should allude to the treaty of 1837, and should ask why, if further measures are necessary in relation to the administration of Oude, the large powers which are given to the British Government by the said treaty should not now be put in force, his Majesty must be informed that the treaty has had no existence since it was communicated to the Court of Directors, by whom it was wholly annulled. His Majesty will be reminded that the Cour t of Lucknow was informed at the time that certain articles of the treaty of 1837, by which the payment of an additional military force was imposed upon the King, were to be set aside. It must be presumed that it was not thought necessary at that time to make any communication to his Majesty regarding those articles of the treaty which were not of immediate operation, and that the subsequent communication was inadvertently neglected. “

But not only was this treaty inserted in the official collection of 1845, it was also officially adverted to as a subsisting treaty in Lord Auckland’s notification to the King of Oude, dated July 8, 1839; in Lord Hardinge’s (then Governor-General) remonstrance to the same King, of November 23, 1847, and in Col. Sleeman’s (Resident at Lucknow) communication to Lord Dalhousie himself, of the 10th December, 1851. Now, why was Lord Dalhousie so eager to deny the validity of a treaty which all his predecessors, and even his own agents, had acknowledged to be in force in their communications with the King of Oude? Solely because, by this treaty, whatever pretext the King might give for interference, that interference was limited to an assumption of government by British officers in the name of the King of Oude, who was to receive the surplus revenue. That was the very opposite of what was wanted. Nothing short of annexation would do. This denying the validity of treaties which had formed the acknowledged base of intercourse for twenty years; this seizing violently upon independent territories in open infraction even of the acknowledged treaties; this final confiscation of every acre of land in the whole country; all these treacherous and brutal modes of proceeding of the British toward the natives of India are now beginning to avenge themselves, not only in India, but in England.