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Chapter LV, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 7 page 3


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The American Minister, Mr. Everett, in reply to a memorial to the President from the holders of American stocks, wrote a letter explaining the position of the repudiating States, and expressing sympathy with the sufferers. He protested against the doctrine that a State which had pledged its faith and resources could release itself from the obligation, however burdensome, in any way but that of honourable payment. Those States which had failed to make provisions for the interests due on their bonds, had done so under the pressure of adverse circumstances, "and not with the purpose of giving legislative sanction to a doctrine so pernicious, unworthy and immoral." But he believed that the number was exceedingly small of those who in any form advanced the idea of what has been called repudiation. They had involved themselves most unadvisedly in engagements which would be onerous to larger and richer communities, and they yet possessed, under an almost hopeless present embarrassment, the undoubted means of eventual recovery. For example, the State of Illinois had undertaken the construction of a ship canal, one hundred miles in length, to unite the waters of Lake Michigan with the Illinois river, and afterwards commenced the execution of 1,300 miles of railway, for which purpose it borrowed £2,000,000 sterling, though the population of the State was less than half a million, only equal to a second-rate English county. The state, indeed, was larger than England and Wales, and it possessed immense resources, being connected by the Mississippi with the Gulf of Mexico, and by Lake Michigan with the St. Lawrence, besides several navigable rivers. It was situated about the centre of a field of bituminous coal as large as Great Britain. Such a state, it was manifest, could not long bear the stigma of repudiation. The States themselves had suffered enormously by loss of credit, insomuch that the general government could not negotiate a trifling loan in this great metropolis of the commercial world. In addition to the public embarrassments, private fortunes, almost without number, had been destroyed in the general wreck. " I doubt," says Mr. Everett, "if, in the history of the world, in so short a period, such a transition has been made from a high state of prosperity to one of general distress, as in the United States within the last six years. And yet, gentlemen, the elasticity and power of recovery in the country are great beyond the conception of those who do not know it from personal observation. Even within this disastrous period to which I have alluded, a private commercial debt to this country, estimated at £25,000,000, has been paid by the American merchants, with as little loss to the creditor as would attend the collection of an equal amount of domestic debt in this or any other country."

Mr. Everett confessed that the reproach which repudiation had brought on the American name was the only circumstance that prevented a residence in the land of his fathers from being to him a source of unmingled satisfaction. He was not the only American statesman that burned with indignation at the conduct of the repudiating governments. Mr. Webster, at a meeting in New York, referred to Pennsylvania, the richest state on the face of the earth, excepting England, and he asked what could be the debt of a state like Pennsylvania, that she should not be able to pay it? The debt of Pennsylvania, the debt of Illinois, the debt of any state in the Union did not amount to a sixpence in comparison "with the national debt of England. " Now, gentlemen," said Mr. Webster, " I belong to Massachusetts; but if I belonged to a deeply indebted state, I'd work these ten fingers to their stumps - I'd hold the plough, I'd drive the plough - I'd do both before it should be said of the state to which I belong that she did not pay her debts. That's the true principle let us act upon it. Let us go with it to its full extent. If it costs us our comforts, let us sacrifice our comforts; if it costs us our farms, let us mortgage our farms. But don't let it be said by the proud capitalists of England, You don't pay your debts,' you Republican governments don't pay your debts.' Let us say to them, 'We will pay them. We will pay them to the uttermost farthing. Ï wish to breathe the breath of an independent man. A citizen of a proud and honoured country, I abhor the idea that my daily happiness is to be marred by the consciousness that anything disgraceful hangs on the country or any part of it. Let it never be said among the nations of Europe that the United States of America, the nation that had its birth in the glorious scenes of "76 - the country of Washington, the example and great type of all modern republics - cannot, or will not pay its debts." These sentiments were received with long continued and deafening applause by the audience.

The war in Afghanistan was alluded to in the Royal speech, at the opening of the session of 1846, in terms of congratulation at the complete success that had attended the recent military operations in that country, owing to the high ability with which they had been directed, as well as the constancy and valour of the European and native forces, which had established, by decisive victories on the scenes of former disasters, the superiority of Her Majesty's arms, and had effected the liberation of the British subjects that had been held in captivity. This, therefore, is the proper time to relate briefly the incidents of that war, some of which were full of romantic interest. About the year 1837 the attention of the British Government m India was attracted by the conduct of certain supposed agents of Russia, in the countries tc the west of the Indus. In order to counteract their designs, it was thought desirable to establish an alliance with the rulers of Afghanistan. With this view overtures were made to Dost Mahomed Khan, then chief of Cabul. These having failed, the British Government sought to establish a friendly power in Afghanistan, by aiding the exiled prince, Shah Sujah, in another attempt to regain his throne. The chief of Cabul had an army of 14,000 men, including 6,000 cavalry, with 40 field-pieces. His brothers held Candahar and the surrounding country, with a military force of 4,000 men and 50 guns. The British force assembled to support the claims of his opponent amounted to 28,000 men, aided by a contingent force of 6,000 Sikhs, furnished by the ruler of the Punjaub, and about 5,000 troops raised by the Shah's eldest son. This combined force was called " the army of the Indus." Under the chief command of Sir John Keane, it advanced to the town of Dadar, and thence to Candahar, which was occupied without opposition, and there, on the 8th of May, 1839, Shah Sujah was solemnly enthroned. After this the march was resumed towards Cabul. The fortress of Ghiznee, believed by the Afghans to be impregnable, was blown up and taken by storm. The invadinging army reached Cabul, and on the 7th of August the restored sovereign made his public entry into his capital. Having thus accomplished its mission, the army of the Indus returned home, leaving behind a detachment of 8,000 men. For two years Shah Sujah and his allies remained in possession of Cabul and Candahar, Dost Mahomed having surrendered himself prisoner. But the attempts to reduce the other chiefs to subjection were unsuccessful. They had been gathering their forces and maturing their plans till the 2nd of November, 1841, when a terrible outbreak occurred in Cabul. Sir Alexander Burnes and several other British officers were massacred. In a conference between Sir William Macnaghten and Akbar Khan, son of Dost Mahomed, the British representatives and a number of officers were treacherously murdered. In January following, in pursuance of a convention, the British evacuated Afghanistan. In the course of their winter march, over an elevated and bleak tract of country, the miserable remnant of the British army, destitute and dispirited, were exposed to continual attacks from the pursuing enemy. Out of 4,500 soldiers, with a host of camp-followers, only one European, Dr. Brydon, succeeded in reaching Jelalabad. Ghiznee was surrendered to the enemy by the British garrison, but General Nott kept possession of Candahar, and General Sale maintained his position at Jelalabad. To avenge these disasters, and rescue the prisoners who had fallen into the hands of the enemy, preparations on a large scale were made in India. An army of 12,000 men assembled in the Punjaub, under General Pollock.

An unfortunate collision with the tribes of Ghilzyes formed a painful episode in the Afghan war. The Cabul Pass is a long defile, through which the road runs from Cabul to Jelalabad, and which it was therefore necessary to keep open for the purpose of safe intercourse between Cabul and British India. The Indian Government thought that the most desirable mode of effecting this object was to pay the Ghilzye chiefs a yearly sum from the Cabul treasury, in order that our troops might not be molested. But, owing to some neglect or mismanagement, the money was not paid; the chiefs, therefore, felt that the British had been guilty of a deliberate breach of faith. They were exasperated, assumed a hostile attitude, and cut off all communication with British India. It therefore became necessary to force the Pass, for which purpose Major-General Sir Robert Sale was sent by General Elphinstone from Cabul, with a brigade of light infantry. On the 12th of October they entered the Pass, near the middle of which the e^iemy were found posted behind precipitate ridges of the mountains on either side, from which they opened a well-directed fire. General Sale was hit with a ball above the ankle, and compelled to retire and give the command to Colonel Dennis. The pass was gallantly cleared, but with severe fighting and heavy loss. After this was accomplished the force had still to fight its way through a difficult country, occupied by an active enemy, for eighteen days. All the commanding points of the hills were in possession of the Ghilzyes, where they were protected by breastworks; and though they had been from time to time outflanked and routed, when the march was resumed, and the cumbrous train of baggage filed over the mountains, the enemy again appeared from beyond the most distant ridges, renewing the contest with increased numbers and the most savage fury. Since leaving Cabul our troops had been kept constantly on the alert by attacks night and day. Their positions had been secured only by unremitting labour, throwing up entrenchments, and very severe outpost duty. The enemy were eminently skilful at the species of warfare to which their attempts had been confined, armed with weapons which enabled them to annoy the invaders from a distance at which they could be reached only by our artillery. The brigade reached Jelalabad on the 12th of November.

The force left behind to keep possession of Cabul and guard the protege of the Indian Government, was so situated as to tempt the aggression of a treacherous enemy. Sir William Macnaghten, the British Minister, and his suite, resided in the "Mission Compound," which was badly defended, and commanded by a number of small forts, while the commissariat stores were placed in an old fort, detached from the cantonment, and in such a state as to be wholly indefensible. A conspiracy had been formed by the friends of Akbar Khan, son of the deposed sovereign, Dost Mahomed, who forged a document, and had it circulated amongst the principal men of Cabul, to the effect that it was the design of the British envoy to send them all to London, and that the king had issued an order to put the infidels all to death. The insurrection commenced by an attack on the dwellings of Sir Alexander Burnes and Captain Johnson, who resided in the city. Sir Alexander addressed the party from the gallery of his house, thinking that it was a mere riot. The insurgents, however, broke in, killed him with his brother, Lieutenant Burnes, and Lieutenant Broadfoot, and set the house on fire. The Afghans then surrounded the cantonments, and poured in a constant fire upon them from every position they could occupy. They quickly seized the ill-defended commissariat stores, upon which the existence of the British depended. The garrison bravely defended itself with such prêcarious supplies as could be had from the country; but at length these supplies were exhausted. Winter set in, snow fell, and there was nothing before them but the prospect of starvation. They therefore listened to overtures for negotiation, and the British envoy was compelled to consent to the following humiliating terms: - That the British should evacuate the whole of Afghanistan, including Candahar, Ghiznee, and Jelalabad; that they should be permitted to return unmolested to India, and have supplies granted to them on their road thither; that means of transport should be furnished to the troops; that Dost Mahomed Khan, his family, and every Afghan then detained within our territories should be allowed to return to their own country; that Shah Sujah and his family should receive from the Afghan Government one lac of rupees per annum; that all prisoners should be released; that a general amnesty should bo proclaimed; and that no British force should ever be sent into Afghanistan without being invited by the Afghan Government. These terms having been agreed to, the chiefs took with them Captain Trevor as a hostage; but nothing was done to carry the agreement into effect, and it soon became evident that the object was to starve out the garrison, and compel them to surrender unconditionally. At length, on the 22nd of December, they sent two persons into the cantonment, who made a proposal in the name of Akbar Khan, that the Shah should continue king, that Akbar should become his prime minister, and that one of the principal chiefs should be delivered up to the British as a prisoner. This was a mere trap, into which Sir William Macnaghten unfortunately fell with fatal credulity. On the 23rd of December the envoy, attended by Captains Lawrence, Trevor, and M'Kenzie, left the " Mission Compound," to hold a conference with Akbar Khan in the plain towards Serah Sung. Crowds of armed Afghans hovering near soon excited suspicions of treachery. Captain Lawrence begged that the armed men might be ordered off; but Akbar Khan exclaimed, " No, they are all in the secret." At that instant Sir William and the three officers were seized from behind and disarmed. Sir W. Macnaghten was last seen on the ground struggling violently with Akbar Khan, consternation and terror depicted on his countenance. "His look of wondering horror, " says Mr. Kaye, " will never be forgotten by those who saw it, to their dying day. The only words he was heard to utter were, ' Ag barae Rhoda P (For God's sake!) They were, perhaps, the last words spoken by one of the bravest gentlemen that ever fell a sacrifice to his erring faith in others. He had struggled from the first manfully against his doom, and now these last manful struggles cost the poor chief his life. Exasperated beyond all control by the resistance of his victim, whom he designed only to seize, Akbar Khan drew a pistol from his girdle - one of those pistols for the gift of which, only a little while before, he had profusely thanked the envoy - and shot Macnaghten through the body. Whatever may be the judgment of posterity on other phases of his character, and other incidents of his career, the historian will ever dwell with pride upon the unfailing courage and constancy of the man who, with everything to discourage and depress him, surrounded by all enervating influences, was ever eager to counsel the nobler and the manlier course, ever ready to bear the burdens of responsibility, and face the assaults of danger. There was but one civilian at Cabul, and he was the truest soldier in the camp. He was an accomplished Oriental scholar, a good judicial officer, an apt secretary, and a kind-hearted man; but it is denied that, in any enlarged acceptation of the word, he is entitled to be called a statesman." The other three officers were placed on horses, each behind a Ghilzye chief, who galloped off with them to a fort in the neighbourhood. Captain Trevor fell off his horse and was instantly murdered. The others were assailed with knives by the infuriated Afghans, and barely escaped to the fort with their lives. Meantime the head of the British Minister was cut off and paraded through the streets, while the bleeding and mangled trunk was exposed to the insults of the populace in the principal bazaar.

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Pictures for Chapter LV, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 7 page 3

Daniel Webster
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Sir Robert Sale
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