Category Archives: democracy

Cecil Rhodes as Master Persuader, 1890

From Diamonds, Gold, and War: The British, the Boers, and the Making of South Africa, by Martin Meredith (PublicAffairs, 2008), Kindle pp. 247-249:

In 1890, at the age of thirty-seven, Rhodes reached a pinnacle of wealth and power. As prime minister of the Cape Colony, he had command of an effective administration and the support of the Afrikaner Bond, the only organised political party in the country. As chairman of De Beers, he controlled a virtual monopoly of both diamond production and markets. As managing director of the British South Africa Company, he was empowered to act with ‘absolute discretion’ over a vast stretch of the African interior and allowed a private army – the British South Africa Police – to enforce his plans.

It was a dazzling feat of empire-building that won him many admirers. Rhodes regarded his achievements as evidence of his own unique genius. But, like other empire-builders, his success had depended on the work and talent of many key figures. His early business career had been held together by Charles Rudd; indeed, their partnership for several years was commonly known as Rudd and Rhodes, in that order. The mastermind behind the amalgamation of the diamond mines in Kimberley was not Rhodes but the self-effacing Alfred Beit – ‘Little Alfred’ – to whom he invariably turned for solutions. His drive to the north was facilitated by Hercules Robinson, a Cape imperialist who shared similar aims; it was Robinson’s decisiveness that led to the Moffat Treaty, incorporating Matabeleland within Britain’s sphere of interest. His triumph in winning the support of the British establishment for a chartered company was due as much to the work of Gifford and Cawston in London as to Rhodes’ own efforts. Finally, he managed to obtain a royal charter for his company only because it suited the interests of Lord Salisbury; preoccupied with the need to keep Britain ahead in the Scramble for Africa among European powers, Salisbury saw a means to extend British influence on the cheap, at no cost to the public exchequer.

In harnessing allies to his cause, Rhodes displayed remarkable powers of persuasion. But what was equally influential was the power of his money. Many hitched themselves to Rhodes’ band-wagon lured by the prospect of making their own fortunes. When he encountered resistance or scepticism, Rhodes was adept at providing incentives, bribes, share options, directorships and other positions, convinced that every man had his price. Politicians, journalists and churchmen in Britain and in southern Africa, even those with distinguished records, had few qualms about signing up as paid supporters for Rhodes’ cause. The Anglican Bishop of Bloemfontein, Dr Knight-Bruce, once so outspoken in his condemnation of Rhodes, was soon silenced by being offered the post of first Bishop of Mashonaland. Earl Grey, the paladin of his generation, was similarly converted, reasoning to himself that he might be able to do more good from within the British South Africa Company than by remaining an outside critic.

In his memoirs, the Cape lawyer James Rose Innes gave a graphic description of Rhodes at work, infecting the body politic, as he put it:

He offered to members of parliament, and other prominent persons the opportunity of subscribing at par for parcels of chartered shares then standing at a considerable premium. It was delicately put; the idea was to interest the selected recipients in northern development. Of course the recipient paid for his shares, but equally of course they were worth far more than he paid. In effect it was a valuable gift, which could not, one would think, be accepted without some impairment of independence. Yet there were acceptances in unexpected quarters.

Rose Innes was one of the few who declined Rhodes’ offer.

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Rise of Boer Nationalism

From Diamonds, Gold, and War: The British, the Boers, and the Making of South Africa, by Martin Meredith (PublicAffairs, 2008), Kindle pp. 81-82:

Meanwhile the wave of anger over Britain’s annexation of the Transvaal spread further afield to the Boer communities of the Orange Free State and the Cape Colony, stimulating old grievances. In the Free State there was lingering resentment over the way the British had intervened in 1868 to annex Basutoland in response to Moshoeshoe’s plea for help, just as it was about to be overrun by their own commandos; there had been further outrage when the British snatched the diamond fields of Griqualand from its grasp in 1871. The Free State now found itself surrounded by British-run territories, imperilling its own independence. Members of the Volksraad spoke up in favour of returning the Transvaal to Boer rule.

In the Cape, it gave a huge boost to a nascent cultural and political movement led by Boer intellectuals calling themselves Afrikaners. In Paarl, a small market town thirty-five miles from Cape Town, a Dutch Reformed Church minister, Stephanus du Toit, joined several associates in 1875 to found a society named Die Genootskap Van Regte Afrikaners – the Fellowship of True Afrikaners – dedicated to promoting the use of Afrikaans, a colloquial language commonly used in Boer farming communities throughout southern Africa. It had diverged from Dutch over the years, changing vowel sounds, adopting simplified syntax and incorporating loan words from languages that were spoken by slaves in the Cape in the seventeenth century – Malay, Portuguese creole and Khoikhoi. It was the language used between masters and servants and amongst the poorer sections of the Boer community. Upper and middle-class Boers, particularly those living in the western Cape, spoke ‘High Dutch’, the language of the church and the Bible, and regarded the Zuid-Afrikaansche taal with disdain, dismissing it as Hotnotstaal, a ‘Hottentot’ language, or a kombuistaal – a kitchen language. They also used English to a considerable extent, the only official language of the Colony and thus the language of commerce, law, administration and – increasingly – culture.

What Du Toit and his colleagues feared and resented most was the growing cultural domination of the British colonial regime, aided and abetted by Boers themselves. In a lecture given in 1876, the chief justice, Sir Henry de Villiers, described Afrikaans as being ‘poor in the number of its words, weak in its inflections, wanting in accuracy of meaning and incapable of expressing ideas connected with the higher spheres of thought’. The energy of colonists, he said, would be far better spent in appropriating English, ‘that rich and glorious language’, that ultimately would become ‘the language of South Africa’. Du Toit argued that a mother tongue was a person’s most precious possession: ‘The language of a nation expresses the character of that nation. Deprive a nation of the vehicle of its thoughts and you deprive it of the wisdom of its ancestors.’ He wanted to develop Afrikaans as a landstaal – a national language.

To spell out this message, in 1876 Du Toit launched Di Afrikaanse Patriot, the first newspaper to use an early form of Afrikaans. The following year he was the main author of a history entitled Die Geskiedenis van Ons Land in die Taal van Ons Volk – The History of Our Land in the Language of Our People. It was the first book to treat all Afrikaners, dispersed as they were among British colonies and independent republics, as a distinct people, occupying a distinct fatherland; and it linked them to a common destiny endowed by God: to rule over southern Africa and civilise its heathen inhabitants.

The book marked the beginning of a new historiography that would eventually take hold of Afrikanerdom, portraying Afrikaners as a valiant nation wrongfully oppressed by decades of British rule.

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Path to War in Biafra, 1966-67

From The Outsider: My Life in Intrigue, by Frederick Forsyth (Penguin, 2015), Kindle pp. 163-165:

After August 1966, relations between the pretty traumatized Ibos of the east and the federal government in Lagos deteriorated. In London the mandarins of the Commonwealth Office and later the Foreign Office quickly showed a passionate favoritism toward the federal regime, stoked by the resident high commissioner. British governments do not habitually show such adoration of military dictatorships, but this was an exception that stunned even Jim Parker.

Sir David Hunt quite liked Africans, so long as they showed him respectful deference. Colonel Gowon apparently did. When the high commissioner entered his office at Dodan Barracks, he would leap to his feet, slap on his cap, and throw up a quivering salute. Just once, as the crisis became deeper and deeper, David Hunt came east to visit Ojukwu in Enugu, and quickly developed a passionate loathing for the Ibo leader.

Emeka Ojukwu did indeed rise as his visitor entered the room, but in the manner of one welcoming a guest to his country home. He did not throw up a salute. It quickly became plain he was the sort of African, meaning black man, that the former Greek don Hunt could not stand. Emeka was a British public schoolboy, an MA of Oxford, once a first-class wing three-quarter for the college rugby team, and almost a Blue, an award earned for competition at the highest level. His voice was a relaxed drawl. He showed no deference. Jim Parker, who told me this, was standing a few feet away. Hunt and Ojukwu detested each other on sight, something that was made clear in my London briefing.

Early in his time as governor of the Eastern Region, Ojukwu tried, against all the prevailing wisdom elsewhere, to reinstitute a form of democracy. He formed three bodies to advise him; one was the Constituent Assembly, mainly the professional class, doctors, lawyers, graduates. Second was the Council of Chiefs and Elders, vital in an African society, where age and experience at clan level are revered. Third, surprising to Western eyes, was the Market Mammies Association.

Jim Parker explained to me that Ibo society is almost a matriarchy. In contrast to women in the north, Ibo women are hugely important and influential. The market was the core of every village and city zone. The mammies ran them and knew everything there was to know about the mood on the streets. These were the forces urging Ojukwu to pull eastern Nigeria out of the federal republic.

The public mood was not aggression but fear. Radio broadcasts out of the north threatened that the Hausa were preparing to come south and “finish the job.” Most Ibos believed these threats, the more so as neither federal nor northern government would close them down.

But the real secession point was eventually compensation. Ojukwu had about 1.8 million refugees, all penniless. They had fled, leaving everything behind. At the one single meeting that might have saved the day, at Aburi, in Ghana, Gowon had conceded a withholding of federal oil taxes as an income stream to cope with the crisis. After Aburi, Gowon returned to Lagos and, under pressure, reneged on the lot.

British official sources in Lagos and London briefed the British media that Ojukwu had been grossly unfair to Gowon. He had turned up fully briefed and was simply smarter. That sort of behavior, journalists were told, was obviously unacceptable. After that, the path slid downhill to May 30 and formal secession, and on July 6 to war.

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From Reuters to the BBC, 1965

From The Outsider: My Life in Intrigue, by Frederick Forsyth (Penguin, 2015), Kindle pp. 143-145:

Reuters simply sent me back to Paris to rejoin Harold King, and it was in a silent Paris café in the early spring of 1965 that I watched on a TV screen the state funeral of Winston Churchill.

There must have been a hundred or more around me, all Parisians and not world-famous for their admiration of things British, but they sat in awed silence as the bronze coffin of the old Bulldog was taken to its final resting place in a country churchyard.

I had already made my decision that the future of foreign-sourced news journalism was in radio and television, and that meant the BBC. I got a transfer back to London in April, applied for a job with the BBC, attended the necessary interviews, was accepted, and joined as a staff reporter on the domestic news side that October. As it turned out, that was probably a mistake.

I learned quite quickly that the BBC is not primarily a creator of entertainment, or a reporter and disseminator of hard news like Reuters. Those come second. Primarily the BBC is a vast bureaucracy with the three disadvantages of a bureaucracy. These are a slothlike inertia, an obsession with rank over merit, and a matching obsession with conformism.

Being vast and multitasked, the BBC was divided into more than a score of major divisions, of which only one was the News and Current Affairs Division, which I had joined. That in turn was divided into radio and TV, then Home and Foreign. All starters began in Home Radio, which was to say Broadcasting House on Portland Place, London.

But there was more. It was also and remains at the very core of the Establishment. The calling of a true news and current affairs organization is to hold the Establishment of any country to account, but never to join it.

Then it got worse. The upper echelons of the bureaucracy preferred a devoted servility to the polity of the ruling government, provided it was Labor, and it was.

The icing on the cake was that back then the leadership of the BBC was in turmoil, which prevailed during most of my time there. The former chairman of the Board of Governors had died in office. His deputy, Sir Robert Lusty, presumed the succession to be his. But Labor prime minister Harold Wilson had other ideas. He wanted an even tamer national broadcaster.

Rather than confirming Sir Robert, Wilson transferred his friend and admirer Sir Charles Hill, almost immediately to become Lord Hill, across from the top of BBC’s fierce rival Independent TV to chair the BBC board. There was chaos.

Sir Robert Lusty resigned. Several lifelong veterans went with him. The powerful post of director general was held by a former giant of journalism, Sir Hugh Carleton Greene, brother of novelist Graham Greene, who had set up North German Radio after 1945 to teach the old principles of rigor, integrity, and impartiality. He was the last journalist to head the BBC, and thus to protect the News and Current Affairs Division.

The best German news organization for years was the one he left behind him, but twenty years later in London, he was being sabotaged, and eventually he, too, quit in disgust.

As with any ship, when there is chaos on the bridge, vices were adopted belowdecks. Talentless little empire builders proliferated, using all the Machiavellian tricks of office politics instead of a dedication to the business of news. But at the time this was far above my pay grade and seemed of small interest. Only later did I learn about office politics, just as they effectively destroyed me.

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Navy Seabee KIA in Athens, TN, 1944

From The Fighting Bunch, by Chris DeRose (St. Martin’s, 2020), Kindle pp. 140-142:

Earl Ford, a navy Seabee, was happy to be home after sixteen months. It was his first night of leave and he wanted a drink and to hear some music. He and Luke Miller, another sailor, went to the Halfway Court, two miles out of Athens on the Sweetwater Road. Ford asked to use the telephone, which was in plain view. They told him they didn’t have one. Ford got up to leave. His friend went with him.

Deputy Minus Wilburn thought they looked like easy marks. Servicemen always had money. He’d arrest them and pocket a nice fee. He deputized George Spurling and Clyde Davis, notorious criminals both, as officers of the law in order to assist him in making an arrest. They caught up with the sailors in the parking lot.

Spurling clubbed Ford repeatedly over the head. Ford, stumbling, backed up, his hands raised in surrender. “Don’t move or I’ll blow you in two,” said Spurling. Ford didn’t move. Spurling shot him in the chest from ten feet away. Ford staggered, struggling to stand, trying to comprehend what was happening to him. Earl Ford fell to the ground, where he was left for twenty minutes. Ford was pronounced dead at Foree Hospital.

Sheriff Mansfield defended the shooting to the newspaper: Wilburn “undertook to subdue a bunch of disorderly sailors and others, and deputized Spurling and others on the scene to help him.” Mansfield claimed that they had pulled Ford off Spurling’s back and that Ford had charged Spurling with a knife. Why hadn’t anyone else seen the knife?

Wilburn claimed the knife was found under Ford’s body. He did not explain how a knife, held out in front of a man, could wind up behind and under him when he was shot. W. O. Swindler, a cattleman from South Carolina, was traveling through town with his son and didn’t know anyone involved. They were the first to come to Ford’s aid. Neither saw any weapons anywhere near the body. A doctor who came outside the Halfway Court and attempted to save Ford’s life saw no weapon. In fact, Ford was wearing a sailor’s uniform with no pockets, and had nowhere to conceal a knife. Two witnesses told a reporter that Ford “never did offer threat or resistance to Spurling.”

Ford’s funeral attracted “one of the largest crowds ever to assemble in Decatur.” His epitaph reads: “Killed in the service of his country in Athens, Tennessee.” Ford’s family pushed for Spurling’s prosecution. Trial was scheduled for October. Luke Miller, who had been blackjacked by Wilburn, was still in the hospital and couldn’t testify. The sheriff’s office told the newspaper that he’d be arrested for resisting arrest upon his release—an unsubtle threat to keep him off the witness stand.

The machine controlled law enforcement. They controlled the courts. They controlled elections. If they could murder an active-duty sailor in the middle of World War II and get away with it, then they could kill anyone. And who was going to stop them?

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Athens, TN, Voting Procedures, 1940

From The Fighting Bunch, by Chris DeRose (St. Martin’s, 2020), Kindle pp. 39-41:

The main attraction in downtown Athens in July 1940 was a model voting machine, purchased by the county court and on display so that people could gain familiarity before Election Day. A representative from American Voting Machines of Jamestown, New York, was on hand to answer questions.

A voter would walk up to the machine and pull a lever that closed a curtain around them. Next to every candidate’s name was a little lever. The voter would switch the lever next to the name of their preferred candidates. When they had voted for every office, they pulled a lever on the side of the machine, which recorded their votes, reset the levers, and opened the curtain. The running tally was recorded on a counter behind a locked panel. At the end of the day, the panel would be opened, and the results displayed for everyone to see. The voting machines weighed around eight hundred pounds and were not easily stuffed or swapped.

The county court had the legal discretion on whether to use voting machines. Nevertheless, John Cate and Reuel Webb, the Democratic members of the election commission, made public statements that the machines would not be used. The Republican candidates filed suit on July 11. The hearing before Chancery Judge T. L. Stewart included extensive testimony about “voting robots” and how they worked. Stewart ordered the election commission to use the machines.

Absentee voting was another matter of dispute. State law permitted voters who would be gone from the county on Election Day to mail their ballot. Strict rules governed the process: the election commission was required to write down the name of everyone requesting a ballot, in ink, on a publicly posted list; all absentee ballots had to be received by registered mail; the envelope containing the ballot had to be preserved; the date it arrived had to be recorded next to the name of the requester; and a certificate for each vote had to be delivered to the official in charge of that voter’s precinct. The election commission ignored every one of these laws.

Without these safeguards, commissioners could create as many absentee ballots as they wanted and place them in ballot boxes, in the names of real people, dead people, and fictitious people. Ralph Duggan, the Republican member of the election commission, sued his colleagues to force them to follow the law.

Duggan, thirty-one, was the son of the previous sheriff, Davy Crockett Duggan. He had gone to law school at the University of Georgia, where he had roomed with Herman Talmadge, son of the state’s governor and himself a future governor and senator. Unlike Talmadge, a fiery segregationist, Duggan was gentle, polite, and believed the laws should apply equally to everyone. Duggan returned home in 1936 and opened his own practice. The tall, lanky lawyer had a reputation for honesty and integrity even among his political adversaries.

The trial court sided with Duggan, holding that the Democratic election commissioners had to comply with absentee ballot rules. Duggan was surprised shortly thereafter to find Chief Deputy Pat Mansfield at his house. Mansfield, the physically imposing former railroad man, had an order from the Tennessee Supreme Court, overturning the decision of the trial court. He wanted to deliver it personally. The supreme court gave no explanation.

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Tennessee’s Boss Crump, 1930s

From The Fighting Bunch, by Chris DeRose (St. Martin’s, 2020), Kindle pp. 47-49:

Athens, Tennessee, is closer to Dayton, Ohio, than it is to Memphis. Memphis, for its part, is closer to St. Louis than Athens—with a hundred miles to spare.

Edward Hull Crump lived in Memphis. He had grown up poor, the son of a Confederate cavalry captain who had died young. He sold peaches at train stations, did backbreaking work on farms, and clawed his way to a low-level bookkeeping job in a small town. This led to a similar job with a Memphis saddlery company. Six years later he bought the saddlery and married into a prominent family. Crump won an upset race for city council, pledging to take on graft and corruption. He was elected to the Board of Fire and Police Commissioners and demanded a midnight closing time for saloons. In a wildly popular stunt, he deputized twenty officers and took them on three raids, to prove to the police and public that the law was enforceable. Crump ran for mayor on the same good government platform and won by seventy-nine votes.

It seemed as though Crump would be good to his word. The police force was professionalized. Two officers were fired for getting drunk and “attempt[ing] to shoot each other and fight bears at the zoo.”

In truth, Crump had discreetly legalized gambling for establishments that kicked back 40 percent of their revenue. A newspaper observed that Sunday closing laws for bars weren’t enforced, and saloonkeepers had taken a sudden interest in politics, registering voters and getting them to the polls. Crump earned supporters in a number of ways: fixing a traffic ticket, getting someone a city job, filling a pothole, or upgrading a school. Every city employee was expected to work on campaigns. The business community went along or faced negative consequences, such as No Parking signs in front of their stores or visits from city code inspectors. Crump once placed a police phalanx in front of a man’s business, searching every potential customer. Cowed by the corruption of Memphis, the owner moved to Chicago.

Tennessee permitted “ouster lawsuits” against public officials for dereliction of duty. If a judge agreed, the public official would be removed from office. The district attorney general went after Crump for his nonenforcement of alcohol laws. It was impossible for him to defend himself—everyone in Memphis knew it was true. Crump was saved by timing: the Tennessee Supreme Court ruled that he was ousted as mayor from his previous term, which was about to expire. His new term would begin in a matter of days. And he could not be ousted from the term he had yet to begin. Crump’s opponents announced there would be a new lawsuit immediately after his inauguration. Crump took the oath of office in secret, resigned his position, and convinced the city commission to replace him with his handpicked successor. Crump learned that it didn’t matter what title the boss held, or if he held any at all.

With Memphis under his thumb, Crump set his sights on Shelby County, electing a full slate of officers, including a write-in candidate for sheriff who won despite widespread illiteracy among voters. From this power base Crump set his sights on the rest of Tennessee. Shelby County had the most voters, and by delivering them nearly as a bloc Crump could pick the winner of the Democratic primary statewide. A Democratic nominee was as good as elected.

Crump supported Hill McAlister for governor in 1932. McAlister, who had lost twice before, carried Shelby County by more than three to one, handing him the nomination. One defeated candidate sent volunteers to inspect Shelby’s election books. They were arrested.

Crump identified friendly legislative candidates and made sure they had the money to win. One thousand dollars could tip an election in “a rural anti-Crump county,” while a “bigger county might cost $2,500.” If Crump had plenty of any one thing, it was money, and the craps tables and roadhouses of Memphis paid for election victories all across the state.

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Gorbachev’s Visit and Krenz’s Coup

From Checkpoint Charlie: The Cold War, The Berlin Wall, and the Most Dangerous Place On Earth by Iain MacGregor (Scribner, 2019), Kindle (pp. 235-237:

When First Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev arrived on October 7 [1989] to participate in the East German regime’s fortieth anniversary celebrations, Susie Corbett was in East Berlin on a regular shopping trip. “As far as I could see from touring the center of town in my car,” she recalled, “it seemed the whole place was enjoying a fête, with red Soviet flags dressing up the main thoroughfares and government buildings and the population seemingly keen to celebrate, too. Nothing seemed any different to my previous visits.” After a massive military parade, the Soviet leader’s pronouncements to the media in a public walkabout (unheard of by any Eastern Bloc leader until then) shocked Honecker and those closest to him in the SED hierarchy—Gorbachev announcing to the cameras, “A party that lags behind the times will harvest bitter fruit.” This was a clear and honest appraisal of the pressure the country was under from internal protests and his knowledge of the perilous financial state of the GDR. The planned torch-lit parade that evening, which would praise the creation of the GDR, the rule of the SED, and of course the leadership of Erich Honecker, turned into a farcical spectacle. Gorbachev looked on incredulously, standing alongside the grimacing East German leader, as they watched supposed loyal party activists shout to the Soviet general secretary, “Gorbi, Gorbi—help us!”

For the ailing Honecker, this was a disaster, which had quickly followed a fiery meeting, with the German and Russian men clashing verbally in private and in a meeting of the East German politburo, Honecker deriding Gorbachev’s reformist policies compared to what he believed were the GDR’s economic success. The Soviet leader had audibly hissed his derision at the old East German, with Honecker’s excuses met by deafening silence around the politburo table.

Robert Corbett received a request from Britain’s ambassador to West Germany, Sir Christopher Mallaby, to discuss the situation. Televised coverage of an October 16 march in Leipzig had been aired on West German TV following secret video recordings that were smuggled out of the GDR. Now the world could see hundreds of thousands of East Germans demonstrating, instead of just the hundreds who were trickling into the West German embassy compound in Prague seeking asylum. It was a far bigger story.

A general atmosphere of unease gripped Berlin, reinforced when the sudden news came through that Erich Honecker had been forced to step down. The younger generation within the East German politburo, led by his deputy Egon Krenz, had taken Gorbachev’s visit and his official rebuke on the need for the regime to change as a signal to make a grab for power. Krenz had long been seen as the heir apparent and had risen through the SED ranks to become secretary of the central committee. Crucially, he oversaw security for the country and was able to persuade the head of the Ministry of State Security, Erich Mielke, to support his bid to oust the ailing leader. The week after this bloodless coup, more than 350,000 people took to the streets of Leipzig for a second mass rally. Secret dossiers had been prepared for the new leader that outlined what kind of state he was now inheriting from the man he had unceremoniously ousted. The GDR was in effect bankrupt and surviving on enormous loans from the Federal Republic just to keep going in the short term. Debt was piling on top of debt to the international markets. Was the game up? Ambassador Mallaby and his fellow ambassadors of the USA and France were deeply concerned and this was reflected in the by now constant updating of plans by the three Western Allied Commandants and their staffs.

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The Francis v. Hastings Duel, 1780

From The Anarchy: The East India Company, Corporate Violence, and the Pillage of an Empire, by William Dalrymple (Bloomsbury, 2019), Kindle pp. 293-296:

On 14 August, Hastings wrote a public minute in which he denounced Francis as a liar and braggard: … The following day, on 15 August 1780, Philip Francis challenged Warren Hastings to a duel.

The two duellists, accompanied by their seconds, met at 5.30 on the morning of 17 August at a clump of trees on the western edge of Belvedere, a former summer house of Mir Jafar, which had since been bought by Warren Hastings.

Hastings had hardly slept. He spent much of the night composing a farewell letter to his beloved wife Marian, to be delivered in the event of his death. … Hastings then slept fitfully on a couch until 4 a.m. when his second, Colonel Thomas Deane Pearse, came to collect him in his carriage. ‘We arrived at Belvedere exactly at the time proposed, at 5.30,’ wrote Hastings afterwards, ‘and found Mr F[rancis] and Col Watson walking in the road. Some time was consumed looking for a private place. Our seconds proposed we should stand at a measured distance which both (taking a recent example in England) fixed at 14 paces, and Col Watson paced and marked 7. I stood to the southwards. There was, as I recollect, no wind. Our seconds (Col Watson I think) proposed that no advantage should be taken, but each choose his own time to fire.’

It was at this point that it became clear, as Pearse noted, ‘that both gentlemen were unacquainted with the modes usually observed on these occasions’; indeed, neither of the two most powerful British intellectuals in Bengal seemed entirely clear how to operate their pistols. Francis said he had never fired one in his life, and Hastings said he could only remember doing so once. So both had to have their weapons loaded for them by their seconds who, being military men, knew how to operate firearms.

Hastings, ever the gentleman, decided to let Francis fire first. Francis took aim and squeezed the trigger. The hammer snapped, but the pistol misfired. Again, Francis’s second had to intervene, putting fresh priming in the pistol and chapping the flints. ‘We returned to our stations,’ wrote Hastings. ‘I still proposed to receive the first fire, but Mr F twice aimed, and twice withdrew his pistol.’ Finally, Francis again ‘drew his trigger,’ wrote Pearse, ‘but his powder being damp, the pistol again did not fire. Mr Hastings came down from his present, to give Mr Francis time to rectify his priming, and this was done out of a cartridge with which I supplied him finding they had no spare powder. Again the gentlemen took their stands and both presented together.’

‘I now judged that I might seriously take my aim at him,’ wrote Hastings. ‘I did so and when I thought I had fixed the true direction, I fired.’ His pistol went off at the same time, and so near the same instant that I am not certain which was first, but believe mine was, and that his followed in the instant. He staggered immediately, his face expressed a sensation of being struck, and his limbs shortly but gradually went under him, and he fell saying, but not loudly, ‘I am dead.’

I ran to him, shocked at the information, and I can safely say without any immediate sensation of joy for my own success. The Seconds also ran to his assistance. I saw his coat pierced on the right side, and feared the ball had passed through him; but he sat up without much difficulty several times and once attempted with our help to stand, but his limbs failed him, and he sank to the ground. …

But there was no need for Hastings to be arrested. The doctor later reported that Hastings’ musket ball ‘pierced the right side of Mr Francis, but was prevented by a rib, which turned the ball, from entering the thorax. It went obliquely upwards, passed the backbone without injuring it, and was extracted about an inch to the left side of it. The wound is of no consequence and he is in no danger.’

Francis later instigated the impeachment of Warren Hastings in the British Parliament, a huge media event with many false charges between 1788 and 1795. Hastings was eventually acquitted overwhelmingly.

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Aurangzeb’s Mughal Legacy, 1707

From The Anarchy: The East India Company, Corporate Violence, and the Pillage of an Empire, by William Dalrymple (Bloomsbury, 2019), Kindle pp. 62-63, 82-83:

It was the death of Aurangzeb in 1707 that changed everything for the Company.

The Emperor, unloved by his father, grew up into a bitter and bigoted Islamic puritan, as intolerant as he was grimly dogmatic. He was a ruthlessly talented general and a brilliantly calculating strategist, but entirely lacked the winning charm of his predecessors. His rule became increasingly harsh, repressive and unpopular as he grew older. He made a clean break with the liberal and inclusive policies towards the Hindu majority of his subjects pioneered by his great-grandfather Akbar, and instead allowed the ulama to impose far stricter interpretations of Sharia law. Wine was banned, as was hashish, and the Emperor ended his personal patronage of musicians. He also ended Hindu customs adopted by the Mughals such as appearing daily to his subjects at the jharoka palace window in the centre of the royal apartments in the Red Fort. Around a dozen Hindu temples across the country were destroyed, and in 1672 he issued an order recalling all endowed land given to Hindus and reserved all future land grants for Muslims. In 1679 the Emperor reimposed the jizya tax on all non-Muslims that had been abolished by Akbar; he also executed Teg Bahadur, the ninth of the gurus of the Sikhs.

While it is true that Aurangzeb is a more complex and pragmatic figure than some of his critics allow, the religious wounds Aurangzeb opened in India have never entirely healed, and at the time they tore the country in two. Unable to trust anyone, Aurangzeb marched to and fro across the Empire, viciously putting down successive rebellions by his subjects. The Empire had been built on a pragmatic tolerance and an alliance with the Hindus, especially with the warrior Rajputs, who formed the core of the Mughal war machine. The pressure put on that alliance and the Emperor’s retreat into bigotry helped to shatter the Mughal state and, on Aurangzeb’s death, it finally lost them the backbone of their army.

But it was Aurangzeb’s reckless expansion of the Empire into the Deccan, largely fought against the Shia Muslim states of Bijapur and Golconda, that did most to exhaust and overstretch the resources of the Empire. It also unleashed against the Mughals a new enemy that was as formidable as it was unexpected. Maratha peasants and landholders had once served in the armies of the Bijapur and Golconda. In the 1680s, after the Mughals conquered these two states, Maratha guerrilla raiders under the leadership of Shivaji Bhonsle, a charismatic Maratha Hindu warlord, began launching attacks against the Mughal armies occupying the Deccan. As one disapproving Mughal chronicler noted, ‘most of the men in the Maratha army are unendowed with illustrious birth, and husbandmen, carpenters and shopkeepers abound among their soldiery’. They were largely armed peasants; but they knew the country and they knew how to fight.

From the sparse uplands of the western Deccan, Shivaji led a prolonged and increasingly widespread peasant rebellion against the Mughals and their tax collectors. The Maratha light cavalry, armed with spears, were remarkable for their extreme mobility and the ability to make sorties far behind Mughal lines. They could cover fifty miles in a day because the cavalrymen carried neither baggage nor provisions and instead lived off the country: Shivaji’s maxim was ‘no plunder, no pay’.

But what appeared to be the end of an era in Delhi looked quite different in other parts of India, as a century of imperial centralisation gave way to a revival of regional identities and regional governance. Decline and disruption in the heartlands of Hindustan after 1707 was matched by growth and relative prosperity in the Mughal peripheries. Pune and the Maratha hills, flush with loot and overflowing tax revenues, entered their golden age. The Rohilla Afghans, the Sikhs of the Punjab and the Jats of Deeg and Bharatpur all began to carve independent states out of the cadaver of the Mughal Empire, and to assume the mantle of kingship and governance.

For Jaipur, Jodhpur, Udaipur and the other Rajput courts, this was also an age of empowerment and resurgence as they resumed their independence and, free from the tax burdens inherent in bowing to Mughal overlordship, began using their spare revenues to add opulent new palaces to their magnificent forts. In Avadh, the baroque palaces of Faizabad rose to rival those built by the Nizam in Hyderabad to the south. All these cities emerged as centres of literary, artistic and cultural patronage, so blossoming into places of remarkable cultural efflorescence.

Meanwhile, Benares emerged as a major centre of finance and commerce as well as a unique centre of religion, education and pilgrimage. In Bengal, Nadia was the centre of Sanskrit learning and a sophisticated centre for regional architectural and Hindustani musical excellence.

To the south, in Tanjore, a little later, Carnatic music would begin to receive enlightened patronage from the Maratha court that had seized control of that ancient centre of Tamil culture. At the other end of the subcontinent, the Punjab hill states of the Himalayan foothills entered a period of astonishing creativity as small remote mountain kingdoms suddenly blossomed with artists, many of whom had been trained with metropolitan skills in the now-diminished Mughal ateliers, each family of painters competing with and inspiring each other in a manner comparable to the rival city states of Renaissance Italy.

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