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DUFFERIN AND LANSDOWNE
THE success of the great Liberal leader in stemming the Conservative Reaction, which had begun in 1874, was only temporary. No statesman can battle against his times. Never had Mr. Gladstone a more arduous and difficult duty before him than during the four years of his second administration. He had an ingrained and unalterable hatred of aggression; but the nation was bent on expansion. In Afghanistan, he had the strength to withdraw from a mischievous and wasteful expedition. In Egypt, he was forced to take action against Arabi Pasha; he halted and hesitated after the victory of Tel-el-Kebir; he was compelled in the end to occupy the country. In South Africa, Mr. Gladstone had the courage to restore independence to the Transvaal Republic; and his countrymen considered this act as a shameful humiliation. In the Soudan, he had not the decision either to withdraw at once, or to advance at once; and the fall of Khartoum and of General Gordon was condemned by his countrymen a crime.
It was plain, Mr. Gladstone was not the man for the hour. He had been a Peace-Minister all his life; he would not now turn an Imperialist. He had befriended small nations all over the world; he would not annex small States now. His soul was bent on domestic and popular reforms; the nation wanted a leader who would extend the limits of the Empire. His high character, his strong personality, and his unrivalled powers, still inspired respect and admiration; but his influence declined because the nation was bent on a different policy. When, therefore, he had carried the Third Reform Act in December 1884, his work was done. The Liberal Ministry resigned in June 1885. Twice after, Mr. Gladstone became Prime Minister with the help of the Irish vote; but he was never as popular in England after 1885 as the “People's William ” had been before 1874. He was not the man that England wanted for her new foreign policy. Lord Beaconsfield had died in 1881, and Lord Salisbury had become the Conservative Leader. When, therefore, the Conservatives came into power in 1885, Lord Salisbury became Prime Minister. And he remained in that high post until 1902, except during the brief periods when the Liberals were in power—from February to July 1886, and from 1892 to 1895. Lord Salisbury was not an Imperialist himself. He desired peace, and strove for peace. But he had the capacity to yield, and to drift with the tide, when he could not oppose it. He had ridiculed a forward policy in India, and had then yielded in 1875. He prevented a war with Russia by the limitation of the Indian frontier in 1885. He avoided a war with the United States by the Venezuela arbitration in 1895. He avoided unpleasantness with Germany by the delimitation of African possessions. And he settled amicably, and with signal success, the claims of Great Britain and France, both in Fashoda and on the Niger. All these high services will be remembered to the credit of a Prime Minister who always strove for peace. But he yielded, when he could strive no longer, in the closing years of the century. In India, the first result of this growing demand for expansion was the conquest of Upper Burma. Lord Dufferin had succeeded Lord Ripon as Viceroy of India. He was an able and accomplished statesman, possessing great tact and varied experience. He had been UnderSecretary for India from 1864 to 1866, when Lord Lawrence was Viceroy of India. His brilliant administration of Canada from 1872 to 1878 marked him out as an able administrator. He was then ambassador at St. Petersburg and at Constantinople; and he had some share in abolishing the Dual Control and establishing British administration in Egypt. In December 1884 he succeeded Lord Ripon in India, at the mature age of fifty-eight.
Complaints had been made against the King of Burma from time to time. The British Mission had been withdrawn from Ava in 1879. But the British Cabinet had advised the Indian Government to be “slow to precipitate a crisis.” Negotiations for a new treaty, which took place at Simla in 1882, came to nothing. The demarcation of the Manipur frontier by Colonel Johnstone did not receive the assent of Burma. British merchants at Rangoon held a public meeting in October 1884, and urged the annexation of Upper Burma. The sins of the King were, as usual, exaggerated to inflame the public mind. Handbills were distributed describing King Thibaw as a drunkard. The Rangoon Chamber of Commerce addressed a circular letter to various Chambers of Commerce in Great Britain, desiring them to bring pressure to bear on the British Cabinet. It was suggested that British Burma should be cut adrift from India, and formed into a Crown Colony.
In the meantime King Thibaw was endeavouring to strengthen his position by negotiations with the Powers of Europe. The Court of Ava despatched a Mission to Europe in 1883; and by April 1885 it had concluded commercial treaties with France, Germany, and Italy. The French Envoy, M. Haas, who reached Mandalay in May 1885, exerted to establish a dominating French influence in Burma. Arrangements were made for the establishment of a French bank and the construction of a French railway. Lord Salisbury took note of these negotiations. He spoke to M. Waddington, the French Ambassador in London, and brought the facts to the notice of M. Freycinet. The French Government disclaimed all knowledge of M. Haas's doings, and M. Haas was recalled. The danger was passed.
Advantage was then taken of a petty quarrel to annex the kingdom. A British Company had for years past worked the Ningyan teak forests in the kingdom of Burma. The High Court of Ava delivered judgment against the Company for having defrauded the King of revenue amounting to 673,000. The Company remonstrated, and Lord Dufferin insisted on a further inquiry. The King of Ava questioned the right of the Indian Government to raise the subject. Lord Dufferin replied by an ultimatum, demanding that King Thibaw should receive a permanent British Resident; suspend proceedings against the Company till the arrival of the Resident; regulate his external relations according to the advice of the Indian Government; and grant facilities for the development of British trade with China through Bhamo. The Burmese Government declined to discuss the Company's case with the British Government; said that a British Agent would be permitted to come and go as in former times; asserted that the friendly relations of Burma with France, Italy, and other Powers would be maintained ; and declared that British commerce with China would be assisted in conformity with the customs of the country.
Lord Dufferin considered himself justified in declaring war on receipt of this reply. A great Power does not need stronger reasons for crushing a small Power. Hostilities were commenced in November 1885; there was virtually no opposition. King Thibaw was deported to Ratnagiri on the Bombay coast; his kingdom was annexed on January 1, 1886. The annexation was virtually the conquest of a new country by Great Britain ; but the cost of the conquest, and of proceedings taken for years after to break down the armed resistance, was charged to the revenues of India. A railway has since been constructed from Mandalay towards China at the cost of the Indian tax-payer. But the hope of a brisk Chinese trade, which was so strong a reason of the annexation, has proved a myth.
Beyond the Western frontiers of India, the Russian attack on the Afghans at Penjdeh threatened for a time to disturb the peace between Great Britain and Russia. But the danger was averted; and a Boundary Commission, appointed in concert with Russia, delimited the Afghan frontier on the Oxus and towards Central Asia.
There was an increasing demand on the part of the people of India for representation, and for a larger share in the administration of their own concerns. The Indian National Congress was founded, and its first meeting was held at Bombay, in December 1885. And year after year, at Christmas time, it has given expression to the views and aspirations of the most moderate and the best educated men of India. Mr. W. C. Bonnerjee, a leading citizen of Calcutta, Mr. P. Mehta, a leading citizen of Bombay, and other eminent Indian leaders, cordially helped by Mr. A. O. Hume, ensured its success by their strength, their moderation, and their patriotic endeavours. There was at first some uneasiness among officials at this new movement; but the sober sense and the calm persistence of Indian leaders have removed all anxiety, and have made the Congress a representative institution of the educated people of India.
Lord Dufferin himself was not opposed to progress. He appreciated the Indian National Congress at its first formation; but ultimately he was misled as to its object and scope. He appointed a Public Service Commission with the object of opening some of the higher branches of the administration to the people of India; but some of the best recommendations of the Commission remained a dead letter. And he is believed to have recommended a system of election for the appointment of some members to the Legislative Councils of India,