Showing posts with label Charles Elliot. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Charles Elliot. Show all posts

08 September 2022

The Pig War

I wrote my master's thesis on one of the many adventures of Charles Elliot (1801-1875), British Royal Navy officer, diplomat, colonial administrator and, to put it bluntly, semi-secret agent.  His major adventure was the First Opium War, and there is not enough time or space to relate even half a smidgen of that.  Let's just say he instigated it, fed and watered it, seized Hong Kong (giving the British an excellent island War Room and great revenues for the next 150 years), watched (and participated) as his cousin George and the British Navy fought it, and signed the first peace treaty.  

Then he was recalled home and sent off to his next adventure, as the British charge d'affaires and consul general to the Republic of Texas from 1842-1846, which became the subject of my thesis, "The Man in the White Hat:  Charles Elliot in the Republic of Texas."  

I could also have called it "A Parcel of Rogues", because the Republic of Texas had an almost unbelievable cast of characters, beginning (of course) with Sam Houston.

In 1842, Texas had been a republic for 6 years. Samuel Houston, was in his second term as President of Texas. Houston was known for having spent years living among the Cherokees (hence his nickname "The Raven"). In 1827, he became Governor of Tennessee, but had to resign in scandal when he divorced his wife in 1829. (Even Andrew Jackson tossed him to the wolves on this one.) Houston left and went to Arkansas, to live with the Cherokee again, and eventually went to Texas territory. And the rest is kind of  history. And some legend. Probably a lot of legend. Some of it told by his own fair lips.  

One legend was told on, by or about the French charge d'affairs, the Comte de Saligny, who came to hand his credentials to the President of Texas.  He found President Houston sitting crosslegged on the floor, wrapped in a blanket, Indian style, while de Saligny was in full diplomatic gear, and probably sweating heavily. De Saligny began boasting and pointing out his medals, and when Houston had had enough, he leaped to his feet, throwing off the blanket, and stood, stark naked, pointing to his scars and screaming, "These are my medals! These are my credentials!" 

But then Houston hated de Saligny. Everyone did. Including de Saligny's own boss, French Foreign Minister Guizot.  

De Saligny lived a wildly fraudulent life.  To begin with, his real name was Jean Pierre Isidore Alphonse Dubois, and he was of bourgeois origins. He had to leave France due to involvement in a fraudulent corporation in Paris and a tendency to counterfeit money. Somehow his family managed to wangle him the job in the Republic of Texas, despite its importance. (Both Britain and France wanted to keep Texas independent, for a variety of reasons, which is why they both sent diplomats to do whatever they could.)  

Well, Dubois got to Texas, and gave himself the title of Comte de Saligny. Most of the newspaper articles and letters call him de Saligny, and some Comte, but then Texas was the kind of place where everyone went to get away from their past and start over. Look at Houston. 

Meanwhile, Dubois didn't have much use for Austin, Texas, especially after Paris: It was still in construction, with unpaved streets, wooden shanties, and not much promise of civilization on the march, especially after Paris. And one of those wooden shanties was Dubois' residence, the "hotel" of Mr. Bullock. 

Now Dubois had started over, but with the caveat that he continued to pass counterfeit money.  Including to pay his rent.  His landlord was not pleased.  This laid the basis for the infamous Pig War, which while short, lives in legend.  

Mr. Bullock had pigs. And in Texas (indeed in most of the world back then) pigs ran mostly wild, living off what they could find, because feeding pigs anything but scraps doesn't pay (this goes back all the way to the Middle Ages, and Thomas Tusser's 1573 Five Hundred Good Points of Husbandry). Mr. Bullock's pigs ran wild around the streets of Austin, not to mention the yard around Mr. Bullock's boarding house. And they ate corn that Dubois had bought (probably with more counterfeit money) for his horses. Claiming that the honor of France had been insulted when the Government of Texas, i.e., Sam Houston, refused to either back him or repay him for the corn, he refused to pay Bullock's bill. 

Dubois ordered his servant Pluyette to kill Bullock's pigs, which he did, although there's disagreement as to how many hogs died. Bullock assaulted Pluyette in the street, throwing rocks at him and threatening him with an ax, and there were skirmishes in the press. At one point Bullock was arraigned, but Dubois wouldn't let Pluyette testify, citing "The Laws of Nations".  To which Texas basically replied, "Yeah, right. Pull the other one." 

Later that night, Dubois and Bullock got into it at the door of the inn, and Bullock actually grabbed Dubois and shook him by the collar and then the arm! Dubois walked away, congratulating himself loudly & publicly on his composure, which he totally lost when he found out that the Texas Secretary of the Treasury, John Chalmers, approved what Bullock had done, and said that if Dubois had laid a hand on him, Chalmers, he'd have pulled out his gun and killed him.  

Well, shortly thereafter, Dubois decided that the greater part of valor was to flee the whole sordid mess, and he did. In the middle of the night.  To New Orleans.  Specifically, a brothel in New Orleans, which became his home away from home for a quite a while. 

NOTE: I remember sitting in my graduate student's carrel, reading my way through the French diplomatic letters of that time. All my fellow students were bored to death by their research, while I was practically howling with laughter as Guizot - from 8,332 kilometers away - wrote letter after letter cursing, hounding, pleading, ordering, and cursing some more in his desperate attempts to get Dubois to go back to Texas and get some actual foutu work done!  

Meanwhile, up in New Orleans, Dubois apparently wasn't content with les demoiselles du New Orleans, but had moved on to adultery. He was challenged by a woman's husband, but refused to duel, at which point he was hounded out of town for cowardice. All of this was why the French had no role at all in any of the stuff that happened with the Republic of Texas, leaving the field free for my guy Elliot.

BTW, years later, the French, under a misunderstanding that Dubois had actually served in and knew America and Mexico well, sent him as French ambassador to Mexico in 1860, where once again he fiddled with the money. He was recalled to France in 1863, in disgrace, and never served again as a diplomat. But he did marry a young, ultraconservative, wealthy Mexican woman and took her back to France. He bought a chateau and estate in Normandy, where he spent the rest of his life.  

But no one liked him there, either. Rumors of cruelty to wife and servants led to an interesting result.  After his death in 1888, he was buried but later the cemetery was moved from the town square to the area behind the church. Everyone's casket was moved except his. Dubois was left in his place, in the square, and every time there's a festival - to this day - the locals dance on his grave. Now THAT'S a grudge.  (Kenneth Hafertepe's A History of the French Legation in Texas.)  

As for my man Elliot?  He was beloved by both Anson Jones and Sam Houston, even though they hated each other.  Anson Jones named one of his sons Charles Elliot Jones.  Sam Houston eulogized him on the Senate floor after Texas was incorporated into the United States:

"England was represented by a gentleman whose intelligence would compare with that of any representative from any country... He was a man who sympathized with Texas, and he proposed nothing but what was for the interest of Texas... The character of that gentleman was preeminently praiseworthy and patriotic, and it would be seen that Texas appreciates him when she writes her annals. And as a statesman and diplomatist, he was entitled to all the respect and gratitude of Texas."  (Writings of Sam Houston)

Elliot went on to become Governor first of the Bermudas, then of Trinidad, as well as an Admiral.  He died at 74, and no one danced on his grave.

08 October 2015

The First Cartel

Well, probably not the first, but back in the 18th and 19th centuries, the main drug cartels were selling opium to Asia, and shipping the money home to Britain and the United States and the Netherlands. And I'm not talking about little dribs and drabs:  in the mid-1800's, the opium trade provided one-third of British colonial revenues, and those millions of pounds (trillions in today's money) were just what actually made it home to the Crown.
The East India Company was the major player in India, where the opium was grown and processed. It was a private British joint-stock venture that effectively ruled India from 1757-1858.  Raw opium was processed into the smokeable stuff for the China market (in Western Europe, people preferred drinkable laudanum) - chests weighing about 133 pounds each, which went for $1,000 dollars (about $25,000 in today's money.)  The East India Company established a trading post in Canton, China in 1699, but leased out the trading rights to the trading companies, or hongs, which took the opium from Canton and smuggled it into China (via rivers, etc.).  The major players were:

Jardine and Matheson
  • Jardine, Matheson and Company, a/k/a The Honorable Company, was founded in 1832 in Canton with the partnership of William Jardine and James Matheson, both University of Edinburgh graduates. They were always the biggest trading company, or hong, and (having diversified heavily in the 20th century) are still going strong in Asia, even though they're incorporated out of Bermuda.  (Their official website is interesting:  NOTE: Jardine-Matheson was fictionalized - and I would say cleaned up to the point of unrecognizability - by James Clavell in Tai-Pan.)  
  • Dent & Company, another British smuggler under Thomas Dent's leadership.
  • The Dutch East India Company, about which I know tragically little.  
  • And the Americans:  Russell & Company was the major player.  One of the senior officers was Warren Delano, grandfather of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.  (In case you're wondering where some of the Roosevelt money came from...)  The other officer, Samuel Russell, was filthy rich and left a Russell Trust, which (among other things) is the original source of endowment funding for the Skull & Bones Society at Yale.  
Jardine-Matheson, Dent & Company, and Russell & Company all began - unofficially - as agents of the East India Company, and then for the British government.  They also took on more "official" jobs. James Matheson was the Danish consul for years, Thomas Dent the Sardinian consul, even though neither were from either country.  And they became hugely rich.

You see, up until the early 1800s, there was a major trade imbalance with China (and you thought that was a modern phenomenon!).  There were a lot of reasons:  China wasn't particularly interested in trade, they kept the British and other merchants hemmed into specific treaty ports and didn't let them into the rest of the country, 90% of their population was too poor to buy anything, and finally, the British didn't have much that they wanted.  Except silver.  So, for 130 years, China sold the West silk, porcelain, navigation equipment, firecrackers, and above all, tea.  And since in those days trade involved either hard goods or hard cash, the British were being drained of silver at an alarming rate. And then someone got the bright idea to sell them opium.

Charles Elliot 
The fact that opium was illegal in China didn't matter.  The British smuggled it in, as much as 1,400 tons of opium a year.  And, as the opium flowed in, the silver flowed out (in 1800's dollars, $21,000,000 a year; in today's terms, multiply that by about 25,000, making it $52.5 trillion a year), destabilizing the Chinese economy, not to mention creating a huge number of hopeless drug addicts.  Eventually even the Imperial Court - locked up in the Forbidden City in distant Beijing - launched a war on drugs. The Emperor sent an imperial commissioner Lin Zexu to Canton, where he seized 2.6 million pounds of opium and burned it.  (A lot of boats sailed and held themselves downwind of that fire...)

Now the British charge d'affaires in Canton was Brian Thornton's and my favorite 19th century British agent, Captain Charles Elliot, R.N.  He basically said that that opium (despite being illegal) was the property of the British crown and the Chinese needed to reimburse the merchants.  They wouldn't, Elliot seized Hong Kong for starters, and the war was on.

There aren't too many wars which have been fought for the specific purpose of requiring the losing nation to legalize drugs.  The Opium Wars were about the only ones I can think of.  And, in terms of size and wealth disparities, it was the equivalent of the Colombian government aligning with the Colombian drug cartels to declare war on the United States in order to legalize cocaine in the 1970s. And winning.  And, getting the following results:
Sir Robert Hart
  • China had to open more treaty ports to foreigners.
  • China had to give Britain Hong Kong permanently.
  • China had to pay a $21,000,000 indemnity for all the costs of the war.  (In today's terms, $52 trillion.)
  • China had to give the British the right to set, control, and collect its own tariffs.  NOTE:  The Imperial Maritime Customs Service was manned by British officers from 1854-1950.  Yes, you read that correctly.  Look, it takes a long, long time to extort $52 trillion from any country, much less the additional revenues that Britain consistently expected. Over time, besides collecting maritime trade taxes and managing domestic customs administration, the IMCS collected maritime trade taxes, managed domestic customs administration, postal administration, harbor and waterway management, weather reporting, and published monthly Returns of Trade.  The most famous Inspector-General was Sir Robert Hart, who held the post from 1863-1911.  
  • All foreigners got the equivalent of diplomatic immunity (called extraterritoriality back then); the right to be tried only by its own consul (i.e., whichever Jardine-Matheson-Dent was there). What really stuck in the Chinese craw was that this was extended to any Chinese employees of foreigners, making them suddenly beyond Chinese law.
  • China had to allow foreigners to travel freely into the Chinese interior and live in Beijing.
  • China had to legalize opium.
  • China had to legalize Christianity.  (You may wonder why China was upset about this.  I'll talk more about that, and the one and only Karl Gutzlaff, missionary and opium trader, in another post.)
Opium Den, unromanticized by Hollywood

Imagine the United States having to submit to Colombian rule.  Or any other...  Imagine having a foreign power in charge of our taxes and tariffs for almost a hundred years.  Imagine having our country carved up into "spheres of influence", until there's hardly anything officially Chinese left. And now wonder why the Chinese have viewed, and still view, the West with suspicion.  We think we have excellent reasons to distrust China.  I'd say that if we do, it's called revenge.