An Early Human Rights Editorial


The United States Democratic Review must be one of the strangest publications in our nation's brief history. A strong proponent of Jacksonian democracy (and the ugliest aspects of Jacksonian democracy - annexation and manifest destiny), it also published work by a number of humanist and transcendental thinkers. Despite an editorial position that constitutes the worst of American jingoism, brilliant (and prescient) pieces, like the one below, snuck in.

I've referred to the original periodical, and cannot find an attribution. The logical assumption, then, would be that the editor wrote it, but its strong support of human rights, and the rights of a "lesser species", suggests otherwise. The Sepoy rebellion is a classic case of the victor writing the history - as far as the British Imperialists were concerned, it never happened. But to everyone else, the act was plain - one man killed a missionary, and the British army slaughtered 30,000 Indians and called it "civilized".

You don't need to look far to see recent incidents that mirror this. Anyway, read it and play along in the comments.

Abuses of Victory - British Morals in India (Dec. 1858, in the United States Democratic Review)

In exploring the annals of history, on almost every page is seen a record of the triumphs of one nation over another nation - of one race over another race. If this record is prepared by the victorious party, it is filled with exaggerations of the magnitude of its triumphs; teems with eulogy of the victors, and with detractions from the vanquished. If, on the contrary, the record emanates from the defeated party, a very different picture is drawn; then the pencil of the artist paints the character of the victors in deep crimson, and the pen of the historian draws black lines around their memory. In this manner successful brutality and force may be placed before the world in the light of heroism and patriotic achievement - sometimes even robed in the mantle of Christianity - while an unsuccessful effort to maintain the right, and defend the innocent, is stigmatized as barbarous and infamous; - and this is history. Prejudices as deep as these, it is feared, have controlled English writers in recording the events consequent upon the war of their country with India.

The history of that war, while it does but simple justice to the bravery of Englishmen, is a sealed book to the impartial truth of what has really been enacted in that distant country by British officers and soldiers. An occasional account of the doings of the English army in India reaches us through other sources than their own, and a recital of their deeds chlills the blood of the most cruel, as did the statements of the butchery by the infuriated Bengal Sepoys of foreigners who were in India at the commencement of hostilities.

The halo of glory that should have decked the brows of the heroic Havelock, Lawrence, Neill, and Nicholson, was dimmed by the blood of a hundred thousand defenceless natives in the subsequent conquests and brutalities by the British army. The wrath and indignation of the civilized world were justly aroused when the barbarous Sepoys waded through seas of Christian blood to secure the heads of two or three missionaries whom they regarded as their enemies; but no word of reproach is heard against the British soldiery when they form a catacomb of the corpses of thirty thousand Sepoys, whom they slaughtered in cold blood, for no other cause than that one of their number was guilty of a barbarous murder; and he had been delivered to the English for execution when demanded, but this could not appease their thirst for revenge.

Were the true history of this devastating war written, many barbarous exhibitions of this kind would be recorded to the shame of British victories in India. After conquering their degraded and imbecile foes, they assume or acquire the instincts of the blood-hound, and trail them wherever they flee, until the native soil of India is saturated with innocent blood - and this brutality the proud nation of Britain calls "civilized warfare. To use their own language, they

"Through SOFT degrees
Subdued them to the peaceful and the GOOD."

If the British historian who attempts to illustrate the humanizing and christianizing influence of the war in India, by the lines just quoted, was a mere satirist endeavoring to create in the public mind the most sickening disgust for the inhumanity and heartlessness practised by the conquerors of India, he coul d not find two lines better adapted to his purpose. "Through soft degrees" indeed - through the cannon, sword, rifle and the bayonet - they "subdued them to the peaceful and the good!"' Such hypocritical cant was never before employed by any writer claiming respectability, in discussing a subject of such solemn importance as that attached to the extinction of a nation, who, although not far advanced in civilization, were enjoying a large share of independence and contentment, until invaded by British rapacity, and by unscrupulous adventurers, who first sought their wealth, afterwards their liberty, and finally, their lives.

The writer referred to, and who penned the lines above extracted in eulogy of the British administration in India, admits that the nations, at least those inhabiting the country of the Five Rivers, were in the enjoyment, at an early period of their history, of a system of government well adapted to promote their interests as an independent people. He says, "Its form of government was a federation of chieftains, each independent of others, who met together at intervals to provide for their common safety, and furnish each his armed contingent for the public service."  Their motto was Wa Gooroojee ha Kalsa - Victory to the state of Gooroo. In their religion's creed they taught that all men were equal in the sight of God - that distinctions of caste were not a principle of faith - that differences of religion did not debar men from a common charity. Socially, they occupied a fair position,--industry and frugality were visible everywhere among them. This, in brief, seemed to be the condition of the people of India previous to being oppressed by taxes, and despoiled of their lands and their liberty by the conquering army of England, urged on by a ministry as false to its own nation as it was heartless and cruel to the inhabitants of India.

But it is not our present purpose to enter into a discussion of the merits of this war, nor would we have referred to it at this time, except for the fact that the latest advices from India seem to present a condition of moral degeneracy among the people, growing out of British influence and conquest, which is unparalleled in infamy in the the most barbarous ages.

This entry was posted on and is filed under , , . You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 . You can leave a response .

Leave a Reply

Powered by Blogger.