CHAPTER XVII. THE FIRST FOREIGN WAR
But great as were the concessions made by Captain Elliot, in consequence of the threatening attitude of Commissioner Lin, the Chinese were not satisfied, and made fresh and more exacting demands of those who had been weak enough to make any concession at all. They reasserted their old pretension that Europeans in China must be subject to her laws, and as the sale of opium was a penal offense they claimed the right to punish those Englishmen who had been connected with the traffic. They accordingly drew up a list of sixteen of the principal merchants, some of whom had never had anything to do with opium, and they announced their intention to arrest them and to punish them with death. Not only did Commissioner Lin and the Canton authorities claim the right to condemn and punish British subjects, but they showed in the most insolent manner that they would take away their liberty and lives on the flimsiest and falsest pretext. Captain Elliot, weak and yielding as he was on many points, declared that "this law is incompatible with safe or honorable continuance at Canton." Apparently the Chinese authorities acted on the assumption that so long as there remained even one offending European the mass of his countrymen ought to be hindered in their avocations, and consequently petty restrictions and provocations continued to be enforced. Then Captain Elliot, seeing that the situation was hopeless and that there was no sign of improvement, took the bold, or at least the pronounced, step of ordering all British subjects to leave Canton or to stay at their own peril. It was on this occasion that he explained away, or put a new interpretation on, his action with regard to the opium surrendered for destruction, which most of the merchants thought represented an irrecoverable loss. It will be best to give the precise words used in his notice of the 22d of May, 1839. "Acting on behalf of her Majesty's Government in a momentous emergency, he has, in the first place, to signify that the demand he recently made to her Majesty's subjects for the surrender of British-owned opium under their control had no special reference to the circumstances of that property; but (beyond the actual pressure of necessity) that demand was founded on the principle that these violent compulsory measures being utterly unjust per se and of general application for the enforced surrender of any other property, or of human life, or for the constraint of any unsuitable terms or concessions, it became highly necessary to vest and leave the right of exacting effectual security and full indemnity for every loss directly in the queen." Unfortunately, Captain Elliot's language at the time of the surrender of the opium had undoubtedly led to the conclusion that he sympathized with Commissioner Lin, and that he took the same view as the Chinese officials of the moral iniquity of selling or using opium. The whole mercantile community adopted Captain Elliot's counsel, and the English factory at Canton, which had existed for nearly two hundred years, was abandoned. At the same time a memorial was sent home begging the government to protect the English merchants in China against "a capricious and corrupt government," and demanding compensation for the $10,000,000 worth of opium destroyed by Commissioner Lin. Pending the reply of the home government to that appeal, nothing could be more complete than the triumph of Commissioner Lin. The Emperor Taoukwang rewarded him with the important viceroyship of the Two Kiang, the seat of which administration is at Nankin.