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A History of the Nineteenth Century, Year by Year

Hwuy Wang's attempt signally failed


Death of Taouk Wang]

[Sidenote: Hien Fong, Emperor]

[Sidenote: The Taiping rebellion]

[Sidenote: Chinese emigration]

Beyond the immediate shores of England the course of events kept the British Colonial Office fully occupied. In Canada, a movement arose for the annexation of British America to the United States. Earl Grey, the Colonial Secretary, took occasion to warn all Canadians against this movement as an act of high treason. In India, the Afghans succeeded in reconquering Balkh. The fifth Kaffir war broke out in South Africa. The affairs of China gave fresh concern. On February 24, Emperor Taouk Wang died in his sixty-ninth year. The thirty years during which he reigned were among the most eventful, and in some respects the most portentous, for China. His strenuous opposition to the evils of the opium trade mark him as a wise, if not a powerful, ruler. He never wasted the public moneys of China on his own person, and his expenditures in behalf of the court and mere pomp were less than that of most of his predecessors. One of Taouk Wang's last acts showed how his mind and his health had been affected by the recent misfortunes of the empire. It appeared that the Chinese New Year's Day--February 12, 1850--was marked by an eclipse of the sun. Such an event being considered inauspicious in China, the Emperor decreed that the new year should

begin on the previous day. The decree was utterly disregarded, and the Chinese year began at the appointed time. Taouk Wang's end was hastened by the outbreak of a great fire in Pekin, which threatened the imperial city with destruction. On February 25, a grand council was held in the Emperor's bedchamber, and Taouk Wang wrote in his bed an edict proclaiming his fourth son, Yihchoo, ruler of the empire. Prince Yihchoo, who was less than twenty years old, took the name of Hien Fong, which means great abundance, and immediately upon his accession drew to his aid his four younger brothers, a new departure in Manchu rule. Their uncle, Hwuy Wang, who had made one attempt to seize the throne from his brother Taouk Wang, once more put forward his pretensions. After the imperial Ministers, Kiaying and Muchangah, had been degraded, Hwuy Wang's attempt signally failed, but his life was spared. Later in the year, as a result partly of poor harvests, the great Taiping rebellion began. The great secret society of the Triads started the movement by raising an outcry in southern China against the Manchus. Their leader, Hung Tsiuen, a Hakka or Romany, proclaimed himself as Tien Wang, which means the head of the Prince. Under the cloud of the impending upheaval, Chinese coolies in great numbers began to emigrate to the United States. At the same time the bitter feeling against foreigners was intensified by an encounter of the British steamship "Media" with a fleet of piratical Chinese junks. Thirteen of the junks were destroyed.

[Sidenote: California an American issue]

[Sidenote: Fugitive slave bill]

In California, where most of the Chinese immigrants landed, this movement was scarcely considered in the heat of the discussion whether California should be admitted into the Union as a pro-slavery or anti-slavery State. In the American Senate, Henry Clay introduced a bill for a compromise of the controversy on slavery. His proposal favored the admission of California as a free State. On March 7, Daniel Webster delivered a memorable speech in which he antagonized his anti-slavery friends in the North. This was denounced as the betrayal of his constituents. State Conventions in South Carolina called for a Southern Congress to voice their claims. Not long afterward a fugitive slave bill was adopted by the United States Congress. A fine of $1,000 and six months' imprisonment was to be imposed on any person harboring a fugitive slave or aiding him to escape. Fugitives were to be surrendered on demand, without the benefit of testimony or trial by jury. This served to terrorize some 20,000 escaped slaves and created intense indignation in the North. The issues were still more sharply drawn by the resignation of Jefferson Davis from the Senate, to run as a State-rights candidate for Governor of Mississippi. His Unionist rival, Foote, was elected.

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