1. 1836-1847, Reforms and the Beginnings of Industrialization
In the early 19th century, the world was rapidly changing. The United Kingdom had led the way in the Industrial Revolution and neo-colonialism, now called imperialism, as a response to the Napoleonic wars and her isolation from the continent. With Napoleon defeated, and the balance of power restored, the rest of the empires of Europe followed in her footsteps planting their flags anywhere the local populace would allow.
In the western hemisphere, the United States was still a young child compared to the great powers of Europe. With the proclamation of the Monroe Doctrine, South America as well was allowed to grow on it’s own, no longer under the influence of the once great powers, Spain and Portugal. In the east, China and Japan continued to resist opening to the west, but found this harder and harder in an age of industrial power and European imperialism.
The prime area of European interest was in Africa, Asia, the Pacific Islands and what was once referred to as the Near East, later to become the Middle East. To most of the West, these nations, if you could call them such, were considered uncivilized and in need of European guidance. Yet many of these entities were once proud empires - the Indian Maharajas, the Chinese and Japanese Emperors, the tribal chieftains of Africa and most of all, the Empire of Persia.
After regaining independence from the hordes of the previous centuries, Persia had re-established itself as a viable nation-state, able to resist further encroachment from the dying Ottoman Empire and the growing appetite of the Russian Tsars. The Shahs had been able to bring cohesion within the people by relying on the strength of the Shiite sect of Islam, while still allowing freedoms of religion for Christians, Jews and others. Yet, as the 19th century dawned, they were rapidly falling behind the industrialized world and would face losing independence without the help of the world’s teacher, the United Kingdom.
In 1836, Spain was involved in a civil war. Belgium was trying to gain freedom from the Netherlands. France, Prussia, Austria, Russia and Sweden were holding the balance of power on the continent of Europe, and together with the U.K. challenging each other to the balance of power in the rest of the world. Mexico and Texas were in a war, joined by the United States in July of that year.
Persia was ruled by the Shah Mohammad, and with the help of the United Kingdom had begun to reform the government and economy. Education, crime fighting and defense were left to decay as the main concern for the Shah was using whatever funds available for developing a solid industrial base in which to support it’s people and possible further claims to it’s surrounding area, namely the Muslim world slowly falling out of the Ottoman’s grasp. Persians were gifted with many natural resources, which they were able to trade on the open market, thus increasing little by little the amount of taxes the Shah could extract from his people.
What army they did have was Jominian in theory and they had very little in leadership, yet their manpower was strong, convincing the Shah that his hopes of future glory were not in vain. However, that manpower base was currently unhappy with the rapidly changing nature of government and increasingly less secure in the safety of religion. Persia was not poor, but her people were. Almost monthly revolts were to be the norm as the Shah and his advisors attempted to move from an agricultural economy to an industrial one. Gaining precious resources from the world market was to be difficult, but not impossible and slowly factories were built to house the small, newly trained class of craftsmen and clerks, many trained by Englishmen.
The Shah attempted to straddle a fine diplomatic line between the British who controlled most of India to the East, and the Russians to the North. He was concerned that the British might gain too much influence and thus wanted other friends that he could turn to in time of need. Further, he felt that by currying favor with the great northern bear, he might stave off possible invasion until such time as he was able to strengthen the defense of his country.
In 1838, another blow was struck to the neighbors of the west, that sick man of Europe – the Ottoman Turks. After attempting to reform their own government and economy, aided by Prussian and British advisors, they were to declare war against their former satellite Egypt, itself once a strong power but since weakened by instability and revolt. Though the British and Austrians supported the Turks, they did not fight with them. Egypt, on the other hand, was assisted by France thus gaining the upper hand. By 1844, peace was struck with the Ottomans giving up several provinces on their border and Egypt claiming to be the new Caliphate, that once great unifying power of the Muslim world. Though a worry to the Shah, he was secure in the notion that no further aggression was aimed at his own country.
Elsewhere around the world, it seemed that the “civilized” nations were strengthening their position. Mexico won their war gaining further territory along the Rio Grande. Spain ended their civil war. The United States forced marched Indians, many to their deaths, into the Oklahoma territory opening up valuable land for settlement. The United Kingdom put down rebellion in their colonies in North America while also gaining strong influence and economic power in China through the opium trade. Even in Persia, museums were opened to rejoice at their proud heritage. Young nobles joined the army giving it much desired leadership to put down revolts. The Shah even attempted to allow criticism of the government in the hopes that providing a voice to the people would convince them to put down their arms and take up the challenge of reform peacefully. [From an event - the press in Persia is state run]
Yet, all was not secure as Persia was to witness the wrath of the United Kingdom if their will was not obeyed. The Chinese had grown increasingly disillusioned with the British as she saw her peasants fall further under the influence of opium. The commissioner of Guangzhou finally declared opium imports unlawful in 1839 thus causing the British to declare war that same year. However, this was to prove a disastrous effort. By 1842, the British had to face defeat at the hands of the Chinese. They were still ably to develop the opium trade, but their influence and power in Chinese territory had waned considerably.
This was not the only incident that gave hope to those that wished to thwart European imperialism. The Japanese refused a Dutch envoy hoping to open Japan up to free trade. Annam continued to isolate itself from the Christian world, even fighting the French to a status quo peace in 1842, perhaps aided by the lack of stability in France herself. Burma would stand up to further European encroachment in 1846 with all the great powers of Europe ignoring its blatant hostility. Things began to look good for those nations not considered civilized by Europe. The Shah even decided to show off his small but trained army in a great parade in Teheran in 1840. He assumed that even though he could not use it, perhaps a show might dissuade those wishing to show aggression against Persia.
The United States, though considered civilized, was still not considered on par with Europe. Yet they were to continue their march to continental dominance. Annexing Texas as a state in 1842, they would go back to war when Mexico re-opened hostilities in 1843. Working diplomatically with the British, they would fight the Mexicans to a standstill and agree on treaties dealing with land in the northeast of the American continent, first the Webster-Ashburton Treaty in 1843 and then settling the northern border at the 49th parallel in the Oregon Treaty of 1846.
Europe itself would see unrest as the mid-century approached. Austria was forced to include more and more minorities in everyday government. And the monarchies of Europe would be forced to face growing desire for liberalism when the Greek Constitution was put into place in June of 1844. Even the Poles began to reassert their desire for independence pushing Russia, Austria and Prussia for such in 1846, though failing in their attempt.
By the year 1837, Persia was confident that the ongoing reforms would eventually allow her to take her place among the great powers of the world. Rebellion seemed to be slowing down. Money was being spent on education and raising the rate of literacy. Factories were filling up with skilled workers producing glass and steel. The great European powers seemed to be struggling in their own right thus giving security to those civilizations wishing to maintain their autonomy. The Shah, approaching the end of his life, felt confident in his hopes for the country and her people. Though unrest still abounded, he knew that his mission would eventually succeed and Persia would once again find her glory.