Hastily drawn treaties are a prolific source of war. The Treaty of the Tafna was a flagrant example of this class of diplomatic documents.
Continuing Abd-el-Kader and France’s Conquest of Algeria,
our selection from a Hero Patriots of the Nineteenth Century by Edgar Sanderson published in 1891. The selection is presented in seven easy 5 minute installments. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages.
Previously in Abd-el-Kader and France’s Conquest of Algeria
The reforms of Abd-el-Kader included a regular police, schools, and local tribunals of justice. All the chief towns had factories conducted by Europeans, working in brass and iron, cotton and wool. The army contained the finest irregular cavalry in the world, amounting, with all the contingents from the tribes, to about sixty thousand men, only a third of whom, however, were ever assembled for any single military operation. His regular force comprised eight thousand infantry, two thousand cavalry, twenty field-guns, and two hundred forty artillerymen. His great ideal embraced the making the Arabs into one nation; the recall of the whole people to a strict observance of religious duties; the inspiring them with true patriotism; the calling forth of all their capabilities for war, for commerce, for agriculture, and for mental improvement; and the crowning of the whole by the impress of European civilization. In laying the foundation for this mighty work, he had already overcome vast difficulties by means of wonderful enterprise, activity, and vigor. His intellectual greatness had caused him to shine as a warrior, diplomatist, orator, and statesman. The Provinces of Oran and Tittery and the plains of the Northern Sahara had been won by his military prowess.
A still nobler triumph in the exhibition of moral power was beheld in his dealings with the region called Great Kabylia, the superb range of the Djurjura Mountains extending eastward from Algiers. The hardy Kabyles of that territory had remained unsubdued amid the changing governments which had risen and fallen around them. As independent little republics, bound together by the most exalted spirit of freedom, they had ever preserved their usages, customs, and laws. In September, 1839, Abd-el-Kader, attended by only fifty horsemen, suddenly appeared among them. Thousands gathered around his tent from the valleys and fastnesses. He addressed them in a stirring and argumentative harangue, pointing out union under his standard as the only safeguard against French conquest. With loud shouts they accepted his faithful caliph, Ben Salem, as their chief in war, and agreed to pay the regular imposts and to go forth to the Djehad. For thirty days the Sultan made a progress through the country, everywhere received with joy and enthusiasm as a venerated hadji and marabout, as a teacher of the law, as a man of pious life, as a renowned warrior and an eloquent preacher. We cannot dwell here on his educational and moral reforms, his earnest efforts to enforce the teaching of the Koran, which was his guide in his public and private life. His beneficent intentions were all to be frustrated by the ambition of a European nation which was to signally fail, not in the work of conquering Abd-el-Kader, but in turning her conquest to good account.
Hastily drawn treaties are a prolific source of war. The Treaty of the Tafna was a flagrant example of this class of diplomatic documents. There were two drafts: one in Arabic, with the Sultan’s seal; the other in French, with Bugeaud’s. The drafts were not carefully compared. The limits of territory assigned to each of the parties were not made clear. One instance of the lack of identity in the two forms of the instrument will suffice. The French form declared that Abd-el-Kader acknowledged the sovereignty of France. The Sultan had never dreamed of making an admission which, in its effect on the tribes, would have cost him his throne. What he had written, in Arabic, in the article which he subscribed, was, properly translated, “The Emir Abd-el-Kader acknowledges that there is a French Sultan, and that he is great.”
A new Governor-General, Marshal Valee, had assumed his functions at Algiers in November, 1837. Disputes arose as to the territorial rights of the Sultan under the Tafna Treaty, and after vain negotiations and missions to and fro matters were brought to a head by Marshal Valee in the dispatch of an expedition to march over some disputed ground as a demonstration of French power and an assertion of French rights. A column under the Duc d’Orleans started from Milah, in the Province of Constantine, lately conquered by the French, to march across the disputed territory and thence onward. A way was gained through a formidable pass called the “Iron Gates,” in October, 1839, by a simple process. The defile was one which a few hundred men could have held against any force, but the Kabyle sheiks were shown passports bearing Abd-el-Kader’s seal and authorizing the passage of French troops. The seal of the Sultan had been forged. On November 1st Valee and the French Prince made a triumphant entry into Algiers, after this despicable piece of treachery, and were saluted as the heroes of the “Iron Gates.”
The news reached Abd-el-Kader at Tekedemt. He sprang on his horse, and in forty-eight hours, riding night and day, was at Medea, whence he dispatched a reproachful and defiant letter to the French Governor. He called the tribesmen to arms, formally declared war, swept down on the plains, destroyed the French cantonments, agricultural establishments, and outposts; slew many colonists, burned the villages and drove panic-stricken fugitives headlong into the city of Algiers. The French Government then ostentatiously declared the adoption of a firm policy and announced Algeria to be “henceforth and forever a French province.” Reinforcements were rapidly sent to Algiers, and the effective army of Valee was soon raised to thirty thousand men. The Sultan headed about the same number of cavalry, regular and irregular, and six thousand regular infantry. A fair trial of strength, Frenchman against Arab, was now to be made.
Concentrating his army at Blidah, at the foot of the lesser Atlas range, the French Marshal marched on Medea and Millana. The river Chiffa was passed on April 27, 1840. The Sultan’s cavalry appeared in large numbers. By a feigned movement, Abd-el-Kader induced his enemy to enter the mountains by the gorges of the Monzaia, which he had spent months in fortifying. Every eminence useful for the purpose was cut into entrenchments. A redoubt with heavy batteries crowned the highest peak. Near this were placed his regular infantry, officered by French deserters. Arabs and Kabyles swarmed in all directions, and, crouching in nooks, were ready to open fire on the French army as it wound its way with steady march along the narrow causeway which hung midway on the mountain slopes.
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