Law of Nations Theory and the Native Sovereignty Debates: The Mysore Restoration

Sunday, January 7, 2018: 10:00 AM
Columbia 12 (Washington Hilton)
Zak Leonard, University of Chicago
Legal historians have focused primarily on the ambiguous definition of British “paramountcy” over native princely states in India, but rarely engage with theories of colonial sovereignty as products of contentious agitation. Foregrounding the presence of reform networks linking Britain with India, this paper will focus on one case study, the return of sovereignty to the Hindu Wadiyar dynasty of Mysore in 1867. Reformers had previously invoked law of nations theory to oppose the annexation of the princely state of Oudh and the curtailment of the Nawab of Arcot’s political powers. Unlike these instances, however, the Mysore case actually yielded a return to a native administration, the first in a series of “model states” under colonial supervision.

While a handful of historians have chronicled Mysore’s institutional transformation as a “modern” principality in the late nineteenth century, few have examined the reallocation of sovereignty itself from a legalistic perspective. With support from both the India Reform Society and the incipient East India Association, the case was propelled into the metropolitan limelight; luminaries like Goldwin Smith advocated for the restoration, while John Stuart Mill presented a petition to the House of Commons that favored the return. In this paper, I will briefly address three issues: Mysore’s treaty obligations and the legitimacy of the Company’s original seizure of sovereignty in 1831; the disputes between the reformers, Krishnaraja Wadiyar, and several viceroys over the applicability of western legal theory; and the colonial administration’s investment in the rhetoric of humanitarianism to justify its continued involvement in princely affairs. By examining these sources of friction, this paper will emphasize the legal casuistry inherent in colonial territorial contests and gesture to the creative amalgamation of classical law of nations theory with the emerging principles of international law.

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