Although I am firmly persuaded that these were my sentiments on the occasion, yet I will not affirm that they were. Though I feel their impression as the remains of a series of thoughts retained on my memory, I am not certain that they may not have been produced by subsequent reflection on the principal fact, combining with it the probable motives of it. Of this I am certain, that it was my design originally to have concealed the receipt of all the sums, except the second, even from the knowledge of the Court of Directors. They had answered my purpose of public utility, and I had almost totally dismissed them from my remembrance. But when fortune threw a sum in my way of a magnitude which could not be concealed, and the peculiar delicacy of my situation at the time in which I received it made me more circumspect of appearances, I chose to apprise my employers of it, which I did hastily and generally: hastily, perhaps to prevent the vigilance and activity of secret calumny; and generally, because I knew not the exact amount of the sum, of which I was in the receipt, but not in the full possession. I promised to acquaint them with the result as soon as I should be in possession of it, and in the performance of my promise I thought it consistent with it to add to the account all the former appropriations of the same kind: my good genius then suggesting to me, with a spirit of caution which might have spared me the trouble of this apology, had I universally attended to it, that, if I had suppressed them, and they were afterwards known, I might be asked what were my motives for withholding part of these receipts from the knowledge of the Court of Directors and informing them of the rest.
It being my wish to clear up every doubt upon this transaction, which either my own mind could suggest or which may have been suggested by others, I beg leave to suppose another question, and to state the terms of it in my reply, by informing you that the indorsement on the bonds was made about the period of my leaving the Presidency, in the middle of the year 1781, in order to guard against their becoming a claim on the Company, as part of my estate, in the event of my death occurring in the course of the service on which I was then entering.
This, Sir, is the plain history of the transaction. I should be ashamed to request that you would communicate it to the Honorable Court of Directors, whose time is too valuable for the intrusion of a subject so uninteresting, but that it is become a point of indispensable duty; I must therefore request the favor of you to lay it, at a convenient time, before them. In addressing it to you personally, I yield to my own feelings of the respect which is due to them as a body, and to the assurances which I derive from your experienced civilities that you will kindly overlook the trouble imposed by it.
I have the honor to be, Sir, Your very humble and most obedient servant, (Signed) WARREN HASTINGS.
CHELTENHAM, 11 July, 1785.
WARREN HASTINGS, ESQUIRE,
LATE GOVERNOR-GENERAL OF BENGAL.
SPEECH IN OPENING.
OPENING THE IMPEACHMENT.
FIRST DAY: FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 15, 1788.
My Lords,—The gentlemen who have it in command to support the impeachment against Mr. Hastings have directed me to open the cause with a general view of the grounds upon which the Commons have proceeded in their charge against him. They have directed me to accompany this with another general view of the extent, the magnitude, the nature, the tendency, and the effect of the crimes which they allege to have been by him committed. They have also directed me to give an explanation (with their aid I may be enabled to give it) of such circumstances, preceding the crimes charged on Mr. Hastings, or concomitant with them, as may tend to elucidate whatever may be found obscure in the articles as they stand. To these they wished me to add a few illustrative remarks on the laws, customs, opinions, and manners of the people concerned, and who are the objects of the crimes we charge on Mr. Hastings. The several articles, as they appear before you, will be opened by other gentlemen with more particularity, with more distinctness, and, without doubt, with infinitely more ability, when they come to apply the evidence which naturally belongs to each article of this accusation. This, my Lords, is the plan which we mean to pursue on the great charge which is now to abide your judgment.
My Lords, I must look upon it as an auspicious circumstance to this cause, in which the honor of the kingdom and the fate of many nations are involved, that, from the first commencement of our Parliamentary process to this the hour of solemn trial, not the smallest difference of opinion has arisen between the two Houses.
My Lords, there are persons who, looking rather upon what was to be found in our records and histories than what was to be expected from the public justice, had formed hopes consolatory to themselves and dishonorable to us. They flattered themselves that the corruptions of India would escape amidst the dissensions of Parliament. They are disappointed. They will be disappointed in all the rest of their expectations which they have formed upon everything, except the merits of their cause. The Commons will not have the melancholy unsocial glory of having acted a solitary part in a noble, but imperfect work. What the greatest inquest of the nation has begun its highest tribunal will accomplish. At length justice will be done to India. It is true that your Lordships will have your full share in this great achievement; but the Commons have always considered that whatever honor is divided with you is doubled on themselves.
My Lords, I must confess, that, amidst these encouraging prospects, the Commons do not approach your bar without awe and anxiety. The magnitude of the interests which we have in charge will reconcile some degree of solicitude for the event with the undoubting confidence with which we repose ourselves upon your Lordships' justice. For we are men, my Lords; and men are so made, that it is not only the greatness of danger, but the value of the adventure, which measures the degree of our concern in every undertaking. I solemnly assure your Lordships that no standard is sufficient to estimate the value which the Commons set upon the event of the cause they now bring before you. My Lords, the business of this day is not the business of this man, it is not solely whether the prisoner at the bar be found innocent or guilty, but whether millions of mankind shall be made miserable or happy.
Your Lordships will see, in the progress of this cause, that there is not only a long, connected, systematic series of misdemeanors, but an equally connected system of maxims and principles invented to justify them. Upon both of these you must judge. According to the judgment that you shall give upon the past transactions in India, inseparably connected as they are with the principles which support them, the whole character of your future government in that distant empire is to be unalterably decided. It will take its perpetual tenor, it will receive its final impression, from the stamp of this very hour.
It is not only the interest of India, now the most considerable part of the British empire, which is concerned, but the credit and honor of the British nation itself will be decided by this decision. We are to decide by this judgment, whether the crimes of individuals are to be turned into public guilt and national ignominy, or whether this nation will convert the very offences which have thrown a transient shade upon its government into something that will reflect a permanent lustre upon the honor, justice, and humanity of this kingdom.
My Lords, there is another consideration, which augments the solicitude of the Commons, equal to those other two great interests I have stated, those of our empire and our national character,—something that, if possible, comes more home to the hearts and feelings of every Englishman: I mean, the interests of our Constitution itself, which is deeply involved in the event of this cause. The future use and the whole effect, if not the very existence, of the process of an impeachment of high crimes and misdemeanors before the peers of this kingdom upon the charge of the Commons will very much be decided by your judgment in this cause. This tribunal will be found (I hope it will always be found) too great for petty causes: if it should at the same time be found incompetent to one of the greatest,—that is, if little offences, from their minuteness, escape you, and the greatest, from their magnitude, oppress you,—it is impossible that this form of trial should not in the end vanish out of the Constitution. For we must not deceive ourselves: whatever does not stand with credit cannot stand long. And if the Constitution should be deprived, I do not mean in form, but virtually, of this resource, it is virtually deprived of everything else that is valuable in it. For this process is the cement which binds the whole together; this is the individuating principle that makes England what England is. In this court it is that no subject, in no part of the empire, can fail of competent and proportionable justice; here it is that we provide for that which is the substantial excellence of our Constitution,—I mean, the great circulation of responsibility, by which (excepting the supreme power) no man, in no circumstance, can escape the account which he owes to the laws of his country. It is by this process that magistracy, which tries and controls all other things, is itself tried and controlled. Other constitutions are satisfied with making good subjects; this is a security for good governors. It is by this tribunal that statesmen who abuse their power are accused by statesmen and tried by statesmen, not upon the niceties of a narrow jurisprudence, but upon the enlarged and solid principles of state morality. It is here that those who by the abuse of power have violated the spirit of law can never hope for protection from any of its forms; it is here that those who have refused to conform themselves to its perfections can never hope to escape through any of its defects. It ought, therefore, my Lords, to become our common care to guard this your precious deposit, rare in its use, but powerful in its effect, with a religious vigilance, and never to suffer it to be either discredited or antiquated. For this great end your Lordships are invested with great and plenary powers: but you do not suspend, you do not supersede, you do not annihilate any subordinate jurisdiction; on the contrary, you are auxiliary and supplemental to them all.
Whether it is owing to the felicity of our times, less fertile in great offences than those which have gone before us, or whether it is from a sluggish apathy which has dulled and enervated the public justice, I am not called upon to determine,—but, whatever may be the cause, it is now sixty-three years since any impeachment, grounded upon abuse of authority and misdemeanor in office, has come before this tribunal. The last is that of Lord Macclesfield, which happened in the year 1725. So that the oldest process known to the Constitution of this country has, upon its revival, some appearance of novelty. At this time, when all Europe is in a state of, perhaps, contagious fermentation, when antiquity has lost all its reverence and all its effect on the minds of men, at the same time that novelty is still attended with the suspicions that always will be attached to whatever is new, we have been anxiously careful, in a business which seems to combine the objections both to what is antiquated and what is novel, so to conduct ourselves that nothing in the revival of this great Parliamentary process shall afford a pretext for its future disuse.
My Lords, strongly impressed as they are with these sentiments, the Commons have conducted themselves with singular care and caution. Without losing the spirit and zeal of a public prosecution, they have comported themselves with such moderation, temper, and decorum as would not have ill become the final judgment, if with them rested the final judgment, of this great cause.
With very few intermissions, the affairs of India have constantly engaged the attention of the Commons for more than fourteen years. We may safely affirm we have tried every mode of legislative provision before we had recourse to anything of penal process. It was in the year 1774 [1773?] we framed an act of Parliament for remedy to the then existing disorders in India, such as the then information before us enabled us to enact. Finding that the act of Parliament did not answer all the ends that were expected from it, we had, in the year 1782, recourse to a body of monitory resolutions. Neither had we the expected fruit from them. When, therefore, we found that our inquiries and our reports, our laws and our admonitions, were alike despised, that enormities increased in proportion as they were forbidden, detected, and exposed,—when we found that guilt stalked with an erect and upright front, and that legal authority seemed to skulk and hide its head like outlawed guilt,—when we found that some of those very persons who were appointed by Parliament to assert the authority of the laws of this kingdom were the most forward, the most bold, and the most active in the conspiracy for their destruction,—then it was time for the justice of the nation to recollect itself. To have forborne longer would not have been patience, but collusion; it would have been participation with guilt; it would have been to make ourselves accomplices with the criminal.
We found it was impossible to evade painful duty without betraying a sacred trust. Having, therefore, resolved upon the last and only resource, a penal prosecution, it was our next business to act in a manner worthy of our long deliberation. In all points we proceeded with selection. We have chosen (we trust it will so appear to your Lordships) such a crime, and such a criminal, and such a body of evidence, and such a mode of process, as would have recommended this course of justice to posterity, even if it had not been supported by any example in the practice of our forefathers.
First, to speak of the process: we are to inform your Lordships, that, besides that long previous deliberation of fourteen years, we examined, as a preliminary to this proceeding, every circumstance which could prove favorable to parties apparently delinquent, before we finally resolved to prosecute. There was no precedent to be found in the Journals, favorable to persons in Mr. Hastings's circumstances, that was not applied to. Many measures utterly unknown to former Parliamentary proceedings, and which, indeed, seemed in some degree to enfeeble them, but which were all to the advantage of those that were to be prosecuted, were adopted, for the first time, upon this occasion. In an early stage of the proceeding, the criminal desired to be heard. He was heard; and he produced before the bar of the House that insolent and unbecoming paper which lies upon our table. It was deliberately given in by his own hand, and signed with his own name. The Commons, however, passed by everything offensive in that paper with a magnanimity that became them. They considered nothing in it but the facts that the defendant alleged, and the principles he maintained; and after a deliberation not short of judicial, we proceeded with confidence to your bar.
So far as to the process; which, though I mentioned last in the line and order in which I stated the objects of our selection, I thought it best to dispatch first.
As to the crime which we chose, we first considered well what it was in its nature, under all the circumstances which attended it. We weighed it with all its extenuations and with all its aggravations. On that review, we are warranted to assert that the crimes with which we charge the prisoner at the bar are substantial crimes,—that they are no errors or mistakes, such as wise and good men might possibly fall into, which may even produce very pernicious effects without being in fact great offences. The Commons are too liberal not to allow for the difficulties of a great and arduous public situation. They know too well the domineering necessities which frequently occur in all great affairs. They know the exigency of a pressing occasion, which, in its precipitate career, bears everything down before it,—which does not give time to the mind to recollect its faculties, to reinforce its reason, and to have recourse to fixed principles, but, by compelling an instant and tumultuous decision, too often obliges men to decide in a manner that calm judgment would certainly have rejected. We know, as we are to be served by men, that the persons who serve us must be tried as men, and with a very large allowance indeed to human infirmity and human error. This, my Lords, we knew and we weighed before we came before you. But the crimes which we charge in these articles are not lapses, defects, errors of common human frailty, which, as we know and feel, we can allow for. We charge this offender with no crimes that have not arisen from passions which it is criminal to harbor,—with no offences that have not their root in avarice, rapacity, pride, insolence, ferocity, treachery, cruelty, malignity of temper,—in short, in [with?] nothing that does not argue a total extinction of all moral principle, that does not manifest an inveterate blackness of heart, dyed in grain with malice, vitiated, corrupted, gangrened to the very core. If we do not plant his crimes in those vices which the breast of man is made to abhor, and the spirit of all laws, human and divine, to interdict, we desire no longer to be heard upon this occasion. Let everything that can be pleaded on the ground of surprise or error, upon those grounds be pleaded with success: we give up the whole of those predicaments. We urge no crimes that were not crimes of forethought. We charge him with nothing that he did not commit upon deliberation,—that he did not commit against advice, supplication, and remonstrance,—that he did not commit against the direct command of lawful authority,—that he did not commit after reproof and reprimand, the reproof and reprimand of those who were authorized by the laws to reprove and reprimand him. The crimes of Mr. Hastings are crimes not only in themselves, but aggravated by being crimes of contumacy. They were crimes, not against forms, but against those eternal laws of justice which are our rule and our birthright. His offences are, not in formal, technical language, but in reality, in substance and effect, high crimes and high misdemeanors.
So far as to the crimes. As to the criminal, we have chosen him on the same principle on which we selected the crimes. We have not chosen to bring before you a poor, puny, trembling delinquent, misled, perhaps, by those who ought to have taught him better, but who have afterwards oppressed him by their power, as they had first corrupted him by their example. Instances there have been many, wherein the punishment of minor offences, in inferior persons, has been made the means of screening crimes of an high order, and in men of high description. Our course is different. We have not brought before you an obscure offender, who, when his insignificance and weakness are weighed against the power of the prosecution, gives even to public justice something of the appearance of oppression: no, my Lords, we have brought before you the first man of India, in rank, authority, and station. We have brought before you the chief of the tribe, the head of the whole body of Eastern offenders, a captain-general of iniquity, under whom all the fraud, all the peculation, all the tyranny in India are embodied, disciplined, arrayed, and paid. This is the person, my Lords, that we bring before you. We have brought before you such a person, that, if you strike at him with the firm and decided arm of justice, you will not have need of a great many more examples. You strike at the whole corps, if you strike at the head.
So far as to the crime: so far as to the criminal. Now, my Lords, I shall say a few words relative to the evidence which we have brought to support such a charge, and which ought to be equal in weight to the charge itself. It is chiefly evidence of record, officially signed by the criminal himself in many instances. We have brought before you his own letters, authenticated by his own hand. On these we chiefly rely. But we shall likewise bring before you living witnesses, competent to speak to the points to which they are brought.
When you consider the late enormous power of the prisoner,—when you consider his criminal, indefatigable assiduity in the destruction of all recorded evidence,—when you consider the influence he has over almost all living testimony,—when you consider the distance of the scene of action,—I believe your Lordships, and I believe the world, will be astonished that so much, so clear, so solid, and so conclusive evidence of all kinds has been obtained against him. I have no doubt that in nine instances in ten the evidence is such as would satisfy the narrow precision supposed to prevail, and to a degree rightly to prevail, in all subordinate power and delegated jurisdiction. But your Lordships will maintain, what we assert and claim as the right of the subjects of Great Britain, that you are not bound by any rules of evidence, or any other rules whatever, except those of natural, immutable, and substantial justice.
God forbid the Commons should desire that anything should be received as proof from them which is not by nature adapted to prove the thing in question! If they should make such a request, they would aim at overturning the very principles of that justice to which they resort; they would give the nation an evil example that would rebound back on themselves, and bring destruction upon their own heads, and on those of all their posterity.
On the other hand, I have too much confidence in the learning with which you will be advised, and the liberality and nobleness of the sentiments with which you are born, to suspect that you would, by any abuse of the forms, and a technical course of proceeding, deny justice to so great a part of the world that claims it at your hands. Your Lordships always had an ample power, and almost unlimited jurisdiction; you have now a boundless object. It is not from this district or from that parish, not from this city or the other province, that relief is now applied for: exiled and undone princes, extensive tribes, suffering nations, infinite descriptions of men, different in language, in manners, and in rites, men separated by every barrier of Nature from you, by the Providence of God are blended in one common cause, and are now become suppliants at your bar. For the honor of this nation, in vindication of this mysterious Providence, let it be known that no rule formed upon municipal maxims (if any such rule exists) will prevent the course of that imperial justice which you owe to the people that call to you from all parts of a great disjointed world. For, situated as this kingdom is, an object, thank God, of envy to the rest of the nations, its conduct in that high and elevated situation will undoubtedly be scrutinized with a severity as great as its power is invidious.
It is well known that enormous wealth has poured into this country from India through a thousand channels, public and concealed; and it is no particular derogation from our honor to suppose a possibility of being corrupted by that by which other empires have been corrupted, and assemblies almost as respectable and venerable as your Lordships' have been directly or indirectly vitiated. Forty millions of money, at least, have within our memory been brought from India into England. In this case the most sacred judicature ought to look to its reputation. Without offence we may venture to suggest that the best way to secure reputation is, not by a proud defiance of public opinion, but by guiding our actions in such a manner as that public opinion may in the end be securely defied, by having been previously respected and dreaded. No direct false judgment is apprehended from the tribunals of this country; but it is feared that partiality may lurk and nestle in the abuse of our forms of proceeding. It is necessary, therefore, that nothing in that proceeding should appear to mark the slightest trace, should betray the faintest odor of chicane. God forbid, that, when you try the most serious of all causes, that, when you try the cause of Asia in the presence of Europe, there should be the least suspicion that a narrow partiality, utterly destructive of justice, should so guide us that a British subject in power should appear in substance to possess rights which are denied to the humble allies, to the attached dependants of this kingdom, who by their distance have a double demand upon your protection, and who, by an implicit (I hope not a weak and useless) trust in you, have stripped themselves of every other resource under heaven!
I do not say this from any fear, doubt, or hesitation concerning what your Lordships will finally do,—none in the world; but I cannot shut my ears to the rumors which you all know to be disseminated abroad. The abusers of power may have a chance to cover themselves by those fences and intrenchments which were made to secure the liberties of the people against men of that very description. But God forbid it should be bruited from Pekin to Paris, that the laws of England are for the rich and the powerful, but to the poor, the miserable, and defenceless they afford no resource at all! God forbid it should be said, no nation is equal to the English in substantial violence and in formal justice,—that in this kingdom we feel ourselves competent to confer the most extravagant and inordinate powers upon public ministers, but that we are deficient, poor, helpless, lame, and impotent in the means of calling them to account for their use of them! An opinion has been insidiously circulated through this kingdom, and through foreign nations too, that, in order to cover our participation in guilt, and our common interest in the plunder of the East, we have invented a set of scholastic distinctions, abhorrent to the common sense and unpropitious to the common necessities of mankind, by which we are to deny ourselves the knowledge of what the rest of the world knows, and what so great a part of the world both knows and feels. I do not deprecate any appearance which may give countenance to this aspersion from suspicion that any corrupt motive can influence this court; I deprecate it from knowing that hitherto we have moved within the narrow circle of municipal justice. I am afraid, that, from the habits acquired by moving within a circumscribed sphere, we may be induced rather to endeavor at forcing Nature into that municipal circle than to enlarge the circle of national justice to the necessities of the empire we have obtained.
This is the only thing which does create any doubt or difficulty in the minds of sober people. But there are those who will not judge so equitably. Where two motives, neither of them perfectly justifiable, may be assigned, the worst has the chance of being preferred. If, from any appearance of chicane in the court, justice should fail, all men will say, better there were no tribunals at all. In my humble opinion, it would be better a thousand times to give all complainants the short answer the Dey of Algiers gave a British ambassador, representing certain grievances suffered by the British merchants,—"My friend," (as the story is related by Dr. Shaw,) "do not you know that my subjects are a band of robbers, and that I am their captain?"—better it would be a thousand times, and a thousand thousand times more manly, than an hypocritical process, which, under a pretended reverence to punctilious ceremonies and observances of law, abandons mankind without help and resource to all the desolating consequences of arbitrary power. The conduct and event of this cause will put an end to such doubts, wherever they may be entertained. Your Lordships will exercise the great plenary powers with which you are invested in a manner that will do honor to the protecting justice of this kingdom, that will completely avenge the great people who are subjected to it. You will not suffer your proceedings to be squared by any rules but by their necessities, and by that law of a common nature which cements them to us and us to them. The reports to the contrary have been spread abroad with uncommon industry; but they will be speedily refuted by the humanity, simplicity, dignity, and nobleness of your Lordships' justice.
* * * * *
Having said all that I am instructed to say concerning the process which the House of Commons has used, concerning the crimes which they have chosen, concerning the criminal upon whom they attach the crimes, and concerning the evidence which they mean to produce, I am now to proceed to open that part of the business which falls to my share. It is rather an explanation of the circumstances than an enforcement of the crimes.
Your Lordships of course will be apprised that this cause is not what occurs every day, in the ordinary round of municipal affairs,—that it has a relation to many things, that it touches many points in many places, which are wholly removed from the ordinary beaten orbit of our English affairs. In other affairs, every allusion immediately meets its point of reference; nothing can be started that does not immediately awaken your attention to something in your own laws and usages which you meet with every day in the ordinary transactions of life. But here you are caught, as it were, into another world; you are to have the way pioneered before you. As the subject is new, it must be explained; as it is intricate as well as new, that explanation can be only comparatively short: and therefore, knowing your Lordships to be possessed, along with all other judicial virtues, of the first and foundation of them all, judicial patience, I hope that you will not grudge a few hours to the explanation of that which has cost the Commons fourteen years' assiduous application to acquire,—that your Lordships will not disdain to grant a few hours to what has cost the people of India upwards of thirty years of their innate, inveterate, hereditary patience to endure.
* * * * *
My Lords, the powers which Mr. Hastings is charged with having abused are the powers delegated to him by the East India Company. The East India Company itself acts under two very dissimilar sorts of powers, derived from two sources very remote from each other. The first source of its power is under charters which the crown of Great Britain was authorized by act of Parliament to grant; the other is from several charters derived from the Emperor of the Moguls, the person in whose dominions they were chiefly conversant,—particularly that great charter by which, in the year 1765, they acquired the high-stewardship of the kingdoms of Bengal, Bahar, and Orissa. Under those two bodies of charters, the East India Company, and all their servants, are authorized to act.
As to those of the first description, it is from the British charters that they derive the capacity by which they are considered as a public body, or at all capable of any public function. It is from thence they acquire the capacity to take from any power whatsoever any other charter, to acquire any other offices, or to hold any other possessions. This, being the root and origin of their power, renders them responsible to the party from whom all their immediate and consequential powers are derived. As they have emanated from the supreme power of this kingdom, the whole body and the whole train of their servants, the corporate body as a corporate body, individuals as individuals, are responsible to the high justice of this kingdom. In delegating great power to the East India Company, this kingdom has not released its sovereignty; on the contrary, the responsibility of the Company is increased by the greatness and sacredness of the powers that have been intrusted to it. Attempts have been made abroad to circulate a notion that the acts of the East India Company and their servants are not cognizable here. I hope on this occasion your Lordships will show that this nation never did give a power without annexing to it a proportionable degree of responsibility.
As to their other powers, the Company derives them from the Mogul empire by various charters from that crown, and from the great magistrates of that crown, and particularly by the Mogul charter of 1765, by which they obtained the dewanny, that is, the office of lord high-steward, of the kingdoms of Bengal, Bahar, and Orissa. By that charter they bound themselves (and bound inclusively all their servants) to perform all the duties belonging to that new office, and to be held by all the ties belonging to that new relation. If the Mogul empire had existed in its vigor, they would have been bound, under that responsibility, to observe the laws, rights, usages, and customs of the natives, and to pursue their benefit in all things: for this duty was inherent in the nature, institution, and purpose of the office which they received. If the power of the sovereign from whom they derived these powers should by any revolution in human affairs be annihilated or suspended, their duty to the people below them, which was created under the Mogul charter, is not annihilated, is not even suspended; and for their responsibility in the performance of that duty, they are thrown back upon that country (thank God, not annihilated) from whence their original power, and all subsequent derivative powers, have flowed. When the Company acquired that high office in India, an English corporation became an integral part of the Mogul empire. When Great Britain virtually assented to that grant of office, and afterwards took advantage of it, Great Britain guarantied the performance of all its duties. Great Britain entered into a virtual act of union with that country, by which we bound ourselves as securities to preserve the people in all the rights, laws, and liberties which their natural, original sovereign was bound to support, if he had been in condition to support them. By the disposition of events, the two duties, flowing from two different sources, are now united in one. The people of India, therefore, come in the name of the Commons of Great Britain, but in their own right, to the bar of this House, before the supreme royal justice of this kingdom, from whence originally all the powers under which they have suffered were derived.
It may be a little necessary, when we are stating the powers the Company have derived from their charter, and which we state Mr. Hastings to have abused, to state in as short and as comprehensive words as I can (for the matter is large indeed) what the constitution of that Company is,—I mean chiefly, what it is in reference to its Indian service, the great theatre of the abuse. Your Lordships will naturally conceive that it is not to inform you, but to revive circumstances in your memory, that I enter into this detail.
You will therefore recollect, that the East India Company had its origin about the latter end of the reign of Elizabeth, a period of projects, when all sorts of commercial adventures, companies, and monopolies were in fashion. At that time the Company was constituted with extensive powers for increasing the commerce and the honor of this country; because increasing its commerce, without increasing its honor and reputation, would have been thought at that time, and will be thought now, a bad bargain for the country. The powers of the Company were, under that charter, merely commercial. By degrees, as the theatre of operation was distant, as its intercourse was with many great, some barbarous, and all of them armed nations, nations in which not only the sovereign, but the subjects, were armed, it was found necessary to enlarge their powers. The first power they obtained was a power of naval discipline in their ships,—a power which has been since dropped; the next was a power of law martial; the next was a power of civil, and, to a degree, of criminal jurisdiction, within their own factories, upon their own people and their own servants; the next was (and here was a stride indeed) the power of peace and war. Those high and almost incommunicable prerogatives of sovereignty, which were hardly ever known before to be parted with to any subjects, and which in several states were not wholly intrusted to the prince or head of the commonwealth himself, were given to the East India Company. That Company acquired these powers about the end of the reign of Charles the Second; and they were afterwards more fully, as well as more legally, given by Parliament after the Revolution. From this time, the East India Company was no longer merely a mercantile company, formed for the extension of the British commerce: it more nearly resembled a delegation of the whole power and sovereignty of this kingdom sent into the East. From that time the Company ought to be considered as a subordinate sovereign power: that is, sovereign with regard to the objects which it touched; subordinate with regard to the power from whence its great trust was derived.
Under these successive arrangements things took a course very different from their usual order. A new disposition took place, not dreamt of in the theories of speculative politicians, and of which few examples in the least resembling it have been seen in the modern world, none at all in the ancient. In other instances, a political body that acts as a commonwealth was first settled, and trade followed as a consequence of the protection obtained by political power; but here the course of affairs was reversed. The constitution of the Company began in commerce and ended in empire. Indeed, wherever the sovereign powers of peace and war are given, there wants but time and circumstance to make these powers supersede every other. The affairs of commerce will fall at last into their proper rank and situation. However primary in their original intention, they will become secondary. The possession, therefore, and the power of assertion of these great authorities coinciding with the improved state of Europe, with the improved state of arts in Europe, with the improved state of laws, and, what is much more material, the improved state of military discipline, more and more perfected every day with us,—universal improvement in Europe coinciding with the general decay of Asia, (for the proud day of Asia is passed,) this improvement coinciding with the relaxation and dissolution of the Mogul government, with the decline of its warlike spirit, with the total disuse of the ancient strictness of the military discipline established by Tamerlane, the India Company came to be what it is, a great empire, carrying on, subordinately, a great commerce; it became that thing which was supposed by the Roman law irreconcilable to reason and propriety,—eundem negotiatorem et dominum: the same power became the general trader, the same power became the supreme lord.
In this exalted situation, the India Company, however, still preserves traces of its original mercantile character. The whole exterior order of its political service is carried on upon a mercantile plan and mercantile principles. In fact, the East India Company in Asia is a state in the disguise of a merchant. Its whole service is a system of public offices in the disguise of a counting-house. Accordingly, the whole external order and series of the service, as I observed, is commercial; the principal, the inward, the real, is almost entirely political.
This system of the Company's service, its order and discipline, is necessary to be explained to your Lordships, that you may see in what manner the abuses have affected it. In the first place, all the persons who go abroad in the Company's civil service enter as clerks in the counting-house, and are called by a name to correspond to it,—writers. In that condition they are obliged to serve five years. The second step is that of a factor, in which they are obliged to serve three years. The third step they take is that of a junior merchant, in which they are obliged to serve three years more. At that period they become senior merchants, which is the highest stage of advance in the Company's service,—a rank by which they had pretensions, before the year 1774, to the Council, to the succession of the Presidency, and to whatever other honors the Company has to bestow.
The Company had, in its early times, established factories in certain places; which factories by degrees grew to the name of Presidencies and Council, in proportion as the power and influence of the Company increased, and as the political began first to struggle with, and at length to predominate over, the mercantile. In this form it continued till the year 1773, when the legislature broke in, for proper reasons urging them to it, upon that order of the service, and appointed to the superior department persons who had no title to that place under the ordinary usage of the service. Mr. Hastings and Mr. Harwell, whatever other titles they might have had, held solely under the act of Parliament nominating them to that authority; but in all other respects, except where the act and other subsequent acts have not broken in upon it, the whole course of the service remains upon the ancient footing, that is, the commercial footing, as to the gradation and order of service.
Your Lordships see here a regular series of gradation, which requires eleven years before any persons can arrive at the highest trusts and situations. You will therefore be astonished, when so long a probationary service was required, that effects very different from those to be expected from long probation have happened, and that in a much shorter time than those eleven years you have seen persons returning into this kingdom with affluent, with overbearing fortunes. It will be a great part of your inquiry, when we come before your Lordships to substantiate evidence against Mr. Hastings, to discover how that order came to be so completely broken down and erased that scarce a trace of it for any good purpose remains. Though I will not deny that that order, or that any order in a state, may be superseded by the ruling power, when great talents, upon pressing exigencies, are to be called forth, yet I must say the order itself was formed upon wise principles. It furnished the persons who were put in that course of probation with an opportunity (if circumstances enabled them) of acquiring experience in business of revenue, trade, and policy. It gave to those who watched them a constant inspection of their conduct through all their progress. On the expectants of office it imposed the necessity of acquiring a character in proportion to their standing, in order that all which they had gained by the good behavior of years should not be lost by the misconduct of an hour. It was a great substantial regulation. But scarce a trace of the true spirit of it remains to be discovered in Mr. Hastings's government; for Mr. Hastings established offices, nay, whole systems of offices, and especially a system of offices in 1781, which being altogether new, none of the rules of gradation applied to them; and he filled those offices in such a manner as suited best, not the constitution nor the spirit of the service, but his own particular views and purposes. The consequence has been, that persons in the most immature stages of life have been appointed to conduct affairs which required the greatest maturity of judgment, the greatest possible temper and moderation. Effects naturally consequent have followed upon it.—I shall not trouble your Lordships with any further observations on this system of gradation.
I must, however, remark, before I go further, that there is something in the representation of the East India Company in their Oriental territory different from that, perhaps, of any other nation that has ever transported any part of its power from one country to another. The East India Company in India is not properly a branch of the British nation: it is only a deputation of individuals. When the Tartars entered into China, when the Arabs and Tartars successively entered into Hindostan, when the Goths and Vandals penetrated into Europe, when the Normans forced their way into England, indeed, in all conquests, migrations, settlements, and colonizations, the new people came as the offset of a nation. The Company in India does not exist as a national colony. In effect and substance nobody can go thither that does not go in its service. The English in India are nothing but a seminary for the succession of officers. They are a nation of placemen; they are a commonwealth without a people; they are a state made up wholly of magistrates. There is nothing to be in propriety called people, to watch, to inspect, to balance against the power of office. The power of office, so far as the English nation is concerned, is the sole power in the country: the consequence of which is, that, being a kingdom of magistrates, what is commonly called the esprit du corps is strong in it. This spirit of the body predominates equally in all its parts; by which the members must consider themselves as having a common interest, and that common interest separated both from that of the country which sent them out and from that of the country in which they act. No control upon them exists,—none, I mean, in persons who understand their language, who understand their manners, or can apply their conduct to the laws. Therefore, in a body so constituted, confederacy is easy, and has been general. Your Lordships are not to expect that that should happen in such a body which never happened in any body or corporation,—that is, that they should, in any instance, be a proper check and control upon themselves. It is not in the nature of things. The fundamental principle of the whole of the East India Company's system is monopoly, in some sense or other. The same principle predominates in the service abroad and the service at home; and both systems are united into one, animated with the same spirit, that is, with the corporate spirit. The whole, taken together, is such as has not been seen in the examples of the Moors, the Portuguese, the Spaniards, the Romans,—in no old, in no recent examples. The Dutch may resemble it, but they have not an empire properly so denominated. By means of this peculiar circumstance it has not been difficult for Mr. Hastings to embody abuse, and to put himself at the head of a regular system of corruption.
Another circumstance in that service is deserving of notice. Except in the highest parts of all, the emoluments of office do not in any degree correspond with the trust, nor the nature of the office with its name. In other official systems, the style, in general, is above the function; here it is the reverse. Under the name of junior merchant, senior merchant, writer, and other petty appellations of the counting-house, you have magistrates of high dignity, you have administrators of revenues truly royal, you have judges, civil, and in some respects criminal, who pass judgment upon the greatest properties of a great country. The legal public emoluments that belong to them are very often so inadequate to the real dignity of the character, that it is impossible, almost absolutely impossible, for the subordinate parts of it, which, though subordinate, are stations of power, to exist, as Englishmen, who look at a fortune to be enjoyed at home as their ultimate object, and to exist in a state of perfect incorruption in that service.
In some parts of Europe, it is true that the greatest situations are often attended with but little emolument; yet still they are filled. Why? Because reputation, glory, fame, the esteem, the love, the tears of joy which flow from happy sensibility, the honest applauses of a grateful country, sometimes pay the cares, anxieties, and toils which wait on great situations in the commonwealth; and in these they pay in money what cannot be paid in fame and reputation. It is the reverse in the service of the India Company. Glory is not the lot of subordinated merit,—and all the subordinate parts of the gradation are officers who, in comparison with the offices and duties intrusted to them, are miserably provided for; whereas the chief of each great Presidency has emoluments securing him against every mode of temptation. But if this has not secured the head, we may easily judge how the members are to be coerced. Mr. Hastings, at the head of the service, with high legal emoluments, has fouled his hands and sullied his government with bribes. He has substituted oppression and tyranny in the place of legal government. With all that unbounded, licentious power which he has assumed over the public revenues, instead of endeavoring to find a series of gradual, progressive, honorable, and adequate rewards for the persons who serve the public in the subordinate, but powerful situations, he has left them to prey upon the people without the smallest degree of control. In default of honest emolument, there is the unbounded license of power; and, as one of the honestest and ablest servants of the Company said to me in conversation, the civil service of the Company resembled the military service of the Mahrattas,—little pay, but unbounded license to plunder. I do not say that some of the salaries given in India would not sound well here; but when you consider the nature of the trusts, the dignity of the situation, whatever the name of them may be, the powers that are granted, the hopes that every man has of establishing himself at home, I repeat, it is a source of infinite grievance, of infinite abuse: of which source of corrupt power we charge Mr. Hastings with having availed himself, in filling up the void of direct pay by finding out and countenancing every kind of oblique and unjust emolument; though it must be confessed that he is far from being solely guilty of this offence.
Another circumstance which distinguishes the East India Company is the youth of the persons who are employed in the system of that service. The servants have almost universally been sent out to begin their progress and career in active occupation, and in the exercise of high authority, at that period of life which, in all other places, has been employed in the course of a rigid education. To put the matter in a few words,—they are transferred from slippery youth to perilous independence, from perilous independence to inordinate expectations, from inordinate expectations to boundless power. School-boys without tutors, minors without guardians, the world is let loose upon them with all its temptations, and they are let loose upon the world with all the powers that despotism involves.
It is further remarkable, these servants exercise what your Lordships are now exercising, high judicial powers, and they exercise them without the smallest study of any law, either general or municipal. It is made a sort of rule in the service, a rule confirmed even by the attempts that were made to correct it, (I mean confirmed by Sir Elijah Impey, when, under the auspices of Mr. Hastings, he undertook to be legislator for India,) that the judicial character, the last in the order of legal progress, that to which all professional men look up as the crown of their labors, that ultimate hope of men grown gray in professional practice, is among the first experimental situations of a Company's servant. It is expressly said in that body of regulations to which I allude, that the office and situation of a judge of the Dewanny Courts of Adawlut is to be filled by the junior servants of the Company; and as the judicial emolument is not substantially equal to that of other situations, the office of a judge is to be taken, as it were, in transitu, as a passage to other offices not of a judicial nature. As soon, therefore, as a young man has supplied the defects of his education by the advantage of some experience, he is immediately translated to a totally different office; and another young man is substituted, to learn, at the expense of the property of India, to fill a situation which, when he may be qualified to fill, he is no longer to hold.
It is in a great measure the same with regard to the other situations. They are the situations of great statesmen, which, according to the practice of the world, require, to fill properly, rather a large converse with men and much intercourse in life than deep study of books,—though that, too, has its eminent service. We know that in the habits of civilized life, in cultivated society, there is imbibed by men a good deal of the solid practice of government, of the true maxims of state, and everything that enables a man to serve his country. But these men are sent over to exercise functions at which a statesman here would tremble, without any theoretical study, and without any of that sort of experience which, in mixed societies of business and converse, form men gradually and insensibly to great affairs. Low cunning, intrigue, and stratagem are soon acquired; but manly, durable policy, which never sacrifices the general interest to a partial or momentary advantage, is not so cheaply formed in the human understanding.
Mr. Hastings, in his defence before the House of Commons, and in the defences he has made before your Lordships, has lamented his own situation in this particular. It was much to be lamented, indeed. How far it will furnish justification, extenuation, or palliation of his conduct, when we come to examine that conduct, will be seen.
These circumstances in the system have in a great degree vitiated and perverted what is in reality (and many things are in reality) excellent in it. They have rendered the application of all correctives and remedies to abuse, at best, precarious in their operation. The laws that we have made, the covenants which the Company has obliged its servants to enter into, the occasional orders that have been given, at least ostensibly good, all have proved noxious to the country, instead of beneficial.
To illustrate this point, I beg leave to observe to your Lordships, that the servants of the Company are obliged to enter into that service not only with an impression of the general duty which attaches upon all servants, but are obliged to engage in a specific covenant with their masters to perform all the duties described in that covenant (which are all the duties of their relation) under heavy penalties. They are bound to a repetition of these covenants at every step of their progress, from writer to factor, from factor to junior merchant, and from junior merchant to senior merchant. They ought, according to the rule, to renew these covenants at these times by something (I speak without offence) which may be said to resemble confirmation in the Church. They are obliged to renew their obligation in particular to receive no gifts, gratuities, or presents whatsoever.
This scheme of covenants would have been wise and proper, if it had belonged to a judicious order, and rational, consistent scheme of discipline. The orders of the Company have forbidden their servants to take any extraneous emoluments. The act of Parliament has fulminated against them. Clear, positive laws, and clear, positive private engagements, have no exception of circumstances in them, no difference quoad majus et minus; but every one who offends against the law is liable to the law. The consequence is this: he who has deviated but an inch from the straight line, he who has taken but one penny of unlawful emolument, (and all have taken many pennies of unlawful emolument,) does not dare to complain of the most abandoned extortion and cruel oppression in any of his fellow-servants. He who has taken a trifle, perhaps as the reward of a good action, is obliged to be silent, when he sees whole nations desolated around him. The great criminal at the head of the service has the laws in his hand; he is always able to prove the small offence, and crush the person who has committed it. This is one grand source of Mr. Hastings's power. After he had got the better of the Parliamentary commission, no complaint from any part of the service has appeared against Mr. Hastings. He is bold enough to state it as one presumption of his merit, that there has been no such complaint. No such complaint, indeed, can exist. The spirit of the corps would of itself almost forbid it,—to which spirit an informer is the most odious and detestable of all characters, and is hunted down, and has always been hunted down, as a common enemy. But here is a new security. Who can complain, or dares to accuse? The whole service is irregular: nobody is free from small offences; and, as I have said, the great offender can always crush the small one.
If you examine the correspondence of Mr. Hastings, you would imagine, from many expressions very deliberately used by him, that the Company's service was made out of the very filth and dregs of human corruption; but if you examine his conduct towards the corrupt body he describes, you would imagine he had lived in the speculative schemes of visionary perfection. He was fourteen years at the head of that service; and there is not an instance, no, not one single instance, in which he endeavored to detect corruption, or that he ever, in any one single instance, attempted to punish it; but the whole service, with that whole mass of enormity which he attributes to it, slept, as it were, at once, under his terror and his protection: under his protection, if they did not dare to move against him; under terror, from his power to pluck out individuals and make a public example of them, whenever he thought fit. And therefore that service, under his guidance and influence, was, beyond even what its own nature disposed it to, a service of confederacy, a service of connivance, a service composed of various systems of guilt, of which Mr. Hastings was the head and the protector. But this general connivance he did not think sufficient to secure to him the general support of the Indian interest. He went further. We shall prove to your Lordships, that, when the Company were driven by shame, not by inclination, to order several prosecutions against delinquents in their service, Mr. Hastings, directly contrary to the duty of his office, directly contrary to the express and positive law of the Court of Directors, which law Parliament had bound upon him as his rule of action, not satisfied with his long tacit connivance, ventured, before he left his government, and among his last acts, to pass a general act of pardon and indemnity, and at once ordered the whole body of the prosecutions directed by his masters, the Company, to be discharged.
Having had fourteen years' lease of connivance to bestow, and giving at the end a general release of all suits and actions, he now puts himself at the head of a vast body enriched by his bounties, connivances, and indemnities, and expects the support of those whom he had thus fully rewarded and discharged from the pursuit of the laws. You will find, in the course of this business, that, when charges have been brought against him of any bribery, corruption, or other malversation, his course has been to answer little or nothing to that specific bribery, corruption, or malversation: his way has been to call on the Court of Directors to inquire of every servant who comes to Europe, and to say whether there was any one man in it that will give him an ill word. He has put himself into a situation in which he may always safely call to his character, and will always find himself utterly incapable of justifying his conduct.
So far I have troubled your Lordships with the system of confederacy and connivance, which, under his auspices, was the vital principle of almost the whole service. There is one member of the service which I have omitted: but whether I ought to have put it first, or, as I do now, last, I must confess I am at some loss; because, though it appears to be the lowest (if any regular) part of the service, it is by far the most considerable and the most efficient, without a full consideration and explanation of which hardly any part of the conduct of Mr. Hastings, and of many others that may be in his situation, can be fully understood.
I have given your Lordships an account of writers, factors, merchants, who exercise the office of judges, lord chancellors, chancellors of the exchequer, ministers of state, and managers of great revenues. But there is another description of men, of more importance than them all, a description you have often heard of, but which has not been sufficiently explained: I mean the banian. When the Company's service was no more than mercantile, and the servants were generally unacquainted with the country, they used the intervention of certain factors among the natives, which were called banians: we called them so, because they were of the tribe or caste of the banians or merchants,—the Indians being generally distributed into trades according to their tribes. The name still continues, when the functions of the banians are totally altered. The banian is known by other appellations. He is called dewan, or steward; and, indeed, this is a term with more propriety applied to him in several of his functions. He is, by his name of office, the steward of the household of the European gentleman: he has the management of his affairs, and the ordering of his servants. He is himself a domestic servant, and generally chosen out of that class of natives who, by being habituated to misery and subjection, can submit to any orders, and are fit for any of the basest services. Trained under oppression, (it is the true education,) they are fit to oppress others. They serve an apprenticeship of servitude to qualify them for the trade of tyranny. They know all the devices, all the little frauds, all the artifices and contrivances, the whole panoply of the defensive armor by which ingenious slavery secures itself against the violence of power. They know all the lurking-holes, all the winding recesses, of the unfortunate; and they hunt out distress and misery even to their last retreats. They have suffered themselves; but, far from being taught by those sufferings to abstain from rigor, they have only learned the methods of afflicting their fellow-slaves. They have the best intelligence of what is done in England. The moment a Company's servant arrives in India, and his English connections are known to be powerful, some of that class of people immediately take possession of him, as if he were their inheritance. They have knowledge of the country and its affairs; they have money; they have the arts of making money. The gentleman who comes from England has none of these; he enters into that world, as he enters into the world at large, naked. His portion is great simplicity, great indigence, and a strong disposition to relieve himself. The banian, once in possession, employs his tyranny, not only over the native people of his country, but often over the master himself, who has little other share in the proceedings of his servant but in giving him the ticket of his name to mark that he is connected with and supported by an European who is himself well connected and supported at home. This is a commission which nothing can resist. From that moment forward it is not the Englishman, it is the black banian, that is the master. The nominal master often lives from his hand. We know how young men are sent out of this country; we know how happy we are to hear soon that they are no longer a burden to their friends and parents. The banian knows it, too. He supplies the young servant with money. He has him under his power: first, from the necessity of employing such a man; and next, (and this is the more important of the two,) he has that dreadful power over his master which every creditor has over his debtor. Actions the most abhorrent to his nature he must see done before his face, and thousands and thousands worse are done in his absence, and he dare not complain. The banian extorts, robs, plunders, and then gives him just what proportion of the spoil he pleases. If the master should murmur, the very power that was sent over to protect the people of India from these very abuses, (the best things being perverted, when applied to unknown objects and put into unsuitable situations,) the very laws of England, by making the recovery of debts more easy, infinitely increase the power of the banian over his master. Thus the Supreme Court of Justice, the destined corrector of all abuses, becomes a collateral security for that abominable tyranny exercised by the moneyed banians over Europeans as well as the natives. So that, while we are here boasting of the British power in the East, we are in perhaps more than half our service nothing but the inferior, miserable instruments of the tyranny which the lowest part of the natives of India exercise, to the disgrace of the British authority, and to the ruin of all that is respectable among their own countrymen. They have subverted the first houses, totally ruined and undone the country, cheated and defrauded the revenue,—the master a silent, sometimes a melancholy spectator, until some office of high emolument has emancipated him. This has often been the true reason that the Company's servants in India, in order to free themselves from this horrid and atrocious servitude, are obliged to become instruments of another tyranny, and must prostitute themselves to men in power, in order to obtain some office that may enable them to escape the servitudes below, and enable them to pay their debts. And thus many have become the instruments of Mr. Hastings.
These banians, or dewans, were originally among the lower castes in the country. But now, it is true, that, after seeing the power and profits of these men,—that there is neither power, profession, nor occupation to be had, which a reputable person can exercise, but through that channel,—men of higher castes, and born to better things, have thrown themselves into that disgraceful servitude, have become menial servants to Englishmen, that they might rise by their degradation. But whoever they are, or of whatever birth, they have equally prostituted their integrity, they have equally lost their character; and, once entered into that course of life, there is no difference between the best castes and the worst. That system Mr. Hastings confirmed, established, increased, and made the instrument of the most austere tyranny, of the basest peculations, and the most scandalous and iniquitous extortions.
In the description I have given of banians a distinction is to be made. Your Lordships must distinguish the banians of the British servants in subordinate situations and the banians who are such to persons in higher authority. In the latter case the banian is in strict subordination, because he may always be ruined by his superior; whereas in the former it is always in his power to ruin his nominal superior. It was not through fear, but voluntarily, and not for the banian's purposes, but his own, Mr. Hastings has brought forward his banian. He seated him in the houses of the principal nobility, and invested him with farms of the revenue; he has given him enormous jobs; he has put him over the heads of a nobility which, for their grandeur, antiquity, and dignity, might almost be matched with your Lordships. He has made him supreme ecclesiastical judge, judge even of the very castes, in the preservation of the separate rules and separate privileges of which that people exists. He who has dominion over the caste has an absolute power over something more than life and fortune.
Such is that first, or last, (I know not which to call it,) order in the Company's service called a banian. The mutseddies, clerks, accountants, of Calcutta, generally fall under this description. Your Lordships will see hereafter the necessity of giving you, in the opening the case, an idea of the situation of a banian. You will see, as no Englishman, properly speaking, acts by himself, that he must be made responsible for that person called his banian,—for the power he either uses under him, or the power he has acquired over him. The banian escapes, in the night of his complexion and situation, the inquiry that a white man cannot stand before in this country. Through the banians, or other black natives, a bad servant of the Company receives his bribes. Through them he decides falsely against the titles of litigants in the court of castes, or in the offices of public registry. Through them Mr. Hastings has exercised oppressions which, I will venture to say, in his own name, in his own character, daring as he is, (and he is the most daring criminal that ever existed,) he never would dare to practise. Many, if not most, of the iniquities of his interior bad administration have been perpetrated through these banians, or other native agents and confidants; and we shall show you that he is not satisfied with one of them, confiding few of his secrets to Europeans, and hardly any of his instruments, either native or European, knowing the secrets of each other. This is the system of banianism, and of concealment, which Mr. Hastings, instead of eradicating out of the service, has propagated by example and by support, and enlarged by converting even Europeans into that dark and insidious character.
I have explained, or endeavored to explain, to your Lordships these circumstances of the true spirit, genius, and character, more than the ostensible institutions of the Company's service: I now shall beg leave to bring before you one institution, taken from the mercantile constitution of the Company, so excellent, that I will venture to say that human wisdom has never exceeded it. In this excellent institution the counting-house gave lessons to the state. The active, awakened, and enlightened principle of self-interest will provide a better system for the guard of that interest than the cold, drowsy wisdom of those who provide for a good out of themselves ever contrived for the public. The plans sketched by private prudence for private interest, the regulations by mercantile men for their mercantile purposes, when they can be applied to the discipline and order of the state, produce a discipline and order which no state should be ashamed to copy. The Company's mercantile regulations are admirably fitted for the government of a remote, large, disjointed empire. As merchants, having factors abroad in distant parts of the world, they have obliged them to a minuteness and strictness of register, and to a regularity of correspondence, which no state has ever used in the same degree with regard to its public ministers. The Company has made it a fundamental part of their constitution, that almost their whole government shall be a written government. Your Lordships will observe, in the course of the proceeding, the propriety of opening fully to you this circumstance in the government of India,—that is, that the Company's government is a government of writing, a government of record. The strictest court of justice, in its proceeding, is not more, perhaps not so much a court of record as the India Company's executive service is, or ought to be, in all its proceedings.
In the first place, they oblige their servants to keep a journal or diary of all their transactions, public and private: they are bound to do this by an express covenant. They oblige them, as a corrective upon that diary, to keep a letter-book, in which all their letters are to be regularly entered. And they are bound by the same covenant to produce all those books upon requisition, although they should be mixed with affairs concerning their own private negotiations and transactions of commerce, or their closest and most retired concerns in private life. But as the great corrective of all, they have contrived that every proceeding in public council shall be written,—no debates merely verbal. The arguments, first or last, are to be in writing, and recorded. All other bodies, the Houses of Lords, Commons, Privy Council, Cabinet Councils for secret state deliberations, enter only resolves, decisions, and final resolutions of affairs: the argument, the discussion, the dissent, does very rarely, if at all, appear. But the Company has proceeded much further, and done much more wisely, because they proceeded upon mercantile principles; and they have provided, either by orders or course of office, that all shall be written,—the proposition, the argument, the dissent. This is not confined to their great Council; but this order ought to be observed, as I conceive, (and I see considerable traces of it in practice,) in every Provincial Council, whilst the Provincial Councils existed, and even down to the minutest ramification of their service. These books, in a progression from the lowest Councils to the highest Presidency, are ordered to be transmitted, duplicate and triplicate, by every ship that sails to Europe. On this system an able servant of the Company, and high in their service, has recorded his opinion, and strongly expressed his sentiments. Writing to the Court of Directors, he says, "It ought to be remembered, that the basis upon which you rose to power, and have been able to stand the shock of repeated convulsions, has been the accuracy and simplicity of mercantile method, which makes every transaction in your service and every expenditure a matter of record."
My Lords, this method not only must produce to them, if strictly observed, a more accurate idea of the nature of their affairs and the nature of their expenditures, but it must afford them no trivial opportunity and means of knowing the true characters of their servants, their capacities, their ways of thinking, the turn and bias of their minds. If well employed, and but a little improved, the East India Company possessed an advantage unknown before to the chief of a remote government. In the most remote parts of the world, and in the minutest parts of a remote service, everything came before the principal with a domestic accuracy and local familiarity. It was, in the power of a Director, sitting in London, to form an accurate judgment of every incident that happened upon the Ganges and the Gogra.
The use of this recorded system did not consist only in the facility of discovering what the nature of their affairs and the character and capacity of their servants was, but it furnished the means of detecting their misconduct, frequently of proving it too, and of producing the evidence of it judicially under their own hands. For your Lordships must have observed that it is rare indeed, that, in a continued course of evil practices, any uniform method of proceeding will serve the purposes of the delinquent. Innocence is plain, direct, and simple: guilt is a crooked, intricate, inconstant, and various thing. The iniquitous job of to-day may be covered by specious reasons; but when the job of iniquity of to-morrow succeeds, the reasons that have colored the first crime may expose the second malversation. The man of fraud falls into contradiction, prevarication, confusion. This hastens, this facilitates, conviction. Besides, time is not allowed for corrupting the records. They are flown out of their hands, they are in Europe, they are safe in the registers of the Company, perhaps they are under the eye of Parliament, before the writers of them have time to invent an excuse for a direct contrary conduct to that to which their former pretended principles applied. This is a great, a material part of the constitution of the Company. My Lords, I do not think it to be much apologized for, if I repeat, that this is the fundamental regulation of that service, and which, if preserved in the first instance, as it ought to be, in official practice in India, and then used as it ought to be in England, would afford such a mode of governing a great, foreign, dispersed empire, as, I will venture to say, few countries ever possessed, even in governing the most limited and narrow jurisdiction.
It was the great business of Mr. Hastings's policy to subvert this great political edifice. His first mode of subverting it was by commanding the public ministers, paid by the Company, to deliver their correspondence upon the most critical and momentous affairs to him, in order to be suppressed and destroyed at his pleasure. To support him in this plan of spoliation, he has made a mischievous distinction in public business between public and private correspondence. The Company's orders and covenants made none. There are, readily I admit, thousands of occasions in which it is not proper to divulge promiscuously a private correspondence, though on public affairs, to the world; but there is no occasion in which it is not a necessary duty, on requisition, to communicate your correspondence to those who form the paramount government, on whose interests and on whose concerns and under whose authority this correspondence has been carried on. The very same reasons which require secrecy with regard to others demand the freest communication to them. But Mr. Hastings has established principles of confidence and secrecy towards himself which have cut off all confidence between the Directors and their ministers, and effectually kept them at least out of the secret of their own affairs.
Without entering into all the practices by which he has attempted to maim the Company's records, I shall state one more to your Lordships,—that is, his avowed appointment of spies and under-agents, who shall carry on the real state business, while there are public and ostensible agents who are not in the secret. The correspondence of those private agents he holds in his own hands, communicates as he thinks proper, but most commonly withholds. There remains nothing for the Directors but the shell and husk of a dry, formal, official correspondence, which neither means anything nor was intended to mean anything.
These are some of the methods by which he has defeated the purposes of the excellent institution of a recorded administration. But there are cases to be brought before this court in which he has laid the axe at once to the root,—which was, by delegating out of his own hands a great department of the powers of the Company, which he was himself bound to execute, to a board which was not bound to record their deliberations with the same strictness as he himself was bound. He appointed of his own usurped authority a board for the administration of the revenue, the members of which were expressly dispensed from recording their dissents, until they chose it; and in that office, as in a great gulf, a most important part of the Company's transactions has been buried.
Notwithstanding his unwearied pains in the work of spoliation, some precious fragments are left, which we ought infinitely to value,—by which we may learn, and lament, the loss of what he has destroyed. If it were not for those inestimable fragments and wrecks of the recorded government which have been saved from the destruction which Mr. Hastings intended for them all, the most shameful enormities that have ever disgraced a government or harassed a people would only be known in this country by secret whispers and unauthenticated anecdotes; the disgracer's of government, the vexers and afflicters of mankind, instead of being brought before an awful public tribunal, might have been honored with the highest distinctions and rewards their country has to bestow; and sordid bribery, base peculation, iron-handed extortion, fierce, unrelenting tyranny, might themselves have been invested with those sacred robes of justice before which this day they have cause to tremble.
Mr. Hastings, sensible of what he suffers from this register of acts and opinions, has endeavored to discredit and ruin what remains of it. He refuses, in his defence to the House of Commons, in letters to the Court of Directors, in various writings and declarations, he refuses to be tried by his own recorded declarations; he refuses to be bound by his own opinions, delivered under his own hand. He knows that he and the record cannot exist together. He knows that what remains of the written constitution which he has not destroyed is enough to destroy him. He claims a privilege of systematic inconstancy, a privilege of prevarication, a privilege of contradiction,—a privilege of not only changing his conduct, but the principles of his conduct, whenever it suits his occasions. But I hope your Lordships will show the destroyers of that wise constitution, and the destroyers of those records which are to be the securities against malversation in office, the discoverers and avengers of it, that whoever destroys the discoverer establishes the iniquity; that, therefore, your Lordships will bind him to his own declarations, given on record under his own hand; that you will say to this unfaithful servant of the Company, what was said to another unfaithful person upon a far less occasion by a far greater authority, "Out of thy own mouth will I judge thee, thou wicked servant."
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Having gone through what I have been instructed might be necessary to state to your Lordships concerning the Company's constitution, (I mean the real inside, and not the shell of its constitution,)—having stated the abuses that existed in it,—having stated how Mr. Hastings endeavored to perpetuate and to increase and to profit of the abuse, and how he has systematically endeavored to destroy, and has in some instances in fact destroyed, many things truly excellent in that constitution,—if I have not wasted your time in explanation of matters that you are already well acquainted with, I shall next beg leave to state to you the abuse in some particulars of the other part of the public authority which the Company acquired over the natives of India, in virtue of the royal charter of the present Mogul emperor, in the year 1766 [1765?].
My Lords, that you may the better judge of the abuse Mr. Hastings has made of the powers vested in him, it will be expedient to consider a little who the people are to whose prejudice he has abused these powers. I shall explain this point with as much brevity as is consistent with the distinctness with which I mean to bring the whole before your Lordships; and I beg to observe to you that this previous discourse, rather explanatory than accusatorial, (if I may use the expression,) is meant rather to elucidate the nature of the matter to come before you in regular charges than as proof of the charges themselves.
I know that a good deal of latitude is allowed to advocates, when opening a cause in a private court, to indulge themselves in their narratives leading to the charges they intend to bring. They are not always called to the strictest account for such prefatory matter, because the court, when it comes to judge, sifts and distinguishes it from the points to be strictly proved, and on whose merits the cause relies. But I wish your Lordships to know, that, with the high opinion I have of your gravity, (and it is impossible for a man to conceive a higher,) and sensible of the weight of those I represent at this place, namely, the Commons of Great Britain, I should be sorry that any one substantial fact, even in this explanatory opening, or even the color of the fact, should be alleged, which, when called upon, I should not be ready to make good to you by proof,—I mean, by proof adapted to its nature: public opinion, by evidence of public opinion; by record, that to which record is applicable; by oral testimony, things to which oral testimony alone can be produced; and, last of all, that which is matter of historic proof, by historic evidence. This I hope to do with the usual allowance to errors and mistakes, which is the claim of human infirmity.
Then, my Lords, two distinct people inhabit India. Two sorts of people inhabit the same country, as totally distinct from each other, in characters, lives, opinions, prejudices, and manners, as the inhabitants of countries most remote from each other. For both of these descriptions Mr. Hastings was bound to provide equally, agreeable to the terms of the charter which the Company received from the lawful governing power of that country: a charter received at its own solicitation; a charter not forced upon us by a superior power, but given at the immediate solicitation of the principal servants belonging to the Company; a charter solemnly accepted by the Company, and by them, I am very sorry to say, little regarded,—or, at least, little regarded by their principal servants.
My Lords, the first description of people who are subjected virtually to the British empire through those mediums which I have described to you are the original inhabitants of Hindostan, who have in all time, and beyond all the eras which we use, (I mean always the two grand eras excepted,) been the aboriginal inhabitants and proprietors of that country,—with manners, religion, customs, and usages appropriated to themselves, and little resembling those of the rest of mankind. This description of men is commonly called Gentoos. The system and principle of that government is locality. Their laws, their manners, their religion are all local.
Their legislator, whoever he was, (for who he was is a matter lost in the mists of a most obscure antiquity,) had it as a great leading principle of his policy to connect the people with their soil. Accordingly, by one of those anomalies which a larger acquaintance with our species daily discovers, and which perhaps an attentive reflection might explain in the nature of man, this aboriginal people of India,—who are the softest in their manners of any of our race, approaching almost to feminine tenderness,—who are formed constitutionally benevolent, and, in many particulars, made to fill a larger circle of benevolence than our morals take in,—who extend their good-will to the whole animal creation,—these people are, of all nations, the most unalliable to any other part of mankind. They cannot, the highest orders of them, at least, cannot, come into contact with any other. That bond which is one of the chief instruments of society, and which, supporting the individual, connects the species, can have no existence with them: I mean the convivial bond. That race can be held to no other by that great link of life. No Hindoo can mix at meals even with those on whom he depends for the meat he eats. This circumstance renders it difficult for us to enter with due sympathy into their concerns, or for them to enter into ours, even when we meet on the same ground. But there are other circumstances which render our intercourse, in our mutual relation, very full of difficulty. The sea is between us. The mass of that element, which, by appearing to disconnect, unites mankind, is to them a forbidden road. It is a great gulf fixed between you and them,—not so much that elementary gulf, but that gulf which manners, opinions, and laws have radicated in the very nature of the people. None of their high castes, without great danger to his situation, religion, rank, and estimation, can ever pass the sea; and this forbids, forever, all direct communication between that country and this. That material and affecting circumstance, my Lords, makes it ten times more necessary, since they cannot come to us, to keep a strict eye upon all persons who go to them. It imposes upon us a stricter duty to guard with a firm and powerful vigilance those whose principles of conscience weaken their principles of self-defence. If we undertake to govern the inhabitants of such a country, we must govern them upon their own principles and maxims, and not upon ours. We must not think to force them into the narrow circle of our ideas; we must extend ours to take in their system of opinions and rites, and the necessities which result from both: all change on their part is absolutely impracticable. We have more versatility of character and manners, and it is we who must conform. We know what the empire of opinion is in human nature. I had almost said that the law of opinion was human nature itself. It is, however, the strongest principle in the composition of the frame of the human mind; and more of the happiness and unhappiness of mankind resides in that inward principle than in all external circumstances put together. But if such is the empire of opinion even amongst us, it has a pure, unrestrained, complete, and despotic power amongst them. The variety of balanced opinions in our minds weakens the force of each: for in Europe, sometimes, the laws of religion differ from the laws of the land; sometimes the laws of the land differ from our laws of honor; our laws of honor are full of caprice, differing from those other laws, and sometimes differing from themselves: but there the laws of religion, the laws of the land, and the laws of honor are all united and consolidated in one invariable system, and bind men by eternal and indissoluble bonds to the rules of what, amongst them, is called his caste.