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Burke was one of the greatest political thinkers whom England has produced, and all his writings, like his speeches, are characterised by the welding together of knowledge, thought, and feeling. Unlike most orators he is more successful as a writer than as a speaker. He rose too far above the heads of his audience, which the continued splendour of his declamation, his inordinate copiousness, and his excessive vehemence, often passing into fury, at length wearied, and even disgusted: but in his writings are found some of the grandest examples of a fervid and richly elaborated eloquence. Though he was never admitted to the Cabinet, he guided and influenced largely the policy of his party, while by his efforts in the direction of economy and order in administration at home, and on behalf of kindly and just government in India, as well as by his contributions to political philosophy, he laid his country and indeed the world under lasting obligations. This is volume ten out of twelve of his works, this volume containing speeches in the impeachment of Warren Hastings.
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The Works of Edmund Burke
The Works of E. Burke Volume 10
Jazzybee Verlag Jürgen Beck
86450 Altenmünster, Loschberg 9
SPEECH IN OPENING THE IMPEACHMENT.1
THIRD DAY: MONDAY, FEBRUARY 18, 1788.1
FOURTH DAY: TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 19, 1788.54
SPEECH ON THE SIXTH ARTICLE OF CHARGE. April and May, 1789.80
FIRST DAY: TUESDAY, APRIL 21, 1789.80
SECOND DAY: SATURDAY, APRIL 25, 1789.130
THIRD DAY: TUESDAY, MAY 5, 1789.167
FOURTH DAY: THURSDAY, MAY 7, 1789.216
My Lords,—The gentlemen who are appointed by the Commons to manage this prosecution, have directed me to inform your Lordships, that they have very carefully and attentively weighed the magnitude of the subject which they bring before you with the time which the nature and circumstances of affairs allow for their conducting it.
My Lords, on that comparison, they are very apprehensive, that, if I should go very largely into a preliminary explanation of the several matters in charge, it might be to the prejudice of an early trial of the substantial merits of each article. We have weighed and considered this maturely. We have compared exactly the time with the matter, and we have found that we are obliged to do as all men must do who would manage their affairs practicably, to make our opinion of what might be most advantageous to the business conform to the time that is left to perform it in. We must, as all men must, submit affairs to time, and not think of making time conform to our wishes; and therefore, my Lords, I very willingly fall in with the inclinations of the gentlemen with whom I have the honor to act, to come as soon as possible to close fighting, and to grapple immediately and directly with the corruptions of India,—to bring before your Lordships the direct articles, to apply the evidence to the articles, and to bring the matter forward for your Lordships' decision in that manner which the confidence we have in the justice of our cause demands from the Commons of Great Britain.
My Lords, these are the opinions of those with whom I have the honor to act, and in their opinions I readily acquiesce. For I am far from wishing to waste any of your Lordships' time upon any matter merely through any opinion I have of the nature of the business, when at the same time I find that in the opinion of others it might militate against the production of its full, proper, and (if I may so say) its immediate effect.
It was my design to class the crimes of the late Governor of Bengal,—to show their mutual bearings,—how they were mutually aided and grew and were formed out of each other. I proposed first of all to show your Lordships that they have their root in that which is the origin of all evil, avarice and rapacity,—to show how that led to prodigality of the public money,—and how prodigality of the public money, by wasting the treasures of the East India Company, furnished an excuse to the Governor-General to break its faith, to violate all its most solemn engagements, and to fall with a hand of stern, ferocious, and unrelenting rapacity upon all the allies and dependencies of the Company. But I shall be obliged in some measure to abridge this plan; and as your Lordships already possess, from what I had the honor to state on Saturday, a general view of this matter, you will be in a condition to pursue it when the several articles are presented.
My Lords, I have to state to-day the root of all these misdemeanors,—namely, the pecuniary corruption and avarice which gave rise and primary motion to all the rest of the delinquencies charged to be committed by the Governor-General.
My Lords, pecuniary corruption forms not only, as your Lordships will observe in the charges before you, an article of charge by itself, but likewise so intermixes with the whole, that it is necessary to give, in the best manner I am able, a history of that corrupt system which brought on all the subsequent acts of corruption. I will venture to say there is no one act, in which tyranny, malice, cruelty, and oppression can be charged, that does not at the same time carry evident marks of pecuniary corruption.
I stated to your Lordships on Saturday last the principles upon which Mr. Hastings governed his conduct in India, and upon which he grounds his defence. These may all be reduced to one short word,—arbitrary power. My Lords, if Mr. Hastings had contended, as other men have often done, that the system of government which he patronizes, and on which he acted, was a system tending on the whole to the blessing and benefit of mankind, possibly something might be said for him for setting up so wild, absurd, irrational, and wicked a system,—something might be said to qualify the act from the intention; but it is singular in this man, that, at the time he tells you he acted on the principles of arbitrary power, he takes care to inform you that he was not blind to the consequences. Mr. Hastings foresaw that the consequences of this system was corruption. An arbitrary system, indeed, must always be a corrupt one. My Lords, there never was a man who thought he had no law but his own will, who did not soon find that he had no end but his own profit. Corruption and arbitrary power are of natural unequivocal generation, necessarily producing one another. Mr. Hastings foresees the abusive and corrupt consequences, and then he justifies his conduct upon the necessities of that system. These are things which are new in the world; for there never was a man, I believe, who contended for arbitrary power, (and there have been persons wicked and foolish enough to contend for it,) that did not pretend, either that the system was good in itself, or that by their conduct they had mitigated or had purified it, and that the poison, by passing through their constitution, had acquired salutary properties. But if you look at his defence before the House of Commons, you will see that that very system upon which he governed, and under which he now justifies his actions, did appear to himself a system pregnant with a thousand evils and a thousand mischiefs.
The next thing that is remarkable and singular in the principles upon which the Governor-General acted is, that, when he is engaged in a vicious system which clearly leads to evil consequences, he thinks himself bound to realize all the evil consequences involved in that system. All other men have taken a directly contrary course: they have said, "I have been engaged in an evil system, that led, indeed, to mischievous consequences, but I have taken care, by my own virtues, to prevent the evils of the system under which I acted."
We say, then, not only that he governed arbitrarily, but corruptly,—that is to say, that he was a giver and receiver of bribes, and formed a system for the purpose of giving and receiving them. We wish your Lordships distinctly to consider that he did not only give and receive bribes accidentally, as it happened, without any system and design, merely as the opportunity or momentary temptation of profit urged him to it, but that he has formed plans and systems of government for the very purpose of accumulating bribes and presents to himself. This system of Mr. Hastings's government is such a one, I believe, as the British nation in particular will disown; for I will venture to say, that, if there is any one thing which distinguishes this nation eminently above another, it is, that in its offices at home, both judicial and in the state, there is less suspicion of pecuniary corruption attaching to them than to any similar offices in any part of the globe, or that have existed at any time: so that he who would set up a system of corruption, and attempt to justify it upon the principle of utility, that man is staining not only the nature and character of office, but that which is the peculiar glory of the official and judicial character of this country; and therefore, in this House, which is eminently the guardian of the purity of all the offices of this kingdom, he ought to be called eminently and peculiarly to account. There are many things, undoubtedly, in crimes, which make them frightful and odious; but bribery, filthy hands, a chief governor of a great empire receiving bribes from poor, miserable, indigent people, this is what makes government itself base, contemptible, and odious in the eyes of mankind.
My Lords, it is certain that even tyranny itself may find some specious color, and appear as a more severe and rigid execution of justice. Religious persecution may shield itself under the guise of a mistaken and over-zealous piety. Conquest may cover its baldness with its own laurels, and the ambition of the conqueror may be hid in the secrets of his own heart under a veil of benevolence, and make him imagine he is bringing temporary desolation upon a country only to promote its ultimate advantage and his own glory. But in the principles of that governor who makes nothing but money his object there can be nothing of this. There are here none of those specious delusions that look like virtues, to veil either the governed or the governor. If you look at Mr. Hastings's merits, as he calls them, what are they? Did he improve the internal state of the government by great reforms? No such thing. Or by a wise and incorrupt administration of justice? No. Has he enlarged the boundary of our government? No: there are but too strong proofs of his lessening it. But his pretensions to merit are, that he squeezed more money out of the inhabitants of the country than other persons could have done,—money got by oppression, violence, extortion from the poor, or the heavy hand of power upon the rich and great.
These are his merits. What we charge as his demerits are all of the same nature; for, though there is undoubtedly oppression, breach of faith, cruelty, perfidy, charged upon him, yet the great ruling principle of the whole, and that from which you can never have an act free, is money,—it is the vice of base avarice, which never is, nor ever appears even to the prejudices of mankind to be, anything like a virtue. Our desire of acquiring sovereignty in India undoubtedly originated first in ideas of safety and necessity; its next step was a step of ambition. That ambition, as generally happens in conquest, was followed by gains of money; but afterwards there was no mixture at all; it was, during Mr. Hastings's time, altogether a business of money. If he has extirpated a nation, I will not say whether properly or improperly, it is because (says he) you have all the benefit of conquest without expense; you have got a large sum of money from the people, and you may leave them to be governed by whom and as they will. This is directly contrary to the principles of conquerors. If he has at any time taken any money from the dependencies of the Company, he does not pretend that it was obtained from their zeal and affection to our cause, or that it made their submission more complete: very far from it. He says they ought to be independent, and all that you have to do is to squeeze money from them. In short, money is the beginning, the middle, and the end of every kind of act done by Mr. Hastings: pretendedly for the Company, but really for himself.
Having said so much about the origin, the first principle, both of that which he makes his merit and which we charge as his demerit, the next step is, that I should lay open to your Lordships, as clearly as I can, what the sense of his employers, the East India Company, and what the sense of the legislature itself, has been upon those merits and demerits of money.
My Lords, the Company, knowing that these money transactions were likely to subvert that empire which was first established upon them, did, in the year 1765, send out a body of the strongest and most solemn covenants to their servants, that they should take no presents from the country powers, under any name or description, except those things which were publicly and openly taken for the use of the Company,—namely, territories or sums of money which might be obtained by treaty. They distinguished such presents as were taken from any persons privately, and unknown to them, and without their authority, from subsidies: and that this is the true nature and construction of their order I shall contend and explain afterwards to your Lordships. They have said, nothing shall be taken for their private use; for though in that and in every state there may be subsidiary treaties by which sums of money may be received, yet they forbid their servants, their governors, whatever application they might pretend to make of them, to receive, under any other name or pretence, more than a certain, marked, simple sum of money, and this not without the consent and permission of the Presidency to which they belong. This is the substance, the principle, and the spirit of the covenants, and will show your Lordships how radicated an evil this of bribery and presents was judged to be.
When these covenants arrived in India, the servants refused at first to execute them,—and suspended the execution of them, till they had enriched themselves with presents. Eleven months elapsed, and it was not till Lord Clive reached the place of his destination that the covenants were executed: and they were not executed then without some degree of force. Soon afterwards the treaty was made with the country powers by which Sujah ul Dowlah was reëstablished in the province of Oude, and paid a sum of 500,000l. to the Company for it. It was a public payment, and there was not a suspicion that a single shilling of private emolument attended it. But whether Mr. Hastings had the example of others or not, their example could not justify his briberies. He was sent there to put an end to all those examples. The Company did expressly vest him with that power. They declared at that time, that the whole of their service was totally corrupted by bribes and presents, and by extravagance and luxury, which partly gave rise to them, and these, in their turn, enabled them to pursue those excesses. They not only reposed trust in the integrity of Mr. Hastings, but reposed trust in his remarkable frugality and order in his affairs, which they considered as things that distinguished his character. But in his defence we have him quite in another character,—no longer the frugal, attentive servant, bred to business, bred to book-keeping, as all the Company's servants are; he now knows nothing of his own affairs, knows not whether he is rich or poor, knows not what he has in the world. Nay, people are brought forward to say that they know better than he does what his affairs are. He is not like a careful man bred in a counting-house, and by the Directors put into an office of the highest trust on account of the regularity of his affairs; he is like one buried in the contemplation of the stars, and knows nothing of the things in this world. It was, then, on account of an idea of his great integrity that the Company put him into this situation. Since that he has thought proper to justify himself, not by clearing himself of receiving bribes, but by saying that no bad consequences resulted from it, and that, if any such evil consequences did arise from it, they arose rather from his inattention to money than from his desire of acquiring it.
I have stated to your Lordships the nature of the covenants which the East India Company sent out. Afterwards, when they found their servants had refused to execute these covenants, they not only very severely reprehended even a moment's delay in their execution, and threatened the exacting the most strict and rigorous performance of them, but they sent a commission to enforce the observance of them more strongly; and that commission had it specially in charge never to receive presents. They never sent out a person to India without recognizing the grievance, and without ordering that presents should not be received, as the main fundamental part of their duty, and upon which all the rest depended, as it certainly must: for persons at the head of government should not encourage that by example which they ought by precept, authority, and force to restrain in all below them. That commission failing, another commission was preparing to be sent out with the same instructions, when an act of Parliament took it up; and that act, which gave Mr. Hastings power, did mould in the very first stamina of his power this principle, in words the most clear and forcible that an act of Parliament could possibly devise upon the subject. And that act was made not only upon a general knowledge of the grievance, but your Lordships will see in the reports of that time that Parliament had directly in view before them the whole of that monstrous head of corruption under the name of presents, and all the monstrous consequences that followed it.
Now, my Lords, every office of trust, in its very nature, forbids the receipt of bribes. But Mr. Hastings was forbidden it, first, by his official situation,—next, by covenant,—and lastly, by act of Parliament: that is to say, by all the things that bind mankind, or that can bind them,—first, moral obligation inherent in the duty of their office,—next, the positive injunctions of the legislature of the country,—and lastly, a man's own private, particular, voluntary act and covenant. These three, the great and only obligations that bind mankind, all united in the focus of this single point,—that they should take no presents.
I am to mark to your Lordships, that this law and this covenant did consider indirect ways of taking presents—taking them by others, and such like—directly in the very same light as they considered taking them by themselves. It is perhaps a much more dangerous way; because it adds to the crime a false, prevaricating mode of concealing it, and makes it much more mischievous by admitting others into the participation of it. Mr. Hastings has said, (and it is one of the general complaints of Mr. Hastings,) that he is made answerable for the acts of other men. It is a thing inherent in the nature of his situation. All those who enjoy a great superintending trust, which is to regulate the whole affairs of an empire, are responsible for the acts and conduct of other men, so far as they had anything to do with appointing them, or holding them in their places, or having any sort of inspection into their conduct. But when a Governor presumes to remove from their situations those persons whom the public authority and sanction of the Company have appointed, and obtrudes upon them by violence other persons, superseding the orders of his masters, he becomes doubly responsible for their conduct. If the persons he names should be of notorious evil character and evil principles, and if this should be perfectly known to himself, and of public notoriety to the rest of the world, then another strong responsibility attaches on him for the acts of those persons.
Governors, we know very well, cannot with their own hands be continually receiving bribes,—for then they must have as many hands as one of the idols in an Indian temple, in order to receive all the bribes which a Governor-General may receive,—but they have them vicariously. As there are many offices, so he has had various officers for receiving and distributing his bribes; he has a great many, some white and some black agents. The white men are loose and licentious; they are apt to have resentments, and to be bold in revenging them. The black men are very secret and mysterious; they are not apt to have very quick resentments, they have not the same liberty and boldness of language which characterize Europeans; and they have fears, too, for themselves, which makes it more likely that they will conceal anything committed to them by Europeans. Therefore Mr. Hastings had his black agents, not one, two, three, but many, disseminated through the country: no two of them, hardly, appear to be in the secret of any one bribe. He has had likewise his white agents,—they were necessary,—a Mr. Larkins and a Mr. Croftes. Mr. Croftes was sub-treasurer, and Mr. Larkins accountant-general. These were the last persons of all others that should have had anything to do with bribes; yet these were some of his agents in bribery. There are few instances, in comparison of the whole number of bribes, but there are some, where two men are in the secret of the same bribe. Nay, it appears that there was one bribe divided into different payments at different times,—that one part was committed to one black secretary, another part to another black secretary. So that it is almost impossible to make up a complete body of all his bribery: you may find the scattered limbs, some here and others there; and while you are employed in picking them up, he may escape entirely in a prosecution for the whole.
The first act of his government in Bengal was the most bold and extraordinary that I believe ever entered into the head of any man,—I will say, of any tyrant. It was no more or less than a general, almost exceptless confiscation, in time of profound peace, of all the landed property in Bengal, upon most extraordinary pretences. Strange as this may appear, he did so confiscate it; he put it up to a pretended public, in reality to a private corrupt auction; and such favored landholders as came to it were obliged to consider themselves as not any longer proprietors of the estates, but to recognize themselves as farmers under government: and even those few that were permitted to remain on their estates had their payments raised at his arbitrary discretion; and the rest of the lands were given to farmers-general, appointed by him and his committee, at a price fixed by the same arbitrary discretion.
It is necessary to inform your Lordships that the revenues of Bengal are, for the most part, territorial revenues, great quit-rents issuing out of lands. I shall say nothing either of the nature of this property, of the rights of the people to it, or of the mode of exacting the rents, till that great question of revenues, one of the greatest which we shall have to lay before you, shall be brought before your Lordships particularly and specially as an article of charge. I only mention it now as an exemplification of the great principle of corruption which guided Mr. Hastings's conduct.
When the ancient nobility, the great princes, (for such I may call them,) a nobility, perhaps, as ancient as that of your Lordships, (and a more truly noble body never existed in that character,)—my Lords, when all the nobility, some of whom have borne the rank and port of princes, all the gentry, all the freeholders of the country, had their estates in that manner confiscated,—that is, either given to themselves to hold on the footing of farmers, or totally confiscated,—when such an act of tyranny was done, no doubt some good was pretended. This confiscation was made by Mr. Hastings, and the lands let to these farmers for five years, upon an idea which always accompanies his acts of oppression, the idea of moneyed merit. He adopted this mode of confiscating the estates, and letting them to farmers, for the avowed purpose of seeing how much it was possible to take out of them. Accordingly, he set them up to this wild and wicked auction, as it would have been, if it had been a real one,—corrupt and treacherous, as it was,—he set these lands up for the purpose of making that discovery, and pretended that the discovery would yield a most amazing increase of rent. And for some time it appeared so to do, till it came to the touchstone of experience; and then it was found that there was a defalcation from these monstrous raised revenues which were to cancel in the minds of the Directors the wickedness of so atrocious, flagitious, and horrid an act of treachery. At the end of five years what do you think was the failure? No less than 2,050,000l. Then a new source of corruption was opened,—that is, how to deal with the balances: for every man who had engaged in these transactions was a debtor to government, and the remission of that debt depended upon the discretion of the Governor-General. Then the persons who were to settle the composition of that immense debt, who were to see how much was recoverable and how much not, were able to favor, or to exact to the last shilling; and there never existed a doubt but that not only upon the original cruel exaction, but upon the remission afterwards, immense gains were derived. This will account for the manner in which those stupendous fortunes which astonish the world have been made. They have been made, first by a tyrannous exaction from the people who were suffered to remain in possession of their own land as farmers,—then by selling the rest to farmers at rents and under hopes which could never be realized, and then getting money for the relaxation of their debts. But whatever excuse, and however wicked, there might have been for this wicked act, namely, that it carried upon the face of it some sort of appearance of public good,—that is to say, that sort of public good which Mr. Hastings so often professed, of ruining the country for the benefit of the Company,—yet, in fact, this business of balances is that nidus in which have been nustled and bred and born all the corruptions of India, first by making extravagant demands, and afterwards by making corrupt relaxations of them.
Besides this monstrous failure, in consequence of a miserable exaction by which more was attempted to be forced from the country than it was capable of yielding, and this by way of experiment, when your Lordships come to inquire who the farmers-general of the revenue were, you would naturally expect to find them to be the men in the several countries who had the most interest, the greatest wealth, the best knowledge of the revenue and resources of the country in which they lived. Those would be thought the natural, proper farmers-general of each district. No such thing, my Lords. They are found in the body of people whom I have mentioned to your Lordships. They were almost all let to Calcutta banians. Calcutta banians were the farmers of almost the whole. They sub-delegated to others, who sometimes had sub-delegates under them ad infinitum. The whole formed a system together, through the succession of black tyrants scattered through the country, in which you at last find the European at the end, sometimes indeed not hid very deep, not above one between him and the farmer, namely, his banian directly, or some other black person to represent him. But some have so managed the affair, that, when you inquire who the farmer is,—Was such a one farmer? No. Cantoo Baboo? No. Another? No,—at last you find three deep of fictitious farmers, and you find the European gentlemen, high in place and authority, the real farmers of the settlement. So that the zemindars were dispossessed, the country racked and ruined, for the benefit of an European, under the name of a farmer: for you will easily judge whether these gentlemen had fallen so deeply in love with the banians, and thought so highly of their merits and services, as to reward them with all the possessions of the great landed interest of the country. Your Lordships are too grave, wise, and discerning, to make it necessary for me to say more upon that subject. Tell me that the banians of English gentlemen, dependants on them at Calcutta, were the farmers throughout, and I believe I need not tell your Lordships for whose benefit they were farmers.
But there is one of these who comes so nearly, indeed so precisely, within this observation, that it is impossible for me to pass him by. Whoever has heard of Mr. Hastings's name, with any knowledge of Indian connections, has heard of his banian, Cantoo Baboo. This man is well known in the records of the Company, as his agent for receiving secret gifts, confiscations, and presents. You would have imagined that he would at least have kept him out of these farms, in order to give the measure a color at least of disinterestedness, and to show that this whole system of corruption and pecuniary oppression was carried on for the benefit of the Company. The Governor-General and Council made an ostensible order by which no collector, or person concerned in the revenue, should have any connection with these farms. This order did not include the Governor-General in the words of it, but more than included him in the spirit of it; because his power to protect a farmer-general in the person of his own servant was infinitely greater than that of any subordinate person. Mr. Hastings, in breach of this order, gave farms to his own banian. You find him the farmer of great, of vast and extensive farms. Another regulation that was made on that occasion was, that no farmer should have, except in particular cases, which were marked, described, and accurately distinguished, a greater farm than what paid 10,000l. a year to government. Mr. Hastings, who had broken the first regulation by giving any farm at all to his banian, finding himself bolder, broke the second too, and, instead of 10,000l., gave him farms paying a revenue of 130,000l. a year to government. Men undoubtedly have been known to be under the dominion of their domestics; such things have happened to great men: they never have happened justifiably in my opinion. They have never happened excusably; but we are acquainted sufficiently with the weakness of human nature to know that a domestic who has served you in a near office long, and in your opinion faithfully, does become a kind of relation; it brings on a great affection and regard for his interest. Now was this the case with Mr. Hastings and Cantoo Baboo? Mr. Hastings was just arrived at his government, and Cantoo Baboo had been but a year in his service; so that he could not in that time have contracted any great degree of friendship for him. These people do not live in your house; the Hindoo servants never sleep in it; they cannot eat with your servants; they have no second table, in which they can be continually about you, to be domesticated with yourself, a part of your being, as people's servants are to a certain degree. These persons live all abroad; they come at stated hours upon matters of business, and nothing more. But if it had been otherwise, Mr. Hastings's connection with Cantoo Baboo had been but of a year's standing; he had before served in that capacity Mr. Sykes, who recommended him to Mr. Hastings. Your Lordships, then, are to judge whether such outrageous violations of all the principles by which Mr. Hastings pretended to be guided in the settlement of these farms were for the benefit of this old, decayed, affectionate servant of one year's standing: your Lordships will judge of that.
I have here spoken only of the beginning of a great, notorious system of corruption, which branched out so many ways and into such a variety of abuses, and has afflicted that kingdom with such horrible evils from that day to this, that I will venture to say it will make one of the greatest, weightiest, and most material parts of the charge that is now before you; as I believe I need not tell your Lordships that an attempt to set up the whole landed interest of a kingdom to auction must be attended, not only in that act, but every consequential act, with most grievous and terrible consequences.
My Lords, I will now come to a scene of peculation of another kind: namely, a peculation by the direct sale of offices of justice,—by the direct sale of the successions of families,—by the sale of guardianships and trusts, held most sacred among the people of India: by the sale of them, not, as before, to farmers, not, as you might imagine, to near relations of the families, but a sale of them to the unfaithful servants of those families, their own perfidious servants, who had ruined their estates, who, if any balances had accrued to the government, had been the cause of those debts. Those very servants were put in power over their estates, their persons, and their families, by Mr. Hastings, for a shameful price. It will be proved to your Lordships, in the course of this business, that Mr. Hastings has done this in another sacred trust, the most sacred trust a man can have,—that is, in the case of those vakeels, (as they call them,) agents, or attorneys, who had been sent to assert and support the rights of their miserable masters before the Council-General. It will be proved that these vakeels were by Mr. Hastings, for a price to be paid for it, put in possession of the very power, situation, and estates of those masters who sent them to Calcutta to defend them from wrong and violence. The selling offices of justice, the sale of succession in families, of guardianships and other sacred trusts, the selling masters to their servants, and principals to the attorneys they employed to defend themselves, were all parts of the same system; and these were the horrid ways in which he received bribes beyond any common rate.
When Mr. Hastings was appointed in the year 1773 to be Governor-General of Bengal, together with Mr. Barwell, General Clavering, Colonel Monson, and Mr. Francis, the Company, knowing the former corrupt state of their service, (but the whole corrupt system of Mr. Hastings at that time not being known or even suspected at home,) did order them, in discharge of the spirit of the act of Parliament, to make an inquiry into all manner of corruptions and malversations in office, without the exception of any persons whatever. Your Lordships are to know that the act did expressly authorize the Court of Directors to frame a body of instructions, and to give orders to their new servants appointed under the act of Parliament, lest it should be supposed that they, by their appointment under the act, could supersede the authority of the Directors. The Directors, sensible of the power left in them over their servants by the act of Parliament, though their nomination was taken from them, did, agreeably to the spirit and power of that act, give this order.
The Council consisted of two parties: Mr. Hastings and Mr. Barwell, who were chosen and kept there upon the idea of their local knowledge; and the other three, who were appointed on account of their great parts and known integrity. And I will venture to say that those three gentlemen did so execute their duty in India, in all the substantial parts of it, that they will serve as a shield to cover the honor of England, whenever this country is upbraided in India.
They found a rumor running through the country of great peculations and oppressions. Soon after, when it was known what their instructions were, and that the Council was ready, as is the first duty of all governors, even when there is no express order, to receive complaints against the oppressions and corruptions of government in any part of it, they found such a body (and that body shall be produced to your Lordships) of corruption and peculation in every walk, in every department, in every situation of life, in the sale of the most sacred trusts, and in the destruction of the most ancient families of the country, as I believe in so short a time never was unveiled since the world began.
Your Lordships would imagine that Mr. Hastings would at least ostensibly have taken some part in endeavoring to bring these corruptions before the public, or that he would at least have acted with some little management in his opposition. But, alas! it was not in his power; there was not one, I think, but I am sure very few, of these general articles of corruption, in which the most eminent figure in the crowd, the principal figure as it were in the piece, was not Mr. Hastings himself. There were a great many others involved; for all departments were corrupted and vitiated. But you could not open a page in which you did not see Mr. Hastings, or in which you did not see Cantoo Baboo. Either the black or white side of Mr. Hastings constantly was visible to the world in every part of these transactions.
With the other gentlemen, who were visible too, I have at present no dealing. Mr. Hastings, instead of using any management on that occasion, instantly set up his power and authority, directly against the majority of the Council, directly against his colleagues, directly against the authority of the East India Company and the authority of the act of Parliament, to put a dead stop to all these inquiries. He broke up the Council, the moment they attempted to perform this part of their duty. As the evidence multiplied upon him, the daring exertions of his power in stopping all inquiries increased continually. But he gave a credit and authority to the evidence by these attempts to suppress it.
Your Lordships have heard that among the body of the accusers of this corruption there was a principal man in the country, a man of the first rank and authority in it, called Nundcomar, who had the management of revenues amounting to 150,000l. a year, and who had, if really inclined to play the small game with which he has been charged by his accusers, abundant means to gratify himself in playing great ones; but Mr. Hastings has himself given him, upon the records of the Company, a character which would at least justify the Council in making some inquiry into charges made by him.
First, he was perfectly competent to make them, because he was in the management of those affairs from which Mr. Hastings is supposed to have received corrupt emolument. He and his son were the chief managers in those transactions. He was therefore perfectly competent to it.—Mr. Hastings has cleared his character; for though it is true, in the contradictions in which Mr. Hastings has entangled himself, he has abused and insulted him, and particularly after his appearance as an accuser, yet before this he has given this testimony of him, that the hatred that had been drawn upon him, and the general obloquy of the English nation, was on account of his attachment to his own prince and the liberties of his country. Be he what he might, I am not disposed, nor have I the least occasion, to defend either his conduct or his memory.
It is to no purpose for Mr. Hastings to spend time in idle objections to the character of Nundcomar. Let him be as bad as Mr. Hastings represents him. I suppose he was a caballing, bribing, intriguing politician, like others in that country, both black and white. We know associates in dark and evil actions are not generally the best of men; but be that as it will, it generally happens that they are the best of all discoverers. If Mr. Hastings were the accuser of Nundcomar, I should think the presumptions equally strong against Nundcomar, if he had acted as Mr. Hastings has acted.—He was not only competent, but the most competent of all men to be Mr. Hastings's accuser. But Mr. Hastings has himself established both his character and his competency by employing him against Mahomed Reza Khân. He shall not blow hot and cold. In what respect was Mr. Hastings better than Mahomed Reza Khân, that the whole rule, principle, and system of accusation and inquiry should be totally reversed in general, nay, reversed in the particular instance, the moment he became accuser against Mr. Hastings?—Such was the accuser. He was the man that gave the bribes, and, in addition to his own evidence, offers proof by other witnesses.
What was the accusation? Was the accusation improbable, either on account of the subject-matter or the actor in it? Does such an appointment as that of Munny Begum, in the most barefaced evasion of his orders, appear to your Lordships a matter that contains no just presumptions of guilt, so that, when a charge of bribery comes upon it, you are prepared to reject it, as if the action were so clear and proper that no man could attribute it to an improper motive? And as to the man,—is Mr. Hastings a man against whom a charge of bribery is improbable? Why, he owns it. He is a professor of it. He reduces it into scheme and system. He glories in it. He turns it to merit, and declares it is the best way of supplying the exigencies of the Company. Why, therefore, should it be held improbable?—But I cannot mention this proceeding without shame and horror.
My Lords, when this man appeared as an accuser of Mr. Hastings, if he was a man of bad character, it was a great advantage to Mr. Hastings to be accused by a man of that description. There was no likelihood of any great credit being given to him.
This person, who, in one of those sales of which I have already given you some account in the history of the last period of the revolutions of Bengal, had been, or thought he had been, cheated of his money, had made some discoveries, and been guilty of that great irremissible sin in India, the disclosure of peculation. He afterwards came with a second disclosure, and was likely to have odium enough upon the occasion. He directly charged Mr. Hastings with the receipt of bribes, amounting together to about 40,000l. sterling, given by himself, on his own account and that of Munny Begum. The charge was accompanied with every particular which could facilitate proof or detection,—time, place, persons, species, to whom paid, by whom received. Here was a fair opportunity for Mr. Hastings at once to defeat the malice of his enemies and to clear his character to the world. His course was different. He railed much at the accuser, but did not attempt to refute the accusation. He refuses to permit the inquiry to go on, attempts to dissolve the Council, commands his banian not to attend. The Council, however, goes on, examines to the bottom, and resolves that the charge was proved, and that the money ought to go to the Company. Mr. Hastings then broke up the Council,—I will not say whether legally or illegally. The Company's law counsel thought he might legally do it; but he corruptly did it, and left mankind no room to judge but that it was done for the screening of his own guilt: for a man may use a legal power corruptly, and for the most shameful and detestable purposes. And thus matters continued, till he commenced a criminal prosecution against this man,—this man whom he dared not meet as a defendant.
Mr. Hastings, instead of answering the charge, attacks the accuser. Instead of meeting the man in front, he endeavored to go round, to come upon his flanks and rear, but never to meet him in the face, upon the ground of his accusation, as he was bound by the express authority of law and the express injunctions of the Directors to do. If the bribery is not admitted on the evidence of Nundcomar, yet his suppressing it is a crime, a violation of the orders of the Court of Directors. He disobeyed those instructions; and if it be only for disobedience, for rebellion against his masters, (putting the corrupt motive out of the question,) I charge him for this disobedience, and especially on account of the principles upon which he proceeded in it.
Then he took another step: he accused Nundcomar of a conspiracy,—which was a way he then and ever since has used, whenever means were taken to detect any of his own iniquities.
And here it becomes necessary to mention another circumstance of history: that the legislature, not trusting entirely to the Governor-General and Council, had sent out a court of justice to be a counter security against these corruptions, and to detect and punish any such misdemeanors as might appear. And this court I take for granted has done great services.
Mr. Hastings flew to this court, which was meant to protect in their situations informers against bribery and corruption, rather than to protect the accused from any of the preliminary methods which must indispensably be used for the purpose of detecting their guilt,—he flew to this court, charging this Nundcomar and others with being conspirators.
A man might be convicted as a conspirator, and yet afterwards live; he might put the matter into other hands, and go on with his information; nothing less than stone-dead would do the business. And here happened an odd concurrence of circumstances. Long before Nundcomar preferred his charge, he knew that Mr. Hastings was plotting his ruin, and that for this purpose he had used a man whom he, Nundcomar, had turned out of doors, called Mohun Persaud. Mr. Hastings had seen papers put upon the board, charging him with this previous plot for the destruction of Nundcomar; and this identical person, Mohun Persaud, whom Nundcomar had charged as Mr. Hastings's associate in plotting his ruin, was now again brought forward as the principal evidence against him. I will not enter (God forbid I should!) into the particulars of the subsequent trial of Nundcomar; but you will find the marks and characters of it to be these. You will find a close connection between Mr. Hastings and the chief-justice, which we shall prove. We shall prove that one of the witnesses who appeared there was a person who had been before, or has since been, concerned with Mr. Hastings in his most iniquitous transactions. You will find, what is very odd, that in this trial for forgery with which this man stood charged, forgery in a private transaction, all the persons who were witnesses or parties to it had been, before or since, the particular friends of Mr. Hastings,—in short, persons from that rabble with whom Mr. Hastings was concerned, both before and since, in various transactions and negotiations of the most criminal kind. But the law took its course. I have nothing more to say than that the man is gone,—hanged justly, if you please; and that it did so happen,—luckily for Mr. Hastings,—it so happened, that the relief of Mr. Hastings, and the justice of the court, and the resolution never to relax its rigor, did all concur just at a happy nick of time and moment; and Mr. Hastings, accordingly, had the full benefit of them all.
His accuser was supposed to be what men may be, and yet very competent for accusers, namely, one of his accomplices in guilty actions,—one of those persons who may have a great deal to say of bribes. All that I contend for is, that he was in the closest intimacy with Mr. Hastings, was in a situation for giving bribes,—and that Mr. Hastings was proved afterwards to have received a sum of money from him, which may be well referred to bribes.
This example had its use in the way in which it was intended to operate, and in which alone it could operate. It did not discourage forgeries: they went on at their usual rate, neither more nor less: but it put an end to all accusations against all persons in power for any corrupt practice. Mr. Hastings observes, that no man in India complains of him. It is generally true. The voice of all India is stopped. All complaint was strangled with the same cord that strangled Nundcomar. This murdered not only that accuser, but all future accusation; and not only defeated, but totally vitiated and reversed all the ends for which this country, to its eternal and indelible dishonor, had sent out a pompous embassy of justice to the remotest parts of the globe.
But though Nundcomar was put out of the way by the means by which he was removed, a part of the charge was not strangled with him. Whilst the process against Nundcomar was carrying on before Sir Elijah Impey, the process was continuing against Mr. Hastings in other modes; the receipt of a part of those bribes from Munny Begum, to the amount of 15,000l., was proved against him, and that a sum to the same amount was to be paid to his associate, Mr. Middleton. As it was proved at Calcutta, so it will be proved at your Lordships' bar to your entire satisfaction by records and living testimony now in England. It was, indeed, obliquely admitted by Mr. Hastings himself.
The excuse for this bribe, fabricated by Mr. Hastings, and taught to Munny Begum, when he found that she was obliged to prove it against him, was, that it was given to him for his entertainment, according to some pretended custom, at the rate of 200l. sterling a day, whilst he remained at Moorshedabad. My Lords, this leads me to a few reflections on the apology or defence of this bribe. We shall certainly, I hope, render it clear to your Lordships that it was not paid in this manner as a daily allowance, but given in a gross sum. But take it in his own way, it was no less illegal, and no less contrary to his covenant; but if true under the circumstances, it was an horrible aggravation of his crime. The first thing that strikes is, that visits from Mr. Hastings are pretty severe things, and hospitality at Moorshedabad is an expensive virtue, though for provision it is one of the cheapest countries in the universe. No wonder that Mr. Hastings lengthened his visit, and made it extend near three months. Such hosts and such guests cannot be soon parted. Two hundred pounds a day for a visit! It is at the rate of 78,000l. a year for himself; and as I find his companion was put on the same allowance, it will be 146,000l. a year for hospitality to two English gentlemen. I believe that there is not a prince in Europe who goes to such expensive hospitality of splendor.
But that you may judge of the true nature of this hospitality of corruption, I must bring before you the business of the visitor and the condition of the host, as stated by Mr. Hastings himself, who best knows what he was doing. He was, then, at the old capital of Bengal at the time of this expensive entertainment, on a business of retrenchment, and for the establishment of a most harsh, rigorous, and oppressive economy. He wishes the task were assigned to spirits of a less gentle kind. By Mr. Hastings's account, he was giving daily and hourly wounds to his humanity in depriving of their sustenance hundreds of persons of the ancient nobility of a great fallen kingdom. Yet it was in the midst of this galling duty, it was at that very moment of his tender sensibility, that, from the collected morsels plucked from the famished mouths of hundreds of decayed, indigent, and starving nobility, he gorged his ravenous maw with 200l. a day for his entertainment. In the course of all this proceeding your Lordships will not fail to observe he is never corrupt, but he is cruel; he never dines with comfort, but where he is sure to create a famine. He never robs from the loose superfluity of standing greatness; he devours the fallen, the indigent, the necessitous. His extortion is not like the generous rapacity of the princely eagle, who snatches away the living, struggling prey; he is a vulture, who feeds upon the prostrate, the dying, and the dead. As his cruelty is more shocking than his corruption, so his hypocrisy has something more frightful than his cruelty; for whilst his bloody and rapacious hand signs proscriptions, and now sweeps away the food of the widow and the orphan, his eyes overflow with tears, and he converts the healing balm that bleeds from wounded humanity into a rancorous and deadly poison to the race of man.
Well, there was an end to this tragic entertainment, this feast of Tantalus. The few left on the pension-list, the poor remnants that had escaped, were they paid by his administratrix and deputy, Munny Begum? Not a shilling. No fewer than forty-nine petitions, mostly from the widows of the greatest and most splendid houses of Bengal, came before the Council, praying in the most deplorable manner for some sort of relief out of the pittance assigned them. His colleagues, General Clavering, Colonel Monson, and Mr. Francis, men who, when England is reproached for the government of India, will, I repeat it, as a shield be held up between this nation and infamy, did, in conformity to the strict orders of the Directors, appoint Mahomed Reza Khân to his old offices, that is, to the general superintendency of the household and the administration of justice, a person who by his authority might keep some order in the ruling family and in the state. The Court of Directors authorized them to assure those offices to him, with a salary reduced indeed to 30,000l. a year, during his good behavior. But Mr. Hastings, as soon as he obtained a majority by the death of the two best men ever sent to India, notwithstanding the orders of the Court of Directors, in spite of the public faith solemnly pledged to Mahomed Reza Khân, without a shadow of complaint, had the audacity to dispossess him of all his offices, and appoint his bribing patroness, the old dancing-girl, Munny Begum, once more to the viceroyalty and all its attendant honors and functions.
The pretence was more insolent and shameless than the act. Modesty does not long survive innocence. He brings forward the miserable pageant of the Nabob, as he called him, to be the instrument of his own disgrace, and the scandal of his family and government. He makes him to pass by his mother, and to petition us to appoint Munny Begum once more to the administration of the viceroyalty. He distributed Mahomed Reza Khân's salary as a spoil.
When the orders of the Court to restore Mahomed Reza Khân, with their opinion on the corrupt cause of his removal, and a second time to pledge to him the public faith for his continuance, were received, Mr. Hastings, who had been just before a pattern of obedience, when the despoiling, oppressing, imprisoning, and persecuting this man was the object, yet, when the order was of a beneficial nature, and pleasant to a well-formed mind, he at once loses all his old principles, he grows stubborn and refractory, and refuses obedience. And in this sullen, uncomplying mood he continues, until, to gratify Mr. Francis, in an agreement on some of their differences, he consented to his proposition of obedience to the appointment of the Court of Directors. He grants to his arrangement of convenience what he had refused to his duty, and replaces that magistrate. But mark the double character of the man, never true to anything but fraud and duplicity. At the same time that he publicly replaces this magistrate, pretending compliance with his colleague and obedience to his masters, he did, in defiance of his own and the public faith, privately send an assurance to the Nabob, that is, to Munny Begum,—informs her that he was compelled by necessity to the present arrangement in favor of Mahomed Reza Khân, but that on the first opportunity he would certainly displace him again. And he kept faith with his corruption; and to show how vainly any one sought protection in the lawful authority of this kingdom, he displaced Mahomed Reza Khân from the lieutenancy and controllership, leaving him only the judicial department miserably curtailed.
But does he adhere to his old pretence of freedom to the Nabob? No such thing. He appoints an absolute master to him under the name of Resident, a creature of his personal favor, Sir John D'Oyly, from whom there is not one syllable of correspondence and not one item of account. How grievous this yoke was to that miserable captive appears by a paper of Mr. Hastings, in which he acknowledges that the Nabob had offered, out of the 160,000l. payable to him yearly, to give up to the Company no less than 40,000l. a year, in order to have the free disposal of the rest. On this all comment is superfluous. Your Lordships are furnished with a standard by which you may estimate his real receipt from the revenue assigned to him, the nature of the pretended Residency, and its predatory effects. It will give full credit to what was generally rumored and believed, that substantially and beneficially the Nabob never received fifty out of the one hundred and sixty thousand pounds; which will account for his known poverty and wretchedness, and that of all about him.
Thus by his corrupt traffic of bribes with one scandalous woman he disgraced and enfeebled the native Mahomedan government, captived the person of the sovereign, and ruined and subverted the justice of the country. What is worse, the steps taken for the murder of Nundcomar, his accuser, have confirmed and given sanction not only to the corruptions then practised by the Governor-General, but to all of which he has since been guilty. This will furnish your Lordships with some general idea which will enable you to judge of the bribe for which he sold the country government.
Under this head you will have produced to you full proof of his sale of a judicial office to a person called Khân Jehan Khân, and the modes he took to frustrate all inquiry on that subject, upon a wicked and false pretence, that, according to his religious scruples, he could not be sworn.
The great end and object I have in view is to show the criminal tendency, the mischievous nature of these crimes, and the means taken to elude their discovery. I am now giving your Lordships that general view which may serve to characterize Mr. Hastings's administration in all the other parts of it.
It was not true in fact, as Mr. Hastings gives out, that there was nothing now against him, and that, when he had got rid of Nundcomar and his charge, he got rid of the whole. No such thing. An immense load of charges of bribery remained. They were coming afterwards from every part of the province; and there was no office in the execution of justice which he was not accused of having sold in the most flagitious manner.
After all this thundering the sky grew calm and clear, and Mr. Hastings sat with recorded peculation, with peculation proved upon oath on the minutes of that very Council,—he sat at the head of that Council and that board where his peculations were proved against him. These were afterwards transmitted and recorded in the registers of his masters, as an eternal monument of his corruption, and of his high disobedience, and flagitious attempts to prevent a discovery of the various peculations of which he had been guilty, to the disgrace and ruin of the country committed to his care.
Mr. Hastings, after the execution of Nundcomar, if he had intended to make even a decent and commonly sensible use of it, would naturally have said, "This man is justly taken away who has accused me of these crimes; but as there are other witnesses, as there are other means of a further inquiry, as the man is gone of whose perjuries I might have reason to be afraid, let us now go into the inquiry." I think he did very ill not to go into the inquiry when the man was alive; but be it so, that he was afraid of him, and waited till he was removed, why not afterwards go into such an inquiry? Why not go into an inquiry of all the other peculations and charges upon him, which were innumerable, one of which I have just mentioned in particular, the charge of Munny Begum, of having received from her, or her adopted son, a bribe of 40,000l.?
Is it fit for a governor to say, will Mr. Hastings say before this august assembly, "I may be accused in a court of justice,—I am upon my defence,—let all charges remain against me,—I will not give you an account"? Is it fit that a governor should sit with recorded bribery upon him at the head of a public board and the government of a great kingdom, when it is in his power by inquiry to do it away? No: the chastity of character of a man in that situation ought to be as dear to him as his innocence. Nay, more depended upon it. His innocence regarded himself; his character regarded the public justice, regarded his authority, and the respect due to the English in that country. I charge it upon him, that not only did he suppress the inquiry to the best of his power, (and it shall be proved,) but he did not in any one instance endeavor to clear off that imputation and reproach from the English government. He went further; he never denied hardly any of those charges at the time. They are so numerous that I cannot be positive; some of them he might meet with some sort of denial, but the most part he did not.
The first thing a man under such an accusation owes to the world is to deny the charge; next, to put it to the proof; and lastly, to let inquiry freely go on. He did not permit this, but stopped it all in his power. I am to mention some exceptions, perhaps, hereafter, which will tend to fortify the principle tenfold.
He promised, indeed, the Court of Directors (to whom he never denied the facts) a full and liberal explanation of these transactions; which full and liberal explanation he never gave. Many years passed; even Parliament took notice of it; and he never gave them a liberal explanation, or any explanation at all of them. A man may say, "I am threatened with a suit in a court, and it may be very disadvantageous to me, if I disclose my defence." That is a proper answer for a man in common life, who has no particular character to sustain; but is that a proper answer for a governor accused of bribery, that accusation transmitted to his masters, and his masters giving credit to it? Good God! is that a state in which a man is to say, "I am upon the defensive—I am on my guard,—I will give you no satisfaction,—I have promised it, but I have already deferred it for seven or eight years"? Is not this tantamount to a denial?
Mr. Hastings, with this great body of bribery against him, was providentially freed from Nundcomar, one of his accusers, and, as good events do not come alone, (I think there is some such proverb,) it did so happen that all the rest, or a great many of them, ran away. But, however, the recorded evidence of the former charges continued; no new evidence came in; and Mr. Hastings enjoyed that happy repose which branded peculation, fixed and eternized upon the records of the Company, must leave upon a mind conscious of its own integrity.
My Lords, I will venture to say, there is no man but owes something to his character. It is the grace, undoubtedly, of a virtuous, firm mind often to despise common, vulgar calumny; but if ever there is an occasion in which it does become such a mind to disprove it, it is the case of being charged in high office with pecuniary malversation, pecuniary corruption. There is no case in which it becomes an honest man, much less a great man, to leave upon record specific charges against him of corruption in his government, without taking any one step whatever to refute them.
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