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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 three out of twelve of his works, this volume containing Reflections on the Revolution on France and others.
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The Works of Edmund Burke
The Works of E. Burke Volume 3
Jazzybee Verlag Jürgen Beck
86450 Altenmünster, Loschberg 9
SPEECH ON THE MOTION MADE FOR PAPERS. 1
SUBSTANCE OF THE SPEECH IN THE DEBATE ON THE ARMY ESTIMATES IN THE HOUSE OF COMMONS. 116
REFLECTIONS ON THE REVOLUTION IN FRANCE.. 126
RELATIVE TO THE DIRECTIONS FOR CHARGING THE NABOB OF ARCOT'S PRIVATE DEBTS TO EUROPEANS ON THE REVENUES OF THE CARNATIC, FEBRUARY 28, 1785. WITH AN APPENDIX, CONTAINING SEVERAL DOCUMENTS.
That the least informed reader of this speech may be enabled to enter fully into the spirit of the transaction on occasion of which it was delivered, it may be proper to acquaint him, that, among the princes dependent on this nation in the southern part of India, the most considerable at present is commonly known by the title of the Nabob of Arcot.
This prince owed the establishment of his government, against the claims of his elder brother, as well as those of other competitors, to the arms and influence of the British East India Company. Being thus established in a considerable part of the dominions he now possesses, he began, about the year 1765, to form, at the instigation (as he asserts) of the servants of the East India Company, a variety of designs for the further extension of his territories. Some years after, he carried his views to certain objects of interior arrangement, of a very pernicious nature. None of these designs could be compassed without the aid of the Company's arms; nor could those arms be employed consistently with an obedience to the Company's orders. He was therefore advised to form a more secret, but an equally powerful, interest among the servants of that Company, and among others both at home and abroad. By engaging them in his interests, the use of the Company's power might be obtained without their ostensible authority; the power might even be employed in defiance of the authority, if the case should require, as in truth it often did require, a proceeding of that degree of boldness.
The Company had put him into possession of several great cities and magnificent castles. The good order of his affairs, his sense of personal dignity, his ideas of Oriental splendor, and the habits of an Asiatic life, (to which, being a native of India, and a Mahometan, he had from his infancy been inured,) would naturally have led him to fix the seat of his government within his own dominions. Instead of this, he totally sequestered himself from his country, and, abandoning all appearance of state, he took up his residence in an ordinary house, which he purchased in the suburbs of the Company's factory at Madras. In that place he has lived, without removing one day from thence, for several years past. He has there continued a constant cabal with the Company's servants, from the highest to the lowest,—creating, out of the ruins of the country, brilliant fortunes for those who will, and entirely destroying those who will not, be subservient to his purposes.
An opinion prevailed, strongly confirmed by several passages in his own letters, as well as by a combination of circumstances forming a body of evidence which cannot be resisted, that very great sums have been by him distributed, through a long course of years, to some of the Company's servants. Besides these presumed payments in ready money, (of which, from the nature of the thing, the direct proof is very difficult,) debts have at several periods been acknowledged to those gentlemen, to an immense amount,—that is, to some millions of sterling money. There is strong reason to suspect that the body of these debts is wholly fictitious, and was never created by money bonâ fide lent. But even on a supposition that this vast sum was really advanced, it was impossible that the very reality of such an astonishing transaction should not cause some degree of alarm and incite to some sort of inquiry.
It was not at all seemly, at a moment when the Company itself was so distressed as to require a suspension, by act of Parliament, of the payment of bills drawn on them from India,—and also a direct tax upon every house in England, in order to facilitate the vent of their goods, and to avoid instant insolvency,—at that very moment, that their servants should appear in so flourishing a condition, as, besides ten millions of other demands on their masters, to be entitled to claim a debt of three or four millions more from the territorial revenue of one of their dependent princes.
The ostensible pecuniary transactions of the Nabob of Arcot with very private persons are so enormous, that they evidently set aside every pretence of policy which might induce a prudent government in some instances to wink at ordinary loose practice in ill-managed departments. No caution could be too great in handling this matter, no scrutiny too exact. It was evidently the interest, and as evidently at least in the power, of the creditors, by admitting secret participation in this dark and undefined concern, to spread corruption to the greatest and the most alarming extent.
These facts relative to the debts were so notorious, the opinion of their being a principal source of the disorders of the British government in India was so undisputed and universal, that there was no party, no description of men in Parliament, who did not think themselves bound, if not in honor and conscience, at least in common decency, to institute a vigorous inquiry into the very bottom of the business, before they admitted any part of that vast and suspicious charge to be laid upon an exhausted country. Every plan concurred in directing such an inquiry, in order that whatever was discovered to be corrupt, fraudulent, or oppressive should lead to a due animadversion on the offenders, and, if anything fair and equitable in its origin should be found, (nobody suspected that much, comparatively speaking, would be so found,) it might be provided for,—in due subordination, however, to the ease of the subject and the service of the state.
These were the alleged grounds for an inquiry, settled in all the bills brought into Parliament relative to India,—and there were, I think, no less than four of them. By the bill commonly called Mr. Pitt's bill, the inquiry was specially, and by express words, committed to the Court of Directors, without any reserve for the interference of any other person or persons whatsoever. It was ordered that they should make the inquiry into the origin and justice of these debts, as far as the materials in their possession enabled them to proceed; and where they found those materials deficient, they should order the Presidency of Fort St. George (Madras) to complete the inquiry.
The Court of Directors applied themselves to the execution of the trust reposed in them. They first examined into the amount of the debt, which they computed, at compound interest, to be 2,945,600l. sterling. Whether their mode of computation, either of the original sums or the amount on compound interest, was exact, that is, whether they took the interest too high or the several capitals too low, is not material. On whatever principle any of the calculations were made up, none of them found the debt to differ from the recital of the act, which asserted that the sums claimed were "very large." The last head of these debts the Directors compute at 2,465,680l. sterling. Of the existence of this debt the Directors heard nothing until 1776, and they say, that, "although they had repeatedly written to the Nabob of Arcot, and to their servants, respecting the debt, yet they had never been able to trace the origin thereof, or to obtain any satisfactory information on the subject."
The Court of Directors, after stating the circumstances under which the debts appeared to them to have been contracted, add as follows:—"For these reasons we should have thought it our duty to inquire very minutely into those debts, even if the act of Parliament had been silent on the subject, before we concurred in any measure for their payment. But with the positive injunctions of the act before us to examine into their nature and origin, we are indispensably bound to direct such an inquiry to be instituted." They then order the President and Council of Madras to enter into a full examination, &c., &c.
The Directors, having drawn up their order to the Presidency on these principles, communicated the draught of the general letter in which those orders were contained to the board of his Majesty's ministers, and other servants lately constituted by Mr. Pitt's East India Act. These ministers, who had just carried through Parliament the bill ordering a specific inquiry, immediately drew up another letter, on a principle directly opposite to that which was prescribed by the act of Parliament and followed by the Directors. In these second orders, all idea of an inquiry into the justice and origin of the pretended debts, particularly of the last, the greatest, and the most obnoxious to suspicion, is abandoned. They are all admitted and established without any investigation whatsoever, (except some private conference with the agents of the claimants is to pass for an investigation,) and a fund for their discharge is assigned and set apart out of the revenues of the Carnatic. To this arrangement in favor of their servants, servants suspected of corruption and convicted of disobedience, the Directors of the East India Company were ordered to set their hands, asserting it to arise from their own conviction and opinion, in flat contradiction to their recorded sentiments, their strong remonstrance, and their declared sense of their duty, as well under their general trust and their oath as Directors, as under the express injunctions of an act of Parliament.
The principles upon which this summary proceeding was adopted by the ministerial board are stated by themselves in a number in the appendix to this speech.
By another section of the same act, the same Court of Directors were ordered to take into consideration and to decide on the indeterminate rights of the Rajah of Tanjore and the Nabob of Arcot; and in this, as in the former case, no power of appeal, revision, or alteration was reserved to any other. It was a jurisdiction, in a cause between party and party, given to the Court of Directors specifically. It was known that the territories of the former of these princes had been twice invaded and pillaged, and the prince deposed and imprisoned, by the Company's servants, influenced by the intrigues of the latter, and for the purpose of paying his pretended debts. The Company had, in the year 1775, ordered a restoration of the Rajah to his government, under certain conditions. The Rajah complained, that his territories had not been completely restored to him, and that no part of his goods, money, revenues, or records, unjustly taken and withheld from him, were ever returned. The Nabob, on the other hand, never ceased to claim the country itself, and carried on a continued train of negotiation, that it should again be given up to him, in violation of the Company's public faith.
The Directors, in obedience to this part of the act, ordered an inquiry, and came to a determination to restore certain of his territories to the Rajah. The ministers, proceeding as in the former case, without hearing any party, rescinded the decision of the Directors, refused the restitution of the territory, and, without regard to the condition of the country of Tanjore, which had been within a few years four times plundered, (twice by the Nabob of Arcot, and twice by enemies brought upon it solely by the politics of the same Nabob, the declared enemy of that people,) and without discounting a shilling for their sufferings, they accumulate an arrear of about four hundred thousand pounds of pretended tribute to this enemy; and then they order the Directors to put their hands to a new adjudication, directly contrary to a judgment in a judicial character and trust solemnly given by them and entered on their records.
These proceedings naturally called for some inquiry. On the 28th of February, 1785, Mr. Fox made the following motion in the House of Commons, after moving that the clauses of the act should be read:—"That the proper officer do lay before this House copies or extracts of all letters and orders of the Court of Directors of the United East India Company, in pursuance of the injunctions contained in the 37th and 38th clauses of the said act"; and the question being put, it passed in the negative by a very great majority.
The last speech in the debate was the following; which is given to the public, not as being more worthy of its attention than others, (some of which were of consummate ability,) but as entering more into the detail of the subject.
The times we live in, Mr. Speaker, have been distinguished by extraordinary events. Habituated, however, as we are, to uncommon combinations of men and of affairs, I believe nobody recollects anything more surprising than the spectacle of this day. The right honorable gentleman whose conduct is now in question formerly stood forth in this House, the prosecutor of the worthy baronet who spoke after him. He charged him with several grievous acts of malversation in office, with abuses of a public trust of a great and heinous nature. In less than two years we see the situation of the parties reversed; and a singular revolution puts the worthy baronet in a fair way of returning the prosecution in a recriminatory bill of pains and penalties, grounded on a breach of public trust relative to the government of the very same part of India. If he should undertake a bill of that kind, he will find no difficulty in conducting it with a degree of skill and vigor fully equal to all that have been exerted against him.
But the change of relation between these two gentlemen is not so striking as the total difference of their deportment under the same unhappy circumstances. Whatever the merits of the worthy baronet's defence might have been, he did not shrink from the charge. He met it with manliness of spirit and decency of behavior. What would have been thought of him, if he had held the present language of his old accuser? When articles were exhibited against him by that right honorable gentleman, he did not think proper to tell the House that we ought to institute no inquiry, to inspect no paper, to examine no witness. He did not tell us (what at that time he might have told us with some show of reason) that our concerns in India were matters of delicacy, that to divulge anything relative to them would be mischievous to the state. He did not tell us that those who would inquire into his proceedings were disposed to dismember the empire. He had not the presumption to say, that, for his part, having obtained, in his Indian presidency, the ultimate object of his ambition, his honor was concerned in executing with integrity the trust which had been legally committed to his charge: that others, not having been so fortunate, could not be so disinterested; and therefore their accusations could spring from no other source than faction, and envy to his fortune.
Had he been frontless enough to hold such vain, vaporing language in the face of a grave, a detailed, a specified matter of accusation, whilst he violently resisted everything which could bring the merits of his cause to the test,—had he been wild enough to anticipate the absurdities of this day,—that is, had he inferred, as his late accuser has thought proper to do, that he could not have been guilty of malversation in office, for this sole and curious reason, that he had been in office,—had he argued the impossibility of his abusing his power on this sole principle, that he had power to abuse,—he would have left but one impression on the mind of every man who heard him, and who believed him in his senses: that in the utmost extent he was guilty of the charge.
But, Sir, leaving these two gentlemen to alternate as criminal and accuser upon what principles they think expedient, it is for us to consider whether the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Treasurer of the Navy, acting as a Board of Control, are justified by law or policy in suspending the legal arrangements made by the Court of Directors, in order to transfer the public revenues to the private emolument of certain servants of the East India Company, without the inquiry into the origin and justice of their claims prescribed by an act of Parliament.
It is not contended that the act of Parliament did not expressly ordain an inquiry. It is not asserted that this inquiry was not, with equal precision of terms, specially committed, under particular regulations, to the Court of Directors. I conceive, therefore, the Board of Control had no right whatsoever to intermeddle in that business. There is nothing certain in the principles of jurisprudence, if this be not undeniably true, that when, a special authority is given to any persons by name to do some particular act, that no others, by virtue of general powers, can obtain a legal title to intrude themselves into that trust, and to exercise those special functions in their place. I therefore consider the intermeddling of ministers in this affair as a downright usurpation. But if the strained construction by which they have forced themselves into a suspicious office (which every man delicate with regard to character would rather have sought constructions to avoid) were perfectly sound and perfectly legal, of this I am certain, that they cannot be justified in declining the inquiry which had been prescribed to the Court of Directors. If the Board of Control did lawfully possess the right of executing the special trust given to that court, they must take it as they found it, subject to the very same regulations which bound the Court of Directors. It will be allowed that the Court of Directors had no authority to dispense with either the substance or the mode of inquiry prescribed by the act of Parliament. If they had not, where in the act did the Board of Control acquire that capacity? Indeed, it was impossible they should acquire it. What must we think of the fabric and texture of an act of Parliament which should find it necessary to prescribe a strict inquisition, that should descend into minute regulations for the conduct of that inquisition, that should commit this trust to a particular description of men, and in the very same breath should enable another body, at their own pleasure, to supersede all the provisions the legislature had made, and to defeat the whole purpose, end, and object of the law? This cannot be supposed even of an act of Parliament conceived by the ministers themselves, and brought forth during the delirium of the last session.
My honorable friend has told you in the speech which introduced his motion, that fortunately this question is not a great deal involved in the labyrinths of Indian detail. Certainly not. But if it were, I beg leave to assure you that there is nothing in the Indian detail which is more difficult than in the detail of any other business. I admit, because I have some experience of the fact, that for the interior regulation of India a minute knowledge of India is requisite. But on any specific matter of delinquency in its government you are as capable of judging as if the same thing were done at your door. Fraud, injustice, oppression, peculation, engendered in India, are crimes of the same blood, family, and cast with those that are born and bred in England. To go no farther than the case before us: you are just as competent to judge whether the sum of four millions sterling ought or ought not to be passed from the public treasury into a private pocket without any title except the claim of the parties, when the issue of fact is laid in Madras, as when it is laid in Westminster. Terms of art, indeed, are different in different places; but they are generally understood in none. The technical style of an Indian treasury is not one jot more remote than the jargon of our own Exchequer from the train of our ordinary ideas or the idiom of our common language. The difference, therefore, in the two cases is not in the comparative difficulty or facility of the two subjects, but in our attention to the one and our total neglect of the other. Had this attention and neglect been regulated by the value of the several objects, there would be nothing to complain of. But the reverse of that supposition is true. The scene of the Indian abuse is distant, indeed; but we must not infer that the value of our interest in it is decreased in proportion as it recedes from our view. In our politics, as in our common conduct, we shall be worse than infants, if we do not put our senses under the tuition of our judgment, and effectually cure ourselves of that optical illusion which makes a brier at our nose of greater magnitude than an oak at five hundred yards' distance.
I think I can trace all the calamities of this country to the single source of our not having had steadily before our eyes a general, comprehensive, well-connected, and well-proportioned view of the whole of our dominions, and a just sense of their true bearings and relations. After all its reductions, the British empire is still vast and various. After all the reductions of the House of Commons, (stripped as we are of our brightest ornaments and of our most important privileges,) enough are yet left to furnish us, if we please, with means of showing to the world that we deserve the superintendence of as large an empire as this kingdom ever held, and the continuance of as ample privileges as the House of Commons, in the plenitude of its power, had been habituated to assert. But if we make ourselves too little for the sphere of our duty, if, on the contrary, we do not stretch and expand our minds to the compass of their object, be well assured that everything about us will dwindle by degrees, until at length our concerns are shrunk to the dimensions of our minds. It is not a predilection to mean, sordid, home-bred cares that will avert the consequences of a false estimation of our interest, or prevent the shameful dilapidation into which a great empire must fall by mean reparations upon mighty ruins.
I confess I feel a degree of disgust, almost leading to despair, at the manner in which we are acting in the great exigencies of our country. There is now a bill in this House appointing a rigid inquisition into the minutest detail of our offices at home. The collection of sixteen millions annually, a collection on which the public greatness, safety, and credit have their reliance, the whole order of criminal jurisprudence, which holds together society itself, have at no time obliged us to call forth such powers,—no, nor anything like them. There is not a principle of the law and Constitution of this country that is not subverted to favor the execution of that project. And for what is all this apparatus of bustle and terror? Is it because anything substantial is expected from it? No. The stir and bustle itself is the end proposed. The eye-servants of a short-sighted master will employ themselves, not on what is most essential to his affairs, but on what is nearest to his ken. Great difficulties have given a just value to economy; and our minister of the day must be an economist, whatever it may cost us. But where is he to exert his talents? At home, to be sure; for where else can he obtain a profitable credit for their exertion? It is nothing to him, whether the object on which he works under our eye be promising or not. If he does not obtain any public benefit, he may make regulations without end. Those are sure to pay in present expectation, whilst the effect is at a distance, and may be the concern of other times and other men. On these principles, he chooses to suppose (for he does not pretend more than to suppose) a naked possibility that he shall draw some resource out of crumbs dropped from the trenchers of penury; that something shall be laid in store from the short allowance of revenue-officers overloaded with duty and famished for want of bread,—by a reduction from officers who are at this very hour ready to batter the Treasury with what breaks through stone walls for an increase of their appointments. From the marrowless bones of these skeleton establishments, by the use of every sort of cutting and of every sort of fretting tool, he flatters himself that he may chip and rasp an empirical alimentary powder, to diet into some similitude of health and substance the languishing chimeras of fraudulent reformation.
Whilst he is thus employed according to his policy and to his taste, he has not leisure to inquire into those abuses in India that are drawing off money by millions from the treasures of this country, which are exhausting the vital juices from members of the state, where the public inanition is far more sorely felt than in the local exchequer of England. Not content with winking at these abuses, whilst he attempts to squeeze the laborious, ill-paid drudges of English revenue, he lavishes, in one act of corrupt prodigality, upon those who never served the public in any honest occupation at all, an annual income equal to two thirds of the whole collection of the revenues of this kingdom.
Actuated by the same principle of choice, he has now on the anvil another scheme, full of difficulty and desperate hazard, which totally alters the commercial relation of two kingdoms, and, what end soever it shall have, may bequeath a legacy of heartburning and discontent to one of the countries, perhaps to both, to be perpetuated to the latest posterity. This project is also undertaken on the hope of profit. It is provided, that, out of some (I know not what) remains of the Irish hereditary revenue, a fund, at some time, and of some sort, should be applied to the protection of the Irish trade. Here we are commanded again to task our faith, and to persuade ourselves, that, out of the surplus of deficiency, out of the savings of habitual and systematic prodigality, the minister of wonders will provide support for this nation, sinking under the mountainous load of two hundred and thirty millions of debt. But whilst we look with pain at his desperate and laborious trifling, whilst we are apprehensive that he will break his back in stooping to pick up chaff and straws, he recovers himself at an elastic bound, and with a broadcast swing of his arm he squanders over his Indian field a sum far greater than the clear produce of the whole hereditary revenue of the kingdom of Ireland.
Strange as this scheme of conduct in ministry is, and inconsistent with all just policy, it is still true to itself, and faithful to its own perverted order. Those who are bountiful to crimes will be rigid to merit and penurious to service. Their penury is even held out as a blind and cover to their prodigality. The economy of injustice is to furnish resources for the fund of corruption. Then they pay off their protection to great crimes and great criminals by being inexorable to the paltry frailties of little men; and these modern flagellants are sure, with a rigid fidelity, to whip their own enormities on the vicarious back of every small offender.
It is to draw your attention to economy of quite another order, it is to animadvert on offences of a far different description, that my honorable friend has brought before you the motion of this day. It is to perpetuate the abuses which are subverting the fabric of your empire, that the motion is opposed. It is, therefore, with reason (and if he has power to carry himself through, I commend his prudence) that the right honorable gentleman makes his stand at the very outset, and boldly refuses all Parliamentary information. Let him admit but one step towards inquiry, and he is undone. You must be ignorant, or he cannot be safe. But before his curtain is let down, and the shades of eternal night shall veil our Eastern dominions from our view, permit me, Sir, to avail myself of the means which were furnished in anxious and inquisitive times to demonstrate out of this single act of the present minister what advantages you are to derive from permitting the greatest concern of this nation to be separated from the cognizance, and exempted even out of the competence, of Parliament. The greatest body of your revenue, your most numerous armies, your most important commerce, the richest sources of your public credit, (contrary to every idea of the known, settled policy of England,) are on the point of being converted into a mystery of state. You are going to have one half of the globe hid even from the common liberal curiosity of an English gentleman. Here a grand revolution commences. Mark the period, and mark the circumstances. In most of the capital changes that are recorded in the principles and system of any government, a public benefit of some kind or other has been pretended. The revolution commenced in something plausible, in something which carried the appearance at least of punishment of delinquency or correction of abuse. But here, in the very moment of the conversion of a department of British government into an Indian mystery, and in the very act in which the change commences, a corrupt private interest is set up in direct opposition to the necessities of the nation. A diversion is made of millions of the public money from the public treasury to a private purse. It is not into secret negotiations for war, peace, or alliance that the House of Commons is forbidden to inquire. It is a matter of account; it is a pecuniary transaction; it is the demand of a suspected steward upon ruined tenants and an embarrassed master that the Commons of Great Britain are commanded not to inspect. The whole tenor of the right honorable gentleman's argument is consonant to the nature of his policy. The system of concealment is fostered by a system of falsehood. False facts, false colors, false names of persons and things, are its whole support.
Sir, I mean to follow the right honorable gentleman over that field of deception, clearing what he has purposely obscured, and fairly stating what it was necessary for him to misrepresent. For this purpose, it is necessary you should know, with some degree of distinctness, a little of the locality, the nature, the circumstances, the magnitude of the pretended debts on which this marvellous donation is founded, as well as of the persons from whom and by whom it is claimed.
Madras, with its dependencies, is the second (but with a long interval, the second) member of the British empire in the East. The trade of that city, and of the adjacent territory, was not very long ago among the most flourishing in Asia. But since the establishment of the British power it has wasted away under an uniform gradual decline, insomuch that in the year 1779 not one merchant of eminence was to be found in the whole country. During this period of decay, about six hundred thousand sterling pounds a year have been drawn off by English gentlemen on their private account, by the way of China alone. If we add four hundred thousand, as probably remitted through other channels, and in other mediums, that is, in jewels, gold, and silver, directly brought to Europe, and in bills upon the British and foreign companies, you will scarcely think the matter overrated. If we fix the commencement of this extraction of money from the Carnatic at a period no earlier than the year 1760, and close it in the year 1780, it probably will not amount to a great deal less than twenty millions of money.
During the deep, silent flow of this steady stream of wealth which set from India into Europe, it generally passed on with no adequate observation; but happening at some periods to meet rifts of rocks that checked its course, it grew more noisy and attracted more notice. The pecuniary discussions caused by an accumulation of part of the fortunes of their servants in a debt from the Nabob of Arcot was the first thing which very particularly called for, and long engaged, the attention of the Court of Directors. This debt amounted to eight hundred and eighty thousand pounds sterling, and was claimed, for the greater part, by English gentlemen residing at Madras. This grand capital, settled at length by order at ten per cent, afforded an annuity of eighty-eight thousand pounds.
Whilst the Directors were digesting their astonishment at this information, a memorial was presented to them from three gentlemen, informing them that their friends had lent, likewise, to merchants of Canton in China, a sum of not more than one million sterling. In this memorial they called upon the Company for their assistance and interposition with the Chinese government for the recovery of the debt. This sum lent to Chinese merchants was at twenty-four per cent, which would yield, if paid, an annuity of two hundred and forty thousand pounds.
Perplexed as the Directors were with these demands, you may conceive, Sir, that they did not find themselves very much disembarrassed by being made acquainted that they must again exert their influence for a new reserve of the happy parsimony of their servants, collected into a second debt from the Nabob of Arcot, amounting to two millions four hundred thousand pounds, settled at an interest of twelve per cent. This is known by the name of the Consolidation of 1777, as the former of the Nabob's debts was by the title of the Consolidation of 1767. To this was added, in a separate parcel, a little reserve, called the Cavalry Debt, of one hundred and sixty thousand pounds, at the same interest. The whole of these four capitals, amounting to four millions four hundred and forty thousand pounds, produced at their several rates, annuities amounting to six hundred and twenty-three thousand pounds a year: a good deal more than one third of the clear land-tax of England, at four shillings in the pound; a good deal more than double the whole annual dividend of the East India Company, the nominal masters to the proprietors in these funds. Of this interest, three hundred and eighty-three thousand two hundred pounds a year stood chargeable on the public revenues of the Carnatic.
Sir, at this moment, it will not be necessary to consider the various operations which the capital and interest of this debt have successively undergone. I shall speak to these operations when I come particularly to answer the right honorable gentleman on each of the heads, as he has thought proper to divide them. But this was the exact view in which these debts first appeared to the Court of Directors, and to the world. It varied afterwards. But it never appeared in any other than a most questionable shape. When this gigantic phantom of debt first appeared before a young minister, it naturally would have justified some degree of doubt and apprehension. Such a prodigy would have filled any common man with superstitious fears. He would exorcise that shapeless, nameless form, and by everything sacred would have adjured it to tell by what means a small number of slight individuals, of no consequence or situation, possessed of no lucrative offices, without the command of armies or the known administration of revenues, without profession of any kind, without any sort of trade sufficient to employ a peddler, could have, in a few years, (as to some, even in a few months,) amassed treasures equal to the revenues of a respectable kingdom? Was it not enough to put these gentlemen, in the novitiate of their administration, on their guard, and to call upon them for a strict inquiry, (if not to justify them in a reprobation of those demands without any inquiry at all,) that, when all England, Scotland, and Ireland had for years been witness to the immense sums laid out by the servants of the Company in stocks of all denominations, in the purchase of lands, in the buying and building of houses, in the securing quiet seats in Parliament or in the tumultuous riot of contested elections, in wandering throughout the whole range of those variegated modes of inventive prodigality which sometimes have excited our wonder, sometimes roused our indignation, that, after all, India was four millions still in debt to them? India in debt to them! For what? Every debt, for which an equivalent of some kind or other is not given, is, on the face of it, a fraud. What is the equivalent they have given? What equivalent had they to give? What are the articles of commerce, or the branches of manufacture, which those gentlemen have carried hence to enrich India? What are the sciences they beamed out to enlighten it? What are the arts they introduced to cheer and to adorn it? What are the religious, what the moral institutions they have taught among that people, as a guide to life, or as a consolation when life is to be no more, that there is an eternal debt, a debt "still paying, still to owe," which must be bound on the present generation in India, and entailed on their mortgaged posterity forever? A debt of millions, in favor of a set of men whose names, with few exceptions, are either buried in the obscurity of their origin and talents or dragged into light by the enormity of their crimes!
In my opinion the courage of the minister was the most wonderful part of the transaction, especially as he must have read, or rather the right honorable gentleman says he has read for him, whole volumes upon the subject. The volumes, by the way, are not by one tenth part so numerous as the right honorable gentleman has thought proper to pretend, in order to frighten you from inquiry; but in these volumes, such as they are, the minister must have found a full authority for a suspicion (at the very least) of everything relative to the great fortunes made at Madras. What is that authority? Why, no other than the standing authority for all the claims which the ministry has thought fit to provide for,—the grand debtor,—the Nabob of Arcot himself. Hear that prince, in the letter written to the Court of Directors, at the precise period whilst the main body of these debts were contracting. In his letter he states himself to be, what undoubtedly he is, a most competent witness to this point. After speaking of the war with Hyder Ali in 1768 and 1769, and of other measures which he censures, (whether right or wrong it signifies nothing,) and into which he says he had been led by the Company's servants, he proceeds in this manner:—"If all these things were against the real interests of the Company, they are ten thousand times more against mine, and against the prosperity of my country and the happiness of my people; for your interests and mine are the same. What were they owing to, then? To the private views of a few individuals, who have enriched themselves at the expense of your influence and of my country: for your servants HAVE NO TRADE IN THIS COUNTRY, neither do you pay them high wages; yet in a few years they return to England with many lacs of pagodas. How can you or I account for such immense fortunes acquired in so short a time, without any visible means of getting them?"
When he asked this question, which involves its answer, it is extraordinary that curiosity did not prompt the Chancellor of the Exchequer to that inquiry which might come in vain recommended to him by his own act of Parliament. Does not the Nabob of Arcot tell us, in so many words, that there was no fair way of making the enormous sums sent by the Company's servants to England? And do you imagine that there was or could be more honesty and good faith in the demands for what remained behind in India? Of what nature were the transactions with himself? If you follow the train of his information, you must see, that, if these great sums were at all lent, it was not property, but spoil, that was lent; if not lent, the transaction was not a contract, but a fraud. Either way, if light enough could not be furnished to authorize a full condemnation of these demands, they ought to have been left to the parties, who best knew and understood each other's proceedings. It was not necessary that the authority of government should interpose in favor of claims whose very foundation was a defiance of that authority, and whose object and end was its entire subversion.
It may be said that this letter was written by the Nabob of Arcot in a moody humor, under the influence of some chagrin. Certainly it was; but it is in such humors that truth comes out. And when he tells you, from his own knowledge, what every one must presume, from the extreme probability of the thing, whether he told it or not, one such testimony is worth a thousand that contradict that probability, when the parties have a better understanding with each other, and when they have a point to carry that may unite them in a common deceit.
If this body of private claims of debt, real or devised, were a question, as it is falsely pretended, between the Nabob of Arcot, as debtor, and Paul Benfield and his associates, as creditors, I am sure I should give myself but little trouble about it. If the hoards of oppression were the fund for satisfying the claims of bribery and peculation, who would wish to interfere between such litigants? If the demands were confined to what might be drawn from the treasures which the Company's records uniformly assert that the Nabob is in possession of, or if he had mines of gold or silver or diamonds, (as we know that he has none,) these gentlemen might break open his hoards or dig in his mines without any disturbance from me. But the gentlemen on the other side of the House know as well as I do, and they dare not contradict me, that the Nabob of Arcot and his creditors are not adversaries, but collusive parties, and that the whole transaction is under a false color and false names. The litigation is not, nor ever has been, between their rapacity and his hoarded riches. No: it is between him and them combining and confederating, on one side, and the public revenues, and the miserable inhabitants of a ruined country, on the other. These are the real plaintiffs and the real defendants in the suit. Refusing a shilling from his hoards for the satisfaction of any demand, the Nabob of Arcot is always ready, nay, he earnestly, and with eagerness and passion, contends for delivering up to these pretended creditors his territory and his subjects. It is, therefore, not from treasuries and mines, but from the food of your unpaid armies, from the blood withheld from the veins and whipped out of the backs of the most miserable of men, that we are to pamper extortion, usury, and peculation, under the false names of debtors and creditors of state.
The great patron of these creditors, (to whose honor they ought to erect statues,) the right honorable gentleman, in stating the merits which recommended them to his favor, has ranked them under three grand divisions. The first, the creditors of 1767; then the creditors of the cavalry loan; and lastly, the creditors of the loan in 1777. Let us examine them, one by one, as they pass in review before us.
The first of these loans, that of 1767, he insists, has an indisputable claim upon the public justice. The creditors, he affirms, lent their money publicly; they advanced it with the express knowledge and approbation of the Company; and it was contracted at the moderate interest of ten per cent. In this loan, the demand is, according to him, not only just, but meritorious in a very high degree: and one would be inclined to believe he thought so, because he has put it last in the provision he has made for these claims.
I readily admit this debt to stand the fairest of the whole; for, whatever may be my suspicions concerning a part of it, I can convict it of nothing worse than the most enormous usury. But I can convict, upon the spot, the right honorable gentleman of the most daring misrepresentation in every one fact, without any exception, that he has alleged in defence of this loan, and of his own conduct with regard to it. I will show you that this debt was never contracted with the knowledge of the Company; that it had not their approbation; that they received the first intelligence of it with the utmost possible surprise, indignation, and alarm.
So for from being previously apprised of the transaction from its origin, it was two years before the Court of Directors obtained any official intelligence of it. "The dealings of the servants with the Nabob were concealed from the first, until they were found out" (says Mr. Sayer, the Company's counsel) "by the report of the country." The Presidency, however, at last thought proper to send an official account. On this the Directors tell them, "To your great reproach, it has been concealed from us. We cannot but suspect this debt to have had its weight in your proposed aggrandizement of Mahomed Ali [the Nabob of Arcot]; but whether it has or has not, certain it is you are guilty of an high breach of duty in concealing it from us."
These expressions, concerning the ground of the transaction, its effect, and its clandestine nature, are in the letters bearing date March 17, 1769. After receiving a more full account, on the 23d March, 1770, they state, that "Messrs. John Pybus, John Call, and James Bourchier, as trustees for themselves and others of the Nabob's private creditors, had proved a deed of assignment upon the Nabob and his son of FIFTEEN districts of the Nabob's country, the revenues of which yielded, in time of peace, eight lacs of pagodas [320,000l. sterling] annually; and likewise an assignment of the yearly tribute paid the Nabob from the Rajah of Tanjore, amounting to four lacs of rupees [40,000l.]." The territorial revenue at that time possessed by these gentlemen, without the knowledge or consent of their masters, amounted to three hundred and sixty thousand pounds sterling annually. They were making rapid strides to the entire possession of the country, when the Directors, whom the right honorable gentleman states as having authorized these proceedings, were kept in such profound ignorance of this royal acquisition of territorial revenue by their servants, that in the same letter they say, "This assignment was obtained by three of the members of your board in January, 1767; yet we do not find the least trace of it upon your Consultations until August, 1768, nor do any of your letters to us afford any information relative to such transactions till the 1st of November, 1768. By your last letters of the 8th of May, 1769, you bring the whole proceedings to light in one view."
As to the previous knowledge of the Company, and its sanction to the debts, you see that this assertion of that knowledge is utterly unfounded. But did the Directors approve of it, and ratify the transaction, when it was known? The very reverse. On the same 3d of March, the Directors declare, "upon an impartial examination of the whole conduct of our late Governor and Council of Fort George [Madras], and on the fullest consideration, that the said Governor and Council have, in notorious violation of the trust reposed in them, manifestly preferred the interest of private individuals to that of the Company, in permitting the assignment of the revenues of certain valuable districts, to a very large amount, from the Nabob to individuals"; and then, highly aggravating their crimes, they add,—"We order and direct that you do examine, in the most impartial manner, all the above-mentioned transactions, and that you punish, by suspension, degradation, dismission, or otherwise, as to you shall seem meet, all and every such servant or servants of the Company who may by you be found guilty of any of the above offences." "We had" (say the Directors) "the mortification to find that the servants of the Company, who had been raised, supported, and owed their present opulence to the advantages gained in such service, have in this instance most unfaithfully betrayed their trust, abandoned the Company's interest, and prostituted its influence to accomplish the purposes of individuals, whilst the interest of the Company is almost wholly neglected, and payment to us rendered extremely precarious." Here, then, is the rock of approbation of the Court of Directors, on which the right honorable gentleman says this debt was founded. Any member, Mr. Speaker, who should come into the House, on my reading this sentence of condemnation of the Court of Directors against their unfaithful servants, might well imagine that he had heard an harsh, severe, unqualified invective against the present ministerial Board of Control. So exactly do the proceedings of the patrons of this abuse tally with those of the actors in it, that the expressions used in the condemnation of the one may serve for the reprobation of the other, without the change of a word.
To read you all the expressions of wrath and indignation fulminated in this dispatch against the meritorious creditors of the right honorable gentleman, who according to him have been so fully approved by the Company, would be to read the whole.
The right honorable gentleman, with an address peculiar to himself, every now and then slides in the Presidency of Madras, as synonymous to the Company. That the Presidency did approve the debt is certain. But the right honorable gentleman, as prudent in suppressing as skilful in bringing forward his matter, has not chosen to tell you that the Presidency were the very persons guilty of contracting this loan,—creditors themselves, and agents and trustees for all the other creditors. For this the Court of Directors accuse them of breach of trust; and for this the right honorable gentleman considers them as perfectly good authority for those claims. It is pleasant to hear a gentleman of the law quote the approbation of creditors as an authority for their own debt.
How they came to contract the debt to themselves, how they came to act as agents for those whom they ought to have controlled, is for your inquiry. The policy of this debt was announced to the Court of Directors by the very persons concerned in creating it. "Till very lately," say the Presidency, "the Nabob placed his dependence on the Company. Now he has been taught by ill advisers that an interest out of doors may stand him in good stead. He has been made to believe that his private creditors have power and interest to overrule the Court of Directors." The Nabob was not misinformed. The private creditors instantly qualified a vast number of votes; and having made themselves masters of the Court of Proprietors, as well as extending a powerful cabal in other places as important, they so completely overturned the authority of the Court of Directors at home and abroad, that this poor, baffled government was soon obliged to lower its tone. It was glad to be admitted into partnership with its own servants. The Court of Directors, establishing the debt which they had reprobated as a breach of trust, and which was planned for the subversion of their authority, settled its payments on a par with those of the public; and even so were not able to obtain peace, or even equality in their demands. All the consequences lay in a regular and irresistible train. By employing their influence for the recovery of this debt, their orders, issued in the same breath, against creating new debts, only animated the strong desires of their servants to this prohibited prolific sport, and it soon produced a swarm of sons and daughters, not in the least degenerated from the virtue of their parents.
From that moment the authority of the Court of Directors expired in the Carnatic, and everywhere else. "Every man," says the Presidency, "who opposes the government and its measures, finds an immediate countenance from the Nabob; even our discarded officers, however unworthy, are received into the Nabob's service." It was, indeed, a matter of no wonderful sagacity to determine whether the Court of Directors, with their miserable salaries to their servants, of four or five hundred pounds a year, or the distributor of millions, was most likely to be obeyed. It was an invention beyond the imagination of all the speculatists of our speculating age, to see a government quietly settled in one and the same town, composed of two distinct members: one to pay scantily for obedience, and the other to bribe high for rebellion and revolt.
The next thing which recommends this particular debt to the right honorable gentleman is, it seems, the moderate interest of ten per cent. It would be lost labor to observe on this assertion. The Nabob, in a long apologetic letter for the transaction between him and the body of the creditors, states the fact as I shall state it to you. In the accumulation of this debt, the first interest paid was from thirty to thirty-six per cent; it was then brought down to twenty-five per cent; at length it was reduced to twenty; and there it found its rest. During the whole process, as often as any of these monstrous interests fell into an arrear, (into which they were continually falling,) the arrear, formed into a new capital, was added to the old, and the same interest of twenty per cent accrued upon both. The Company, having got some scent of the enormous usury which prevailed at Madras, thought it necessary to interfere, and to order all interests to be lowered to ten per cent. This order, which contained no exception, though it by no means pointed particularly to this class of debts, came like a thunderclap on the Nabob. He considered his political credit as ruined; but to find a remedy to this unexpected evil, he again added to the old principal twenty per cent interest accruing for the last year. Thus a new fund was formed; and it was on that accumulation of various principals, and interests heaped upon interests, not on the sum originally lent, as the right honorable gentleman would make you believe, that ten per cent was settled on the whole.
When you consider the enormity of the interest at which these debts were contracted, and the several interests added to the principal, I believe you will not think me so skeptical, if I should doubt whether for this debt of 880,000l. the Nabob ever saw 100,000l. in real money. The right honorable gentleman suspecting, with all his absolute dominion over fact, that he never will be able to defend even this venerable patriarchal job, though sanctified by its numerous issue, and hoary with prescriptive years, has recourse to recrimination, the last resource of guilt. He says that this loan of 1767 was provided for in Mr. Fox's India bill; and judging of others by his own nature and principles, he more than insinuates that this provision was made, not from any sense of merit in the claim, but from partiality to General Smith, a proprietor, and an agent for that debt. If partiality could have had any weight against justice and policy with the then ministers and their friends, General Smith had titles to it. But the right honorable gentleman knows as well as I do, that General Smith was very far from looking on himself as partially treated in the arrangements of that time; indeed, what man dared to hope for private partiality in that sacred plan for relief to nations?
It is not necessary that the right honorable gentleman should sarcastically call that time to our recollection. Well do I remember every circumstance of that memorable period. God forbid I should forget it! O illustrious disgrace! O victorious defeat! May your memorial be fresh and new to the latest generations! May the day of that generous conflict be stamped in characters never to be cancelled or worn out from the records of time! Let no man hear of us, who shall not hear, that, in a struggle against the intrigues of courts and the perfidious levity of the multitude, we fell in the cause of honor, in the cause of our country, in the cause of human nature itself! But if fortune should be as powerful over fame as she has been prevalent over virtue, at least our conscience is beyond her jurisdiction. My poor share in the support of that great measure no man shall ravish from me. It shall be safely lodged in the sanctuary of my heart,—never, never to be torn from thence, but with those holds that grapple it to life.
I say, I well remember that bill, and every one of its honest and its wise provisions. It is not true that this debt was ever protected or enforced, or any revenue whatsoever set apart for it. It was left in that bill just where it stood: to be paid or not to be paid out of the Nabob's private treasures, according to his own discretion. The Company had actually given it their sanction, though always relying for its validity on the sole security of the faith of him who without their knowledge or consent entered into the original obligation. It had no other sanction; it ought to have had no other. So far was Mr. Fox's bill from providing funds for it, as this ministry have wickedly done for this, and for ten times worse transactions, out of the public estate, that an express clause immediately preceded, positively forbidding any British subject from receiving assignments upon any part of the territorial revenue, on any pretence whatsoever.
You recollect, Mr. Speaker, that the Chancellor of the Exchequer strongly professed to retain every part of Mr. Fox's bill which was intended to prevent abuse; but in his India bill, which (let me do justice) is as able and skilful a performance, for its own purposes, as ever issued from the wit of man, premeditating this iniquity,—
Hoc ipsum ut strueret, Trojamque aperiret Achivis,—
expunged this essential clause, broke down the fence which was raised to cover the public property against the rapacity of his partisans, and thus levelling every obstruction, he made a firm, broad highway for sin and death, for usury and oppression, to renew their ravages throughout the devoted revenues of the Carnatic.
The tenor, the policy, and the consequences of this debt of 1767 are in the eyes of ministry so excellent, that its merits are irresistible; and it takes the lead to give credit and countenance to all the rest. Along with this chosen body of heavy-armed infantry, and to support it in the line, the right honorable gentleman has stationed his corps of black cavalry. If there be any advantage between this debt and that of 1769, according to him the cavalry debt has it. It is not a subject of defence: it is a theme of panegyric. Listen to the right honorable gentleman, and you will find it was contracted to save the country,—to prevent mutiny in armies,—to introduce economy in revenues; and for all these honorable purposes, it originated at the express desire and by the representative authority of the Company itself.
First let me say a word to the authority. This debt was contracted, not by the authority of the Company, not by its representatives, (as the right honorable gentleman has the unparalleled confidence to assert,) but in the ever-memorable period of 1777, by the usurped power of those who rebelliously, in conjunction with the Nabob of Arcot, had overturned the lawful government of Madras. For that rebellion this House unanimously directed a public prosecution. The delinquents, after they had subverted government, in order to make to themselves a party to support them in their power, are universally known to have dealt jobs about to the right and to the left, and to any who were willing to receive them. This usurpation, which the right honorable gentleman well knows was brought about by and for the great mass of these pretended debts, is the authority which is set up by him to represent the Company,—to represent that Company which, from the first moment of their hearing of this corrupt and fraudulent transaction to this hour, have uniformly disowned and disavowed it.
So much for the authority. As to the facts, partly true, and partly colorable, as they stand recorded, they are in substance these. The Nabob of Arcot, as soon as he had thrown off the superiority of this country by means of these creditors, kept up a great army which he never paid. Of course his soldiers were generally in a state of mutiny. The usurping Council say that they labored hard with their master, the Nabob, to persuade him to reduce these mutinous and useless troops. He consented; but, as usual, pleaded inability to pay them their arrears. Here was a difficulty. The Nabob had no money; the Company had no money; every public supply was empty. But there was one resource which no season has ever yet dried up in that climate. The soucars were at hand: that is, private English money-jobbers offered their assistance. Messieurs Taylor, Majendie, and Call proposed to advance the small sum of 160,000l. to pay off the Nabob's black cavalry, provided the Company's authority was given for their loan. This was the great point of policy always aimed at, and pursued through a hundred devices by the servants at Madras. The Presidency, who themselves had no authority for the functions they presumed to exercise, very readily gave the sanction of the Company to those servants who knew that the Company, whose sanction was demanded, had positively prohibited all such transactions.
However, so far as the reality of the dealing goes, all is hitherto fair and plausible; and here the right honorable gentleman concludes, with commendable prudence, his account of the business. But here it is I shall beg leave to commence my supplement: for the gentleman's discreet modesty has led him to cut the thread of the story somewhat abruptly. One of the most essential parties is quite forgotten. Why should the episode of the poor Nabob be omitted? When that prince chooses it, nobody can tell his story better. Excuse me, if I apply again to my book, and give it you from the first hand: from the Nabob himself.
"Mr. Stratton became acquainted with this, and got Mr. Taylor and others to lend me four lacs of pagodas towards discharging the arrears of pay of my troops. Upon this, I wrote a letter of thanks to Mr. Stratton; and upon the faith of this money being paid immediately, I ordered many of my troops to be discharged by a certain day, and lessened the number of my servants. Mr. Taylor, &c., some time after acquainted me, that they had no ready money, but they would grant teeps payable in four months. This astonished me; for I did not know what might happen, when the sepoys were dismissed from my service. I begged of Mr. Taylor and the others to pay this sum to the officers of my regiments at the time they mentioned; and desired the officers, at the same time, to pacify and persuade the men belonging to them that their pay would be given to them at the end of four months, and that, till those arrears were discharged, their pay should be continued to them. Two years
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