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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 eight out of twelve of his works, this volume containing the ninth and eleventh report on the affairs with India and the first part of the aticles of charge of high crimes against W. Hastings.
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The Works of Edmund Burke
The Works of E. Burke Volume 8
Jazzybee Verlag Jürgen Beck
86450 Altenmünster, Loschberg 9
NINTH REPORT OF THE SELECT COMMITTEE OF THE HOUSE OF COMMONS ON THE AFFAIRS OF INDIA. June 25, 1783.1
I.—OBSERVATIONS ON THE STATE OF THE COMPANY'S AFFAIRS IN INDIA.1
II.—CONNECTION OF GREAT BRITAIN WITH INDIA.22
III.—EFFECT OF THE REVENUE INVESTMENT ON THE COMPANY.30
ELEVENTH REPORT OF THE SELECT COMMITTEE OF THE HOUSE OF COMMONS ON THE AFFAIRS OF INDIA. WITH EXTRACTS FROM THE APPENDIX. November 18, 1783.118
ARTICLES OF CHARGE OF HIGH CRIMES AND MISDEMEANORS AGAINST WARREN HASTINGS 167
III.—BENARES. PART I. RIGHTS AND TITLES OF THE RAJAH OF BENARES.178
IV.—PRINCESSES OF OUDE.217
V.—REVOLUTIONS IN FURRUCKABAD.255
VI.—DESTRUCTION OF THE RAJAH OF SAHLONE.264
From the SELECT COMMITTEE [of the House of Commons] appointed to take into consideration the state of the administration of justice in the provinces of Bengal, Bahar, and Orissa, and to report the same, as it shall appear to them, to the House, with their observations thereupon; and who were instructed to consider how the British possessions in the East Indies may be held and governed with the greatest security and advantage to this country, and by what means the happiness of the native inhabitants may be best promoted.
In order to enable the House to adopt the most proper means for regulating the British government in India, and for promoting the happiness of the natives who live under its authority or influence, your Committee hold it expedient to collect into distinct points of view the circumstances by which that government appears to them to be most essentially disordered, and to explain fully the principles of policy and the course of conduct by which the natives of all ranks and orders have been reduced to their present state of depression and misery.
Your Committee have endeavored to perform this task in plain and popular language, knowing that nothing has alienated the House from inquiries absolutely necessary for the performance of one of the most essential of all its duties so much as the technical language of the Company's records, as the Indian names of persons, of offices, of the tenure and qualities of estates, and of all the varied branches of their intricate revenue. This language is, indeed, of necessary use in the executive departments of the Company's affairs; but it is not necessary to Parliament. A language so foreign from all the ideas and habits of the far greater part of the members of this House has a tendency to disgust them with all sorts of inquiry concerning this subject. They are fatigued into such a despair of ever obtaining a competent knowledge of the transactions in India, that they are easily persuaded to remand them back to that obscurity, mystery, and intrigue out of which they have been forced upon public notice by the calamities arising from their extreme mismanagement. This mismanagement has itself, as your Committee conceive, in a great measure arisen from dark cabals, and secret suggestions to persons in power, without a regular public inquiry into the good or evil tendency of any measure, or into the merit or demerit of any person intrusted with the Company's concerns.
The plan adopted by your Committee is, first, to consider the law regulating the East India Company, as it now stands,—and, secondly, to inquire into the circumstances of the two great links of connection by which the territorial possessions in India are united to this kingdom, namely, the Company's commerce, and the government exercised under the charter and under acts of Parliament. The last [first] of these objects, the commerce, is taken in two points of view: theexternal, or the direct trade between India and Europe, and the internal, that is to say, the trade of Bengal, in all the articles of produce and manufacture which furnish the Company's investment.
The government is considered by your Committee under the like descriptions of internal and external. The internal regards the communication between the Court of Directors and their servants in India, the management of the revenue, the expenditure of public money, the civil administration, the administration of justice, and the state of the army. The external regards, first, the conduct and maxims of the Company's government with respect to the native princes and people dependent on the British authority,—and, next, the proceedings with regard to those native powers which are wholly independent of the Company. But your Committee's observations on the last division extend to those matters only which are not comprehended in the Report of the Committee of Secrecy. Under these heads, your Committee refer to the most leading particulars of abuse which prevail in the administration of India,—deviating only from this order where the abuses are of a complicated nature, and where one cannot be well considered independently of several others.
Your Committee observe, that this is the second attempt made by Parliament for the reformation of abuses in the Company's government. It appears, therefore, to them a necessary preliminary to this second undertaking, to consider the causes which, in their opinion, have produced the failure of the first,—that the defects of the original plan may be supplied, its errors corrected, and such useful regulations as were then adopted may be further explained, enlarged, and enforced.
The first design of this kind was formed in the session of the year 1773. In that year, Parliament, taking up the consideration of the affairs of India, through two of its committees collected a very great body of details concerning the interior economy of the Company's possessions, and concerning many particulars of abuse which prevailed at the time when those committees made their ample and instructive reports. But it does not appear that the body of regulations enacted in that year, that is, in the East India Act of the thirteenth of his Majesty's reign, were altogether grounded on that information, but were adopted rather on probable speculations and general ideas of good policy and good government. New establishments, civil and judicial, were therefore formed at a very great expense, and with much complexity of constitution. Checks and counter-checks of all kinds were contrived in the execution, as well as in the formation of this system, in which all the existing authorities of this kingdom had a share: for Parliament appointed the members of the presiding part of the new establishment, the Crown appointed the judicial, and the Company preserved the nomination of the other officers. So that, if the act has not fully answered its purposes, the failure cannot be attributed to any want of officers of every description, or to the deficiency of any mode of patronage in their appointment. The cause must be sought elsewhere.
The act had in its view (independently of several detached regulations) five fundamental objects.
1st. The reformation of the Court of Proprietors of the East India Company.
2ndly. A new model of the Court of Directors, and an enforcement of their authority over the servants abroad.
3rdly. The establishment of a court of justice capable of protecting the natives from the oppressions of British subjects.
4thly. The establishment of a general council, to be seated in Bengal, whose authority should, in many particulars, extend over all the British settlements in India.
5thly. To furnish the ministers of the crown with constant information concerning the whole of the Company's correspondence with India, in order that they might be enabled to inspect the conduct of the Directors and servants, and to watch over the execution of all parts of the act; that they might be furnished with matter to lay before Parliament from time to time, according as the state of things should render regulation or animadversion necessary.
The first object of the policy of this act was to improve the constitution of the Court of Proprietors. In this case, as in almost all the rest, the remedy was not applied directly to the disease. The complaint was, that factions in the Court of Proprietors had shown, in several instances, a disposition to support the servants of the Company against the just coercion and legal prosecution of the Directors. Instead of applying a corrective to the distemper, a change was proposed in the constitution. By this reform, it was presumed that an interest would arise in the General Court more independent in itself, and more connected with the commercial prosperity of the Company. Under the new constitution, no proprietor, not possessed of a thousand pounds capital stock, was permitted to vote in the General Court: before the act, five hundred pounds was a sufficient qualification for one vote; and no value gave more. But as the lower classes were disabled, the power was increased in the higher: proprietors of three thousand pounds were allowed two votes; those of six thousand were entitled to three; ten thousand pounds was made the qualification for four. The votes were thus regulated in the scale and gradation of property. On this scale, and on some provisions to prevent occasional qualifications and splitting of votes, the whole reformation rested.
Several essential points, however, seem to have been omitted or misunderstood. No regulation was made to abolish the pernicious custom of voting by ballot, by means of which acts of the highest concern to the Company and to the state might be done by individuals with perfect impunity; and even the body itself might be subjected to a forfeiture of all its privileges for defaults of persons who, so far from being under control, could not be so much as known in any mode of legal cognizance. Nothing was done or attempted to prevent the operation of the interest of delinquent servants of the Company in the General Court, by which they might even come to be their own judges, and, in effect, under another description, to become the masters in that body which ought to govern them. Nor was anything provided to secure the independency of the proprietary body from the various exterior interests by which it might be disturbed, and diverted from the conservation of that pecuniary concern which the act laid down as the sole security for preventing a collusion between the General Court and the powerful delinquent servants in India. The whole of the regulations concerning the Court of Proprietors relied upon two principles, which have often proved fallacious: namely, that small numbers were a security against faction and disorder; and that integrity of conduct would follow the greater property. In no case could these principles be less depended upon than in the affairs of the East India Company. However, by wholly cutting off the lower, and adding to the power of the higher classes, it was supposed that the higher would keep their money in that fund to make profit,—that the vote would be a secondary consideration, and no more than a guard to the property,—and that therefore any abuse which tended to depreciate the value of their stock would be warmly resented by such proprietors.
If the ill effects of every misdemeanor in the Company's servants were to be immediate, and had a tendency to lower the value of the stock, something might justly be expected from the pecuniary security taken by the act. But from the then state of things, it was more than probable that proceedings ruinous to the permanent interest of the Company might commence in great lucrative advantages. Against this evil large pecuniary interests were rather the reverse of a remedy. Accordingly, the Company's servants have ever since covered over the worst oppressions of the people under their government, and the most cruel and wanton ravages of all the neighboring countries, by holding out, and for a time actually realizing, additions of revenue to the territorial funds of the Company, and great quantities of valuable goods to their investment.
But this consideration of mere income, whatever weight it might have, could not be the first object of a proprietor, in a body so circumstanced. The East India Company is not, like the Bank of England, a mere moneyed society for the sole purpose of the preservation or improvement of their capital; and therefore every attempt to regulate it upon the same principles must inevitably fail. When it is considered that a certain share in the stock gives a share in the government of so vast an empire, with such a boundless patronage, civil, military, marine, commercial, and financial, in every department of which such fortunes have been made as could be made nowhere else, it is impossible not to perceive that capitals far superior to any qualifications appointed to proprietors, or even to Directors, would readily be laid out for a participation in that power. The India proprietor, therefore, will always be, in the first instance, a politician; and the bolder his enterprise, and the more corrupt his views, the less will be his consideration of the price to be paid for compassing them. The new regulations did not reduce the number so low as not to leave the assembly still liable to all the disorder which might be supposed to arise from multitude. But if the principle had been well established and well executed, a much greater inconveniency grew out of the reform than that which had attended the old abuse: for if tumult and disorder be lessened by reducing the number of proprietors, private cabal and intrigue are facilitated at least in an equal degree; and it is cabal and corruption, rather than disorder and confusion, that was most to be dreaded in transacting the affairs of India. Whilst the votes of the smaller proprietors continued, a door was left open for the public sense to enter into that society: since that door has been closed, the proprietary has become, even more than formerly, an aggregate of private interests, which subsist at the expense of the collective body. At the moment of this revolution in the proprietary, as it might naturally be expected, those who had either no very particular interest in their vote or but a petty object to pursue immediately disqualified; but those who were deeply interested in the Company's patronage, those who were concerned in the supply of ships and of the other innumerable objects required for their immense establishments, those who were engaged in contracts with the Treasury, Admiralty, and Ordnance, together with the clerks in public offices, found means of securing qualifications at the enlarged standard. All these composed a much greater proportion than formerly they had done of the proprietary body.
Against the great, predominant, radical corruption of the Court of Proprietors the raising the qualification proved no sort of remedy. The return of the Company's servants into Europe poured in a constant supply of proprietors, whose ability to purchase the highest qualifications for themselves, their agents, and dependants could not be dubious. And this latter description form a very considerable, and by far the most active and efficient part of that body. To add to the votes, which is adding to the power in proportion to the wealth, of men whose very offences were supposed to consist in acts which lead to the acquisition of enormous riches, appears by no means a well-considered method of checking rapacity and oppression. In proportion as these interests prevailed, the means of cabal, of concealment, and of corrupt confederacy became far more easy than before. Accordingly, there was no fault with respect to the Company's government over its servants, charged or chargeable on the General Court as it originally stood, of which since the reform it has not been notoriously guilty. It was not, therefore, a matter of surprise to your Committee, that the General Court, so composed, has at length grown to such a degree of contempt both of its duty and of the permanent interest of the whole corporation as to put itself into open defiance of the salutary admonitions of this House, given for the purpose of asserting and enforcing the legal authority of their own body over their own servants.
The failure in this part of the reform of 1773 is not stated by your Committee as recommending a return to the ancient constitution of the Company, which was nearly as far as the new from containing any principle tending to the prevention or remedy of abuses,—but to point out the probable failure of any future regulations which do not apply directly to the grievance, but which may be taken up as experiments to ascertain theories of the operation of councils formed of greater or lesser numbers, or such as shall be composed of men of more or less opulence, or of interests of newer or longer standing, or concerning the distribution of power to various descriptions or professions of men, or of the election to office by one authority rather than another.
The second object of the act was the Court of Directors. Under the arrangement of the year 1773 that court appeared to have its authority much strengthened. It was made less dependent than formerly upon its constituents, the proprietary. The duration of the Directors in office was rendered more permanent, and the tenure itself diversified by a varied and intricate rotation. At the same time their authority was held high over their servants of all descriptions; and the only rule prescribed to the Council-General of Bengal, in the exercise of the large and ill-defined powers given to them, was that they were to yield obedience to the orders of the Court of Directors. As to the Court of Directors itself, it was left with very little regulation. The custom of ballot, infinitely the most mischievous in a body possessed of all the ordinary executive powers, was still left; and your Committee have found the ill effects of this practice in the course of their inquiries. Nothing was done to oblige the Directors to attend to the promotion of their servants according to their rank and merits. In judging of those merits nothing was done to bind them to any observation of what appeared on their records. Nothing was done to compel them to prosecution or complaint where delinquency became visible. The act, indeed, prescribed that no servant of the Company abroad should be eligible into the direction until two years after his return to England. But as this regulation rather presumes than provides for an inquiry into their conduct, a very ordinary neglect in the Court of Directors might easily defeat it, and a short remission might in this particular operate as a total indemnity. In fact, however, the servants have of late seldom attempted a seat in the direction,—an attempt which might possibly rouse a dormant spirit of inquiry; but, satisfied with an interest in the proprietary, they have, through that name, brought the direction very much under their own control.
As to the general authority of the Court of Directors, there is reason to apprehend that on the whole it was somewhat degraded by the act whose professed purpose was to exalt it, and that the only effect of the Parliamentary sanction to their orders has been, that along with those orders the law of the land has been despised and trampled under foot. The Directors were not suffered either to nominate or to remove those whom they were empowered to instruct; from masters they were reduced to the situation of complainants,—a situation the imbecility of which no laws or regulations could wholly alter; and when the Directors were afterwards restored in some degree to their ancient power, on the expiration of the lease given to their principal servants, it became impossible for them to recover any degree of their ancient respect, even if they had not in the mean time been so modelled as to be entirely free from all ambition of that sort.
From that period the orders of the Court of Directors became to be so habitually despised by their servants abroad, and at length to be so little regarded even by themselves, that this contempt of orders forms almost the whole subject-matter of the voluminous reports of two of your committees. If any doubt, however, remains concerning the cause of this fatal decline of the authority of the Court of Directors, no doubt whatsoever can remain of the fact itself, nor of the total failure of one of the great leading regulations of the act of 1773.
The third object was a new judicial arrangement, the chief purpose of which was to form a strong and solid security for the natives against the wrongs and oppressions of British subjects resident in Bengal. An operose and expensive establishment of a Supreme Court was made, and charged upon the revenues of the country. The charter of justice was by the act left to the crown, as well as the appointment of the magistrates. The defect in the institution seemed to be this,—that no rule was laid down, either in the act or the charter, by which the court was to judge. No descriptions of offenders or species of delinquency were properly ascertained, according to the nature of the place, or to the prevalent mode of abuse. Provision was made for the administration of justice in the remotest part of Hindostan as if it were a province in Great Britain. Your Committee have long had the constitution and conduct of this court before them, and they have not yet been able to discover very few instances (not one that appears to them of leading importance) of relief given to the natives against the corruptions or oppressions of British subjects in power,—though they do find one very strong and marked instance of the judges having employed an unwarrantable extension or application of the municipal law of England, to destroy a person of the highest rank among those natives whom they were sent to protect. One circumstance rendered the proceeding in this case fatal to all the good purposes for which the court had been established. The sufferer (the Rajah Nundcomar) appears, at the very time of this extraordinary prosecution, a discoverer of some particulars of illicit gain then charged upon Mr. Hastings, the Governor-General. Although in ordinary cases, and in some lesser instances of grievance, it is very probable that this court has done its duty, and has been, as every court must be, of some service, yet one example of this kind must do more towards deterring the natives from complaint, and consequently from the means of redress, than many decisions favorable to them, in the ordinary course of proceeding, can do for their encouragement and relief. So far as your Committee has been able to discover, the court has been generally terrible to the natives, and has distracted the government of the Company without substantially reforming any one of its abuses.
This court, which in its constitution seems not to have had sufficiently in view the necessities of the people for whose relief it was intended, and was, or thought itself, bound in some instances to too strict an adherence to the forms and rules of English practice, in others was framed upon principles perhaps too remote from the constitution of English tribunals. By the usual course of English practice, the far greater part of the redress to be obtained against oppressions of power is by process in the nature of civil actions. In these a trial by jury is a necessary part, with regard to the finding the offence and to the assessment of the damages. Both these were in the charter of justice left entirely to the judges. It was presumed, and not wholly without reason, that the British subjects were liable to fall into factions and combinations, in order to support themselves in the abuses of an authority of which every man might in his turn become a sharer. And with regard to the natives, it was presumed (perhaps a little too hastily) that they were not capable of sharing in the functions of jurors. But it was not foreseen that the judges were also liable to be engaged in the factions of the settlement,—and if they should ever happen to be so engaged, that the native people were then without that remedy which obviously lay in the chance that the court and jury, though both liable to bias, might not easily unite in the same identical act of injustice. Your Committee, on full inquiry, are of opinion that the use of juries is neither impracticable nor dangerous in Bengal.
Your Committee refer to their report made in the year 1781, for the manner in which this court, attempting to extend its jurisdiction, and falling with extreme severity on the native magistrates, a violent contest arose between the English judges and the English civil authority. This authority, calling in the military arm, (by a most dangerous example,) overpowered, and for a while suspended, the functions of the court; but at length those functions, which were suspended by the quarrel of the parties, were destroyed by their reconciliation, and by the arrangements made in consequence of it. By these the court was virtually annihilated; or if substantially it exists, it is to be apprehended it exists only for purposes very different from those of its institution.
The fourth object of the act of 1773 was the Council-General. This institution was intended to produce uniformity, consistency, and the effective cooperation of all the settlements in their common defence. By the ancient constitution of the Company's foreign settlements, they were each of them under the orders of a President or Chief, and a Council, more or fewer, according to the discretion of the Company. Among those, Parliament (probably on account of the largeness of the territorial acquisitions, rather than the conveniency of the situation) chose Bengal for the residence of the controlling power, and, dissolving the Presidency, appointed a new establishment, upon a plan somewhat similar to that which had prevailed before; but the number was smaller. This establishment was composed of a Governor-General and four Counsellors, all named in the act of Parliament. They were to hold their offices for five years, after which term the patronage was to revert to the Court of Directors. In the mean time such vacancies as should happen were to be filled by that court, with the concurrence of the crown. The first Governor-General and one of the Counsellors had been old servants of the Company; the others were new men.
On this new arrangement the Courts of Proprietors and Directors considered the details of commerce as not perfectly consistent with the enlarged sphere of duty and the reduced number of the Council. Therefore, to relieve them from this burden, they instituted a new office, called the Board of Trade, for the subordinate management of their commercial concerns, and appointed eleven of the senior servants to fill the commission.
The powers given by the act to the new Governor-General and Council had for their direct object the kingdom of Bengal and its dependencies. Within that sphere (and it is not a small one) their authority extended over all the Company's concerns of whatever description. In matters of peace and war it seems to have been meant that the other Presidencies should be subordinate to their board. But the law is loose and defective, where it professes to restrain the subordinate Presidencies from making war without the consent and approbation of the Supreme Council. They are left free to act without it in cases of imminent necessity, or where they shall have received special orders from the Company. The first exception leaves it open to the subordinate to judge of the necessity of measures which, when taken, bind or involve the superior: the second refers a question of peace or war to two jurisdictions, which may give different judgments. In both instances cases in point have occurred. With regard to their local administration, their powers were exceedingly and dangerously loose and undetermined. Their powers were not given directly, but in words of reference, in which neither the objects related to nor the mode of the relation were sufficiently expressed. Their legislative and executive capacities were not so accurately drawn, and marked by such strong and penal lines of distinction, as to keep these capacities separate. Where legislative and merely executive powers were lodged in the same hands, the legislative, which is the larger and the more ready for all occasions, was constantly resorted to. The Governor-General and Council, therefore, immediately gave constructions to their ill-defined authority which rendered it perfectly despotic,—constructions which if they were allowed, no action of theirs ought to be regarded as criminal.
Armed as they were with an authority in itself so ample, and by abuse so capable of an unlimited extent, very few, and these very insufficient correctives, were administered. Ample salaries were provided for them, which indeed removed the necessity, but by no means the inducements to corruption and oppression. Nor was any barrier whatsoever opposed on the part of the natives against their injustice, except the Supreme Court of Judicature, which never could be capable of controlling a government with such powers, without becoming such a government itself.
There was, indeed, a prohibition against all concerns in trade to the whole Council, and against all taking of presents by any in authority. A right of prosecution in the King's Bench was also established; but it was a right the exercise of which is difficult, and in many, and those the most weighty cases, impracticable. No considerable facilities were given to prosecution in Parliament; nothing was done to prevent complaint from being far more dangerous to the sufferer than injustice to the oppressor. No overt acts were fixed, upon which corruption should be presumed in transactions of which secrecy and collusion formed the very basis; no rules of evidence nor authentic mode of transmission were settled in conformity to the unalterable circumstances of the country and the people.
One provision, indeed, was made for restraining the servants, in itself very wise and substantial: a delinquent once dismissed, could not be restored, but by the votes of three fourths of the Directors and three fourths of the proprietors: this was well aimed. But no method was settled for bringing delinquents to the question of removal: and if they should be brought to it, a door lay wide open for evasion of the law, and for a return into the service, in defiance of its plain intention,—that is, by resigning to avoid removal; by which measure this provision of the act has proved as unoperative as all the rest. By this management a mere majority may bring in the greater delinquent, whilst the person removed for offences comparatively trivial may remain excluded forever.
The new Council nominated in the act was composed of two totally discordant elements, which soon distinguished themselves into permanent parties. One of the principal instructions which the three members of the Council sent immediately from England, namely, General Clavering, Colonel Monson, and Mr. Francis, carried out with them was, to "cause the strictest inquiry to be made into all oppressions and abuses," among which the practice of receiving presents from the natives, at that time generally charged upon men in power, was principally aimed at.
Presents to any considerable value were justly reputed by the legislature, not as marks of attention and respect, but as bribes or extortions, for which either the beneficial and gratuitous duties of government were sold, or they were the price paid for acts of partiality, or, finally, they were sums of money extorted from the givers by the terrors of power. Against the system of presents, therefore, the new commission was in general opinion particularly pointed. In the commencement of reformation, at a period when a rapacious conquest had overpowered and succeeded to a corrupt government, an act of indemnity might have been thought advisable; perhaps a new account ought to have been opened; all retrospect ought to have been forbidden, at least to certain periods. If this had not been thought advisable, none in the higher departments of a suspected and decried government ought to have been kept in their posts, until an examination had rendered their proceedings clear, or until length of time had obliterated, by an even course of irreproachable conduct, the errors which so naturally grow out of a new power. But the policy adopted was different: it was to begin with examples. The cry against the abuses was strong and vehement throughout the whole nation, and the practice of presents was represented to be as general as it was mischievous. In such a case, indeed in any case, it seemed not to be a measure the most provident, without a great deal of previous inquiry, to place two persons, who from their situation must be the most exposed to such imputations, in the commission which was to inquire into their own conduct,—much less to place one of them at the head of that commission, and with a casting vote in case of an equality. The persons who could not be liable to that charge were, indeed, three to two; but any accidental difference of opinion, the death of any one of them or his occasional absence or sickness, threw the whole power into the hands of the other two, who were Mr. Hastings and Mr. Barwell, one the President, and the other high in the Council of that establishment on which the reform was to operate. Thus those who were liable to process as delinquents were in effect set over the reformers; and that did actually happen which might be expected to happen from so preposterous an arrangement: a stop was soon put to all inquiries into the capital abuses.
Nor was the great political end proposed in the formation of a superintending Council over all the Presidencies better answered than that of an inquiry into corruptions and abuses. The several Presidencies have acted in a great degree upon their own separate authority; and as little of unity, concert, or regular system has appeared in their conduct as was ever known before this institution. India is, indeed, so vast a country, and the settlements are so divided, that their intercourse with each other is liable to as many delays and difficulties as the intercourse between distant and separate states. But one evil may possibly have arisen from an attempt to produce an union, which, though undoubtedly to be aimed at, is opposed in some degree by the unalterable nature of their situation,—that it has taught the servants rather to look to a superior among themselves than to their common superiors. This evil, growing out of the abuse of the principle of subordination, can only be corrected by a very strict enforcement of authority over that part of the chain of dependence which is next to the original power.
That which your Committee considers as the fifth and last of the capital objects of the act, and as the binding regulation of the whole, is the introduction (then for the first time) of the ministers of the crown into the affairs of the Company. The state claiming a concern and share of property in the Company's profits, the servants of the crown were presumed the more likely to preserve with a scrupulous attention the sources of the great revenues which they were to administer, and for the rise and fall of which they were to render an account.
The interference of government was introduced by this act in two ways: one by a control, in effect by a share, in the appointment to vacancies in the Supreme Council. The act provided that his Majesty's approbation should be had to the persons named to that duty. Partaking thus in the patronage of the Company, administration was bound to an attention to the characters and capacities of the persons employed in that high trust. The other part of their interference was by way of inspection. By this right of inspection, everything in the Company's correspondence from India, which related to the civil or military affairs and government of the Company, was directed by the act to be within fourteen days after the receipt laid before the Secretary of State, and everything that related to the management of the revenues was to be laid before the Commissioners of the Treasury. In fact, both description of these papers have been generally communicated to that board.
It appears to your Committee that there were great and material defects in both parts of the plan. With regard to the approbation of persons nominated to the Supreme Council by the Court of Directors, no sufficient means were provided for carrying to his Majesty, along with the nomination, the particulars in the conduct of those who had been in the service before, which might render them proper objects of approbation or rejection. The India House possesses an office of record capable of furnishing, in almost all cases, materials for judging on the behavior of the servants in their progress from the lowest to the highest stations; and the whole discipline of the service, civil and military, must depend upon an examination of these records inseparably attending every application for an appointment to the highest stations. But in the present state of the nomination the ministers of the crown are not furnished with the proper means of exercising the power of control intended by the law, even if they were scrupulously attentive to the use of it. There are modes of proceeding favorable to neglect. Others excite inquiry and stimulate to vigilance.
Your Committee, therefore, are of opinion, that for the future prevention of cabal, and of private and partial representation, whether above or below, that, whenever any person who has been in the service shall be recommended to the King's ministers to fill a vacancy in the Council-General, the Secretary of the Court of Directors shall be ordered to make a strict search into the records of the Company, and shall annex to the recommendation the reasons of the Court of Directors for their choice, together with a faithful copy of whatever shall be found (if anything can be found) relative to his character and conduct,—as also an account of his standing in the Company's service, the time of his abode in India, the reasons for his return, and the stations, whether civil or military, in which he has been successively placed.
With this account ought to be transmitted the names of those who were proposed as candidates for the same office, with the correspondent particulars relative to their conduct and situation: for not only the separate, but the comparative merit, probably would, and certainly ought, to have great influence in the approbation or rejection of the party presented to the ministers of the crown. These papers should be laid before the Commissioners of the Treasury and one of the Secretaries of State, and entered in books to be kept in the Treasury and the Secretary's office.
These precautions, in case of the nomination of any who have served the Company, appear to be necessary from the improper nomination and approbation of Mr. John Macpherson, notwithstanding the objections which stood against him on the Company's records. The choice of Mr. John Stables, from an inferior military to the highest civil capacity, was by no means proper, nor an encouraging example to either service. His conduct, indeed, in the subaltern military situation, had received, and seems to have deserved, commendation; but no sufficient ground was furnished for confounding the lines and gradations of service. This measure was, however, far less exceptionable than the former; because an irregular choice of a less competent person, and the preference given to proved delinquency in prejudice to uncensured service, are very different things. But even this latter appointment would in all likelihood have been avoided, if rules of promotion had been established. If such rules were settled, candidates qualified from ability, knowledge, and service would not be discouraged by finding that everything was open to every man, and that favor alone stood in the place of civil or military experience. The elevation from the lowest stations unfaithfully and negligently filled to the highest trusts, the total inattention to rank and seniority, and, much more, the combination of this neglect of rank with a confusion (unaccompanied with strong and evident reasons) of the lines of service, cannot operate as useful examples on those who serve the public in India. These servants, beholding men who have been condemned for improper behavior to the Company in inferior civil stations elevated above them, or (what is less blamable, but still mischievous) persons without any distinguished civil talents taken from the subordinate situations of another line to their prejudice, will despair by any good behavior of ascending to the dignities of their own: they will be led to improve, to the utmost advantage of their fortune, the lower stages of power, and will endeavor to make up in lucre what they can never hope to acquire in station.
The temporary appointment by Parliament of the Supreme Council of India arose from an opinion that the Company, at that time at least, was not in a condition or not disposed to a proper exercise of the privileges which they held under their charter. It therefore behoved the Directors to be particularly attentive to their choice of Counsellors, on the expiration of the period during which their patronage had been suspended. The duties of the Supreme Council had been reputed of so arduous a nature as to require even a legislative interposition. They were called upon, by all possible care and impartiality, to justify Parliament at least as fully in the restoration of their privileges as the circumstances of the time had done in their suspension.
But interests have lately prevailed in the Court of Directors, which, by the violation of every rule, seemed to be resolved on the destruction of those privileges of which they were the natural guardians. Every new power given has been made the source of a new abuse; and the acts of Parliament themselves, which provide but imperfectly for the prevention of the mischief, have, it is to be feared, made provisions (contrary, without doubt, to the intention of the legislature) which operate against the possibility of any cure in the ordinary course.
In the original institution of the Supreme Council, reasons may have existed against rendering the tenure of the Counsellors in their office precarious. A plan of reform might have required the permanence of the persons who were just appointed by Parliament to execute it. But the act of 1780 gave a duration coexistent with the statute itself to a Council not appointed by act of Parliament, nor chosen for any temporary or special purpose; by which means the servants in the highest situation, let their conduct be never so grossly criminal, cannot be removed, unless the Court of Directors and ministers of the crown can be found to concur in the same opinion of it. The prevalence of the Indian factions in the Court of Directors and Court of Proprietors, and sometimes in the state itself, renders this agreement extremely difficult: if the principal members of the Direction should be in a conspiracy with any principal servant under censure, it will be impracticable; because the first act must originate there. The reduced state of the authority of this kingdom in Bengal may be traced in a great measure to that very natural source of independence. In many cases the instant removal of an offender from his power of doing mischief is the only mode of preventing the utter and perhaps irretrievable ruin of public affairs. In such a case the process ought to be simple, and the power absolute in one or in either hand separately. By contriving the balance of interests formed in the act, notorious offence, gross error, or palpable insufficiency have many chances of retaining and abusing authority, whilst the variety of representations, hearings, and conferences, and possibly the mere jealousy and competition between rival powers, may prevent any decision, and at length give time and means for settlements and compromises among parties, made at the expense of justice and true policy. But this act of 1780, not properly distinguishing judicial process from executive arrangements, requires in effect nearly the same degree of solemnity, delay, and detail for removing a political inconvenience which attends a criminal proceeding for the punishment of offences. It goes further, and gives the same tenure to all who shall succeed to vacancies which was given to those whom the act found in office.
Another regulation was made in the act, which has a tendency to render the control of delinquency or the removal of incapacity in the Council-General extremely difficult, as well as to introduce many other abuses into the original appointment of Counsellors. The inconveniences of a vacancy in that important office, at a great distance from the authority that is to fill it, were visible; but your Committee have doubts whether they balance the mischief which may arise from the power given in this act, of a provisional appointment to vacancies, not on the event, but on foresight. This mode of providing for the succession has a tendency to promote cabal, and to prevent inquiry into the qualifications of the persons to be appointed. An attempt has been actually made, in consequence of this power, in a very marked manner, to confound the whole order and discipline of the Company's service. Means are furnished thereby for perpetuating the powers of some given Court of Directors. They may forestall the patronage of their successors, on whom they entail a line of Supreme Counsellors and Governors-General. And if the exercise of this power should happen in its outset to fall into bad hands, the ordinary chances for mending an ill choice upon death or resignation are cut off.
In these provisional arrangements it is to be considered that the appointment is not in consequence of any marked event which calls strongly on the attention of the public, but is made at the discretion of those who lead in the Court of Directors, and may therefore be brought forward at times the most favorable to the views of partiality and corruption. Candidates have not, therefore, the notice that may be necessary for their claims; and as the possession of the office to which the survivors are to succeed seems remote, all inquiry into the qualifications and character of those who are to fill it will naturally be dull and languid.
Your Committee are not also without a grounded apprehension of the ill effect on any existing Council-General of all strong marks of influence and favor which appear in the subordinates of Bengal. This previous designation to a great and arduous trust, (the greatest that can be reposed in subjects,) when made out of any regular course of succession, marks that degree of countenance and support at home which may overshadow the existing government. That government may thereby be disturbed by factions, and led to corrupt and dangerous compliances. At best, when these Counsellors elect are engaged in no fixed employment, and have no lawful intermediate emolument, the natural impatience for their situations may bring on a traffic for resignations between them and the persons in possession, very unfavorable to the interests of the public and to the duty of their situations.
Since the act two persons have been nominated to the ministers of the crown by the Court of Directors for this succession. Neither has yet been approved. But by the description of the persons a judgment may be formed of the principles on which this power is likely to be exercised.
Your Committee find, that, in consequence of the above-mentioned act, the Honorable Charles Stuart and Mr. Sulivan were appointed to succeed to the first vacancies in the Supreme Council. Mr. Stuart's first appointment in the Company's service was in the year 1761. He returned to England in 1775, and was permitted to go back to India in 1780. In August, 1781, he was nominated by the Court of Directors (Mr. Sulivan and Sir William James were Chairman and Deputy-Chairman) to succeed to the first vacancy in the Supreme Council, and on the 19th of September following his Majesty's approval of such nomination was requested.
In the nomination of Mr. Stuart, the consideration of rank in the service was not neglected; but if the Court of Directors had thought fit to examine their records, they would have found matter at least strongly urging them to a suspension of this appointment, until the charges against Mr. Stuart should be fully cleared up. That matter remained (as it still remains) unexplained from the month of May, 1775, where, on the Bengal Revenue Consultations of the 12th of that month, peculations to a large amount are charged upon oath against Mr. Stuart under the following title: "The Particulars of the Money unjustly taken by Mr. Stuart, during the Time he was at Burdwan." The sum charged against him in this account is 2,17,684 Sicca rupees (that is, 25,253l. sterling); besides which there is another account with the following title: "The Particulars of the Money unjustly taken by Callypersaud Bose, Banian to the Honorable Charles Stuart, Esquire, at Burdwan, and amounting to Sicca Rupees 1,01,675" (that is, 11,785l.),—a large sum to be received by a person in that subordinate situation.
The minuteness with which these accounts appear to have been kept, and the precision with which the date of each particular, sometimes of very small sums, is stated, give them the appearance of authenticity, as far as it can be conveyed on the face or in the construction of such accounts, and, if they were forgeries, laid them open to an easy detection. But no detection is easy, when no inquiry is made. It appears an offence of the highest order in the Directors concerned in this business, when, not satisfied with leaving such charges so long unexamined, they should venture to present to the king's servants the object of them for the highest trust which they have to bestow. If Mr. Stuart was really guilty, the possession of this post must furnish him not only with the means of renewing the former evil practices charged upon him, and of executing them upon a still larger scale, but of oppressing those unhappy persons who, under the supposed protection of the faith of the Company, had appeared to give evidence concerning his former misdemeanors.
This attempt in the Directors was the more surprising, when it is considered that two committees of this House were at that very time sitting upon an inquiry that related directly to their conduct, and that of their servants in India.
It was in the same spirit of defiance of Parliament, that at the same time they nominated Mr. Sulivan, son to the then Chairman of the Court Mr. Sulivan's situation at the time of his appointment of Directors, to the succession to the same high trust in India. On these appointments, your Committee thought it proper to make those inquiries which the Court of Directors thought proper to omit. They first conceived it fitting to inquire what rank Mr. Sulivan bore in the service; and they thought it not unnecessary here to state the gradations in the service, according to the established usage of the Company.
The Company's civil servants generally go to India as writers, in which capacity they serve the Company five years. The next step, in point of rank, is to be a factor, and next to that a junior merchant; in each of which capacities they serve the Company three years. They then rise to the rank of senior merchant, in which situation they remain till called by rotation to the Board of Trade. Until the passing of the Regulation Act, in 1773, seniority entitled them to succeed to the Council, and finally gave them pretensions to the government of the Presidency.
The above gradation of the service, your Committee conceive, ought never to be superseded by the Court of Directors, without evident reason, in persons or circumstances, to justify the breach of an ancient order. The names, whether taken from civil or commercial gradation, are of no moment. The order itself is wisely established, and tends to provide a natural guard against partiality, precipitancy, and corruption in patronage. It affords means and opportunities for an examination into character; and among the servants it secures a strong motive to preserve a fair reputation. Your Committee find that no respect whatsoever was paid to this gradation in the instance of Mr. Sulivan, nor is there any reason assigned for departing from it. They do not find that Mr. Sulivan had ever served the Company in any one of the above capacities, but was, in the year 1777, abruptly brought into the service, and sent to Madras to succeed as Persian Translator and Secretary to the Council.
Your Committee have found a letter from Mr. Sulivan to George Wombwell and William Devaynes, Esquires, Chairman and Deputy-Chairman of the Court of Directors, stating that he trusted his applications would have a place in their deliberations when Madras affairs were taken up. Of what nature those applications were your Committee cannot discover, as no traces of them appear on the Company's records,—nor whether any proofs of his ability, even as Persian Translator, which might entitle him to a preference to the many servants in India whose study and opportunities afforded them the means of becoming perfect masters of that language.
On the above letter your Committee find that the Committee of Correspondence proceeded; and on their recommendation the Court of Directors unanimously approved of Mr. Sulivan to be appointed to succeed to the posts of Secretary and Persian Translator.
Conformably to the orders of the court, Mr. Sulivan succeeded to those posts; and the President and Council acquainted the Court of Directors that they had been obeyed. About five months after, it appears that Mr. Sulivan thought fit to resign the office of Persian Translator, to which he had been appointed by the Directors. In April, 1780, Mr. Sulivan is commended for his great diligence as Secretary; in August following he obtains leave to accompany Mrs. Sulivan to Bengal, whence she is to proceed to Europe on account of her health; and he is charged with a commission from the President and Council of Fort St. George to obtain for that settlement supplies of grain, troops, and money, from the Governor-General and Council of Bengal. In October the Governor-General requests permission of the Council there to employ Mr. Sulivan as his Assistant, for that he had experienced (between his arrival in Bengal and that time) the abilities of Mr. Sulivan, and made choice of him as completely qualified for that trust; also requests the board to appoint him Judge-Advocate-General, and likewise to apply to the Presidency of Madras for him to remain in Bengal without prejudice to his rank on their establishment: which several requests the board at Madras readily complied with, notwithstanding their natural sensibility to the loss of a Secretary of such ability and diligence as they had described Mr. Sulivan to be.
On the 5th of December following, the President and Council received a letter from Bengal, requesting that Mr. Sulivan might be allowed to keep his rank. This request brought on some discussion. A Mr. Freeman, it seems, who had acted under Mr. Sulivan as Sub-Secretary whilst his principal obtained so much praise for his diligence, addressed the board on the same day, and observed, "that, since Mr. Sulivan's arrival, he [Mr. Freeman] had, without intermission, done almost the whole of the duty allotted to the post of Secretary, which it was notorious Mr. Sulivan had paid but little attention to; and neither his inclination or duty led him to act any longer as Mr. Sulivan's deputy."
Here your Committee cannot avoid remarking the direct contradiction which this address of Mr. Freeman's gives to the letter from the President and Council to the Court of Directors in April, 1780, wherein Mr. Sulivan is praised for his "diligence and attention in his office of Secretary."
The President and Council do not show any displeasure at Mr. Freeman's representation, (so contrary to their own,) the truth of which they thus tacitly admit, but agree to write to the Governor-General and Council, "that it could not be supposed that they could carry on the public business for any length of time without the services of a Secretary and Clerk of Appeals, two offices that required personal attendance, and which would be a general injury to the servants on their establishment, and in particular to the person who acted in those capacities, as they learnt that Mr. Sulivan had been appointed Judge-Advocate-General in Bengal,—and to request the Governor-General and Council to inform Mr. Sulivan of their sentiments, and to desire him to inform them whether he meant to return to his station or to remain in Bengal."
On the 5th December, as a mark of their approbation of Mr. Freeman, who had so plainly contradicted their opinion of Mr. Sulivan, the President and Council agree to appoint him to act as Secretary and Clerk of Appeals, till Mr. Sulivan's answer should arrive, with the emoluments, and to confirm him therein, if Mr. Sulivan should remain in Bengal.
On the 14th February, 1781, the President and Council received a letter from Bengal in reply, and stating their request that Mr. Sulivan might reserve the right of returning to his original situation on the Madras establishment, if the Court of Directors should disapprove of his being transferred to Bengal. To this request the board at Madras declare they have no objection: and here the matter rests; the Court of Directors not having given any tokens of approbation or disapprobation of the transaction.
Such is the history of Mr. Sulivan's service from the time of his appointment; such were the qualifications, and such the proofs of assiduity and diligence given by him in holding so many incompatible offices, (as well as being engaged in other dealings, which will appear in their place,) when, after three years' desultory residence in India, he was thought worthy to be nominated to the succession to the Supreme Council. No proof whatsoever of distinguished capacity in any line preceded his original appointment to the service: so that the whole of his fitness for the Supreme Council rested upon his conduct and character since his appointment as Persian Translator.
Your Committee find that his Majesty has not yet given his approbation to the nomination, made by the Court of Directors on the 30th of August, 1781, of Messrs. Stuart and Sulivan to succeed to the Supreme Council on the first vacancies, though the Court applied for the royal approbation so long ago as the 19th of September, 1781; and in these instances the king's ministers performed their duty, in withholding their countenance from a proceeding so exceptionable and of so dangerous an example.
Your Committee, from a full view of the situation and duties of the Court of Directors, are of opinion that effectual means ought to be taken for regulating that court in such a manner as to prevent either rivalship with or subserviency to their servants. It might, therefore, be proper for the House to consider whether it is fit that those who are, or have been within some given time, Directors of the Company, should be capable of an appointment to any offices in India. Directors can never properly govern those for whose employments they are or may be themselves candidates; they can neither protect nor coerce them with due impartiality or due authority.
If such rules as are stated by your Committee under this head were observed in the regular service at home and abroad, the necessity of superseding the regular service by strangers would be more rare; and whenever the servants were so superseded, those who put forward other candidates would be obliged to produce a strong plea of merit and ability, which, in the judgment of mankind, ought to overpower pretensions so authentically established, and so rigorously guarded from abuse.
The second object, in this part of the plan, of the act of 1773, namely, that of inspection by the ministers of the crown, appears not to have been provided for, so as to draw the timely and productive attention of the state on the grievances of the people of India, and on the abuses of its government. By the Regulating Act, the ministers were enabled to inspect one part of the correspondence, that which was received in England, but not that which went outward. They might know something, but that very imperfectly and unsystematically, of the state of affairs; but they were neither authorized to advance nor to retard any measure taken by the Directors in consequence of that state: they were not provided even with sufficient means of knowing what any of these measures were. And this imperfect information, together with the want of a direct call to any specific duty, might have, in some degree, occasioned that remissness which rendered even the imperfect powers originally given by the act of 1773 the less efficient. This defect was in a great measure remedied by a subsequent act; but that act was not passed until the year 1780.
Your Committee find that during the whole period which elapsed from 1773 to the commencement of 1782 disorders and abuses of every kind multiplied. Wars contrary to policy and contrary to public faith were carrying on in various parts of India. The allies, dependants, and subjects of the Company were everywhere oppressed; dissensions in the Supreme Council prevailed, and continued for the greater part of that time; the contests between the civil and judicial powers threatened that issue to which they came at last, an armed resistance to the authority of the king's court of justice; the orders which by an act of Parliament the servants were bound to obey were avowedly and on principle contemned; until at length the fatal effects of accumulated misdemeanors abroad and neglects at home broke out in the alarming manner which your Committee have so fully reported to this House.
In all this time the true state of the several Presidencies, and the real conduct of the British government towards the natives, was not at all known to Parliament: it seems to have been very imperfectly known even to ministers. Indeed, it required an unbroken attention, and much comparison of facts and reasonings, to form a true judgment on that difficult and complicated system of politics, revenue, and commerce, whilst affairs were only in their progress to that state which produced the present inquiries. Therefore, whilst the causes of their ruin were in the height of their operation, both the Company and the natives were understood by the public as in circumstances the most assured and most flourishing; insomuch that, whenever the affairs of India were brought before Parliament, as they were two or three times during that period, the only subject-matter of discussion anywise important was concerning the sums which might be taken out of the Company's surplus profits for the advantage of the state. Little was thought of but the disengagement of the Company from their debts in England, and to prevent the servants abroad from drawing upon them, so as that body might be enabled, without exciting clamors here, to afford the contribution that was demanded. All descriptions of persons, either here or in India, looking solely to appearances at home, the reputation of the Directors depended on the keeping the Company's sales in a situation to support the dividend, that of the ministers depended on the most lucrative bargains for the Exchequer, and that of the servants abroad on the largest investments; until at length there is great reason to apprehend, that, unless some very substantial reform takes place in the management of the Company's affairs, nothing will be left for investment, for dividend, or for bargain, and India, instead of a resource to the public, may itself come, in no great length of time, to be reckoned amongst the public burdens.
In this manner the inspection of the ministers of the crown, the great cementing regulation of the whole act of 1773, has, along with all the others, entirely failed in its effect.
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