Front Page Titles (by Subject) REPORT TO THE GENERAL COURT OF PROPRIETORS, DRAWING ATTENTION TO THE TWO BILLS NOW BEFORE PARLIAMENT RELATING TO THE GOVERNMENT OF INDIA 1858 - The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXX - Writings on India
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REPORT TO THE GENERAL COURT OF PROPRIETORS, DRAWING ATTENTION TO THE TWO BILLS NOW BEFORE PARLIAMENT RELATING TO THE GOVERNMENT OF INDIA 1858 - John Stuart Mill, The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXX - Writings on India 
The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, XXX - Writings on India, ed. John M. Robson, Martin Moir, and Zawahir Moir (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1990).
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REPORT TO THE GENERAL COURT OF PROPRIETORS, DRAWING ATTENTION TO THE TWO BILLS NOW BEFORE PARLIAMENT RELATING TO THE GOVERNMENT OF INDIA
London: Printed for the Court of Directors of the East India Company by Cox and Wyman, 1858. Published also under the heading, “Return to an Order of the House of Lords, dated 29th April 1858,” in Sessional Papers of the House of Lords, 1857-58, XI, 449-54. The text is preceded by this explanation:
At a Court of Directors of the East-India Company, held on Tuesday, the 6th April, 1858:
The Chairman, drawing the Court’s attention to the two Bills now before Parliament relating to the Government of India, submitted the Draft of a proposed Report to the General Court of Proprietors on the subject; Whereupon,
It was agreed, that the same be referred to the consideration of a Committee of the whole Court.
The Court being resumed, and a Report from the Committee being read:
Resolved,—That this Court approve the said Draft of a Report, as altered by the Committee; and that the same be laid before the General Court of Proprietors to be held to-morrow.
At a Special General Court of the East-India Company, held at the East-India House, on the 7th April, it was ordered, That the said Report be printed.
The two bills referred to are “A Bill for the Better Government of India,” 21 Victoria (12 Feb., 1858), PP, 1857-58, II, 267-86, and “A Bill to Transfer the Government of India from the East India Company to Her Majesty the Queen,” 21 Victoria (26 Mar., 1858), PP, 1857-58, II, 287-312. Unsigned. Not republished by Mill. Identified in his bibliography as “A report to the General Court of the E.I. Company from the Court of Directors upon the Two Bills Now before Parliament, relating to the Government of India; printed by the E.I. Company and also laid before the House of Lords and forming No. 87 of the Lords Papers of the Session of 1858” (MacMinn, 91).
Report to the General Court of Proprietors, Drawing Attention to the Two Bills Now before Parliament Relating to the Government of India
it is the duty of your Directors to lay before the Proprietors the two Bills which have been introduced into Parliament by the late and by the present Ministry, for divesting the East-India Company of all participation in the government of India, and framing a new scheme of administrative agency.1
On former occasions when the Ministers of the Crown have submitted measures to Parliament for altering, in any manner, the constitution of the Indian Government, the substance of the measures has been officially communicated to the Court of Directors, and an opportunity allowed to them of offering such remarks as their knowledge and experience in Indian affairs might suggest. The correspondence being afterwards laid before the Court of Proprietors, formed the most appropriate report which the Directors could make to their constituents on the measures under consideration by the Legislature. In the present instance, this opportunity not having been afforded to them, it appears desirable that they should adopt the present mode of laying before the proprietary body the observations which it is entitled to expect from its executive organ, on the Bills now before Parliament, and on the present posture of the Company’s affairs.
The Directors cannot but advert with feelings of satisfaction to the altered tone which public discussion has assumed in regard to the character of the East-India Company, and the merits of the administration in which the Company has borne so important a part. The intention of proposing the abolition of the Company’s government was announced in the midst of, and it may be surmised, in deference to, a clamour, which represented the government of India by the Company as characterized by nearly every fault of which a civilized Government can be accused, and the Company as the main cause of the recent disasters.2 But in the parliamentary discussions which have lately taken place, there has been an almost universal acknowledgment that the rule of the Company has been honourable to themselves and beneficial to India; while no political party, and few individuals of any consideration, have alleged anything seriously disparaging to the general character of the Company’s administration. So far, therefore, the stand made by the Company against the calumnies with which they have been assailed, may be considered to have been successful.
But the admission generally made, and made explicitly by the proposers of both the Bills, that the existing system works well, has not had the effect of inducing doubt of the wisdom of hastily abolishing it. Neither does it seem to have been remembered, that if the system has worked well, there must be some causes for its having done so, and that it would be worth while to consider what these are, in order that they might be retained in any new system. If the constitution which has made the Indian Government what it is, must be abolished, because it is thought defective in theory, what is substituted should at least be theoretically unobjectionable. But the constitution of the East-India Company, however anomalous, is far more in accordance with the acknowledged principles of good government than either of the proposed Bills.
The nature of the case is, indeed, itself so anomalous, that something anomalous was to be expected in the means by which it could be successfully dealt with.
All English institutions and modes of political action are adapted to the case of a nation governing itself. In India, the case to be provided for is that of the government of one nation by another, separated from it by half the globe; unlike it in everything which characterizes a people; as a whole, totally unacquainted with it; and without time or means for acquiring knowledge of it or its affairs.
History presents only two instances in which these or similar difficulties have been in any considerable degree surmounted. One is the Roman Empire; the other is the government of India by the East-India Company.
The means which the Bills provide for overcoming these difficulties consist of the unchecked power of a Minister. There is no difference of moment in this respect between the two Bills. The Minister, it is true, is to have a Council. But the most despotic rulers have Councils. The difference between the Council of a despot and a Council which prevents the ruler from being a despot is, that the one is dependent on him, the other independent; that the one has some power of its own, the other has not. By the first Bill, the whole Council is nominated by the Minister; by the second, one-half of it is nominated by him.3 The functions to be intrusted to it are left, in both, with some slight exceptions, to the Minister’s own discretion.4
The Minister is indeed subject to the control of Parliament and of the British nation. But though Parliament and the nation exercise a salutary control over their own affairs, it would be contrary to all experience to suppose that they will exercise it over the affairs of a hundred millions of Hindoos and Mahomedans. Habitually, they will doubtless be hereafter, as they have been heretofore, indifferent and inattentive to Indian affairs, and will leave them entirely to the Minister. The consequence will be, that in the exceptional cases in which they do interfere, the interference will not be grounded on knowledge of the subject, and will probably be for the most part confined to cases where an Indian question is taken up from party motives, as the means of injuring a Minister; or when some Indian malcontent, generally with objects opposed to good government, succeeds in interesting the sympathies of the public in his favour. For it is not the people of India, but rich individuals and societies representing class interests, who have the means of engaging the ear of the public through the press, and through agents in Parliament. And it is important to remark, that by the provisions of either of the Bills the House of Commons will be rendered even less competent, in point of knowledge of Indian affairs, than at present, since by both Bills all the members of the Council of India will be excluded from it.
The government of dependencies by a Minister and his subordinates, under the sole control of Parliament, is not a new experiment in England. That form of colonial government lost the United States, and had nearly lost all the colonies of any considerable population and importance. The colonial administration of this country has only ceased to be a subject of general condemnation since the principle has been adopted of leaving all the important colonies to manage their own affairs,—a course which cannot be followed with the people of India. If the control of Parliament has not prevented the habitual mismanagement of countries inhabited by Englishmen like ourselves, who had every facility for representing and urging their grievances, it is not likely to be any effectual protection to Musselmans and Hindoos.
All governments require constitutional checks; but the constitutional checks applicable to a case of this peculiar kind, must be found within the governing body itself.
Though England as a whole, while desiring nothing but to govern India well, is necessarily ignorant of India, and feels, under ordinary circumstances, no particular interest in its concerns, there are in England a certain number of persons who possess knowledge of India, and feel an interest in its affairs. It seems, therefore, very desirable, for the sake of India, that England should govern it through, and by means of, these persons. This would be the case if the organ of government principally consisted of persons who have passed a considerable portion of their lives in India, or who feel that habitual interest in its affairs which is naturally acquired by having aided in administering them; and if this body, or a majority of it, were periodically elected by a constituency composed of persons in England who have served the Government for a certain length of time in India, or whose interests are connected with that country by some permanent tie. It would be an additional advantage if this constituency had the power of requiring information, and compelling a public discussion of Indian questions. These are conditions which, to a considerable extent, the existing constitution of the East-India Company fulfils.
The other great constitutional security for the good government of India lies in the forms of business. This is a point to which sufficient importance is not generally attached. The forms of business are the real constitution of India.
From the necessity of the case, recognized in both the proposed measures, the administration must be shared, in some proportion, between a Minister and a Council. The Council may consist of persons possessing knowledge of India. The Minister, except in very rare cases, can possess little or none. He is placed in office by the action of political party, which is governed by considerations totally unconnected with India, and, in the common course of politics, he is removed from office by the time he has been able to learn his duty. Even in the unusual case, of which present circumstances are an example, when the Minister has made himself acquainted with India through the discharge of high functions in India itself,5 his knowledge is but the knowledge of one man; and one man’s knowledge of a subject like India, until corrected and completed by that of other men, is, it may safely be affirmed, wholly insufficient, and if implicitly trusted, even dangerous. The good government, therefore, of India, by a Minister and a Council, depends upon the amount of influence possessed by the Council; and their influence depends upon the forms of business.
However experienced may be the Council, and however inexperienced the Minister, he will have the deciding voice. The power will rest with one who may know less of the subject than any member of the Council, and is sure to know less than the Council collectively, if they are selected with ordinary judgment. The Council will have no substantive power, but only moral influence. It is therefore all important that this influence should be upheld. Unless the forms of business are such as to insure that the Council shall exercise its judgment on all questions; that all matters requiring decision shall be considered by them, and their views recorded in the initiatory stage, before the Minister has committed himself to an opinion, they will possess no more weight or influence than the same number of clerks in his office (whom also he can consult if he pleases), and the power of the Minister will be practically uncontrolled.
In both the Bills these considerations are entirely disregarded. The first Bill does not establish any forms of business, but leaves them to be determined by the Minister and his Council; in other words, by the Minister.6 Even, therefore, if the Minister first appointed should be willing to establish forms which would be any restraint upon himself, a subsequent Minister would have it in his power to alter the forms in any manner he pleased.
The second Bill, unlike the first, does establish forms of business; but such alone as would effectually prevent the Council from being a reality, and render it a useless pageant.
To make the Council a merely consultative body, without initiative, before whom subjects are only brought after the Minister has made up his mind, is already a fatal inroad upon its usefulness. But by the second Bill the Council are not even a consultative body. The Minister is under no obligation to consult them. They are not empowered to hold any regular meetings. They are to meet only when the Minister convenes them, or on a special requisition by six members. He may send orders to India without their knowledge when the case is urgent, of which urgency he is the sole judge. When it is not urgent, his orders must be placed in the council-room for the perusal of the members for seven days, during which they are not required, but permitted, to give their opinion, not collectively, but individually. Their only power, therefore, is that of recording dissent from a resolution not only taken, but embodied in a despatch. And as if this was not enough, provision is made that an office always invidious, shall be incapable of being fulfilled in any but the most invidious manner. The members of Council must come forward individually in declared opposition to the Minister, by volunteering a protest against his announced intentions, or signing a requisition for a meeting of Council to oppose them.7 Such a Council is fitted to serve as a shield for the Minister’s responsibility when it may suit him to seek, and them to accord, their adhesion, rather than as a restraint on his power to administer India according to his individual pleasure.
The Directors are bound to admit, that the first of the Bills contains several provisions indicative of a wish to assure to the Council a certain, though small, amount of influence. The administration is to be carried on in the name of the President in Council, and not, as by the second Bill, in that of the Secretary of State alone.8 The Council, as well as the President, has a voice in the appointment of the home establishment; while in the second Bill all promotions and all appointments to the principal offices under the Council, rest with the Secretary of State, exclusively, a provision which divests the Council of all control or authority over their own establishment.9 Again, by section XII of the first Bill, no grant involving increase of expenditure, and no appointment to office or admission to service, can be made without the concurrence of half the Council. This, as far as it goes, is a real power, but its value is much diminished by the consideration that those by whom it is to be exercised, are the nominees of the Minister, dependent on him for their continuance in office after a few years.
In some other points the provisions of the second Bill seem to have the advantage. Its Council is more numerous;10 to which, however, little importance can be attached, if the Council has no substantial power. It also recognizes that the whole of the Council ought not to be nominated by the Minister, and that some part of it should be elected by a constituency specially qualified by a knowledge of India.11 But even in these, the best points of the Bill, it is, in the opinion of the Directors, very far from unexceptionable. The nomination of even half the Council by the Minister, takes away all security for an independent majority. It may, indeed, be doubted whether there is any sufficient reason for the Minister’s nominating any portion, except the supposed reluctance of some eligible persons to encounter a canvass. The proportion of one-third, whom the Minister now nominates to the Court of Directors, seems the largest which, consistently with full security for independence, can be so appointed.
The provision that each of the members nominated by the Crown shall be selected as the representative of some particular branch of the service in India, is still more objectionable. Not only would it preclude the nomination of the most distinguished man, if the seat in Council appropriated to the department in which he had served were not at the time vacant, but it would introduce a principle which cannot be too strongly deprecated,—that of class legislation. The Council should comprise the greatest attainable variety of knowledge and experience, but its members should not consider themselves as severally the representatives of a certain number of class interests.
The clause which continues to the Proprietors the power of electing some portion of the Council is, so far, deserving of support; and the principle of enlarging the constituency by the addition of persons of a certain length of Indian service and residence, is, in itself, unexceptionable;12 but unless guarded by provisions, such as have never yet been introduced into any electoral system, so large and scattered a constituency as that proposed would greatly add to the inconvenience of canvass, especially as it is not certain that the new electoral body would adopt, from the old, the salutary custom of re-electing, as the general practice, whoever has been once chosen, and has not, by misconduct or incapacity, deserved to forfeit their confidence. The duties of a Member of Council would be entirely incompatible with a continually-recurring canvass of the constituency.
Respecting the proposition for giving the choice of five Members of Council to the Parliamentary constituencies of five great towns,13 the Court of Directors can only express a feeling of amazement. It is not the mere fact of election by a multitude that constitutes the benefits of the popular element in government. To produce those benefits, the affairs of which the people are enabled to control the management must be their own affairs. Election by multitudinous bodies, the majority of them of a very low average of education, is not an advantage of popular government, but, on the contrary, one of its acknowledged drawbacks. To assign to such a constituency the control, not of their own affairs, but of the affairs of other people on the other side of the globe, is to incur the disadvantages of popular institutions without any of the benefits. The Court of Directors willingly admit the desirableness, if not necessity, of some provision for including an English element in the Council of India; but a more objectionable mode than the one proposed of attaining the object, could scarcely, in their opinion, be devised.
Besides the provisions which relate to the organ of Government in England, the Bills contain provisions relating to India itself which are open to the strongest objection.
The appointments to the Councils at Calcutta and at the subordinate Presidencies, which are now made by the Court of Directors, with the approbation of the Crown, are transferred by both Bills to the Governor-General, and to the Governors of Madras and Bombay.14 The Court of Directors are convinced that this change would greatly impair the chances of good government in India. One of the causes which have most contributed to the many excellences of Indian administration, is that the Governor-General and Governors have always been associated with Councillors selected by the authorities at home from among the most experienced and able members of the Indian service, and who, not owing their appointments to the head of the Government, have generally brought to the consideration of Indian affairs an independent judgment. In consequence of this, the measures of a Government, necessarily absolute, have had the advantage, seldom possessed in absolute Governments, of being always preceded by a free and conscientious discussion; while, as the head of the Government has the power, on recording his reasons, to act contrary to the advice of his Council, no public inconvenience can ever arise from any conflict of opinion. These important officers, who, by their participation in the Government, form so salutary a restraint on the precipitancy of an inexperienced, or the wilfulness of a despotically-tempered, Governor-General or Governor, are henceforth to be appointed by the great functionary whom they are intended to check. And this restraint is removed, when the necessity for an independent Council will be greater than ever, since the power of appointing the Governor-General, and of recalling him, is taken away from the Company, and from the body which is to be their substitute.15 It may be added, that the authorities at home have had the opportunity of being acquainted with the conduct and services of candidates for Council from the commencement of their career. The Governor-General or Governor would often have to nominate a councillor soon after their arrival in India, when necessarily ignorant of the character and merits of candidates, and would be entirely dependent on the recommendation of irresponsible advisers.
Another most objectionable provision demands notice, which is to be found only in the second Bill. A commission, appointed in England, is to proceed to India, for the purpose of inquiring and reporting on the principles and details of Indian finance, including the whole revenue system, and, what is inseparably involved in it, the proprietary rights and social position of all the great classes of the community.16 The Court of Directors cannot believe that such a project will be persisted in. It would be a step towards the disorganization of the fabric of government in India. A commission from England, independent of the local government of the country, deriving its authority directly from the higher power to which the local government is subordinate, and instructed to carry back to the higher power information on Indian affairs which the local government is not deemed sufficiently trustworthy to afford, would give a most serious shock to the influence of the local authorities, and would tend to impress all natives with the belief that the opinions and decisions of the local government are of small moment, and that the thing of real importance is the success with which they can contrive that their claims and objects shall be advocated in England. Up to the present time it has been the practice of the Home Government to uphold in every way the authority of the governments on the spot; even when reversing their acts, to do so through the governments themselves, and to employ no agency except in subordination to them.
From this review of the chief provisions of the Bills, which embody the attempts of two great divisions of English statesmen to frame an organ of government for India, it will probably appear to the Proprietors, that neither of them is grounded on any sufficient consideration of past experience, or of the principles applicable to the subject; that the passing of either would be a calamity to India; and that the attempt to legislate while the minds of leading men are in so unprepared a state, is altogether premature.
The opinion of your Directors is, that by all constitutional means the passing of either Bill should be opposed; but that if one or the other should be determined on for the purpose of transferring the administration, in name, from the East-India Company to the Crown, every exertion should be used in its passage through committee to divest it of the mischievous features by which both Bills are now deformed, and to maintain, as at present, a really independent Council, having the initiative of all business, discharging all the duties, and possessing all the essential powers of the Court of Directors. And it is the Court’s conviction, that measures might be so framed as to obviate whatever may be well founded in the complaints made against the present system, retaining the initiative of the Council, and that independence of action on their part which should be regarded as paramount and indispensable.
[1 ]The first bill was introduced by Henry John Temple, Lord Palmerston, in his speech of 12 February, 1858, and debated on that day, and on the 15th and 18th of February (PD, 3rd ser., Vol. 148, cols. 1276-1359, 1372-1457, and 1607-1718). The second, after the change of government on 21 February, was introduced by Benjamin Disraeli (1804-81) on behalf of the Ministry led by Edward George Geoffrey Smith Stanley (1799-1869), 14th Earl of Derby, on 26 March, 1858, and debated on that day (ibid., Vol. 149, cols. 818-46).
[2 ]See “Correspondence between the First Lord of the Treasury and the Directors of the East India Company Respecting Legislative Measures to be Proposed for the Future Government of Her Majesty’s Dominions in India,” Sessional Papers of the House of Lords, 1857-58, XI, 445-8.
[3 ]In Clause 10 in both Bills.
[4 ]In Clause 18 of the first, and Clauses 25 and 26 of the second.
[5 ]Edward Law, Earl of Ellenborough.
[6 ]See Clause 14.
[7 ]The points mentioned in this paragraph are dealt with in Clauses 28, 31, and 33.
[8 ]Clause 5 of the first; Clause 3 of the second.
[9 ]Clause 7 of the first; Clause 3 of the second.
[10 ]By Clause 9 (18 as opposed to 8 members).
[11 ]By Clause 11; the first Bill provided in Clause 10 that all members be appointed by the Crown.
[12 ]By Clause 11 of the second Bill.
[13 ]By Clause 12 of the second Bill.
[14 ]By Clause 4 of the first; Clause 36 of the second Bill.
[15 ]By Clause 4 of the first; Clause 36 of the second.
[16 ]By Clause 55 of the second.