Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAP. IX. - The History of British India, vol. 4
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CHAP. IX. - James Mill, The History of British India, vol. 4 
The History of British India in 6 vols. (3rd edition) (London: Baldwin, Cradock, and Joy, 1826). Vol. 4.
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Legislative Proceedings from 1773 to 1780—Renewal of the Charter—Select and Secret Committees of the House of Commons—Proceedings against Indian Delinquency—Mr. Dundas’s East India Bill—Mr. Fox’s East India Bills—Mr. Pitt’s East India Bill.
BOOK V. Chap. 9. 1780.It is now time to inquire into the proceedings to which the affairs of India had given birth in England since the last great legislative interference. From the year 1767 till the year 1773, the East India Company was bound to pay to the public yearly the sum of 400,000l., “in respect of the territorial acquisitions and revenues lately obtained in the East Indies.” But in the year 1773, the financial embarrassments of the Company became so great, that they were obliged to solicit, and they received, a loan from the public of 1,400,000l. At that time it was represented, “That, in the then circumstances of the East India Company, it would not be in their power to provide for the repayment of such loan, and for the establishing their affairs upon a more secure foundation for the time to come, unless the public should agree to forego for the present, all participation in the profits arising from the territorial acquisitions and revenues lately obtained in the East Indies.”1 It was, accordingly, at that time enacted, that it should not be lawful to make a dividend of more than six per cent. per annum on the Company’sBOOK V. Chap. 9. 1780. capital stock, till that loan was repaid; and that the whole of their surplus profits should be applied to its liquidation: that after the loan of 1,400,000l. should be repaid, it should not be lawful to make a dividend of more than seven per cent. per annum, upon the capital stock, until, by the application of the whole of their surplus profits, their bond debt should be reduced to the sum of 1,500,000l. In the year 1779, the loan being repaid, and the debt reduced, according to the terms of the preceding ordinance, an act was passed, to be in force for one year, permitting a dividend of eight per cent, for that year, and reserving the surplus profits for the future disposal of the legislature. In the year 1780, another act was passed for one year also, containing precisely the same enactments as that of the preceding year.
As the exclusive privileges were to expire upon three years notice after the 25th of March, 1780, it was now high time to treat about a renewal of the charter; and accordingly, during the latter part of that year, and the beginning of 1781, much negotiation took place between the treasury and the East India House. In parliament, the business was of very difficult handling. The contests between the Supreme Council and Supreme Court, which were represented as actually opposing one another with an armed force, had given occasion to petitions from the British subjects in India, from the Governor-General and Council, and from the East India Company; and had made a deep impression upon the public mind: The complaints and representations of Mr. Francis, taken up warmly by a powerful party in the legislative assembly, had filled the nation with ideas of injustice and other crimes on the part of Mr. Hastings: Intelligence had been received of the irruption BOOK V. Chap. 9. 1781.of Hyder Ali into Carnatic, with the strongest representations of the misconduct of those agents under whom so much calamity had arrived: And strong fears were excited, that the ruin of the English interests, in that part of the world, was at hand.
The points were two, upon which the views of the minister and the Company found it difficult to concur: the right to the territory; and the remuneration due to the public for the advantages which the East India Company were allowed to enjoy. According to the minister, the right of the crown to all territory acquired by subjects, was a matter of established law: The Company were at this time sufficiently bold to assert, that the Indian territory which they had acquired belonged of right to themselves. On the other point, the only question was, what proportion of the proceeds from the Indian territory, the East India Company should be made to give up to the nation.
Lord North was now tottering on the ministerial throne: The East India Company were, therefore, encouraged to greater boldness, in standing out for favourable terms: And they declined to bring forward a petition for a renewal of the charter, on those terms to which the minister desired to reduce them. On the 9th of April, 1781, he represented, that “though he did not then intend to state any specific proposition relative to the future management of the Company’s affairs, still he held it to be his duty to state to the House some points, that would be very proper for them to consider, before they should proceed to vote: First, the propriety of making the Company account with the public for three-fourths of all the net profits above eight per cent. for dividend; Secondly, of granting a renewal of the charter for an exclusive trade for a short rather than a long term; Thirdly, of giving a greater degree of power thanBOOK V. Chap. 9. 1781. had been hitherto enjoyed, to the Governor of Bengal, that, in future, among the members of the Council he might be something more than a mere primus inter pares, equal with the name of chief; Fourthly, of establishing a tribunal in England, for jurisdiction in affairs relating to India, and punishing those servants of the Company who should be convicted of having abused their power; Fifthly, the propriety, as all the dispatches received from India by the Directors were by agreement shown to his Majesty’s Secretary of State, of making all dispatches to India be shown to him before they were sent, lest the Directors might at some time or other precipitate this kingdom into a war without necessity with the princes of that country; Sixthly,” he said, “it would be the business of the House to determine, upon what terms, and whether with or without the territorial revenues, the charter should be renewed; Seventhly, whether, if government should retain the territories, it might not compel the Company to bring home the revenue for government; and Eighthly, whether any, and what regulations ought to be made, with respect to the Supreme Court of Judicature.”1
Of these propositions, the third, the fourth, and the fifth, are remarkable, as the archetype, from which were afterwards copied three of the principal provisions in Mr. Pitt’s celebrated East India bill.2
BOOK V. Chap. 9. 1781.At last a compromise was effected between the minister and the Directors. A petition for renewal of the charter was presented from the Directors, on the 26th of June, 1781. And an act was passed, of which the following were the principal provisions: That, whereas the Company, since the 24th of June, 1778, when they had paid their loan to the public, and reduced their bond debt to the pre-appointed limits, had been in possession of all the profits arising from the Indian territory, exempt from participation with the public, they pay 400,000l. to the public, in discharge of all claims upon that account previous to the 1st of March, 1781: That all the former privileges granted to the Company be continued to them, till three years notice after the 1st of March, 1791: That the Company pay out of their clear profits, a dividend of eight per cent. per annum on the capital stock, and of the surplus three-fourths to the public, reserving the remainder to their own use: And that the claims with respect to the territory, on the part both of the Crown and the Company, remain unaffected by the present act. Of the propositions, thrown out by the minister, for the introduction of reforms into the government of India, only one wasBOOK V. Chap. 9. 1781. carried into effect; namely, that regarding the powers of ministers over the political transactions of the Company. It was ordained that they should communicate to ministers all dispatches which they sent to India, with respect to their revenues, and their civil and military affairs; and that in all matters relative to war and peace, and transactions with other powers, they should be governed by the directions which ministers might prescribe.1
On the 12th of February, 1781, petitions from the Governor-General and Council, and from a number of British subjects residing in Bengal, and from the United Company of merchants trading to the East Indies, against the pretensions and proceedings of the Supreme Court of Judicature, were read in the House of Commons; and after a debate it was agreed, that a Select Committee should be chosen to whom they were referred. This was that celebrated committee who were afterwards instructed to take into consideration the administration of justice, in the provinces of Bengal, Bahar, and Orissa; and in what manner that country might be governed with greatest advantage to the people both of Great Britain and of India: in which Committee the most conspicuous, as well as the most laborious member, was Edmund Burke.
The Select Committee was moved for by General Smith, who belonged to what is called the opposition party in the House; and it was chiefly composed of members who had acted not in concert with the minister. That a want of equal zeal for the elucidation of Indian delinquency might not be imputed to his BOOK V. Chap. 9. 1781.party, the minister, on the 30th of April, immediately after the arrival of news of the irruption of Hyder Ali into Carnatic, moved for the formation of a Secret Committee, who should enquire into the causes of the war, then subsisting in the Carnatic, and into the state of the British possessions on the coast. This Committee was composed almost entirely of persons connected with the Minister; and Mr. Henry Dundas, then Lord Advocate of Scotland, was its presiding and most active member.
The first of these Committees presented the House with twelve Reports, the other with six; and the public is deeply indebted to them for the publication of the most important documents of the Indian government, during the period to which their inquiries applied. Any considerable desire for the welfare of India, guided by any considerable degree of intelligence, would have drawn a great lesson from that example. An adequate plan for a regular, and successive, and still more perfect publication of the most material documents of the Indian administration, would be one of the most efficient of all expedients for improving the government of that distant dependency.
On the 23d of May, a report from the Select Committee on the petitions against the Supreme Court was read; and leave given to bring in a bill, for the better administration of justice in Bengal, for the relief of certain persons imprisoned at Calcutta under a judgment of the Court, and for indemnifying the Governor-General and Council for resisting its process. The subject was debated on the 19th of June, Mr. Dunning being the most remarkable of the opponents of the bill. It was passed without delay; and it exempted from the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court the Governor-General and Council, all matters ofBOOK V. Chap. 9. 1782. revenue, and all Zemindars, and other native farmers and collectors of the revenue.
Lord North resigned the office of minister in the month of March, 1782; and was succeeded by the Marquis of Rockingham and party, the hostility of whom to the present managers in India was sufficiently known.
On the 9th of April, 1782, Mr. Dundas moved that the reports which he had presented as Chairman of the Secret Committee should be referred to a Committee of the whole House; and, in a speech of nearly three hours in length, unfolded the causes and extent of the national calamities in the East. He expatiated on the misconduct of the Indian Presidencies, and of the Court of Directors; of the former, because they plunged the nation into wars for the sake of conquest, contemned and violated the engagement of treaties, and plundered and oppressed the people of India; of the latter, because they blamed miscondnct only when it was unattended with profit, but exercised a very constant forbearance towards the greatest delinquency, as often as it was productive of a temporary gain. The speech was followed up by a number of propositions, which he moved in the shape of resolutions. Beside the reproaches which these resolutions cast upon the general strain of the Company’s administration in India, they pronounced a condemnation, so strong, upon the measures of the Presidency of Madras, that nothing less than criminal proceedings against the authors of them could accord with so vehement a declaration of their guilt. The resolutions were solemnly voted; articles of charge against Sir Thomas Rumbold and other Members of the Madras Council were adopted; and a bill of pains and penalties, for BOOK V. Chap. 9. 1782.breaches of public trust, and high crimes and misdemeanors, committed by Sir Thomas Rumbold, was introduced by Mr. Dundas. The bill was read a first time. Before the second reading, Sir Thomas Rumbold was heard in his defence. The session drew to a close, before a great progress was made. In the beginning of 1783, the state of the ministry was unsettled. And, as if, when ministry is unsettled, parliament were inadequate to its functions, the bill was neglected till the middle of the session. After the middle of the session, the members soon began to be remiss in their attendance.1 And on the 19th of December, immediately after the dismissal of Mr. Fox’s coalition ministry, a motion was made and carried for adjourning the further consideration of the bill till the 24th day of June next, by which the prosecution was finally dropped. Sir Thomas consented to accept of impunity without acquittal; his judges refused to proceed in his trial, after they had solemnly affirmed the existence of guilt; and a black stain was attached to the character of both.
Beside his prosecution of Sir Thomas Rumbold,BOOK V. Chap. 9. 1783. Mr. Dundas proceeded to urge the legislature to specific propositions against Mr. Hastings, and Mr. Hornby, the presiding members of the other Presidencies. Against Mr. Hastings, in particular, he preferred a grievous accusation, grounded on the recent intelligence of the ruin brought upon the Rajah Cheyte Sing. On the 30th of May, 1782, he moved, and the House adopted, the following resolution: “That Warren Hastings, Esq. Governor-General of Bengal, and William Hornby, Esq. President of the Council of Bombay, having in sundry instances acted in a manner repugnant to the honour and policy of this nation, and thereby brought great calamities on India, and enormous expences on the East India Company, it is the duty of the Directors of the said Company to pursue all legal and effectual means for the removal of the said Governor-General and President from their respective offices, and to recall them to Great Britain.” The Marquis of Rockingham was still minister; and his party appeared to have firmly determined upon the recall of Mr. Hastings. The vote of the House of Commons was therefore followed by a similar proceeding on the part of the Directors. But the death of the Marquis, which happened at this critical period, gave courage and strength to the friends of that Governor, and in a Court of Proprietors of East India Stock on the 31st of October, 1782, the order of recall which had been made by the Court of Directors was rescinded by a large majority.
On the 24th of April, 1782, the Chairman of the Select Committee presented a series of resolutions, which referred to little more than two points. Mr. Sullivan, who was Chairman of the East India Company, had mis-stated a conference held between him BOOK V. Chap. 9. 1783.and certain Members of the House of Commons; and the consequence had been, that the relief intended to certain persons confined in the common goal at Calcutta, had been considerably delayed: Mr. Sullivan had also postponed the transmission of the act of parllament for the remedy of the evils arising from the proceedings of the Supreme Court of Judicature: Mr. Sullivan had, moreover, bound a clerk at the India House, peculiarly qualified to give information, by an oath of secrecy, from communicating evidence to the Select Committee. A series of resolutions were, therefore, moved and carried for the censure of Mr. Sullivan. This is the first of the points to which the resolutions moved on the part of the Select Committee referred. On the second, viz. the conjunct transaction of Mr. Hastings and Sir Elijah Impey, in making the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court head of the Sudder Duannee Adaulut, it was resolved, That the dependance of the Chief Justice, created by holding emoluments at the pleasure of the executive government, was inconsistent with the faithful administration of justice: That the Governor-General and Chief Justice were highly culpable in that transaction: And that the appointment should be immediately vacated and annulled. To these resolutions were added other two: The first, “That the powers given to the Governor-General and Council by the East India Act of 1773, ought to be more distinctly ascertained:” The second, “That it will be proper to reduce into one act the several acts of parliament made to regulate the East India Company, and further to explain and amend the same, and also to make new regulations and provisions to the same end.” The whole of these resolutions were carried; and upon those which related to the dependence, in other words the corruption, of the Chief Justice, was founded a resolution,BOOK V. Chap. 9. 1783. voted on the 3d of May, for an address to the King, that he would recall Sir Elijah Impey, to answer for his conduct in that transaction.
The vote of the Court of Proprietors, in opposition to the recall of Mr. Hastings, was severely reprobated by Mr. Dundas, at the beginning of the next session of parliament, when he moved, that all the proceedings in relation to it should be laid before the House; and pronounced it an act both dangerous in principle, and insulting to the authority of parliament.
On the 5th of March, 1783, a petition from the United Company of Merchants trading to the East Indies was presented to the House of Commons, and referred to a Committee. It set forth, that having paid 300,000l. of the sum exacted of them for the benefit of the public, by the late act, they were unable to pay the 100,000l. which remained; that the advances which had already been received by the public “were made under mistaken ideas of the petitioners’ pecuniary abilities;” that the aid necessary to carry on their affairs only to the 1st of March, 1784, would upon the most moderate calculation be 900,000l., even if excused the payment of the sum of 100,000l., due upon the late agreement; and they prayed, that if re-imbursement be not made to them, they be allowed to increase their bond debt, without diminishing their dividend, which would affect their credit; that they be not required to share any thing with the public, till the increase thus made of their bond debts be again wholly reduced; that the term of their exclusive privileges, a short term being injurious to their credit, should be enlarged; and that the petitioners be relieved from that share of the expense attending the service of the King’s troops and navy which according to the late act they were BOOK V. Chap. 9. 1783.bound to afford. Two acts were passed for their relief; the first allowing more time for the payment of the taxes for which they were in arrear, and enabling them to borrow money on their bond, to the amount of 500,000l.; the second act, (the relief granted by the first being found insufficient), accommodated them with a loan from the public to the amount of 300,000l.; both acts permitting them to continue a dividend of eight per cent.; though, after paying necessary expenses, their receipt fell short of that dividend by a sum of 255,813l.1 They borrowed money, therefore, to be divided among themselves, to that amount; a singular way for a trader to keep out of debt.
Upon the death of the Marquis of Rockingham, the Earl of Shelburne, afterwards Marquis of Lansdowne, became minister, and continued in office from the 13th of July, 1782, till the 5th of April, 1783. At that time, the coalition of Lord North and Mr. Fox gave existence to the ministry which that circumstance has served to designate, and to characterize.
The former exertions of Mr. Dundas, in the investigation and adjustment of the nation’s Indian affairs, were followed up by a bill, which he introduced to the House on the 14th of April, 1783. Its principal provisions were these; That the King should have the power of recall over the principal servants of the Company: That the Governor-General and Council of Bengal should have a controling power over the other presidencies; and that the Governor-General should have a power of acting, on his own responsibility, in opposition to the opinion of his Council: That the Governors at the other presidencies should not have a power of originating any measure, contraryBOOK V. Chap. 9. 1783. to their Councils, but a power of suspending their action by a negative till the opinion of the Controling Presidency should be known: That the displaced Zemindars should be replaced: That the Rajah of Tanjore should be secured in all his present possessions. In his speech he repeated his former arguments for the recall of Mr. Hastings; and then launched out into the numerous and extraordinary circumstances, which pointed out Lord Cornwallis as the fittest person in the world for the government of India. “Here there was no broken fortune to be mended! Here was no avarice to be gratified! Here was no beggarly, mushroom kindred to be provided for! No crew of hungry followers, gaping to be gorged!”1 Leave was given to bring in the bill. But Mr. Dundas, who was now in opposition, and of course received no encouragement from the ministry, did not persevere.
On the 11th of November in the year 1783, a new parliament met. In the speech from the throne they were informed, that definitive treaties of peace had been signed, or preliminaries ratified, with the courts of France and Spain, with the United States of America, and the States General of the United Provinces. They were also informed, that among the important objects, the urgency of which had required their presence after so short a recess, the affairs and government of India solicited the utmost exertions of their abilities, and that the fruit was now expected of those important inquiries, which had been so long and diligently pursued.
By the treaty of peace with France, Pondicherry BOOK V. Chap. 9. 1783.and Carical, to both of which some territory was annexed, the whole of the possessions which France enjoyed in Bengal and Orissa at the commencement of the war, together with Mahé, and the power of restoring their factory at Surat, were conceded to the French. In the treaty with the Dutch, Trincomalee was restored; but Negapatam was retained.
The opponents of the ministry, in both houses of parliament, proclaimed aloud the necessity, occasioned by the state of affairs in India, for instant and effectual reform. They enumerated the abuses which appeared to prevail; and they called upon, they stimulated, and importuned the minister to bring forward a scheme of improvement, and without delay to gratify the impatient expectation of the people. In these vehement calls, the voice of Mr. William Pitt was distinguished for its loudness and importunity. At that time, it suited him, to desire not only reform, but complete reform; reform, co-extensive with the evil, possible to be removed; and the good, capable of being attained. He challenged and summoned the minister to bring forward a plan, “not of temporary palliation or timorous expedients; but vigorous and effectual; suited to the magnitude, the importance, and the alarming exigency of the case.” Mr. Fox afforded his adversaries but little time to complain of delay.
His plan was divided into two parts, and introduced in two separate bills; one having a reference to the governing power at home; the other to the administration in India.
I. For constituting an organ of government at home, the two existing Courts, of Directors, and Proprietors of the East India Company, were to be abolished, as totally inadequate to the ends of their institution; and, in their room, seven commissioners were to be named in the act, that is chosen by theBOOK V. Chap. 9. 1783. legislature. These commissioners, acting as trustees for the Company, were to be invested with full powers for ordering and administering the territories, revenues and commerce of India; and to have the sole power of placing and displacing all persons in the service of the Company, whether in England or abroad.
The following were the most material of the subordinate regulations.
For managing the details of the commerce, but subject to the authority and commands of the Superior Board, nine assistant Directors were to be named by the legislature, being Proprietors, each, of not less than 2,000l. of East India capital stock.
In the superior body, vacancies were to be supplied by the King: in the inferior they were to be supplied by the Proprietors, voting by open poll. Removals in the superior body were to be performed by the King, upon the address of either house of parliament; in the inferior, by the same authority, and also by concurrence of any five of the Chief Directors, recording their reasons.
For the more speedy and effectual repression of offences committed in India, the Directors were, within twenty-one days after the receipt of any accusation or charge, to enter upon the examination of it, and either punish the offender, or record their reasons for not punishing.
Before any person who had served in India, and against whom any charge appeared, should be allowed to return, the Directors were to make a particular inquiry into the circumstances of the charge, and to record their reasons for permitting the return.
Upon knowledge of any dispute subsisting between the heads of the different settlements, or between the BOOK V. Chap. 9. 1783.heads and their councils, the Directors were to institute immediate inquiry, and come to a decision in three months, or to record their reasons why they did not.
If the constituted authorities at any of the settlements should require the direction or opinion of the Directors, they were to give it in three months, or to record their reasons for not giving it.
If any injury to any native prince should be complained of, or appear, the Directors were to inquire, and to make compensation wherever it was due.
For publicity, one expedient was thought to suffice; that the Directors should once in six months lay before the Proprietors the state of the commerce; and before the commencement of each parliamentary session, should present to the ministers, certain political and commercial statements, which the ministers should exhibit to parliament.
It was provided, that no Director or Assistant Director, should, while in office, hold any place of profit under the Company, or any place during pleasure under the King; but neither was to be disqualified for retaining a seat in parliament. And the act was to continue in force during four years.
II. Under the second part of the plan, that which had for its object the reform of the immediate administration in India, no improvement whatsoever, in the order and distribution of the powers of government, was attempted, and hardly any thing higher was proposed, than to point out what were deemed the principal errors or delinquencies into which the Indian government had strayed, and to forbid them in future.
Strict obedience was enjoined to the commands of the Directors, because Mr. Hastings, whenever a strong motive occurred, disobeyed them.
The councils were forbidden to delegate theirBOOK V. Chap. 9. 1783. powers; because, in two memorable instances, those of his journeys to the Upper Provinces, the Supreme Council had delegated theirs to Mr. Hastings.
The regular communication to the councils of all correspondence was rendered imperative upon the Governor-General and other Presidents, because Mr. Hastings, when he had certain objects to serve, had withheld parts of the correspondence.
Because the other servants of the Company had usually united with the governors, in those proceedings of their which were most highly condemned, the servants were to be rendered less dependant upon the governors, by lodging a greater share of the patronage in the hands of the commissioners.
No banyan, or native steward, of any of the principal servants was to be allowed to rent the revenues; because the banyan of Mr. Hastings had rented them to a great amount. Such renting to the banyan was declared to be the same thing as renting to the master.
No presents were to be taken even for the use of the Company; because Mr. Hastings had taken presents, and skreened himself by giving them up at last to the Company.
The abolition was to be ordained of all monopolies; because the Company’s servants in Bengal had been the cause of evil, by monopolizing salt, beetel-nut, and tobacco.
Passing then from the imputed errors in Bengal to those at Madras, the bill proposed to enact:
That no protected or dependant prince should reside in the Company’s territory, or rent their lands; because the Nabob of Arcot had disturbed the Presidency with intrigues by residing at Madras, and had rented, as was alleged, corruptly, the Madras jaghire:
BOOK V. Chap. 9. 1783.That no civil or military servant of the Company should lend money to such prince, rent his lands, or have with him any pecuniary transaction; because the lending of money to the Nabob of Arcot, renting his lands, and other money transactions between him and the Company’s servants, had given rise to many inconveniences.
As the inaccurate definition of the limits prescribed to the control of the Governor-General and Council over the other Presidencies had been fertile in disputes, an attempt, but not very skilful, was made to remove that deficiency, by enacting that it should extend to all transactions which had a tendency to provoke other states to war.
The old prohibition of the extension of territory was enforced; by forbidding hostile entrance upon any foreign territory, except after intelligence of such hostile preparations, as were considered serious by a majority of the Council; forbidding alliance with any power for dividing between them any acquirable territory; and loans of troops to the native princes; excepting, in all these cases, by allowance of the Directors.
The project of declaring the Zemindars, and other managers of the land revenue, hereditary proprietors of the land, and the tax fixed and invariable; originally started by Mr. Francis, and in part proposed for enactment in the late bill of Mr. Dundas; was adopted.
Instead of the regulation, introduced into the bill of Mr. Dundas, that the Governor-General should have a power of acting upon his own responsibility, independently of the will of his Council, power was only to be given to him, and to the Presidents at the other settlements, of adjourning or postponing, for a limited time, the consideration of any question in their respective councils.
A mode was prescribed for adjusting the disputesBOOK V. Chap. 9. 1783. of the Nabob of Arcot with his creditors, and with the Rajah of Tanjore.
All offences against the act were rendered amenable to the courts of law in England and India. And all persons in the service of the Company, in India, or in that of any Indian prince, were declared unfit, during the time of that service, and some succeeding time, to hold the situation of a member of the lower house of parliament.
No proceeding of the English government, in modern times, has excited a greater ferment in the nation, than these two bills of Mr. Fox. An alarm diffused itself, for which the ground was extremely scanty, and for which, notwithstanding the industry and the art with which the advantage was improved by the opposite party, it is difficult, considering the usual apathy of the public on much more important occasions, entirely to account. The character of Mr. Fox, who was at that time extremely unpopular, and from the irregularity of his private habits, as well as the apparent sacrifice of all principle in his coalition with Lord North, was, by a great part of the nation, regarded as a profligate gamester, both in public and in private life, contributed largely to the existence of the storm, and to the apprehensions of danger from the additional power which he appeared to be taking into his hands.1 In the House of Commons, indeed, BOOK V. Chap. 9. 1783.the party of the minister eminently prevailed; and though every objection which the imaginations of the orators could frame was urged against the measure with the utmost possible pertinacity, vehemence, and zeal, the bill passed by a majority of more than two to one.
In the mean time opportunity had been found for alarming the mind of the King. The notion circulated was, that, by vesting the whole patronage of India in the hands of Mr. Fox, by vesting it in a board of commissioners, under his appointment, it would be impossible for the King ever to employ, as minister, any other man; and the power of Mr. Fox would be rendered absolute over both the King and the people. Instead of having recourse to the expedients, which the law had placed in his hands, of dismissing his ministers, or even dissolving the parliament; a clandestine course was adopted, which violated the forms of the constitution. Though it had often been declared that the constitution depended on the total exemption of the deliberations in parliament from the impulse of the royal will, the King employed Lord Temple to inform as many as he thought fit of the peers of parliament, that those who should vote for the Indian bill, he would take for his enemies. On the day of the second reading of the bill, the minister was left in a minority of seventy-nine to eighty-seven.
The outery which was raised against this measure, holds a considerable rank among the remarkable incidents in the history of England. It was a declaration, a vehement declaration, on the part of the King, and of the greatest portion of all the leading orders in the state, as well as of the body of the people, that the Commons House of Parliament, as now constituted, is altogether inadequate to the ends which it is meant to fulfill. Unless that acknowledgment was fullyBOOK V. Chap. 9. 1783. made, the outcry was groundless and impostrous.
The essence of the change which Mr. Fox proposed to introduce consisted in this, and in nothing but this: That the Board of Directors should be chosen, not by the owners of Company’s stock, but by the House of Commons.
Surely, if the House of Commons were a fit instrument of Government, a better choice might be expected from the House of Commons, than from the crowd of East India Proprietors. The foundation on which the justice of the clamour had to rest, if any justice it contained, was this: that the House of Commons would act under a fatal subservience to the profligate views of the minister. But to suppose that the House of Commons would do this in one instance only, not in others, the motive being the same; that they would make a sacrifice of their duty to their country, in one of the most ruinous to it of almost all instances, while in other instances they were sure to perform it well, would be to adopt the language of children, or of that unhappy part of our species whose reason is not fit to be their guide. If the House of Commons is so circumstanced, as to act under motives sufficient to insure a corrupt compliance with ministerial views, then, undoubtedly, the House of Commons is a bad organ for the election of Indian rulers. If it is not under such motives to betray the interests of the country to the views of ministers, then it is undoubtedly the best instrument of choice which the country can afford: Nor is there any thing which can render it, compared with any other electing body, which could be formed in the country, unfit for this function, which does not, by necessity, imply an equal unfitness for all its peculiar functions: If it is unworthy to be trusted with the election of East India BOOK V. Chap. 9. 1783.Directors, it is still less worthy to be trusted with the purse strings of the nation: If there would be danger to the British people in the one case, the danger is far greater in the other.
An heart-felt conviction, that the House of Commons, as now constituted, is totally unworthy of trust, announced in the strongest of all possible terms, by the King, by the principal part of the aristocracy, of the whole, in short, of that part of the nation whose interests and ideas are in the strongest manner linked to monarchical and aristocratical privileges and distinctions, is of infinite importance; because it may be so employed as to make them ashamed of that opposition to reform, which, by so many selfish and mean considerations, they are in general engaged to maintain.
There is but one allegation, which appears capable of being employed to elude the force of this deduction: That the House of Commons would not act under a profligate subservience to the views of a minister, if subject only to the influence which was then at the command of the minister; but would be sure to do so, if subject to all that influence which would be created by adding the patronage of India.
This allegation, then, rests upon the assumption, that the profligate subservience of the House of Commons depends wholly upon the degree, more or less, of the matter of influence to which it is exposed: If the quantity to which it is exposed is sufficiently small, it will have no profligate subserviency: If the quantity to which it is exposed is sufficiently great, its profligate subserviency will be unbounded. Admit this: and is any thing necessary, besides, to prove the defective constitution of that assembly? In taking securities against men, in their individual capacity, do we rest satisfied, if only small temptations to misconduct exist? Does not experience prove, that evenBOOK V. Chap. 9. 1783. small temptations are sufficient, where there is nothing to oppose them?
In the allegation is implied, that the House of Commons would, as not yet feeling the influence of Indian patronage, have, in choosing men for the Board of Direction, at that first time, chosen the best men possible; but these men, being the best men possible, would have employed the Indian patronage placed in their hands, to corrupt the House of Commons into a profligate subservience to the views of the minister. For what cause?
The analysis of the plea might, it is evident, be carried to a great extent, but it is by no means necessary; and for the best of reasons; because the parties who joined in predicting the future profligacy of the House, universally gave it up. The House of Commons, they said, is now, is at this instant, that corrupt instrument, which the patronage of India applied to it in the way of influence would make it. The House of Commons, they maintained, was then at the beck of the minister; was, even then, in a state of complete subservience, even for the worst of all purposes, to the minister’s views. Mr. Pitt said, “Was it not the principle, and declared avowal of this bill, that the whole system of India government should be placed in seven persons, and those under the immediate appointment of no other than the minister himself? He appealed to the sense and candour of the House, whether, in saying this, he was the least out of order? Could it be otherwise understood, or interpreted? That these seven men were not to be appointed solely by the minister?”1 On another occasion, BOOK V. Chap. 9. 1783.he said, that he objected to Mr. Fox’s bill, “because it created a new and enormous influence, by vesting in certain nominees of the minister all the patronage of the East.”1 Mr. W. Grenville (afterwards Lord Grenville) said, “The bill was full of blanks, and these blanks were to be filled by that House: It was talking a parliamentary language to say, the minister was to fill the blanks; and that the seven commissioners were the seven nominees of the minister; Seven commissioners chosen, by parliament ostensibly, but in reality by the servants of the Crown, were to involve in the vortex of their authority, the whole treasures of India: These, poured forth like an irresistible flood upon this country, would sweep away our liberties, and all that we could call our own.”2 But if parliament would choose these seven commissioners at the beck of the minister; what is there they would not do at the beck of the minister! The conclusion is direct, obvious, and irresistible. Upon the solemn averments of these statesmen, the question is for ever set at rest.
At the same time it must be admitted, that the bills of Mr. Fox, many and celebrated as the men were who united their wisdoms to compose them, manifest a feeble effort in legislation. They afford a memorable lesson; because they demonstrate, that the authors of them, however celebrated for their skill in speaking, were not remarkable for the powers of thought. For the right exercise of the powers of government in India, not one new security was provided; and it would not be very easy to prove, that any strength was added to the old.
I. There was nothing in Mr. Fox’s number Seven, more than in the Company’s number Twenty-Four,BOOK V. Chap. 9. 1783. to ensure good government: and by his change of one electing assembly for another, the nation decided, and under the present constitution of the House of Commons decided well, that bad would only be improved into worse.
If such was the nature of the fundamental expedient, it cannot be imagined that the subsidiary ones would impart a high degree of merit to the whole. If not absolutely nugatory, they were all feeble in the highest degree. What useful power of publicity, for example, was involved in transferring annually to the hands of the ministers, a certain portion of Indian papers? A proper policy being established between the minister and his seven directors, they could present to parliament every thing which favoured their own purposes, keep back every thing which opposed them; and thence more effectually impose upon the nation. It seems, from many parts of the bill, to have been the opinion of its authors, that if they only gave their commands to the rulers of India to behave well, they would be sure to do so. As if there was no channel of corruption but one, it was held sufficient, if the directors, while in office, were prohibited from holding places of profit under themselves, and places of profit during pleasure under the King.
The seven directors, in the case of some of their most important decisions, were bound to record their reasons; a most admirable security where the public are to see those reasons: Where they are to be seen only by the parties themselves, and by those who have like sinister interests with themselves, as in this case by the minister, they are obviously no security at all.
Good conduct in any situation depends upon the BOOK V. Chap. 9. 1783.motives to good conduct, which operate in that situation; and upon the chance for intelligence and probity, in the individuals by whom it is held. That, in regard to motives, as well as intelligence, and probity, the public had less security for good conduct, in the case of the ministerial commissioners, than in the case of Directors chosen by the Company, will be fully made to appear, when we come to examine the nature of the ministerial board erected by Mr. Pitt; a board, which, in all those particulars, is very nearly on a level with that of Mr. Fox.
II. With regard to that part of the scheme which was intended to improve the state of administration in India, no change in the order and distribution of the powers of government was attempted. The play of the machinery, therefore, that is, the whole of its old tendency to evil, described by Mr. Fox as enormous, was to remain the same. All, it is evident, that, upon this foundation, could be aimed at, was, to palliate; and in the choice of his palliatives, Mr. Fox was not very successful.
Merely to forbid evil, in a few of the shapes in which it had previously shown itself, was a slender provision for improvement, when the causes of evil remained the same as before; both because there were innumerable other shapes which it might assume, and because forbidding, where there is no chance, or little change, of harm from disobedience, is futile, as a barrier against strong temptations.
To lessen the power of the Chief Ruler in selecting the immediate instruments of his government, was so far to ensure a weak and distracted administration. The sure effect of it was, to lessen the power of a virtuous ruler in obtaining assistance to good: And as the co-operation of the inferior servants, in the imputed plunder, embezzlement, and oppression, was secured not, by the power of the Governor-General toBOOK V. Chap. 9. 1783. promote them; but by the common interest which they had in the profits of misrule; his not having the power to promote them was no security against a co-operation secured by other means.
In respect to sanctions, on which the efficiency of every enactment depends, Mr. Fox’s bill provided two things; chance of removal; and prosecution at law; nothing else. In respect to chance of removal; as the effect of the bill was to render the minister absolute with regard to India, those delinquencies alone, which thwarted the views of the minister, created any danger; those which fell in with his views were secure of protection. From prosecution at law, under tribunals and laws such as the English, a man who wields, or has wielded the powers of government, has, it is obvious from long experience, very little to fear.
It really is, therefore, hardly possible for any thing in the shape of a law for regulating the whole government of a great country, to be more nugatory than the bill of Mr. Fox.
On the great expedient for ensuring the rights of the native subjects, borrowed from Mr. Francis, the scheme of declaring the rent of the land unchangeable, and the renters hereditary; we have already made some and shall hereafter have occasion to make other remarks; to show, that it is founded upon false ideas, and productive of evil rather than good.
The prohibition of monopolies, and presents, and some other minor regulations, were beneficial, as far as they went.
If this project of a constitution for India proves not the existence of a vast portion of intellect, among those by whom it was framed, the objections of those who had only to criticize, not to invent, appear to BOOK V. Chap. 9. 1784.prove the existence of a still smaller portion among its opponents. Not one of their objections was drawn from the real want of merits in the plan; from its total inefficiency, as a means, to secure the ends, at which it pretended to aim. They were all drawn from collateral circumstances; and, what is more, almost all were unfounded.
The danger to the constitution, in giving the appointment of Directors to the House of Commons, was the subject of the principal cry. But it has been shown, that this could have no injurious effect, unless the House of Commons were already perverted from its supposed ends, and the goodness of the constitution destroyed.
Much rhetoric was employed to enforce the obligation created by the “chartered rights of men.” But it was justly observed, That the term “chartered rights of men,” was a phrase full of affectation and ambiguity: That there were two species of charters; one, where some of the general rights of mankind were cleared or confirmed by the solemnity of a public deed; the other, where these general rights were limited for the benefit of particular persons: That charters of the last description were strictly and essentially trusts, and ought to expire whenever they substantially vary from the good of the community, for the benefit of which they are supposed to exist.
The loss of the India bill, in the House of Lords, was the signal for the dissolution of the ministry. At the head of the new arrangement was placed Mr. Pitt. On the 14th of January, 1784, he moved for leave to bring in a bill on the affairs of India. A majority of the House of Commons still supported his opponent, and his bill was rejected. Mr. Fox gave notice to the House of his intention to bring in a second bill. On the 10th of March, however, parliament was dissolved; and in the new House ofBOOK V. Chap. 9. 1784. Commons the minister obtained a decided majority. The re-introduction of his India bill could now wait his convenience.
The new ministry had been aided in the triumph obtained over their opponents, by all the powers of the East India House, who had petitioned against the bills of Mr. Fox, had employed every art to excite the public disapprobation, and had exerted themselves at the general election to swell the ministerial majority. The minister owed a grateful return. The Company’s sale of teas was a principal source of their income. It had of late been greatly reduced by the powers of smuggling. As high price afforded the encouragement of smuggling, a sufficient reduction would destroy it. Any part of the monopoly profit would not have been a pleasant sacrifice to the Company. The public duties, they thought, were the proper source of reduction; and it pleased the minister to agree with them. On the 21st of June, he moved a series of resolutions, as the foundation for an act, which soon after passed, and is known by the name of the Commutation Act. The duties on tea, about 50 per cent., were reduced to 12 1/2 per cent. It was estimated that a diminution would thence arise of 600,000l. in the public revenue. Under the style and title of a commutation, an additional window-tax, calculated at an equal produce, was imposed.
To relieve their pecuniary distress, the Company, as we have seen, had applied to parliament for leave to borrow 500,000l., and for a further aid, after wards, of 300,000l. in exchequer bills. They had also prayed for a remission of the duties which they owed to the public, to the amount of nearly a million. They were bound not to accept, without consent BOOK V. Chap. 9. 1784.of the Lords of the Treasury, bills drawn on them from India, beyond the annual amount of 300,000l. Bills however had arrived from Bengal to the amount of nearly one million and a half beyond that amount. For these distresses some provision had been made before the dissolution of the preceding parliament. The minister now introduced a bill, to afford a further relief in regard to the payment of duties, and to enable them to accept bills beyond the limits which former acts of the legislature had prescribed.
In other pecuniary adventures, the receipts upon the capital embarked are in proportion to the gains. If profit has been made; profit is divided. If no profit, no division. Instead of profit, the East India Company had incurred expense, to the amount of an enormous debt. It was proposed that they should still have a dividend, though they were to borrow the money which they were to divide, or to obtain it, extracted, in the name of taxes, out of the pockets of their countrymen. A bill was passed which authorized a dividend of eight per cent. In defence of the measure, it was urged, that unless the dividend was upheld, price of India stock would fall. But why should the price of India stock, more than the price of any thing else, be upheld, by taxing the people? It was also urged, that not the fault of the Company, but the pressure arising from the warlike state of the nation, produced their pecuniary distress. If that was a reason, why was not a similar relief awarded to every man that suffered from that cause? The arguments are without foundation; but from that time to this they have supported an annual taxation of the English people, for the convenience of the parties on whom the government of India depends.
At last, Mr. Pitt’s bill, for the better government of the affairs of the East India Company, was againBOOK V. Chap. 9. 1784. introduced; and, being now supported by a competent majority, was passed into an act, on the 13th of August, 1784. With some modification, it was the same with the bill which the former House of Commons had rejected.
The Courts of Directors and Proprietors remained, in form, the same as before. The grand innovation consisted, in the erection of what was called a Board of Control. This, together with, 1. The creation of a Secret Committee of Directors; 2. A great diminution in the powers of the Court of Proprietors; 3. A provision for a disclosure of the amount of the fortunes brought home by individuals who had been placed in offices of trust in India; 4. The institution of a new tribunal for the trial and punishment of the offences liable to be committed in India; constituted the distinctive features of this legislative exertion; and are the chief particulars, the nature of which it is incumbent upon the historian to disclose. The other provisions were either of subordinate efficacy, or corresponded with provisions in the bills of other reformers, which have already been reviewed.
I. The Board of Control was composed of six Members of the Privy Council, chosen by the King, of whom the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and one of the principal secretaries of state were to be two; in the absence of whom, the senior of the remaining four was to preside. In point of fact, the whole business has rested with that senior; the other commissioners being seldom called to deliberate, or even for form’s sake to assemble. The senior is known by the name of the President of the Board of Control, and is essentially a new Secretary of State; a secretary for the Indian department. Of this pretended Board and real Secretary, the sphere of action extended to BOOK V. Chap. 9. 1784.the whole of the civil and military government, exercised by the Company; but not to their commercial transactions. Its duties, very ill defined, or rather not defined at all, were adumbrated, in the following vague and uncertain terms: “From time to time, to check, superintend, and control, all acts, operations, and concerns, which in any wise relate to the civil or military government, or revenues, of the territories and possessions of the said United Company in the East Indies.” All correspondence, relative to the government, was to be communicated to the Board; including all letters from India, as soon as received, and all letters, orders, or instructions intended for India, before they were sent. The Board was also to be furnished with copies of all proceedings of the Courts of Directors and Proprietors; and to have access to the Company’s papers and records. By one clause it was rendered imperative on the Court of Directors to yield obedience to every command of the Board, and to send out all orders and instructions to India altered and amended at the pleasure of the Board. On the second introduction of the bill, when a sure majority made the minister bold, a power was added by which, in cases of secrecy, and cases of urgency; cases of which the Board itself was to be the judge; the Board of Control might frame and transmit orders to India without the inspection of the Directors. It was only in the case of a doubt whether the orders of the Board of Control related or did not relate to things within the sphere of the civil and military government, that the Directors were allowed an appeal. Such a doubt they were to refer to the King in Council. An appeal from the King’s Council, to the King in Council, was an appeal from men to themselves.
Of two bodies, when one has the right of unlimited command, and the other is constrained to unlimitedBOOK V. Chap. 9. 1784. obedience, the latter has no power whatsoever, but just as much, or as little, as the former is pleased to allow. This is the relative position of the Board of Control, and the East India Company. The powers of the Board of Control convert the Company’s Courts into agents of its will. The real, the sole governing power of India is the Board of Control, and it only makes use of the Court of Directors as an instrument, as a subordinate office, for the management of details, and the preparation of business for the cognizance of the superior power.
The real nature of the machine cannot be disputed, though hitherto its movements have been generally smooth, and the power is considerable which appears to remain in the hands of the Directors. The reasons are clear. Whenever there is not a strong motive to interfere with business of detail, there is always a strong motive to let it alone. There never yet has been any great motive to the Board of Control to interfere; and of consequence it has given itself little trouble about the business of detail, which has proceeded with little harm, and as little benefit, from the existence of that Board. So long as the Court of Directors remain perfectly subservient, the superior has nothing further to desire. Of the power which the Directors retain much is inseparable from the management of detail.
The grand question relates to the effects upon the government of India, arising from an authority like the Board of Control, acting through such a subordinate and ministerial instrument as the Court of Directors.
It is evident, that, so far as the Directors are left to themselves, and the Board of Control abstain from the trouble of management, the government of India BOOK V. Chap. 9. 1784.is left to the imperfections, whatever they were, of the previous condemned system, as if no Board of Control were in existence. In that part of the business, in which the Board takes a real share, it is still to be inquired, what chance exists, that better conduct will proceed from the Board of Control, than would have proceeded from the Court of Directors?
Good conduct in public men arises from three causes; from knowledge or talent; from the presence of motives to do good; and the absence of motives to do evil.
I. Few men will contend that the lord, or other person, whose power, or powerful kinsman, may recommend him for President of the Board of Control, is more likely to possess knowledge or talent, than the Court of Directors. That which the practical state of the British constitution renders the presiding principle in directing the choice of men for offices wherein much either of money or power is to be enjoyed, affords a much greater chance for ignorance than knowledge. Of all the men who receive education, the men who have the most of parliamentary influence are the least likely to have any unusual portion of talent; and as for appropriate knowledge, or an acquaintance in particular with Indian affairs, it cannot be expected that the Board of Control should ever, except by a temporary and rare contingency, be fit to be compared with the Court of Directors: besides, it would have been easy, by laying open the direction to men of all descriptions, and by other simple expedients, to increase exceedingly the chance for talent in the Court of Directors.
II. If the Board of Control then is more likely than the Court of Directors to govern India well, the advantage must arise from its situation in regard to motives: motives of two sorts; motives to application; and motives to probity. Both the Board ofBOOK V. Chap. 9. 1784. Control, and the Court of Directors, are destitute of these motives to a high degree; and it is a matter of some nicety to make it appear on which side the deficiency is most extraordinary.
Motives to application, on the part of the Board of Control, can be discovered none. And application, accordingly, such as deserves the name, a careful pursuit of knowledge, with incessant meditation of the ends and the means, the Board has not even thought of bestowing. If Mr. Dundas be quoted as an objection, it is only necessary to explain the circumstances of the case. The mind of Mr. Dundas was active and meddling, and he was careful to exhibit the appearance of a great share in the government of India; but what was it, as President of the Board of Control, that he ever did? He presented, as any body might have presented, the Company’s annual budget, and he engrossed an extraordinary share of their patronage. But I know not any advice which he ever gave, for the government of India, that was not either very obvious, or wrong.
The institution of the Board of Control, as it gave no motives to application in the members of that Board, so it lessened prodigiously the motives to application in the Court of Directors. Before the existence of the Board of Control, the undivided reputation of good measures, the undivided ignominy of bad, redounded to the Court of Directors. The great sanction of public opinion acted upon them with undivided energy. Men are most highly stimulated to undergo the pains of labour, when they are most sure of reaping the fruits of labour; most surely discouraged from labour, when they are least sure of reaping its advantages; but, in taking pains BOOK V. Chap. 9. 1784.to understand the grounds of action, and laboriously to frame measures adapted to them, the Court of Directors, before their subjugation to the Board of Control, were sure of reaping the fruits of their labours in the execution of their schemes. What motive, on the other hand, to the laborious consideration of measures of government, remained, when all the fruits of knowledge and of wisdom might be rejected by the mere caprice of the President of the Board of Control?
Such is the sort of improvement, a retrograde improvement, in respect to knowledge or talent, and in respect to application, which the expedient of a Board of Control introduced into the government of India.
It only remains that we examine it in relation to probity; and inquire, whether the men who compose it are subject to the action of stronger, or weaker motives, to the exercise of official probity, than the Court of Directors.
There are two sorts of motives, on which, in regard to probity, the conduct of every man depends; by the one he is attracted to virtue; by the other repelled from it.
In regard to attracting motives, very little is provided to operate either upon the Board of Control, or the Court of Directors. The sanction of public opinion, the credit of good, and the discredit of bad conduct, is one source; and it does not appear that there is any other. In the first place, it ought to be remembered, as a law of human nature, that the influence of this sanction is weakened, or more truly annihilated, to any important purpose, by division. Whatever might have been its force, upon either the Board of Control, or the Court of Directors, acting alone, it is infinitely diminished when they act bothBOOK V. Chap. 9. 1784. together, and by sharing, go far to destroy responsibility.
For the salutary influence of public opinion, both the Board of Control, and the Court of Directors, are unfavourably situated; but it will probably, without much dispute, be allowed, that the Court of Directors is the least unfavourably situated. So long as they acted by themselves, the Court of Directors were exposed, without shelter, to the public eye. The President of the Board of Control is the mere creature of the minister, existing by his will, confounded with the other instruments of his administration, sheltered by his power, and but little regared as the proper object either of independent praise, or of independent blame.
With regard to motives repelling from probity, in other words, the temptations to improbity, to which the Board of Control and the Court of Directors are respectively exposed, the following propositions are susceptible of proof: That almost all the motives of the deleterious sort, to which the Court of Directors stand exposed, are either the same, or correspond, with those to which the Board of Control is exposed: That those to which the Court of Directors are exposed, and the Board of Control is not exposed, are of inconsiderable strength: That those to which the Board of Control is exposed, and the Court of Directors are not exposed, are of great and uncommon strength: And that by the conjunct action of the two bodies, the deleterious motives of the one do not destroy those of the other, but combine with them, and increase the power of the whole.
It is to be observed, that neither the Board of Control, nor the Court of Directors have any direct interest in the misgovernment of India. Their ambition BOOK V. Chap. 9. 1784.is not gratified by the unnecessary wars, nor their pockets filled by the oppressions and prodigalities of the Indian rulers. In as far as the Directors are proprietors of India stock, and in as far as good government has a tendency to increase the surplus produce of India, and hence the dividend upon stock, the Court of Directors have an interest in the good government of India. The Board of Control, as such, has necessarily no such interest; in this respect, therefore, it is inferior to the Court of Directors.
If exempt from motives of the direct kind, to the misgovernment of India, it remains to inquire what are the motives of the indirect kind, to the action of which the Board of Control, and the Court of Directors, are severally and respectively exposed.
In the first place, we recognize the love of ease; an incessant force, and for that reason of the most potent agency in human affairs. Bating the cases in which the result depends not upon the general qualities of the species, but the accidental ones of the individual, this is a motive which it is not easy to find other motives sufficient to oppose; which, in general, therefore, prevails and over-rules. This is a motive, to the counteraction of which, there is scarcely any thing provided, in the case either of the Board of Control, or of the Court of Directors. To a great extent, therefore, it is sure to govern them. Provided things go on in the beaten tract, without any unusual stoppage or disturbance, things will very much be left to themselves.
Little, however, as is the application to business, which can rationally be expected from the Court of Directors, still less can be looked for on the part of the Board of Control, where either hereditary idleness and inefficiency will preside; or the mind of the President will be engrossed by those pursuits and struggles on which the power of the ministry, or theBOOK V. Chap. 9. 1784. consequence of the individual, more immediately depends. The consequence is certain; whenever aversion to the pain and constraint of labour governs the superintendant, the interest of the subordinates, in every branch, is naturally pursued at the expense of the service, or of the ends which it is the intention of the service to fulfil.
Beside the love of ease, which every where is one of the chief causes of misgovernment; the motives to the abuse of patronage, and to a connivance at delinquency in India, seem almost the only deleterious motives, to the operation of which either the Board of Control, or the Court of Directors, are exposed.
In regard to patronage, the conduct of the Court of Directors will be found to exhibit a degree of excellence which other governments have rarely attained. In sending out the youths who are destined for the different departments of the service, the Directors have been guided, no doubt, by motives of affection and convenience; but all youths go out to the lowest stations in their respective departments, and can ascend only by degrees. The rule of promotion by seniority has sometimes been too rigidly observed; seldom, comparatively, violated by favouritism. The Directors, who send out their relatives and connexions, have very often retired from the direction, before the youths whom they have patronized are of sufficient age or standing in the service, to occupy the stations in which the power of producing the greater evils is enjoyed.
But, as the constitution of the Court of Directors has prevented any considerable abuse of patronage; so the situation of the British minister, depending as he does upon parliamentary interest, creates, it may, without much fear of contradiction, be affirmed, a BOOK V. Chap. 9. 1784.stronger motive to the abuse of patronage, than, under any other form of government, was ever found to exist. In this respect, good government is far less exposed to violation from an institution, such as that of the Court of Directors, than an institution such as that of the Board of Control.1
To connivance at delinquency in India, the Directors may be supposed to be led by three sorts of motives:
In point of fact, the influence exerted upon the Directors through the Court of Proprietors has never been great. The Court of Directors have habitually governed the Court of Proprietors; not the Court of Proprietors, the Court of Directors. The Company’s servants returned from India have not been remarkable for holding many votes in the General Court.
The powerful operation of ministerial support extends to every man in India, whose friends have a parliamentary interest in England. The men who have the greatest power of doing mischief in India, are the men in the highest stations of the government. These are sure to be generally appointed from views of ministerial interest. And the whole force of the motives, whatever they are, which operate to their appointment, must operate likewise to connivance at their faults.
In every one of the circumstances, therefore, upon which good government depends, the Board of Control, when examined, is found to be still more defective, BOOK V. Chap. 9. 1784.as an instrument of government, than the Court of Directors, the incompetency of which to the right government of India, had been so loudly and so universally proclaimed.
What will be said in its favour is this: That the Board of Control, and the Court of Directors check each other. To this end we must of necessity suppose, that where the Court of Directors may have an interest in misgovernment, the Board of Control will have no such interest, and in that case will not allow the Court of Directors to pursue their interest: that, in like manner, where the Board of Control may have an interest in misgovernment, the Court of Directors will have no such interest, and in that case will not allow the Board of Control to pursue their interest.
According to this supposed mode of operation, the interests of all the governing parties are defeated. The theory unhappily forgets that there is another mode of operation; in which their interests may be secured. This is the mode, accordingly, which stands the best chance of being preferred. It is a very obvious mode; the one party having leave to provide for itself, on condition that it extend to the other a similar indulgence. The motives to misgovernment, under this plan, are increased by aggregation, not diminished by counteraction. Such are the greater part of the pretended checks upon misgovernment, which have ever been established in the world; and to this general law the Board of Control and Court of Directors do not, certainly, form an exception.
There is still another circumstance; and one to which the greatest importance will doubtless be attached. So long as the government of India was independent of the minister, he had no interest in hiding its defects; he might often acquire popularityBOOK V. Chap. 9. 1784. by disclosing them. The government of India, in these circumstances, was subject to a pretty vigilant inspection from Parliament. Inquiries of the most searching description had twice been instituted, and carried into its innermost recesses. The persons charged with the duties of government in India, acted under a full sense of the attention with which they were watched, and of the exposure to which their conduct was liable. A beneficial jealousy was preserved alive, both in parliament, and in the nation. At that time both erred, perhaps, by too much, rather than too little, of a disposition to presume among their countrymen in India the existence of guilt: a disposition far more salutary, notwithstanding, than a blind confidence, which, by presuming that every thing is right, operates powerfully to make every thing wrong. A great revolution ensued, when the government of India was made dependant upon the minister, and became in fact an incorporated part of his administration. Then it was the interest of the minister to prevent inspection; to Iull suspicion asleep; to ward off inquiry; to inspire a blind confidence; to praise incessantly the management of affairs in India; and, by the irresistible force of his influence, make other men praise it. The effects are instructive. From the time of the acquisition of the territorial revenues of Bengal, parliament and the nation had resounded with complaints of the Indian administration. The loudness of these complaints had continually increased, till it became the interest of the minister to praise. From that very moment, complaint was extinguished; and the voice of praise was raised in its stead. From that time to this, no efficient inquiry into the conduct of the government in India has ever taken place. BOOK V. Chap. 9. 1784.Yet in the frame of the government no one new security can be pointed out, on which a rational man would depend for any improvement; and the incumbrances of the East India Company have continued to increase.
II. It was ordained by this act, that the Court of Directors should choose a Committee of Secrecy, not to exceed the number of three. As often as the Board of Control should frame orders which required secrecy, they were to transmit these orders, without communicating them to the Court of Directors; and receive answers to them under the same concealment. This was a regulation which enabled the Board of Control, and the Committee of Secrecy, to annihilate, as often as they pleased, the power of the Court of Directors. With respect to the government of India, the Court of Directors might be regarded as in fact reduced to three. Of this subsidiary regulation the effect was to render more complete the powers of the Board of Control.
III. It was ordained, that no act or proceeding of the Court of Directors, which had received the approbation of the Board of Control, should be annulled or in any way affected, by the Court of Proprietors. This was a provision, by means of which, as often as it pleased the Board of Control, and the Court of Directors, they could annihilate all direct power of the Court of Proprietors. By these several regulations, for more and more lessening the number of persons in whom any efficient part of the power of the East India Company remained, the facility of using it as a tool of the minister was more and more increased.
IV. The next important provision, in the bill of Mr. Pitt, was that by which it was rendered obligatory upon the servants of the Company, to give an inventory of the property which they brought fromBOOK V. Chap. 9. 1784. India. If the undue pursuit of wealth was there the grand cause of delinquency, this undoubtedly was a regulation of no ordinary value. When the amount of a man’s acquisitions in India was known, comparison would take place between his acquisitions and his lawful means of acquiring; and the great sanction of popular opinion would operate upon him with real effect. The difficulty of convicting the delinquent would thus be exceedingly diminished; and this prospect of punishment would contribute powerfully to save him from crime.
To the credit of the authors of the bill be it spoken, means of far greater than the usual efficacy were employed to force out the real state of the facts, and to defeat the efforts of concealment or deception. The parties were rendered subject to personal examination upon oath; and, for false statement, to the forfeiture of all their goods, to imprisonment and incapacitation. Information tending to the detection of falsehood was called for by the greatest rewards.
So important an instrument of good government as this, ought not, assuredly, to be confined to India. Wherever the pursuit of wealth is liable to operate to the production, in any degree, of bad government, there undoubtedly it ought to exist.
V. A new tribunal was constituted “for the prosecuting and bringing to speedy and condign punishment British subjects guilty of extortion, and other misdemeanors, while holding offices in the service of the King or Company in India.” The Judicature was composed of one judge from each of the common law courts in Westminster Hall, chosen by his Court; four peers, and six members of the House of Commons, chosen, after an operose method, by their respective houses of parliament.
BOOK V. Chap. 9. 1784.Of the procedure, according to which justice was, in this channel, to be administered, the only part which it is here material to notice, is that, which regards its powerful instrument, Evidence.
For more effectually opening the sources of evidence, it was ordained, that witnesses should be compelled, by punishment, as for a misdemeanor, to attend, and by fine or imprisonment, at the discretion of the Court, to give evidence. The Commissioners or Judges might send for papers, persons, and records, and commit to prison for all prevarication.
The punishment of offences committed in India, by trial in England, conducted under the rules of evidence mischievously established in the English courts, was impracticable, and the attempt absurd. This important truth seems, in part at least, to have been now very clearly perceived by the legislature; and an attempt was made, very feeble indeed, and far from commensurate with the evil, to remedy a defect of the law; a disgusting defect, which ensured, or little less than ensured, impunity to one of the highest orders of crimes.
“Whereas the provisions made by former laws” (such are the words of the statute,) “for the hearing and determining in England offences committed in India, have been found ineffectual, by reason of the difficulty of proving in this kingdom matters done there,” it was enacted, that witnesses should be examined in India by the competent judges, that their testimony should be taken down in writing, and that, when transmitted to England, it should be received as competent evidence by the tribunal now to be established. It was further enacted, “in order” (says the statute) “to promote the ends of justice, in ascertaining facts committed at so great a distance from this country, by such evidence as the nature of the case will render praoticable,” that all writingsBOOK V. Chap. 9. 1784. which might have passed between the Company and their servants in India, might, as far as they related to the facts in question, be read, and their evidence, as far as to the Court it might appear to weigh upon the question, should be received. And also, upon the prayer of either of the parties, power was given of obtaining the examination, upon interrogatories, before a commissioner duly appointed, of absent witnesses, the depositions of whom, in this manner procured, should be admitted as evidence.
Of this important provision, in the East India bill of Mr. Pitt, the nature will appear, if we consider, first the necessity for it, and next its adaptation to the ends which it had in view.
1. The necessity for it implies, that there was no tribunal, as yet existing in this kingdom, which was adequate to the purpose of punishing and repressing crimes committed in India: because, if there was any such tribunal, no other, for a purpose which might have been answered without it, ought to have been called into existence. By enacting, therefore, a law for the creation of this new tribunal, the legislature of the country, with all the solemnity and weight of legislation, declared, that, for the punishment of crimes of the description here in question, the other tribunals of the kingdom, the courts of law, the courts of equity, and even the high court, as it is called, of parliament, are unfit. In what respect, unfit? Not merely for their absurd exclusion of such evidence as it was ordained that the new tribunal should receive. Because, had this been the only objection, it might have been easily removed, by simply prescribing what sort of evidence they ought to receive. They were therefore, according to the declaration of the legislature, unfit on other grounds, and these so fundamental, that no superficial change could remove the unfitness.
BOOK V. Chap. 9. 1784.This declaration is of very great extent. For if the tribunals, previously existing, were all, even with such rules for the admission of evidence, as the legislature might have compelled them to observe, unfit to try and to punish the crimes of high functionaries in India, they were equally unfit to try and to punish the crimes of high functionaries in England. The crimes of high functionaries are not one sort of thing in England, another sort of thing in India. They are the same sort of thing in both countries. And the only difference is, that the means of proof are to be brought in one case from a greater distance.
That the courts of law and equity are not tribunals by which the crimes of high functionaries can be repressed, was already the doctrine of the constitution; since it appointed the method of impeachment before the high court of parliament. The present declaration of the legislature before, then, particularly, only upon the method of impeachment. That the declaration was just, in regard to the method of impeachment, if any doubt till then could possibly have remained, was made appear, according to the confession of all parties even in parliament, a few years afterwards, by the trial of Mr. Hastings.
We may then proceed upon it as a fact, fully established by experience, and solemnly recognized by the legislature, that, as far as law is concerned, there is impunity, almost or altogether perfect, to the crimes of high functionaries in England.
2. If we consider the adaptation of this tribunal of Mr. Pitt to the ends which it had in view, we shall first perceive that it was so constituted as to be an instrument in the hands of the minister, and sure to do whatever could be done with any tolerable degree of safety, to secure his objects, whatever they might be.
It consisted of two parts; three judges sent from the three courts of common law; and ten membersBOOK V. Chap. 9. 1784. from the houses of parliament. The subservience of the judges of the common law courts to the minister, or to the master of the minister, is the doctrine of one of the most remarkable parts of the British constitution; the trial by jury. If it were not for the wrong bias to which the judges of England are liable, and all biases are trifling compared with the bias towards the Court, the institution of a jury would not only be useless, but hurtful. And if this be the doctrine of the constitution, there is assuredly none of its doctrines, which an experience more full and complete, an experience more nearly unvarying, can be adduced to confirm.
Such is the state of the case, in as far as regards that part of the proposed tribunal, consisting of the ordinary judges. With regard to that part which consisted of members chosen by the two houses of parliament, the case is cleared by the doctrine of the authors of the bill themselves. Mr. Pitt and his friends maintained, and nobody affected to deny, that the members to be chosen by parliament for Mr. Fox’s Directors, would be “nominees” of the minister. There was nothing which could give the minister a power of nomination in that, which he would not possess in the present case. The second class of the members of the tribunal would, therefore, be “nominees” of the minister.1BOOK V. Chap. 9. 1784.
The subservience of the whole would for that reason be complete. So far only as it was the interest of the minister that justice should be well administered, so far only would there be the intention to administer it well. How far, even where it had the intention, it would have the other qualities requisite for the detection and punishment of the official offences of official men, would demand a long inquiry sufficiently to unfold. I must leave it to the reader’s investigation. Enough has probably been said to give a correct, if not a complete, conception of this new expedient for the better government of India.
Such were the five principal provisions in the celebrated India bill of Mr. Pitt. Of other particulars, not many require to be mentioned; and for such as do, a few words will suffice.
As the increase of the patronage and influence of the minister was the foundation of the furious outcry, which had been raised against the plan of Mr. Fox, there was a great affectation of avoiding all increase of ministerial patronage, by the bill of Mr. Pitt. In particular, no salaries were annexed to the offices of President, or Members of the Board of Control; and it was stated, that these offices might always be filled, without increase of expense to the nation, or of influence to the Crown, by functionaries who enjoyed other places of profit. We shall afterwards see, that this was a mask; which it was not long thought necessaryBOOK V. Chap. 9. 1784. that the project should wear.
The patronage of India was left to the Directors, subject to the following inroads: That the nomination of the Commander-in-Chief, who should always be second in Council, should belong exclusively to the King; That the Governor-General, Presidents, and Members of all the Councils, should be chosen, subject to the approbation of the King: And that the King should have the power of recalling them.
When it is said that the patronage of the Company was left with the Directors, it can only, by any body, be meant, that it was ostensibly left. For it never can for one moment be doubted that whatsoever patronage is in the hands of the subordinate and obeying body, in reality belongs to the superordinate and commanding. To ministerial purposes in general the patronage of the East India House is the patronage of the minister: In all the departments subordinate to the minister a large portion of the patronage necessarily follows the superintendance of the details. And it is probable that, in the East India House, a less proportion of the patronage remains, not placed immediately at the command of the minister, than in the most immediate departments of his administration, those, for example, of the Admiralty, and the Commander-in-Chief.1
BOOK V. Chap. 9. 1784.Such were the contrivances for improving that part of the machinery of the Indian government, which had its seat in England. For immediate operation upon the faults of that part of it which had its seat, by unavoidable necessity, in India, the provisions of Mr. Pitt coincided to a great degree with the palliatives of Mr. Fox. A control was given to the Governor-General and Council of Bengal over the other Presidencies. Aggressive wars, presents, and disregard of orders, were forbidden. The Zemindars, who had been displaced, were to be restored, and their situation as much as possible rendered permanent; though nothing was said about their hereditary rights, or a tax incapable of augmentation. The debts of the Nabob of Arcot, and his disputes with the Rajah of Tanjore, were to be taken into consideration, and a plan of adjustment was to be devised, by the directors.
Such are the words of the preamble of the act 21 Geo. III. c. 65.
See Parliamentary History, xxii. 111.
The purport of these three propositions he expressed more explicitly on the 25th of May. “He had an idea which he had once thrown out, of giving the Governor-General greater powers than were at present vested in him; authorizing him in some cases to act independently of his Council, only stating to them, after he had so acted, the reasons upon which he justified his conduct, and sending home those reasons, together with such as the Council should at the time have delivered, in case they differed in opinion from the Governor-General…. Another matter he designed to introduce was this: At present the Company were obliged to send copies of all their dispatches from India, but not of any of the orders and instructions which they sent out: He meant, therefore, to insert in the bill a clause, obliging them to show to the Lords of the Treasury, or the Secretaries of State, all their instructions to their servants that related to their political and military conduct; and to add farther, that if his Majesty thought proper to signify, through his Secretaries of State, to the Directors, any order relative to the particular conduct of the Company’s servants, in regard to the prosecution and management of war in India, or to the political direction of affairs, or to any treaties with the powers in India, that the Directors should be obliged to obey such order, and to send it out to India immediately…. He thought it would be a desirable thing to establish a Court of Judicature in this kingdom, to hear and determine, in a summary way, all charges of peculation and oppression in India.” Ib. p. 326.
21 Geo. III. cap. 65.
On the 2d of May, 1783, “The Lord Advocate complained of the very thin attendance that he had hitherto found, whenever the bill of pains and penalties against Sir Thomas Rumbold became the subject of discussion. He wished to know whether it was seriously intended to pursue the business to the end or not? If it was the intention of the House to drop it, he wished to be made acquainted with that circumstance, and then he would not move for another hearing on the subject; for it was a mockery to go into the evidence on the bill, when there could not be kept together a sufficient number of members to make a house.—Mr. Fox declared, that, to drop the bill would be productive of the most fatal consequences; for it would convince the world, that the most atrocious misconduct in India would meet with impunity in parliament. And, therefore, he requested gentlemen would for the credit, honour, and interest of the country, attend to the evidence for and against the bill. If the bill should be lost for want of attendance, it would not clear the character of Sir T. Rumbold. On the other hand, it would hold out this idea to the people of India, that it was in vain for them to expect redress of their grievances in England.—Mr. W. Pitt thought, that some mode might be devised to enforce attendance, as in the case of ballots for election committees.” Parhamentary History, xxiii. 805.
See the acts of 23 Geo. III. cap. 36 and 89; and Cobbett’s Parl. Hist. xxiii. 571.
See the acts of 23 Geo. III. cap. 36 and 39; and Cobbett’s Parl. Hist. xxiii. 759.
To prevent misconception, it is necessary to preclude the inference that I concur in the opinion, which I give in the text, as one among the causes of a particular effect. In the private character of Mr. Fox, there was enough, surely, of the finest qualities, to cast his infirmities into the shade. And though, absolutely speaking, I have no great admiration to bestow upon him, either as a speculative, or practical, statesman; yet when I compare him with the other men, who had figured in public life in his country, I can find none whom I think his superior, none, perhaps, his equal.
Debate on Mr. Fox’s motion for leave to bring in his East India bills; Cobbett’s Parl. Hist. xxiii. 1210.
Debate on the state of the nation; Cobbett’s Parl. Hist. xxiv. 271.
Debate on Mr. Fox’s motion, ut supra, Cobbett’s Parl. Hist. xxiii. 1229.
“With respect to the abuse of patronage,” said Mr. Windham, in his famous speech (May 26, 1809) on Mr. Curwen’s Reform Bill, one of those by which the interests of countries will in reality most suffer, I perfectly agree, that it is likewise one, of which the government, properly so called, that is to say, persons in the highest offices, are as likely to be guilty, and from their opportunities more likely to be guilty than any others. Nothing can exceed the greediness, the selfishness, the insatiable voracity, the profligate disregard of all claims from merit or services, that we often see in persons in high official stations.” Parliamentary Debates, xiv. 758; for publication in which the speech was written and prepared by the author.
For some carious information on this subject, see a debate which took place in the House of Commons; on the 16th of February, 1785, on the positive fact, that a ministerial list of members to be balloted for, on the very first choice for this new tribunal, was handed to members, by the door-keeper, at the door of the House. Cobbett’s Parl. Hist. xxv. 1054–1060. After some experience, viz. on the 19th March, 1787, Mr. Burke said, “that the new judicature was infinitely the worst sort of jury that could be instituted, because it had one of the greatest objections belonging to it that could belong to any panel. The members of it were nominated by the minister, and it was known soon after the commencement of every session who they were.” Cobbett’s Parl. Hist. xxvi. 748. Mr. Pitt said, “if the Right Hon. Gent. meant generally to insinuate, that, in every act of the House, the influence of the minister was prevalent, he should not attempt to enter into the question, nor did he think such an insinuation decent or respectful to parliament.” This, if not an admission, was not far from it. The only other circumstance with which he attempted to contradict the assertion was this, that each gentleman gave in a list. True; but what list? The minister’s list, or another?
Mr. Burke said, “The new bill (Mr. Pitt’s) vested in the Crown an influence paramount to any that had been created by the first bill (Mr. Fox’s). It put the whole East India Company into the hands of the Crown: And the influence arising from the patronage would be the more dangerous, as those who were to have the distribution of the whole, in reality, though perhaps not in name, would be removeable at the will and pleasure of the Crown.” Cobbett’s Parl. Hist. xxiv. 354. Mr. Fox said, “By whom is this Board of Superintendance to be appointed? Is it not by his Majesty? Is it not to be under his control? In how dreadful a point of view, then, must the very supposition of an agreement between this Board and the Court of Directors strike every one who attends to it Must not the existence of such a union extend the influence of the prerogative, by adding to it the patronage of the Company? Is it not giving power to the Sovereign for the ends of influence, and for the extension of that system of corruption which had been so justly reprobated?” Ibid. 395. Mr. Fox again said, “The last parliament, to their immortal honour, voted the influence of the Crown inconsistent with public liberty. The Right Hon. Gent. in consequence of that vote, finds it probably unequal to the great objects of his administration. He is therefore willing to take the present opportunity of making his court—where he knows such a doctrine as the above will never be acceptable—and the plain language of the whole matter now is—that the patronage of India must be appended to the executive power of this country, which otherwise will not be able to carry on schemes hostile to the constitution in opposition to the House of Commons.” Ibid. 337.—To these authorities may be added that of the Court of Directors. In the “Reply to the arguments against the Company’s claim,” &c. dated East India House, 19th January, 1805, it is affirmed, “The control and direction of Indian affairs is not with the Company: unless, indeed, it be argued, that the small share of patronage left to them constitutes power and influence: All the great wheels of the machine are moved by government at home, who direct and control the Company in all their principal operations in India.” See State Papers in Asiat. Ann. Reg. for 1805, p. 201.