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real dependence of the nominal native powers to extort money from them under the pretence of their sovereignty. Such presents, so far from being voluntary, were in reality obtained from their weakness, their hopeless and unprotected condition; and you are to decide whether or not this custom, which is insisted upon by the prisoner's counsel, with great triumph, to be a thing which he could not evade, without breaking through all the usages of the country, and violating principles established by the most clear law of India, is to be admitted as his justification.
It was on this very account, namely, the extortion suffered by these people, under the name or pretence of presents, that the Company first bound their servants by a covenant, which your Lordships shall now hear read.
“ That they shall not take any grant of lands, or rents or revenues issuing out of lands, or any territorial possession, jurisdiction, dominion, power, or authority whatsoever, from any of the Indian princes, sovereigns, subahs, or nabobs, or any of their ministers, servants, or agents, for any service or services, or upon any account or pretence whatsoever, without the license or consent of the Court of Directors."
This clause in the covenant had doubtless a regard to Lord Clive, and to Sir Hector Munro, and to some others, who had received gifts, and grants of jaghires, and other territorial revenues, that were confirmed by the Company. But though this confirmation might be justifiable at a time when we had no real sovereignty in the country, yet the Company very wisely provided afterwards, that under no pretence whatever should their servants have the means of extorting from the sovereigns or pretended sovereigns of the country any of their lands or possessions. Afterwards it appeared that there existed abuses of a similar nature, and particularly (as was proved before us in the year 1773, and reported to our House, upon the evidence of Mahomed Reza Khân) the practice of frequently visiting the princes, and of extorting, under pretence of such visits, great sums of money. All their servants, and the Governor-General particularly, were therefore obliged to enter into the following covenant:
“ That they shall not, directly or indirectly, accept, take, or receive, or agree to accept, take, or receive, any gift, reward, gratuity, allowance, donation, or compensation, in money, effects, jewels, or otherwise howsoever, from any of the Indian princes, sovereigns, subahs, or nabobs, or any of their ministers, servants, or agents, exceeding the value of four thousand rupees, for any service or services performed or to be performed by them in India, or upon any other account or pretence whatsoever.”
By this covenant, my Lords, Mr. Hastings is forbidden to accept, upon any pretence and under any name whatsoever, any sum above four thousand rupees,
that is to say, any sum above four hundred pounds. Now the sum that was here received is eighteen thousand pounds sterling, by way of a present, under the name of an allowance for an entertainment, which is the precise thing which his covenant was made to prevent. The covenant suffered him to receive four hundred pounds: if he received more than that money, he became a criminal, he had broken his covenant, and forfeited the obligation he had
made with his masters. Think with yourselves, my Lords, what you will do, if you acquit the prisoner of this charge. You will avow the validity, you will sanction the principle of his defence: for, as the fact is avowed, there is an end of that.
Good God! my Lords, where are we? If they conceal their gifts and presents, they are safe by their concealment; if they avow them, they are still safer. They plead the customs of the country, or rather, the customs which we have introduced into the country, - customs which have been declared to have their foundation in a system of the most abominable corruption, the most flagitious extortion, the most dreadful oppression, — those very customs which their covenant is made to abolish. Think where your Lordships
You have before you a covenant declaring that he should take under no name whatever (I do not know how words could be selected in the English language more expressive) any sum more than four hundred pounds. He says, “I have taken eighteen thousand pounds.” He makes his counsel declare, and he desires your Lordships to confirm their declaration, that he is not only justifiable in so doing, but that he ought to do so, that he ought to break his covenant, and act in direct contradiction to it. He does not even pretend to say that this money was intended, either inwardly or outwardly, avowedly or covertly, for the Company's service. He put absolutely into his own pocket eighteen thousand pounds, besides his salary.
Consider, my Lords, the consequences of this species of iniquity. If any servant of the Company, high in station, chooses to make a visit from Calcutta to Moorshedabad, which Moorshedabad was then the
residence of our principal revenue government, — if he should choose to take an airing for his health, if he has a fancy to make a little voyage for pleasure as far as Moorshedabad, in one of those handsome barges or budgeros of which you have heard so much in his charge against Nundcomar, he can put twenty thousand pounds into his pocket any day he pleases, in defiance of all our acts of Parliament, covenants, and regulations.
Do you make your laws, do you make your covenants, for the very purpose of their being evaded ? Is this the purpose for which a British tribunal sits here, to furnish a subject for an epigram, or a tale for the laughter of the world ?
Believe me, my Lords, the world is not to be thus trifled with. But, my Lords, you will never trifle with your duty. You have a gross, horrid piece of corruption before you, – impudently confessed, and more impudently defended. But you will not suffer Mr. Hastings to say, “I have only to go to Moorshedabad, or to order the Nabob to meet me half way, and I can set aside and laugh at all your covenants and acts of Parliament." Is this all the force and power of the covenant by which you would prevent the servants of the Company from committing acts of fraud and oppression, that they have nothing to do but to amuse themselves with a tour of pleasure to Moorshedabad in order to put any sum of money in their pocket that they please?
But they justify themselves by saying, such things have been practised before.
No doubt they have; and these covenants were made that they should not be practised any more. But your Lordships are desired to say, that the very custom which the cove
nant is made to destroy, the very grievance itself, may be pleaded; the abuse shall be admitted to destroy the law made to prevent it. It is impossible, I venture to say, that your Lordships should act thus. The conduct of the criminal is not half so abhorrent as the justification is affronting to justice, whilst it tends to vilify and degrade the dignity of the Peerage and the character of the Commons of Great Britain, before the former and against the latter of which such a justification is produced in the face of the world.
At the same time that we call for your justice upon this man, we beseech you to remember the severest justice upon him is the tenderest pity towards the innocent victims of his crimes. Consider what was at that time the state of the people from whom, in direct defiance of his covenant, he took this sum of money. Were they at this time richer, were they more opulent, was the state of the country more flourishing than when Mr. Sumner, when Mr. Vansittart, in short, than when the long line of Mr. Hastings's predecessors visited that country? No, they were not. Mr. Hastings at this very time had reduced the Nabob's income from 450,0001. [400,0001.?] sterling a year, exclusive of other considerable domains and revenues, to 160,0001. He was, indeed, an object of compassion. His revenues had not only been reduced during his state of minority, but they were reduced when he afterwards continued in a state in which he could do no one valid act; and yet, in this state, he was made competent to give away, under the name of compensation for entertainments, the sum of 18,0001., — perhaps at that time nearly all he had in the world.
Look at your minutes, and you will find Mr. Hast