« PreviousContinue »
Your Lordships will recollect that we closed the last day of your proceeding in this trial at a most interesting part of our charge, or rather of our observations upon that charge. We closed at that awful moment when we found the first women of Oude pillaged of all their landed and of all their moneyed property, in short, of all they possessed. We closed by reciting to you the false pretence on which this pillage was defended, namely, that it was the work of the Nabob. Now we had before proved to you, from evidence adduced by the prisoner himself, that this Nabob was a mere tool in his hands; and therefore, if this pretence be true, it aggravates his guilt: for surely the forcing a son to violate the property of his mother must everywhere be considered a crime most portentous and enormous. At this point we closed; and after the detail which has been given you already of these horrible and iniquitous proceedings, some apology may perhaps be necessary for entering again into the refutation of this iniquitous pretence.
My honorable fellow Manager who preceded me in this business did, in his remarks upon the inference drawn by the prisoner's counsel from the seiz
ure of the Begums' treasures by the Nabob, as evidence of their guilt, as he ought to do, - he treated it with proper contempt. I consider it, indeed, to be as little an evidence of their guilt as he does, and as little a defence of that seizure as he does. But I consider it in another and in a new light, namely, as a heavy aggravation of the prisoner's crimes, and as a matter that will let you into the whole spirit of his government; and I warn your Lordships against being imposed on by evasions, of which if it were possible for you to be the dupes, you would be unfit to be judges of the smallest matters in the world, civil or criminal.
The first observation which I shall beg leave to make to your Lordships is this, that the whole of the proceedings, from beginning to end, has been a mystery of iniquity, and that in no part of them have the orders of the Company been regarded, but, on the contrary, the whole has been carried on in a secret and clandestine manner.
It is necessary that your Lordships should be acquainted with the manner in which the correspondence of the Company's servants ought to be carried on and their proceedings regulated ; your Lordships, therefore, will please to hear read the orders given concerning correspondence of every kind with the country powers.
You will remember the period when these orders were issued, namely, the period at which the act passed for the better direction of the servants of the Company. By this act Mr. Hastings was appointed to be Governor-General, and the Court of Directors was required by that act to prepare orders and instructions, which Mr. Hastings was required by the same act to comply with. You
will see what these instructions and orders
and in what manner he has complied with them.
Extract of General Instructions to the Governor-Gen
eral and Council, 29th of March, 1774. “We direct that you assemble in Council twice every week, and that all the members be duly summoned ; that the correspondence with the princes or country powers in India be carried on by the Governor-General only, but that all letters sent by him be first approved in Council, and that he lay before the Council, at their next meeting, all letters received by him in the course of such correspondence, for their information. We likewise direct that a copy of such parts of the country correspondence be communicated to our Board of Trade (to be constituted as hereinafter mentioned) as may any ways relate to the business of their department.”
You will observe, my Lords, two important circumstances in these instructions: first, that, after the board had regularly met, the Persian correspondence, kept by the Governor only, was to be communicated to the Council; and, secondly, that he should write no answer to any part of the business until he had previously consulted the Council upon it. Here is the law of the land, - an order given in pursuance of an act of Parliament. Your Lordships will consider how Mr. Hastings comported himself with regard to those orders: for we charge it as a substantive crime, independent of the criminal presumptions arising from it, that he violated an act of Parliament which imposed direct instructions upon him as to the manner in which he was to conduct all matters of business with the native powers.
My Lords, we contend strongly that all the positive rules and injunctions of the law, though they are merely positive, and do not contain anything but mere matters of regulation, shall be strictly observed. The reason is this, and a serious reason it is: official tyranny and oppression, corruption, peculation, and bribery are crimes so secret in their nature that we can hardly ever get to the proof of them without the assistance of rules, orders, and regulations of a positive nature, intended to prevent the perpetration of these crimes, and to detect the offender in case the crimes should be actually perpetrated. You ought, therefore, to presume, that, whenever such rules or laws are broken, these crimes are intended to be committed; for you have no means of security against the commission of secret crimes but by enforcing positive laws, the breach of which must be always plain, open, and direct. Such, for instance, is the spirit of the laws, that, although you cannot directly prove bribery or smuggling in a hundred cases where they have been committed, you can prove whether the proper documents, proper cockets, proper entries in regular offices have been observed and performed, or not. By these means you lock the door against bribery, you lock the door against corruption, against smuggling and contraband trade. But how? By falling upon and attacking the offence ? No, by falling upon and attacking the breach of the regulation. You prove that the man broke the regulation, and, as he could have no other motive or interest in breaking it, you presume that he broke it fraudulently, and you punish the man not for the crime the regu
lation was meant to prevent, but you punish him for the breach of the regulation itself.
Next to the breach of these positive instructions, your Lordships will attend to the consequent concealment and mystery by which it was accompanied. All government must, to preserve its authority, be sincere in its declarations and authentic in its acts. Whenever in any matter of policy there is a mystery, you must presume a fraud; whenever in any matter of money there is concealment, you must presume misconduct: you must therefore affix your punishment to the breach of the rule; otherwise the conviction of public delinquents would be unattainable.
I have therefore put before you that rule which he has violated; and we, the Commons, call upon your Lordships to enforce that rule, and to avenge the breach of it. You have seen the consequences of breaking the rule; and we have charged and do charge it as a heavy aggravation of those consequences, that, instead of consulting the Council, instead of laying the whole correspondence before them, instead of consulting them upon his answers, he went himself
up into the country, took his Majesty's chiefjustice along with him, and made that person the instrument of those wrongs, violences, robberies, and concealments which we call upon your Lordships to punish.
My Lords, an extraordinary circumstance occurred in the course of our proceedings in another place, which I must state, to show you in what a horrible manner your laws have been trampled upon and despised. None of the proceedings which have been last stated to your Lordships respecting the seizure of the treasures of the Begums appear upon any