« PreviousContinue »
Prince Regent' propose to effect a change in the East Indian system, “rendered necessary,” they say, “by the decision of the East India Company,” that shall be « compatible with the interests and security of the British Constitution !"
But Parliament, it cannot be doubted, when this great question comes before them, will take an enlarged and unbiassed view of all the grand national interests involved in the controversy. They will not, to gratify the blind or criminal ambition of any set of Ministers, suffer the East India Company to be despoiled of their property, the Crown of its revenue, the people of a necessary of life, and the nation of its freedom.
69, Hatton Garden,
• It is somewhat remarkable, that Lord Buckinghamshire, although he generally designates himself and his colleagues, “ His Majesty's government," whenever he means to bear peculiarly hard upon the East India Company, calls them “the Ministers of His Royal Highness the Prince Regent." Vide his Letter of the 4th Jan. 1813, published in the Papers respecting the Negociation for the renewal of the East India Company's exclusive Privileges, p. 182
From the establishment of the East India Company, as territorial sovereigns in Asia, it has been the usual practice, previous to the introduction of a Bill into Parliament, for the further extension of the term of their exclusive privileges, that the conditions upon which their Charter was to be renewed, and the principles upon which the Indian empire was to be governed, should be made the subject of arrangement between the Ministers of the Crown, on the part of the Public, and the Court of Directors, on the part of the East India Company. And these arrangements have generally undergone but few, or unimportant modifications, in receiving the sanction of the Legislature.
By the great extension of territory, and increase of trade, which have been progressively effected, under the judicious management of the Company, these negociations have, at each successive renewal, acquired additional importance. Since the Bill of 1793, the population, the territory, and the commerce, under their jurisdiction, have been more than doubled : and the civil and military establishments of their vast dominions, as well as the ties between them and the mother country, have been augmented in the same VOL. I.
ratio. When to these is added the immense trade carried on by the Company with the empire of China, they form altogether the grandest and most stupendous, and it may truly be said, the most singular, political, and commercial edifice the world ever saw. In its now splendid state, it is not only the brightest jewel in the British Crown, but the fairest portion of the British empire. How, then, are we to characterize a measure, which must obviously destroy the unity of the approved system, by which our Asiátíc possessions and commerce have, in that period, risen to such prosperity and splendor ? By impartial men, and men of experience, it will be viewed as an unjustifiable experiment on the integrity and safety of the British empire;-an experiment made too at a season of peculiar political peril; and risked (if the avowed be the real motive) in mere compliment to unfounded clamors, which do not even arise from the effervescence of popular discontent, but have been excited, with much art and industry, by the unenlightened selfishness of some commercial and manufacturing bodies.
Under these circumstances, it may be considered most fortunate, for the nation, for the East India Company, and more especially for those who were most active in petitioning Parliament for an unrestrained intercourse with India, that the renewal of the Company's Charter did not come under discussion last year ; but that a measure so highly important to the best interests of the State has been delayed, until the delusive expectations, which had been excited, and the erroneous conclusions which had been formed, should have time to subside, or be rectified by a perusal of the very able official correspondence, which has taken place between the Court of Directors and his Majesty's Ministers on the subject.
At the various periods of the renewal of the term of the Company's exclusive privileges, and before the system of East Indian government had attained its present almost perfect form, nany speculative notions were afloat, respecting the sort of constitution which would best suit our Indian territories, consistently with the spirit and preservation of our own. Various plans were of course projected. Some were for depriving the Company of the territories, and leaving them in exclusive possession of the trade; others for depriving them of the trade, and leaving them in pos session of the territories. It does not, however, appear, that, since the establishment of the present Indian system (by the Bills of 1784 and 1793,) either of those ideas have been entertained by any of our most celebrated practical statesmen. Of late years especially, the territorial government of India, and the trade between India and Europe have been regarded as, under that system, inseparably united; constituting a fabric of unprecedented grandeur, extent, and solidity, which it would be rash, presumptuous, and dangerous, in the idle view of speculative or uncertain advantages, to disturb. Even Mr. Fox, although on former occasions a avowed enemy of the East India Company, declared himself, in the House of Commons, to be of this opinion, when last in office.
It could not, therefore, but have been with surprise, astonishment, and regret, that the East India Company learnt, in the month of April last, that his Majesty's present Ministers had then recently adopted views upon this subject, very different not only from any which bad been entertained by their predecessors, but even from any which they had themselves, in the course of their discussions with the Company, respecting the renewal of the Charter, hitherto avowed.
It is the more essential that these new propositions of the Ministers should be examined, in every possible point of view, before the decision of the Legislature upon them is called for, since, by that decision, it is very evident, will be ultimately determined the fate not only of the East India Company, and their private rivals, but of India and of Britain.
The pending question between his Majesty's Ministers and the East India Company, it appears to me, may be thus succinctly stated. The President of the Board of Controul, speaking in the name of all the Ministers, informs the Court of Directors, that the government of the territorial dominions, and the monopoly of the China trade, shall remain with the Company, as at present; but that they must renounce their exclusive right to the trade between India and Europe. Against this project, the Court of Directors remonstrate; and say, “ To what purpose leave us the government of our Asiatic territories, and the trade to China, if you, at the same time, deprive us of the bulwark (the exclusive privilege of employing ships to India), by which alone they