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TRIAL.--FIFTH DAY, 17th FEBRUARY 1788.
(MR. BURKE.) MY LORDS,— The gentlemen who are appointed by the Commons to manage this prosecution, have directed me to inform your, lordships, that they have very carefully and attentively weighed the magnitude of the subject, which they bring before you, with the time, which the nature and circumstances of affairs allows for their conducting it.
My lords, on that comparison they are very apprehensive, that, if I should go very largely into a preliminary explanation of the several matters in charge, it might be to the prejudice of an early trial of the substantial merits of each article. We have weighed and considered this maturely. We have compared exactly the time with the matter, and we have found, that we are obliged to do, as all men must do, who would manage their affairs practicably, to make our opinion, of what might be most advantageous to the business, conform to the time that is left to perform it in. as all men must, submit affairs to time, and not think of making time conform to our wishes : and therefore, my lords, I very willingly fall in with the inclinations of the gentlemen, with whom I have the honour to act, to come as soon as possible to close fighting, and to grapple immediately and directly with the corruptions of India ; to bring before your lordships the direct articles ; to apply the evidence to the articles, and to bring the matter forward for your lordships' decision in that manner, which the confidence we have in the justice of our cause demands from the Commons of Great Britain.
My lords, these are the opinions of those, with whom I have the honour to act, and in their opinions I readily acquiesce. For I am far from wishing to waste any of your lordships' time upon any matter merely through any opinion I have of the nature of the business, when at the same time I find, that in the opinion of others it might militate against the production of its full, proper, and (if I may so say) its immediate effect.
It was my design to class the crimes of the late governour of Bengal—to show their mutual bearings—how they were mutually aided and grew and were formed out of each other. I proposed first of all to show your lordships, that they have their root in that, which is the origin of all evil, avarice and rapacity—to show how that led to prodigality of the publick money-and bow prodigality of the publick money by wasting the treasures of the East-India Company furnished an excuse to the governour-general to break its faith, to violate all its most solemn engagements, and to fall with a hand of stern, ferocious, and unrelenting rapacity upon all the allies and dependencies of the company. But I shall be obliged in some measure to abridge this plan ; and as your lordships already possess, from what I had the honour to state on Saturday, a general view of this matter, you will be in a condition to pursue it when the several articles are presented.
My lords, I have to state to-day the root of all these misdemeanours—namely, the pecuniary corruption and avarice, which gave rise and primary motion to all the rest of the delinquencies, charged to be committed by the governourgeneral.
My lords, pecuniary corruption forms not only, as your lordships will observe in the charges before you, an article of charge by itself, but likewise so intermixes with the whole, that it is necessary to give, in the best manner I am able, a history of that corrupt system, which brought on all the subsequent acts of corruption. I will venture to say, there is no one act, in which tyranny, malice, cruelty, and oppression can be charged, that does not at the same time carry evident marks of pecuniary corruption.
I stated to your lordships on Saturday last the principles, upon which Mr. Hastings governed his conduct in India, and upon which he grounds his defence. These may all be reduced to one short word, arbitrary power. My lords, if Mr. Hastings had contended, as other men have often done, that the system of government, which he patronizes, and on which he acted, was a system tending on the whole to the blessing and benefit of mankind, possibly something might be said for
him for setting up so wild, absurd, irrational, and wicked a system. Something might be said to qualify the act from the intention ; but it is singular in this man, that, at the time he tells you he acted on the principles of arbitrary power, he takes care to inform you, that he was not blind to the consequences. Mr. Hastings foresaw, that the consequence of this system was corruption. An arbitrary system indeed must always be a corrupt one. My lords, there never was a man, who thought he had no law but his own will, who did not soon find, that he had no end but his own profit. Corruption and arbitrary power are of natural unequivocal gea neration, necessarily producing one another. Mr. Hastings foresees the abusive and corrupt consequences, and then he justifies his conduct upon the necessities of that system. These are things which are new in the world ; for there never was a man, I believe, who contended for arbitrary power (and there have been persons wicked and foolish enough to contend for it) that did not pretend, either that the system was good in itself, or that by their conduct they tad mitigated or had purified it; and that the poison by passing through their constitution had acquired salutary properties. But if you look at his defence before the House of Commons, you will see, that that very system, upon which he governed, and under which he now justifies his actions, did appear to himself a system pregnant with a thousand evils and a thousand mischiess.
The next thing, that is remarkable and singular in the principles, upon which the governour-general acted, is, that when he is engaged in a vitious system, which clearly leads to evil consequences, he thinks himself bound to realize all the evil consequences involved in that system. All other men have taken a directly contrary course; they have said, I have been engaged in an evil system, that led indeed to mischievous consequences, but I have taken care by my own virtues to prevent the evils of the system, under which I acted.
We say then, not only that he governed arbitrarily, but corruptly, that is to say, that he was a giver and receiver of bribes, and formed a system for the purpose of giving and
receiving them. We wish your lordships distinctly to consider, that he did not only give and receive bribes accidentally, as it happened without any system and design, merely as the opportunity or momentary temptation of profit urged him to it, but that he has formed plans and systems of government for the very purpose of accumulating bribes and presents to himself. This system of Mr. Hastings's government is such a one, I believe, as the British nation in particular will disown; for I will venture to say, that, if there is any one thing, which distinguishes this nation eminently above another, it is, that in its offices at home, both judicial and in the state, there is less suspicion of pecuniary corruption attaching to them, than to any similar offices in any part of the globe, or that have existed at any time ; so that he, who would set up a system of corruption, and attempt to justify it upon the principle of utility, that man is staining not only the nature and character of office, but that, which is the peculiar glory of the official and judicial character of this country ; and therefore in this house, which is eminently the guardian of the purity of all the offices of this kice, dom, he ought to be called eminently and peculiarly to account. There are many things undoubtedly in crimes, which make them frightful and odious; but bribery, filthy hands, a chief governour of a great empire receiving bribes from poor miserable indigent people, this is what makes government itself base, contemptible and odious in the eyes of mankind.
My lords, it is certain, that even tyranny itself may find some specious colour, and appear as more severe and rigid execution of justice. Religious persecution may shield itself under the guise of a mistaken and over-zealous piety. Conquest may cover its baldness with its own laurels, and the ambition of the conquerour may be hid in the secrets of his own heart under a veil of benevolence, and make him imagine he is bringing temporary desolation upon a country, only to promote its ultimate advantage and his own glory. But in the principles of that governour, who makes nothing but money his object, there can be nothing of this.
There are here none of those specious delusions, that look like
virtues, to veil either the governed or the governour. If you look at Mr. Hastings's merits, as he calls them, what are they? did he improve the internal state of the government by great reforms? No such thing : or by a wise and incorrupt administration of justice ? No.-Has he enlarged the boundary of our government ? No; there are but too strong proofs of his lessening it. But his pretensions to merit are, that he squeezed more money out of the inhabitants of the country than other persons could bave done, money got by oppression, violence, extortion from the poor, or the heavy hand of power upon the rich and great.
These are his merits. What we charge as his demerits are all of the same nature ; for though there is undoubtedly oppression, breach of faith, cruelty, perfidy, charged upon him, yet the great ruling principle of the whole, and that, from which you can never have an act free, is money--it is the vice of base avarice, which never is, nor ever appears even to the prejudices of mankind to be, any thing like a virtue. Our desire of acquiring sovereignty in India undoubtedly originated first in ideas of safety and necessity ; its next step was a step of ambition. That ambition, as generally happens in conquest, was followed by gains of money; but afterwards there was no mixture at all ; it was, during Mr. Hastings's time, altogether a business of money. If he has extirpated a nation, I will not say whether properly or improperly, it is because (says he) you have all the benefit of conquest without expense, you have got a large sum of money from the people, and you may leave them to he governed by whom, and as they will. This is directly contrary to the principles of conquerours. If he has at any time taken any money from the dependencies of the company, he does not pretend, that it was obtained from their zeal and affection to our cause, or that it made their submission more complete ; very far from it. He says, they ought to be independent, and all, that you have to do, is to squeeze money from them. In short, money is the beginning, the middle, and the end of every kind of act done by Mr. Hastings—pretendedly for the company, but really for himself.