« PreviousContinue »
and the fate of many nations are involved, that, from the first commencement of our parliamentary process to this the hour of solemn trial, not the smallest difference of opinion has arisen between the two houses.
My lords, there are persons, who, looking rather upon what was to be found in our records and histories, than what was to be expected from the publick justice, had formed hopes consolatory to themselves and dishonourable to us. They flattered themselves, that the corruptions of India would escape amidst the dissensions of parliament. They are disappointed. They will be disappointed in all the rest of their expectations, which they have formed upon every thing, except the merits of their cause. The Commons will not have the melancholy unsocial glory of having acted a solitary part in a noble, but imperfect, work. What the greatest inquest of the nation has begun, its highest tribunal will accomplish. At length justice will be done to India. It is true, that your lordships will have your full share in this great achievement; but the Commons have always considered, that whatever honour is divided with you is doubled on themselves.
My lords, I must confess, that amidst these encouraging prospects the Commons do not approach your bar without awe and anxiety. The magnitude of the interests, which we have in charge, will reconcile some degree of solicitude for the event with the undoubting confidence, with which we repose ourselves upon your lordships' justice. For we are men, my lords; and men are so made, that it is not only the greatness of danger, but the value of the adventure, which measures the degree of our concern in every undertaking. I solemnly assure your lordships, that no standard is sufficient to estimate the value, which the Commons set upon the event of the cause they now bring before you. My lords, the business of this day is not the business of this man—it is not solely, whether the prisoner at the bar be found innocent, or guilty; but whether millions of mankind shall be made miserable, or happy.
Your lordships will see in the progress of this cause, that there is not only a long connected, systematick series of mis
demeanours, but an equally connected system of maxims and principles, invented to justify them. Upon both of these you must judge. According to the judgment, that you shall give upon the past transactions in India, inseparably connected as they are with the principles, which support them, the whole character of your future government in that distant empire is to be unalterably decided. It will take its perpetual tenour, it will receive its final impression, from the stamp of this very hour. .
It is not only the interest of India, now the most considerable part of the British empire, which is concerned, but the credit and honour of the British nation itself will be decided by this decision. We are to decide by this judgment, whether the crimes of individuals are to be turned into publick guilt and national ignominy; or whether this nation will convert the very offences, which have thrown a transient shade upon its government, into something, that will reflect a permanent lustre upon the honour, justice, and humanity of this kingdom.
My lords, there is another consideration, which augments the solicitude of the Commons, equal to those other two great interests I have stated, those of our empire and our 'national character; something, that, if possible, comes more home to the hearts and feelings of every Englishman : I mean; the interests of our constitution itself, which is deeply involved in the event of this cause. The future use, and the whole effect, if not the very existence, of the process of an impeachment of high crimes and misdemeanours before the peers of this kingdom, upon the charge of the Commons, will very much be decided by your judgment in this cause. This tribunal will be found (I hope it will always be found) too great for petty causes : if it should at the same time be found incompetent to one of the greatest; that is, if little offences, from their minuteness, escape you, and the greatest, from their magnitude, oppress you ; it is impossible, that this form of trial should not, in the end, vanish out of the constitution. For we must not deceiver 'selves : whatever does not stand with credit cannot stanri
And if the constitution should be deprived, I do mean in form, but virtually, of this resource, it is virtua deprived of every thing
else, that is valuable in it. For this process is the cement, which binds the whole together; this is the individuating principle, that makes England what England is. In this court it is, that no subject, in no part of the empire, can fail of competent and proportionable justice: here it is, that we provide for that, which is the substantial excellence of our constitution ; I mean, the great circulation of responsibility, by which (excepting the supreme power) no man, in no circumstance, can escape the account, which he owes to the laws of his country. It is by this process, that magistracy, which tries and controuls all other things, is itself tried and controulled. Other constitutions are satisfied with making good subjects; this is a security for good governours. It is by this tribunal, that statesmen, who abuse their power, are accused by statesmen, and tried by statesmen, not upon
the niceties of a narrow jurisprudence, but upon the enlarged and solid principles of state morality. It is here, that those, who by the abuse of power have violated the spirit of law, can never hope for protection from any of its forms:-it is here, that those, who have refused to conform themselves to its perfections, can never hope to escape through any of its defects. It ought, therefore, my lords, to become our common care to guard this your precious deposit, rare in its use, but powerful in its effect, with a religious vigilance, and neVer to suffer it to be either discredited or antiquated. For this great end your lordships are invested with great and plenary powers : but you do not suspend, you do not supersede, you do not annihilate any subordinate jurisdiction ; on the contrary, you are auxiliary and supplemental to them all.
Whether it is owing to the felicity of our times, less fertile in great offences, than those, which have gone before us; or whether it is from a sluggish apathy, which has dulled and enervated the publick justice, I am not called upon to determine : but, whatever may be the cause, it is now sixtythree years since any impeachment, grounded upon abuse of authority and misdemeanour in office, has come before this tribunal. The last is that of Lord Macclesfield, which bappened in the year 1725. So that the oldest process known to the constitution of this country has, upon its revival, some
appearance of novelty. At this time, when all Europe is in a state of, perhaps, contagious fermentation ; when antiquity has lost all its reverence and all its effect on the minds of men, at the same time that novelty is still attended with the suspicions, that always will be attached to whatever is new; we have been anxiously careful in a business, which seems to combine the objections both to what is antiquated and what is novel, so to conduct ourselves, that nothing in the revival of this great parliamentary process shall afford a pretext for its future disuse.
My lords, strongly impressed as they are with these sentiments, the Commons have conducted themselves with singular care and caution. Without losing the spirit and zeal of a publick prosecution, they have comported themselves with such moderation, temper, and decorum, as would not have ill become the final judgment, if with them rested the final judgment, of this great cause.
With very few intermissions, the affairs of India have constantly engaged the attention of the Commons for more than fourteen years. We may safely affirm, we have tried every mode of legislative provision, before we had recourse to any thing of penal process. It was in the year 1774 we framed an act of parliament for remedy to the then existing disorders in India, such as the then information before us enabled us to enact. Finding, that the act of parliament did not answer all the ends that were expected from it, we had, in the year 1782, recourse to a body of monitory resolutions. Neither had we the expected fruit from them. When, therefore, we found, that our inquiries and our reports, our laws and our admonitions, were alike despised; that enormities increased in proportion as they were forbidden, detected, and exposed ; when we found, that guilt stalked with an erect and upright front, and that legal authority seemed to skulk and hide its head like outlawed guilt; when we found, that some of those very persons, who were appointed by parliament to assert the authority of the laws of this kingdom, were the most forward, the most bold, and the most active, in the conspiracy for their destruction ; then it was time for the justice of the nation to recollect itself. To
have forborne longer would not have been patience, but collusion ; it would have been participation with guilt; it would have been to make ourselves accomplices with the criminal.
We found it was impossible to evade painful duty, without betraying a sacred trust. Having, therefore, resolved upon the last and only resource, a penal prosecution, it was our next business to act in a manner worthy of our long deliberation. In all points we proceeded with selection. We have chosen (we trust, it will so appear to your lordships) such a crime, and such a criminal, and such a body of evidence, and such a mode of process, as would have recommended this course of justice to posterity, even if it had not been supported by any example in the practice of our forefathers.
First, to speak of the process : we are to inform your lordships, that, besides that long previous deliberation of fourteen years, we examined, as a preliminary to this proceeding, every circumstance, which could prove favourable to parties apparently delinquent, before we finally resolved to prosecute. There was no precedent to be found, in the journals, favourable to persons in Mr. Hastings's circumstances, that was not applied to. Many measures utterly unknown to former parliamentary proceedings, and which, indeed, seemed in some degree to enfeeble them, but which were all to the advantage of those, that were to be prosecuted, were adopted, for the first time, upon this occasion. In an early stage of the proceeding, the criminal desired to be heard. He was heard ; and he produced before the bar of the House that insolent and unbecoming paper, which lies upon our table.
It was deliberately given in by his own hand, and signed with his own name. The Commons, however, passed by every thing offensive in that paper with a magnanimity, that became them. They considered nothing in it, but the facts, that the defendant alleged, and the principles be maintained ; and after a deliberation, not short of judicial, we proceeded with confidence to your bar.
So far as to the process ; which, though I inentioned last in the line and order, in which I stated the objects of our selection, I thought it best to dispatch first.