« PreviousContinue »
and disobedience of orders, the latter of countenancing those servants, by suffering them to disobey and plunder with impunity the reports pointed out the necessity of removing and recalling those disobedient servants; the bill went to confirm them in their government: the reports stated, that the government of the Company at home was weak and impolitic; the new bill left the government in the same hands. It was impossible that all this should have been done, unless the minister in the House of Commons had been of opinion with a great law lord in another place*,* that these reports of the select committee and committee of secrecy were mere fables. For his part, he was ready to declare that if they were filled with falsehoods, they were bold and daring calumnies; and he himself was a bold ca-' lumniator of characters, that deserved the greatest praise. He wished to have an opportunity to determine this fact, whether the reports spoke truth, or were infamous libels on the characters of innocent men: those who thought them libels, would rejoice at proving it to the world; and therefore they would not refuse the trial they now called for. He was ready to maintain the truth of these reports; and if he failed in any one part, he would consent to be thought the greatest calumniator in the world. All he wanted was to have the truth or falsehood of the charges in the reports fully ascertained; those who would oppose the investigation, would justly be deemed desirous of avoiding a discussion, which, by proving that the reports were founded in undeniable facts, would demonstrate the futility of the present bill, which, so far from providing a cure for any evil, was calculated to confirm and make perpetual the calamities under which the unhappy natives of India actually groaned. The reports consisted not merely of charges unsupported by evidence; for every charge there was a voucher, taken from the Company's own records, which nothing could controvert.
He was not surprised that reports of the last parliament
* Lord Thurlow. See the note at p. 42. of the present volume.
should be disregarded by the present; but he was truly astonished, that the result of inquiries undertaken at the express desire of his majesty in his Speech from the throne two years ago, should be treated with so much disrespect by those who held in high veneration every thing that in any degree related to majesty. He was not less astonished to hear that a learned gentleman*, who had been president of the secret committee, had, with the utmost philosophic composure, heard his labours reviled; and those very reports which did the learned gentleman so much honour, treated as fables and unfounded charges. He was surprised to find, that the same learned gentleman, who had himself moved for the recal of Mr. Hastings, had since declared in full parliament, that this very man, whom he would have recalled as the cause of the calamities of India, had many virtues. The private virtues of a public man were not fit subjects for discussion: it was not of any consequence that Mr. Hastings was a good father, husband, son, or brother; but it was of great importance that he should be a good governor; and if he was a bad one, it was not the domestic virtue of a man that ought to shield from punishment the plundering and exterminating governor. was ready now to go into the proofs of all the charges contained in the reports against Mr. Hastings; all he looked for was an opportunity to maintain them in the face of the House and of the world; those who would shrink from the inquiry, would shew that they were afraid to touch upon a subject that would demonstrate the absurdity of a bill, which left in the hands of men, both in India and England, a power which they had hitherto most shamefully abused, to the disgrace of this country, the ruin of the Company, and the plundering of the unhappy natives of Hindostan. The learned gentleman would, perhaps, be afraid to find refuted his assertion, that Mr. Hastings had been wrong only in breaking the treaty of Poorundur. The
House would judge between him, who wanted nothing more than to have an opportunity to go into the proofs of every charge contained in the reports, and those who would shun and avoid inquiry.
Mr. Burke then made some remarks on that part of the new bill which relates to the establishmeut of the court of judicature for the trial of East India delinquents. He ob served, that there was an obscurity on the very face of it: first, the very idea of a judicature must be founded on the commission of crimes in India; and yet as the bill was prospective, and not retrospective, those persons who had been the delinquents were not to be brought to trial; nay, they were to be continued in the exercise of that power which they had hitherto used only to plunder and exterminate the people. By this bill, the ancient inquisitorial powers of the House of Commons were taken away, their right to order prosecutions annihilated, whilst, at the same time, they were to be vested with judicial powers unknown to the constitution of the House of Commons. They could no longer order the attorney-general to prosecute an East India delinquent they must now wait until the King's Bench should order the prosecution; and then they must become what the constitution never intended they should be, judges of the law and of the fact. He concluded by moving, "That the House on Monday next do resolve itself into a committee, to inquire into the facts contained in the Reports relative to the misgovernment of India."
Mr. Dundas said, that the honourable member not having been in the House when he had spoken of Mr. Hastings, had been grossly misinformed with respect to what he had said of that gentleman. He never said of him that he had many virtues; it was of little consequence to the public what were his private virtues: what he said of him was, that he was a mixed character, in which much good and much bad was to be found. He never said that he was wrong only in breaking the treaty of Poorundur; for he certainly was to blame for many other things: but the man who could not see the features of a great statesman in the negociations for the late peace, must shut
his eyes to truth and to conviction. As to the bill which the honourable member had so much blamed, he thought it would be productive of the most salutary consequences; and he was sure he did not innovate upon the constitution, in making the House of Commons exercise judicial powers; for it had always been in the practice of using such powers, and very recently in the case of Sir Thomas Rumbold. He concluded with moving the order of the day.
Mr. BURKE wished the learned gentleman joy of the "mixed character," under the favour of which he was endeavouring to make a retreat. For his part, he would not build a golden bridge to facilitate the escape; on the contrary, he would hiss at and revile an enemy who could think of making a retreat. He wished the learned gentlemen would be so obliging as to mention some of the actions of Mr. Hastings, in which he could discover good: and probably he would be able to attach guilt upon these very actions which the learned gentleman could extol as proofs of merit. Would he say the merits of Mr. Hastings consisted in the extermination of the Rohillas, where that humane governor spared neither man, woman, nor child; where the heads of the unfortunate men were torn from their bodies, while the famished women were crawling through the British camp, to implore the comfort of a little rice? And when the humanity of Colonel Chapman revolted at the horror of such spectacles, and would have relieved them, the generous, tender-hearted Mr. Hastings blamed him for his sensibility? Did the goodness of the governor-general consist in his treatment of Cheyt Sing, of the mother of that prince, or of the other princely matrons, the most illustrious of Asia? Did it consist in the destruction of the country of Benares, one of the loveliest spots in the universe; where, according to the testimony of the officer who commanded in chief, and who was ready to declare it at the bar of the House, he could not find an uncultivated spot large enough for a single battalion to encamp on, so great was the cultivation and fertility of the country; a country which now lay one entire waste? Did
his goodness consist in the extermination of the Rohillas, whose country he had left a wilderness, without inhabitants or cultivation, after having been such a continued garden, that the commanding officer used to march his men in single files, for want of sufficient path or uncultivated land broad enough to march a greater number in front?
As to the judicature, he maintained that it was a complete innovation on the constitution of the House of Commons; for though in its sovereign and legislative capacity, in conjunction with the other two branches, it had frequenty passed bills of pains and penalties, still these were acts of sovereign power, and not dispensations of judgment or expoundings of law. He made no doubt but what had been said in former debates was true, that the persons who were the causes of the erection of such a tribunal, would rejoice in its establishment; every criminal would rejoice at an institution, from the sword of whose justice he himself was to be secured. The daring highway robber in Newgate would have no objection to the erection of a judicature which was not to inquire into his past offences: the insinuating pick-pocket would rejoice in the same circumstance; and the plundering house-breaker would hug himself on the prospect of escaping under such a tribunal. Here Mr. Burke broke out into the following apostrophe:
Forgive me, O Newgate, if I have thus dishonoured thy inhabitants by an odious comparison: thy highwayman, who may have robbed one person on the highway, ought not to be compared with him who has plundered millions, and made them feel all the calamities of famine. The murderer, who may have deprived an individual of his life, would be disgraced by a comparison with him who has exterminated the inhabitants of whole kingdoms. The house-breaker is a harmless creature, when compared to him who has destroyed the habitations of millions, and left whole provinces without a house!"
He concluded by saying, that he had no personal cause of dislike to Mr. Hastings; he felt no prejudice against him on the contrary, when he sat in the select committee,