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LAYING OPEN THE TRADE
Nature of the East India Company's Rights
TRADE DEPENDING UPON THEM;
AND ON THE
· CONDUCT AND ISSUE OF THE LATE NEGOCIATION
Renewal of their Exclusive Privileges.
BY CHARLES MACLEAN, M. D.
THE question, now at issue, between his Majesty's Ministers and the East India Company, which forms the subject of the following pages, is one of the greatest importance to the British Empire, that can possibly be agitated, in the present state of the world. It is a question, in the elucidation of which too many minds cannot be occupied, or too many pens employed.
The serious, and to many the unexpected turn, which the negociation for the renewal of the East India Company's Charter has recently taken, must have been sufficient to rouse and to alarm every reflecting mind, capable of appreciating the importance of the connection between Asia and Britain.
In common with others, who have feelings and affections connected with India, my mind has been deeply impressed with the mischievous, or rather, I should say, the ruinous tendency of the measures contemplated, and now, apparently, determined on, by his Majesty's Ministers. Regarding the matters in dispute, as by no means of a commercial nature ; but rather of a mixed character, principally compounded of considerations of justice, policy, and expediency, upon which all men of common observation, and some knowledge of Indian affairs, may form a correct judgment; I have, upon this ground, and presuming upon the experience acquired in the course of several voyages to India, and of some residence there, ventured to arrange my thoughts on the subject, and to submit them to the public.
From the terms of the last official documents, which have transpired, it is difficult to consider the negociation, between Ministers and the East India Company, otherwise than terminated; or that the contending parties have not finally taken their respective stands. Lord Buckinghamshire, in his Letter of December the 24th, 1812, thus unequivocally announces the determination of his Majesty's Ministers to persevere in the obnoxious measure of laying Open the Trade to India, to the Out-ports of this Kingdom : -" It is for the Court of Proprietors to decide, whether their own interests, as well as those of the numerous persons depending upon them, both at home and abroad, can best be preserved by their rejection of, or acquiescence in, those conditions, upon which alone, consistent with their public duty, his Majesty's Government can submit a proposition to Parliament, for the renewal of the Charter."
In their reply, dated the 30th December, the Chairmen of the Court of Directors repeat in the following terms their determination, already so frequently declared, to maintain the rights of their Constituents : « But prepared as we shall be, if forced into this situation, to maintain the rights and claims of our Constituents, we must yet express our hope, that the Company will not be reduced to the hard alternative, of thus having to contend for all that is dear to them, or to accept a charter, on terms which will not enable them to execute the part hitherto assigned to them in the Indian system.” - To this intimation, Lord Buckinghamshire, in a letter, certainly the most extraordinary that has appeared in the
i Vide Pupers respecting a negociation for a removal of the Eust India Company's erclusive privileges, p. 172.
? Vide Pcpers respecting the negociation for a renewal of the East India Company's erclusite pririleges, p. 179.
course of this negociation, and which will not probably escape becoming the subject of numerous animadversions, replies, that “it will be for Parliament to determine, whether the nation is, in this respect (the existence of the present Indian system,) without an alternative ; or whether, if a change of system should be rendered necessary by the decision of the East India Company, measures might not be taken for opening the trade, and at the same time providing such an administration of the Government of India as might be found compatible with the interests and security of the British Constitution.". His Lordship has not thought fit to explain by what measures this compatibility might be effected, any more than he has the grounds on which Ministers have chosen to persist in their determination of opening the Trade to India to the Out-ports. The pompous proposition, on which they seem to lean with so much confidence and complacency, that “ the Merchants of this country have a substantial claim to as much liberty of trade as they can enjoy, without injury to other impore tant national interests," can here have no meaning ; since the quantum of that liberty, which may be extended to them on this ground, is precisely the question at issue. It has been demonstratively shown by the Court of Directors, and certainly they are in this case a much more competent authority than any of their opponents, not even excepting his Majesty's Ministers, that the Merchants of this country already enjoy as much of that liberty, as is compatible with the other important national interests concerned. And
· Vide Lord Buckinghamshire's Letter, dated January 4, 1813. Ibid. p. 183.- In the paragraph preceding the last, he says, “If the Government of India cannot be carried on with safety to the Constitution, except through the intervention of the Company, the propositions of the Court of Directors, whatever they may be, must unconditionally be admitted." This is very far from being, even generally, a correct inference. No proposition of the Directors, that is not founded in strict justice, liberal policy, and constitutional principles, need be admitted by the legislature. On the present oco casion, if they have erred, it has been in conceding too much to a Ministry, who seemed determined to continue rising unreasonably in their demands.