Page images

my lords, that nothing personal or malicious has ir duced us to institute this prosecution. It is absurd to suppose it. We come to your lordships' bar as the representatives of the commons of England, and as acting in this publick capacity, it might as truly be said, that the commons in whose name the impeachment is brought before your lordships, were actuated by enmity to the prisoner, as that we their deputed organs have any private spleen to gratify in discharging the duty imposed upon us by our principals.

Your lordships will also recollect and discriminate between impeachment for capital offences, and impeachment for high crimes and misdemeanors. In

impeachment of the former kind, when the life of an individual is to be forfeited on conviction, if malignity be indulged in giving a strong tincture and coloruing to facts, the tenderness of man's nature will revolt at it. For, however strongly in. dignant we may be at the perpetration of offences of a gross quality, there is a feeling that will protect an accused person from the influence of malignity in such a situation. But where no traces of this malice are discoverable ; where no thirst of blood is seen; where seeking for exemplary, more than sanguinary justice, an impeachment is brought for high crimes and misdemeanors, malice will not be imputed to the prosecutors if in illustration of the crimes alleged, they should adduce every possible circumstance in support of their allegations. Why will it not? Be. cause, their ends have nothing abhorrent to human tenderness; because, in such a case as the present, for instance, all that is aimed at in convicting the prisoner is a temporary seclusion from the society of his countrymen, whose name he has tarnished by his crimes, and a deduction from the enormous spoils which he has accumulated by his greedy rapacity.

The only matter which I shall in this stage of my inquiry lay before your lordships, in order to give you an impression of the influence of the crimes of the prisoner over the country in which they were

committed, is to refer to some passages in a letter of the Earl of Cornwallis. *

You see, my lords, that the British government, which ought to have been a blessing to the powers in India connected with it, has proved a scourge to the natives, and the cause of desolation to their most flourishing provinces.

Behold, my lords. this frightful picture of the consequences of a government of violence and oppression ! Surely the condition of wretchedness to which this once happy and independent prince is reduced by our cruelty, and the ruin which in some way has been brought upon his country, call loudly upon your lordships to interpose, and to rescue the national honour and reputation from the infamy to which both will be exposed, if no investigation be made into the causes of their calamities, and no punishment inflicted on the authors of them. By policy, as well as justice , you are vehemently urged to vindicate the English character in the East. For, my lords, it is manifest that the native powers have so little reliance on our faith, that the preservation of our possessions in that division of the world, can only be affected by convincing the princes, that a religious

* Here Mr. Sheridan read the letter of Lord Cornwallis, then governour general of India, which stated that he had been received by the Nabob Vizier with every mark of friendship and respect; but that the attentions of the court of Lucknow did not prevent his seeing the desolation that overspread the face of the country, the sight of which had shocked his very soul. That he spok to the Nabob on the subject, and earnestly recommended to him to adopt some system of government which might restore the prosperity of his kinga dom and make his people happy. That the degraded prince replied to his lordship, “ that as long as the demands of the English government upon the revenue of Oude should remain unlimited, he, the Nabob, could have no interest in establishing economy, and that while they continued to interfere in the internal regulations of the country, it would be in vain for him to attempt any salutary reform. For that his subjects knew he was only a cypher in his own dominions, and therefore laughed at, and despised his anthority, and that of his subjects.”

adherence to its engagements with them shall hereafter distinguish our India government. *

To these letters what answer shall we return? Let it not, my lords, be by words, which will not find credit with the natives who have been so often deceiv. ed by our professions, but by deeds which will assure them that we are at length truly in earnest. It is only by punishing those who have been guilty of the delinquencies which have ruined the country, and by showing that future criminals will not be encouraged, or countenanced by the ruling powers at home, that we can possibly gain confidence with the people of India. This alone will revive their respect for us, and secure our authority over them. This alone will restore to us the alienated attachment of the much injured Nabob, silence his clamours, heal his grievances, and remove his distrust. This alone will make him feel that he may cherish his people, cultivate his lands, and extend the mild hand of parental care over a fertile and industrious kingdom, without dreading that prosperity will entail upon him new rapine and extortion. This alone will inspire the Nabob with confidence in the English government, and the subjects of Oude with confidence in the Nabob. This alone will give to the soil of that delightful country the advantages which it derived from a beneficent Providence, and make it

* To prove the necessity of bringing such a conviction to the mind of every nat prince, Mr. Sheridan read a letter to lord Cornwallis from captain Kirkpatrick, who was resident at the court of the great Marratta Chief, Madajee Scindia. This letter stated that the new system of modera• tion introduced by his lordship was certainly the only one to give stability to the British empire in India, but also observed, that as the princes of that country had so frequently had cause to lament the infidelity of enagements, it would require time, and repeated proofs of good faith to convince them of the honesty of the professions thus held out to them. That ambition, or a desire of conquest should no longer be encouraged by British councils, and that a most scrupulous adherence to all treaties and engagements should be the basis of our future political transactions.

again, what it was when invaded by an English spoiler, the garden of India.

It is in the hope, my lords, of accomplishing these salutary ends, of restoring character to England, and happiness to India, that we have come to the bar of this exalted tribunal.

In looking round for an object fit to be held out to an oppressed people, and to the world as an example of national justice, we are forced to fix our eyes on Mr. Hastings. It is he, my lords, who has degraded our fame, and blasted our fortunes in the East. It is he, who has tyrannised, with relentless severity over the devoted natives of those regions. It is he who must atone, as a victim, for the multiplied calamities he has produced !

But though, my lords, I designate the prisoner as a proper subject of exemplary punishment, let it not be presumed that I wish to turn the sword of justice against him; merely because some example is required. Such a wish is as remote from my heart as it is from equity and law. Were I not persuaded that it is impossible I should fail in rendering the evidence of his crimes as conclusive as the effects of his conduct are confessedly afflicting, I should blush at having selected him as an object of retributive justice. If I invoke this heavy penalty on Mr. Hastings, it is because I honestly believe him to be a flagitious delinquent, and by far the most so of all those who have contributed to ruin the natives of India, and disgrace the inhabitants of Britain. But while I call for justice upon the prisoner, I sincerely desire to render him justice. It would, indeed, distress me, could I imagine that the weight and consequence of the house of commons, who are a party in this prosecution, could operate in the slightest degree to his prejudice. But I entertain no such solici. tude or apprehension. It is the glory of the constitution under which we live, that no man can be punished without guilt, and this guilt must be pubfickly demonstrated by a series of clear, legal, manifest evidence, so that nothing dark, nothing oblique,



nothing authoritative, nothing insidious, shall work to the detriment of the subject. It is not the peering suspicion of apprehended guilt. It is not any popular abhorrence of its wide spread consequences. It is not the secret consciousness in the bosom of the judge, which can excite the vengeance of the law, and authorize its infliction ! No. In this good land, as high as it is happy, because as just as it is free, all is definite, equitable, and exact. The laws must be satisfied before they are incurred; and ere a hair of the head can be plucked to the ground, legal guilt must be established by legal proof. But, this

cautious, circumspect, and guarded principle of English jurisprudence, which we all so much value and revere, I feel at present in some de. gree inconvenient, as it may prove an impediment to publick justice. For the managers of this impeachment labour under difficulties with regard to evidence that can scarcely occur in any other prosecution. What! my lords, it may perhaps be asked, have none of the considerable persons who are sufferers by his crimes arrived to offer at your lordships' bar their testimony, mixed with their execrations against the prisoner? No—there are none. These sufferers are persons whose manners and prejudices keep them separate from all the world, and whose religion will not permit them to appear before your lordships. But are there no witnesses, unprejudiced spectators of these enormities, ready to come forward from the simple love of justice, and to give a faithful narrative of the transactions that passed under their eyes? Nothere are none. The witnesses whom we have been compelled to summons are, for the most part, the emissaries and agents, employed, and involved in these transactions; the wily accomplices of the prisoner's guilt, and the supple instruments of his oppressions. But are there collected no written documents, or authentick papers, containing a true and perfect account of his crimes ? No-there are none. The only papers we have procured are written by the party himself, or the participators in his proceedings,

« PreviousContinue »