« PreviousContinue »
With these and every other good wish, and with the sincerest regard, I remain,
My dear lord,
P.S.Some apology seems necessary for the insertion of so much matter, extraneous to the immediate design of this introduction. I have no other to offer, but the natural garrulity, one of the many infirmities of old age.--If age cannot screen me from the severity of criticism, I must demand from the publick the indulgence, which I may require, for the venial gratification of private and personal feelings, as no unreasonable compensation for the labour and pains bestowed in preparing these posthumous works for its perusal
OF WARREN HASTINGS, ESQUIRE.
THIRD DAY, 15th FEBRUARY, 1788.
My Lords,—The gentlemen who have it in command to support the impeachment against Mr. Hastings, have directed me to open the cause with a general view of the grounds, upon which the Commons have proceeded in their charge against him. They have directed me to accompany this with another general view of the extent, the magnitude, the nature, the tendency, and the effect of the crimes, which they allege to have been by him committed. They have also directed me to give an explanation (with their aid I may be enabled to give it) of such circumstances, preceding the crimes charged on Mr. Hastings, or concomitant with them, as may tend to elucidate whatever may be found obscure in the articles as they stand. To these they wished me to add a few illustrative remarks on the laws, customs, opinions, and manners of the people concerned, and who are the objects of the crimes we charge on Mr. Hastings.
The several articles, as they appear before you, will be opened by other gentlemen with more particularity, with more distinctness, and, without doubt, with infinitely more ability, when they come to apply the evidence, which naturally belongs to each article of this accusation. This, my lords, is the plan, which we mean to pursue on the great charge, which is now to abide your judgment.
My lords, I must look upon it as an auspicious circumstance to this cause, in which the honour of the kingdom
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 deceive ourselves : whatever does not stand with credit cannot stand long. And if the constitution should be deprived, I do not mean in form, but virtually, of this resource, it is virtually 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 happened in the year 1725. So that the oldest process known to the constitution of this country has, upon its revival, some