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For my own part, I am happy that I have lived to see this day; I feel myself overpaid for the labours of eighteen years, when, at this late period, I am able to take my share, by one humble vote, in destroying a tyranny that exists to the disgrace of this nation, and the destruction of so large a part of the human species.
SPEECH ON THE NABOB OF ARCOT'S DEBTS. [On the 28th February, 1785, a memorable debate took place in the House of Commons resulting from a motion made by Fox. The question referred to certain debts which the Nabob of Arcot in India had alleged to be due by him to some of the officials of the East India Company. It was generally suspected that these debts were fictitious, but the Board of Controul admitted the claims of the alleged creditors, and set apart a portion of the revenues of the Carnatic for the liquidation of the demand. Pitt was Prime Minister; Fox led the opposition, and opposed the payment of the debts. He was assisted by Burke and other able men, but the ministers succeeded in defeating the motion. Burke's speech on this occasion was one of the most brilliant he ever delivered. Nothing could for vivid force surpass his awful picture of the desolation of the Carnatic. Some portions of the speech enter perhaps a little too extensively into details; but as Burke, even in the midst of statistical arguments, frequently turns aside to the enunciation of some profound principle of government, or suddenly presents to the mind some startling picture of wrong, it is impossible to convey an adequate idea of any one of his great orations without placing the entire speech before the reader. It was the failure of this motion which prompted Burke to impeach Warren Hastings. The study of this speech will lead to a clear understanding of Hastings' trial. On this occasion Burke spoke as follows. ]
Mr. SPEAKER,—The times we live in have been distingnished by extraordinary events. Habituated, however, as we are, to uncommon combinations of men and of affairs, I believe nobody recollects any thing more surprising than the spectacle of this day. The right hon. gentleman, [Henry Dundas,] whose conduct is now in question, formerly stood forth in this house, the prosecutor of the worthy baronet [Sir T. Rumbold,] who spoke after him. He charged him with several grievous acts of malversation in office; with abuses of a public trust of a great and heinous nature. In less than two years we see the situation of the parties reversed ; and a singular revolution puts the worthy baronet in a fair way of returning the prosecution in a
recriminatory bill of pains and penalties, grounded on a breach of public trust, relative to the government of the very same part of India. If he should undertake a bill of that kind, he will find no difficulty in conducting it with a degree of skill and vigour fully equal to all that have been exerted against him.
But the change of relation between these two gentlemen is not so striking as the total indifference of their deportment under the same unhappy circumstances. Whatever the merits of the worthy baronet's defence might have been, he did not shrink from the charge. He met it with manliness of spirit, and decency of behaviour. What would have been thought of him, if he had held the present language: of his old accuser ? When articles were exhibited against him by that right honourable gentleman, he did not think proper to tell the house that we ought to institute no inquiry, to inspect no paper, to examine no witness. He did not tell us (what at the time he might have told us with some show of reason) that our concerns in India were matters of delicacy; that to divulge any thing relative to them would be mischievous to the state. He did not tell us, that those who would inquire into his proceedings were disposed to dismember the empire. He had not the presumption to say, that for his part, having obtained in his Indian presidency, the ultimate object of his ambition, his honour was concerned in executing with integrity the trust which had been legally committed to his charge. That others, not having been so fortunate, could not be so disinterested ; and therefore their accusations could spring from no other source than faction, and envy to his fortune.
Had he been fi'ontless enough to hold such vain, vapouring language in the face of a grave, a detailed, a specified matter of accusation, whilst he violently resisted every thing which could bring the merits of his cause to the test; had he been wild enough to anticipate the absurdities of this day; that is, bad he inferred, as his late accuser has thought proper to do, that he could not have beeu guilty of malversation in office, for this sole and curious reason, that he had been in office; had he argued the impossibility of his abusiug his power on this sole principle, that he had power to abuse, he would have left but one impression on the mind of every man who heard him, and who believed him in his senses-that in the utmost extent he was guilty of the charge.
But, Sir, leaving these two gentlemen to alternate, as criminal and accuser, upon what principles they think expedient; it is for us to consider, whether the chancellor of the exchequer, and the treasurer of the navy, acting as a board of controul, are justified by law
or policy, in suspending the legal arrangements made by the court of directors, in order to transfer the public revenues to the private emolument of certain servants of the East India Company, without the inquiry into the origin and justice of their claims, prescribed by an act of parliament ?
It is not contended, that the act of parliament did not expressly ordain an inquiry. It is not asserted that this inquiry was not, with equal precision of terms, specially committed under particular regulations to the court of directors. I conceive, therefore, the board of control had no right whatsoever to intermeddle in that business. There is nothing certain in the principles of jurisprudence, if this be not undeniably true, that when a special authority is given to any persons by name, to do some particular act, that no others, by virtue of general powers, can obtain a legal title to intrude themselves into that trust, and to exercise those special functions in their place. I therefore consider the intermeddling of ministers in this affair as a downright usurpation. But if the strained construction, by which they have forced themselves into a suspicious office (which every man, delicate with regard to character, would rather have sought constructions to avoid) were perfectly sound and perfectly legal, of this I am certain, that they cannot be justified in declining the inquiry which had been prescribed to the court of directors. If the board of controul did lawfully possess the right of executing the special trust given to that court, they must take it as they found it, subject to the very same regulations which bound the court of directors. It will be allowed that the court of directors had no authority to dispense with either the substance, or the mode of inquiry prescribed by the act of parliament. If they had not, where in the act, did the board of controul acquire that capacity ? Indeed, it was impossible they should acquire it. What must we think of the fabric and texture of an act of parliament which should find it necessary to prescribe a strict inquisition; that should descend into minute regulations for the conduct of that inquisition; that should commit this trust to a particular description of men, and in the very same breath should enable another body, at their own pleasure, to supersede all the provisions the legislature had made, and to defeat the whole purpose, end, and object of the law? This cannot be supposed even of an act of parliament conceived by the ministers themselves, and brought forth during the delirium of the last session.
My honourable friend has told you in the speech which introduced his motion, that fortunately this question is not a great deal involved in the labyrinths of Indian detail. Certainly not. But if it were,
I beg leave to assure you, that there is nothing in the Indian detail which is more difficult than in the detail of any other business. I admit, because I have some experience of the fact, that for the interior regulation of India, a minute knowledge of India is requisite. But on any specific matter of delinquency in its government, you are as capable of judging, as if the same thing were done at your door. Fraud, injustice, oppression, peculation, engendered in India, are crimes of the same blood, family, and cast, with those that are born and bred in England. To go no farther than the case before us : you are just as competent to judge whether the sum of four millions sterling ought, or ought not, to be passed from the public treasury into a private pocket, without any title except the claim of the parties, when the issue of fact is laid in Madras, as when it is laid in Westminster. Terms of art, indeed, are different in different places ; but they are generally understood in none. The technical style of an Indian treasury is not one jot more remote than the jargon of our own exchequer, from the train of our ordinary ideas, or the idiom of our common language. The difference therefore in the two cases is not in the comparative difficulty or facility of the two subjects, but in our attention to the one, and our total neglect of the other. Had this attention and neglect been regulated by the value of the several objects, there would be nothing to complain of. But the reverse of that supposition is true. The scene of the Indian abuse is distant indeed; but we must not infer, that the value of our interest in it is decreased in proportion as it recedes from our view. In our politics, as in our common conduct, we shall be worse than infants, if we do not put our senses under the tuition of our judgment, and effectually cure ourselves of that optical illusion which makes a briar at our nose of greater magnitude, than an oak at five hundred yards distance.
I think I can trace all the calamities of this country to the single source of cur not having had steadily before our eyes a general comprehensive, well-connected, and well-proportioned view of the whole of our dominions, and a just sense of their true bearings and relations. After all its reductions, the British empire is still vast and various. After all the reductions of the House of Commons, stripped as we are of our brightest ornaments, and of our most important privileges, enough are yet left to furnish us, if we please, with means of shewing to the world, that we deserve the superintendence of as large an empire as this kingdom ever held, and the continuance of as ample privileges as the House of Commons, in the plenitude of
had been habituated to assert. But if we make ourselves
too little for the sphere of our duty; if, on the contrary, we do not stretch and expand our minds to the compass of their object, be well assured, that every thing about us will dwindle by degrees, until at length our concerns are shrunk to the dimensions of our minds. It is not a predilection to mean, sordid, home-bred cares, that will avert the consequences of a false estimation of our interest, or prevent the shameful dilapidation into which a great mighty empire must fall, by mean reparations upon mighty ruins.
I confess I feel a degree of disgust, almost leading to despair, at the manner in which we are acting in the great exigencies of our country. There is now a bill in this house, appointing a rigid inquisition into the minutest detail of our offices at home. The collection of sixteen millions annually; a collection on which the public greatness, safety, and credit have their reliance; the whole order of criminal jurisprudence, which holds together society itself, have at no time obliged us to call forth such powers ; no, nor anything like them. There is not a principle of the law and constitution of this country that is not subverted to favour the execution of that project. And for what is all this apparatus of bustle and terror ? Is it because anything substantial is expected from it? No. The stir and bustle itself is the end proposed. The eye-servants of a short-sighted master will employ themselves, not on what is most essential to his affairs, but on what is nearest to his ken. Great difficulties have given a just value to economy; and our minister of the day must be an economist, whatever it may cost us. But where is he to exert his talents ? At home to be sure; for where else can be obtain a profitable credit for their exertion ? It is nothing to him, whether the object on which he works under our eye be promising or not. If he does not obtain any public benefit, he may make regulations without end. Those are sure to pay in present expectation, whilst the effect is at a distance, and may be the concern of other times, and other men. On these principles he chooses to suppose (for he does not pretend more than to suppose) a naked possibility, that he shall draw some resource out of crumbs dropped from the trenchers of penury; that something shall be laid in store from the short allowance of revenue officers, overloaded with duty, and famished for want of bread; by a reduction from officers who are at this very hour ready to batter the treasury with what breaks through stone walls, for an increase of their appointments. From the marrowless bones of these skeleton establishments, by the use of every sort of cutting, and of every sort of fretting tool, he flatters himself that he may chip and rasp an empirical alimentary powder, to diet into