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MR. BURKE’S SPEECH, ON THE FIRST OF DECEMBER, 1783, UPON THE QUESTION FOR THE SPEAKER'S LEAVING THE CHAIR, IN ORDER FOR THE HOUSE TO RESOLVE ITSELF INTO A COMMITTEE ON MR. FOX'S EAST INDIA BILL.
franchise ; by others it is regarded as the petty I THANK you for pointing to me. I really intrigue 'of a faction at court, and argued wished much to engage your attention in an merely as it tends to set this man a little early stage of the debate. I have been long higher, or that a little lower in situation and very deeply, though perhaps ineffectually, power. All the void has been filled up with engaged in the pre.iminary enquiries, which invectives against coalition ; with allusions to have continued without intermission for some the loss of America with the activity and years. Though I have felt, with some degree inactivity of ministers. The total silence of of sensibility, the natural and inevitable im- these gentlemen concerning the interest and pressions of the several matters of fact, as they well-being of the people of India, and conhave been successively disclosed, I have not at cerning the interest which this nation has in any time attempted to trouble you on the the commerce and revenues of that country, is merits of the subject; and very little on any a strong indication of the value which they set of the points which incidentally arose in the upon these objects. course of our proceedings. But I should be It has been a little painful to me to observe sorry to be found totally silent upon this day, the intrusion into this important debate of such Our inquiries are now come to their final company as quo warranto, and mandamus, and issue :-It is now to be determined whether certiorari; as if we were on a trial about mayors the three years of laborious parliamentary and aldermen, and capital burgesses; or enresearch, whether the twenty years of patient gaged in a suit concerning the borough of Indian suffering, are to produce a substantial Penryn, or Saltash, or St. Ives, or St. Mawes. reform in our eastern administration ; or Gentlemen have argued with as much beat whether our knowledge of the grievances has and passion, as if the first things in the world abated our zeal for the correction of them, and were at stake; and their topics are such, as our very inquiry into the evil was only a pre belong only to matter of the lowest and meanest text to elude the remedy which is demanded litigation. It is not right, it is not worthy of from us by humanity, by justice, and by every us in this manner to depreciate the value, to principle of true policy. Depend upon it, this degrade the majesty, of this grave deliberation business cannot be indifferent to our fame. It of policy and empire. will turn out a matter of great disgrace or For my part, I have thought myself bound, great glory to the whole British nation. We when a matter of this extraordinary weight are on a conspicuous stage, and the world came before me, not to consider, (as some marks our demeanour.
gentlemen are so fond of doing,) whether the I am therefore a little concerned to perceive bill originated from a secretary of state for the the spirit and temper in which the debate has home department, or from a secretary for the been all along pursued upon one side of the foreign ; from a minister of influence or a house. The declamation of the gentlemen minister of the people ; from Jacob or from who oppose the bill has been abundant and Esau.* I asked myself, and I asked myself vehement; but they have been reserved and nothing else, what part it was fit for a member even silent about the fitness or unfitness of the of parliament, who has supplied a mediocrity plan to attain the direct object it has in view. of talents by the extreme of diligence, and By some gentlemen it is taken up (by way of who has thought himself obliged, by the ro exercise I presume) as a point of law on a cuestion of private property, and corporate * An allusion made by Mr. Powis
search of years, to wind himself into the effectual to preserve India from oppression, is inmost recesses and labyrinths of the Indian a guard to preserve the British constitution detail, what part, I say, it became such a from its worst corruption. To shew this, I member of parliament to take, when a mi- will consider the objections, which I think are nister of state, in conformity to a recommen- four. dation from the throne, has brought before us a Ist. That the bill is an attack on the charsystem for the better government of the terri- tered rights of men. tory and commerce of the east. In this light, 2lly. That it increases the influence of the und in this only, I will trouble you with my sentiments.
3dly. That it does not increase, but dimiIt is not only agreed but demanded, by the nishes, the influence of the crown, in ght honourable gentleman,* and by those order to promote the interests of certain ho act with him, that a whole system ought ministers and their party. to be produced; that it ought not to be an half 4thly. That it deeply affects the nationa Treasure; that it ought to be no palliative; but credit. a legislative provision, vigorous, substantial, As to the first of these objections; I must and effective. I believe that no man who observe that the phrase of "the chartered rights understands the subject can doubt for a mo- of men," is full of affectation; and very unument, that those must be the conditions of sual in the discussion of privileges conferred any thing deserving the name of a reform in by charters of the present description. But it the Indian government; that any thing short is not difficult to discover what end that amof them would not only be delusive, but, in this biguous mode of expression, so often reitematter which admits no medium, noxious in rated, is meant to answer. the extreme.
The rights of men, that is to say, the natural To all the conditions proposed by his ad- rights of mankind, are indeed sacred things versaries, the mover of the bill perfectly and if any public measure is proved mischieagrees; and on his performance of them he vously to affect them, the objection ought to be rests his cause. On the other hand, not the fatal to that measure, even if no charter at all least objection has been taken, with regard to could be set up against it. If these natural the efficiency, the vigour, or the completeness rights are further affirmed and declared by exof the scheme. I am therefore warranted to press covenants, if they are clearly defined and assume, as a thing admitted, that the bills secured against chichane, against power, and accomplish what both sides of the house de authority, by written instruments and positive mand as essential. The end is completely engagements, they are in a still better condianswered, so far as the direct and immediate tion: they partake not only of the sanctity of object is concerned.
the object so secured, but of that solemn public But though there are no direct, yet there faith itself, which secures an object of such are various collateral objections made ; ob- importance. Indeed this formal recognition, jections from the effects which this plan of by the sovereign power, of an original right in reform for Indian administration may have on the subject, can never be subverted, but by the privileges of great public bodies in Eng- rooting up the holding radical principles of land; from its probable influence on the con- government, and even of society itself. The stitutional rights, or on the freedom and charters, which we call by distinction great, integrity of the several branches of the legis- are public instruments of this nature; I mean lature.
the charters of king John and king Henry Before I answer these objections, I must the third. The things secured by these inbeg leave to observe, that if we are not able struments may, without any deceitful ambi to contrive some method of governing India guity, be very fitly called the chartered rights well, which will not of necessity become the of men. means of governing Great Britain ill, a These charters have made the very name ground is laid for their eternal separation; of a charter dear to the heart of every Englishbut none for sacrificing the people of that man.—But, Sir, there may be, and there are country to our constitution. I am however far charters, not only different in nature, but from being persuaded that any such incom- formed on principles the very reverse of those patibility of interest does at all exist. On of the great charter. Of this kind is the charthe contrary I am certain that every means, ter of the East India company. Magna charta
is a charter to restrain power, and to destroy * Mr. Pitt.
monopoly. The East India charter is a char ser to establish monopoly, and to create power. choose to call them, are all in the strictes Political power and commercial monopoly are sense a trust; and it is of the very essence of not the rights of men; and the rights of them every trust to be rendered accountable ; and derived from charters, it is fallacious and even totally to ceuse, when it substantially sophistical to call "the chartered rights of varies from the purposes for which alone it men." These chartered rights, (to speak of could have a lawful existence. such charters and of their effects in terms of This I conceive, Sir, to be truc of trusts the greatest possible moderation,) do at least of power vested in the highest hands, and of suspend the natural rights of mankind at large; such as seem to hold of no human creature. and in their very frame and constitution are But about the application of this principle to liable to fall into a direct violation of them. subordinate derivative trusts, I do not see how
It is a charter of this latter description (that a controversy can be maintained. To whom is to say a charter of power and monopoly) then would I make the East India company which is affected by the bill before you. The accountable? Why, to parliament, to be sure; bill, Sir, does, without question, affect it; it to parliament, from whom their trust was de does affect it essentially and substantially. rived; to parliament, which alone is capable But having stated to you of what description of comprehending the magnitude of its object, the chartered rights are which this bill touches, and its abuse; and alone capable of an effectual I feel no difficulty at all in acknowledging the legislative remedy. The very charter, which existence of those chartered rights, in their is held out to exclude parliament from correcfullest extent. They belong to the company in ting malversation with regard to the high trust the surest manner; and they are secured to vested in the company, is the very thing that body by every sort of public sanction which at once gives a title and imposes a duty They are stamped by the faith of the king; on us to interfere with effect, wherever power they are stamped by the faith of parliament; and authority originating from ourselves are they have been bought for money, for money perverted from their purposes, and become honestly and fairly paid ; thoy have been bought instruments of wrong and violence. for valuable consideration, over and over again. If parliament, Sir, had nothing to do with
I therefore freely admit to the East India this charter, we might have some sort of Epicompany their claim to exclude their fellow- curean excuse to stand aloof, indifferent spec subjects from the commerce of half the globe. tators of what passes in the company's name in [ admit their claim to administer an annual India and in London. But if we are the very territorial revenue of seven millions sterling; cause of the evil, we are in a special manner to command an army of sixty thousand men; engaged to the redress; and for us passively to and to dispose (under the control of a sove- bear with oppressions committed under the reign imperial discretion, and with the due sanction of our own authority, is in truth and observance of the natural and local law) of the reason for this house to be an active accomlives and fortunes of thirty millions of their fel- plice in the abuse. low-creatures. All this they possess by char- That the power notoriously, grossly abused ter and by acts of parliament, (in my opinion,) has been bought from us is very certain. But without a shadow of controversy.
this circumstance, which is urged against the Those who carry the rights and claims of the bill, becomes an additional motive for our incompany the furthest do not contend for more terference ; lest we should be thought to have than this; and all this I freely grant. But sold the blood of millions of men, for the base granting all this, they must grant to me in my consideration of money. We sold, I admit, turn, that all political power which is set over all that we had to sell; that is, our authority, men, and that all privilege claimed or exer- not our controul. We had not a right to make cised in exclusion of them, being wholly arti- a market of our duties. ficial, and for so much a derogation from the I ground myself therefore on this principle natural equality of mankind at large, ought to that if the abuse is proved, the contract is be some way or other exercised ultimately for broken; and we re-enter into all our rights ; their benefit.
that is, into the exercise of all our duties : If this is true with regard to every species Our own authority is indeed as much a trust of political dominion, and every description of originally, as the company's authority is a trust commercial privilege, none of which can be derivatively; and it is the use we make of the original self-derived rights, or grants for the resumed power that must justify or condemn more private benefit of the holders, then such us in the resumption of it. When we have rights, or privileges, or whatever else you perfected the plan laid before us by the right honourable mover, the world will then see what abuse should be great and important. 2d. The it is we destroy, and what it is we create. abuse affecting this great object ought to be a By that test we stand or fall; and by that test great abuse. 3d. It ought to be habitual, and I trust that it will be found in the issue, that not accidental. 4th. It ought to be utterly inwe are going to supersede a charter abused to curable in the body as it now stands consti the full extent of all the powers which it could tuted. All this ought to be made as visible to abuse, and exercised in the plenitude of dese me as the light of the sun, before I should potism, tyranny and corruption; and that in strike off an atom of their charter. A right one and the same plan, we provide a real honourable gentleman * has said, and said I chartered security for the rights of men cruelly think but once, and that very slightly (whatever violated under that charter.
his original demand for a plan might seem to This bill, and those connected with it, are require) that “there are abuses in the compaintended to form the magna charta of Hindos- ny's government.” If that were all, the scheme tan. Whatever the treaty of Westphalia is to of the mover of this bill, the scheme of his the liberty of the princes and free cities of the learned friend, and his own scheme of reforma empire, and to the three religions there pro- tion (if he has any) are all equally needless. sessed—Whatever the great charter, the sta- There are, and must be, abuses in all governtute of tallage, the petition of right, and the ments. It amounts to no more than a nugadeclaration of right, are to Great Britain, these tory proposition. But before I consider of bills are to the people of India. Of this benefit, what nature these abuses are, of which the I am certain, their condition is capable; and gentleman speaks so very lightly, permit mo when I know that they are capable of more, my to recall to your recollection the map of the vote shall most assuredly be for our giving to country which this abused chartered right
full extent of their capacity of receiving; and affects. This I shall do, that you may judge
charter of dominion shall stand as a bar in my whether in that map I can discover any thing way to their charter of safety and protection. like the first of my conditions ; that is, Whe
The strong admission I have made of the ther the object affected by the abuse of the company's rights (I am conscious of it) binds East India company's power be of importance me to do a great deal. I do not presume to sufficiently to justify the measure and means condemn those who argue a priori, against the of reform applied to it in this bill. propriety of leaving such extensive political With very few, and those inconsiderable powers in the hands of a company of merchants. intervals, the British dominion, either in the i know much is, and much more may be, company's name, or in the names of princes said against such a system. But, with my absolutely dependent upon the company, exparticular ideas and sentiments, I cannot go tends from the mountains that separate India that way to work. I feel an insuperable re- from Tartary, to Cape Comorin, that is, oneluctance in giving my hand to destroy any esta- and-twenty degrees of latitude! blished institution of government, upon a theory, In the northern parts it is a solid mass of however plausible it may be. My experience land, about eight hundred miles in length, and in life teaches me nothing clear upon the sub- four or five hundred broad. As you go southject. I have known merchants with the senti- ward, it becomes narrower for a space. It ments and the abilities of great statesmen; afterwards dilates; but narrower or broader, and I have seen persons in the rank of statesmen, you possess the whole eastern and northwith the conceptions and characters of ped- eastern coast of that vast country, quite from lars. Indeed, my observation has furnished the borders of Pegu. Bengal, Bahar, and me with nothing that is to be found in any Orissa, with Benares, (now unfortunately in habits of life or education, which tends wholly our immediate possession,) measure 161,978 to disqualify men for the functions of govern- square English miles ; a territory considerably ment, but that, by which the power of exer- larger than the whole kingdom of France. cising those functions is very frequently ob- Oude, with its dependent provinces, is 53,286 tained, I mean a spirit and habits of low cabal square miles, not a great deal less than Engand intrigue ; which I have never, in one land. The Carnatic, with Tanjour and the instance, seen united with a capacity for sound Circars, is 65,948 square miles, very conside und manly policy.
rably larger than England; and the whole of the To justify us in taking the administration of company's dominions, comprehending Bombay their affairs out of the hands of the East India and Salsetle, amounts to 281,412 square miles company, on my principles, I must see several conditions. Ist. The object affected by the
* Mr. Pitt
which forms a territory larger than any Euro- nabob of Oude might stand for the king of pean dominion, Russia and Turkey excepted. Prussia ; the nabob of Arcot I would compare, Through all that vast extent of country there is as superior in territory, and equal in revenue, not a man who cats a mouthful of rice but by to the elector of Saxony. Cheyt Sing, the permission of the East India company. rajah of Benares, might well rank with the
So far with regard to the extent. The popu- prince of Hesse, at least; and the rajah of lation of this great empire is not easy to be Tanjore (though hardly equal in extent of dow calculated. When the countries, of which it minion, superiour in revenue) to the elector of is composed, came into our possession, they Bavaria. The Polygars and the northern Zewere all eminently peopled, and eminently mindars, and other great chiefs, might well productive; though ai that time considerably class with the rest of the princes, dukes, counts, declined from their ancient prosperity. But marquisses, and bishops in the empire; all of since they are come into our hands! --! whom I mention to honour, and surely without However, if we make the period of our esti- disparagement to any or all of those most remate immediately before the utter desolation spectable princes and grandees. of the Carnatic, and if we allow for the havor All this vast mass, composed of so many which our government had even then made in orders and classes of men, is again infinitely these regions, we cannot, in my opinion, rate diversified by manners, by religion, by herethe population at much less than thirty mil- ditary employment, through all their possible lions of souls ; more than four times the num combinations. This renders the handling of ber of persons in the island of Great Britain. India a matter in a high degree critical and
My next inquiry to that of the number, is delicate. But oh! it has been handled rudely the quality and description of the inhabitants. indeed. Even some of the reformers seem to This multitude of men docs not consist of an have forgot that they had any thing to do but abject and barbarous populace; much less of to regulate the tenants of a manor, or the shop gangs of savages, like the Guaranies and Chi- keepers of the next county town. quitos, who wander on the waste borders of It is an empire of this extent, of this comthe river of Amazons, or the Plate ; but a plicated aature, of this dignity and importance, people for ages civilized and cultivated; culti- that I have compared to Germany, and the vated by all the arts of polished life, whilst we German government; not for an exact resemwere yet in the woods. There, have been blance, but as a sort of a middle term, by which (and still the skeletons remain) princes once of India might be approximated to our undergreat dignity, authority, and opulence. There, standings, and if possible to our feelings; in are to be found the chiefs of tribes and nations. order to awaken something of sympathy for the There, is to be found an ancient and vene- unfortunate natives, of which I am afraid we rable priesthood, the depository of their laws, are not perfectly susceptible, whilst we look learning, and history, the guides of the people at this very remote object through a false and whilst living, and their consolation in death; o cloudy medium. nobility of great antiquity and renown; a mul My second condition, necessary to justify titude of cities, not exceeded in population me in touching the charter, is, Whether the and trade by those of the first class in Europe. company's abuse of their trust, with regard to merchants and bankers, individual houses of this great object, be an abuse of great atrocity. whom have once vied in capital with the bank I shall beg your permission to consider their of England; whose credit had often supported conduct in two lights ; first the political, and a tottering state, and preserved their govern- then the commercial. Their political conduct ments in the midst of war and desolation ; mil. (for distinctness) I divide again into two heads; lions of ingenious manufacturers and mecha- the external, in which I mean to comprehend nics; millions of the most diligent, and not the their conduct in their federal capacity, as it least intelligent, tillers of the earth. Here are relates to powers and states independent, or that to be found almost all the religions professed not long since were such ; the other internal, by men, the Braminical, the Mussulman, the namely their conduct to the countries either Eastern and the Western Christian.
immediately subject to the company, or to those If I were to take the whole aggregate of our who, under the apparent government of native possessions there, I should compare it, as the sovereigns, are in a state much lower, and much. nearest parallel I can find, with the empire of more miserable, than common subjection. Germany. Our immediate possessions I should The attention, Sir, which I wish to preserve compare with the Austrian dominions, and to method will not be considered as unnecessar they would not suffer in the comparison. The or affected. Nothing else can help me te