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Thurlow's address to Hastings on his arraignment.
Miss Burncy's account of it.
writing strange characters from right to left The High Court of Parliament was to sit according to forms handed down from the days of the Plantagenets, on an Englishman accused of exercising tyranny over the lord of the holy city of Benares, and over the ladies of the princely House of Oude."—I could only wish, that in the gorgeous description of the ceremonial which follows—amidst the nobles, judges, orators, statesmen, beauties, artists, and men of letters, who are presented to us, we bad been favoured with a view of the rugged Thurlow frowning on the woolsack, shaking his awful locks, terrible to behold.
After the proclamation was made in Westminster Hall by the crier, that Warren Hastings, Esq., late Governor of Bengal, was now at his trial for high crimes and misdemeanours, with which he was charged by the Commons of Great Britain, and that all persons who had aught to allege against him were now to stand forth, — a general silence followed, and the Chancellor thus addressed the accused: "Warren Hastings, you are brought into this Court to answer to the charges preferred against you by the Knights, Burgesses, and Commons of Great Britain — charges now standing only as allegations, by them to be legally proved, or by you to be disproved. Bring forth your answers and defence with that seriousness, respect, and truth, due to accusers so respectable. Time has been allowed you for preparation, proportioned to the intricacies in which the transactions are involved, and to the remote distances whence your documents may have been searched and required. You will still be allowed'bail, for the better forwarding your defence, and whatever you can require will still be yours, of time, witnesses, and all things else you may hold necessary. This is not granted you as any indulgence: it is entirely your due: it is the privilege which every British subject has a right to claim, and which may be claimed by every one who is brought before this high tribunal." "This speech " (says Madame D'Arblay) " uttered in a calm, equal, solemn manner, and in a voice mellow and penetrating, with eyes keen and black, yet softened into some degree of tenderness, whilst fastened full upon the prisoner,— this speech, its occasion, its portent, and its object, had an effect
upon every hearer of producing the most respectful attention, CHAP, and (out of the Committee box at least) the strongest emo- CLIX
tions in the cause of Mr. Hastings." *
As the trial proceeded, the first contest which arose was at Question the conclusion of Mr. Burke's great opening oration, — mode'nT "whether each charge should be treated and concluded by which the speeches and evidence separately, or the Commons should be be con. required to open all the charges, and give all their evidence in ducted, support of them, before the accused was called upon to begin his defence?" Mr. Fox strongly recommended the former * mode of proceeding, for the sake of convenience and justice, and in pursuance of parliamentary precedent — particularly the trial of Lord Strafford.
Lord Chancellor. —" Mr. Burke, whose imagination is of unparalleled fertility, in stating the case against the defendant, has mentioned circumstances of such accumulated horror, and of such deep criminality, that every thing contained in the written articles of accusation before your Lordships sinks in the comparison to utter insignificance, and the Right Hon. manager has unequivocally declared that he has not assumed the privilege of an advocate to exaggerate. After this I shall hold him to the proof of all he has asserted. Acts of such atrocity, my Lords, were imputed to the defendant, that many very respectable persons who were present have not yet recovered, and probably never will recover, the shock they sustained at listening to the relation of them. But in proportion as I am ready to punish Mr. Hastings with severity when lawfully convicted, I must see that he has a full and fair opportunity of vindicating his innocence. This he can only have by hearing all that is to be said or proved against him under all the charges,
* It will be recollected that Miss Burney, then in the service of Queen Charlotte, partook of all the feelings of the Court in favour of Mr. Hastings. Describing the scene in Westminster Hall, she goes on to say —" Mr. Windham, then looking still at the spectacle, which indeed is the most splendid I ever saw, arrested his eyes upon the Chancellor 'He looks very well from hence,' cried he; 'and how well he acquits himself on these solemn occasions I With what dignity, what loftiness, what high propriety he comports himself.' This praise to the Chancellor, who is a known friend to Mr. Hastings, though I believe he would be the last to favour him unjustly now he is on trial, was a pleasant sound to my ear."
Vol. v. p r
Thurlow's opinion of Pym and Lord Strafford.
Thurlow and the African slave trade. Change of public sentiment on this subject.
before he is called upon for his defence. With respect to the usage of parliament, of which we have been told so much, as contradistinguished from the common law, I utterly disclaim all knowledge of it. It has no existence. In times of barbarism, indeed, when to impeach a man was to ruin him by the strong hand of power, the usage of parliament was quoted in order to justify the most arbitrary proceedings. In these enlightened days I hope that no man will be tried but by the law of the land, which is admirably calculated to protect innocence and to punish guilt. The trial of Lord Strafford was, from beginning to end, marked by violence and injustice. A licentious and unprincipled fellow, Pym, attacked that noble Lord with all the virulence and malignity of faction. The real crime of that great statesman was, that he had quitted his party — as if it were not meritorious to serve the state instead of a faction — as if it were a crime to quit a gang of highwaymen. The Commons may impeach, but your Lordships try the cause, and the same rules of procedure and of evidence which obtain in the Courts below, I am sure will be rigidly followed by your Lordships." Lord Loughborough strongly supported the opposite side, but was beaten by a majority of 88 to 33, — which very distinctly intimated what, at a distant period, would be the final result of the prosecution.*
The only other matter of public interest in which Thurlow took part before the King's illness threw the country into confusion, was "African Slavery." A great change of sentiment had taken place since the times when the Assiento treaty was negotiated, securing to us, with the joy and applause of all parties in the state, in addition to our own slave trade, the privilege of supplying with slaves the colonies of other nations. From the immortal efforts of Granville Sharpe, Clarkson, and Wilberforce, the traffic in human flesh now began to be viewed by many with abhorrence, and even some zealous defenders of whatever is established occasionally doubted whether the practice of acquiring by force or by fraud the possession of human beings, removing them
for ever from their native shore, and after the indescribable CHAP, horrors of their passage across the ocean, condemning the C ' Xsurvivors and their progeny to interminable toil for the profit of strangers, under the stimulus of whipping and torture, — was quite consistent with the dictates of humanity, and with the religion of Jesus, who had taught us to consider and to treat all mankind as brethren, and " to do unto others as we would that they should do unto us." In the session of 1788, the subject was brought before the House of Commons, and Mr. Pitt, with the fervour and sincerity of youth, supported the views of those who were resolved to free the country from this disgraceful stain.
As a preliminary measure, a bill was passed to mitigate Kill to mithe atrocities of the "Middle Passage," by enacting that horron of slave-ships should not carry beyond a certain number of pJIili" slaves in proportion to their tonnage, •— evidence having been Sage." given at the bar, that in those ships no slave had a space to lie in more than five feet six inches in length, by sixteen inches in breadth; that not only the decks were covered with bodies thus stowed, but that between the decks and the ceiling there were often platforms or broad shelves similarly covered: that the slaves were chained two and two together by their hands and feet, and were fastened by ring bolts to the deck; that the "dancing" boasted of to prove their cheerfulness, consisted in compelling them to jump a certain time daily on the deck in irons for their health; that the mortality among them was appalling; and that sometimes, when not watched, large numbers of them, from despair, leaped overboard and were drowned.* When the bill came up to Opposed the House of Lords, the Chancellor opposed it in his peculiar j** Thurmanner, by saying, "that as it stood it was nonsense, and that he concluded some amendment would be proposed to correct the nonsense of one part of it with the nonsense of the other." He afterwards boldly spoke out, saying: "It appears that the French have offered premiums to encourage the African trade, and that they have succeeded. The natural presumption therefore is, that we ought to do the same. For my
* There are several cases in the Law Reports on the question, "whether the underwriters were liable for the death of slaves from suicide?"
Chap, part, my Lords, I have no scruple to say that if the ' five L' days' fit of philanthropy' which has just sprung up, and which has slept for twenty years together, were allowed to sleep one summer longer, it would appear to me rather more wise than thus to take up a subject piece-meal, which it has been publicly declared ought not to be agitated at all till next session of Parliament. Perhaps, by such imprudence, the slaves themselves may be prompted, by their own authority, to proceed at once to ' a total and immediate abolition of the trade.' One witness has come to your Lordships' bar with a face of woe — his eyes full of tears, and his countenance fraught with horror, and ^said, 'My Lords, I am ruined if you pass this bill! I have risked 30,000/. on the trade this year! It is all 1 have been able to gain by my industry, and if I lose it I must go to the hospital!' I desire of you to think of such things, my Lords, in your humane phrensy, and to show some humanity to the whites as well as to the The bill is negroes." But Mr. Pitt would not allow the Government to earned. be disgraced by the rejection of the bill. It passed the Lords, with some amendments for granting compensation, and these being objected to by the Commons on the score of privilege, another bill to the same effect passed both Houses, and received the royal assent.*
* 27 Pari. Hist. 638—649.