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Book IV. rights; and the violent efforts which were made to bend the rights of the natives to a conformity with the English laws, for the purpose of extending • ...jurisdiction, and gratifying a pedantic and mechanical attachment to the arbitrary forms of the Westminster courts, produced more injustice and oppression, and excited more alarm, than probably was experienced, through the whole of its duration, from the imperfection of the previous powers of law and judicature.* '■ • The only II. If, towards the amelioration of the government in India, the new effort ployed fclT re-m legislation performed no more than this; it injured, rather than improved, the defects in"6 condition of both the Company and the natives. Against the government at England, was home, the only objection, of any real moment, was, its inefficiency, as the
dependance „ . , .
upon the Mi- ruling power, to produce, by means of its servants, a good government la mster. India, or, what in this case was meant by good government, a large surplus of revenue or treasure to England, without oppression to the natives. The total change which was effected in the constitution of the Company pretended to have for its End the improvement and perfection of the Company in that respect: And it employed as its whole and only Means, dependance upon the Minister.
imperfection If the Minister had more knowledge of the affairs of India, more leisure to
of this expe- . ,. . . ..... „ «
devote to their management, and more interest in their being well managed, this was an improvement. If he had less knowledge; less leisure; and, far above all, if his interest was likely to be most promoted by that system of patronage which creates dependance, and which is at irreconcilable enmity with the very principle of good government, the change was wholly the reverse. How dependence upon the Minister was to render the agents of government more faithful and economical stewards of the revenues in India, or less disposed to accumulate wealth at the expense of the prostrate natives, it is not easy to
* Mr. Burke, in the Ninth Report of the Select Committee, in 1783, says, "The defect in the institution seemed to be this; that no rule was laid down, either in the act or the charter, by which the Court was to judge. No descriptions of offenders, or species of delinquency, were properly ascertained, according to the nature of the place, or to the prevalent mode of abuse. Provision was made for the administration of justice in the remotest part of Hindostan, as if it were a province in Great Britain. Your Committee have long had the constitution and conduct of this Court before them, and they have as yet been able to discover very few instances (not one that appears to them of leading importance) of relief given to the natives against the corruptions or oppressions of British subjects in power.—So far as your Committee have been able to discover, the Court has been generally terrible to the natives, and has distracted the government of the Company, without substantially reforming any one of its abuses."
appear: In regard to responsibility, or eventual punishment, the only Chap. IX. caution was, to act in concert with the minister; and then they were out of all ^jJC' comparison more assured of impunity than ever.
From dependance upon the Court of Proprietors by annual elections, to ren- Proof that deder the Directors in a great degree independent of their constituents by elections upon the Miin four years, gave them greater powers, and hence motives, to pursue their was the own interests at the expense of the Proprietors; but that it should increase their interest in the good government of India, and hence their motives for exertion to procure it, is impossible.
To diminish the number of votes in the Court of Proprietors, and confine the power to the rich, was contrived, it was said, to render that assembly less tumultuous. But tumultuousness, in itself, is not an evil. It is evil only when it has a tendency to produce evil effects. What is more tumultuous than a public market, a theatre, or a church? To know the merit then of a reform of tumultuousness, we ought to know the specific evils which the tumultuousness in question produced. In the case of the East India Company, the authors of the measure failed in exhibiting any mischievous effects; though by their reform they unquestionably created a field for other effects of a very pernicious description. "If tumult and disorder," as was well remarked by an illustrious Committee of the Commons House, "were lessened by reducing the number of Proprietors, private cabal and intrigue were facilitated at least in an equal degree; and it is cabal and corruption, rather than disorder and confusion, that are most to be dreaded in transacting the affairs of India ; " * that are most to be dreaded in transacting the affairs of every country under the sun.
The virtues of a Court of Proprietors, as of every political body, are intelligence and probity. The owner of 500/. stock was just as likely to be intelligent as the the owner of 1000/. But a small number of men are much more easily corrupted than a large; and, where the matter of corruption operates, much more sure of being corrupt. f
To the grand complaint against the Court of Proprietors, that being filled by the servants of the Company who had returned loaded to Europe with illgotten wealth it proved a barrier against exposure and punishment, the amount
* Ninth Report of the Select Committee, in 1783.
•\ "The whole of the regulations concerning the Court of Proprietors relied upon two principles, which have often proved fallacious; namely, that small numbers were a security against faction and disorder; and, that integrity of conduct would follow the greater property." Ninth Report, ut supra.
Book IV. of the qualification provided no sort of remedy, but rather facilitated and i 'firmed the abuse.
As soon as ever the management of the East India Company's affairs became a source of great patronage and power, it necessarily followed that stock was generally held for the promotion of interests of much greater value than the dividend. It was distributed mostly among three great classes of Proprietors; 1. Those who aspired to a share in the Direction, and who were careful to possess themselves of whatever share of stock was calculated to strengthen their influence; 2. The large class of those who were competitors for the Company's favours and employment, all those concerned in the immense supply of their shipping and goods, constituting a considerable proportion of the ship-owners and tradesmen in London, who strengthened their influence with the great customer, by the number of votes which they could assure to the Directors in the General Court; 3. Those who aspired to contracts with the Treasury, Admiralty, and Ordnance, and clerks in public offices, who discovered that one ground of influence with the Minister, was to have votes at his disposal in the East India Proprietary Court.*
By every thing which tended to lessen the number of voting Proprietors, the force of all these sinister interests was increased. The only expedient which had a tendency to counteract them, was to render such Proprietors as numerous as possible. This would have promoted the interests of the public, but not those of the minister; the interests of the many, but not those of the few. f Voting by One part of the ancient constitution, for the preservation of which the where authors of the present reform were condemned by the Select Committee of
* This is pretty nearly the description of the East India Proprietary which is given by the Committee of the House of Commons. See Ninth Report of the Select Committee in 1783.
f It was urged by the Minister, that by raising the qualification from 500/. to 1000/., the value of the dividend would govern the Proprietor more than that of the vote; with what sincerity, or what discernment, it is easy to see. Burke, moreover, very justly remarked, that this pecuniary interest might be most effectually served by some signal misdemeanour, which should produce a great immediate advantage, though productive of ultimate ruin. "Accordingly," he adds, " the Company's servants have ever since covered over the worst oppressions of the people under their government, and the most cruel and wanton ravages of all the neighbouring countries, by holding out, and for a time actually realizing, additions of revenue to the territorial funds of the Company, and great quantities of valuable goods to their investment." He added, with obvious truth, "The Indian Proprietor will always be, in the first instance, a politician: and the bolder his enterprise, and the more corrupt his views, the less will be his consideration of the price to be paid for compassing them." Ninth Report, ut supra.
1783, was the ballot; "by means of which, acts," they said, "of the highest Chaf concern to the Company and to the state, might be done by individuals with perfect impunity." There are occasions on which the use of the ballot is advantageous. There are occasions on which it is hurtful. If we look steadily to the end, to which all institutions profess to be directed, the common and public good, we shall not find it very difficult to draw the line of demarcation.
On all those occasions on which the interests which are liable to act secretly upon the voter have a tendency to seduce him from the path of probity, while those which act openly and are avowed have a tendency to retain him in that path, the publicity of the vote is of the highest importance. On all those occasions, on which the motives which act secretly are on the side of probity, those which act publicly are on the side of vice, the secrecy of the vote is eminently useful. In other words, wherever the voter's own interests and inclinations, if he is left to himself, are sure to point in the right direction, while he is liable to be acted upon in a sinister direction by the will and power of others, the ballot is a great security for good. Wherever the man's own interests and inclinations point in the sinister direction, while he is still capable of being restrained by the voice of public detestation or applause, the ballot affords only a security for corruption. The East India Company presents an instance of the baneful operation of the ballot; where it is possible for a majority of Proprietors to have interests in the highest degree inconsistent with those of the public, but interests which the force of the public sanction, concentrated upon the acts of every individual, would have a tendency to prevent them from pursuing. The election of members to serve in parliament presents an instance of the salutary operation of the ballot; it being impossible for the mass of individuals who compose the nation to have interests hostile to the nation, but it being very possible for a great proportion of them to be acted upon by persons who have.
At the very time when the discussions upon the new regulations were taking place, the Chairman of the Select Committee came forward with a motion for inquiry into the circumstances of the deposition and death of Suraja Dowla; into the imposture, by a fictitious treaty, practised upon Omichund; the elevation of Meer Jaffier; and the sums of money, in the shape of presents, obtained at the time of that revolution. Crimes of the blackest dye, rapacity, treachery, cruelty, were charged upon the principal actors in that suspicious scene; and the punishment, even of Clive, as the first and principal delinquent, was represented as a necessary act of justice and policy. On the 10th of May, the following resolutions were moved; 1. " That all acquisitions, made under the
Book IV. influence of a military force, or by treaty with foreign Princes, do of right belong to the state; 2. That to appropriate acquisitions so made, to the private emolument of persons entrusted with any civil or military power of the state, is illegal; 3. That very great sums of money, and other valuable property, have been acquired in Bengal, from Princes and others of that country, by persons entrusted with the military and civil powers of the state, by means of such powers; which sums of money and valuable property have been appropriated to the private use of such persons." These resolutions were warmly adopted by the house. But when the application of them came to be made to individuals; and especially when the ruin was contemplated which that application would draw down upon Clive; compassion for the man, and the consideration of his services, blotted by offences, yet splendid and great, operated with effect in the breasts of the assembly, and put an end to the inquiry. According to the style which the spirit of English laws renders predominant in English councils, the rejection of inquiry was ostensibly placed upon a mere evasion, of the nature of a legal shuffle; the pretence, to wit, of incompetence in the reports in the Select Committee to be received as evidence. As if that were true! As if no other evidence were to be had! On the other hand, the considerations which fairly recommended the rejection, or at least a very great modification of the penal proceeding, were not so much as mentioned; That the punishment threatened was more grievous than the offence; that it was punishment by an ex-po&tfocto law, because, however contrary to the principles of right government the presents received from Meer Jaffier, and however odious to the moral sense the deception practised upon Omichund, there was no law at the time which forbid them; that the presents, how contrary soever to European morals and ideas, were perfectly correspondent to those of the country in which they were received, and to the expectations of the parties by whom they were bestowed; that the treachery to Omichund was countenanced and palliated by some of the principles and many of the admired incidents of European diplomacy; that Clive, though never inattentive to his own interests, was actuated by a sincere desire to promote the prosperity of the Company, and appears not in any instance to have sacrificed what he regarded as their interests to his own; and that it would have required an extraordinary man, which no one ought to be punished for not being, to have acted, in that most trying situation in which he was placed, with greater disinterestedness than he displayed. Financial and The inquiry into the financial and commercial state of the Company exhibited
state of the the following results. The whole of their effects and credits in England,