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The Works of the Right Honourable Edmund Burke, Vol. 10 (of 12)

The Works of the Right Honourable Edmund Burke, Vol. 10 (of 12)
Author: Burke Edmund
Title: The Works of the Right Honourable Edmund Burke, Vol. 10 (of 12)
Release Date: 2006-04-17
Type book: Text
Copyright Status: Public domain in the USA.
Date added: 25 March 2019
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My Lords,—The gentlemen who are appointedby the Commons to manage this prosecution,have directed me to inform your Lordships, that theyhave very carefully and attentively weighed the magnitudeof the subject which they bring before youwith the time which the nature and circumstances ofaffairs allow for their conducting it.

My Lords, on that comparison, they are very apprehensive,that, if I should go very largely into a preliminaryexplanation of the several matters in charge,it might be to the prejudice of an early trial of thesubstantial merits of each article. We have weighedand considered this maturely. We have comparedexactly the time with the matter, and we have foundthat we are obliged to do as all men must do whowould manage their affairs practicably, to make ouropinion of what might be most advantageous to thebusiness conform to the time that is left to performit in. We must, as all men must, submit affairs totime, and not think of making time conform to ourwishes; and therefore, my Lords, I very willinglyfall in with the inclinations of the gentlemen withwhom I have the honor to act, to come as soon aspossible to close fighting, and to grapple immediately{4}and directly with the corruptions of India,—to bringbefore your Lordships the direct articles, to apply theevidence to the articles, and to bring the matter forwardfor your Lordships' decision in that mannerwhich the confidence we have in the justice of ourcause demands from the Commons of Great Britain.

My Lords, these are the opinions of those withwhom I have the honor to act, and in their opinionsI readily acquiesce. For I am far from wishing towaste any of your Lordships' time upon any mattermerely through any opinion I have of the nature ofthe business, when at the same time I find that inthe opinion of others it might militate against theproduction of its full, proper, and (if I may so say)its immediate effect.

It was my design to class the crimes of the lateGovernor of Bengal,—to show their mutual bearings,—howthey were mutually aided and grew andwere formed out of each other. I proposed first ofall to show your Lordships that they have their rootin that which is the origin of all evil, avarice and rapacity,—toshow how that led to prodigality of thepublic money,—and how prodigality of the publicmoney, by wasting the treasures of the East IndiaCompany, furnished an excuse to the Governor-Generalto break its faith, to violate all its most solemnengagements, and to fall with a hand of stern, ferocious,and unrelenting rapacity upon all the allies anddependencies of the Company. But I shall be obligedin some measure to abridge this plan; and as yourLordships already possess, from what I had the honorto state on Saturday, a general view of this matter,you will be in a condition to pursue it when theseveral articles are presented.{5}

My Lords, I have to state to-day the root of allthese misdemeanors,—namely, the pecuniary corruptionand avarice which gave rise and primarymotion to all the rest of the delinquencies chargedto be committed by the Governor-General.

My Lords, pecuniary corruption forms not only,as your Lordships will observe in the charges beforeyou, an article of charge by itself, but likewise sointermixes with the whole, that it is necessary togive, in the best manner I am able, a history of thatcorrupt system which brought on all the subsequentacts of corruption. I will venture to say there is noone act, in which tyranny, malice, cruelty, and oppressioncan be charged, that does not at the sametime carry evident marks of pecuniary corruption.

I stated to your Lordships on Saturday last theprinciples upon which Mr. Hastings governed hisconduct in India, and upon which he grounds his defence.These may all be reduced to one short word,—arbitrarypower. My Lords, if Mr. Hastings hadcontended, as other men have often done, that thesystem of government which he patronizes, and onwhich he acted, was a system tending on the wholeto the blessing and benefit of mankind, possibly somethingmight be said for him for setting up so wild,absurd, irrational, and wicked a system,—somethingmight be said to qualify the act from the intention;but it is singular in this man, that, at the time hetells you he acted on the principles of arbitrary power,he takes care to inform you that he was not blindto the consequences. Mr. Hastings foresaw that theconsequences of this system was corruption. An arbitrarysystem, indeed, must always be a corrupt one.My Lords, there never was a man who thought he{6}had no law but his own will, who did not soon findthat he had no end but his own profit. Corruptionand arbitrary power are of natural unequivocal generation,necessarily producing one another. Mr. Hastingsforesees the abusive and corrupt consequences,and then he justifies his conduct upon the necessitiesof that system. These are things which arenew in the world; for there never was a man, I believe,who contended for arbitrary power, (and therehave been persons wicked and foolish enough to contendfor it,) that did not pretend, either that the systemwas good in itself, or that by their conduct theyhad mitigated or had purified it, and that the poison,by passing through their constitution, had acquiredsalutary properties. But if you look at his defencebefore the House of Commons, you will see that thatvery system upon which he governed, and underwhich he now justifies his actions, did appear to himselfa system pregnant with a thousand evils and athousand mischiefs.

The next thing that is remarkable and singular inthe principles upon which the Governor-General actedis, that, when he is engaged in a vicious system whichclearly leads to evil consequences, he thinks himselfbound to realize all the evil consequences involved inthat system. All other men have taken a directlycontrary course: they have said, "I have been engagedin an evil system, that led, indeed, to mischievousconsequences, but I have taken care, bymy own virtues, to prevent the evils of the systemunder which I acted."

We say, then, not only that he governed arbitrarily,but corruptly,—that is to say, that he was a giverand receiver of bribes, and formed a system for the{7}purpose of giving and receiving them. We wish yourLordships distinctly to consider that he did not onlygive and receive bribes accidentally, as it happened,without any system and design, merely as the opportunityor momentary temptation of profit urged himto it, but that he has formed plans and systems ofgovernment for the very purpose of accumulatingbribes and presents to himself. This system of Mr.Hastings's government is such a one, I believe, as theBritish nation in particular will disown; for I willventure to say, that, if there is any one thing whichdistinguishes this nation eminently above another, itis, that in its offices at home, both judicial and in thestate, there is less suspicion of pecuniary corruptionattaching to them than to any similar offices in anypart of the globe, or that have existed at any time:so that he who would set up a system of corruption,and attempt to justify it upon the principle of utility,that man is staining not only the nature and characterof office, but that which is the peculiar glory ofthe official and judicial character of this country; andtherefore, in this House, which is eminently the guardianof the purity of all the offices of this kingdom,he ought to be called eminently and peculiarly toaccount. There are many things, undoubtedly, incrimes, which make them frightful and odious; butbribery, filthy hands, a chief governor of a great empirereceiving bribes from poor, miserable, indigentpeople, this is what makes government itself base,contemptible, and odious in the eyes of mankind.

My Lords, it is certain that even tyranny itself mayfind some specious color, and appear as a more severeand rigid execution of justice. Religious persecutionmay shield itself under the guise of a mistaken and{8}over-zealous piety. Conquest may cover its baldnesswith its own laurels, and the ambition of the conquerormay be hid in the secrets of his own heart under a veilof benevolence, and make him imagine he is bringingtemporary desolation upon a country only to promoteits ultimate advantage and his own glory. But in theprinciples of that governor who makes nothing butmoney his object there can be nothing of this. Thereare here none of those specious delusions that looklike virtues, to veil either the governed or the governor.If you look at Mr. Hastings's merits, as he callsthem, what are they? Did he improve the internalstate of the government by great reforms? Nosuch thing. Or by a wise and incorrupt administrationof justice? No. Has he enlarged the boundaryof our government? No: there are but too strongproofs of his lessening it. But his pretensions tomerit are, that he squeezed more money out of theinhabitants of the country than other persons couldhave done,—money got by oppression, violence, extortionfrom the poor, or the heavy hand of powerupon the rich and great.

These are his merits. What we charge as his demeritsare all of the same nature; for, though thereis undoubtedly oppression, breach of faith, cruelty,perfidy, charged upon him, yet the great ruling principleof the whole, and that from which you can neverhave an act free, is money,—it is the vice of baseavarice, which never is, nor ever appears even to theprejudices of mankind to be, anything like a virtue.Our desire of acquiring sovereignty in India undoubtedlyoriginated first in ideas of safety and necessity;its next step was a step of ambition. That ambition,as generally happens in conquest, was followed by{9}gains of money; but afterwards there was no mixtureat all; it was, during Mr. Hastings's time, altogethera business of money. If he has extirpated a nation,I will not say whether properly or improperly, it isbecause (says he) you have all the benefit of conquestwithout expense; you have got a large sum of moneyfrom the people, and you may leave them to be governedby whom and as they will. This is directlycontrary to the

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