The Present State of the British Interest in India With a Plan for Establishing a Regular System of Government in that Country
THE PRESENT STATE OF THE BRITISH INTEREST IN INDIA
Footnotes have been collected at the end of the text, and arelinked for ease of reference.
|I. The present State of the British Interest in India, &c.||5|
|II. The Nature and Effects of the Company’s Government in Bengal||17|
|III. The true Causes of Evil and Abuse in the Government of Bengal, and the Means to remedy them||46|
|IV. A Plan, for establishing a regular System of political Government in India||106|
|V. A Plan, for establishing a regular System of military Government, and of secure Defence, in India||156|
No nation nor state ever acquired anaccession of dominion so truly valuableand beneficial, as are the acquisitionslately made by Britain in India. Butthe particular situation of her circumstancesat the time when these acquisitions fellinto her hands, enhanced the real and intrinsicvalue of them to Britain. Oppressedby a grievous debt, the annual interestof which, exceeding four millions and ahalf sterling, was levied by taxes, whichraised the price of each manufacture, hercommerce labouring under such disadvantageswas daily sinking into decay; whilsta considerable part of this annual interestbeing paid to foreigners, created such adrain of specie, as the balance of her tradecould not supply; so that, in proportionas her expence increased, the means ofdefraying it diminished; and she was every6year approaching towards a state of nationalpoverty and bankruptcy.
In such circumstances did Britain acquirethe sovereign dominion of Bengal,and of other rich manufacturing and tradingcountries in India; which, at the timethey fell to her, were capable of not onlydefraying every charge of their own governmentand defence, but over and abovethat, of yielding annually to the sovereigna sum equal to 1,300,000 l. sterling, ascan be readily demonstrated. Nor do weinclude in this sum the benefit which Britainhad been accustomed to receive, inher commercial capacity, by her tradewith those countries: the sum here specifiedwould have arisen purely in consequenceof dominion: and, whether transmittedfrom those countries in merchandizeor in money, would at last have arrivedat the public treasury in specie: andwould thus have served to alleviate theburden of those taxes, that are pressingevery branch of her domestic commerceto ruin. And, if Britain had bestowedthe smallest attention on the political governmentof those countries, she mighthave continued to draw from them the7abovementioned tribute sum in perpetuum,without any danger of draining or impoverishingthem: nay it is certain, thatunder a just, equitable and well orderedgovernment, their commerce and agriculturemight have been extended to a degree,that would have enabled them toafford a still larger annual tribute to thesovereign. The possession of this Indiandominion is likewise so particularly securedfrom domestic and foreign danger, bythe extraordinary submissive disposition ofthe natives, the singularly defensible situationof the country, and the naval superiorityof Britain, that, by a very triflingexpence of men, and no pecuniary charge,she might have maintained it against allenemies. So that Britain might have derivedfrom this dependent dominion resourcessufficient to relieve her from allher difficulties and distresses.
This is what Britain might have done:and this was not simply possible, it waseasy of execution. But if we enquirewhat Britain hath done, we shall find that,instead of applying these resources by aproper care and attention to the purpose,for which it would seem the all-wise dispensation8of Providence had at this criticalconjuncture bestowed them upon her,she hath indolently and desperately thrownthem from her, and left them to the will ofblind chance. For surely it may with proprietybe said, that the government of Britainconsigned all these resources to theguidance of blind chance, or rather tocertain destruction, when it scrupulouslywithheld its own care, and implicitly confidedthe sovereign charge of governingand defending this foreign dominion to aCompany of Merchants, so evidently unequalto such a charge, that, instead ofbeing surprized that these countries shouldnow at last be impoverished and ruined,we have reason to be astonished, that theyhave supported, for such a length of time,the complicated evils of tyranny and anarchy.
The consequences of committing thissovereign charge to the Company havebeen long foreseen, and likewise foretold,by some who were acquainted with thenature of their government: but thepower and influence of those who weresharing amongst them the plunder of thosewretched countries, blasted the credit of9their representations: until at last, theeffects being felt at home, it hath becomeimpossible to totally suppress the truth.Nay even now, that these men are forcedto partly acknowledge the ruinous situationof this foreign dominion, yet havethey still the assurance to mislead the publicjudgment, by representing the Companyas the only party concerned in theconsequence: though it is certain, thatthis Indian concern, which hath beenleased or farmed out by Government to theCompany, is of the very highest importanceto the public interest, as havingbeen for many years the principal supportof national opulence and credit, as wellas of commerce and revenue. For, in thearticle of opulence, the private fortunesacquired in those countries by the servantsof the Company, ever since the time thattheir power prevailed over the native government,that is ever since 1757, hathcreated an annual influx of specie to Britainof about 700,000 l. and the dedomagementpaid to Government by theCompany, since the assumption of the dewannyin 1765, is a farther influx of10400,000 l. the drawback on teas is reckonedabout 200,000 l. and the Companyhath increased her dividend since the lastmentioned period 200,000 l. though onlyone half of this last sum may be reckonedto remain in the country, the other halfbeing paid to foreign proprietors. Thesefour sums, making together 1,400,000 l.have been yearly drawn from India in consequenceof dominion: and, whether sentfrom thence in merchandize, in bills, orin specie, have produced so much moneyto Britain: and notwithstanding the privatefortunes have been acquired by meansthat have exhausted these sources of wealth,that might otherwise have flowed perpetuallyinto Britain; and the dedomagementmay be considered as a base composition,received for alienating the sovereignrights of the British crown and nation,and for furnishing a force to support themost detestable tyranny of a few individualsover fifteen millions of men, whoare to all intents and purposes British subjects;yet did the opportune importationof so much wealth, serve to support thecredit of the nation under the grievous accumulationof debt contracted in the last11war; and to prevent her feeling the drainof specie made by her foreign creditors,which otherwise would by this time havecompletely exhausted her. By her commercewith those countries, Britain hathexported yearly 5 or 600,000 l. worth ofher own manufactures and merchandize,and for these she received the commoditiesof India; which commodities, beingre-exported, formed the most essential articleof her traffic with Africa, on whichher West India colonies do entirely depend;they are likewise the most valuablearticle of her trade with America.And the duties levied by Government, onsuch part of these Indian commodities asis expended at home, create a very considerable,and by far the most equitable andconvenient branch of revenue.
But the value and importance of thisIndian concern will appear in a stillstronger light, if we shall look forward tothe consequences that must naturally andunavoidably ensue to the public interestfrom the loss of it. The first and mostimmediate of these consequences will benational bankruptcy; or, which is thesame thing, a stop to the payment of interest12on the national debt; for a deprivationof that annual influx of specie fromIndia will quickly produce national poverty;and an incapacity of paying inspecie the interest of the foreign creditors.But the loss of our Indian commercewill operate this effect still morespeedily; for, on the supposition that thenation shall be deprived of this branch ofcommerce, it must necessarily follow, thatGovernment will lose that branch of revenuewhich arises from the home consumptionof Indian commodities; and it isplain, that Government cannot then continueto pay the usual expence, withoutmaking good this deficiency of revenueby additional taxes on land, and the necessariesof life: but as this additionalload, falling on our little remaining commerce,would by one year’s experience befound insupportable, Government wouldbe forced to retrench its expence, in thatonly article that can be dispensed with,the payment of interest on the nationaldebt; and when this happens, what advantagewill the public creditor hold abovethe India proprietor? The only differencewill be, that the latter will have felt his13loss a little earlier than the former. Butnational bankruptcy, though it may be thefirst, is not the only, nor even the greatest,public damage, accruing from a deprivationof this Indian concern: loss offuture credit, of trade and navigation, andconsequently of naval power and defence,will soon follow; and, in this general calamity,everyone individual of the communitywill come in for his share, in proportionto his rank or situation.
Such are the consequences that mustensue to the public interest from a deprivationof the benefit hitherto derived fromthis Indian concern: and if the nation isto suffer so grievously by the loss of thisobject, can she allow herself to be persuaded,that she hath no interest in its preservation.Now this object stands in danger ofbeing lost to the nation by two differentcauses; the first being, the neglect or incapacityof the Company to maintain anddefend it from the assault of enemies: andthe other danger arises from the oppressionand misconduct of this Company’s politicalgovernment; tending to despoil thosecountries of their circulating specie, theirarts, manufactures, commerce, and inhabitants,14which were the only means thatenabled them to afford this benefit to Britain.The first of these dangers is scarcelydreamt of, and yet it is perhaps immediatelyimminent; at present however weare treating of the danger to be apprehendedfrom the political cause.
How far the interest of this foreign dominionhath been injured by the Company’spolitical misgovernment; or hownear it may be reduced to a state of utterinability to afford any farther benefit toBritain, is but little known by the public.For though people have heard in the gross,that affairs in those countries are ratherin a bad situation, yet do not they eitherunderstand or believe it to be so very badas it really is; or rather they do not comprehendhow it should be so bad; as notbeing acquainted with the full power ofthe cause that hath produced the evil;and every one will form his notion of effectsthat he neither feels nor sees, fromhis knowledge or opinion of the nature andpower of the causes that produced them.In the case before us, people have beentaught to consider the oppression and extortionof its government, (of which certain15instances are quoted) as the sole causeof evil to Bengal: of consequence it issupposed that Bengal hath suffered no fartherdamage from its government, thanwhat may have been caused by some privateacts of extortion, exercised by thefew persons vested with the powers ofgoverning: and, besides that the authenticityof these acts is denied or disputed,and men who are to judge only from reportare apt to make allowance for theprejudice or passion of the accuser whobrings a charge against individuals; stillif all these acts of oppression that havebeen narrated should be fully credited;nay, if the hearer should suppose stillmore