« PreviousContinue »
The Nabob, in despair now of the arrangement with Mr Vansittart, wrote to the Council to relieve him from the burthens of the government, since they deprived him of the powers necessary to carry it on; and, as his last resort, he abandoned all the duties on the transit of goods, and laid the interior trade of the country perfectly open. Never,' said the Committee of the House of Commons," was a method of defeating the oppressions of monopoly mcre forcible, more simple, or more equitable.' But its equity was of little avail to the Nabob. The Council, incredible as it may seem, denied his power to take of the duties, and seriously asserted that he was bound to continue to burthen his people with taxes, in order that the English might enjoy a comparative advantage by being exempt from them, For this unheard-of offence he was hurried into war, defeated, and actually deposed !-and, with his deposition in 1764, ended almost the appearance of independence in the Nabobs of Bengal. It was on the strength of transactions like these, of which we should tire our readers if we went through the catalogue, that Burke made the sweeping assertions, that there was not a single ' prince, state, or potentate with whom the Company had come
into contact whom they had not sold,--that there was not a • single treaty they had ever made which they had not broken,
-that there was not a single prince or state, who had ever put • trust in them, who was not utterly ruined.' We are accustomed to rate very highly the security which is derived from being governed by men having the advantages of English education and English feelings. But it affords a lesson of melancholy instruction as to the feebleness of this security, when we see gentlemen eminently possessed of these advantages, and placed far above the reach of want, ready to destroy the commerce of a great country, to break down the administration of justice, to oppress the people, to violate treaties, to kindle a war, and to depose a monarch, their ally, merely to secure to themselves the profits of an illegal traffic.
When we find our Indian rulers exempt from so many of the checks which exist in the most arbitrary of the European States, some of which even exist in the simple Asiatic despotisms, we are naturally led to inquire how far this deficiency is supplied by the controlling authority in England: And here, if we could even forget that the persons who are so to be coerced are the relations, the friends, at any rate the countrymen of the Directors,—that the persons in whose behalf they are to interfere, are neither of the same country, nor colour, nor language--are strangers whom they will never see, and whose sufferings it requires an effort of the imagination even to picture to themselves; yet we must remember, that oppression is not a simple act, a plain open proceeding which can be put an end to by a simple precise order. It springs up in a thousand different forms, and requires continually renewed efforts to repress it. We must remember, that with the native powers there must be constant opportunities for war, if war be desired, which it is vain for persons 9000 miles distant to attempt to anticipate. But, besides this, nothing is more common in the history of British India, than instances in which the most positive orders of the Directors have been absolutely contemned by their servants in the East. We shall select a few cases connected with the events to which we have just alluded.
In a letter of the Directors to the Governor and Council of Bengal, dated Feb. 8, 1764, they said that one great source of the disputes and misunderstandings which had occurred with the country governments, appears evidently to have taken its rise from the unwarrantable and licentious manner of carrying on the private trade by the Company's servants, &c. In order, therefore, to remedy all these disorders, we do positively order and direct, that from the receipt of this letter, a final and effectual end be forthrith put to the inland trade in salt, betel nut, tobacco, and all other articles whatever produced and consumed in the country.' II.
II. p. 210. On the 17th of October of the same year, this letter was taken into consideration by the Council at Calcuita. The great articles of the internal trade of Bengal were salt and betel nut-salt being, out of all proportion, the most important. Tobacco was an object so inconsiderable, that few, if any, of the Company's servants had ever engaged in it. The Board, therefore, with appearance of proper submission, gave up the trade-in tobacco—which was of no value-but retained the trade in betel nut and salt! On the 1st of June a second letter had been written by the Court of Directors, nearly in the same terms with the former. But the Committee, instead of yielding obedience to this reiterated order, determined to defer all proceedings till the arrival of Clive; and, in the mean timc, the course of the inland trade remained undisturbed.
On May the 3d, 1765, Clive arrived at Calcutta, invested with the power of Commander in Chief, President and Governor in Bengal, and authorized, together with four gentlemen, to act with full authority, as often as they dcemed it expedient, without consulting the Council, or being subject to its control. Before the beginning of June, Clive and this committee, with one exception, instead of abolishing the inland trade, actually formed a partnership for buying up large quantities of salt. During the month of June the purchases were made; and in nine months the parties realized a profit, including interest, of about 45 per cent. Clive himself stated, in his speech in the House of Commons, that this flagrant disobedience of the Company's erders' was intended for the benefit of his Secretary, his Sur
geon, and an old friend and relation ;'-and this he considered as an excuse !
After the profits of this transaction had been secured by the purchases that had been made, it was at last resolved, by the Select Committee, that a monopoly should be formed of the trade in salt, betel nut, and tobacco, to be carried on for the benefit of the superior servants of the Company,—the profits being divided in certain proportions. In the mean time, the Directors had written a third letter, in February 1765, confirming their previous orders for the abolition of the trade, and positively requiring that no steps whatever should be taken towards the renewing this traffic, without their express leave. On the 19th of February 1766, they again declared that they considered the subsistence of this trade as an express breach
and violation of their orders, and as a determined resolu* tion to sacrifice the interests of the Company and the peace of
the country to lucrative and selfish views : And they added, • Whatever government may be established, or whatever un
foreseen circumstances may arise, it is our resolution to pro"hibit, and we do absolutely forbid, this trade of salt, betel nut • and tobacco, and of all articles which are not for export
and import:'-And they ordered that all Europeans concerned in that traffic thenceforward should be sent to England, to be proceeded against as guilty of a breach of covenants.
Notwithstanding this fourth express prohibition, the Committee proceeded, on the 3d of September in the same year, to renew the monopoly :—Clive in his minute availing himself of the excuse, which can never be wanting in such a case, that the Directors could not have the least idea of " that favourable
change in the affairs of these provinces, whereby the interest of the Nabob, with regard to salt, is no longer immediately concerned.' On' the 9th of December, new fulminations of the Directors reached Calcutta, which Clive did not, perhaps, think it worth while to resist, as, in less than a month after wards, he declared his intention of returning to England. The Trade Society, for so this monopoly partnership was called, was then ordered to be dissolved; but, under pretence of contracts formed, and advances made, its dissolution did not in fact take place till the 14th of September 1768, more than four years and a half after the positive declaration of the Directors that the traffic should be at once abolished.
Nor is this by any means a solitary instance of disobedience. About the time when the Directors' first ordered that the inland trade should be abolished, they had also, in the most express terms, prohibited their servants from receiving any Presents beyond a limited amount;-and, indeed, it is obvious, VOL. XXXI. NO. 61.
that, without some such enactment, the leading natives could possess nothing which might not be extorted from them. On the revolution in favour of Meer Jaffier, about 1,200,000l. was received by the army and navy, and different individuals, as donatives; Clive's share alone being 234,0001. From Meer Causim, 200,2691. were extracted-from Meer Jaffier, on his re-ascending the throne, 437,0001.; so that, including large sums which were received under the name of restitution for some prerious losses, it was proved that 5,940,4981., or very near six millions sterling, had been procured from this family of princes, in the course of a few years,—besides smaller sums which must have escaped detection. Now the orders to execute the covenants against the receipt of presents, arrived on the 24th of January 1765, previously to the formation of a treaty with Nujcem ad Dowla, who was made Nabob on the death of Meer Jaffier: But instead of giving obedience to this necessary mandate, it does not appear that the Governor ever brought the orders under the consideration of the Council, until the arrival of Clive; and, in the mean time, 139,3577. were obtained by different members of the government, in the shape of presents (not without suspicion of extortion) from the minister of the puppet who had been decked with the trappings of sovereignty. On Clive's arrival, the covenants were transmitted to the armies and factories, and were in-, mediately executed, with one remarkable exception. General Carnac, who then commanded the army in the upper provinces, forbore to execute his own, on the pretence that it was dated incorrectly. On his return to Calcutta, however, he executed this same contract without scruple-having, in the interval, received a present of two lacs of rupees (23,000l.) from the impoverished Emperor of the Moguls !--Such was the manner in which the commands of the Government in England, on the most important measures of their administration, were contemned,—and always with perfect impunit'. Similar instances of disobedience meet us indeed at every stage of the history. Toenumerate those which occurred while Hastings was GovernorGeneral, would be to give a detailed account of his administration. But we must now proceed to matters of still higher interest.
The examinations of the attempts to remedy the defects which were supposed to exist in the Company as a governing body, and to prevent the recurrence of evils which were known to have arisen in the government of India, form some of the most instructive portions of Mr Mill's work. They are those, too, of which it will be most easy to convey an idea. There are parts of the narrative, which are of superior interest and equal value; but the most valuable branch of historical evidence, consists of circumstances too ininute and too multiplied, not to suffer by abridgment, or even by selection. When the nation first wit nessed the great acquisitions of territory in India by the Company, the most extravagant expectations were formed of the wealth which would flow in upon this country. The traditional 'ideas of Indian riches had taken a strong hold of the imagination of the people; and the prodigious fortunes acquired in Hindostan by a few Englishmen who were of humble rank among their own countrymen, though they had held in their hands the destinies of Asiatic kingdoms, were calculated to keep up the delusion. It was not at that time generally understood, that the inhabitants of India were very low in the most important arts of industry,--and that it was not very probable that a distant dependency, held by force of arms, could be made to yield a surplus revenue, after defraying the expenses of its government. There was a time, however, when some such revenue appeared to exist: For the annual sum of 400,0001. was paid by the Company for some years after 1769, as a sort of temporary compromise of the claims of the nation, on the advantages to be derived from the Indian territory. But, in 1772, when they had been favoured by some years of peace, and when, according to the common anticipations, they should have begun to feel symptoms of repletion, rather than of inanition, the Directors were obliged to obtain a loan of 600,0001. from the Bank of England; and, immediately after, applied for, and procured from the Minister, a further loan of 1,400,000l. of the public money,--declaring, that without such an aid they could not avoid bankruptcy.
This occurrence came upon the public by surprise; and the disappointment which was universally felt, induced the Parliament to underake an inquiry into the state of our Indian dominions, -a duty which they owed to the numerous inhabitants of those countries, but which might have been much longer neglected, if the promised supplies of Indian treasure had not failed. In the course of this inquiry, it was proved, that the changes which had been unproductive to England, had been calamitous to Hindostan; and, among other facts, were brought to view, the various acts of treachery and rapacity, by which the empire had been established. A feeling of indignation was of course excited, which, like the same feeling at all times, did not favour an accurate investigation of causes. It was under the name of the East India Company that acts of oppression, treachery and malversation, had been perpetrated; and it was rather rashly concluded, that to diminish or transfer the powers of government from the Company, would be a sufficient security against similar results in future.
There were, at that time, as there generally have been, two great nostrums for curing all evils in India. The ministers of