IN a Committee of the whole Houſe, Mr. St. John in the chair.
Mr. Dempſter having communicated to the houſe, that a paper, which he held in his hand, had been received by him from Sir Elijah Impey, with a requeſt that he would read it; as it was explanatory of ſome paſſages which he had given in evidence at the bar of the Houſe, but which explanation the Houſe did not think proper to receive, but from the mouth of Sir Elijah Impey himſelf, and he not being preſent, Mr. SHERIDAN was called upon.
[Page 2] Mr. Sheridan, during a ſpeech which laſted near five hours and three quarters, commanded the moſt profound attention and admiration of the Houſe. His matchleſs oration united the moſt ſolid argument with the moſt perſuaſive eloquence. His ſound reaſoning giving additional energy to truth, and his logical perſpicuity, and unerring judgment, throwing a light upon, and pervading the obſcurity, of the moſt involved and complicated ſubject.
Mr. Sheridan's pre-eminence and unrivalled abilities, will, from this period, ſtand recorded, as having had power to aſſimilate the moſt diſcordant ſentiments, upon a great and trying occaſion, and (with a few exceptions,) to unite the various opinions of the multitude in one point.—He commenced his elegant ſpeech by ſaying, that had it been poſſible to have received, without the violation of the eſtabliſhed rules of Parliament, the paper which the Honourable Gentleman (Mr. Dempſter) had juſt now read, he ſhould willingly have receded from any forms of the Houſe, for the purpoſe of obtaining farther illuſtration of the ſubject then before them: yet he had not come ſo ill prepared, as, by a trifling circumſtance, to be prevented from proceeding to the [Page 3] diſcharge of his duty, or that the want of it could make any impreſſion on the body of proof he was to bring forward that day againſt Warren Haſtings.
In his opinion, the explanation of the evidence, ſo far from throwing any new light upon it and clearing it up, rendered it even more obſcure and contradictory than before. Every art was made uſe of to impreſs the Houſe with an idea that this buſineſs was not of the moſt ſerious nature. But this was far beneath his notice. The juſtice and ſtrength of his cauſe were not to be overcome by ſuch pitiful and flimſey expedients; nor ſhould he waſte his time in oppoſing meaſures which were as paltry and inefficacious, as they were inſidious.
He would not, he ſaid, encroach upon the time of the committee with any general argnments to prove, what was in itſelf ſo obvious, that the ſubject of the charge, which it fell to his lot to bring forward, was of great magnitude. The attention Parliament had beſtowed upon Indian concerns for many ſeſſions paſt; the voluminous productions of their committees on that ſubject, the various proceedings in that Houſe reſpecting it, their own ſtrong [Page 4] and pointed reſolutions, the repeated recommendations of his Majeſty, and their repeated aſſurances of paying due regard to thoſe recommendations, as well as various acts of the legiſlature, were, all of them, undeniable proofs of the moment and magnitude of the conſideration, and tended to eſtabliſh this broad fact, that they acknowledged the Britiſh name and character to have been diſhonoured and deteſted throughout India, by the malverſation and crimes of the ſervants of the Eaſt India Company. That fact having been eſtabliſhed beyond all queſtion, by themſelves and their own acts, there needed no argument, on his part, to induce the committee to ſee the importance of the ſubject about to be diſcuſſed that day, in a more ſtriking point of view than they had themſelves placed it in.
There were, he knew, perſons, without doors, who affected to ridicule the idea of proſecuting Mr. Haſtings, and, in proportion as the proſecution became more ſerious, to increaſe their ſarcaſms upon the ſubject, by aſſerting that Parliament might be more uſefully employed; that there were matters of more immediate moment to engage their attention; that a Commercial Treaty with France had [Page 5] juſt been concluded, and that it was an object of a vaſt comprehenſive nature, and was of itſelf ſufficient to engroſs their conſideration.
To all this he would oppoſe theſe queſtions: Was Parliament miſpending its time, by enquiring into the oppreſſions practiſed on millions of unfortunate perſons in India, and endeavouring to bring the daring delinquents, who had been guilty of the moſt flagrant acts of enormous tyranny and rapacious peculation, to exemplary and condign puniſhment? Was it improperly employed in giving an eminent but ſevere example to their future ſervants, of the madneſs and folly of relying on corruption and ſycophancy for ſupport, in the day of trial for their crimes? Was it a miſuſe of their functions, to be dilligent in attempting, by the moſt effectual means, to wipe off the diſgrace that ſtood affixed to the Britiſh name in India, and to reſcue the national character from laſting infamy? Were the good faith and credit of Britain of no conſequence in the eyes of the repreſentatives of the nation? Surely no man who felt for either the one or the other, would think that a buſineſs of greater moment or magnitude could occupy his attention, or that the Houſe could with too much ſteadineſs, too ardent a zeal, or too induſtrious [Page 6] a perſeverance, purſue its object. Indeed they muſt all know and feel the neceſſity of bringing this important caſe to the iſſue now intended. Their conduct in this reſpect laſt year had done them immortal honour, and proved to all the world, that, however degenerate an example of the conduct of Engliſhmen, ſome of the Britiſh ſubjects had exhibited in India, the people of England collectively, ſpeaking and acting by their repreſentatives, felt as men ſhould feel on ſuch an oecaſion; that they were anxious to do juſtice, by redreſſing injuries and puniſhing offenders, however high their rank, however elevated their ſtation.
Mr. Sheridan ſaid he would exhibit to their view a body of information, which would prove the commiſſion of the moſt horrid crimes ever conceived by the fouleſt heart that ever inhabited a human frame; facts which perſons of every party, of every political bias in this kingdom, had been aſſiſting in bringing to view. In theſe had the indefatigable attention and labour of ſeveral committees been employed; it was the work of many years: theſe were fully demonſtrated in the various clear and elaborate reports which had been long upon their table; their long and intereſting debates, [Page 7] their ſolemn addreſs to the throne, and their rigorous legiſlative acts.
The vote of the Houſe laſt ſeſſion, wherein the conduct of this pillar of India, this corner ſtone of our ſtrength in the eaſt, this talliſman of the Britiſh dominions in Aſia, was cenſured, did the greateſt honour to that houſe, as it muſt be the fore-runner of ſpeedy juſtice on that character which was ſaid to be above cenſure, and whoſe conduct, we were given to underſtand, was above ſuſpicion, His deeds were ſuch, they could not be juſtified by any poſſible neceſſity; for no ſituation, however elevated, however embarraſſed, could juſtify a man for committing acts of rapacity upon individuals. To the honour of that Houſe, they had reſiſted the monſtrous argument attempted to be ſet up, they had ſhewn their deteſtation of that novel and baſe ſcepticiſm on the principles of judicial enquiry, conſtantly the language of the Governor General's ſervile dependents; that ſuch horrid crimes ſhould be compounded; that, though M. Haſtings might be guilty of all the charges exhibited againſt him, he ought not to be puniſhed; he ſhould ſtill be conſidered as the ſaviour of India, and that fortunate events were a full and complete fet-off againſt a ſyſtem of oppreſſion, corruption, [Page 8] breach of faith, peculation and treachery. What though King, Lords, and Commons, were againſt him, he was not a perſon to be aſſailed; for he had a vote of thanks from the Court of Proprietors in his pocket. The committee had, however, nobly combated ſuch doctrine, and declared that Mr. Haſtings's treatment of Cheyt Sing was unjuſtifiable upon any ground of political neceſſity. Their ſolemn and awful judgment, that in the caſe of Benares, Mr. Haſtings's conduct was a proper object of parliamentary impeachment, had covered them with applauſe, and brought them forward in the face of all the world as the objects of perpetual admiration. To uſe the words of a Right Honourable Gentleman (Mr. Pitt) on this ſubject, the committee had found in the adminiſtration of Mr. Haſtings, "Acts of ſtrong injuſtice, of grinding oppreſſion, and nnprovoked ſeverity." That committee had alſo reſcued his Right Honourable Friend (Mr. Burke) from the imputation of being a falſe accuſer, they had ſhewn that he was not moved by envy, by malice, nor any unworthy motives to blacken a ſpotleſs name; they had approved him to be, what in reality he was, an indefatigable, and, he was happy to add, a ſucceſsful, champion in the cauſe of truth, humanity, and juſtice. With ſound judgment, with manly firmneſs, [Page 9] with unſhaken integrity, had his Right Honourable Friend reſiſted the timid policy of mere remedial acts. Even the high opinion of Mr. Haſtings's ſucceſſor, even the admitted worth of Lord Cornwallis's character, had been deemed by him an inadequate atonement to India for the injuries ſo heavily inflicted on her. The committee had by their vote ſolemnly pledged themſelves to India. They had audibly ſaid to the inhabitants of that country; There ſhall be no more remedial acts: You ſhall no longer be ſeduced into temporary acquieſcence, by ſending out a titled governor, or a vapouring ſet of reſolutions; It is not with ſtars and ribbands, and all the badges of regal favour, that weatone to you for paſt delinquencies, theſe ſhould bend to the ſacred ſhrine of juſtice, and the people of India ſhall be convinced of our honeſt intentions. You ſhall have the ſolid conſolation of ſeeing an end to your grievances, by an example of puniſhment for paſt offences. The Houſe has ſet up a beacon, which, while it ſerved as a guide to themſelves, would alſo make their motions more conſpicuous to the world that ſurrounded and beheld them. He had no doubt of their manly determination to go through the whole of the buſineſs, with the ſame ſteadineſs which [Page 10] gave ſuch ſterling brilliancy of character to their outſet, and that they might ſafely challenge the world, to obſerve and judge of them by the reſult.
After an exordium of this tendency, Mr. Sheridan took notice of a paper, ſigned "Warren Haſtings," which had been put into his hand, as he entered the houſe that day, and which he conſidered as a ſecond defence, and a ſecond anſwer to the charge he was about to bring forward; a charge, replete with proof of criminality of the blackeſt die, of tyranny the moſt baſe and unprecedented, of treachery the moſt vile and premeditated, of corruption the moſt open and ſhameleſs, of oppreſſion the moſt grinding and ſevere, and cruelty the moſt unmanly and unparalleled.
There never was a queſtion ſince the creation of the world, wherein ſo much cruelty, wickedneſs, inhumanity and depravity, were put to the teſt, as in the preſent caſe. He was no party accuſer: ‘I call, ſaid Mr. Sheridan, upon his advocates to watch my words, and to take them down. I will exhibit no charge that has not ſolid truth for its foundation, for I truſt nothing to declamation.’ Mr. Sheridan [Page 11] added; he was far from meaning to reſt the charge on aſſertion, or on any warm expreſſions that the impulſe of wounded feelings might produce: He would eſtabliſh every part of the charge, by the moſt unanſwerable proof, and the moſt unqueſtionable evidence; the witneſs, whom he would bring forth to ſupport every fact he intended to ſtate, ſhould be, for the moſt part, a witneſs that no man would venture to contradict; no other than Warren Haſtings himfelf!
The defence of Mr. Haſtings would eſtabliſh every charge he had to make againſt him. There was not one fact which was not founded on, or mixed with falſehood; no one queſtion that was truly given; nor one ſingle concluſion which followed fairly from the premiſes laid down: but of this aſſertion, the multiplied proofs would ſhortly ariſe.
Mr. Sheridan ſaid he would go farther back into a detail of facts than his Right Honourable [Page 12] friend had done in his charge, in order the more clearly to ſhew the committee the ſituation in which the Britiſh government of India ſtood with reſpect to the Nabob of Oude and the Begums, till the deſign of obliging the Nabob to plunder thoſe unfortunate Princeſſes (his mother and grandmother) of their treaſures, to confiſcate their Jaghires and ſeize upon the miniſters, throw them into a dungeon, there load them with chains, and keep them for many months cloſe priſoners, ſuffering incredible hardſhips, was firſt entertained by the Governor General.
Mr. Sheridan here read a variety of extracts from Mr. Haſtings's defence; wherein were ſtated the various ſteps taken by Mr. Briſtow, (the Company's Reſident at Fyzyabad,) in the years 1775 and 1776, to procure aid for the Nabob, from the Begum, (the dowager princeſſes of that diſtrict,) and that he thought proper to exact, by his ſole authority, thirty lacks of rupees, for the uſe of the Nabob Vizier of Oude, out of the treaſures bequeathed to the Begum by her late huſband Sujah Dowla; obtaining however the guarantee of the Governor and Council that, that exaction, for which no ſhadow of right was ſhewn, ſhould be the laſt. Mr. Haſtings, however, had not ſtated one of the [Page 13] facts truly. Groundleſs, nugatory and inſulting were his affirmations, that the ſeizure of treaſures from the Begums, and the expoſition of their pilfered goods to public auction, (unparallelled acts of open injuſtice, oppreſſion and inhumanity) were in any degree to be defended by thoſe incroachments on their property, which had taken place previous to his adminiſtration, or by thoſe ſales which they themſelves had ſolicited, as a favourable mode of their ſupplying a part of their aid to the Nabob. The relation of a ſeries of plain indiſputable facts, would irrecoverably overthrow a ſubterfuge ſo pitiful, a diſtinction ſo ridiculous. It muſt be remembered that, at that period, the Begums did not merely deſire, but they moſt expreſly ſtipulated, that of the thirty lacks promiſed, eleven ſhould be paid in ſundry articles of manufacture. Was it not obvious therefore, that the ſale of goods in the firſt caſe, far from partaking of the nature of an act of plunder, became an extenſion of relief, of indulgence, and of accommodation. By the paſſages which he ſhould beg leave to read, Mr. Haſtings wiſhed to inſinuate that a claim was ſet up to the Begum's treaſure, as belonging of right to the Nabob. In this tranſaction Mr. Haſtings endeavoured to ſhift the reſponſibility from himſelf to the majority [Page 14] of the Council, and under that authority to keep alive the Nabob's right.
Mr. Sheridan, in order to prove the oppreſſion of the Princeſſes in 1775, which was much aggravated in 1781, read an extract of a letter from the Bhow Begum, mother of the Nabob, to Mr. Haſtings, received at Calcutta December 22, 1775, wherein ſhe ſays, ‘If it is your pleaſure that the mother of the late Nabob, myſelf, and his other women, and infant children, ſhould be reduced to a ſtate of diſhonour and diſtreſs, we muſt ſubmit; but if, on the contrary, you call to mind the friendſhip of the late bleſſed Nabob, you will exert yourſelf effectually in favour of us, who are helpleſs.’ And again, ‘If you do not approve of my remaining at Fyzyabad, ſend a perſon here, in your name, to remove the mother of the late Nabob, myſelf, and about 2000 women and children, that we may reſide with honour and reputation in ſome other place.’ This letter and ſeveral others were read, to prove the controuling power of Mr. Haſtings in Oude, at ſo late a period as before mentioned; and to prove that every circumſtance of oppreſsion and exaction, practiſed on theſe Princeſſes, was done by the orders, conſent, [Page 15] and approbation, of the Governor, who was ſuppoſed to be paramount in Oude.
Treaſure, which was the true ſource of all the cruelties, was the original pretence which Mr. Haſtings made to the Company for the meaſure; and through the whole of his conduct he makes Mahomedaniſm an excuſe; as if he meant to inſinuate, that there was ſomething in Mahomedaniſm which made it impious in a ſon, not to plunder his mother. But, to ſhew how the queſtion preciſely ſtood when Mr. Haſtings begun the attack, Mr. Sheridan read the Minutes of General Clavering, Colonel Monſon, and Mr. Francis, who ſeverally ſpoke of a claim which had been made by the Nabob on the Bhow Begum, in the year 1775, amounting to two and a half lacks. The opinion contained in thoſe minutes was, that women were, on the death of their huſbands, entitled by the Mahomedan law, only to the property within the Zenana where they lived. This opinion was deciſive. Mr. Briſtow uſed no threats; no military execution or rigor was even menaced the Begums complied with the requiſition then made, and the diſputed property then claimed was given up.
[Page 16] After this, the farther treaſure that was within the Zenana, was confeſſedly her own. No farther right was ſet up, no pretence of any kind was advanced, to claim the reſidue. Nay, a treaty was ſigned by the Nabob, and ratified, by the Reſident, Mr. Briſtow that, on her paying thirty lacks, ſhe ſhould be freed from all farther applications; and the Company were bound, by Mr. Briſtow, to guarantee this treaty. Here then was the iſſue. After this treaty thus ratified, could there be an argument as to the right of the treaſures of the Begums? If the Mahomedan law had given a right, was not that right concluded?
Mr. Sheridan averred, that the Mahomedan law did not authorize the ſeizure of the Princeſſes property; that ſeveral jaghires were left them by the late Nabob Sujah Doulah for their own maintenance, and the education of their children; that the plunder was never authoriſed by the Board; and that military execution being uſed for the recovery of the exactions, was contrary to every principle of juſtice; and that the Nabob complied reluctantly in many inſtances: that Mr. Briſtow acted under the orders of his immediate ſuperior: that, when the whole tranſaction was cenſured, Mr. Haſtings then threw off all reſponſibility, and appealed [Page 17] pealed to the orders of the Board, at a time, when he knew the authority of the Board was veſted in himſelf alone, there being only one other member; and the Governor having the caſting voice, every act muſt become his own. This, ſaid Mr. Sheridan, is ſomewhat ſimilar to the following caſe.—If, ſome five years hence, I was to become a warm admirer of Mr. Haſtings's late adminiſtration, and from friendſhip, become his panegyriſt; would not ſome perſon who hears me now, remind me of my accuſations againſt him, and ſay to me, Why this ſudden change of opinion? I could only anſwer, that I thought ſo then; but ſince that time I had changed my opinion, and that I was not anſwerable now for what I then did in my official capacity. What muſt the world think of ſuch tergiverſation, of ſuch meanneſs? Is there any man in this Houſe that would countenance ſuch a nefarious procedure? After a ſolemn guarantee and aſſignment is entered into, thus to break the public faith, which was [Page 18] pledged to preſerve their property, is a tranſaction that honor ſhrinks from. The Begums were ſaid to be in the habits of diſturbing the public peace; but there is no inſtance on record of any ſuch attempt, until the revolution of Benares; and then all India ſeemed to be hoſtile to England.
I would here ſit down, and reſt my queſtion of cenſure, on the iſſue of what has been produced; as it muſt be clear to every member, that the princeſſes were entitled to our protection; and that every hoſtile attempt, to wreſt their property from them, was unjuſt and diſgraceful. I require no other proof for this than Mr. Haſtings's own words, wherein he ſays, ‘That our officious interference made us many foes.’
In 1778, we entered into another treaty with the Nabob, which was negotiated by Mr. Middleton, wherein it was ſtipulated, that the Bhow Begum was not to be moleſted; and, not long after, Mr. Haſtings tranſmits to the Court of Directors [Page 19] a diſtreſsful picture of the ſituation of the Nabob, of the horrors and famine which triumphed over his country.
If it were poſſible for a country to be ſtill more diſtreſſed, the Nabob's territories were ſo in the year 1780; but, at that period, there was a majority in council, whoſe ſentiments were by no means favourable to the perſecuting ſchemes of the Governor; and, for this reaſon, there was then no offer to moleſt the property of the Begums.
In the ſubſequent year, however, the Governor took eſpecial care to furniſh himſelf with power. The treaty of Chunar was executed; and ſurely a treaty, ſo marked with diſſimulation, was never before entered into: the Governor made himſelf reſponſible for every political tranſaction in that ravaged and oppreſſed country.
[Page 20] Mr. Sheridan ſaid he had now reached the period, when Mr. Haſtings's firſt intentions appeared, to enforce the execution of his projects at all events; when, by Mr. Middleton, his private agent, he urged the Nabob Aſoph ul Dowla, to break this ſolemn engagement, ſanctioned by the guarantee of the Company, to deprive his mother, and the elder Begum, his grandmother, of the jaghires which were aſſigned for their ſupport; and proceeding ſtill farther to plunder them of their treaſures, which he had avowed to be their ſole property, and which he had ſolemnly pledged himſelf ſhould remain inviolate. It was a little difficult, however, here to ſay, what was the queſtion at iſſue. It had ſometimes been ſaid, that the Nabob had an inherent right to this wealth, as the wealth of the ſtate; but when it was recollected that it was not made up of the produce of taxes, but collected by the conqueſts of his father, Sujah Dowla, by him bequeathed as a perſonal acquiſition, (prudently for his ſon,) whom it would only make the object of rapacious attack, [Page 21] and to whom he, with more wiſdom, bequeathed neceſſity as his ſword, and poverty as his ſhield; and when it was conſidered in what manner, and on what condition, it was relinquiſhed by the Nabob, and that dereliction guaranteed by the Company, he thought that ground of defence would ſcarcely be occupied on the preſent day. Mr. Haſtings in his defence had taken a more extended field, where there was more ſcope for his deluſion, more amplitude for his equivocation. He had admitted the right to have reſted in the Begums, but contended that it had been forfeited by their frequent acts of contumacy and rebellion. This allegation againſt them had been divided into four parts:—The charges were the following.
To each of theſe charges Mr. Sheridan made diſtinct and ſeparate anſwers, by a variety of extracts which he read; ſome of them written by Mr. Haſtings himſelf, to prove that they had particularly diſtinguiſhed themſelves by their friendſhip for the Engliſh, and the various good offices they had rendered Government. Againſt the firſt charge Mr. Sheridan adduced proofs, in the moſt pointed terms, from the ſeveral letters which paſſed between Mr. Haſtings and Mr. Middleton, Colonel Hannay and the Nabob. By this correſpondence it was very evident, that their conduct during the period from 1775 to 1781, ſo far from being what it was repreſented, had been mild and inoffenſive. Not a [Page 23] ſingle ſymptom of inveteracy, not one ſolid proof of diſaffection, was mentioned in theſe letters, but in all, their conduct appeared as much the reverſe, as it was in the nature of things to expect. The ſecond charge fell to the ground the inſtant it was examined; for, ſo far from any undue influence being uſed on the part of the Begums, to ſtimulate the Jaghirdars to reſiſtance, it did not even appear that the ſmalleſt reſiſtance was made by the jaghirdars, againſt the violences which they ſuſtained. The third charge was equally falſe. Did they reſiſt the reſumption of their own jaghires? Though, if they had actually reſiſted, it could not be deemed criminal; for thoſe jaghires were their own property, veſted in them and confirmed to them by a ſolemn treaty. But is there, in fact, one ſyllable of charge alledged againſt them? With all the load of obloquy which the Nabob incurred, had he ever accuſed them of the crime of reſiſting his authority? No; he had not.
[Page 24] To prove the falſehood of the whole of this charge, and to ſhew that Mr. Haſtings originally projected the plunder; that he threw the Odium in the firſt inſtance on the Nabob; that he imputed the crimes to them, before he had received one of the rumours which he afterwards manufactured into affidavits; he recommended a particular attention to dates; and he deduced from the papers theſe clear facts— that the firſt idea ſprung from Mr. Haſtings, on the 25th of November, 1781; that Mr. Middleton communicated it to the Nabob, and procured from him a formal propoſition on the 2d of December; That on the 1ſt of December Mr. Haſtings wrote a letter to Mr. Middleton, confirming the firſt ſuggeſtion made through Sir Elijah, which letter came into the hands of Mr. Middleton on the 6th of December. He ſtated all the circumſtances of the pains taken by Mr. Middleton, who was empowered by Mr. Haſtings to force the Nabob, on whom all the blame is laid, and whoſe act it was, to ſeize on his mother's jaghires; and coupled this with [Page 25] the extraordinary minute written by Mr. Haſtings on his return to Calcutta, where he ſtated the reſiſtance of the Begums to the execution of the reſumption on the 7th of January, 1782, as the cauſe of the meaſure in November, 1781. Mr. Middleton had proved that the Nabob had no ſuch intention, for, in writing to Mr. Haſtings, he ſays, ‘finding the Nabob wavering in his determination of the reſumption of the Jaghires, I this day, (6th Dec. 1781,) in the preſence of his Miniſter informed him, that unleſs he would iſſue his perwannahs for that purpoſe, I would iſſue my perwannahs.’
Mr. Sheridan then took pains to ſhew, that the Begums were, by their condition, their age, their infirmities, &c. almoſt the only two ſouls in India, who could not in ſome meaſure have hurt the Government. He did not, he ſaid, take pains to do this from any idea, that, becauſe there was no motive for plundering the women, it might be aſſerted that it was an improbable falſehood: he was not to learn that there [Page 26] was ſuch a thing as wantonneſs of wickedneſs. Thoſe, who had doubts on this point, had only to read the hiſtory of the adminiſtration of Mr. Haſtings. He proved by the documents, on the table, that there was, and had always been, inſurrection and diſorder in Oude. To aſcribe it to the Begums was the moſt improbable fiction: they might as well ſay, that famine would not have pinched, that thirſt would not have parched, that extermination would not have depopulated, but for the interference of theſe old women. To uſe a ſtrong expreſſion of Mr. Haſtings, on another occaſion, ‘The good that thoſe women did was certain; the ill was precarious.’ He, on the contrary, took the converſe of the propoſition; wanting a motive for his rapacity, he could find it only in fiction. The ſimple fact was, their treaſure was their treaſon. They complained of injuſtice: God of heaven! had they not a right to complain? After a ſolemn treaty violated, plundered of all their property, and on the eve of the laſt extremity of wretchedneſs, [Page 27] were they to be deprived of the laſt reſource of impotent wretchedneſs, complaint and lamentation? Was it a crime that they ſhould croud together in fluttering trepidation, like a flock of reſiſtleſs birds in the air, on ſeeing the felon kite, who, having darted at one devoted bird and miſſed his aim, ſingled out a new object, and was ſpringing on his prey with more vigour in his wing, and keener lightning in his eye. The fact with Mr. Haſtings was preciſely this: having failed in the cauſe of Cheyt Sing, he ſaw his fate; he felt the neceſſity of procuring a ſum of money ſomewhere, for he knew that to be the never-failing receipt to make his peace with the Directors at home.
Such, Mr. Sheridan added, were the true, ſubſtantial motives of the horrid exceſſes perpetrated againſt the Begums! Exceſſes, in every part of the deſcription of which, he felt himſelf ſupported by the moſt indiſputable evidence. Here he would reſt his cauſe. Let gentlemen lay their hands upon their hearts, and with [Page 28] truth iſſuing in all its purity from their lips, ſolemnly declare, whether they were, or were not convinced, that the real ſpring of the conduct of Mr. H. far from being a deſire to cruſh rebellion, an ideal fabulous rebellion! was a malignantly rapacious determination to ſeize, with lawleſs hands, upon the treaſures of devoted, miſerable, yet unoffending victims.
Amongſt other proofs which Mr. Sheridan brought againſt the ſecond and fourth charges, was a minute of what Mr. Stables propoſed at the Board, ‘Whether any diſaffection to the Engliſh Government appeared before the troubles of Benares?’ Mr. Haſtings remained ſilent.
In the farther diſcuſſion of the charges, Mr. Sheridan ſaid, it would be neceſſary for him to follow the Governor General in his tour from Calcutta to Chunar, which commenced the 8th of July, 1781, a journey he thought neceſſary to take, finding the Nabob unwilling to ſeize on [Page 29] his mother's jaghires. Mr. Haſtings had himſelf ſaid, That he left Calcutta with the ſtrongeſt idea of the reduced ſtate of the Company's poſſeſſions, which the event proved he went to recruit in the moſt expeditious manner poſſible. Sir Elijah Impey had ſaid, when under examination, that Mr. Haſtings went out with only two reſources to retrieve the circumſtances of the Company; namely, Benares and Oude; Countries already oppreſſed by the hand of Providence, but more ſo by the wicked and arbitrary machinations of man. What a horrid idea! No other reſource but the plunder of a famiſhed country! Can any ſimile equal it? unleſs I ſuppoſe, a perſon determined on a robbery, and having failed at Bagſhot, reſolves to try his fortune at Hounſlow.
In Benares it was ſufficiently known that Mr. Haſtings had failed. There his prodigal revenge had diſappointed his rapacity; whence the unfortunate victim of malicious inſolence had been compelled to [Page 30] wander from his kingdom, a melancholy example of the viciſſitude of human affairs. The hopes of plunder at Oude, promiſed to compenſate for his miſcarriage at Benares. Then, and not till then, not thro' any former enmities ſhewn by the Begums, not thro' any old diſturbances, but becauſe he had failed in one place, and that he had but two in his proſpect, did he contrive the expedient of plundering theſe aged women: he had no pretence, he had no excuſe for his conduct, but the arrogant and obſtinate determination to govern India by his corrupt will. His diſappointment at Benares urged him with rapid ſteps to Oude, where indeed he was but too ſucceſsful.
Inflamed by diſappointment in his firſt project, he haſtened to the fortreſs of Chunar, to meditate the more atrocious deſign of inſtigating a ſon againſt his mother; of ſacrificing female dignity and diſtreſs to parricide and plunder.
[Page 31] The treaty of Chunar, that nefarious foundation of his future views, being planned, Mr. Haſtings thought it neceſſary, whilſt he was invading the ſubſtance of juſtice, to avail himſelf of her judicial forms, and accordingly ſent for Sir Elijah Impey, the Chief Juſtice of India, to aſſiſth im.
Sir Elijah being arrived, Mr. Haſtings, with much art, propoſed a queſtion of opinion, involving an unſubſtantiated fact, in order to obtain even a ſurreptitious approbation of the meaſures he had predetermined to adopt.
With regard to the mode of ſubmitting queſtions to Sir Elijah Impey, it was, he obſerved, ſingular and curious. In reſpect to the affairs of Cheit Sing, Mr. Haſtings had ſtated the queſtion, not in the abſtract merely, but accompanied with the fact. To that queſtion Sir Elijah demurred, not caring to commit himſelf. With regard to the Begums, Mr. Haſtings profits by his experience, [Page 32] and ſtates the queſtion in the abſtract, ſaying, "The Begums being in rebellion, is it not warrantable to ſeize their treaſures?" To this, (which like one of the Duke of Richmond's data, carries with it its own anſwer, becauſe being in rebellion, the ſeizure might have been made,) Sir Elijah anſwers directly and explicitly in the affirmative, thereby not riſking any thing.
Not a ſyllable of enquiry intervened as to the exiſtence of the imputed rebellion; nor a moment's pauſe, as to the ill purpoſes to which the deciſion of a Chief Juſtice might be perverted. It was not the office of a friend to mix the grave caution and cold circumſpection of a judge with an opinion taken in ſuch circumſtances; and Sir Elijah had previouſly declared, that he gave his advice not as a judge, but as a friend; a character he equally preferred in the ſtrange office which he undertook of collecting defenſive affidavits on the ſubject of Benares.
[Page 33] It was curious, Mr. Sheridan ſaid, to reflect on the whole of Sir Elijah's circuit at that perilous time. Sir Elijah had ſtated his deſire of relaxing from the fatigues of office, and unbending his mind in a party of health and pleaſure; yet, wiſely apprehending that very ſudden relaxation might defeat its purpoſe, he contrived to mix ſome objects of buſineſs with his amuſements. He had therefore in his little airing of 900 miles, great part of which he went poſt, eſcorted by an army, ſelected thoſe very ſituations where inſurrections ſubſiſted, and rebellion was threatened, and had not only delivered his deep and curious reſearches into the laws and rights of nations, and of treaties, in the capacity of the oriental Grotius, whom Warren Haſtings was to ſtudy, but likewiſe in the humbler and more practical ſituation of a collector of ex parte evidence. In the former quality his opinion was the premature ſanction for plundering the Begums. In the latter character he became the poſthumous ſupporter of the expulſion [Page 34] and pillage of the Rajah Cheyt Sing.
With a generous oblivion of duty and honour, with a proud ſenſe of having authorized all future rapacity, and ſanctioned all paſt oppreſſion, this friendly judge proceeded on his circuit of health and eaſe; and while the Governor General, ſanctioned by his ſolemn opinion, iſſued his orders to plunder the Begums of their treaſure, Sir Elijah purſued his progreſs, paſſing through a wide region of diſreſs and miſery, in queſt of objects beſt ſuited to his feelings, in anxious ſearch of calamities moſt kindred to his invalid imagination. Friendſhip, then, made Sir Elijah forget what was due to himſelf, what was due to the high office in which he was placed, and to the power which had placed him in it. He was the laſt man who ought to have undertaken ſuch an office. He was bound to have maintained a line of conduct more conſonant with the elevation of his rank, the dignity of his office, and the gravity of [Page 35] a judge; who ought to have felt himſelf incapable of ſoiling his pure ermine, by condeſcending to run about the country, like an itinerant informer, with a pedlar's pack of garbled evidence and ſurreptitious affidavits.
He could not be ignorant of the robbery his errand was intended to cover; for his firſt queſtion mooted the point. The judge moſt gravely informs us, that he was cautioned not to proceed from Chunar by way of Fyzyabad, as the Begums were in rebellion. Moſt friendly advice indeed! Fyzyabad was many ſcore of miles out of the route of Lucknow to Chunar; and, at that moment, peace abſolutely prevailed in every part of the country; his datum, therefore would have been diſcovered to be falſe. Nor would it have been very pleaſant for him to be found at Fyzyabad, with the actual order in his pocket, by which they were to be plundered, which happened to be the fact. Here Mr. Sheridan proved what he aſſerted, by reading extracts from authenticated papers. [Page 34] [...] [Page 35] [...]
[Page 36] When Mr. Haſtings arrived at Chunar, he was met by the Nabob with an open and unſuſpecting heart. Here the moſt inſidious Treaty on the one part, that ever was entered into, was concerted and concluded; no one article of it being intended for execution on the part of the Governor. In the firſt article it was ſtipulated with one he calls an independent Prince ‘That, as great diſtreſs has ariſen to the Nabob's government, from the military power and dominion aſſumed by the Jaghierdars, he be permitted to reſume ſuch as he may find neceſſary; with a reſerve, that all ſuch, for the amount of whoſe Jaghires the Company are guarantees, ſhall, in caſe of the reſumption of their lands, be paid the amount of their net collections, thro' the Reſident, in ready money. And that no Engliſh Reſident be appointed to Furruckabad.’
This was ſolemnly covenanted, in direct infraction of a ſubſiſting guarantee [Page 37] for the protection of the Begum's Jaghires. And how was this cloaked? Why, by affidavits, taken extra-judicially by his Majeſty's Chief Juſtice in Bengal, who ſays very guardedly in his evidence, that ſeveral perſons depoſed that a deſign was entered into to extirpate the Engliſh from India. But when? Not till after the tranſactions at Benares, when the weight of the arm of power compelled that unfortunate Prince, Cheyt Sing, to become an unhappy wanderer, and when the name of Briton became deteſted throughout Hindoſtan. This artifice was thin, and the veil was eaſily ſeen through, for the plan was preconcerted, long before the revolution at Benares took place.
This firſt article, containing a general permiſſion to the Nabob to confiſcate, and take into his hands ſuch Jaghiers as he might find neceſſary, Mr. Haſtings inverted ſingularly, by making him confiſcate whatever Jaghiers he pleaſed.
[Page 38] The ſecond article ſtipulated for the withdrawing of the Britiſh army from the Province of Oude, which Mr. Haſtings did, but inverted the article ſingularly, by reſerving to himſelf a right to ſend another army into the Province when he thought proper. The two other articles, the one for withdrawing the Britiſh Preſident at Furruckabad, and the other ſtipulating for putting Fizula Cawn into the hands of the Nabob, both, by a ſingular inverſion, Mr. Haſtings rendered of no effect or avail.
The unſuſpecting Nabob, in the warmth of friendſhip, at meeting the Governor, and concluding a Treaty which he thought ſalutary to his intereſt, made him a preſent of ONE HUNDRED THOUSAND POUNDS. This, exclaimed Mr. Sheridan, was rank corruption in Mr. Haſtings. The circumſtances of this preſent were as extraordinary as the thing itſelf. Four months afterwards, and not till then, Mr. Haſtings communicated the matter to the Company; [Page 39] unfortunately for himſelf however, this tardy diſcloſure was conveyed in words which betray his original meaning; for, with no common incaution, he admits the preſent "was of a magnitude not to be concealed."
Then it was publiſhed and made known, that Bills on Gopaul Doſs, the Banker, (then a priſoner,) were given to the amount mentioned, payable in four months. And this was to be extorted from a country, at the time its Prince declared his inability to pay his debts, and when his miniſter Hyder Beg Cawn declared it to be "a ſpeaking picture of Famine and Woe." Mr. Sheridan, in ſtating all the circumſtances of this bribe, averred that the whole had its riſe in a principle of rank corruption; for what was the price that hepaid? By the treaty he agreed to withdraw all the Engliſh gentlemen, and all the Engliſh army. He agreed to this at the moment of rebellion and revolt. The other articles of the treaty, as ſtrange, nothing but [Page 40] the bribe could have occaſioned, together with the reſerve which he had in his own mind, of treachery to the Nabob; for the only part of the treaty which he ever attempted to carry into execution, was to withdraw the Engliſh gentlemen from Oude. The Nabob conſidered this as eſſential to his deliverance, and his obſervation on the circumſtance was curious; for, ‘though Major Palmer, ſaid he, has not aſked any thing, I obſerve it is the cuſtom of the Engliſh gentlemen conſtantly to aſk for ſomething of me before they go.’ This imputation on the Engliſh Mr. Haſtings countenanced, moſt readily, and rejoiced at it, as it was a ſcreen and ſhelter for his own abandoned profligacy; and therefore, at the very moment that he was himſelf plundering the Nabob, with his uſual gravity and cant, making a feint of executing this part of the Treaty; ‘Go, ſaid he, to the Engliſh gentlemen; Go, you ſet of oppreſſive raſcals; Go from this worthy unhappy man, whom you have [Page 41] plundered, and leave him to my protection. You have robbed him, you have taken advantage of his accumulated diſtreſſes; but, pleaſe God, he ſhall in future be at reſt; for I have promiſed he ſhall never ſee the face of an Engliſhman again.’ This however was the only part of the treaty which he even attempted to fulfil; and we learn from himſelf, that, at the very moment he made it, he intended to deceive the Nabob. That he adviſed general, inſtead of partial reſumption, in order to defeat the end and view of the Nabob; and, inſtead of having given inſtant and unqualified aſſent to all the articles of the treaty, he had perpetually qualified, explained, and varied them with new diminutions and reſervations.
He had ſuffered the Nabob to take their Jaghiers from ſeveral Jaghierdars; but he had compelled him to deprive others of their's according to his will: he withdrew the army according to the [Page 42] wiſh of the vizier, but it was only to ſend back almoſt inſtantly an equivalent force: he reſigned the fortreſſes, but to garriſon them again immediately. This might by the friends of Mr. Haſtings, be deemed policy; but ſurely it was too clumſy a fraud, too groſs a fallacy, to deſerve that name. It was however like the man, though unlike the greatneſs aſcribed to him.
Mr. Sheridan put the whole of this into a very glaring point of view, and called upon gentlemen to ſay, if there was any thing in Machiavel, any treachery upon record, if they had ever heard of any cold Italian fraud, that could in any degree be put in compariſon with the diſguſting hypocriſy, and unequalled baſeneſs, that Mr. Haſtings had ſhewn on that occaſion.
In his defence, Mr. Haſtings had made it his boaſt, that the conduct of his life had been uniformly governed by the rules of honour and plain dealing. He [Page 43] aſked, how was this bold and daring aſſertion to be reconciled to his whole conduct throughout the affair of the Begums? In every part of which, obliquity, fraud, falſehood, treachery, oppreſſion, the moſt glaring violation of juſtice, and the moſt open breach of ſolemn engagements, were the great and leading features. He had heard it ſaid by ſome of his admirers, but who were not ſo implicit as to give unqualified applauſe to his crimes, that they found an apology for the atrocity of his actions in the greatneſs of his mind. He could not, upon the cloſeſt examination of his conduct, diſcover the ſmalleſt ſymptoms of either a great mind, or great ability. To eſtimate the ſolidity of ſuch a defence, it would be ſufficient, merely to conſider in what conſiſted this prepoſſeſſing diſtion, this captivating characteriſtic of greatneſs of mind. It was the characteriſtic of magnanimity to aim at attaining a great end by great means; to ſupport truth, to protect the weak, to relieve the oppreſſed, to right the [Page 44] injured, to puniſh thoſe that had done wrong; and, on no conſideration, to countenance injuſtice. In theſe traits, and theſe alone, we are to diſcover true eſtimable magnanimity; to them alone we can juſtly affix the ſplendid titles and honours of real greatneſs. Were theſe the characteriſticks of Mr. Haſtings? Directly the reverſe. Mr. Haſtings, in his conduct and in his writings, exhibited a ſyſtem made up of things unnaturally conjoined. His letters and his minutes were full of ſtrutting meanneſs, bombaſtical prevarication, and ridiculouſly violent contradictions in terms; juſt as the maſs and magnitude of his crimes were contraſted with the littleneſs of his motives, and the low means he could condeſcend to for the attainment of his objects. The moſt groveling ideas, he conveyed in the moſt inflated language, giving mock conſequence to low cavils, and uttering quibbles in heroics; ſo that his compoſitions diſguſted the mind's taſte, as much as his actions excited the ſoul's abhorrence. [Page 45] In ſhort, he appeared to be a mixture of the trickſter and the tyrant, at once a Scapin and a Dionyſius. It ſeemed that all his actions were directed by a low, underhand, crooked, policy; as well might the writhing obliquity of the ſerpent be compared to the direct and unvaried ſwiftneſs of the arrow, as the duplicity of Mr. Haſtings's ambition, to the ſimple ſteadineſs of genuine magnanimity. Mr. Haſtings, if he ever acted with wiſdom, it was with perverted wiſdom.
Mr. Sheridan ſaid, that this mixture of character ſeemed, by ſome unaccountable, but inherent, quality, to be appropriated in inferior degrees to every thing that concerned his employers. He remembered to have heard a learned gentleman (Mr. Dundas) remark, that there was ſomething in the original frame and conſtitution of the Company, which carried the ſordid ideas of the mercantile principle on which it was founded, always about them; ſo that, [Page 46] even in all their meaſures and actions, we ſaw the paltry character. Their civil policy and their military atchievements were connected with and contaminated by the meanneſs of pedlars, and the profligacy of pirates. Thus we ſaw auctioneering ambaſſadors, and trading generals.—And thus we ſaw a revolution brought about by affidavits, an army employed in executing an arreſt, a town beſieged on a note of hand; a prince dethroned for the balance of an account. They exhibited a government, in which they had all the mock majeſty of a bloody ſceptre; and the little traffick of a merchant's counting houſe, wielding a truncheon with one hand, and he might truly ſay, picking a pocket with the other.
He then proceeded to ſtate the conduct of Mr. Haſtings, in enforcing the reſumption of the Jaghire, and the plunder of the envied treaſure, of the Begums. On the 27th of Nov. 1781, his pleaſure concerning that buſineſs was firſt ſent, through [Page 47] Sir Elijah Impey, to Mr. Middleton. On the 1ſt of December this was backed by a written order; and it was not, until the 8th of January following, that the Nabob could be prevailed on to diſmiſs his ſcruples; nor, until threatened with the ſevereſt diſpleaſure of the Governor General, that he could be compelled to repair to Fyzyabad, to obey the unnatural mandate, by plundering his parents. A reſiſtance was then made by the friends of the Begums, on finding the violence intended to them. But, ſtrange to tell! this reſiſtance was abſolutely alledged by Mr. Haſtings in his defence, as the ſole cauſe of the violence! That is to ſay, the reſiſtance of an unjuſt attack not made until after the 8th of January, 1782, was alledged as the foundation of the pleaſure ſignified on the 27th of November, 1781, of the written order by which that was enforced, and all the determinations which had ſo long preceded! Or, in other words, the order was ſaid to be founded on a reſiſtance made to its being executed, [Page 48] near ſix weeks after that order was firſt iſſued.
Having gone through the facts of the tranſactions which made up the charge, Mr. Sheridan next adverted to the affidavits exhibited, and ſworn before Sir Elijah Impey; and though he ſaid he might fairly throw them aſide, and put them out of the queſtion, on account of the indirect manner in which they were obtained, and the ſtrange and irrelevant teſtimony they afforded, yet he would wave all objection to them on thoſe grounds, and examine them with as much ſeriouſneſs, as if they were correctly formal, and every way unexceptionable; they were all, he ſaid, conceived in one ſpirit, and formed upon one plan. He then read the Affidavit of Mr. Middleton, and clearly pointed out how futile and preſumptuous were the grounds upon which he had, to the ſatisfaction of his conſcience, proceeded to the utmoſt extremity of violence againſt the Begums. ‘The God of Juſtice, exclaimed he, [Page 49] forbid that any man in this Houſe ſhould make up his mind to accuſe Mr. Haſtings on the ground that Mr. Middleton condemned the Begums.’ He next animadverted on the depoſitions of Colonel Hannay, Colonel Gordon, Major M`Donald, Major Williams, and others, from which he ſtruck out a variety of ſuch brilliant detections as baffle memory to follow.
Major Williams, amidſt other rumours, ſtated one that "he had heard:" That 50 Britiſh troops, watching 200 priſoners, had been ſurrounded by 6000 of the enemy, and muſt inevitably have fallen a ſacrifice, if they had not been relieved by the approach of a detachment of nine men. With this aſſiſtance they had entirely driven away the enemy, and ſlain ſeveral hundreds of them. Conſidering the character given by Mr. H. to the Britiſh army in [Page 50] Oude, that they manifeſted a rage for rapacity and peculation; it was extraordinary that there were no inſtances of ſtouter ſwearing. Of Mr. M. he ſaid, that he liked not the memory which remembered things better at the end of five years, than at the time, unleſs there might be ſomething ſo relaxing in the climate of India, affecting the memory as well as the nerves, by which the traces of actions were loſt; and that men muſt return to their native air of England and be braced up, and have their memories like their ſinews, reſtrung.
Mr. Sheridan pointed out many other improbabilities, and having in very ſtrong colours painted the looſe quality of the affidavits, and clearly and incontrovertibly ſhewn the partiality and injuſtice, which was contained in them againſt the Begums, he ſolemnly appealed to that ſide of the Houſe which was more peculiarly intereſted in law-proceedings. They ſaw that, that Houſe [Page 51] was the path to fortune in their profeſſion; that they might ſoon, and ſome of them were, to be called to a dignified ſituation, where the great and important truſt would be repoſed in them, of protecting the lives and properties of their fellow-ſubjects.
One learned gentleman in particular, was, if rumour ſpoke right, ſoon to be called to ſucceed that bright luminary of the law, whoſe ſun he feared was ſetting, but whoſe departure from the ſeat of active juſtice was ſplendid and magnificent, in its being done while he poſſeſſed a mind on which time had not power to lay his hand: Of the learned Gentleman, the ſucceſſor, he muſt ſay, that there was not one circumſtance of his life, except perhaps his activity on an election conteſt, that did not diſtinguiſh him as a moſt proper perſon to fill the important ſeat. He deſired to aſk that learned Gentleman, and every other of the profeſſion, would he lay his hand upon his breaſt, and [Page 52] ſolemnly declare, if upon ſuch evidence as the maſs of depoſitions taken at Lucknow, any one of them could venture to ſay that, ſitting as a Judge, he would be legally warranted to convict any, the meaneſt individual of an offence, however trivial. If any one would ſay he could, he declared to God he would ſit down, and not add a ſyllable more to the too long treſpaſs he had made on the patience of the committee.
Here Mr. Sheridan craved the indulgence of the Houſe (a general and loud cry of hear! hear!) whilſt he for a moment enquired into the ſpirit and temper of the affidavits, on which the ruin of the unfortunate Begums was founded. Colonel Gordon had exhibited a flagrantly conſpicuous proof of the grateful ſpirit and temper of affidavits, deſigned to plunge theſe wretched women in irretrievable ruin. Colonel Gordon was but juſt before not merely releaſed from danger, but preſerved from imminent death. That gentleman was in the hands of the inſurgents, [Page 53] and his releaſe was entirely effected by the negociation of the Bhow Begum. Yet even at the expiration of two little days from his deliverance, he depoſes againſt the diſtreſſed and unfortunate woman, who had become his ſaviour; and only upon hearſay evidence, accuſes her of crimes and rebellion. Upon this occaſion ſhe manifeſted the ſtrongeſt attachment to the Engliſh intereſt; for, in her private letters and diſpatches to Colonel Hannay, ſhe particularly deſired that the Zemindars might not be informed of her interpoſition in favor of the Colonel: this was at once a bold and convincing proof of her unalterable attachment. Was this a proof of rebellion? ‘ Great God of juſtice, (exclaimed the orator) canſt thou from thy eternal throne look down upon ſuch premeditated turpitude of heart, and not fix ſome dreadful mark of obloquy upon the perpetrators? ’
If, continues Mr. Sheridan, theſe affidavits, becauſe they are a mere collection of hearſays, without a tittle of any [Page 54] thing like legal evidence in their compoſition, could not (as I am certain is the caſe) be received in a court of law, nor be brought forward in a court of equity, was it a ſpecies of evidence ſufficient to juſtify a wanton act of oppreſſion, of violence and groſs injuſtice, committed againſt two princeſſes; the one the wife, the other the mother of the deceaſed Nabob Sujah ul Dowlah.
Mr. Haſtings aſſerts, that the reſumption of the Jaghires was no injury to the Begums, for they had their revenue of them delivered regularly.—But that was not truth.—They never had an equivalent —they were referred for payment to a bankrupt, on the faith of a broken guarantee. There never was any information that could warrant the ſeizure of the Jaghires. It was not done with the conſent of the Nabob, though he was forced by Mr. Middleton to give his nominal aſſent thereto; for Mr. Middleton had written to Mr. Haſtings, that a fixed melancholy had ſeized the Nabob, on his [Page 55] being forced to plunder his mother. Mr. Middleton had written to Mr. Haſtings for his orders, on the 1ſt of December, 1781, which arrived on the 6th, and on the 29th of the ſame month the whole was put in execution; but as they perfectly knew it was a matter that of courſe muſt make much noiſe, it was deemed neceſſary by Mr. Haſtings and his party, to throw the whole of the odium on the Nabob, by inſiſting that the propoſition came from him.—But the very letter in which it was aſſerted that, the Nabob had not only given his conſent, but even propoſed this deteſtable meaſure, could not be produced; nor any one paper, article or authentic evidence to that effect, notwithſtanding the induſtry with which it had been reported.
The Nabob in his letter to Mr. Haſtings, never gave the leaſt hint, that either his mother or grandmother were in rebellion, or that they had ſhewn an inclination to aſſiſt or join with Cheyt Sing, [Page 56] or that they meant to extirpate the Engliſh, or dethrone him.
Mr. Sheridan proceeded to demonſtrate, that the princeſſes were in every ſenſe of the word, entitled to their Jaghires and poſſeſſions, as much as any lady in England to her dower, on the death of her Lord. That this opinion had not ſo much as been called in queſtion, till the time that Mr. Haſtings began to ſet his heart upon their treaſures;—and that aſſerting the contrary, under the Mahomedan law, was neither founded in juſtice, reaſon, nor even that law, and this, Mr. Sheridan proved beyond the power of contradiction.
He then ſhewed, from a variety of ſtatements from Mr. Haſtings's own papers, that the Nabob never entertained an idea that the poſſeſſions of his mother were his, during her life—on the contrary, that his father Sujah ul Dowlah, had left her in the tranquil poſſeſſion of thoſe eſtates and treaſures, for the mere purpoſe of ſupporting her dignity in the ſtile becoming [Page 57] her rank and birth.—Mr. Sheridan obſerved, that when Aſoph ul Dowla blamed his father for leaving ſo little wealth, he thought like an unwiſe prince— His father Sujah ul Dowla acted prudently, in leaving him with no temptation about him, to invite acts of violence from the rapacious. ‘He cloathed him with poverty as a ſhield, and armed him with neceſſity as a ſword.’
In conſequence of his poverty and diſtreſſes, the Bhow Begum his mother it was true, made her ſon many preſents, and even lent him money, for which he had given an equivalent; and once, on his repreſenting his diſtreſſed ſituation, ſhe had returned all his pledges and a very large ſum of money, ſuch as ſhe thought would finally put an end to his diſtreſſes. The Nabob her ſon had given a receipt to that effect, which receipt was read by Mr. Sheridan, who ſtrongly pointed out the obligation he was under to her. He then enlarged upon the character and eſtimation in which the [Page 58] Princeſſes were held, and in the moſt pathetic language, dwelt on the purity of their conduct, the reciprocal return of filial and parental affection.
When Mr. Middleton went to ſeize Fyzyabad, the eunuchs were taken priſoners, as was the Fouzder of Tanda; him however, it was not thought neceſſary to detain; he had not the key of the treaſure; the eunuchs had that, and they of couſe were the principal objects.—It was aſſerted that the Nabob gave puerile excuſes for not plundering his mother.—Reaſons for not performing the worſt of actions, the moſt unnatural crime, that of a child ruining his parent, was by a Chriſtian Governor thought puerile.—Was it to be ſuppoſed that, two old, infirm women, whoſe whole dependence was on the Britiſh poſſeſſion, one of whom had been a witneſs of the ſucceſs of the Britiſh arms, for the Britiſh arms had depoſed her huſband, Sujah ul Dowlah, and Britiſh generoſity had again placed him in his dominions, ſhould wiſh to extirpate the Engliſh?— [Page 59] Saib Ally's behaviour was paſſed over, as having done more good, by preſerving a few priſoners, than he had done harm; Why was not the ſame favour ſhewn to the Begums? When the foot of the oppreſſor was taken off, the trodden on roſe againſt the perſecutor, as againſt another Sujah. What a miſerable ſituation muſt the poor unfortunate wretches be in, to have thoſe for their judges, who would benefit by their deſtruction!
When the Court of Directors ſent to Mr. Haſtings, to reviſe the charge againſt the Begums, and Mr. Stables moved that reviſion in council, he was over-ruled by Mr. Haſtings, who ſaid, that ‘ the majeſty of juſtice ought to be approached with ſolicitation, and that it would debaſe itſelf by the ſuggeſtion of wrongs, and the promiſe of redreſs. ’—Conſcious however of the enormity of his conduct, he apologizes to the Court of Directors, by ſtating, that it would be "a very ſevere taſk for a mother to impeach her ſon;"—ſo that according to his idea, it was no crime for a [Page 60] ſon to rob and plunder his parents, but it was a crime of a very deep dye, for an injured parent to complain of the outrage of her child.
He next proceeded to ſhew, that Mr. Haſtings, and he alone, was the actor and perpetrator of thoſe crimes. That he was regularly acquainted with all the enormities committed, there was the cleareſt proof. It was true that Middleton was rebuked for not being more exact. He did not, perhaps, deſcend to the detail; he did not give him an account of the number of groans, which were heaved, of the quantity of tears which were ſhed, of the weight of the fetters, or of the depth of the dungeons; but he communicated every ſtep that he took to accompliſh the baſe and unwarrantable end. He proved by his letters, dated in Jan. 1782, that he alone was reſponſible for the whole proceedings. Mr. Haſtings well knew that, the ja ghire and the treaſure were the only means which the Begums were in poſſeſſion of, to ſupport the numerous family [Page 61] of the late Nabob, amounting to more than two thouſand perſons.
After having in the moſt pathetic and forcible manner given an affecting deſcription of the diſtreſſes of theſe unfortunate princeſſes, he went farther into the expoſure of the evidence; into a compariſon of dates and the ſubſequent circumſtances, in order to prove that, all the enormous conſequences that followed from the reſumption, in the captivity of the women and the impriſonment and cruelties practiſed upon their people, were ſolely to be aſcribed and imputed to Mr. Haſtings. He ſaid that Mr. Haſtings had once remarked, ‘that a mind touched with ſuperſtition might have contemplated the fate of the Rohillas with peculiar impreſſions.’ But if indeed the mind of Mr. Haſtings had been touched with ſuperſtition; if his fancy could ſuffer any diſturbance, and even in viſion, he could imagine that he beheld the great ſpirit of Sujah Dowlah looking down on the ruin he had wrought on his houſe—in [Page 62] that palace which Mr. Haſtings had firſt wreſted from his hand, and afterwards reſtored to him;—plundered by that very army, by which Sujah Dowlah had been able to vanquiſh the Mahrattas— ſeizing on the very plunder which he had ravaged from the Rohillas;—that MIDDLETON who had been engaged in managing the previous violations, moſt buſy to perpetrate the laſt; that very HASTINGS, whom on his death-bed he had left the guardian of his wife and mother, and family; turning all thoſe dear relatives, the objects of his ſolemn truſt, forth to the mercileſs ſeaſon, and to a more mercileſs ſoldiery!—A mind touched with ſuperſtition, muſt indeed have cheriſhed ſuch a contemplation with very peculiar impreſſions.
Mr. Haſtings had endeavoured to throw a portion of the guilt upon the Council, although Mr. Wheeler had never taken any ſhare, and Mr. M`Pherſon was not arrived in India when the ſcene began. Mr. Sheridan remarked, that he had [Page 63] ſhrunk from the inquiry ordered by the Court of Directors under the new, and pompous doctrine, that the majeſty of juſtice was to be approached with ſupplication, and was not to degrade itſelf, by hunting for crimes. If his picture of juſtice was right, then the Committees of this Houſe, in the examination of Smith, were wrong—Mr. Dundas was wrong.—He hoped however, that Mr. Haſtings would be found wrong.
‘I truſt, ſaid the eloquent Speaker, that this Houſe will vindicate the inſulted character of juſtice,—that they will demonſtrate its true quality, eſſence, and purpoſes,—that they will evidence it to be, in the caſe of Mr. Haſtings, active, inquiſitive, and avenging. ’
Mr. Sheridan having in the courſe of his wonderful Speech taken a moſt comprehenſive view of the buſineſs, and examined with the moſt elaborate reſearch and ſcrutinizing attention, every circumſtance with which it was connected; [Page 64] having urged every thing which he thought neceſſary to develope the iniquitous conduct of Mr. Haſtings, to ſubſtantiate the charge, and to eſtabliſh it by the incontrovertible evidence of an infinity of facts; he drew towards a concluſion, by ſtating a ſummary of the great points contained in it. He contended and maintained that it was evident the Begums had done nothing to merit ſuch violence, that the pretence of their having been the fomenters of rebellion, with a view to exterminate the Engliſh from the province of Oude, was a mere pretence, wholly unfounded, and not ſupported by any evidence, and that ſuch an idea had never been conceived, until Mr. Haſtings concluded that to be the probable means, and a favourite reſource for the obtainment of money,—a reſource that he was determined, in defiance of reaſon, juſtice, and humanity, and at all events, to make certain of. Mr. Haſtings had violated the the ſolemn guarantee of the Company, and had broken their faith, pledged by [Page 65] treaty; he had throughout his conduct been guided by baſeneſs, falſehood, and oppreſſion; entering into treaties, and framing ſtipulations, which at the moment he was concluding and agreeing upon, he had no purpoſe of fulfilling. —Mr. Haſtings had degraded and ſunk the dignity and character of the higheſt and moſt honourable office, that of a Chief Juſtice, by making Sir Elijah Impey run about the country collecting affidavits.—He had, by paltry quibbles, and pitiful evaſions, neglected to proceed upon the enquiry directed by the Board at the India-Houſe; taking a mean advantage of the Directors orders, and had cloathed that evaſion with a pompous parade of words, and a ridiculous diſplay of nonſenſical phraſes on the majeſty of Juſtice.—That through the whole of the tranſaction the conduct of the Governor-General had been marked with the moſt ſcandalous duplicity, the baſeſt perfidy, the moſt unparalleled and grinding oppreſſion, and the moſt inſolent, wanton, and unmanly [Page 66] cruelty.—He had made a ſon plunder his mother and grand-mother, and reduced to diſtreſs two princeſſes of high rank;—he had ſullied and diſgraced the Britiſh name and character.
Mr. Haſtings, he obſerved, was a man of wonderful preſcience, for it was evident that he knew nothing of what would lend his conduct a colour of juſtification, till after it was over; but he foreſaw that there would be proof of a rebellion, and,—ſtrange to tell!—it turned out exactly as he predicted.
Mr. Sheridan then made a ſolemn appeal to the Houſe, conveyed in ſuch a ſublime and aſtoniſhing ſtile of elegance, and worked up with ſuch pathos and dignity, in ſuch faſcinating language, that the Houſe was wrapped in mute attention: To keep way with him through ſuch a rapid ſtream of eloquence, deſies all power of retention: it was wholly impracticable to do more than watch the current as it flowed, [Page 67] and now and then caſually to graſp ſome paſſing flowers, within our reach.
He ſtated to the Houſe, that the matter of charge was no queſtion of party. Factions and parties, he knew, exiſted in that houſe. The prerogative of the Crown found its advocates among the people's repreſentatives. The privileges of the people met with their opponents. Habits, connections, parties, all led to a diverſity of opinions. The meaſures of every miniſter were ſupported by one body of men, and thwarted by another; but on great queſtions, they had, he was happy to remark, often diſtinguiſhed themſelves, by laying aſide all petty party conſiderations, and acting with a firmneſs and deciſion that reflected honour upon their character. —When Inhumanity preſented itſelf, when the majeſty of Juſtice was to be ſupported, he truſted no diviſion could be found among them. When the former became the object of their attention, they would ſit upon it as their [Page 68] common enemy, as if the character of the land were involved in their zeal for its ruin, and they would leave it not, till it was completely overthrown.—He hoped they would now ſtep forward, regardleſs of the miniſter,—regardleſs of the influence of the Crown,—and vote againſt the moſt enormous crimes that ever diſgraced human nature.—On the preſent occaſion, they were called upon to retrieve millions of their fellow creatures from a ſtate of miſery and oppreſſion. It was true, they could not ſee the innumerable beings, whoſe wretchedneſs they would relieve; the multitudes of famiſhed females had not reached the Houſe, and terrified it into a contemplation of their miſeries; but for that reaſon, the more magnanimous would their conduct be, the more glorious their determination to puniſh ſuch delinquency. Was a Britiſh Parliament to wait for their bar to be ſurrounded with the ſcreams of expiring children, and the ſhrieks of ſtarving women, before they ſtooped to redreſs their grievances?—No—Let the world [Page 69] behold an example, that the Commons of Great-Britain will ſtretch the ſtrong arm of juſtice acroſs the habitable globe, to ſhew in glowing colours the greatneſs and power of a Britiſh Parliament, in reprobating injuſtice, in ſtigmatizing inhumanity, and in delivering over to condign puniſhment, thoſe who uſed unlimited power, merely for the purpoſes of tyranny, oppreſſion, rapacity, and perfidy. It was not given to that Houſe, as it was to the officers who had the felicity to relieve, and the ſtill greater tranſport of a ſuſceptible mind, to perceive the extatic emotions of gratitude in the inſtant of deliverance. They could not behold the workings of the heart, the quivering lips, the trickling tears, the loud, though tremulous joys of the millions, whom their vote that night would ſnatch from the tyranny of corrupt power. But, though theſe circumſtances were not perceptible to them, was not the true enjoyment of benevolence encreaſed, by the bleſſing being conferred unſeen: Would not the omnipotence of Britiſh juſtice, and a Britiſh [Page 70] Parliament be demonſtrated, to the wonder of nations, by ſtretching its mighty arm acroſs the Globe, and ſaving by its fiat millions from deſtruction! And would the bleſſings of the people, thus ſaved, diffuſe in empty air! No!—‘Heaven, ſays he, if I may dare to uſe the figure, —Heaven itſelf ſhall become the Agent to receive the bleſſings of their pious gratitude, and to waft them to your boſoms.’
Mr. Sheridan returned his warmeſt thanks to the Houſe for the indulgence he had experienced in a ſpeech that carried him beyond the limits of his ſtrength; but he truſted, that ſtrength would ſoon be repaired, from the conſideration of having endeavoured to diſcharge his duty in the ſupport of untainted innocence.
‘That the Committee, upon hearing evidence, and conſidering the ſaid charge, are of opinion, that there is ſufficient ground to impeach Warren Haſtings, Eſq of High Crimes and Miſdemeanours, upon the matter of the ſaid charge,’
Sir William Dolben roſe, and obſerved, that Mr. Sheridan having in his ſpeech ſtated in ſo able a manner, ſuch a variety of facts and arguments, as muſt have exhauſted the ſpirits, as well as the attention of the Committee, he therefore recommended an adjournment.
Major Scott roſe, and accuſed Mr. Sheridan of having been guilty of moſt groſs miſrepreſentations; that in referring to ſeveral parts of the correſpondence relative to the Begums, he had omitted ſeveral parts of the letters, and offered to proceed to the proof, when
Mr. Sheridan ſaid, that he ſhould not again have troubled the Committee, had it not been to clear up a foul, and he muſt ſay, an unjuſt aſperſion caſt againſt him, of miſrepreſenting, or of not reading the evidence faithfully; he proteſted that he had not, to the beſt of his knowledge, omitted a ſingle ſentence that was material; and that his wiſh was, to ſtate the whole faithfully; as to the adjournment, the Committee would ſee his reaſon for not ſaying any thing on the ſubject. Mr. Martin, Mr. Montague, and Mr. St. John, ſeverally ſpoke, when
Mr. Sheridan roſe, and ſaid, that after the extraordinary indulgence which he had the honour to experience laſt night, he would now treſpaſs but a few minutes on their time. He felt himſelf, however, called upon to congratulate the Right Hon. Gentleman, (Mr. Pitt,) on the very able, candid, and manly, manner in which he had delivered his ſentiments on that occaſion. He congratulated the Houſe, he congratulated his country, that in the cauſe of humanity, they ſaw a Miniſter who was not to be biaſſed by any motives [Page 75] of political intereſt, who by his conduct on that day, had placed his character above the reach of ſuſpicion. He was not ſo vain as to imagine, that any arguments he had advanced on the ſubject had made any impreſſion on the Right Honourable Gentleman's mind; if they had, it was more a tribute to the cauſe of truth and juſtice than a compliment to him.
With reſpect to what the Hon. Gentleman (Major Scott) had mentioned, of his being alluded to as one of the dependents of Mr. Haſtings, Mr. Sheridan declared upon his honour, that, if he made uſe of ſuch an expreſſion, he had not the ſmalleſt intention of conveying any inſinuation that tended to reflect on the Hon. Gentleman. He had every allowance to make for opinions that were formed on the prejudices of human nature. He was not ſurpriſed that the Hon. Gentleman viewed the conduct of Mr. Haſtings in a light different from other men, for when the heart acknowledged an obligation, it [Page 76] would never ſuffer the judgment to be influenced by it. If he had uttered harſh expreſſions, he declared they were not the reſult of malignity, or the offspring of vindictive malice;—he thanked God, he had a heart incapable of cheriſhing either, and, if he had ſpoken warmly, it was on a queſtion which, he confeſſed had deeply agitated his mind and excited his feelings. That queſtion would ſoon come before another tribunal, and which would decide between the Houſe of Commons and Mr. Haſtings.