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Reign of George III. (Continued.) page 8


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Lord Sydney having resigned his situation as secretary of state, was succeeded by Mr. Grenville, and the speakership thus becoming vacant, Sir Gilbert Elliot was again proposed by Welbore Ellis; but the marquis of Graham proposed Mr. Addington, the son of Chatham's physician, and he was supported and carried by Pitt's party.

On the 10th of June Pitt opened his budget, and congratulated the country on the success of his financial schemes, and especially on that of the sinking fund. He observed, however, that as there had been some extraordinary expenses, the paying of the prince's debts, the debts on the civil list, and the fitting out the armament in the summer of 1787, he proposed to raise a loan of a million, and to lay some additional amount on certain taxes, as those on newspapers and advertisements, on cards, dice, probates and legacies, on horses and carriages. Sheridan declared that the minister's system of finance had been anything but successful. The extraordinary demands for the service of this year were most onerous, being five million seven hundred thousand pounds. The chancellor, whilst calling for fresh taxes in time of peace to meet this demand, was laying on fresh taxes and calling for a new loan. Whilst he was reducing the debt with one hand, he was augmenting it with the other. On a division, however, the chancellor's requisitions were carried. Sheridan then moved for a committee to inquire into the state of the public income and expenditure, into the progress actually made in the reduction of the national debt since 1786, and into the grounds on which a reduction of the same may be expected in future. He contended that it could be proved that 210 real reduction could be made, except by an increase of taxation or a decrease of expenditure. He named his committee, but the motion was negatived without a division. A similar motion in the house of lords, by lord Rawdon, seconded by the duke of Richmond, was resisted with equal success.

On the 16th Pitt submitted to the house a plan for removing the duties on tobacco from the customs to the excise. He showed that, on the present system, one-half of the tobacco imported was smuggled. The late regulations, he said, had deprived the illicit dealers of their trade in tea, wine, and spirits, and all their energies were now concentrated on tobacco. The Glasgow merchants were of opinion that not less than eleven million pounds were illegally imported; the London merchants calculated fourteen millions. The value of that legally imported averaged seven millions, so that, by illicit importation of the residue, nearly three hundred and fifty thousand pounds were annually lost to the government. As the wine regulations had passed so easily, it was anticipated that this would do so too; but all the old jealousy of the excise was at once aroused. The press denounced the project rigorously; the walls of the city were covered with placards against it; public meetings were called in haste to deprecate it; and the common hall of the city was decided in its tone. Five aldermen joined Sheridan and Fox in opposing its going into committee; but this motion was carried without a division. Many alterations were proposed in committee, and some effectually. Sir Watkin Lewis proposed a clause for enabling persons aggrieved by the commissioners of excise to bring an action of trespass, in which the condemnation or conviction should not protect the defendant. Other amendments, almost wholly destructive of the bill, were proposed, and Mr. Fox gave these all his influence. He reminded the house of the boasts we made of our liberties, as so far beyond those of other nations; and he regretted that such continual invasions were made upon them. It seemed to him that we were ready to sacrifice everything for revenue, and he recalled to the mind of the house that it was not so formerly. When Sir Robert Walpole was advised to lay on excise instead of customs, he treated the proposal as the height of impolicy. He reminded the house of the evils produced by lord Bute's cider bill. He thought it most dangerous and unconstitutional to send bevies of excisemen to interfere on all occasions with manufactures, and invade the privacy of domestic dwellings. There had, he said, been a distinction drawn between a private gentleman's house and houses where trade was carried on. He saw no difference. We boasted that every Englishman's house was his castle, and a shop was as much a shopkeeper's castle as a gentleman's house was his castle. Unless parliament would do its duty and stem the tide of expenditure, of course taxes must be raised; but there was a wide difference in their mode of collection; and if we meant to preserve our national character and privileges, we must consult the industry, the manners, and feelings of the people. Standing, as we did, the first country in the world for literature, for science, and for all which could improve and adorn mankind, that the source of these enjoyments should be thus forgotten must mortify every man who admired the freedom of our constitution and the equality of our laws.

The bill, somewhat modified, was passed; but in the lords it met also with considerable opposition, especially from lords Loughborough and Stormont and the lord chancellor. Thurlow had seen that his double conduct in the late regency case had given great offence to Pitt and his party, and he now determined to keep no measures with the ministry. He declared that the commons were now sending up to them bills that would disgrace the merest schoolboys; that there was neither sense, consistency, nor grammar in them; and he moved an amendment, which, however, was rejected, as was another by the duke of Richmond, and the bill passed, but only on the very morning of the prorogation.

Whilst the proceedings which we have debated were in course, the trial of Warren Hastings had scarcely advanced, partly in consequence of the managers, and of the whole body of the lords and commons, being absorbed by the interest of the king's lunacy and the regency bill. We may now notice these trial incidents consecutively. Early in the year there was made a most determined attempt, on the part of Hastings and his friends, to get rid of the impeachment altogether, by ruining the credit of the managers, and especially of Burke. On the 3rd of February, Hastings presented a petition to the lords, complaining of the great hardship which the extraordinary length of the trial inflicted on him. He stated that already several of his judges were dead, as also were several of his witnesses, and that the detention of others occasioned them the most intolerable inconvenience; that the certain consequences would be, that he should be deprived of his judges best acquainted with the whole proceedings, and of his witnesses by the ordinary accidents and changes of life; that his own health was broken, and his fortune fast disappearing; that already the cost to him had exceeded thirty thousand pounds; that if the trial proceeded at this rate, his fortune must have evaporated before the end of his life, and he should, if still alive, have no means left of defending himself; and he implored their lordships to devise some means of expediting the trial.

Now, nothing was so obvious as that the very things of which he complained, were the direct result of his own counsel. The managers had done all in their power to have each separate charge completed and decided, before proceeding to another; but his counsel, undoubtedly by his own desire, had opposed and overthrown this arrangement. It was, therefore, absolutely certain that the mischiefs of which he now complained must take place. His judges and his evidence must fall off, in the natural course of things, before any decision could be arrived at, and the decision, when reached, must be proportionably uncertain.

On the 20th of April the trial recommenced, and the next day Burke, entering on the case of Nuncomar, declared that "Hastings had murdered him by the hands of Sir Elijah Impey." The expression was strong; but from the evidence in Burke's hands, notwithstanding the denial by Sir Elijah, and the failure of his impeachment, Burke was apparently fully justified in arriving at that conclusion. What were the facts? The maharajah Nuncomar, who had been appointed to various important offices by Hastings himself, came forward, and accused the governor of acquitting Mahmud Keza Khan, the naib duan of Bengal, and rajah Shitabroy, the naib duan of Behar, of vast embezzlements in their accounts; and he offered to give proof of the receipt, by Hastings, of a bribe of three lacs and a half from the munny begum and rajah Gourdass. What was the answer of Hastings? He refused to enter into the charges, but immediately commenced a prosecution of Nuncomar on a charge of conspiracy, which failing, the maharajah was immediately prosecuted on a charge of forgery, not in the name of Hastings, but of another party, though no one doubted who was the real prosecutor. On this, under the presidency of Impey, as chief judge, Nuncomar was tried, condemned, all appeal to the authorities in England refused, and he was hastily hanged, though the crime, by the laws of his own country, was not capitals Burke had full evidence of all these proceedings in his hands; of the necessity for Hastings getting rid of Nuncomar; and he came to the conclusion, which, he said, nothing could ever tear from his soul, of the guilt of Hastings in the matter.

But his daring expression of this opinion furnished a fine opportunity for an attack on him, and, through him, on the managers.

On the 27th of April, therefore, major Scott presented a petition from Hastings, complaining of these words, and calling for the opinion of the house on them. Scott designated the charge as a cool, deliberate, systematic misrepresentation of the most horrible kind. The managers objected to the receipt of the petition; but Pitt declared that, though Hastings was the object of their prosecution, he did not cease to be the object of their justice, and ought not to be deprived of the opportunity of complaining of a grievance. Now, had Hastings and his counsel allowed the trial to take the course the managers so zealously advocated, he could have had an immediate opportunity of rebutting any such charges, and, further, of disproving them, on the trial itself. But it suited him now to make this a grievance, in order to destroy, if possible, the weight of the managers. Fitt, also, though evidently leaning to the side of the managers at the commencement, and favouring the trial, had of late been so galled by the managers on the regency question, that he now as evidently was throwing all his momentum into the scale against them. The petition was received without a division; and the subject of it was settled to be debated on the 30th. The lords were requested to suspend proceedings on the trial; and, on that day, Pitt and his supporters threw out a number of doubts, calculated to create delay.

Burke proposed to withdraw, to allow of the free deliberation of the house, but, before doing so, he reiterated the whole case of Nuncomar, and asserted the justice of his conclusions. The next day, also, Mr. Montague, in defending Burke, produced and read a letter from him, defending his words in the hall. He declared himself the authorised accuser of Hastings; but that he had accused him on evidence produced to the secret committee, all of which he bound himself to make good in the course of the trial. As that evidence, however, was given on the faith of the witnesses remaining unknown except to the committee, which they had fully satisfied, he protested against these witnesses being dragged by the agents of the accused into the public eye, in order that they might be exposed to their vengeance. That he was willing to take all the responsibility on himself for the present. The ministerial party, however, would not be satisfied without the short-hand writer, who took down the evidence before the committee, being called to the bar: and he was called. After much debate, the marquis of Graham carried a resolution against Burke, to the effect that much regarding Nuncomar ought not to have been spoken. On the contrary, a resolution, moved by Fox, asserting that the evidence of Nuncomar, not having been taken when it should have been, the charge against Hastings remained in fresh force against him, and that, consequently, the words of Burke were proper and necessary, was rejected.

In consequence of this triumph of Hastings against them in the commons, a meeting of the managers was held, and it was seriously agitated whether the managers should not throw up their charge; but Burke opposed this, as likely to give a still greater triumph - the whole being a stratagem on the part of Hastings' counsel to drive them from their duty as accusers, and thus screen the accused. Accordingly, the next day, Burke appeared in the Hall at Westminster, and made a statement of all that had taken place in the commons; and repeated his firm conviction of the murder of Nuncomar by Hastings; not, perhaps, a murder in the legal sense, but so much so in a moral sense, that the conviction of it would never leave him but with life. A few days afterwards Mr. Marsham moved for the prosecution of a certain newspaper for a shameful libel on Burke; and Burke himself read a paper purporting to be a bill delivered by a newspaper editor to major Scott, Hastings' champion, for lampooning and abusing the managers. One item was stated to be "for attacking the veracity of Mr. Burke, three shillings and sixpence!" which Burke said was small pay for such a service. The motion of Marsham to prosecute the editor, whom he had named, was carried.

The managers demanded that the evidence of Nuncomar, which had been taken by the council in Calcutta, proving the corruption and the crimes of Hastings, should be admitted by the court; but the lords retired to their own chamber of parliament to consider this point. There were so many retirings and returnings, that lord Stanhope said the judges walked, but the trial stood still. They were, however, finally of opinion that the evidence could not be admitted, the parties themselves not being there to substantiate it, and that, therefore, it was only circumstantial evidence. Burke, on this, exclaimed - " Plunder on, ye Indian delinquents! the laws intended to restrain you are mere scarecrows! Accumulate wealth by any means, however illegal, profligate, or infamous. You are sure of impunity; for the natives of India are, by their religion, debarred from appearing out of their own country, and circumstantial evidence will not be received."

Fox, however, insisted that direct personal evidence, taken and accepted by the supreme council in India, was good and sufficient evidence in that court; but the lords again retired to take the opinion of the judges on this point; and, on returning, replied that the judges did not consider that evidence could be received there which had not been given originally on oath. On this, Burke appeared to lose all patience. He declared that the ends of justice were thwarted by forms of law; that the criminal was thus effectually screened. When the most distinguished men in India had investigated, proved, and received these charges in evidence; and when the accused now stood before the house of peers impeached by the commons, instead of standing forward as a man conscious of his innocence, and glad of the opportunity to clear his name from such foul taint, every technical obstacle which the ingenuity of his counsel could devise was thrown in the way of evidence. When the testimony of Nuncomar, as taken by the supreme council of Calcutta, was tendered, it was rejected because it was not given upon oath, this being notoriously contrary to their religion; it being known, an oath was never required from natives. Yet this very evidence had been received by the council as legal; and, what was more, Hastings himself had always contended, during his own government, that such evidence was legal, and had uniformly acted upon it.

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