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The Reign of George III. - (Continued.) page 4


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On the 20th of May Fox moved for a grand committee on courts of justice, to inquire into some late decisions of the courts in cases of libel. Thomas Erskine, the eloquent advocate, had lately, in the case of the dean of St. Asaph, delivered a most brilliant and effective speech on the right of juries to decide both on fact and on law in such cases, the duty of the judge being only to explain the law. Fox adopted this doctrine of Erskine, and framed his speech in the most glowing terms. He complained, however, that such was not the practice of the courts, and he particularly animadverted on the custom and the doctrine of lord Mansfield on this subject. He observed that in murder, in felony, in high treason, and in every other criminal indictment, it was the admitted province of the jury to decide both on law and fact. The practice in the case of libel was an anomaly, and clearly ought not to be so. He said that the doctrine which he recommended was no innovation; it had been asserted by John Lilburne, who was prosecuted for a libel under the commonwealth, who declared that the jury were the real judges, and the judges themselves mere cyphers, so far as the verdict was concerned; and Lilburne had been acquitted, spite of the judge and of the influence of Cromwell. He reviewed the doctrines of the Stuarts regarding libel, and observed that these could not be wrong then and right now. He contended that the late practice had been a severe inroad on the liberty of the press, and noted the case of the printer of the Morning Herald, who had been tried for merely commenting strongly on the sending an armament to Nootka Sound, and on the conduct of parliament in granting supplies for this purpose. He had been condemned to a year's imprisonment and to stand in the pillory.

Pitt observed that he had always, since he had a place in the ministry, condemned the use of the pillory, and that there could be no difficulty in procuring the remission of that part of the sentence in this particular case. He supported. Fox's view of the law, and recommended him to bring in two short bills, instead of going into committee on the subject. Fox followed this advice, and brought in two bills - one to remove doubts respecting the rights and functions of juries in criminal cases; and the other to amend the act of the 9th of queen Anne for rendering the proceedings upon writs of mandamus and informations in the nature of a quo warranto more speedy and effectual, &c.

The first bill passed the commons on the 2nd of June, but was thrown out in the lords, through the influence of chancellor Thurlow, who had never forgiven Pitt his contempt of his conduct in the regency question during the king's malady. This defeated the object of Fox during this session.

The trial of Warren Hastings still proceeded, but appeared to have tired everybody out. A new parliament being now sitting, the question arose whether the impeachment had not expired with it, and, if it had, of course it would be necessary to begin de novo. The very idea of beginning afresh a trial which had now lasted three years, and of which only three charges out of twenty-three had been heard, was perfectly appalling. In this case, the trial would certainly be abandoned; for not only the public and the parliament were wearied of it, but the commissioners themselves were not less so. But Burke, however fatigued and disgusted he might be, both with the process and with the spirit in which it had been carried on by Hastings' lawyers, regarded it as a matter of too serious a principle to allow it thus to slide away. He contended that the whole history of parliament showed that a dissolution of parliament did not put an end to an impeachment, and, on the 17th of December, he had moved that the trial of Warren Hastings, Esq., was still depending. He referred to the journals of both houses of parliament, to the records of the courts of law, to prove his position, that no dissolution of parliament affected an impeachment. Erskine contended that Burke was wrong in his law; but Pitt took the same view as Burke, and, by a very elaborate reference to the cases of impeachment, from the earliest history of our parliaments, he proved the point. There was but one exception, and that was the case of the impeachment of the earl of Stafford, which was reversed by a vote of the house of lords in 1685, but did not receive the assent of the commons. Had it done so, it would, in Pitt's opinion, have been invalid as a case in point, because it took place under James II., a prince who had so abused the constitution and corrupted parliament, that his acts were themselves all reversed by the nation, which deposed and expelled him. Pitt then viewed the question from a constitutional point of view, and argued that as writs of error and petitions of appeal were not affected by the dissolution of parliament, still less ought impeachments to be so. Sir John Scott, the solicitor- general, Hardinge, Mitford, and other lawyers, opposed the motion; but Fox and Dundas supported it, and it was carried. The lords also debated the same question, and came to the same conclusion.

On the 14th of February, Burke moved, that in consideration of the length of time which had already elapsed on this trial, it appeared necessary, for obtaining substantial justice, that the trial should proceed no further in evidence against the accused than so far as related to contracts, pensions, and allowances. Two amendments were moved on this, the second of which, by Mr. Jekyll, was, that the trial should proceed no further; but Pitt again supported Burke, and his resolution was carried.

When the lords met again in Westminster Hall to proceed with the trial, on the 23rd of May, Mr. St. John stated the charge relating to contracts, pensions, and allowances, including frauds and extortions. This occupied three days. On the 27th, Mr. Loveden, in the house of commons, moved that the house should address his majesty, praying that the parliament might continue to sit till this trial was terminated; and a similar motion was made in the house of peers, but very properly rejected in both. On the 30th of May, the managers closed their case, and then Hastings begged to be allowed a day for stating some particulars of importance, as it regarded the future progress of the trial. This was granted, and, on the 2nd of June, he read a very long address in self-defence, which occupied three hours and a half.

In his defence, Hastings earnestly implored that their lordships, having heard the evidence against him, would immediately proceed to judgment. He contended that no single allegation had been made out against him; which, though it was not true, had a certain plausibility in it. Could the public forget that his lawyers had induced the lords to reject the evidence of all natives, the real plaintiffs? The war which was now carrying on against Tippoo Sahib afforded him a fine opportunity of appealing to the self- interest of the nation. He pointed to the difficulties which lord Cornwallis had now to contend with in raising money and troops, and compared these with the still greater which he had experienced, thus justifying his gross robberies on the begums and others, and the horrible tortures of the unhappy natives by his agents. u My lords," he said, " you are now better enabled to judge of the difficulties which I had to encounter in the last war, than I did suppose it possible for your lordships to be when this trial commenced. Your lordships will now feel for the necessities under which I laboured, when I had to contend with all the powers of India combined with the French and Dutch, because your lordships have proofs before you, in the council chamber of parliament, that the resources of India are now utterly inadequate to the support of a war against one native power who is unassisted by any European ally. We are now in alliance with all the Mahratta chiefs, and with the subadar of the Deccan, who were in the former war confederated against us. The government of Bengal, when this war was commenced, was free from foreign and domestic embarrassments. The nabob vizier had completely liquidated his debts, and his subsidy was paid with the utmost punctuality. Benares afforded the full revenue, which I am impeached for having procured! The salt, the opium, and the land revenues of Bengal, added to the subsidies from Oude and Benares, produced annually nearly five millions four hundred thousand pounds. But, my lords, so inadequate have these resources proved, with the addition of the revenues of Fort St. George and Bombay, that since the commencement of the present war a very considerable sum in specie has been transmitted from England to India; money has been borrowed to the utmost extent of their credit in Bengal; and Hyder Beg Khan, whom your lordships have heard of so often, has assisted lord Cornwallis with a loan of twenty-two lacs of rupees. I mention these circumstances to your lordships to prove that the resources of India cannot, in time of war, meet the expenses of India. Your lordships know that I could not, and lord Cornwallis cannot, do what every minister has done since the revolution. I could not borrow to the utmost extent of my wants, and tax posterity to pay the interest of my loans."

Now, if this argument meant anything, it meant plainly that, as he could not borrow what he wanted for his wars of aggression in India, he was compelled to steal. He was, in fact, confessing all that Burke and the rest of the managers accused him of. That, to carry on his wars, he had, without any scruple, plundered the people and the princes of friendly states to an enormous extent, and under circumstances of coercion and horror, unparalleled by anything except the tortures of the inquisition. What justified him would justify the inquisitions of Rome and Madrid; it would justify all the atrocities and exterminations of Cortez and Pizarro; it would justify all the aggressions and the oppressions of Napoleon, over the whole of continental Europe. There is nothing which such an argument will not justify, if we allow that a man, or a nation, may voluntarily place himself or itself in a position which compels violence, and robbery, and personal coercion, or retreat. The inquisitions assumed the right to compel all men to believe as the catholic church did; and, because certain persons refused, they proceeded to those systems of torture which have made their very name an infamy. Pizarro and Cortez overran Mexico and Peru; and, because they wanted to amass wealth, and the natives wanted to keep it, they massacred or tortured them. Napoleon chose to overrun Europe, and exercise dominion over it, and this required vast funds; and therefore it was necessary to find these funds, or to steal them: hence, he plundered all Europe. Whoever will venture to say that he was justified - that he committed no crime? Such a man only can justify the violences of Hastings; in justifying them, he condemns himself; for, assuredly, such a man cannot be a christian. Hastings found himself in a position in which he must rob, and imprison, and set others to rob and massacre innocent people, or he must resign his power. Can there be a question what a christian should do under such circumstances? But Hastings flattered himself that he was addressing a body who, with the convenient name of christian, were in reality actuated by all the old selfishness of heathenism. He was addressing the selfishness and not the honourable integrity of the house of lords and of the nation. He told them plainly, u I could not borrow, and, therefore, I did what I did, and you have the benefit of it. I have preserved what the Indian minister (Dundas) called the brighest jewel of the British crown; and I know you don't much mind that the jewel was stolen." That was the real language of Hastings to the house of lords stripped of its thin disguise, and it was either a gross insult to the peers, or it was a severe satire on them.

He next referred to his life before his Indian rule, and argued the old " nemo repente turpissimus " ground, willing to forget that some of the mildest men, under tempting circumstances, have become very speedily monsters; and that Hazael, the Syrian prince, was terrified at his own character drawn by the prophet beforehand. Hastings had the impudence to infer from this his previous character, " that he was innocent of any particular wrong imputed to him, especially as those who were the alleged sufferers by the wrong made no complaint against him! " and this after the most determined and the most persevering resistance of his counsel to the hearing of these complaints! This, indeed, was the cause of the bitterest complaints of the managers, that the evidence of all these sufferers - even the letter of the begum, charging Hastings with his bribing - were refused admission, though this evidence had been produced in the council in Calcutta, according to the regular mode of taking native evidence. The whole plea was the assassin's and the robber's plea - necessity; and the adoption of this plea was an admission of all that which the managers, and all persons of sound mind and christian morals, deem crimes of the darkest dye.

There were other parts of his defence which were more just. He claimed the merit of having introduced many improvements into the mode of transacting the public business of India, in the collection of the revenue, and in the courts of justice. But he claimed more - the merit of having made the machinery which governed India; in other words, he inaugurated the system which has sanctioned all the crimes and caused all the bloodshed which leaves India in our hands at this moment prostrate from a terrible rebellion and wholesale massacre of blacks and whites, and with a debt of seventy millions sterling to add to another debt of eight hundred millions. The lords, after hearing him, retired to their own house, and then adjourned the trial to the first Tuesday of the next session of parliament.

On the 10th of June parliament was prorogued by the king in person. Besides the transactions in parliament during this session which we have mentioned, Pitt made a statement of the revenue as follows: - The income for the year, 16,030,285; the expenditure, including one million for liquidating the national debt, 15,969,178; so that there was an apparent surplus of 61,107; and on this the minister indulged in the balmiest dreams of rapid reduction of the debt, at the very moment that the events across the channel, and the view which the government of England was about to take of them, were preparing the wildest scene of expenditure ever witnessed since the world began. Dundas, as the head of the board of control, also presented an equally flattering account of the state of the Indian finances, showing a clear surplus of 1,500,000, at the very moment that Warren Hastings was declaring, and justifying himself on the declaration, that lord Cornwallis was at his wit's end for money, and that the resources of India in time of war never could equal the expenses - a most melancholy truth!

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