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ARTICLES OÈ CHARGE AGAINST MR. HASTINGS - BENARES
June 13. THE order of the day for going into a committee on the charges
against Warren Hastings, esquire, having been read, the Speaker left the chair, and Mr. St. Andrew St. John took his seat at the table.
Mr. Fox then rose, and began a most able and eloquent speech with observing, that as something like censure had been cast on his right honourable friend, Mr. Burke, wheni the committee were last assembled, for having introduced a considerable deal of preliminary matter, generally allusive to the subject of the several charges, not then under immediate consideration, but, in his mind, extremely pertinent and extremely essential, and as he was convinced, that if censure could be at all deservedly imputed to his right honourable friend on such an account, it might with much more foundation and propriety be imputed to him, where he to attempt to take up the time of the committee, with again going into the discussion of any topics not immediately connected with the subject to which he meant that day to call their attention; he, therefore, would make no preliminary observations whatever, but proceed directly to the matter upon which he meant to found the motion, which he should have the honour to offer to the committee, namely, to the third charge; - to that relative to the conduct of Mr. Hastings respecting Benares:
The committee, he trusted, as well from the preliminary remarks and arguments of his right honourable friend, as from what had passed within those walls, were so far familiar with the subject of all the charges, that he should find it no very difficult task to make them perfectly masters of the facts to which he meant to draw their attention. He would begin with the year 1770, in which Bulwant Sing, the Prince or Zemindar of the province of Benares, died, and the presidency of Calcutta interfered through the medium of Captain Harper, to procure a confirmation of the succession to his son, Cheit Sing, and an agreement was entered into between that Rajah and the Vizier Nabob of Oude, of whom he purchased, for valuable considerations, his right and inheritance in his zemindary, or by whatever other name it might be called. When Mr. Hastings came over as president of the supreme council of Calcutta, he found Cheit Sing in possession, and in 1773, in the month of October, he was, by a sunnud granted to him by Sujah Dowlah, obtained by the instance of Mr. Hastings, acknowledged zemindar of the province. In 1774, the governor general and council appointed by act of parliament, obtained the sovereignty paramount of the government of the province of Benares; and to obviate any misconstruction of the treaty, with regard to the tenure of the Rajah of Benares, Mr. Hastings himself proposed at the board, that whatever provision might in the said treaty be made for the interest of the company, the same should be 66 without an encroachment on the rights of the rajah, or the engagements actually subsisting with him.” On the transfer of the sovereignty, Mr. Hastings proposed a new grant to be conveyed in new instruments to the Rajah Cheit Sing, conferring upon him farther privileges; and these were the addition of the sovereign rights of the mint, and of the right of criminal justice of life and death ; Mr. Hastings proposing the resolution for that purpose in council, in which were these words, “ that the perpetual and independent possession of the zemindary of Benares, and its dependencies, be confirmed and guaranteed to the Rajah Cheit Sing and his heirs, for ever, subject only to the annual payment of the revenue hitherto paid to the late vizier, &c, That no other demand be made on him, either by the Nabob of Oude, or this government." This resolution clearly established the independency of Cheit Sing, and shewed it was the aim of Mr. Hastings to make him independent. Mr. Fox also read farther in confirmation of this, the following article of the treaty proposed by Mr. Hastings, on the 5th of July 1775; 6 That while the rajah shall continue faithful to these engagements, and punctual in his payments, and shall pay due obedience to the authority of this government, no more demands shall be made upon him of any kind; nor on any pretence whatsoever shall any person be allowed to interfere with his authority, or to disturb the peace of his country.” Which article was by the other members of the council assented to.
The committee would, therefore, please particularly to carry in their mind, that Cheit Sing had been declared independent, at the express instance of Mr. Hastings, that it was actually stipulated, that no more demands should be made upon him, besides his annual tribute, and that the stipulation might be the more clear and intelligible, the words 66 of any kind” had been added. And yet, shortly after the deaths of Sir John Clavering and Mr. Monson, Mr. Hastings, without any previous general communication with the
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board, by a minute of consultation, made an extraordinary demand on the rajah of five lacks of rupees. Exorbitant, indeed, was this demand, and incompatible with the stipulated terms of the rajah being declared independent in 1774! How were the words " no more demands of any kind" to be interpreted? And by what principle of construction was the meaning of the stipulation to be made to bear out this? The demand, however, was made, and the rajah murmured at it, and begged that he might be permitted to pay it by instalments, and with his quarterly payments; but Mr. Hastings peremptorily insisted on its being paid by a certain day, when it was accordingly paid, though on the express condition that the exaction should continue but for one year, and should not be drawn into precedent. Notwithstanding this, the same demand was repeated a second year, and, after some fruitless murmuring and complaint on the part of the rajah, paid; a third year a like demand was made, and in like manner satisfied. Various and extraordinary were the circumstances of vexation and despotism, under which these several demands were made, such as a threat at one time, to march the English company's forces in to the province of Benares to compel payment, &c.
Mr. Fox stated Mr. Hastings's defence of himself against these facts, and argued upon both the charge and the defence collectively and comparatively. He next spoke of the requisition for all the cavalry that Cheit Sing could spare; and observed, that General Clavering had by a minute recommended it to the rajah to keep up two thousand. From whence he inferred, that Cheit Sing was left at his discretion to keep up as many as he chose, and to send that number only which he could spare. Mr. Hastings, however, afterwards demanded, through his agent, Mr. Markham, two thousand, afterwards fifteen hundred, and, after that, he lowered the requisition to one thousand. But Cheit Sing sent word, that he had but thirteen hundred, and offered only five hundred, declaring that he could spare no more, but at the same time substituted in lieu of the remainder five hundred matchlock men. Upon this, Mr. Hastings said, in his defence, “ my patience was exhausted by such repeated acts of contumacy”—an expression the absurdity of which might be unanswerably exemplified, by recapitulating the facts to which it applied. Mr. Hastings, after stipulating that no more demand of any kind than the annual tribute should be made upon the rajah, demanded first five lacks of rupees, which were paid, but with some murmuring; he next demanded five lacks more, which were also paid, though with some murmuring; he again demanded a third five lacks, and these
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again were paid. He then called for two thousand cavalry. Cheit Sing sent him word he had but thirteen hundred, and those distributed through his territories; that he could spare no more than five hundred, and those he should have. Would ever mortal have construed such conduct as this into contumacy but Mr. Hastings, who says, “ his patience was exhausted by such repeated acts of contumacy;" and adds, that “ he determined to convert them into an advantage for the company's affairs." Mr. Fox upon this monstrous determination reasoned with great warmth and energy, appealing to the committee whether they ever before heard of such an idea as punishing men, not for the great end of all punishment, example, but in order to convert it into an advantage for his employers ! Mr. Fox put this in various strong points of view, and having here impressed the several facts he had stated very forcibly on the minds of the committee, proceeded to mention Mr. Hastings's determination to levy a fine of forty or fifty lacks of rupees upon Cheit Sing for the imputed contumacy, and his journey to Benares for that purpose. He spoke of his conduct on his arrival in terms of severe reprobation, declaring, that his language and conduct to the rajah was rude and insolent in the extreme. Soon after his arrival he caused Cheit Sing to be put under an arrest in his own palace,--an instance of unparalleled indignity; for what would be thought of any tributary prince in Europe being arrested in his palace by the order of the sovereign paramount? Would not his authority be lost for ever? This whole proceeding provoked Mr. Fox's execration: he condemned and denied the right of Mr. Hastings to levy and fine; and contended that there was no ground for such an unwarrantable stretch of power, since the conditions of the stipulation had been all complied with, the rajah having continued faithful in his engagements and punctual in his payments, and having paid due obedience to the authority of the British government. He ridiculed the three rights to fine the subordinate princes that Mr. Hastings had, in his defence, laid claim to. The first of these was, he said, the right derived from Sujah al Dowlah of fining in case the mint was abused; the second was that of imposing a fine, for investing, upon every new possession of the zemindary. This, Mr. Fox observed, was a miserable cavil, and a gross perversion of the word fine, since nothing was more distinct and different than the meaning of it in the two senses here mentioned; and the third right was, he declared, still more extraordinary. In 1764, Bulwant Sing, father of Cheit Sing, departed from his loyalty and joined Meer Jaffier and the English, against Sue jah al Dowlah, when the latter, as Mr. Hastings stated in his
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defence, 6 would probably have fined him” had not the English protected him and prevented it.
Mr. Fox diverted himself for some time with the idea of what Sujah al Dowlah “ would probably” have done, had not the English prevented him. He pressed also upon the committee the declaration of Mr. Hastings, that according to the institutes of Jengheez Khawn or Tamerlane, the rights of the subject are nothing, while the power of the sovereign is every thing, and urged the injustice of such a despotic maxim with great energy. He next took notice of the inordinate vanity and presumption of Mr. Hastings in saying, that if Cheit Sing was a great prince, he as his sovereign, was a great king: In order to shew the absurdity of this, he put the case thus: Suppose the Emperor of Germany were to send an ambassador to the Elector of Hanover or the Elector of Brandenburgh, and he were to tell either of them, “ if you are a great elector, I am a great emperor.” Having pushed the ridicule to some extent, he returned to his narrative of what had hapa pened at Benares, and stated all the facts of the ill treatment of the rajah, subsequent to his having been put under an arrest, to the massacre of the British, and the escape of Cheit Sing.
Mr. Fox after having gone through the whole of the facts, proceeded to take notice of the fourth and fifth articles of the charge which he said he should speak to shortly, considering them rather as matters of aggravation, superadded to the treatment of Cheit Sing, than as charges of much importance themselves. He then stated all the circumstances that took place at the castle of Bidgigur, and of the inducements to plunder, held out by Mr. Hastings to the soldiery, descanting on the mischievous consequences of such a practice, a doctrine for which he declared he had the authority of Mr. Hastings himself, who some years before had written a declaration that “the very idea of prize money suggested to his remembrance the former disorders which arose in their army from that source, and had almost proved fatal to it. Of this circumstance you must be sufficiently apprized, and of the necessity for discouraging every expectation of this kind amongst the troops ;, it is to be avoided like poison, &c." Having thus proved how very contradictorily Mr. Hastings had behaved in that respect, he mentioned the strange sort of affidavits and depositions that were made for the purpose of imputing suspicions of disloyalty and designs to rebel to Cheit Şing. One of these from a person deeply interested in the ruin of the rajah he read, to shew the House that almost all the allegations it contained were on hearsay evidence only.
Mr. Fox came at last to the fourth and fifth articles, and
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