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MR. BURKE’S SPEECH,
ON THE FIRST OF DECEMBER, 1783,
UPON THE QUESTION FOR THE
SPEAKER'S LEAVING THE CHAIR,
IN ORDER FOR
THE HOUSE TO RESOLVE ITSELF INTO A COMMITTEE,
MR. FOX'S EAST INDIA BILL.
Mr. SPEAKER, I thank you for pointing to me. I really wished much to engage your attention in an early stage of the debate. I have been long very deeply, though perhaps ineffectually, engaged in the preliminary inquiries, which have continued without intermission for some years. Though I have felt, with some degree of sensibility, the natural and inevitable impressions of the several matters of fact, as they have been successively disclosed, I have not at any time attempted to trouble you on the merits of the subject; and very little on any of the points which incidentally arose in the course of our proceedings. But I should be sorry to be found totally silent upon this day. Our inquiries are now come to their final issue :—It is now to be determined whether the three years of laborious parliamentary research, whether the twenty years of patient Indian suffering, are to produce a substantial reform in our eastern administration; or whether our knowledge of the grievances has abated our zeal for the correction of them, and our very inquiry into the evil was only a pretext to elude the remedy, which is demanded from us by humanity, by justice, and by every principle of true policy. Depend upon it, this business cannot be indifferent to our fame. It will turn out a matter of great disgrace, or great glory to the whole British nation. We are on a conspicuous stage, and the world marks our demeanour.
I am therefore a little concerned to perceive the spirit and temper in which the debate has been all along pursued upon one side of the House. The declamation of the gentlemen who oppose the bill has been abundant and vehement; but they have been reserved and even silent about the fitness or unfitness of the plan to attain the direct object it has in view. By some gentlemen it is taken up (by way of exercise I presume) as a point of law on a question of private property, and corporate franchise : by others it is regarded
as the petty intrigue of a faction at court, and argued merely as it tends to set this man a little higher, or that a little lower in situation and power. All the void has been filled up with invectives against coalition ; with allusions to the loss of America ; with the activity and inactivity of ministers. The total silence of these gentlemen concerning the interest and well-being of the people of India, and concerning the interest which this nation has in the commerce and revenues of that country, is a strong indication of the value which they set upon these objects.
It has been a little painful to me to observe the intrusion into this important debate of such company as quo warranto, and mandamus, and certiorari ; as if we were on a trial about mayors and aldermen, and capital burgesses; or engaged in a suit concerning the borough of Penryn, or Saltash, or St. Ives, or St. Mawes. Gentlemen have argued with as much heat and passion, as if the first things in the world were at stake; and their topics are such as belong only to matter of the lowest and meanest litigation. It is not right, it is not worthy of us, in this manner to depreciate the value, to degrade the majesty, of this grave deliberation of policy and empire.
For my part, I have thought myself bound, when a matter of this extraordinary weight came before me, not to consider (as some gentlemen are so fond of doing) whether the bill originated from a secretary of state for the home department, or from a secretary for the foreign, from a minister of influence, or a minister of the people; from Jacob, or from Esau'. I asked myself, and I asked myself nothing else, what part of it was fit for a member of parliament, who has supplied a mediocrity of talents by the extreme of diligence, and who has thought himself obliged, by the research of years, to wind himself into the inmost recesses and labyrinths of the Indian detail, what part, I say, it became such a member of parliament to take, when a minister of state, in conformity to a recommendation from the throne, has brought before us a system for the better government of the territory and commerce of the East. In this light, and in this only, I will trouble you with my sentiments.
It is not only agreed, but demanded, by the right honourable gentleman', and by those who act with him, that a whole system ought to be produced; that it ought not to be a half measure ; that it ought to be no palliative ; but a legislative provision, vigorous, substantial, and effective. I believe that no man who understands the subject can doubt for a moment, that those must be the con
1 An allusion made by Mr. Powis.
2 Mr. Pitt.
ditions of any thing deserving the name of a reform in the Indian government ; that any thing short of them would not only be delusive, but, in this matter which admits no medium, noxious in the extreme.
To all the conditions proposed by his adversaries the mover of the bill perfectly agrees ; and on his performance of them he rests his cause.
On the other hand, not the least objection has been taken with regard to the efficiency, the vigour, or the completeness of the scheme. I am therefore warranted to assume, as a thing admitted, that the bills accomplish what both sides of the House demand as essential. The end is completely answered, so far as the direct and immediate object is concerned.
But though there are no direct, yet there are various collateral objections made: objections from the effects which this plan of reform for Indian administration may have on the privileges of great public bodies in England; from its probable influence on the constitutional rights, or on the freedom and integrity of the several branches of the legislature.
Before I answer these objections, I must beg leave to observe, that, if we are not able to contrive some method of governing India well, which will not of necessity become the means of governing Great Britain ill, a ground is laid for their eternal separation, but none for sacrificing the people of that country to our constitution. I am, however, far from being persuaded that any such incompatibility of interest does at all exist. On the contrary, I am certain that every means effectual to preserve India from oppression is a guard to preserve the British constitution from its worst corruption. To show this, I will consider the objections, which, I think, are four :
1st. That the bill is an attack on the chartered rights of men. 2ndly. That it increases the influence of the crown. 3rdly. That it does not increase, but diminishes, the influence of
the crown, in order to promote the interests of certain ministers
and their party. 4thly. That it deeply affects the national credit.
As to the first of these objections, I must observe that the phrase of “the chartered rights of men,” is full of affectation, and very unusual in the discussion of privileges conferred by charters of the present description. But it is not difficult to discover what end that ambiguous mode of expression, so often reiterated, is meant to answer.
The rights of men,—that is to say, the natural rights of mankind, -are indeed sacred things; and if any public measure is proved mischievously to affect them, the objection ought to be fatal