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is, to some millions of sterling money. There is strong reason to suspect, that the body of these debts is wholly fictitious, and was never created by money bona fide lent. But even on a supposition that this vast sum was really advanced, it was impossible that the very reality of such an astonishing transaction should not cause some degree of alarm, and incite to some sort of inquiry.
It was not at all seemly, at a moment when the company itself was so distressed, as to require a suspension, by act of parliament, of the payment of bills drawn on them from India-and also a direct tax upon every house in England, in order to facilitate the vent of their goods, and to avoid instant insolvency--at that very moment that their servants should appear in so flourishing a condition, as, be
, sides ten millions of other demands on their masters, to be entitled to claim a debt of three or four millions more from the territorial revenue of one of their dependent princes.
The ostensible pecuniary transactions of the nabob of Arcot, with very private persons, are so enormous, that they evidently set aside every pretence of policy, which might induce a prudent government in some instances to wink at ordinary loose practice in illmanaged departments. No caution could be too great in handling this matter; no scrutiny too exact. It was evidently the interest, and as evidently at least in the power, of the creditors, by admitting secret participation in this dark and undefined concern, to spread corruption to the greatest and the most alarming extent.
These facts relative to the debts were so notorious, the opinion of their being a principal source of the disorders of the British government in India was so undisputed and universal, that there was no party, no description of men in parliament, who did not think themselves bound, if not in honour and conscience, at least in common decency, to institute a vigorous inquiry into the very bottom of the business, before they admitted any part of that vast and suspi
cious charge to be laid upon an exhausted country, Every plan concurred in directing such an inquiry; in order that whatever was discovered to be corrupt, fraudulent, or oppressive, should lead to a due animadversion on the offenders; and if any thing fair and equitable in its origin should be found (no body suspected that much, comparitively speaking, would be so found) it might be provided for; in due subordination, however, to the ease of the subject, and the service of the state.
These were the alleged grounds for an inquiry, settled in all the bills brought into parliament relative to India, and there were I think no less than four of them. By the bill, commonly called Mr. Pitt's bill, the inquiry was specially, and by express words, committed to the court of directors, without any reserve for the interference of any other person or persons whatsoever. It was ordered that they should make the inquiry into the origin and justice of these debts, as far as the materials in their possession enabled them to proceed; and where they found those materials deficient, they should order the presidency of Fort St. George (Madras] to complete the in. . quiry.
The court of directors applied themselves to the execution of the trust reposed in them. They first examined into the amount of the debt, which they computed, at compound interest, to bę 2,945,6001. sterling. Whether their mode of computation, either of the original sums, or the amount on compound interest, was exact; that is, whether they took the interest too high, or the several capitals too low, is not material. On whatever principle any of the calculations were made up, none of them found the debt to differ from the recital of the act, which as. serted, that the sums claimed were “ very large.” The last head of these debts the directors compute at 2,465,680l. sterling. Of the existence of this debt the directors heard nothing until 1776, and they say, that, “ although they had repeatedly written to the nabob of Arcot, and to their servants, respecting the
debt, yet they had never been able to trace the origin thereof, or to obtain any satisfactory information on the subject.”
The court of directors, after stating the circumstances under which the debts appeared to them to have been contracted, add as follows: “For these reasons we should have thought it our duty to inquire very minutely into those debts, even if the act of
parliament had been silent on the subject, before we concurred in any measure for their payment. But with the positive injunctions of the act before us, to examine into their nature and origin, we are indispensably bound to direct such an inquiry to be instituted.” They then order the president and council of Madras to enter into a full examination, &c. &c.
а The directors having drawn up their order to the presidency on these principles, communicated the draught of the general letter in which those orders were contained, to the board of his majesty's ministers, and other servants, lately constituted by Mr. Pitt's East-India act. These ministers, who had just carried through parliament the bill ordering a specifick inquiry, immediately drew up another let. ter, on a principle directly opposite to that, which was prescribed by the act of parliament, and followed by the directors. In these second orders, all idea of an inquiry into the justice and origin of the pretended debts, particularly of the last, the greatest, and the most obnoxious to suspicion, is abandoned. They are all admitted and established without any investi- . gation whatsoever; except some private conference with the agents of the claimants is to pass for an investigation; and a fund for their discharge is assigned and set apart out of the revenues of the Carnatick. To this arrangement in favour of their servants suspected of corruption, and convicted of disobedience, the directors of the East-India company were ordered to set their hands, asserting it to arise from their own conviction and opinion, in flat contradiction to their recorded sentiments, their strong remonstrance, and their declared sense of their
duty, as well under their general trust and their oath as directors, as under the express injunctions of an act of parliament.
By another section of the same act, the same court of directors were ordered to take into consideration and to decide on the indeterminate rights of the rajah of Tanjore, and the nabob of Arcot; and in this, as in the former case, no power of appeal, revision, or alteration was reserved to any other. It was a jurisdiction, in a cause between party and party, given to the court of directors specifically. It was known, that the territories of the former of these princes had been twice invaded and pillaged, and the prince deposed and imprisoned, by the company's servants, inAuenced by the intrigues of the latter, and for the purpose of paying his pretended debts. The company had, in the year 1775, ordered a restoration of the rajah to his government, under certain conditions. The rajah complained that his territories had not been completely restored to him; and that no part of his goods, money, revenues, or records, unjustly taken and withheld from him, were ever returned. The nabob, on the other hand, never ceased to claim the country itself, and carried on a continued train of negotiation, that it should again be given up to him, in violation of the company's publick faith.
The directors, in obedience to this part of the act, ordered an inquiry, and came to a determination to restore certain of his territories to the rajah. The ministers proceeding as in the former case, without hearing any party, rescinded the decision of the directors, refused the restitution of the territory, and without regard to the condition of the country of Tanjore, which had been within a few years four times plundered (twice by the nabob of Arcot, and twice by enemies brought upon it solely by the politicks of the same nabob, the declared enemy of that people) and without discounting a shilling for their sufferings, they accumulate an arrear of about 400,000 pounds of pretended tribute to this enemy; and then they
der the directors to put their hands to a new adjudication, directly contrary to a judgment in a judi. cial character and trust, solemnly given by them, and entered on their records.
These proceedings naturally called for some inquiry. On the 28th of February, 1785, Mr. Fox made the following motion in the house of commons, after moving that the clauses of the act should be read—“ That the proper officer do lay before this house copies and extracts of all letters and orders of the court of directors of the united East-India company, in pursuance of the injunctions contained in the 37th and 38th clauses of the said act ;'-and the question being put, it passed in the negative by a very great majority.
THE times we live in, Mr. Speaker, have been distinguished by extraordinary events. Habituated, however, as we are, to uncommon combinations of men and of affairs, I believe nobody recollects any thing more surprising than the spectacle of this day. The right honourable gentleman,* whose conduct is now in question, formerly stood forth in this house, the prosecutor of the worthy. baronetwho spoke after him. He charged him with several grievous acts of malversation in office; with abuses of a publick trust of a great and heinous nature. In less than two years we see the situation of parties reversed; and a singular revolution puts the worthy baronet in a fair way of returning the prosecution in a recriminatory bill of pains and penalties, grounded on a breach of publick trust, relative to the government of the very same part of India. If he should undertake a bill of that kind, he will find no difficulty in conducting it with a degree of skili and vigour fully equal to all that have been exerted against him.
Right honourable Henry Dundas.