Page images

voluminously about public affairs in his letters to friends and politicians in England. He had been a few months in Bengal when he sent Lord North a sketch of "a plan of settlement" which he developed after into a "scheme for the government of India." It proposed that the Government of the Company should give place to Imperial legislation, and contained the germ of Fox's famous Bill relating to the Home Government of India. It was the malignant representations of Francis regarding the violence, cruelty, and treachery of Hastings and the Indian Government towards the princes and people of India that inflamed the generous anger of Burke and wrecked his judgment. In November 1780 Philip Francis set sail for England, a disappointed and baffled man. The two objects nearest to his heart, the humiliation of Hastings and his own succession to the government of India, had eluded his grasp. "I am now," he wrote shortly after he landed at Calcutta, "I think, on the road to be Governor of Bengal, which I believe is the first situation in the world attainable by a subject." But he had miscalculated the mental vigour and pertinacity of his opponent. The struggle between them for five years had been a severe one, and Francis left India only to renew the war in England.

On the 19th of October 1781 he arrived at Dover with his accusations and evidence amply prepared. He knew before he

left Calcutta that the House of Commons had in February appointed a Committee to take into consideration in what manner British India might be governed "with the greatest advantage to the people both of Great Britain and of India." The most important and laborious member of that Committee was his friend Edmund Burke. The news of the devastation of the Carnatic by Hyder Ali aroused the strongest fears as to the safety of our Indian possessions, and a Secret Committee was also appointed to inquire into the causes of the war raging in the Carnatic. It was presided over by Henry Dundas, "shrewd, able, and bold beyond any of his contemporaries," then Lord Advocate of Scotland. On the 26th of June 1781 the Directors presented a petition for the renewal of the Charter. An Act was passed which did not renew the Charter, but merely confirmed the privilege of the Company for a definite period of ten years, at the end of which the Company were entitled to three years' notice of an intention to withdraw it! Parliament also took advantage of the opportunity to increase its superintending power over the Home Government of the Company. The Ministry, no longer content with seeing all the correspondence that was sent from India, inserted a clause in the Act that the Court of Directors "should deliver to the Lords of the Treasury copies of all letters and orders relating to the civil and military government and affairs of the Company or their

servants in India " which were sent to India. The wars in which the Company were engaged had alarmed the public at home, and it was further enacted that the Court should be bound "by such instructions as they might receive from his Majesty through one of the Secretaries of State, so far as related to the conduct and transactions of the Company and their servants with the Country powers in India, as well to the levying war as to making peace." But the quarrels with the Country powers, and the contrary engagements in which the Company had become involved, were not due to the Court but to the Governor-General not having dictatorial powers over British India. Dundas, as Chairman of the Secret Committee, had realised the evil of divided control in India, and on the 9th of April 1782 he obtained leave to introduce a Bill for the better government of India. He proposed to increase the power of the Governor-General by making him independent of the Council; to add to his duties those of Commander-in-Chief, and to confer the united office upon a person of high rank and public character. Lord Cornwallis, a general and statesman, he considered the fittest person for the post. But Burke and his friends in the administration were anxious that Philip Francis should be GovernorGeneral, and they had determined to bring in a Bill of their own. Dundas, being in a minority in the House, did not persevere with his measure.

On the 11th of November 1783, at the opening of the autumnal session, the speech from the throne, which announced the loss of the American colonies, stated that the affairs and government of India "solicited the utmost exertion of their abilities, and that the fruit was now expected of these important inquiries which had been so long and diligently pursued." Seven days later Fox moved that leave be given to bring in, not as is so often inaccurately stated his East Indian Bill, but his two separate East Indian Bills,-one having a reference to the Government at home, the other to the administration in India. On the 20th of November Fox presented to the House his first Bill. Its principal feature was that it vested the government of India for five years in a Commission of seven persons named in the Bill. "And for the sole purpose of ordering and managing the commerce of the said United Company under and subject to the orders and directions of the said Directors," new assistant Directors were named in the Bill, "being proprietors each of them of two thousand pounds capital in the said United Company.' On the 26th of November Fox brought in his second Bill. It was entitled "A Bill for the better Government of the Territorial Possessions and Dependencies in India," but, as James Mill states, no improvement whatsoever in the order and distribution of the powers of government was attempted, and

[ocr errors]

hardly anything higher was proposed than to point out what was deemed the delinquencies into which the Government of India had strayed, and to forbid them for the future. It is in the second Bill that we clearly trace the hand of Burke, directed by Philip Francis. It was the source of all Burke's Indian speeches. On the 1st of December the order of the day was read for the House to resolve itself into a Committee of the whole House upon the Bill "for vesting the affairs of the East India Company in the hands of certain Commissioners." Pitt and Dundas opposed the measure, which was defended by Burke in a speech which was filled up with a travesty of facts, with invectives against Hastings and the servants of the Company. He, who had with fiery eloquence contended that it was a clear violation of chartered rights to prevent the Company by Act of Parliament from managing its own affairs, now laid down with equal fervour the sound principle on which the good government of India must always depend, that the East India Company or governing body was accountable "to Parliament, from whom the trust was derived.” The speech,

like all Burke's orations on Indian affairs, contains, to use his own phrase, "a good deal of fustian." Take, for instance, what Mr Morley calls the fine page about Fox as the descendant of Henry IV. of France:

father of his country. Henry the Fourth wished that he might live to see a fowl in the pot of every peasant of his Kingdom. That sentiment of homely benevolence was worth all the splendid sayings that are recorded of Kings. But he wished, perhaps, for more than could be obtained, and the goodness of the man exceeded the power of the King. But this gentleman, a subject, may this day say this at least with truth, that he secures the rice in his pot to every man in India."

"His are faults which might exist in a descendant of Henry the Fourth of France as they did exist in that

[ocr errors]

Fox and Burke were ultimately defeated, and every man in India was not deprived of his pot of rice, as only a minority of the population live on that cereal. The seven Commissioners not being appointed by the Crown or removable except upon an address of either House of Parliament, was the rock on which the measure split. On the 17th of December, owing to the personal pressure put on the Peers by the King, the Bill was rejected by the House of Lords by 95 to 76. The Ministers were dismissed, Pitt installed in their place, and the absolute abrogation of the powers of the Company was postponed for eighty years. Much can be said in favour of Fox's Bill relating to the Home Government of India. It was a more honest Bill than Pitt's, and avoided "the dual control" which led to so many grave evils and disasters.

On the 14th of January 1784 Pitt moved "That leave be given to bring in a Bill for the better regulation of our Indian Concerns." In his opening speech he stated the real object of the measure,

"The imperial dominion of

Privy Councillors who "at the same time were possessed of great and distinguished offices with large emoluments and little labour would no doubt be found to accept of their duties without any additional reward." The jealousy of the King and the suspicion of the country as to the increase of the power of the Prime Minister were disarmed by the Commissioners being appointed by the Crown and holding office during pleasure. The authority which the Government had of seeing all papers sent to and from India was transferred to the Board. The Commissioners were further empowered to call upon the Court of Directors to prepare despatches on any subject, to be submitted for their revision and alteration, and on their failure within fourteen days to write them themselves. All high political matters were placed in a Secret Committee of the Court, limited to three members (in practice to two, the Chairman and Deputy Chairman), who alone communicated upon them to the Board. When the Chancellor of the Exchequer and one of the principal the principal Secretaries of State were absent, the senior of the five presided. In and by the Court of Directors early times the Commissionhaving their powers continued ers did sit as a Board, and merely subject to the revision in a letter to Lord Cornof a Board of Commissioners wallis, of July 1787, Dundas for the Affairs of India. It says: "Mr Pitt is a real was to be an ideal Board, active member of the Board, consisting of certain members and makes himself thoroughly of the Privy Council. The master of the business." But Commissioners were to have the Board soon became the no salary and no patronage. shadow of a Board, and Pitt stated in his speech that practically ceased to exist.

our territories in the East
ought to be placed under other
control than that of the com-
pany of merchants in Leaden-
hall Street, but the change
ought to be made with as
little violence as possible; it
ought to be made by the con-
viction of the Company, and
not by violence. In this the
Company agreed with him."
Pitt desired, like his father,
to place the whole government
of India under the control of
the Crown; but when in op-
position he had gauged the
power of chartered rights.
Fox still commanded a major-
ity in the House, and Pitt's
Bill was rejected. Every
student of English history
knows the story of the elec-
tion of 1784, and
and Pitt's
triumph and return to power.
On the 13th of August he
again introduced his first East
India Bill, slightly modified,
and obtained a decisive ma-
jority, 271 to 60, in its favour.
Never was a bill framed which
so well concealed, by vague
and ambiguous language, its
real aim. It was said to be
drafted by Dundas, and that
able Scottish lawyer displayed
all the worldly sagacity of the
The Company were con-
ciliated by being allowed to
keep their trade privileges,




[ocr errors]


By the Act of 1793, which of our Indian Empire, the confirmed the Company in happiness of the people, were, their privileges for twenty as Sir John Kaye pointed out, years, the Board was made less dependent upon the will to consist of certain members of a deliberate body, a large of the Privy Council (of whom majority of whom had studied the two principal Secretaries India, "than upon the caprice of State and the Chancellor of a single man, who may be of the Exchequer were to be gone to-morrow-who may prethree), and two other members. side over the India Board and The first named in the letters govern India for a fortnight, patent constituting the Board and then be suddenly deposed was to be the President. A by some gust of party caprice, salary was to be paid by the by the mistaken tactics of an Company to certain of the inexperienced party leader, or Commissioners. An India the neglect of an inefficient was created by the whipper in."" Commissioners being authorised to appoint secretaries, and enjoined to "enter their proceedings in proper books." The President was from 1811 a member of the Cabinet and practically Minister for India, as from 1841 he was the only paid member of the Board. The President acted entirely on his own responsibility, but, as the law declared that two members were competent to transact the business of the Board, it was thought advisable to obtain for the document recording the Board's decision the signature of one of the officio members. The ex officio members were the Lord President of the Council, the Lord Privy Seal, the First Lord of the Treasury, the principal Secretaries of State, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The law gave the President the power to override the Court of Directors if he chose to exercise it. The stability


Pitt's Bill of 1784 placed the East India Company in subordinate position with regard to its governing powers, but it did not touch its commercial privileges. In 1813 the second great Charter Act was passed, granting all existing rights, powers, and privileges to the Company for a term of twenty years. But, owing to the jealous outcry raised in Bristol, Glasgow, and Liverpool, the East India Company were deprived of the privilege of the exclusive trade with India, "without which not a rood of land in India would have owned the rule of Great Britain." The Ministry, not wishing to hazard the diminution of a revenue SO valuable and so easily realised as the duty upon tea paid by the Company, allowed them to retain their China monopoly. In 1833 they were not only deprived of the China monopoly but also prohibited from trad

1 The Act of 1793 was the first of those comprehensive Acts which, from the extended duration of the grant, and the specific detail of the provisions for the constitution of the Company and for the scheme of their government in India, came to be denominated the Charter Acts for India.

« PreviousContinue »