In he was appointed second in Council in Madras. Since he had last been in Bengal, the disintegration and demoralization of the normal Indian government of the province, begun after Plassey, had gathered speed; yet the company had been reluctant to create a new system in its place. In practical terms Bengal was in the power of the British, who were also virtually its legal rulers after being granted in the powers called the dewanee by the Mughal emperor.
But the business of government was still conducted by Indian officials, with very limited European participation. His view of the role of the British in India was later to be regarded as a very conservative one. Bengal was to be governed in strictly traditional ways, and the life of its people was not to be disturbed by innovation.
To ensure good government, however, he felt that the British must actively intervene. He acquired the new title of governor-general and new responsibilities for supervising other British settlements in India, but these powers had now to be shared with a Supreme Council of four others, three of whom were new to India. The new councillors, who were led by an army officer, Sir John Clavering, and included the immensely able and ambitious Philip Francis , immediately quarreled with Hastings. Bribery, extortion, and other abuses of power by Englishmen, which had been so common since Plassey, undoubtedly continued.
The quarrel between the new councillors and Hastings paralyzed the government of Bengal and produced a number of squalid episodes in which the newcomers, to discredit Hastings at home, encouraged Indians to bring accusations of malpractices against him, while his friends used various methods to deter such accusations.
The most notorious of these episodes concerned one Maharaja Nandakumar , who made accusations against the governor-general but was in his turn accused of forgery and hanged for it.
56 B District Court
His primary concern is with the wrongs to the great people of India. His sympathy is, in short, mostly an aristocratic sympathy and, while he does express concern for the lower classes, it is, by his own admission, a second-hand concern. Second, Burke's admiration for India is, I am convinced, sincere and important, but it is, nonetheless, colored by prejudice. In denouncing one of Hastings's agents, he comes back again and again to the "blackness" of the man's appearance. This is, of course, rhetoric but it is unfortunate, and revealing, rhetoric.
Book Summary / Abstract
Similarly, it is not, for Burke, enough that the agents of evil are of lower class than their victims but too often that status itself is treated almost as though part of their crimes. For some, the central question will be what this volume tells us about Hastings's guilt.
The answer is, I fear, not much. We have here Burke's side of the case presented at appalling length and in a manner which is often his own worst enemy. Burke constantly over-states and exaggerates, he always assumes the worst, and he abuses his opponents.
Moreover, it would take a familiarity with the evidence and with the nature of Indian society going far beyond what can be acquired from the texts presented here before a judgment could be rendered. Marshall, in his excellent work on the Hastings trial, suggests that at least some of Burke's charges were probably justified.
The Trial of Warren Hastings
Whatever the case, there is more than enough evidence here to remove all question of Burke's sincerity. The sheer magnitude of his effort, especially when set against the unliklihood of his achieving any success, should be enough to convince any critic that Burke had very little to gain by his participation in the Hastings impeachment. In fact, as Marshall notes, the day after accepting the House of Commons' vote of thanks for conducting the prosecution Burke resigned from Parliament. Copyright c by H-Net, all rights reserved. This work may be copied for non-profit educational use if proper credit is given to the author and the list.
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About The Trial of Warren Hastings
Citation: James Conniff. H-Albion, H-Net Reviews. February, For any other proposed use, contact the Reviews editorial staff at hbooks mail. Add a Comment. First, in the early writings and speeches in this volume, Burke raises the question of what legal standards should be applied in an impeachment trial. Students of American politics, and those interested in the Nixon and Clinton impeachment debates, will find much here to fascinate them. Critics of the effort to impeach Hastings argued that the same standard of proof as was used in the lower criminal courts should be applied by the House of Lords.
Given the special role of the House of Lords in the British legal system, that argument has a certain plausibility. At any rate, it eventually convinced the House of Lords and thus led to Hastings's acquittal. Burke and the House of Commons, on the other hand, argued that impeachment is essentially a political matter, that the Commons and Lords together could devise and employ their own standards, and that those standards should take account of both the difficulty of proof and the dangerous consequences of breach of political trust.
In that regard, they took a position much like that of Alexander Hamilton in his Federalist Papers explanation of the American constitution's impeachment clause. I do not know that there is a right answer here, but, for my own part, I have always thought that Burke and Hamilton have had the better of the argument.
Burke also opened a second front in the standards debate by relying heavily in the prosecution case on circumstantial evidence. Alleging that the distance from India, the lapse of time, and the nature of Hastings' crimes made direct empirical proof almost impossible, Burke maintained that the Lords should use a process of inference to convict Hastings.
That is, Burke suggested that if something illegal happened, and no other explanation accounted for that event as well as a supposition that Hastings and his allies had acted against British East India Company policy, immorally, and out of self-interest, then the Lords should assume that criminal intent and wrong-doing were present. This is not an unreasonable position on the face of it and courts do generally rely heavily on circumstantial evidence. Unfortunately, even a Burke admirer has to admit that the texts of Burke's speeches and writings raise questions about his use of the argument.
There is all too often an air of grasping at straws and of stretching and reaching about Burke's presentation. Often, indeed, Burke's approach is patently circular: he declares Hastings's acts criminal because of his inferred motive but then proclaims Hastings' motive base because of his acts. Second, Burke has a great deal to say about what he perceives to be Hastings's method of corruption.
He accuses Hastings of forming a system of double government: that is, of playing Indian and British authorities off against each other. Though Burke fails to clearly and directly describe this double government, I think its elements, or rather what he saw as its elements, can be easily recreated. He told the Company that he could not follow its rules to the letter because Indian mores and traditions would not allow it. Second, Burke argued that Hastings then used the authority the Company gave him to isolate the Indian political leaders.
In Burke's view, Hastings would seize political and economic control of an area by coercing the Indians to cede authority to himself. Third, having acquired that authority, Hastings would return a delegated share of it to the Indians on condition that they satisfy certain requirements in terms of providing revenue or other performance. Four, when those requirements proved impossible to meet, as according to Burke they were meant to be, Hastings would dispossess the Indian authorities and replace them with men, either British or Indian, loyal to himself.