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he has, the vices of the government, he conceives he has found a sufficient apology for his own crimes. And if he violates the most solemn engagements, if he oppresses, extorts, and robs, if he imprisons, confiscates, banishes at his sole will and pleasure, when we accuse him for his treatment of the people committed to him as a sacred trust, his defence is, “To be robbed, violated, oppressed, is their privilege. Let the Constitution of their country answer for it. I did not make it for them. Slaves I found them, and as slaves I have treated them. I was a despotic prince. Despotic governments are jealous, and the subjects prone to rebellion. This very proneness of the subject to shake off his allegiance exposes him to continual danger from his sovereign's jealousy; and this is consequent on the political state of Hindostanic governments.” IIe lays it down as a rule, that despotism is the genuine constitution of India; that a disposition to rebellion in the subject or dependent prince is the necessary effect of this despotism ; and that jealousy and its consequences naturally arise on the part of the sovereign ; that the government is every thing, and the subject nothing; that the great landed men are in a mean and depraved state, and subject to many evils. Such a state of things, if true, would warrant conclusions directly the opposite of those which Mr. Hastings means to draw from them, both argumentatively and practically, first, to influence his conduct, and then, to bottom his defence of it. I’erhaps - you will imagine that the man who avows these principles of arbitrary government, and pleads them as the justification of acts which nothing else can justify, is of opinion that they are on the whole good for the people over whom they are exercised. The very reverse. He mentions them as horrible things, tending to inflict on the people a thousand evils, and to bring on the ruler a continual train of dangers. Yet he states that your acquisitions in India will be a detriment instead of an advantage, unless you can reduce all the religious establishments, all the civil institutions, and tenures of land, into one uniform mass; that is, unless you extinguish all the laws, rights, and religious principles of the people, and force them to an uniformity, and on that uniformity build a system of arbitrary power. But nothing is more false than that despotism is the Constitution of any country in Asia that we are acquainted with. It is certainly not true of any Mahomedan Constitution. Dut, if it were, do your Lordships really think that the nation would bear, that any human creature would bear, to hear an English governor defend himself on such principles? Or, if he can defend himself on such principles, is it possible to deny the con
clusion, that no man in India has a security for any thing, but by being totally independent of the British government? Here he has declared his opinion, that he is a despotic prince, that he is to use arbitrary power; and of course all his acts are covered by that shield. “I know,” says he, “the Constitution of Asia only from its practice.” Will your Lordships submit to hear the corrupt practices of mankind made the principles of government? No! it will be your pride and glory to teach men intrusted with power, that, in their use of it, they are to conform to principles, and not to draw their principles from the corrupt practice of any man whatever. Was there ever heard, or could it be conceived, that a governor would dare to heap up all the evil practices, all the cruelties, oppressions, extortions, corruptions, briberies, of all the ferocious usurpers, desperate robbers, thieves, cheats, and jugglers, that ever had office, from one end of Asia to another, and, consolidating all this mass of the crimes and absurdities of barbarous domination into one code, establish it as the whole duty of an English governor ? I believe that till this time so audacious a thing was never attempted by man. He have arbitrary power l My Lords, the East India Company have not arbitrary power to give him; the King has no arbitrary power to give him ; your Lordships have not; nor the Commons, nor the whole legislature. We have no arbitrary power to give, because arbitrary power is a thing which neither any man can hold nor any man can give. No man can lawfully govern himself according to his own will; much less can one person be governed by the will of another. We are all born in subjection,-all born equally, high and low, governors and governed, in subjection to one great, immutable, prečxistent law, prior to all our devices and prior to all our contrivances, paramount to all our ideas and all our sensations, antecedent to our very existence, by which we are knit and connected in the eternal frame of the universe, out of which we cannot stir. This great law does not arise from our conventions or compacts; on the contrary, it gives to our conventions and compacts all the force and sanction they can have. It does not arise from our vain institutions. Every good gift is of God ; all power is of God; and IIe who has given the power, and from whom alone it originates, will never suffer the exercise of it to be practised upon any less solid foundation than the power itself. If, then, all dominion of man over man is the effect of the Divine disposition, it is bound by the eternal laws of Ilim that gave it, with which no human authority can dispense, neither he that exercises it, nor even those who are subject to it; and if they were mad enough to make an express compact that should
release their magistrate from his duty, and should declare their lives, liberties, and properties depended upon, not rules and laws, but his mere capricious will, that covenant would be void. The acceptor of it has not his authority increased, but he has his crime doubled. Therefore, can it be imagined, if this be true, that IIe will suffer this great gift of government, the greatest, the best that was ever given by God to mankind, to be the plaything and the sport of the feeble will of a man who, by a blasphemous, absurd, and petulant usurpation, would place his own feeble, contemptible, and ridiculous will in the place of the Divine wisdom and justice? The title of conquest makes no difference at all. No conquest can give such a right; for conquest, that is, force, cannot convert its own injustice into a just title, by which it may rule others at its pleasure. By conquest, which is a more immediate designation of the hand of God, the conqueror succeeds to all the painful duties and subordination to the power of God which belonged to the sovereign whom he has displaced, just as if he had come in by the positive law of some descent or some election. To this at least he is strictly bound: he ought to govern them as he governs his own subjects. But every wise conqueror has gone much further than he was bound to go. It has been his ambition and his policy to reconcile the vanquished to his fortune, to show that they had gained by the change ; to convert their momentary suffering into a long benefit, and to draw from the humiliation of his enemies an accession to his own glory. This has been so constant a practice, that it is to repeat the histories of all politic conquerors in all nations and in all times; and I will not so much distrust your Ilordships' enlightened and discriminating studies and correct memories as to allude to one of them. I will only show you that the Court of Directors, under whom he served, has adopted that idea; that they constantly inculcated it to him, and to all their servants; that they run a parallel between their own and the native government, and, supposing it to be very evil, did not hold it up as an example to be followed, but as an abuse to be corrected; that they never made it a question, whether India is to be improved by English law and liberty, or English law and liberty vitiated by Indian corruption. No, my Lords, this arbitrary power is not to be had by conquest. Nor can any sovereign have it by succession ; for no man can succeed to fraud, rapine, and violence. Neither by compact, covenant, nor submission,-for men cannot covenant themselves out of their rights and their duties, nor by any other means, can arbitrary power be conveyed to any man. Those who give to others such rights perform acts that are void as they are given,-good indeed and valid only as tending to subject themselves, and those who act with them, to the Divine displeasure; because morally there can be no such power. Those who give and those who receive arbitrary power are alike criminal ; and there is no man but is bound to resist it to the best of his power, wherever it shall show its face to the world. It is a crime to bear it, when it can be rationally shaken off. Nothing but absolute impotence can justify men in not resisting it.
Law and arbitrary power are in eternal enmity. Name me a magistrate, and I will name property; name me a power, and I will name protection. It is a contradiction in terms, it is blasphemy in religion, it is wickedness in politics, to say that any man can have arbitrary power. In every patent of office the duty is included. For what else does a magistrate exist? To suppose, for power, is an absurdity in idea. Judges are guided and governed by the eternal laws of justice, to which we are all subject. We may bite our chains if we will, but we shall be made to know ourselves, and be taught that man is born to be governed by law; and he that will substitute will in the place of it is an enemy to God.
Despotism does not in the smallest degree abrogate, alter, or lessen any one relation of life, or weaken the force or obligation of any one engagement or contract whatsoever. Despotism, if it means any thing that is at all defensible, means a mode of government bound by no written rules, and coerced by no controlling magistracies or well-settled orders in the State. ISut, if it has no written law, it neither does nor can cancel the the primeval, indefeasible, unalterable law of Nature and of nations; and if no magistracies control its exertions, those exertions must derive their limitation and direction either from the equity and moderation of the ruler, or from downright revolt on the part of the subject, by rebellion divested of all its criminal qualities. The moment a sovereign removes the idea of security and protection from his subjects, and declares that he is every thing and they nothing; when he declares that no contract he makes with them can or ought to bind him, he then declares war upon them: he is no longer sovereign; they are no longer subjects.
CRUELTIES OF DEBI SING.9
IT IS the nature of tyranny and rapacity never to learn moderation from the ill-success of first oppressions: on the contrary, all oppressors, all men thinking highly of the methods dictated by their nature, attribute the frustration of their desires to the want of sufficient vigour. Then they redouble the efforts of their impotent cruelty; which producing, as they must ever produce, new disappointments, they grow irritated against the objects of their rapacity; and then rage, fury, malice, implacable because unprovoked, recruiting and reinforcing their avarice, their vices are no longer human. From cruel men they are transformed into savage beasts, with no other vestiges of reason left but what serve to furnish the inventions and refinements of ferocious subtlety, for purposes of which beasts are incapable, and at which fiends would blush.
Debi Sing and his instruments suspected, and in a few cases they suspected justly, that the country people had purloined from their own estates, and had hidden in secret places in the circumjacent deserts, some small reserve of their own grain, to maintain themselves during the unproductive months of the year, and to leave some hope for a future season. But the undertyrants knew that the demands of Mr. Hastings would admit no plea for delay, much less for the subtraction of his bribe; and that he would not abate a shilling of it to the wants of the whole human race. These hoards, real or supposed, not being discovered by menaces and imprisonment, they fell upon the last resource, the naked bodies of the people. And here, my Lords, began such a scene of cruelties and tortures as I believe no history has ever presented to the indignation of the world; —such as 'I am sure, in the most barbarous ages, no politic tyranny, no fanatic persecution, has ever yet exceeded.
9. The following piece is from the third day of Burke's opening speech. — Warren Hastings was for some thirteen years Governor-General of the British Empire in India. During his rule the most outrageous frauds, rapines, oppressions, and cruelties were practised upon the native inhabitants by his subordinates, and with his sanction, or at least his allowance. Debi Sing was a native of the country, and was notoriously steeped in all the worst virulence of Eastern luxury, profligacy, and rapacity. By the payment, or the promise, of an enormous bribe to Hastings, he got himself armed with full authority and power to collect the taxes and revenues of certain provinces; that is, to enrich himself as much as he possibly could, by whatever means he might choose to employ. Those provinces were then turned over, unreservedly, to his merciless avarice and revenge, to be distressed, plundered, and ravaged, at his pleasure. It was in pursuance of this scheme that he perpetrated the horrible inhumanities here clescribed.