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THE IMPEACHMENT OF

WARREN HASTINGS
By THOMAS BABINGTON MACAULAY

W

INTRODUCTORY NOTE
LARREN HASTINGS, the

remarkable man whose trial is described in this selection, was born on the sixth of December, 1732. As he was in his childhood dependent on his grandfather, a poor man, his early advan

tages were no greater than those of the peasant children of the neighborhood. He had, however, from his earliest years, an indomitable will, and the determination, made when he was but seven years old, to regain possession of the estate of Daylesford, which had passed out of the hands of the family, he kept before him all his life.

At the age of ten he was sent by an uncle to Westminster School, where he received an excellent education, and at seventeen he was sent to India as a clerk in the service of the East India Company. In 1764 he returned to England, and five years later he went back to India as member of the Council of Madras. In 1774 he was made governor-general of India, and it was while in this position that he committed those acts for which he was impeached.

1. Thomas Babington Macaulay, English statesman and author, was born in 1800. That he was a remarkably precocious child is shown by the fact that he read widely at the age of three, that he wrote a history of the world at seven, and that by the time he was ten, he had written poems, metrical romances and treatises on various subjects. Both at school and at college he showed that the precocity of his childhood was no false promise. He first attracted wide attention in 1825, when he published his famous Essay on Milton, and he immediately found himself popular in the social as well as the literary world. Shortly after he left college, the finan. cial reverses of his father made it necessary that he should do something to earn his own living, and to help his family. From this time on he showed the most tireless energy, writing essays, poems and historical articles, which constantly increased his fame. In

The chief of these were the rendering of military assistance to Sujah Dowlah, Nabob of Oude, in his successful attempt to subdue the province of Katahr, occupied by the Rohillas; his acquiescence in the condemnation and execution of Nuncomar, an intriguing Brahmin; the deposition of Cheyte Sing, Rajah of Benares, for alleged disloyalty, and the enrichment of Asaph-ul-Dowlah, son and successor of Sujah Dowlah, at the expense of the Begums, or Princesses, of Oude—the mother and the grandmother of Asaph-ul-Dowlah. It is but just to Hastings to state that these things were done not to enrich himself, but to satisfy the constant demands of the East India Company for funds; and that when he left India in 1785, his great empire was in a prosperous and tranquil state. The selection from Macaulay begins with the arrival of Hastings in England. 1830 he entered Parliament and was a most active and influential member. At times his speeches were so powerful that they changed the vote of the House of Commons.

His greatest work was his History of England from the Accession of James II. The fascinating descriptions and exciting episodes made this work instantly popular on both sides of the Atlantic, despite the fact that its most ardent admirer could not claim for it the merit of impartiality.

Macaulay's life was too laborious; by 1852 his health broke down, and seven years later he died.

The essay on Warren Hastings, from which this selection is taken, is one of his historical essays, and shows very clearly many of the peculiar characteristics of his style.

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HE voyage was, for those times, very speedy. Hastings was little more than four months on the sea. In June, 1785, he landed at Plymouth, posted to London, appeared at Court, paid his respects to Leadenhall Street, then

retired with his wife to Cheltenham. Within a week after he landed at Plymouth, Burke gave notice in the House of Commons of a motion seriously affecting a gentleman lately returned from India.

Hastings, it is clear, was not sensible of the danger of his position. A man who, having left England when a boy, returns to it after thirty or forty years passed in India, will find, be his talents what they may, that he has much both to learn and to unlearn before he can take a place among English statesmen. This was strikingly the case with Hastings. In India he had a bad hand but he was master of the game, and he won every stake. In England he held excellent cards, if he had known how to play them; and it was chiefly by his own errors that he was brought to the verge of ruin. Of all his errors the most serious was perhaps the choice of his champion, Major Scott. In spite, however, of this unfortunate choice the general aspect of affairs was favorable to Hastings. The King was on his side; the Company and its servants were zealous in his cause; among public men he had many ardent friends. The ministers were generally believed to be favorable to him. Mr. Dundas was the only important member of the administration who was deeply committed to a different view of the subject.

The Opposition was loud and vehement against him. But the Opposition, though formidable from the wealth and influence of some of its members, and from the admirable talents and eloquence of others, was outnumbered in Parliament, and odious throughout the country. Nor, as far as we can judge, was the Opposition generally desirous to engage in so serious an undertaking as the impeachment of an Indian Governor. Such an impeachment must last for years. It must impose on the chiefs of the party an immense load of labor. Yet it could scarcely, in any manner, affect the event of the great political game. The followers of the coalition were therefore more inclined to revile Hastings than to prosecute him. But there were two men whose indignation was not to be so appeased, Philip Francis and Edmund Burke.

Francis had recently entered the House of Commons, and had already established a character there for industry and ability. He labored indeed under one most unfortunate defect, want of fluency. But he occasionally expressed himself with a dignity and energy worthy of the greatest orators. Before he had been many days in Parliament, he incurred the bitter dislike of Pitt,2 who constantly treated him with as much asperity as the laws of debate would allow. Neither lapse of years nor change of scene had mitigated the enmities which Francis had brought back from the East. After his usual fashion, he mistook his malevolence for virtue, nursed it, as preachers tell us that we ought to nurse our good dispositions, and paraded it, on all occasions, with Pharisaical ostentation.

2. William Pitt (1759–1806), often called the younger Pitt, to distinguish him from his father, was at this time prime minister. He had been advanced to this high office when but twenty-four years of age, and he was, as one writer says, “the most powerful subject that England had had for generations." From this time until his death, the story of Pitt's life and the history of England were to a large extent identical, so did he sway England's policy.

The zeal of Burke was still fiercer, but it was far purer. Men unable to understand the elevation of his mind have tried to find out some discreditable motive for the vehemence and pertinacity which he showed on this occasion. But they have altogether failed. The idle story that he had some private slight to revenge has long been given up, even by the advocates of Hastings. The plain truth is that Hastings had committed some great crimes, and that the thought of those crimes made the blood of Burke boil in his veins. For Burke was a man in whom compassion for suffering, and hatred of injustice and tyranny, were as strong as in Las Casas3 or Clarkson. And although in him, as in Las Casas and in Clarkson, these noble feelings were alloyed with the infirmity which belongs to human nature, he is, like them, entitled to this great praise, that he devoted years of intense labor to the service of a people with whom he had

3. Bartolomé de Las Casas (1474–1566), was a Spanish monk of the Dominican order, who spent much of his life in the attempt to better the conditions of slaves in the West Indies and in Spanish South America.

4. Thomas Clarkson (1760–1846) early resolved to give up his life to a crusade against African slavery. He wrote books, made speeches, and in various ways labored constantly, and in conjunction with William Wilberforce he was instrumental in bringing about the abolition of slave trade in 1807. In 1833, also in part through his efforts, slavery was abolished in the West Indies.

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