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which he was now to bring forward. Mr. Sheridan observed, that it had been insinuated by some persons, that parliament was mispending its time in attending to this subject, at a period when they might be more usefully employed; when a commercial treaty with France had just been concluded, and there were
and there were other matters depending of immediate moment, which were sufficient to engross their attention. Was parliament mispending its time by enquiring into the oppressions prac. tised upon millions of unfortunate persons in India, and endeavouring to bring to exemplary and condign punishment the daring delinquent who had been guilty of the most flagrant acts of enormous tyranny and rapacious peculation ? Mr. Sheridan said, that parliament had always shown its peculiar detestation of that novel and base sophism in the principles of judicial enquiry, that erimes might be compounded; that the guilt of Mr. Hastings was to be balanced by his successes, and that fortunate events were a full and complete set-off against a system of oppression, corruption, breach of faith, peculation, and treachery. The conduct of the house of commons in this respect, during the preceding year, had done them immortal honour, and proved to the world, that however degenerate an example some of the British subjects had exhibited in India, the people of England collectively, speaking and acting by their representatives, felt as men should feel on such an occasion. They had asserted that there were acts that no political necessity could warrant; and that amidst flagrancies of such an inexpiable description, was the treatment of Cheit Sing. They had declared, that the man who brought the charges was no false accuser ; that he was not moved by envy, malice, any unworthy motives, or to blacken a spot. less name ; but that he was the indefatigable, the persevering, and at length the successful champion of oppressed multitudes, against their tyrannical oppressor. They had proved themselves superior to the presumptuous pretensions that were advanced in favour of this pillar of India,
this corner-stone of our strength in the East, this talisman of the British territories in Asia, whose character was said to be above censure, and whose conduct was not within the reach of suspicion.
Mr. Sheridan stated the present charge respecting the begums of Oude, as replete with criminality of the blackest dye ; with tyranny the most vile and premeditated ; with corruption the most open and shameless; with oppression the most severe and grinding, and with cruelty the most hard and unparalleled. He professed to God, that he felt in his own bosom the strongest personal conviction on the present subject. It was upon that conviction, that he believed the conduct of Mr. Hastings in regard to the nabob of Oude, and to the begums, comprehended in it every species of human offence. He had proved himself guilty of rapacity at once violent and insatiable; of treachery cool and premeditated; of oppression useless and unprovoked; of breach of faith unwarrantable and base ; of cruelty unmanly and unmerciful. These were the crimes, of which in his soul and his conscience he arraigned Mr. Hastings, and of which he had the confidence to say he should convict him. He was far from meaning to rest the charge upon assertion, or upon the warm expressions which the impulse of wounded feelings might produce. He would establish every part of the charge by the most unanswerable proof, and the most unquestionable evidence. He would support every fact by a testimony, which few would venture to contradict-that of Mr. Hastings himself. As there were persons ready to stand up his advocates, he challenged them to watch him ; to watch if he advanced one inch of assertion, for which he had not solid ground; for he trusted nothing to decla. mation. He desired credit for no fact which he did not prove, which he did not demonstrate beyond the possibility of refutation. He should not desert the clear and invincible ground of truth through one particle of his allegations; while, in the defence of Mr. Hastings,
on the contrary, not one single circumstance was stated which had its foundation in truth.
It was there endeavoured to be proved, that the treasures of the begums were not private property, but that they belonged of right to the nabob. "To establish this, various steps were related, which were taken by Mr. Bristow in the year 1775 and 1776, to procure from the begums assistance to the nabob ; not one of which steps, as stated by Mr. Hastings, was true. It must be remembered, that at that period the begums did not merely desire, but expressly stipulated, that of the 300,0001. promised, 110,0001. should be paid in sundry articles of manufacture. Was it not obvious, that the sale of goods in this case, which had been brought by Mr. Hastings as an apology for the exposition of their pilfered goods to public auction in 1781, far from partaking of the nature of an act of plunder, was an extension of relief, indulgence, and accommodation ? Mr. Hastings alledged the principles of the Mahometan law in mitigation of his severities; as if he meant to insinuate, that there was something in Mahometanism, which rendered it impious in a son not to plunder his mother. The minutes of council in the year 1775 established an opinion, that the women on the death of their husbands were entitled by the Mahometan law only to the property within the zenana or harem where they lived. The opinion was decisive : the resident used no threats; military compulsion was not so much as menaced; the disputed property was given up by the begums, and the farther treasure which was within the zepana was confessedly their own. A treaty had even. been signed by the nabob, and ratified by Mr. Bristow, in the nature of a guarantee, by which it was stipulated. that, on their paying 300,0001, they should be freed from all farther application. Was this transaction of a nature calculated to prove that the right to the treasure of the begums was vested in the nabob? If the Mahometan law had even given such a right, was not that right ex
cluded by the treaty ? Mr. Sheridan said, that even in the year 1775, the princesses of Oude had entertained a reliance upon the protection of the British government; and to prove this he quoted a letter of that date from the begum, the mother of the nabob, to Mr. Hastings, in which she observed, " If it is your pleasure, that the mother of the late nabob, myself, his other women, and his infant children, should be reduced to a state of dishonour and distress, we must submit. But if, on the contrary, you call to mind the friendship of the late blessed nabob, you will exert yourself effectually in favour of us who are helpless.”
Mr. Sheridan proceeded to examine the allegations which had been employed as the immediate pretenses, for seizing the treasure of the begums. It was said that they had given disturbance at all times to the government of the nabob; that they had long manisested a spirit hostile to his and to the English government ; that they had excited the zemidars to revolt; and that they had excited and were accessory to the insurrection at Benares. Each of these allegations was sufficiently disproved by Mr. Hastings himself, who made it appear, that on the contrary they had particularly distinguished themselves by their friendship for the English, and by the various good offices which they rendered to the government. Mr. Hastings left Calcutta in 1781, and proceeded to Lucknow, as he said himself, with two great objects in his mind, Benares and Oude. What was the nature of these boasted resources ? They resembled the equitable alternative of a highwayman, who, in going forth in the evening, was held in suspence which of his resources to prefer, Bagshot or Hounslow. In such a state of generous irresolution did Mr. Hastings proceed to Benares and Oude. At Benares he failed in his pecuniary object. Then, and not till then,-not on account of any ancient enmities shown by the be. gums ; not in resentment for any old disturbances, but because he had failed in one place, and had but two in
prospect,—did he conceive the base expedient of plundering these aged women. He had no pretence, he had no excuse; he had nothing but the arrogant and obstinate determination to govern India by his own cor. rupt will, to plead for his conduct. Inflamed by disappointment in his first project, he hastened to the fortress of Chunar, to Meditate the more atrocious design of instigating a son against his mother, of sacrificing female dignity and distress to parricide and plunder. At Chu. nar was that infamous treaty concerted, in which, among other articles, Mr. Hastings had stipulated with one whom he called an independent prince, “ That, as great distress had arisen to the nabob's government from the military power and dominion assumed by the jaghiredars, he be permitted to resume such of their lands as he may deem to be necessary."
No sooner was this foundation of iniquity established, in violation of the pledged faith and solemn guarantee of the British government, no sooner had Mr. Hastings determined to invade the substance of justice than he resolved to avail himself of her judicial forms; and accordingly dispatched a messenger for the chief justice of India, to assist him in perpetrating the violations he had projected. Sir Elijah Impey being arrived, Mr. Hastings with much art proposed a question of opinion, involving an unsubstantiated fact, in order to obtain a surreptitious approbation of the measure he had predetermined to adopt. “The begums being in actual rebellion, might not the nabob confiscate their property ?” “Most undoubtedly,” was the ready answer of the friendly judge. Not a syllable of enquiry intervened as to the existence of the imputed rebellion; not a moment's pause as to the ill purposes to which the decision of a chief justice might be perverted. It was not the office of a friend, to mix the grave caution and cold circumspection of a judge with an opinion taken in such circumstances; and sir Elijah had previously declared, that he gave his advice, not as a judge, but as a friend :