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ON THE FOURTH CHARGE AGAINST
(This was a speech in favor of the impeachment of Warren Hastings, Esq., late Governor General of Bengal, on account of his conduct toward the Begum Princesses of Oude. Only a résumé of this great speech. which lasted five ours and forty minutes, can be produced here; but, as far as possible, we will give a faithful miniature of an unequaled original.)
After a short preamble, Sheridan continued by saying that the attention which Parliament had paid to the affairs of India for many sessions past, the voluminous productions of their committees on that subject, the various proceedings in that House respecting it, their own strong and pointed resolutions, the repeated recommendations of his Majesty, and their reiterated assurance of paying due regard to those recommendations, as well as various acts of the Legislature—were all of them undeniable proofs of the moment and magnitude of the consideration and incontrovertibly established this plain broad fact, that Parliament directly acknowledges that the British name and character had been dishonored and rendered detestable throughout India by the malversation and crimes of the principal servant of the East India Company. The fact having been established beyond all question by themselves, and by their own acts, there needed no argument on his part to induce the committee to see the importance of the subject about to be discussed upon that day, in a more striking point of view than they themselves had held it up to public observation.
There were, he knew, persons without doors who affected to ridicule the idea of prosecuting Mr. Hastings, and who, not inconsistently, redoubled their exertions in proportion as the prosecution became more serious, to increase their sarcasms upon the subject by asserting that Parliament might be more usefully employed, that there were matters of more immediate moment to engage their attention, that a commercial treaty with France had just been concluded, and that it was of a vast and comprehensive nature, and of itself sufficient to engross their attention.
To all this he would oppose these questions:
Was Parliament misspending its time by inquiring into the oppressions practised on millions of unfortunate persons in India, and
endeavoring to bring the daring delinquent who had been guilty of the most flagrant acts of enormous tyranny and rapacious peculation to exemplary and condign punishment ? Was it a misuse of their functions to be diligent in attempting by the most effectual means to wipe off the disgrace affixed to the British fame in India, and to rescue the national character from lasting infamy ? Surely no man who felt for one or the other would think a business of greater moment or magnitude could occupy his attention; or that the House could with too much steadiness, too ardent a zeal, or too industricus a perseverance, pursue its object.
Their conduct in this respect during the course of the preceding year had done theni immortal honor, and proved to all the world that however degenerate an example of Englishmen 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—that they were anxious to do justice by redressing injuries and punishing offenders, however high their rank, however elevated their station.
Their indefatigable exertions in committees appointed to inquire concerning the affairs of India; their numerous elaborate and clear reports; their long and interesting debates; their solemn addresses to the throne; their
rigorous legislative acts; their marked detestation of that novel and base sophism in the principles of judicial inquiry (constantly the language of the Governor-General's servile dependents), that crimes might be compounded, that the guilt of Mr. Hastings was to be balanced by his successes, that fortunate events were a full and complete set-off against a base system of oppression, corruption, breach of faith, peculation and treachery; and finally their solemn and awful judgment that, in the case of Benares, Mr. Hastings' conduct was a proper object of parliamentary impeachment, had covered them with applause, and brought them forward in the face of all the world as the objects of perpetual admiration.
Animated with the same zeal, the committee had by that memorable vote given a solemn pledge of their further intentions. They had said to India, “You shall no longer be reduced into temporary acquiescence by sending out a titled governor or
a set of vaporing resolutions; it is not with stars and ribands, and with all the badges of regal favor, that we atone to you for past delinquencies. No; you shall have the solid consolation of seeing an end to your grievances by an example of punishment for those that have already taken place.”
The House had set up a beacon which, while it served to guide their own way, would also make their motions conspicuous to the world which surrounded and beheld them. He had no doubt but in their manly determination they would go through the whole of the business with the same steadiness which gave such sterling brilliance of character to their outset. They might challenge the world to observe and judge of them by the result.
Impossible was it for such men to become improperly influenced by a paper bearing the signature of “Warren Hastings,” and put not many minutes before into their hands, as well as his own, on their entrance into the House. This insidious paper he felt himself at liberty to consider as a second defence and a second answer to the charge he was about to bring forward-a charge replete with proof of criminality of the blackest dye, of tyranny the most vile and premeditated, of corruption the most open and shameless, of oppression the most severe and grinding, of cruelty the most unmanly and unparalleled. But he was far from meaning to rest the charge on assertion, or on any warm expressions which the impulse of wounded feelings might produce. He would establish every part of the charge b the most unanswerable proof, and the most unquestionable evidence; and the witness he would bring forth to support every fact he would state should be, for the most part, one whom no man would venture to contradict, Warren Hastings himself; yet this character