Obrázky na stránke
PDF
ePub

My lords, the Commons of Great Britain have no doubt upon this subject. We came hither to call for justice, not to solve a problem : and if justice be denied us, the accused is not acquitted, but the tribunal is condemned. We know, that this man is guilty of all the crimes which he stands accused of by us. We have not come here to you, in the rash heat of a day, with that fervor which sometimes prevails in popular assemblies, and frequently misleads them. No; if we have been guilty of error in this cause, it is a deliberate error ; the fruit of long, laborious inquiry ; an error founded on a procedure in parliament, before we came here; the most minute, the most circumstantial, and the most cautious, that ever was instituted. Instead of coming, as we did in Lord Strafforde's case,

and in some others, voting the impeachment, and bringing it up on the same day, this impeachment was voted from a general sense prevailing in the House of Mr. Hastings's criminality, after an investigation begun in the year 1780, and which produced, in 1782, a body of resolutions condemnatory of almost the whole of his conduct. Those resolutions were formed by the Lord Advocate of Scotland, and carried in our House by the unanimous consent of all parties. I mean the then Lord Advocate of Scotland, now one of his majesty's principal secretaries of state, and at the head of this very Indian department.

Afterwards, when this defendant came home in the year 1785, we reinstituted our inquiry. We instituted it, as your lordships and the world know, at his own request made to us by his agent then a member of our House. We entered into it at large ; we deliberately moved for every paper, which promised information on the subject. These papers were not only produced on the part of the prosecution, as is the case before grand juries; but the friends of the prisoner produced every document, which they could produce for his justification. We called all the witnesses, which could enlighten us in the cause, and the friends of the prisoner likewise called every witness, that could possibly throw any light in his favor. After all these long deliberations, we referred the whole to a committee. When it had gone through that committee, and we thought it in a fit state to be digested into these charges, we referred the matter to another committee, and the result of that long examination and the labor of these committees is the impeachment now at your bar.

If therefore we are defeated here, we cannot plead for ourselves, that we have done this from a sudden gust of passion, which sometimes agitates and sometimes misleads the most grave popular assemblies. No; it is either the fair result of twenty-two years deliberation that, we bring before you; or what the prisoner says is just and true ;—that nothing but malice in the Commons of Great Britain could possibly produce such an accusation as the fruit of such an inquiry. My lords, we admit this statement, we are at issue upon this point, and we are now before your lordships, who are to determine whether this man has abused his power in India for fourteen years, or whether the Commons have abused their power of inquiry, made a mock of their inquisitorial authority, and turned it to purposes of private malice and revenge. We are not come here to compromise matters, we do not admit that our fame, our honors, nay, the very inquisitorial power of the House of Commons is gone, if this man be not guilty.

My lords, great and powerful as the House of Commons is, (and great and powerful I hope it always will remain,) yet we cannot be insensible to the effects produced by the introduction of forty millions of money into this country from India. We know, that the private fortunes which have been made there pervade this kingdom so universally, that there is not a single parish in it unoccupied by the partisans of the defendant. We should fear, that the faction which he has thus formed by the oppression of the people of India would be too strong for the House of Commons itself, with all its power and reputation, did we not know, that we have brought before you a cause which nothing can resist.

I shall now, my lords, proceed to state what has been already done in this cause, and in what condition it now stands for your judgment.

An immense mass of criminality was digested by a committee of the House of Commons; but although this mass had been taken from another mass still greater, the House found it expedient to select twenty specific charges, which they afterwards directed us their managers to bring to your lordships' bar. Whether that which has been brought forward on these occasions, or that which was left behind, be more highly criminal, I for one, as a person most concerned in this inquiry, do assure your lordships that it is impossible for me to determine.

After we had brought forward this cause, (the greatest in extent that ever was tried before any human tribunal, to say nothing of the magnitude of its consequences,) we soon found, whatever the reasons might be, without at present blaming the prisoner, without blaming your lordships, and far are we from imputing blame to ourselves, we soon found that this trial was likely to be protracted to an unusual length. The managers of the Commons, feeling this, went up to their constituents to procure from them the means of reducing it within a compass fitter for their management and for your lordships' judgment. Being furnished with this power, a second selection was made upon the principles of the first; not upon the idea, that what we left could be less clearly sustained, but because we thought a selection should be made upon some juridical principle. With this impression on our minds, we reduced the whole cause to four great heads of guilt and criminality. Two of them, namely, Benares and the Begums, show the effects of his open violence and injustice; the other two expose the principles of pecuniary corruption, upon which the prisoner proceeded; one of these displays his passive corruption in receiving bribes, and the other his active corruption, in which he has endeavored to defend his passive corruption, by forming a most formidable faction both abroad and at home. There is hardly any one act of the prisoner's corruption, in which there is not presumptive violence; nor any acts of his violence, in which there are not presumptive proofs of corruption. These practices are so intimately blended with each other, that we thought the distribution which we have adopted would best bring before you the spirit and genius of his government; and we were convinced, that, if upon these four great heads of charge your lordships should not find him guilty, nothing could be added to them which would persuade you so to do.

In this way and in this state, the matter now comes before your lordships. I need not tread over the ground, which has been trod with such extraordinary abilities by my brother managers; of whom I shall say nothing more, than that the cause has been supported by abilities equal to it; and, my lords, no abilities are beyond it. As to the part which I have sustained in this procedure, a sense of my own abilities, weighed with the importance of the cause, would have made me desirous of being left out of it; but I had a duty to perform which superseded every personal consideration, and that duty was obedience to the House, of which I have the honor of being a member. This is all the apology I shall make. We are the Commons of Great Britain, and therefore cannot make apologies. I can make none for my obedience; they want none for their commands. They gave me this office, not from any confidence in my ability, but from a confidence in the abilities of those who were to assist me, and from a confidence in my zeal,—a quality, my lords, which oftentimes supplies the want of great abilities.

In considering what relates to the prisoner and to his defence, I find the whole resolves itself into four heads. First, his demeanor and his defence in general : secondly, the principles of his defence: thirdly, the means of that defence ; and, fourthly, the testimonies which he brings forward to fortify those means, to support those principles, and to justify that demeanor.

As to his demeanor, my lords, I will venture to say, that, if we fully examine the conduct of all prisoners brought before this high tribunal, from the time that the Duke of Suffolk appeared before it, down to the time of the appearance of my Lord Macclesfield ; if we fully examine the conduct of prisoners in every station of life, from my Lord Bacon down to the smugglers who were impeached in the reign of King William, I say, my lords, that we shall not, in the whole history of parliamentary trials, find any thing similar to the demeanor of the prisoner at your bar. What could have encouraged that demeanor, your lordships will, when you reflect seriously upon this matter, consider. God forbid that the authority either of the prosecutor or of the judge should dishearten the prisoner, so as to circumscribe the means or enervate the vigor of his defence. God forbid that such a thing should even appear to be desired by any body in any British tribunal. But, my lords, there is a behavior which broadly displays a want of sense, a want of feeling, a want of decorum; a behavior which indicates an habitual depravity of mind, that has no sentiments of propriety, no feeling for the relations of life, no conformity to the circumstances of human affairs. This behavior does not indicate the spirit of injured innocence, but the audacity of hardened, habitual, shameless guilt; affording legitimate grounds for inferring a very defective education, very evil society, or very vicious habits of life. There is, my lords, a nobleness in modesty; while insolence is always base and servile. А man who is under the accusation of his country is under a very great misfortune. His innocence indeed may at length shine out like the sun, yet for a moment it is under a cloud ; his honor is in abeyance; his estimation is suspended ; and he stands, as it were, a doubtful person in the eyes of all human society. In that situation, not a timid, not an abject, but undoubtedly a modest behavior would become a person, even of the most exalted dignity, and of the firmest fortitude.

The Romans (who were a people that understood the de

« PredošláPokračovať »