Readings in Modern European History: A Collection of Extracts from the Sources Chosen With the Purpose of Illustrating Some of the Chief Phases of the Development of Europe During the Last Two Hundred Years, Volume 1: The Eighteenth Century: The French Re

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Author: Edmund Burke

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EDMUND BURKE, Works (Boston, 1827), VII, 17 sqq. World History

56.

Edmund Burke’s Summary of the Case Against Warren Hastings

With very few intermissions, the affairs of India have constantly engaged the attention of the Commons for more than fourteen years. We may safely affirm, we have tried every mode of legislative provision, before we had recourse to anything of penal process. It was in the year 1774 we framed an act of Parliament for remedy to the then existing disorders in India, such as the then information before us enabled us to enact. Finding that the act of Parliament did not answer all the ends that were expected from it, we had, in the year 1782, recourse to a body of monitory resolutions. Neither had we the expected fruit from them.

English agents in India defy Parliament

When, therefore, we found that our inquiries and our reports, our laws and our admonitions, were alike despised; that enormities increased in proportion as they were forbidden, detected, and exposed; when we found that guilt stalked with an erect and upright front, and that legal authority seemed to skulk and hide its head like outlawed guilt; when we found that some of those very persons, who were appointed by Parliament to assert the authority of the laws of this kingdom, were the most forward, the most bold, and the most active in the conspiracy for their destruction; then it was time for the justice of the nation to recollect itself. . . .

We found it was impossible to evade painful duty without betraying a sacred trust. Having, therefore, resolved upon the last and only resource, a penal prosecution, it was our next business to act in a manner worthy of our long deliberation. . . .

First, to speak of the process: we are to inform your lordships, that, besides that long previous deliberation of fourteen years, we examined, as a preliminary to this proceeding, every circumstance which could prove favorable to parties apparently delinquent, before we finally resolved to prosecute. There was no precedent to be found, in the journals, favorable to persons in Mr. Hastings’s circumstances, that was not applied to. . . .

Burke charges Hastings with avarice, treachery, blackness of heart, and total depravity

As to the crime, which we chose, we first considered well what it was in its nature, under all the circumstances which attended it. We weighed it with all its extenuations, and with all its aggravations. On that review we are warranted to assert that the crimes, with which we charge the prisoner at the bar, are substantial crimes; that they are no errors or mistakes, such as wise and good men might possibly fall into; which may even produce very pernicious effects, without being in fact great offenses. . . . We know, as we are to be served by men, that the persons, who serve us, must be tried as men, and with a very large allowance indeed to human infirmity and human error. This my lords, we knew, and we weighed before we came before you. But the crimes, which we charge in these articles, are not lapses, detects, errors, of common human frailty, which, as we know and feel, we can allow for. We charge this offender with no crimes that have not arisen from passions which it is criminal to harbor; with no offenses that have not their root in avarice, rapacity, pride, insolence, ferocity, treachery, cruelty, malignity of temper; in short, in nothing, that does not argue a total extinction of all moral principle; that does not manifest an inveterate blackness of heart, dyed in grain with malice, vitiated, corrupted, gangrened to the very core.

Hastiugs a willful criminal

If we do not plant his crimes in those vices which the breast of man is made to abhor, and the spirit of all laws, human and divine, to interdict, we desire no longer to be heard upon this occasion. Let everything that can be pleaded on the ground of surprise or error, upon those grounds be pleaded with success: we give up the whole of those predicaments. We urge no crimes that were not crimes of forethought. We charge him with nothing that he did not commit upon deliberation; that he did not commit against advice, supplication, and remonstrance; that he did not commit against the direct command of lawful authority; that he did not commit after reproof and reprimand, the reproof and reprimand of those who are authorized by the laws to reprove and reprimand him. The crimes of Mr. Hastings are crimes, not only in themselves, but aggravated by being crimes of contumacy. They were crimes, not against forms, but against those eternal laws of justice, which are our rule and our birthright. His offenses are not, in formal, technical language, but in reality, in substance and effect, high crimes and high misdemeanors.

Hastings the captain general of iniquity

So far as to the crimes. As to the criminal, we have chosen him on the same principle, on which we selected the crimes. We have not chosen to bring before you a poor, puny, trembling delinquent, misled, perhaps, by those who ought to have taught him better, but who have afterwards oppressed him by their power, as they had first corrupted him by their example. . . . We have brought before you the first man of India in rank, authority, and station. We have brought before you the chief of the tribe, the head of the whole body of Eastern offenders; a captain general of iniquity, under whom all the fraud, all the peculation, all the tyranny, in India, are embodied, disciplined, arrayed, and paid. This is the person, my lords, that we bring before you. We have brought before you such a person, that, if you strike at him with the firm and decided arm of justice, you will not have need of a great many more examples. You strike at the whole corps, if you strike at the head. . . .

1 See Development of Modern Europe, Vol. I, p. 99 and note 1.

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Chicago: Edmund Burke, "Edmund Burke’s Summary of the Case Against Warren Hastings," Readings in Modern European History: A Collection of Extracts from the Sources Chosen With the Purpose of Illustrating Some of the Chief Phases of the Development of Europe During the Last Two Hundred Years, Volume 1: The Eighteenth Century: The French Re in Readings in Modern European History: A Collection of Extracts from the Sources Chosen With the Purpose of Illustrating Some of the Chief Phases of the Development of Europe During the Last Two Hundred Years, Volume 1: The Eighteenth Century: The French Re, ed. James Harvey Robinson (1863-1936) and Charles A. Beard (Boston: Ginn and Company, 1908), 110–113. Original Sources, accessed September 19, 2020, http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=P5C5ZBE65DSXSNR.

MLA: Burke, Edmund. "Edmund Burke’s Summary of the Case Against Warren Hastings." Readings in Modern European History: A Collection of Extracts from the Sources Chosen With the Purpose of Illustrating Some of the Chief Phases of the Development of Europe During the Last Two Hundred Years, Volume 1: The Eighteenth Century: The French Re, in Readings in Modern European History: A Collection of Extracts from the Sources Chosen With the Purpose of Illustrating Some of the Chief Phases of the Development of Europe During the Last Two Hundred Years, Volume 1: The Eighteenth Century: The French Re, edited by James Harvey Robinson (1863-1936) and Charles A. Beard, Boston, Ginn and Company, 1908, pp. 110–113. Original Sources. 19 Sep. 2020. originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=P5C5ZBE65DSXSNR.

Harvard: Burke, E, 'Edmund Burke’s Summary of the Case Against Warren Hastings' in Readings in Modern European History: A Collection of Extracts from the Sources Chosen With the Purpose of Illustrating Some of the Chief Phases of the Development of Europe During the Last Two Hundred Years, Volume 1: The Eighteenth Century: The French Re. cited in 1908, Readings in Modern European History: A Collection of Extracts from the Sources Chosen With the Purpose of Illustrating Some of the Chief Phases of the Development of Europe During the Last Two Hundred Years, Volume 1: The Eighteenth Century: The French Re, ed. , Ginn and Company, Boston, pp.110–113. Original Sources, retrieved 19 September 2020, from http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=P5C5ZBE65DSXSNR.