East India Company.

Considerations on the danger and impolicy of laying open the trade with India and China; including an examination of the objections commonly urged against the East India Company's commercial and financial management online

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g>ec0nti edition*

The pretended rights of these theorists are all extremes, and in proportion
they are metaphysically true they are morally and politically false."

Si plures sunt ii quihus improbe datum est, quam illi quibus injustum
emptum est, idcirco plus etiam valent?" Cic. Off.






The following Sheets contain the substance of a
series of Letters which appeared in the Morning
i Chronicle in the course of last summer, under the
signature of CossiM. The author finding the sub-
ject too extensive to be fully discussed within the
limits of a newspaper, resolved to submit his thoughts
to the Public in their present shape.

London, December, 1812.




1 HE little interest taken in this country about the
affairs of India, is matter of wonder as well as of
regret. The consequence of general indifference
upon the subject has been general ignorance;
and though at the present conjuncture, when

gislature is about to be drawn
ch measures for the future go-
ritish possessions in India, as
anaii apical nuiu experience and upon mature de-
<{ liberation to be calculated to secure their internal
" prosperity, and to derive from those flourishing
" dominions the utmost degree of advantage to the
" commerce and revenue of the United Kingdom,*"
dormant interests have been awakened and power-
fully excited ; it is yet to be feared, that under the
existing want of information, the most dangerous
errors will be committed, unless much wisdom and
caution are applied to repress fallacious hopes, as
well as to harmonize jarring pretensions and recon-
cile conflicting claims.

* Speech of the Commissioners at the opening of last session oi


There are certain general principles, from which
it is presumed that no one will be found to dis-
sent. Of these the most obvious are, that the
common good of the empire in Europe and in Asia
ought to constitute the basis of the new arrangement :
that as no partial interest should be exclusively
consulted, every partial view of the question ought
to be received with circumspection, and even with
suspicion; that subordinate ought to yield to para-
mount considerations; and above all, that experience
should be trusted rather than speculation, in mo-
delling the government and adjusting the relations of

The application of these principles to the present
occasion, would naturally lead to an investigation of
the causes which have produced the extension and
consolidation of our power in India, and of the mode
in which that power is exercised in the internal ad-
ministration of those populous and fertile regions
which now acknowledge the British authority.
There is hardly any question connected with the mi-
litary and civil policy, the jurisprudence and finan-
cial economy of nations ; scarcely any circumstance
affecting the stability of governments, or the secu-
rity, happiness, and prosperity of their subjects,
which this range of inquiry would not embrace.
Whether owing to the frequent discussions that have
taken place in Parliament upon the system of ad-
ministration introduced and acted upon by the East


India Company, all these questions are considered as
finally put to rest, and a sound and matured convic-
tion has been impressed upon the public mind, that
both in principle and practice the system is upon the
whole as unobjectionable as it can be made; or whe-
ther it arises from a prevailing indifference to unseen
events and matters of remote interest, the attention
of the country seems to be exclusively directed to the
channel in which the trade with India is in future to
be conducted. The state of existing treaties in
India, the means and motives of aggression possessed
by rival powers, the resources of wisdom and force
by which aggression may be prevented or repelled,
the constitution of the government, the regulations
under which justice is administered, and revenue col-
lected, and the different plans which have been pro-
posed, or may still be in agitation for improving the
condition of a vast population of British subjects, are
studiously thrust into the back-ground, and in the
controversy, as it presents itself in most of the publi-
cations of the day, we only see the East India Com-
pany endeavouring to preserve their commercial pri-
vileges, and another set of merchants struggling to
invade them.

Were the question at issue really what in these
publications it appears to be one simply of a com-
mercial nature the writer of these pages would
probably have abstained from taking any part
in the discussion ; and he has no hesitation in

B 2

acknowledging, that could he bring himself to view the
subject in the light in which it is vulgarly con-
templated, merely as a contest between the East
India Company and the great body of British mer-
chants, for an improvable branch of commerce, as a
dispute between expiring privilege and nascent right
the claimants of an open trade should have his hearty
good wishes in the cause for which they are contend-
ing. In the whole confederated host of petitioners,
against the Company's privileges, there is not to be
found a more zealous advocate for commercial free-
dom, or a more decided adversary on general grounds
to monopoly, than the individual who now ven-
tures to submit his sentiments to the public. But
strong as is the popular dislike to monopoly, there
are evils which it would be still more imprudent to
encounter; and however just may be the general par-
tiality to liberty of trade, there are considerations en-
titled to a preference. Incompatibility between ob-
jects equally desirable, leaves only a power of choice,
and this choice, if judiciously made, must be directed
by a comparison between their practical utility,
rather than their abstract fitness. The laws bv
which trade is regulated, form undoubtedly a pro-
minent feature in national policy, but they have
been usually held subordinate to those institu-
tions which provide for the security of states, and
the maintenance of their mutual relations. Fo-
reign possessions are sometimes of immense im-
portance in a political, and comparatively of small

value in a commercial view,* and trading restrictions
which if generally applied, would be unnecessary and
noxious, may in certain cases be found both salutary
and requisite.

It is not intended to make any attempt to prove that
political advantages result to Great Britain from
the empire which she has acquired in India. The
fate of a country which has been the scene of so
many triumphs to her arms, where the imperish-
able records of her virtue and humauity, as well
as of her genius and enterprise appear, and where the
ashes of the best and bravest of her sons repose,
can never be an object of indifference to England
until she has ceased to care for all that con-
cerns her glory. f Nor is it proposed to analyze the
merits of the plan under which the affairs of India at

* The charges of the Bombay Presidency exceed the revenues
by more than a million sterling annually ; but it surely does not
follow, that on this account the settlement should be abandoned.

f It would be difficult to apologize for all the British transactions
in India, since the year 1756 ; but dating from the time of Lord
Cornwallis, it may safely be affirmed, that the spirit of the
Company's policy has been wise, liberal, and humane. It exhibits
an excellent practical comment upon the decree of the Roman
senate, respecting Macedonia and^Ulyricum. Omnium primum
liberos esse placebat Macedonas atque Illyrios, ut omnibus gentibus
appareret, arma Populi Romani, non liberis servitutem, sed contra
^ekvientibus libertatem afferre ; ut et in libertate gentes quce
essent, tutam earn sibi perpetuamque sub tutela Populi Romani

home and abroad are now administered. The prac-
tical success which has attended this plan is its
best encomium, and furnishes the most satisfactory
answer to the objections to which in theory it may be
open. The writer's views are much more limited.
The value of our Indian empire, though perhaps
underrated, is no where denied, and in so far as one
can judge from the printed correspondence between
His Majesty's Ministers aud the Court of Directors, it
does not appear to be in contemplation to make any
material alteration in the constitution of the existing
government, or in the distribution of the power with
which its several members are clothed. The object
of the numerous petitions which in the course of the
last year have been presented to Parliament, is to
procure for the merchants of the United Kingdom,
indiscriminate and free admission into the trade with
India and China, in derogation of the exclusive, or
rather of the modified privileges now enjoyed by the
East India Company, and this object to a consider-
able extent lias received the countenance of His

esse; et qua; sub regibus viverent, et in praesens tempus mitiores


was an excellent one, though it was lamentably executed. How
proudly may the benefits conferred by Lord Cornwallis on the pro-
vinces of Bengal, Beliar, and Orissa, and afterwards extended by
Lord Wcllesley to the people of the Carnatic, be contrasted with
the conduct of Fiaminius and Paulus yEmilius to the states of
Greece !

Majesty's Government. It will be the writer's aim to
shew, that this pretension, although ostensibly it be
purely commercial, is in its bearings big with po-
litical mischief, and that, whilst it would, if sanc-
tioned, utterly fail in obtaining for the petitioners
the advantages they expect from a decision in
their favor, it would prove ruinous in its operation
to the general and paramount interests of the em-
pire. To exclude political considerations from the
discussion, would lead to participation in the pre-
vailing error, but it is not meant to pursue
them farther than is necessary to the exposure of
that error.

Before entering upon any of those points of
detail, which arise out of a subject confessed to
be extremely extensive and complicated, it will
not be either irrelevant or useless to advert shortly
to the actual situations of the different parties
whose interests are to be brought before Parlia-
ment for solemn deliberation and decision.

These interests may be arranged under three
general heads 1st. The commercial and manufac-
turing interests of this country. 2dly. The poli-
tical and commercial interests of the East India
Company; and 3dly. The interest of Government
so to conciliate and regulate the other two, as to
render them conducive to the substantial and
permanent prosperity of the empire. Let us look


then, for a moment, to the situation in which the
parties supporting these different interests are placed,
regarding the approaching expiration of the East
India Company's Charter.

1st. It is well known that from causes originating
in the present convulsed state of the world, the pres-
sure upon the manufacturing and mercantile classes
of the community is severe beyond example. Re-
duced to circumstances of great difficulty and embar-
rassment from the want of markets for their produce,
they look with eagerness to the opening of a trade,
in the prosecution of which they would have little to
dread from hostile annoyance. Those countries which
have been acquired by the wisdom of the national
councils, and by the vigour of the national arms,
they naturally consider as the proper field for
commercial enterprise ; and in the vast resources of
widely extended regions, they fondly anticipate the
reward of industry, perseverance, and skill. Asia
presents itself to their imaginations unlocking new
and exhaustless stores for their acceptance, with a
population of countless millions inviting them, with
outstretched arms, to supply their unsatisfied and
insatiable wants. Is this the present state of the
public mind throughout the country, or is it not ?
and is it, or is it not a prospect which must prove
fallacious ? No one who reads the resolutions which
have lately been passed in many of the manufacturing
and trading towns, can doubt the fact of such expec-

tations being entertained ; and no one who has soberly-
meditated upon the information which is within the
reach of all, and the accuracy of which is not liable
even to suspicion, far less those who are accurately-
informed from experience and observation, respecting
the constitution of Asiatic Society and the state of
manners in that part of the world, can help being
astonished that ideas so extravagant should have
gained possession of the minds of any class of indivi-
duals usually distinguished by habits of accurate dis-
crimination and calm reflection.

Much allowance is indeed due for the circumstances
under which these visionary prospects are cherished,
but the tone in which the claims of the respectable
bodies alluded to are set forth, can hardly be con-
sidered as entitled to much indulgence. Their reso-
lutions and petitions are couched in terms of bold
and imperious demand. Apparently unconscious of
danger from great and sudden innovation upon a
system sanctioned by the experience of ages, they
plead for its overthrow on the ground of indefeisible
right long lain in abeyance. Capital embarked, pro-
perty acquired, and services performed under the
established system, are all to give way to speculative
notions and theoretical plans, or at best to principles,
which, however true in the abstract, are totally
inapplicable to the service into which they are


The pretension itself with the expectations founded
upon it will be examined hereafter: the only inference
meant to be deduced from these observations now is,
that the claims of any set of men acting under the
influence of great hardships, anxious for relief from
every quarter whence relief can come, and even
looking for succour where it is altogether unattain-
able, or attainable only by inflicting calamities greater
than those they seek to alleviate, ought to be listened
to with extreme caution.

2. The representations of the East India Company,
as a party, likewise require to be scrutinized before
being admitted. They have been invested with an
important stewardship, and confirmed in it by no
fewer than sixteen solemn acts of the legislature. Of
this stewardship they are now called upon to render
an account. If they have been negligent or unfaith-
ful, let them be dismissed with indignity from the
office : but though they even stood convicted of mis-
management, it would not follow that the principles
on which the affairs of India have been administered,
and the connexion between the two countries has
hitherto subsisted, ought to be abandoned. A casual
abuse of trust, though it may discredit the agents in
whom confidence has been reposed and authority
vested, does not necessarily impeach the system
under which misconduct has taken place. If on the
other hand the Company have acquitted themselves
in their high trust, not only with integrity and credit

to themselves, but with honour and advantage to the
country if they have done more with smaller means
than ever was achieved by any other body, commer-
cial or political, in the history of the world if by
encouraging the industry, and patronising the talent
of their fellow-citizens, they have acquired and pre-
served an empire forming the brightest jewel in the
British Crown if they have improved the condition
of their subjects in the same degree that they have
extended their own jurisdiction if in war they have
shewn themselves to be a most powerful ally of the pa-
ramount state, and in peace a nourisher of its resources
if their mercantile gains have been uniformly and
cheerfully sacrificed to the great objects of national
security and national glory if so far from acting in
the hard character of exclusive monopolists, they have
long since consented to a relaxation of the terms
of their existing charter, by admitting competitors
into their trade and if unwilling to follow, or imi-
tate the grasping spirit of their opponents, they
have now signified their readiness to agree to every
latitude being given to a commerce (established with
their capital and by their exertions) that may be
deemed compatible, not with the paltry consideration
of a per centage, more or less, upon their mercantile
investments, but with their duties as delegated Sove-
reigns, with the tranquillity of their possessions, and
the consequent integrity and stability of the empire
surely an assembly exercising legislative functions,
will listen patiently, and listen favourably also to


claims fortified not more by prescription than by high

The circumstances in which the Company appear
before Parliament, soliciting the renewal of their
charter, are rather unfavourable. The services that
they have rendered to the state do indeed fill the most
brilliant pages of its history during the last sixty years,
but the public, from familiar acquaintance with most
of these exploits, have ceased to be dazzled with their
lustre. The gradual accessions of power, of wealth,
and of revenue, which have been derived from India,
are regarded by the nation as forming part of its own
constituent resources, while the instrument by which
these resources have been created, enlarged, and
upheld, is too frequently overlooked. To superficial
observers (and to this class, unfortunately, a majo-
rity of mankind will always belong) the recent appli-
cations of the Company to Parliament, for assistance
under temporary pecuniary embarrassments, no doubt
bear an unfavourable aspect. And lastly, a great
establishment, like that of the East India Company,
the Directors of which possess considerable power
and patronage, naturally attracts some portion of
envy and jealousy, feelings which, though strongly
excited by the distresses of the times, are not so blind
from their violence as to incapacitate those actuated
by them, from availing themselves of all the difficulties
in the Company's present situation, or from employ-
ing against it, with sufficient dexterity, those weapons


of attack against trading monopolies, of which there
is ample store in the repositories of economical
sciences. For some of those unfavourable circum-
stances the Company are obviously not accountable -,
and if, as is hoped, it shall afterwards appear that for
others they are not to blame, it behoves those who
by careful investigation have become acquainted with
their concerns, to shield them against vulgarobloquy,
instead of joining in the clamour by which they are

3. In reference to the interest of Ministers, and to
the arrangement which they may think proper to
propose to the Legislature, for the double purpose of
regulating the foreign and domestic government of
our Asiatic possessions, and the mode of conducting
the trade with India and China, they may be consi-
dered as liable to error, either from a consciousness of
strength and a desire of increasing their own power
and influence, or from a sense of weakness and a
wish to strengthen themselves by the adoption of
popular measures. In 1783, when the affairs of the
Company were brought into discussion, it was con-
tended by the ministry of the day, a ministry power-
ful from the talent and rank of its members, that the
sovereignty of British India ought to be assumed by
the King in right of conquest, and that the admi-
nistration, in all its branches, ought to be intrusted
to his responsible advisers; that all orders regarding
the political, financial, judicial, and military autho-


rities in India, should emanate from the sovereign,
and that the Company's territorial possessions should
be governed on the same principles and in the same
manner as the other dependencies of the crown. It
was argued on the other hand, that such a scheme
went completely to subvert the balance of the consti-
tution by throwing the whole patronage of India into
the hands of the crown ; that by despoiling the East
India Company of a property legally acquired, and
to which they had an indisputable right of possession,
it was repugnant to the dictates of common justice;
and that if carried into execution, it would loosen
and perhaps break the tenure by which these terri-
tories were held, by an injudicious application of
European maxims of government to a country not
more remote in situation, than dissimilar in usages
from Great Britain. The plan, after being reduced
into the shape of Bills, passed the House of Com-
mons, but was thrown out by the other House of Par-
liament, and its rejection was signalized by the fall
of the minister by whom it was introduced. The
fate of these celebrated bills will, it is hoped, operate
as a salutary warning to the present and all future
administrations, against harbouring projects of ambi-
tion, similar to that, which at the period referred to,
was not more fortunately counteracted than it had
been imprudently disclosed.

Since the institution of the Board of Commis-
sioners for the affairs of India in 1784, His Majesty's


Government have exercised, under the sanction of
the Legislature, a general superintendence and con-
trol over the civil and military concerns of the Com-
pany j an interference which has occasionally been
productive of inconvenience, but which, upon the
whole, has tended to give stability and vigour to the
system, and to preserve a harmony of view and pur-
suit, as to the great objects of national policy, with-
out depriving the Company of the management of
their trade, infringing their territorial rights, or
arming Ministers with a degree of influence incom-
patible with the liberties of the people or the inde-
pendence of Parliament. The opinion of His Majesty's
present Government upon the merits of the system as
it now stands, may be collected from the following
passage in the letter addressed by Mr. Dundas (the
late President of the India Board) to the Chairman
and Deputy Chairman of the East India Company,
under date the 28th Dec. 1808. " I have not yet
" heard or read any arguments against the continu-
" ance of the system under which the British posses-
" sions in India are governed, of sufficient weight to
" counterbalance the practical benefits which have
" been derived from it, in their increased and increasing
" prosperity, and the general security and happiness of
" their inhabitants. It is possible that the same effects
" might have been produced under a government im-
" mediately dependant on the crown : but for the
" attainment of those objects, the experiment is at
" least unnecessary, and it might be attended with


" dangers to the constitution of the country, which,
" if they can be avoided, it would be unwise to en-
" counter. Any alteration, therefore, which may be
" suggested in this part of the system, will probably
" be only in the details."* This language is perhaps
more cautious than the occasion required : it is cer-
tainly much less decisive than what the late Lord
Melville was accustomed to use, when, on the same
topic, he thought it necessary to declare an opinion.
It should, however, in candour, be recollected, that
Mr. Dundas, in this very letter, had a communication
to make to the Chairman and Deputy Chairman of the
views entertained by Ministers on the policy of open-
ing the trade with India which he knew would be
most unpalatable to the Company, and that in order to
pave the way for that proposition he just insinuated the
possibility, with some danger indeed to the Constitution,
(heaven save the mark!) of another plan being devised
for the conduct of the government, on the old maxim
which probably both he and they understand, " Better
half a loaf than no bread." A more palpable and alarm-
ing hint, was indeed conveyed in the same letter,

* Printed Papers, p. 12.

The printed papers referred to, in this and other parts of the
pamphlet, are the papers respecting the negociation for a renewal
of the East India Company's exclusive privileges, printed by order

1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15

Online LibraryEast India CompanyConsiderations on the danger and impolicy of laying open the trade with India and China; including an examination of the objections commonly urged against the East India Company's commercial and financial management → online text (page 1 of 15)