The Worlds Famous Orations. Great Britain: II. (17801861). 1906.
II. The Tyranny of the East India Company
Charles James Fox (17491806)
Born in 1749, died in 1806; son of Lord Holland; entered Parliament as a Tory in 1768; in Lord Norths ministry in 17701774, from which he was dismissed, and then became a Whig, supporting the American cause; Foreign Secretary in 1782, and again in 1783 and 1806.
THE HONORABLE1 gentleman charges me with abandoning that cause, which, he says, in terms of flattery, I had once so successfully asserted. I tell him in reply, that if he were to search the history of my life, he would find that the period of it in which I struggled most for the real, substantial cause of liberty is this very moment I am addressing you. Freedom, according to my conception of it, consists in the safe and sacred possession of a mans property, governed by laws defined and certain; with many personal privileges, natural, civil, and religious, which he can not surrender without ruin to himself, and of which to be deprived by any other power is despotism. This bill, instead of subverting, is destined to give stability to these principles; instead of narrowing the basis of freedom, it tends to enlarge it; instead of suppressing, its object is to infuse and circulate the spirit of liberty.
What is the most odious species of tyranny? Precisely that which this bill is meant to annihilate: that a handful of men, free themselves, should execute the most base and abominable despotism over millions of their fellow creatures; that innocence should be the victim of oppression; that industry should toil for rapine; that the harmless laborer should sweat, not for his own benefit, but for the luxury and rapacity of tyrannic depredation; in a word that thirty millions of men, gifted by Providence with the ordinary endowments of humanity, should groan under a system of despotism unmatched in all the histories of the world.
What is the end of all government? Certainly the happiness of the governed. Others may hold other opinions, but this is mine, and I proclaim it. What are we to think of a government whose good fortune is supposed to spring from the calamities of its subjects, whose aggrandizement grows out of the miseries of mankind? This is the kind of government exercised under the East India Company upon the natives of Hindustan; and the subversion of that infamous government is the main object of the bill in question. But in the progress of accomplishing this end, it is objected that the charter of the company should not be violated; and upon this point, sir, I shall deliver my opinion without disguise. A charter is a trust to one or more persons for some given benefit. If this trust be abused, if the benefit be not obtained, and its failure arise from palpable guilt, or (what in this case is fully as bad) from palpable ignorance or mismanagement, will any man gravely say that that trust should not be resumed and delivered to other hands; more especially in the case of the East India Company, whose manner of executing this trust, whose laxity and languor have produced, and tend to produce consequences diametrically opposite to the ends of confiding that trust, and of the institution for which it was granted?
I beg of gentlemen to beware of the lengths to which their arguments upon the intangibility of this charter may be carried. Every syllable virtually impeaches the establishment by which we sit in the House, in the enjoyment of this freedom and of every other blessing of our government. These kinds of arguments are batteries against the main pillar of the British Constitution. Some men are consistent of their own private opinions, and discover the inheritance of family maxims, when they question the principles of the Revolution; but I have no scruple in subscribing to the articles of that creed which produced it. Sovereigns are sacred, and reverence is due to every king; yet, with all my attachments to the person of a first magistrate, had I lived in the reign of James II., I should most certainly have contributed my efforts, and borne part in those illustrious struggles which vindicated an empire from hereditary servitude, and recorded this valuable doctrine, that trust abused is revocable.
Note 1. Part of a speech in the House of Commons in November, 1783, in support of his own bill for reforming the Government in India and anticipating the prosecution of Warren Hastings by nearly five years. For passages from the speeches of Burke and Sheridan, at the trial of Hastings, see volume six, Ireland. [back]