« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
the plan which we mean to pursue on the great charge which is now to abide your judgment.
My Lords, I must look upon it as an auspicious circumstance to this cause, in which the honor of the kingdom and the fate of many nations are involved, that, from the first commencement of our Parliamentary process to this the hour of solemn trial, not the smallest difference of opinion has arisen between the two Houses.
My Lords, there are persons who, looking rather upon what was to be found in our records and histories than what was to be expected from the public justice, had formed hopes consolatory to themselves and dishonorable to us. They flattered themselves that the corruptions of India would escape amidst the dissensions of Parliament. They are disappointed. They will be disappointed in all the rest of their expectations which they have formed upon everything, except the merits of their cause. The Commons will not have the melancholy unsocial glory of having acted a solitary part in a noble, but imperfect work. What the greatest inquest of the nation has begun its highest tribunal will accomplish. At length justice will be done to India. It is true that your Lordships will have your full share in this great achievement; but the Commons have always considered that whatever honor is divided with you is doubled on themselves.
My Lords, I must confess, that, amidst these encouraging prospects, the Commons do not approach your bar without awe and anxiety. The magnitude of the interests which we have in charge will reconcile some degree of solicitude for the event with the undoubting confidence with which we repose ourselves
upon your Lordships' justice. For we are men, my Lords; and men are so made, that it is not only the greatness of danger, but the value of the adventure, which measures the degree of our concern in every undertaking. I solemnly assure your Lordships that no standard is sufficient to estimate the value which the Commons set upon the event of the cause they now bring before you. My Lords, the business of this day is not the business of this man, it is not solely whether the prisoner at the bar be found innocent or guilty, but whether millions of mankind shall be made miserable or happy.
Your Lordships will see, in the progress of this cause, that there is not only a long, connected, systematic series of misdemeanors, but an equally connected system of maxims and principles invented to justify them. Upon both of these you must judge. According to the judgment that you shall give upon the past transactions in India, inseparably connected as they are with the principles which support them, the whole character of your future government in that distant empire is to be unalterably decided. It will take its perpetual tenor, it will receive its final impression, from the stamp of this very hour.
It is not only the interest of India, now the most considerable part of the British empire, which is concerned, but the credit and honor of the British nation itself will be decided by this decision. We are to decide by this judgment, whether the crimes of individuals are to be turned into public guilt and national ignominy, or whether this nation will convert the very offences which have thrown a transient shade upon its government into something that will reflect a permanent lustre upon the honor, justice, and humanity of this kingdom
My Lords, there is another consideration, which augments the solicitude of the Commons, equal to those other two great interests I have stated, those of our empire and our national character,--something that, if possible, comes more home to the hearts and feelings of every Englishman: I mean, the interests of our Constitution itself, which is deeply involved in the event of this cause. The future use and the whole effect, if not the very existence, of the process of an impeachment of high crimes and misdemeanors before the peers of this kingdom upon the charge of the Commons will very much be decided by your judgment in this cause.
This tribunal will be found (I hope it will always be found) too great for petty causes : if it should at the same time be found incompetent to one of the greatest, – that is, if little offences, from their minuteness, escape you, and the greatest, from their magnitude, oppress you, - it is impossible that this form of trial should not in the end vanish out of the Constitution. For we must not deceive ourselves : whatever does not stand with credit cannot stand long. And if the Constitution should be deprived, I do not mean in form, but virtually, of this resource, it is virtually deprived of everything else that is valuable in it. For this process is the cement which binds the whole together; this is the individuating principle that makes England what England is. In this court it is that no subject, in no part of the empire, can fail of competent and proportionable justice; here it is that we provide for that which is the substantial excellence of our Constitution, I mean, the great circulation of responsibility, by which (excepting the
supreme power) no man, in no circumstance, can escape the account which he owes to the laws of his country. It is by this process that magistracy, which tries and controls all other things, is itself tried and controlled. Other constitutions are satisfied with making good subjects; this is a security for good governors. It is by this tribunal that statesmen who abuse their power are accused by statesmen and tried by statesmen, not upon the niceties of a narrow jurisprudence, but upon the enlarged and solid principles of state morality. It is here that those who by the abuse of power have violated the spirit of law can never hope for protection from any of its forms; it is here that those who have refused to conform themselves to its perfections can never hope to escape through any of its defects. It ought, therefore, my Lords, to become our common care to guard this your precious deposit, rare in its use, but powerful in its effect, with a religious vigilance, and never to suffer it to be either discredited or antiquated. For this great end your Lordships are invested with great and plenary powers: but you do not suspend, you do not supersede, you do not annihilate any subordinate jurisdiction; on the contrary, you are auxiliary and supplemental to them all.
Whether it is owing to the felicity of our times, less fertile in great offences than those which have gone before us, or whether it is from a sluggish apathy which has dulled and enervated the public justice, I am not called upon to determine, - but, whatever may be the cause, it is now sixty-three years since any impeachment, grounded upon abuse of authority and misdemeanor in office, has come before this tri
bunal. The last is that of Lord Macclesfield, which happened in the year 1725. So that the oldest process known to the Constitution of this country has, upon its revival, some appearance of novelty. At this time, when all Europe is in a state of, perhaps, contagious fermentation, when antiquity has lost all its reverence and all its effect on the minds of men, at the same time that novelty is still attended with the suspicions that always will be attached to whatever is new, we have been anxiously careful, in a business which seems to combine the objections both to what is antiquated and what is novel, so to conduct ourselves that nothing in the revival of this great Parliamentary process shall afford a pretext for its future disuse.
My Lords, strongly impressed as they are with these sentiments, the Commons have conducted themselves with singular care and caution. Without losing the spirit and zeal of a public prosecution, they have comported themselves with such moderation, temper, and decorum as would not have ill become the final judgment, if with them rested the final judgment, of this great cause.
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 [1773?] we framed an act of Parliament for remedy to the then existing disorders in India, such as the then information before us enable 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