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Title: The Proper Limits of the Government's Interference with the Affairs of the East-India Company, Attempted to be Assigned - With some few Reflections Extorted by, and on, the - Distracted State of the Times
Author: Dalrymple, John
Language: English
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*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Proper Limits of the Government's Interference with the Affairs of the East-India Company, Attempted to be Assigned - With some few Reflections Extorted by, and on, the - Distracted State of the Times" ***

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  GOVERNMENT'S Interference with the Affairs




  Extorted by, and on, the distracted State of the Times.


               ----And beshrew my soul,
     But I do love the favour and the form
     Of this most fair occasion; by the which
     We will untread the steps of damned flight,
     And, like a 'bated and retiring flood,
     Leaving our rankness and irregular course,
     Stoop low within these bounds we have o'erlook'd,
     And calmly run on in obedience.



  Entered at Stationers' Hall.




GOVERNMENT'S Interference with the Affairs of the EAST-INDIA COMPANY,

Each day's experience proves the fallibility of conjecture, even when
established on apparently the surest foundations.

Having stated, indeed materially and substantially proved, that the
annual peace expenditure of the state, if decently, not profusely, nor
even amply provided for, could not be performed for less than sixteen
millions five hundred thousand pounds; and having asserted, with truth,
that the annual receipts have scarcely, on the most productive years of
the public revenue, exceeded twelve millions; and the necessary
corollary, arising out of these propositions, being an annual surplus or
sinking fund to the amount (if at all proportional) of at least fifteen
hundred thousand pounds, as a provision for great civil emergencies or
future wars, without which no system of finance can be either
respectable or assuredly permanent; and it following of necessary
consequence from these premises, that the proper peace revenue, from
something more than twelve millions, which is its present amount, ought
to be raised to eighteen millions yearly:--these matters, I say, being
as I have represented them, I firmly believed the public affairs of this
country were tolerably embarrassed, and weakly imagined Ministers might
find full employment in extricating them, without courting, and eagerly,
through right and through wrong, aspiring and grasping at the management
of affairs fully in as great a state of confusion as our own. But I find
I greatly under-rated the cravings of the appetite of our late rulers,
who seem to have had stomach for all difficulties, however remote from
the natural and needful course of their public functions, and however
averse the parties interested were to trust their concerns to their
direction. In consequence of this canine hunger and thirst after
regulation, a bill was brought in and passed by a very great majority of
the House of Commons, to virtually consolidate the embarrassed concerns
of the East-India Company, in direct opposition to the desires of the
proprietors, with the no less embarrassed affairs of this unhappy
country. This bill has been thrown out by a wise and virtuous majority
in the House of Peers; but as the majority there was but small, and
threats are thrown out (in order to make it still smaller) against
Peers, for exercising their indispensable distinctive prerogative duty
of giving honest counsel to their King; and as the same majority,
leagued to promote their own advancement and the ruin of the state,
still exists and exults in the House of Commons; I doubt not but the
same strange destructive measure will be resumed. It therefore becomes
the business of every well-wisher to the prosperity of Britain, to
oppose and to refute the specious nothings offered to blind and to
conceal from the public the designs of a dark and fatal tendency
attached to it; and I think it my duty, moreover, and a justice due to
the creditors of the public in particular, at least, to such as shall
adhere to me, to protest and enter my dissent in their name against any
increase of the public debt, by the addition and incorporation of the
debts of the East-India Company with those of the public, in any manner,
whether openly, or by implication and management.

I now proceed to consider the reasons offered in vindication of the bill
by which so daring a violation of every thing the laws hold most sacred
was attempted.

The first plea that was insisted on, was, that the Company was bankrupt;
but this argument defeats itself. If they are bankrupt, the law has
provided a due course of proceeding: Ministers, or the Deputies of
Ministers, are not the proper assignees to the bankrupt's estate: the
trade is, moreover, by the civil death of the Company, open to every
adventurer. But this pretext of bankruptcy is but a flimsy disguise
easily seen through: Ministers are not so eager to obtain the
administration of the affairs of a bankrupt: the virtuous majority in
the House of Commons, increased without any visible cause, or known
success, or advantage of any kind, real or pretended, obtained to the
public from the cares of the late administration;--increased, I say,
from a small doubtful few in the disapprobation of the peace, to a
steady, triumphant majority of one hundred and fourteen in the business
of the East-India Company; gives no note or appearance of a present
bankruptcy in the Company's affairs; but to those that do not know the
incorruptible integrity and disinterestedness of the British legislative
bodies, gives an ugly hint and surmise of what is likely to happen in
future. Of bankruptcy I need say no more; it confutes itself.

The next plea is humanity, and a wish to restore in India a better and a
juster system of government, less rapacious, and less oppressive to the
natives. This is certainly a fair and generous object; but how do the
means correspond with the end, or, what solid proof have we that
excesses do exist, or, at least, have been carried to the singular and
unnatural extent each parliamentary declaimer is pleased to assign to
them? Having forced the Company to bear a share in all the foolish wars
Britain involved herself in, money must be found. The smooth swindling
methods of funding, without giving the creditors adequate securities
for either principal or interest, are not practicable in Cina.
Self-preservation enforced the necessity of violence, more obnoxious in
the beginning, but, perhaps, in the end, less ruinous than the soft, sly
deceits of Europe. Those violent measures, palliated by the necessity of
self-preservation, excepted, what remains but an _ex parte_ charge, in
Reports to the House of Commons, curious and voluminous indeed, but
without confrontation of the accused, or any other necessary preliminary
to condemnation, sought by private equity, or required by public
justice? We have only an inform mass of matter, where disappointment,
vanity, and malevolence, are too often prompted by management and design
to accuse, and every accusation is held forth as compleat evidence of
guilt. Indeed, some accounts scattered through the vast abyss of eastern
manners and customs, make by much the most useful and entertaining part
of this exceedingly tedious farrago; though in this part it falls far
short in beauty of style and composition, and probably does not much
exceed in veracity, the Arabian Night's Entertainments.--But grant that
wrongs and injustice predominate, who are to restore the golden age in
India? We know the late Ministry, their habitudes, and connections; from
Brooks's, then, it is fair to suppose the daring Argonauts were to have
sailed in search of the Golden Fleece: from Almack's our bold Pizarros
must have taken their course to civilize our new-acquired ministerial
Peru. Determined minds used to set fame and fortune on the dies
uncertain cast: soft souls, overflowing with Christian forbearance, and
the milk of human kindness suckt in at the gaming-table, from such
apostles, alas! I rather should suspect,

    With Atè by their side, come hot from hell,
    Shall in these confines, with a monarch's voice,
    Cry havoc! and let slip the dogs of war.

Yet I readily agree that it may be proper to send out a well-chosen
commission of visitation and inspection, with adequate and efficient
powers from Parliament; though I am greatly deceived, if they do not
find that matters are much exaggerated. The Reports to the House of
Commons from Committees are generally very false mediums to view the
object they treat of through: they are moved for common by persons
interested in the event, sedulously attended by them, and the materials
are too often modelled and made up according to their views, and to
serve their purposes. I have therefore ever greatly regretted the
abolition of the board of trade, the fair, candid judges in these
matters, or who might be made so. The argument from the abuse to the
use, is not a fair consequence; and I sincerely and earnestly recommend
the re-establishment of that board. From the revenues of the Duchy Court
of Lancaster now vacant, and a small gleaning from the enormous
overgrown sine-cures in the Exchequer, this may be done without expence,
and with great emolument to the Crown and to the public.

It is, besides, the height of absurdity, to think the Indians are
unhappy because they do not live under the same constitution as the
inhabitants of this island. The government in that country, for a very
long period of time, has been so unsettled, that no form of it that has
any stability, or affords any degree of protection to the subjects that
live under it, can be pronounced to be a bad one: in every other case,
the weaker are almost sure to be exterminated by those that are

I should esteem it, in such uncertainty of doing any good of any kind,
extremely improper for the public to make a common cause with the
East-India Company, further than I have already stated, and likewise by
assisting them with some necessary pecuniary aid in their present
distress. The consequences of the public taking upon themselves the
direction of the Company's trade, or even of their territorial
acquisitions, I apprehend would be most ruinous. No nation has ever
attempted any thing of this kind without being greatly losers by it,
even where government was carried on principles infinitely more
favourable to such an enterprise than the free constitution of this
country admits of.

France has often been compelled, in order to preserve the trade to India
and their Companies from sinking, to interfere, and I believe is still
concerned in the national trade to India; but this is on mere compulsion
and necessity, and is, and has ever been, a very losing business to the
Crown of France. If this is so, then how much worse must it be here,
where the advantages taken of the public in every public business are
enormous: and indeed the uncertainty of the time of payment, and the
difficulty of passing the account, do warrant a demand of a great
latitude at any time; but at present, when the ordnance debentures are
at 30 per cent. discount, and the navy bills, which carry an interest
of 4 per cent. are at 17 per cent. discount, it is almost impossible to
say on what terms a contract with Government would be advantageous. In
more settled times, I believe, 25 per cent. on estimate, and near 50 per
cent. on arbitrary statements, did not vary much from the difference, to
the disadvantage of the public, betwixt public and private contracts for
the same performances.

In this view, and it is a just one, nothing but absolute necessity, and
the sure consequence of losing the trade altogether, could justify the
interference of Government beyond the limits already assigned, if even
these could justify it. But this necessity is happily entirely out of
the question at present: the Company anxiously desire to go on with
their trade: a forbearance of duties due, is all they ask, to the
extent of, I think, a million. If it was three times as much, Government
would be mad, if they hesitated in the alternative betwixt indulging
them in their demand, and taking their concerns into their own hands.
The affairs of the Company have been embarrassed before; they have
borrowed large sums from Government, which they have honestly repaid.
Their surplus in peaceable times is very large; and if tranquility is
any way durable in India, and the administration of the Company's
affairs is continued in the hands of that powerful genius of resource,
Mr. Hastings, I make no doubt they will extricate themselves with
honour, and do justice to every creditor they have. I am at least sure,
that this is giving the only chance of making them beneficial to this
country; and it is what the Company is highly entitled to.

I have often wondered upon what principle of policy one of our two great
commercial companies should be the _enfant galé_, the spoilt child of
every administration whilst the other was treated like the step-son of
the state, with every mark of jealousy and unkindness. The merits of the
East-India Company towards the nation are great and notorious. Whilst
every other country has been taxing their subjects, in order to support
their East-India trade, the English East-India Company has been the
support, to a good extent directly, and in a very great and eminent
degree indirectly, of the British finances; and in the late war the
Company maintained alone, in their dominions and enterprises, the
superiority which usually attended the British arms in every quarter of
the globe; and at last, in the acquisitions made by the Company's arms,
the material indispensable sacrifices to procure a necessary peace were
found. Indeed, their expences in the reduction of Pondicherry, and the
value of it, and of the other restitutions made to the French by the
definitive treaty of peace, seem to me a very onerous and most just debt
on Britain, and why they are not stated as such by the Company, I cannot
see any shadow of a reason.

It was under the direction of their own proprietary, uncontrouled by
parliament, that the Company rose to an unexampled height of wealth and
prosperity: since the interference of parliament, their affairs have
declined. Possibly now the patronage is so valuable and extensive, their
constitution may be defective, by the too immediate dependence of the
directors on the proprietors, who, by their brigues and cabals, overawe,
and often make abortive the best intentions of the directors. But
matters of charter and property are of so difficult and delicate a
nature, that it is hard to say, whether any attempt to remedy this might
not do more harm than good.

It is related, that Monsieur Colbert, Lewis the Fourteenth's very able
minister of commerce and finance, and to whose memory France stands much
indebted, called an assembly of the most eminent men in the French
king's dominions in the commercial line, to whom he proposed the
consideration, if any, and what advantages might accrue to commerce by
the interference of Government. The unanimous answer of the assembly
was, _Laisser le faire_, let it alone.

A new doctrine has been likewise attempted to be established in favour
of the late India Bill, viz. That measures are not to be so fully and
fairly canvassed as they ought, but are to rely and be supported by the
responsibility of the proposer of them. The presumption and absurdity of
such a proposition is too great to require an answer. The responsibility
of the proposer often would not procure him ten pounds; and as to any
thing sanguinary, God knows! the hazard is very, very trifling. Indeed,
the persons who avowedly, first by denial of justice to America, plunged
us into a war, and afterwards, by obstinately persevering in it, when
experience had evinced the success was impracticable, and who by so
doing have irretrievably (I fear) undone their country, enjoy in pomp
and serenity, even to ostentation, the honours and lucrative employments
heaped upon them. If justice is demanded for glory, for wealth, for
dominion lost, they pay you with an ideal jest: if you want more, a
ready vote of acquittal is at hand from a packt majority, united on the
most sordid principles, to promote each other's advantage, in open and
abandoned violation, on one part of the coalition, of the faith a
thousand times pledged to bring delinquents to justice, who now are not
only protected, but represented, with a falsehood and inconsistency that
degrades human nature, as great, wise, and virtuous ministers, by those
very men who not very many months stigmatized them as the base undoers
of their country.

His Majesty has, however, been pleased to nominate a new ministry: they
are young and untried: I wish them well; and my poor support shall be
theirs, if they deserve it. I hope their real essential bond of union is
at least less dangerous than that of their predecessors, viz. through
violation of charters to obtain the plunder of India for themselves and

I should have thought a dissolution of Parliament necessary to have
preceded, in order to procure any stability in the settlement of a new
ministry. The reason offered against this measure was quite trifling,
viz. the delay of public business; for the Parliament would have been
dissolved, and a new one elected, in little more than the period of
usual recess at this time of the year; which recess was not intended to
have been shortened, if the late overthrow of the ministry had not taken
place. Should the indecent interruption of every thing that does not
promote their own continuance, still prevail in a majority of the House
of Commons, the delay of public business will be well compensated by the
facilities a new election will probably afford, and by the rapid
progress of measures beneficial and necessary to the public that will
take place hereafter, which, under the present jarring situation and
equipoise of parties, cannot, in my poor opinion, ever be carried on
with either certainty or dispatch.

But I still dread the continuance of the present distractions. The
politics of St. James's have had ill luck for common, and, by some fatal
ascendancy, have generally backwards trod the very paths they most
anxiously sought to shun. The faction has emissaries spread far and wide
to pluck allegiance from men's hearts. It will demand, on the part of
the King, an active, unremitting attention to replace himself in that
state of pre-eminence and influence the constitution allows, and even
requires. Let this never be out of mind. When his Majesty hunts the
stag, let him reflect that he is himself the hunted stag, the royal
hart held at bay by a fierce, unrelenting faction, who deny, or mean to
explain away, his dearest, clearest prerogatives. A prince so virtuous,
who never was even suspected to mean any foul play to the state, ought
to command in every honest service, and he will command no other, those
servants whom he is now obliged to sue to, and often is refused. The
onward path, ingenuous openness of fair sincerity and prudent oeconomy
in private life, lead to peace of mind, and to heaven's best gift,
independence; they martial kings to greatness, to awe, and affectionate
veneration. I know the delicate ground I tread; but I owe much to my
sovereign, and, above all, TRUTH; and I will pay the debt, tho' the most
ungrateful office, yet the surest pledge of real love and respect that I
can give. What have I to fear? I have lived too long; I never wished to
survive the glory of my country; and I cannot form a wish so mean as to
survive its liberties. Whig as I am, if liberty must expire, I hold its
Cuthanaria to be in a mild despotism. But in all the bills of mortality,
of human grandeur, never sure was so strange a catastrophe recorded, as
a king taken prisoner, and a great and glorious constitution squirted to
death, by the sportings of a set of prodigal, undone, gambling,
friblish, impudent Eton boys.

  _Jan. 1. 1784._


       *       *       *       *       *

[Transcriber's Notes:

The transcriber made these changes to the text to correct obvious

  1. p.  3 Stationers Hall  --> Stationers' Hall
  2. p.  9 brankrupt --> bankrupt
  3. p. 12 securites --> securities
  4. p. 19 tranquiility --> tranquility

End of Transcriber's Notes]

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