Lord Clive's Speech in the House of Commons, 30th March, 1772

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Introductory notes

Lord Robert Clive is considered to the initiator of East India Company's supremacy in Bengal. Clive born in 1725, joined East India Company's service at the age of 18 in Madras (now Chennai). Clive gradually moved his way up in the service and was applauded for his success in defending the fort of Arcot against the local French ally in 1751. Clive's military success lead brought him to Bengal, where the Company was facing resistance from Shiraz-ud-Daula, the local figurehead of the Mughal emperor. Clive succeeded in overthrowing Shiraz after the Battle of Plassey in 1757 and replacing him with Mirjafar, the general. Clive returned back to Britain 1760, only to be called back again in 1765, after the Company faced resistance from Mir Qasim, the Bengal Nawab and Shah Alam, the Mughal emperor. By the time Clive reached, the Company defeated the allied force including the Nawab of Oudh in Buxar. Following the victory, the Clive secured revenue rights(Diwani) of the Bengal for the East India Company from the Mughal emperor. Clive's second phase as governor of Fort William continued till 1767. In 1772, when the Company faced the threat of bankruptcy, the Parliament appointed committees to inquire into the conduct of Company's officials posted in Bengal. Clive's role was also investigated, who committed suicide on 1774.

Clive gave the speech in House of Commons of the Parliament, when the Parliament was enquiring about East India Company's financial crisis in India. Clive who was closely involved with Company's ascendancy in Bengal offers his insights and views on state of affairs in Bengal. Clive specifically highlight on the nature of corruption that exists in Bengal among the Company's officials and their middlemen. Such misuse of power not only affected Company's financial stability but also the economy of the region.

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Clive gave the speech in House of Commons of the Parliament, when the Parliament was enquiring about East India Company's financial crisis in India. Clive who was closely involved with Company's ascendancy in Bengal offers his insights and views on state of affairs in Bengal. Clive specifically highlight on the nature of corruption that exists in Bengal among the Company's officials and their middlemen. Such misuse of power not only affected Company's financial stability but also the economy of the region.

The House of Commons,
30th March, 1772,
On the MOTION made for Leave to bring in a BILL, for the
The Administration of Justice in BENGAL

LONDON. Printed for J.WALTER, at Charing Cross
[Page 3]


IT is with great diffidence that I to speak to this House, but I find myself so particularly called upon, that I must make the attempt, though I should expose myself in so doing. With what confidence can I venture to give my sentiments upon a subject of such national consequence, who myself stand charged with having been the cause of the present melancholy situation of the Company's affairs in BENGAL? This House can have no reliance on my opinion, whilst such an impression remains unremoved. The House will therefore give me leave to remove this impression, and to endeavor to restore myself to that favorable opinion, which, I flatter myself, they en [Page 4] tertained of my conduct before these Charges were exhibited against me. Nor do I wish to lay my conduct before the Members of this House only; I speak likewise to my Country in general, upon whom I put myself not only without reluctance, but with alacrity.

IT is well known that I was called upon, in the year 1764, by a General Court, to undertake the management of the Company's affairs in BENGAL, when they were in a very critical and dangerous situation.

[Page 5]

Upon my arrival in BENGAl, I found the Powers given were so loosely and jesuitically worded, that they were immediately contested by the Council. I was determined, however, to put the most extensive construction upon them, because I was determined to do my duty to my Country .

THREE Paths were before me. One was strewed with abundance of fair advantages. I might have put myself at the head of the Government as I found it. I might have encouraged the Resolution which the Gentlemen had taken, not to execute the new Covenants, which prohibited the receipt of Presents: and although I had executed the Covenants myself, I might have contrived to return to ENGLAND with an immense fortune, infamously added to the one before honourably obtained. Such an increase of wealth might have added to my weight in this Country, but it would not have added to my peace of mind; because all men of honor and sentiment would have justly condemned me .

FINDING my Powers thus disputed, I might in despair have given up the common-wealth, and have left BENGAL without making an effort to save it.—Such a Conduct would have been deemed the effect of Folly and Cowardice.

[Page 6]

THE third Path was intricate. Dangers and difficulties were on every side. But I resolved to pursue it. In short, I was determined to do my duty to the Public, although I should incur the odium of the whole Settlement. The welfare of the Company required a vigorous exertion, and I took the resolution of cleansing the Augean Stable.

IT was that Conduct which has occasioned the public papers to teem with scurrility and abuse against me, ever since my return to ENGLAND. It was that Conduct which occasioned these Charges. But it was that Conduct which enables me now, when the day of Judgment is come, to look my Judges in the Face.—It was that Conduct which enables me now, to lay my hand upon my heart, and most solemnly to declare to this House, to the Gallery, and to the whole World at large, that I never, in a single Instance, lost sight of what I thought the Honor and true Interest of my Country and the Company; that I was never guilty of any acts of violence or oppression, unless the bringing offenders to Justice can be deemed so; that as to extortion, such an Idea never entered into my mind; that I did not suffer those under me to commit acts of violence & oppression, or extortion; that my influence was never employed for the advantage of any man, contrary to the strictest principles of Honor and Justice; and that so far from reaping any benefit myself from the expedition, I returned to ENGLAND many thousand pounds out of pocket. A Fact of which this House will presently be convinced.

[Page 7]

THE House will, I hope, permit me to lay before them, a State of the Charges I have alluded to, as well as of the Manner in which they were conveyed to me.

[Page 10]

THE fourth Charge has this extraordinary title.—A Monopoly of Salt, Betle Nut and Tobacco, and other commodities, which occasioned the late famine.—How a Monopoly [Page 11] of Salt, Betle Nut, and Tobacco, in the years 1765 and 1766, could occasion a want of Rain, and scarcity of Rice in the year 1770, is past my comprehension. I confess I cannot answer that part of this article. And as to other Commodities as they have not been specified, I cannot say any thing to them.—But with regard to the. Monopoly (as it is called) of Salt, Betle Nut, and Tobacco, I will endeavour to explain the whole of that matter, and the House will permit me to dwell the longer upon it, as it is a point particulary insisted on by my adversaries. It is a part of my conduct that may be objected to by those who are unacquainted with the subject. I know it has been misunderstood and misrepresented, even by some of my friends. They have imputed it to an error of judgment. Now however ready I shall always be to acknowledge such an error, yet I hope to convince this House, that no part of my conduct has been more unexceptionable, and that the plan, if it had been adopted by the Court of Directors, and strictly adhered to by the Government in BENGAL, would have proved not only advantageous to the Company, but also beneficial to the Country: but the Court of Directors, alarmed at the word Monopoly, seem never to have examined, and I am sure, never thoroughly comprehended, the principles and effect of it.

[Page 51]

BY this Paper, it appears that the Public Trade has increased more than double, since the Acquisition of the DUANNEE.

I now come to a very material point indeed: A State of the Revenues, and also of the Civil and Military, and all other Expences from the year 1765 to 1771. The first year's Account is imperfect, because the Revenues are stated from the month of April, and the DUANNEE was not obtained till August.

[Page 53]

THIS Account must be exact, because I had the whole of it from the INDIA House, except the particulars of the last year, which the Court of Directors are not yet in possession of. But I cannot doubt their authenticity, as I received them from a Gentleman in Council at BENGAL.

THE House will observe, that the Gross Collections have not decreased considerably till the year 1770, which was the year of the Famine; but that the Civil and Military Expences have been gradually increasing ever since I left BENGAL, which was in the beginning of the year 1767. And here lies the danger. The evil is not so much in the Revenues falling short, as in the Expences increasing. The best means of raising the Revenues is to reduce the Civil and Military Charges. Why should we strive at an actual increase of the Revenues? They avail nothing unless we can invest them; and to raise them beyond a certain point is to distress the country, and to reduce to indigence numbers who from time immemorial have derived their subsistence from them.

WITH regard to the increase of the expences, I take the case to stand thus. Before the Company became possessed of the DUANNEE, their Agents had other ways of making fortunes. Presents were open to them. They are now at an end. It was expedient for them to find some other channel: the channel of the Civil and Military Charges. Every man now who is permitted to make a bill, makes a fortune.

[Page 54]

I attribute the present situation of our Affairs to four Causes: a Relaxation of Government in my Successors; great Neglect on the part of Administration; notorious Misconduct on the part of the Directors; and the violent and outrageous Proceedings of General Courts, in which I include contested Elections.

Mr. VERELST, who succeeded me in the Government, I do believe to be a man of as much real worth and honor as ever existed: and so far from being wanting in humanity, as Mr. BOLTS asserts, I know that he had too much humanity. Humanity, if I may be allowed the expression, has been his ruin. If he had had less, it would have been better for the Nation, better for the Company, better for the Natives, and better for himself. No Man came to the Government with a fairer Character, and notwithstanding what I have said, I am conscious no man ever left it with a fairer. He acted upon principles of disinterestedness from beginning to end: and let [Page 55] the Directors, if they can, tell me where I could have laid my finger upon a fitter Man. But the truth is, he governed with too lenient a hand. The too great tenderness of his disposition, I saw and dreaded. Nothing was wanting on my part to prompt him to pursue vigorous measures. Nor did I confine myself to verbal advice only. I gave it in writing before I resigned the Government. The House will permit me to read to them my sentiments upon that occasion. They are contained in my Farewell Letter to the Select Committee, wherein I forewarned them of almost every misfortune that has since happened.

Extract from my Farewell Letter to the Select Committee, dated 16th January, 1767.

"The reformation proposed by the Committee of lnspec- "tion will I hope be duly attended to. It has been too "much the custom in this Government to make orders and "regulations, and thence to suppose the business done. To "what end and purpose are they made, if they be not pro- "mulgated and enforced? No regulation can be carried "into execution, no order obeyed, if you do not make ri- "gorous examples of the disobedient. Upon this point I "rest the welfare of the Company in BENGAL. The ser- "vants are now brought to a proper sense of their duty; "if you slacken the reins of Government, affairs will "soon revert to their former channel; anarchy and corruption will [Page 56] "again prevail; and, elate with a new victory, be too head- "strong for any future efforts of Government.

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IT is certain, that if my successor had followed my example and advice, the evil day would have been kept off some time longer. But had he kept the tightest rein, he could not have done much service to the Company: for neither he nor any man could have long guarded against the mischiefs by the Directors themselves, when they took away the powers of the Select Committee.

THE Company had acquired an empire more extensive than any Kingdom in EUROPE, FRANCE and RUSSIA excepted. They had acquired a Revenue of four millions Sterling, and a Trade in proportion. It was natural to suppose that such an object would have merited the most serious attention of Administration; that in concert with the Court of Directors they would have consldered the nature of the Company's Charter, and have adopted a Plan adequate to such possessions. Did they take it into consideration? No, they did not. They treated it rather as a South Sea Bubble, than as anything solid and substantial: they thought of nothing but the present time, regardless of the future: they said let us get what we can today, let tomorrow take care for itself; they thought of nothing but the immediate division of the loaves and fishes: nay, so anxious were they to lay their hands upon some immediate advantage, they actually went so far as to influence a parcel of temporary Proprietors to bully the Directors into their terms.

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AFTER the Court of Directors had, in the highest terms, approved of the conduct of that Committee, who restored tranquillity to BENGAL; who had restored a Government of anarchy and confusion to good order; who had made a Peace with SUJA DOWLA, by which they obtained upwards of six hundred thousand pounds for the Company; who had quelled both a Civil and a Military Mutiny; who had re-established Discipline and Subordination in the Army; who had obtained the DUANNEE of BENGAL, BAHAR and ORISSA, which produced to the Company a nett income of one million three hundred thousand pounds; who had paid off the greatest part of a Bond Debt in BENGAL, amounting to near nine hundred thousand pounds; who had left the Treasury in such a flowing state, that they drew few or no bills upon the Company at home; who laid the foundation of lnvestments so large as were never before known or heard of; and who had by these means enabled the Company to assist [Page 59] Government with four hundred thousand pounds a year, and to make an increase of Dividend to the Stock-holders of two hundred thousand pounds; one would imagine that the Court of Directors would have supported. a system of Government which had been so very successful. But they acted upon very different principles; they dropped the prosecutions against those Gentlemen in BENGAL, whose conduct the Committee had censured, and fully represented. Thus they gave a stab to their own vitals. From that instant they destroyed their own power abroad, and erased from the minds of their servants in INDIA, every wholesome regulation which the Committee had established. The servants abroad were in anxious suspence to learn whether they were punishable or not, for misconduct. The lenity or weakness of the Court of Directors removed their doubts. From that instant all Covenants were forgotten, or only looked upon as so many sheets of blank paper; and from that instant began that relaxation of Government so much now complained of, and so much still to be dreaded.

THEIR next step was to destroy the Powers of that Committee whose conduct they had with reason so highly approved of. They divided the Powers; they gave half to the Council, and left the other half with the Committee. The consequence was, the Council and Committee became distracted by altercations and disputes for Power, and have ever since been at variance, to the great detriment of the service. The court of Directors, as if this was not enough, restored to [Page 60] the service almost every Civil and Military Transgressor who had been dismissed: nay they rewarded some of them, by allowing them a continuation of their rank all the time they were in ENGLAND. And now, as a condemnation of their own conduct, and a tacit confession of their own weakness, they come to Parliament with a Bill of Regulations, in which is inserted a Clause to put such Practices, as much as possible out of their Power for the future.

This is a selection from the original text


rain, rice, scarcity, want

Source text

Title: Lord Clive's Speech in the House of Commons, 30th March, 1772

Author: Lord Robert Clive

Publisher: J. Walter

Publication date: 1772

Edition: 1st Edition

Place of publication: London

Provenance/location: This text was transcribed from images available at Internet Archive: http://archive.org.

Digital edition

Original author(s): Lord Robert Clive

Language: English

Selection used:

  • 1 ) page3
  • 2 ) pages 5 to 7
  • 3 ) pages 10 to 11
  • 4 ) page 51
  • 5 ) pages 53 to 60


Texts collected by: Ayesha Mukherjee, Amlan Das Gupta, Azarmi Dukht Safavi

Texts transcribed by: Muhammad Irshad Alam, Bonisha Bhattacharya, Arshdeep Singh Brar, Muhammad Ehteshamuddin, Kahkashan Khalil, Sarbajit Mitra

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Encoding checking by: Hannah Petrie, Gary Stringer, Charlotte Tupman

Genre: India > official correspondence > speeches

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