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Mr. Wilberforce - - - 3OS
T A X A T I O N
W J T.
T T is with great difficulty that I attempt to speak to this House; but I find myself so particularly called upon, that I must make the attempt, though I mould expose myself in so doing. With what confidence can I venture to give my sentiments upon a motion to bring in a bill for the better regulation of the East-India Company's affairs, 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 endeavour to restore myself to that favourable opinion, which, I flatter myself, they entertained 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.
Vol. II. R It
It is well known that I was called upon, in the year 1769, by a General Court, to undertake the management of the Company's affairs in Bengal, when they were in a very dangerous and critical situation. It is as well, known, that my circumstances were independent and affluent. Happy in the fense of my past conduct and services, happy in my family, happy in my connections, happy in every thing but my health, which I lost in the Company's service, never to be repaired. This situation, this happiness, I relinquished at the call of the Company, to go to a fir distant, unhealthy climate, to undertake the envious task of reformation. My enemies will suppose, that I was actuated by mercenary motives. But this House and my country at large will, I hope, think more liberally. They will conceive that I undertook this expedition from a principle of gratitude, from a point of honour, and from a desire of doing an effential service to the East-India Company—to that Company, under whose auspices I had acquired my fortune and my fame.
My prospects on going abroad were by no means pleasing^ Or encouraging; for after a violent contest, thirteen Directors only were chosen, who thought favourably of my endeavours to serve the Company; the other eleven, however well they might wish to the Company, were not willing that their good purposes should be accomplished by me. They first gave all possible obstruction to my acceptance of the Government, and afterwards declined investing me with those powers, without which I could not have acted effectually for the benefit of the Company. Upon my arrival in Bengal, I found the powers given were so loosely and so 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 head of Government as I found it. I might have encouraged the resolution which the gentlemen had taken, not to execut* 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 forture, 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 honour and sentiment would have justly condemned me.
Finding my powers thus disputed, I might in despair have given up the commonwealth, and have left Bengal without an effort to save it. Such a conduct would have been deemed the effect of folly and cowardice.
The third path was intricate; dangers and difficulties,were on every side; but I resolved to pursue it. 1st 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 that occasioned those charges; but it was the conduct which enables me now, when the day of judgement 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 honour 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 my mind; that I did not. suffer those under me to commit any acts of violence, oppression, or extortion; that my influence was never employed
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