[1787] - Warren Hastings impeached by Burke in House of Commons

Warren Hastings (1732–1818) was the first governor-general of India who was impeached for maladministration and corruption by Edmund Burke in the late spring of 1787. Born in Oxfordshire and educated at Newington Butts and then Westminster School, Hastings entered the East India Company’s Bengal service as a clerk in 1750. He rose rapidly through the ranks of the Company, forming a close friendship with the governor Henry Vansittart. Vansittart’s resignation, however, prompted Hastings to return to Britain in 1765. He returned to India four years later and, after two successful years at Madras, he was appointed as the governor of Bengal. For the next thirteen years he remained in Bengal where he sought to consolidate British sovereignty whilst also preserving Indian methods of government and law. Unlike many of his predecessors, he greatly admired Hinduism and Islamic law, and governed via direct contact with the Indians themselves.

Accusations of corruption were brought against him in 1775, although Hastings refused to answer the charges at the time. He did, however, acknowledge receiving customary payments, and extant records reveal that he sent considerably more money to his family in Britain than he received in his official salary. By 1785 war had engulfed all parts of British India and Hastings’ reputation at home had deteriorated. On 7 February he resigned as governor and returned to Britain.

Edmund Burke had fervently opposed British policy in India and held Hastings directly responsible. In 1786 he brought charges for Hastings’ impeachment before parliament, and on 1 May 1787 Hastings was required to produce his defence. Ten days later, in part thanks to the influence of the new Prime Minister William Pitt, he was formally impeached. The prosecution pursued its case against Hastings for the next seven years, although nationalist sentiment following the outbreak of war with France in 1793 led to public opinion turning in Hastings’ favour. In 1795 the House of Lords delivered a verdict of ‘not guilty’. Hastings spent much of the remainder of his life at his family estate at Daylesford in Worcestershire where he died on 22 August 1818 at the age of 86.

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