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The Trial of Warren Hastings

Warren Hastings was the official Governor of Bengal under the authority of the British East India Company between the years 1773 and 1784. The trial for his impeachment was a widely popular public affair, prosecuted by famed politician Edmund Burke, and defended by Sir William Jones. Hastings' trial was precipitated by rumors of wrongdoings in Burma, including the violation of local law. Romantic mythology holds that Burke's recitation of the charges levied against Hastings occupied the full span of two days.

The innumerable counts against Hastings created great public interest in the trial. However, the unreliability of testimony against him, coupled with the defense's tactics, caused the proceedings to extend to an interminable length. Fascination with Hastings' legal battle waned long before the eventual dismissal of all charges against him in 1795. The trial itself served to enhance popular awareness of British dealings in the Eastern colonies. However, its protracted resolution, along with more pressing domestic issues which occupied the minds of the British people, caused its popular pertinence to wane.

Hastings' impeachment is characteristic of the sense of justice that seems to arise during the Romantic period. However, the eventual disinterest of the public in the outcome of his lengthy trial may have set a precedent for the imperial bureaucracy to extend red tape, prolonging the resolution of issues which called its own validity into question past the point of popular concern.

Jody Dunville

Select Bibliography

Franklin, Michael J. "Accessing India." in Romanticism and Colonialism: Writing and Empire 1780-1830. Tim      Fulford and Peter J. Kitson, eds. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998. Print.