India owes to Pitt's triumph a form of government which remained unchanged to our own day. The India Bill which he carried in 1784 preserved in appearance the political and commercial powers of the Directors, while establishing a Board of Control, formed from members of the Privy Council, for the approval or annulling of their acts. Practically, however, the powers of the Board of Directors were absorbed by a secret committee of three elected members of that body, to whom all the more important administrative functions had been reserved by the bill, while those of the Board of Control were virtually exercised by its President. As the President was in effect a new Secretary of State for the Indian Department, and became an important member of each Ministry, responsible like his fellow-members for his action to Parliament, the administration of India was thus made a part of the general system of the English Government; while the secret committee supplied the experience of Indian affairs in which the Minister might be deficient. Meanwhile the new temper that was growing up in the English people told on the attitude of England towards its great dependency.
Discussions over rival plans of Indian administration diffused a sense of national responsibility for its good government, and there was a general resolve that the security against injustice and misrule which was enjoyed by the poorest Englishman should be enjoyed by the poorest Hindoo. This resolve expressed itself in the trial of Warren Hastings. Hastings returned from India at the close of the war with the hope of rewards as great as those of Clive. He had saved all that Clive had won. He had laid the foundation of a vast empire in the East. He had shown rare powers of administration, and the foresight, courage, and temperance which mark the born ruler of men. But the wisdom and glory of his rule could not hide its terrible ruth-lessness. He was charged with having sold for a vast sum the services of British troops to crush the free tribes of the Rohillas, with having wrung half a million by extortion from the Rajah of Benares, with having extorted by torture and starvation more than a million from the Princesses of Oudh. He was accused of having kept his hold upon power by measures as unscrupulous, and with having murdered a native who opposed him by an abuse of the forms of English law.
On almost all these charges the cooler judgement of later enquirers has acquitted Warren Hastings of guilt. Personally there can be little doubt that he bad done much to secure to the new subjects of Britain a just and peaceable government. What was hardest and most pitiless in his rule had been simply a carrying out of the system of administration which was native to India and which he found existing there. But such a system was alien from the new humanity of Englishmen; and few dared to vindicate Hastings when Burke in words of passionate earnestness moved for his impeachment. The great trial lingered on for years, and in the long run Hastings secured an acquittal. But the end at which the impeachment aimed had really been won. The attention, the sympathy of Englishmen had been drawn across distant seas to a race utterly strange to them; and the peasant of Cornwall or Cumberland had learned how to thrill at the suffering of a peasant of Bengal.
Even while the trial was going on a yet wider extension of English sympathy made itself felt. In the year which followed the adoption of free trade with France the new philanthropy allied itself with the religious movement created by the Wesleys in an attack on the Slave Trade. One of the profits which England bought by the triumphs of Marlborough was a right to a monopoly of the slave trade between Africa and the Spanish dominions; and it was England that had planted slavery in her American colonies and her West Indian islands. But the horrors and iniquity of the trade, the ruin and degradation of Africa which it brought about, the oppression of the negro himself, were now felt widely and deeply. " After a conversation in the open air at the root of an old tree, just above the steep descent into the Vale of Keston," with the younger Pitt, his friend, William Wilberforce, whose position as a representative of the evangelical party gave weight to his advocacy of such a cause, resolved in 1788 to bring in a bill for the abolition of the slave trade.
But the bill fell before the opposition of the Liverpool slave merchants and the general indifference of the House of Commons. The spirit of humanity which breathed through Pitt's policy had indeed to wrestle with difficulties at home and abroad; and his efforts to sap the enmity of nation against nation by a freer intercourse encountered a foe even more fatal than English prejudice, in the very movement of which his measures formed a part. Across the Channel this movement was growing into a revolution which was to change the face of the world.
So far as England was concerned the Puritan resistance of the seventeenth century had in the end succeeded in checking the general tendency of the time to religious and political despotism. Since the Revolution of 1688 freedom of conscience and the people's right to govern itself through its representatives in Parliament had been practically established. Social equality had begun long before. Every man from the highest to the lowest was subject to, and protected by, the same law. The English aristocracy, though exercising a powerful influence on government, were possessed of few social privileges, and prevented from forming a separate class in the nation by the legal and social tradition which counted all save the eldest son of a noble house as commoners. No impassable line parted the gentry from the commercial classes, and these again possessed no privileges which could part them from the lower classes of the community. Public opinion, the general sense of educated Englishmen, had established itself after a short struggle as the dominant element in English government. But in all the other great states of Europe the wars of religion had left only the name of freedom. Government tended to a pure despotism. Privilege was supreme in religion, in politics, in society.