At the time when this petition was drafted, John Stuart Mill (1806-73) had already risen to the post of Examiner of Indian Correspondence. The petition which was to defend the administration of the East-India Company (EIC) and to appeal for its continued existence, at the same time dismissed as wishful-thinking the claim that direct control of Britain's India possessions would result in their better administration. Submitted before the House of Commons on 9 February 1858 and the House of Lords two days later, the petition was one of the last-ditch attempts to save the EIC from abolition following the submission of Memorandum of the Improvements in the Administration of India also written by Mill.
Arguing that the EIC was instrumental in laying the foundations of empire on behalf of the British Crown, Mill at the same time used the example of the loss of the American colonies, which he believed boiled down to direct parliamentary control. Furthermore, he argued, the EIC administration had not incurred on the British Exchequer (national treasury) any cost since it was a private company. This argument was intended to convince Parliament to vote against the intended measure to deprive the EIC of the administration of India -- its last function without which would come its demise.
The question here of course was whether Mill's was writing as an individual in favour of imperialism or whether he was writing in order to save his company. However, it must be said that Mill was adamant that native rights still be respected, for he claimed the EIC was going to abolished "on the expressed ground that it has been too forbearing and considerate towards the natives" (Mill, 1990, p. 80). Arguing further for the respect of native rights he pointed out that
in abstaining as they (the petitioners) have done from all interference with any of the religious practices of the people of India, except such as are abhorrent to humanity, they have acted not only in their own conviction of what is just and expedient, but in accordance with the avowed intentions and expressed enactments of the Legislature. [p. 81]
He justified the East-India Company's policy of non-interference on the grounds that this
policy has been successful, [which] is evidenced by the fact, that during the military mutiny, said to have been caused by unfounded apprehensions of danger to religion, the heads of native states, and the masses of the population, have remained faithful to the British Government. [p. 81]
One can doubt the genuineness of Mill's apparent romantic defence of native rights and the policy of non-interference towards them. Is it Mill the individual influenced by the ideas of romanticism writing here? Or is it Mill the EIC official trying his best to save his troubled company? What does his response to complaints about the Black Act suggest?
Mill, John Stuart. Writings on India. Edited by John M. Robson, Martin Moir and Zawahir Moir. Toronto: University of Toronto Press; London: Routledge, c1990.
Last modified October 2000