Barbara Villiers: History of Monetary Crimes - Alexander Del Mar

VIII. Bribery and Corruption.

It is now in order to review the operations of the East India Company with reference to the coinage and to weigh the evidences concerning the means which they employed to procure the passage of the act of 1666-7. As before stated, the Company acquired Bombay in 1668. Two years afterwards (1670) the Cabal Ministry was formed, and one year later (1671), the Company erected a mint in Bombay. This was the same year, January, 1671-2, in which Charles II., after having solemnly assured the merchants of London that their deposits in the Royal Exchequer were perfectly safe and inviolable, coolly robbed them of the whole amount, about £1,328,526, and closed the Exchequer to further demands. Perhaps he had by this time discovered how the Crown had been cheated by the Act of 1666-7, and deemed himself justified in making reprisals from the class that had deceived him. But unfortunately, financial reprisals more often injure the innocent than the guilty. In getting even with the goldsmiths, Charles ruined ten thousand private families, innocent of crime against either him or the State.

[NOTE: The Cabal Ministry consisted of Sir Thomas, afterwards Lord Clifford, Lord Ashley, afterwards Earl of Shaftesbury, George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham, Henry Bennet, afterwards Earl of Arlington, and John Maitland, who was also Lord Thirlestane and Earl of Lauderdale. Most of these men were concealed papists; Bennet's daughter was married to the Duke of Grafton, one of Barbara Villiers' sons.]

By its fourth charter, dated October 5, 1677, the East India Company was authorized by the Crown to coin in India and with its own stamp, both gold, silver, copper, and lead. During the fifteen years which followed this grant, the Company must have transported from Europe to the Orient and there exchanged for gold, or for East India goods at Oriental gold prices, something like £7,500,000 in silver. If to this is added £40,000 a year from 1601 to 1666 and £400,000 a year from 1666 to 1677, the grand total of silver exported by this Company to the Orient, down to the beginning of 1693, could scarcely have fallen short of £15,000,000, upon which it secured an average profit, after all expenses and losses were paid, of not less than one third, or say £5,000,000. I am aware that, according to the accounts presented by the Company to Parliament, the exports of coin and bullion to India were much less, but in the first place, these statistics only cover "India," not the Orient generally, and in the second place, they are refuted by the opinions of Pollexfen and all contemporary writers, (except those in the interest of the Company), who unanimously declared that such exports, after 1666, amounted on the average to more than half a million pounds sterling a year.

When the East India Company gained a footing in the Orient, a monetary change was in progress which had commenced in the 14th century and was not yet completed. The Moslem conquests in the Orient had transported to the Mediterranean the accumulations of the precious metals in India and left that country under the necessity of employing currencies which consisted chiefly of copper coins and cowrie shells. In employing such measures of value no stable ratio of exchange could be established with Bassoura or Bagdad, a fact which greatly hampered the Arabian trade. To remedy this difficulty, and for other good reasons, Mahomet-bin-Tuglak, Emperor of Delhi, A.D. 1324-51, introduced in place of the copper coins a system of silver and silver-plated ones, which he hoped would displace the former. This was the first step towards a silver, or rather a billon coinage; and although not altogether successful, it led to better systems as time went on.

In 1542 Sher Shah succeeded in establishing in the circulation the four-dirhem pieces, previously called tankahs and now first called rupees. In 1555-1604 Akbar the Great interdicted private coinage and made a notable but abortive attempt to establish all payments on the basis of silver coins struck by the State. In the reigns of his successors, Jehangeer, Shah Jehan and Auranzeb, this reform made but little progress, so that when, during the reign of this last named Emperor of Delhi, the East India Company began to strike coins at Bombay, the circulation generally, throughout the open parts of India, still largely consisted of copper and billon coins—the superior silver coins and the gold coins remaining in and about the capital cities and trading ports. To supply the deficiency of silver coins, by offering new and evenly-minted ones for gold coins at a price (9 to 10 for 1), which seemed generous to the Indian shroffs, was an enterprise that profitably occupied the Company for nearly three-fourths of a century. Then (in 1749) having sold all its silver for gold, this virtuous Company plundered from the Indians all the silver it had sold them and once more reduced their oft plundered land to a currency of coppers and cowries. The present (silver) coinage dates substantially from 1766.

A fifth charter was granted to the East India Company August 9, 1683, and a sixth one April 12, 1686, which last one expired with the reign of William and Mary in 1693. "It was in the effort made by the company to obtain a new charter from the government of William III., that the following occurrences took place. They are related in a pamphlet of 63 pages, entitled, "A Collection of the Debates and Proceedings in Parliament in the years 1694 and 1695, in relation to Corrupt Practices."

It having transpired in the year 1694 that Sir John Trevor, the Speaker of the House of Commons, had accepted a bribe of a thousand guineas from the merchants belonging to the Corporation of London, to facilitate the enactment of the "Orphan's Bill," and there being rumors of bribery committed by the East India Company, the House, in order to purge itself of the reproach thus cast upon it, consigned Sir John to imprisonment in the Tower, and passed a resolution promising pardon and indemnity to anyone who should give evidence in relation to the bribery of members.

The first result of this action was that Mr. Hungerford was convicted of having accepted a bribe of twenty guineas to pass the Orphan's Bill, whereupon he and Sir John Trevor were both expelled from the House. The next result was the commitment to the Tower of Sir Thomas Cooke, Governor of the East India Company in 1693, charged with having distributed bribes amounting, as subsequently proved, to some £200,000, to members of Parliament and other officers of the government. After much prevarication and delay, Cooke agreed to turn State's evidence, if a special bill of pardon and indemnity was enacted in his behalf. This being done in accordance with his wishes, he still paltered with the House, by confessing that he had spent £167,000 for "services rendered to the Company," chiefly towards its getting a new charter, but except in one instance, he could not say to whom the money was paid. The exception was with reference to £10,000 which was given (1693) Mr. Francis Tysson, who told him he had given it to "Sir Josiah Child, who delivered it to the King" (William III.) "as a customary present, and that in King Charles' and other former reigns, the like had been done for several years, which by the books of the Company may appear."

This bribe was "presented to the king in tallies." Upon being further pressed, Sir Thomas Cooke furnished accounts of about £200,000 paid to what we would now call "the lobby," that is, to the relatives, friends, agents or servants of "Parliament men"; for example, a sum of £10,000 paid to Mr. Richard Acton, was for "Parliament men and Sir Joseph Child had advised it. Among the high officials and "Parliament men" implicated was Thomas Osborne, "Marquis of Carmaerthen, now Lord Leeds." Enormous sums were paid to Sir B. Firebrace for "Parliament men." When Firebrace was questioned, he implicated several noblemen and high officials, including the Duke of Leeds, Lord President of the Privy Council, Sir Josiah Child and Sir Thomas Cooke. The latter had also lodged a note in Tysson's hands for £50,000, to be paid when the Act, which the Company demanded, was passed. Money was also paid to Col. Fitzpatrick, who had interest with Lady Derby, who had interest with the Queen. The only result of these proceedings was that the Duke of Leeds was impeached for accepting a bribe of 5,000 guineas, to obtain a new charter and regulations for the East India Company. The proceedings were then dropped.

It will hardly be contended that the corrupt state of the Parliament thus disclosed, or the methods and means employed by the East India Company, were new; for it is related of them so early as the year 1657 that they had already carried their "increase of presents to governors, et cetera, to an odious excess."

The case of Skinner in 1660 is another evidence to the same effect. Here the espousal by the Commons of the East India Company's interest, plainly opposed to decency and justice, was the cause of a rupture between the two Houses of Parliament, which lasted for several years and almost put a stop to public business. That the Parliament, especially the Commons, was corrupt in the reign of Charles II., is notorious; the fact is attested by numerous contemporary witnesses; it is corroborated by the proceedings of Parliament itself and by the remarks and criticisms of the few virtuous and patriotic Englishmen who had the courage to lift their voices against the prevailing rottenness.

The enormous powers and privileges granted by Charles II. to the East India Company against the protests and representations of persons well qualified to point out their mischievous and dangerous Influences, were evidently not granted for nothing; and even were Sir Thomas Cooke's evidence wanting, it may fairly be concluded that the exposure of the Company's methods, which took place in 1694, proved the means that were employed by them to procure the Act of 1666-7, which really formed the basis of their prosperity, as it constituted the most profitable of the various concessions granted to them by the Crown, or the avid parasites who advised and swayed it.

The reign of Charles II. was not only corrupt, it was corrupt to a degree that affected all classes in proportion as they wielded power or influence. In 1661 the king granted a new charter to the East India Company, without consent of Parliament and contrary to law, with leave to export £50,000 per annum of foreign silver, a privilege, that subsequent events render it difficult to believe, was granted without pecuniary consideration.

In the same year he "shamefully delivered up to France the country of Nova Scotia." In 1662, he sold to France for five million "livres," then more than twice as heavy as modern "francs," say £400,000, "the town and port of Dunkirk, with all its fortifications, sluices, dams, etc., and likewise the fort of Mardyke with a wooden fort and the other great and small forts between Dunkirk and Bergh St. Wynox, together with all the arms, artillery, ammunition, etc." In the same year he sold the right of flooding Ireland with base coins to a company of London goldsmiths, who probably turned their privilege to better account, by floating their issues in the Oriental trade. In 1664 the Duke of York and probably also the king was pecuniarily interested in the African Company, whose profits were chiefly derived from the slaves captured in British Guinea and carried to British America.

In 1665 the king granted a patent to "an ill-judged Canary Company," conceding them the monopoly of trading to the Canary Islands for gold, slaves and other commodities. "The third article of the House of Commons' impeachment of the Lord Chancellor Clarendon, directly charges him with having received great sums of money, for procuring this and other illegal patents." In the same year the king repudiated the "Bills of Public Faith" (greenbacks) issued by the Commonwealth and he granted to Prince Rupert the moneys recovered from those who had purchased Crown lands with such bills of credit.

In 1666, the same year that he signed the Coinage Act, and as contended, for the sake of a pension to Barbara Villiers, to come out of the customs on liquors granted by the Commons and for other considerations, he also granted to another of his mistresses, Frances Stewart, Duchess of Richmond, the sole coinage of tin farthings, the effigy of "Britannia" on these coins being, as Evelyn intimates, that of the frail but fair patentee. In 1667, when the Dutch Admiral De Ruyter's bold exploits at Sheerness and Chatham caused a general panic in London and a run upon the bankers who in turn had deposited their funds in the Exchequer, the king "issued his declaration for preserving inviolably the course of payments in his Exchequer, both with regard to principal and interest"; yet despite this solemn declaration he stopped payments from and closed the Exchequer in 1672. He then dishonestly appropriated "all the funds entrusted to the public keeping."

In 1668 he sold the "town, port and island of Bombay with the rest of the isle of North Salsette," together with certain sovereign rights, to the East India Company; and throughout his entire reign, from the Restoration to the period of his death in 1684-5, he was the recipient of an ignominious pension from Louis XIV. of France.

Such are the circumstances under which this mischievous measure of Free Coinage was generated, such was its character and such its offspring: a bribe to the Crown; a premium on piracy; a stimulus to the vile trade in mining-slaves; and the reward of intrigue and corruption, which were destined to breed, in turn, every form of injustice, rottenness and oppression. It deprived the State of its ancient control over money and has practically conferred this supernal prerogative upon an aristocracy of wealth more detestable than the tyranny from which our (American) forefathers rebelled. It has extorted from the people hundreds of millions for the expenses of mint establishments in whose support they have no interest, or else to make good the wear and tear of coins which are sold, like hogs, by the pound weight and sent abroad to have their effigies of "Liberty" effaced and made to do service for the avowed enemies of liberty. Through the command of metallic money, which this measure placed in the hands of the goldsmith or banking class, it has enabled them to grasp the control of all money, of all substitutes for money and of that commerce whose indispensable instrument is money. The remainder of the people are practically restricted to manual labor, the retail trades, or other inferior or comparatively profitless employments.

What reason had the United States to copy this corrupt legislation in 1792 or to follow this mischievous policy? What business had we to copy England in the Coinage Act of 1666, whose main purpose and object was to evade and defeat the solemn decision of the Privy Council in the Mixt Money case? What had we to do with the profits of exchanging silver coins for Indian gold in the 17th century, or with the coining mill and screw press of Antoine Brucher, or with the West Indian piracies of Morgan and his fellow buccaneers, or with the slave trade of Guinea? What interest had we in the iniquities of the East India Company, its murders and robberies in the East, or its shameful purchase of a polluted king, a polluted cabinet and a polluted Parliament, in the West? What had we to do with the prostitution of Barbara Villiers, her greed, her avidity, her hold upon the British Mint, the monetary legislation that was framed to rid the king of her presence and install another infamous woman in her infamous place? I say, what had we Americans to do with this burden of crimes and pollution which lay at the door of the Stuart family and belonged to a state of society from which we had revolted with abhorrence?

Nothing whatever. Yet we ignorantly adopted the whole of it on the day when Hamilton's mint bill was enacted by Congress. We copied it all; we made it our own; and in the course of the century which has passed since we adopted it, we have succeeded in building up a class of people who are interested, or who believe themselves to be interested, in supporting it. This class consists of merchants in the foreign trade and the bankers and others with whom they deal.

Our foreign commerce does not consist, as does that of England, in the profitable functions of buying, selling and carrying for the rest of the world; but chiefly in buying for our own consumption classes of merchandise which could probably be better produced at home and in selling our grain and cotton and tobacco crops at half price.

England has 320 millions of vassals laboring for her in India and Burmah, she has forty millions elsewhere, she has many millions of negroes in Africa who are virtually slaves, she has fifteen million tons of merchant shipping, a navy equal to that of any three other powers, and coaling-ports in every sea and clime. Unless we propose to reduce our own working class to the wages and condition of the Indian ryot, the African slave, or the British pauper, we cannot compete with an industry that is built upon such a stupendous mass of iniquity, or which has attained such gigantic dimensions. And if both economical considerations and merciful feelings warn us to avoid a field in which there is neither honor nor profit for us, we should be prepared to renounce the British monetary system which is fitted alone for that field. Its basis is robbery of the weak and barter with the strong; its means are a monetary system entirely subjected to the bankers and foreign merchants of London; its aim is the elevation of this sordid and cynical class to the ownership and government of the earth.

We Americans want no more of it! We demand that the government shall resume the control of money. We demand that silver shall be coined on precisely the same terms as gold, whatever those may be, and that both metals shall be subject to governmental seigniorage; we demand that the ratio of value in the coins of these metals shall be as it was before and is yet—16 for 1 of weight; we want no international treaties nor entanglements on the subject of money. In short, we demand that the Monetary Crimes of 1666, 1868, 1870 and 1873 shall be undone and the authors of the latter proclaimed and exposed to the execrations of an outraged people!