Only 130 members of Parliament (MPs) were present when Thomas Babington Macaulay rose to speak on this day, July 26, 1833. The Indian question was a yawner to the average MP and so only a few had bothered to show up. But those few listened politely; Thomas was well-liked.
On the surface of it, his speech did not sound particularly Christian. Its gist was that Britain had a moral responsibility to give good government to India--and to Thomas that meant a government with checks and balances. Checks and balances could best be created by balancing the power of the Indian Company with the power of the crown, he thought.
While the Indian Company had done much evil in its earlier years, Thomas pointed out that it had also achieved several social improvements. These were all the more notable in light of India's history. Its home-grown governments had been dreadful.
In the future, the Company should hire better candidates through civil service examinations, said Thomas. He warned against racism.
And so the speech went. Thomas took a practical view and made practical suggestions. The purpose of the reforms he was proposing was to create a nation which could govern itself. Ultimately, India must be restored to Indian rule.
Thomas spoke from experience. He was a veteran of India. Almost by himself, he had created a criminal code and a code of criminal procedure for India.
Despite the absence of a single direct reference to Christ, the speech had Christian origins. The tack Thomas took had first been proclaimed by Charles Grant, an administrator in India and a leader of the Evangelicals. In 1792, Grant wrote a book on moral conditions in Britain's Asian empire and how they could be improved. Vishal Mangalwadi, a modern Indian philosopher, says about the book "...Grant argued the Christian case that England must see its relation with India as a divinely appointed trustee. The case rested on the theological presupposition [a presupposition is a belief or principle that is accepted before one begins to argue] that because God was sovereign, the British rule over India could not be seen as a mere accident of history. It had to be seen as a part of the purpose of God to save all mankind, including the Indians."
Thomas sided with the evangelical wing of Parliament and his speech echoed their line. His father, Zachary Macaulay, had been a member of the so-called Clapham Sect that had done so much to abolish slavery and correct Britain's social wrongs.
Although Thomas never said much about his personal religious beliefs, he believed that Britain would have to give an account to a Supreme Judge for its behavior in India. His premise was that we should do to others as we would want them to do to us if the situation was reversed.
The case Thomas set forth in Parliament on this day became the position of the Evangelicals in Parliament until India was finally granted its independence after World War II.
- "Macaulay, Thomas Babingdon." Dictionary of National Biography. Edited by Leslie Stephen and Sidney Lee. London: Oxford University Press, 1921-1996.
- Mangalwadi, Vishal. India, the Grand Experiment. Farnham, Surrey, England: Pippa Rann Books, 1997.
- Trevelyan, G. Otto. The Life and Letters of Lord Macaulay. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1876.
Last updated June, 2007