prev It Happened on JULY 10 next


[Above: Macaulay, frontpiece of the Historical Essays of Thomas Babington Macaulay, selected and edited by George A. Watrous. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell & Co., 1901. public domain.]

HONORABLE PEOPLE IN BRITAIN recognized that it was wrong for their nation to exploit India and to misgovern it. Ideally, India should be ruled by Indians. 

On this day, 10 July 1833, a member of Parliament rose to express that view. Thomas Babington Macaulay was strongly influenced by Christian ideals and by the Whig ideas of liberty and balanced government. His father had been one of the “Clapham Sect,” a group behind many philanthropic causes, especially the effort to abolish the slave trade.  

Most of Macaulay’s speech was devoted to defending a proposed arrangement by which the India Company and the British crown would act as checks and balances on each other in the management of India. “A representative constitution India cannot at present have. And we have therefore, I think, given her the best constitution of which she is capable.” Among the features of the arrangement, company employees would not be allowed to take gifts and bribes but, in compensation, would be granted increased pay. Hires would be through civil service tests. Rule would be in part through Indian figureheads. Macaulay also called for a law code whose principles could apply to all of India despite its variety of languages and religions. The last paragraphs of the speech expounded an intent to educate Indians to administer their own government. 

Britain had wrested control of India largely through the genius of Robert Clive at a time when the country was in complete disarray. Clive, a junior clerk without military training, had acted decisively and with innate military sense to prevent the subcontinent falling to France. Macaulay would immortalize Clive in an 1840 essay. To Parliament he argued, 

In what state, then, did we find India? And what have we made India? We found society throughout that vast country in a state to which history scarcely furnishes a parallel. . . . All the evils of despotism, and all the evils of anarchy, pressed at once on that miserable race. 

British rule, he asserted, had brought a measure of peace and regular administration—but with it had come greed, heavy taxation, and petty tyranny.

Less than one-third of the members of Parliament listened to Macaulay’s India speech. Despite the speech’s low attendance, England’s evangelicals adopted it as their position. 

During the next four years, Macaulay had the chance to test some of his ideas as an agent in India. He developed an educational system that taught the modern sciences (both hard and soft). Although he overemphasized Western culture to the neglect of India’s impressive poetical, mathematical, and architectural accomplishments, the system prepared Indians for civil service. Macaulay also, almost single-handedly, drafted a law code that became the mainstay of India for decades. His code provided many illustrations drawn from history and literature to help judges apply it.

Nothing I found in Macaulay’s writings suggests he ever yielded himself to the authority of Christ. Yet ideals of justice and limited power so imbued his thinking on India that Christians of the highest character were able to get behind him.

Dan Graves

----- ----- -----

For more about Christianity in India, read Christian History #87, India: A Faith of Many Colors

Subscribe to daily emails

Containing today’s events, devotional, quote and stories