The Company-State: Corporate Sovereignty and the Early Modern Foundations of the British Empire in India

By Philip J. Stern | Go to book overview

8
“The Day of Small Things”
Civic Governance in the New Century

The United English East India Company that emerged in 1709, despite its new constitutional footing in Britain, would ultimately have to confront the very same issues in Asia as its forebears: how to defend and expand the jurisdiction and authority derived from a mixed corporate constitution; encourage the population, prosperity, and power of its settlements; and increase its revenue in support of a self-sustaining political system in Asia. First, however, there was the no small matter of uniting these two Companies, and if the conflict between the two in London reminded Macaulay of Romeo and Juliet, the struggle that ensued in India seemed more like something out of Richard III.

Ironically, when the Admiralty-appointed, pirate-hunting squadron for which the old Company had lobbied so strenuously finally arrived at Surat in 1699, it came carrying Ambassador William Norris, the presidents for the new Company’s three planned factories in India, and their entourages. Norris and the other new Company officials immediately sought to assert their authority over all the English in India, as the old Company’s factors at Surat put it, by any means “that they could invent with the assistance of hell.”1 “Whether projected from Wanstead, Leadenhall Street, Over the Channell, or evilly agitated by unthinking Fools,” the new Company’s representatives regarded the “undigested politicks of the Old Companys factors” with a virulent contempt reminiscent of the language of interlopers, indicting them of offenses ranging from private interest and corruption to apostasy, Jacobitism and treason.2 To many in the old Company’s leadership, such language only confirmed that the ambassador and others were simply pompous interlopers. In a somewhat literal sense, they had a point. Edward Littleton, the president and consul destined for the new factory at Hugli in Bengal, was the same Edward Littleton who a decade earlier had been recalled from India in an arrest warrant from Charles II. John Pitt, the

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