The Road to Supremacy
It was fondly hoped in Britain, and not least by Pitt and Dundas, that the India Act of 1784 had established the Company's Indian state on a stable and unaggressive basis. The Company, it was hoped, would carry on its trade in peace, avoiding both expansion and entanglements in Indian wars. After all, trade was the object of its existence, and there could be no profits with constant war. But events both in Europe and in India soon ruled otherwise. Supremacy came within forty years of the passing of the act--so soon, indeed, that many have supposed that it was a deliberate design from the beginning. Here we shall try to explain the interplay of forces which made this result, at first reprobated by Parliament, inevitable in the circumstances of the day and finally welcomed as a great achievement.
The years from Clive's final return to Britain in 1767 to supremacy in 1818 may be divided into five phases. In the first, up to 1785, the Company Bahadur or Company state struggled to existence. In the second, from 1785 to 1798, there was a breathing space and the hoped-for stability. The third, from 1798 to 1805, saw Wellesley's forward move under the influence of a renewed French danger which passed into an abortive attempt at supremacy. The fourth phase, from 1805 to 1813, marked an interlude or standstill during the height of the struggle with Napoleon. These years saw such a deterioration in the conditions of Indian-controlled India that the final phase of planned supremacy, from 1813 to 1818, became inevitable. The decisive point in this development was Wellesley's attack on Mysore in 1798, and this, significantly enough, was the direct result of the revived French menace. The general factors we have to consider on the British side were the desire for trade and profits, and the fear of France. The desire for trade pointed to peace, and the better controlled the Company's servants were the more peaceful its policy was likely to be. Connected with this desire for trade was