TAPSA: Zak leonard, PhD candidate, History
From the late 1830s onwards, Quakers, radicals, abolitionists, and free traders increasingly sought to ameliorate the condition of British subjects at home and abroad who suffered at the hands of monopolistic forces. Articulating a rights-based imperial constitutionalism that interwove a defense of English liberties and natural law, these reformers observed that Indian peasant cultivators, the British working classes, and native princes alike were degraded by forms of political, or “virtual,” slavery. Representing the economic and political monopolization of power as an intra-imperial evil provided the reformers with a unifying principle for their agitation. Moreover, it allowed them to envision a future in which India could be thoroughly integrated within the broader empire as an equal trading partner and governed as a sub-polity under metropolitan legal protection. But despite these advances, officials in the upper echelon of the East India Company bureaucracy repudiated calls for greater transparency. Institutionalized obstacles continued to obviate systematic reform and hinder the establishment of a functional imperial civil society. This paper will focus on two particular issues that precipitated debate over Indians’ subject rights: the causes of the 1837-38 Agra famine and the dethronement of Pratap Singh, the raja of the princely state of Satara, in 1839. In doing so, it will engage with recent scholarship on constitutionalism, the creation of scandal, and the revival of Burkean critiques of colonial malfeasance.