Explained: Why Warren Hastings, 18th Century governor-general of Bengal, mentioned during Trump’s impeachment trial
The first day of former US president Donald Trump’s impeachment trial on Tuesday in the Senate revolved around the constitutionality of the case before the Upper chamber voted 56-44 in favour of the trial. House impeachment managers made their case for an impeachment trial, rejecting the argument of Trump’s defence team that a president cannot be tried after he or she has left the office. Warren Hastings, the former governor-general of the British colony of Bengal, was at the centre of the argument by prosecutors while debating the constitutionality of impeachment trial.
Who was Warren Hastings?
Warren Hastings was the first governor of the presidency of Fort William (Bengal) and de facto governor-general of Bengal during the reign of East India Company in the 18th Century. He abolished the dual system introduced by Robert Clive, the first British governor of the Bengal presidency, in which the company had the rights to collect revenue (Diwani rights) and the Nizam, Indian rulers, had the administrative authority. Both Hastings and Clive are credited for laying the foundation of the British Empire in India.
Why was Hastings mentioned during the Senate trial?
The lead House impeachment manager, Representative Jamie Raskin, highlighted that the framers of the American Constitution borrowed the idea of this institution from Britain. Allegations of corruption and misconduct were rampant during Hastings’ term in Bengal and after he returned to England, the former official was impeached by British House of Commons over mismanagement and corruption. However, Hastings was later acquitted by the House of Lords.
Raskin said that every single impeachment of a British government official that occurred during the lifetime of the framers of the Constitution concerned a former official. Hastings impeachment trial in the UK House of Commons took place during the Constitutional Convention in the old Pennsylvania State House in Philadelphia where framers had gathered to write the Constitution.
“It was the impeachment of Warren Hastings, the former governor-general of the British colony of Bengal, and a corrupt guy. The framers knew all about it, and they strongly supported the impeachment. In fact, the Hastings case was invoked by name at the convention,” said Raskin.
The lead House impeachment manager argued that Hastings’ case played a key role in the adoption of “the high crimes and misdemeanours standard” since it was the only specific impeachment case discussed at the convention. He further stated that not a single framer raised a concern when Hastings impeachment was held up as a model for writing the American Constitution.