Thoughts on economics and liberty

A misunderstood liberal: Thomas B. Macaulay #1

I've been having a debate with an FTI member on Facebook regarding Macaulay. This debate can't be resolved in one blog post so I'll begin with a part of it first.

I'm posting below an image that has been widely circulated within India, and has been used to show Macaulay in particularly bad light. It says:

"I have travelled across the length and breadth of India and I have not seen one person who is a begger, who is a thief. Such wealth I have seen in this country, such high moral values, people of such caliber, that I do not think we would ever counquer this country, unless we break the very backbone of this nation, which is her spiritual and cultural heritage, and therefore, I propose that we replace her old and ancient education system, her culture, for if the Indians think that all that is foreign and English is good and greater than their own, they will loose their self esteem, their native culture and they will become what we want them, a truly dominated nation.” – see image below.

I received this first in December 2006, conducted some research and concluded that this is false. So before I revert to the main debate and assess Macaulay in a wholistic manner, let me first dispose off this image and quote (above). This material is patently false

Macaulay's 1835 minute is found at:

or at:

or at:

or at:'s%20Minutes%20on%20Education.doc

or at:

I invite anyone to show me this language in the ORIGINAL minute. [Addendum. I just discovered that Shantanu Bhagwat, another FTI member, had done similar research in June 2007 – before FTI was launched – with very similar findings: Also here: See also: Or this one: or this:

Also see the bottom of this Wikiquote page – it explains the potential origin of this false quotation.

I trust this closes the needless vilification of Macaulay.]

What does the minute actually say?

My remarks below are derived from a reading of the minute. 

Macaulay was perceptive of Indian skills and capabilities and market needs, and argued in favour of what Indians demanded, namely more of English and less of Sanskrit. He did not force English down our throats. Indians were paying serious money to be taught English and that was the reason he felt Indians needed to be taught more English. Those who were taught Sanskrit came to the government begging for jobs – they were entirely useless for any practical purpose, even then.

In 1835 he discussed the Charter of 1813 which laid aside "A sum … apart 'for the revival and promotion of literature, and the encouragement of the learned natives of India, and for the introduction and promotion of a knowledge of the sciences among the inhabitants of the British territories.'" – a subsidy for Sanskirt and Arabic. The 'ghastly' East India company was subsidising Indian languages even in its early days, once the corrupt times of Robert Clive were over.

He argued cogently, and in my view successfully, that "the natives are desirous to be taught English, and are not desirous to be taught Sanscrit or Arabic". He also extolled the capabilities of Indians to pick up English very well: "it is unusual to find, even in the literary circles of the Continent, any foreigner who can express himself in English with so much facility and correctness as we find in many Hindoos." He proved that England needed to increase education in English and stop subsidising Sanskrit and Arabic.

Under no circumstance did he allege anywhere that he wanted to break the backbone of India. That is a very mischievous piece of false propaganda indeed. 

Other issue about Macaulay

There is one other issue about Macaulay that I've been invited to address:

Lord Macaulay apparently wrote this in a letter to his father, Oct 12 1836: "Our English schools are flourishing wonderfully. We find itdifficult,–indeed, in some places impossible,–to provide instruction for all who want it. At the single town of Hoogly fourteen hundred boys are learning English…..  The effect of this education on the Hindoos is prodigious. No Hindoo, who has received an English education, ever remains sincerely attached to his religion Some continue to profess it as matter of policy; but many profess themselves pure Deists, and some embrace Christianity It is my firm belief that, if our plans of education are followed up, there will not be a single idolater among the respectable classes in Bengal thirty years hence. Andthis will be effected without any efforts to proselytise; without the smallest interference with religious liberty; merely by thenatural operation of knowledge and reflection. I heartily rejoice in the prospect." 

I'll deal with this and indeed, the entire Macaulay contributions, in a separate blog post. The first thing I've got to do is to check the authenticity of this extract.


I've now uploaded the scanned extract from the original minute (published in 1876 by Macaulay's nephew), here (2.2MB).

Koenraaad Elst on Macaulay



See my FB post here.

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Sanjeev Sabhlok

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4 thoughts on “A misunderstood liberal: Thomas B. Macaulay #1
  1. Nitin Gulhane

    Thanks Sanjeev for the discussion on Macauley. One of the most reviled figure in, ironically, English speaking Indians.
    The world is full of conspiracy theorists. I do not know what Macauley had in his mind and
    I wasn't privy to his discussions with his bosses. However, I do not beleive that he possessed
    superhuman power to meticulously plan the future of millions of people.
    He was a paid employee of British empire and like most employees he spent more time remembering his old girlfriends than the job at hand. His achievements and his loyalty to British empire is grossly overrated.
    Yes, whatever he did had long lasting and irrevocable effects on Indian society and it is entirely
    possible that English got imposed on India due to Macauley.
    He was instrumental in bringing English education in India but aparently it was Indians who lapped it up so as to be able to land a coveted Government job.
    However, people who find faults with Macauley and try to paint him as a chief architect behind deterioration of Indian languages, are just looking for scapegoats to hide their incompetence.
    Half of my life has gone into hearing/reading/watching about how bad British were and how they destroyed our country…remaining half was spent in improving my English.
    Claims like British took all of our Gold and all of our wealth are silly. Yes, their trading policies had serious impact on our economy some 50 years ago but we need to keep things in perspective.
    We have more gold in India than any other country. We have more money coming in from Britain and US than British ever took away (probably even after considering inflation).
    IMO, British gave us more than took away from us. They might have taken Tea and Indigo and gems and cotton but they did introduce us to industrialization and gave us the buildings that are still standing (with our labor, of course).
    Macauley is said to be staunch Christian and so his dislike for idol worship is understandable…Afterall, he was a child of his own time and not having religious biases are a fairly new phenomenon.

  2. Vijay Mohan

    The piece can be declared a fraud by going through Vivekananda's speech
    From Vivekananda's Speech 
    That is why India is populated by three hundred millions of beggars

    Christians must always be ready for good criticism, and I hardly think that you will mind if I make a little criticism. You Christians, who are so fond of sending out missionaries to save the soul of the heathen — why do you not try to save their bodies from starvation? In India, during the terrible famines, thousands died from hunger, yet you Christians did nothing. You erect churches all through India, but the crying evil in the East is not religion — they have religion enough — but it is bread that the suffering millions of burning India cry out for with parched throats. They ask us for bread, but we give them stones. It is an insult to a starving people to offer them religion; it is an insult to a starving man to teach him metaphysics. In India a priest that preached for money would lose caste and be spat upon by the people. I came here to seek aid for my impoverished people, and I fully realised how difficult it was to get help for heathens from Christians in a Christian land.


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