General Charles Cornwallis
1st Marquess, Bristish statesman
1738 - 1805
Charles Cornwallis, British General and statesman, whose most important service of a long and distinguished career was his term as governor general of India (1786-1793), was born in London on December 31, 1738, the eldest son of the 1st Earl Cornwallis (1700-1762). He entered the army in 1757, serving in Germany during the Seven Years' War. After 1765 he took some part in politics, and was a firm opponent of the policy of taxation of the American colonies; despite this he went to America as major general in 1776, becoming second-in-command the next year.
He was the best of the English generals in America, gaining some victories against the colonists. His southern expedition of 1780-1781 began successfully, but on October 19, 1781, he was forced to surrender at Yorktown, Virginia, and the English cause was irretrievably lost. The defeat did little damage to his reputation in England; he was several times offered the post of governor general in India, and finally accepted it in 1786 on condition that the powers of the office were enlarged.
Cornwallis' government in India was notable for a series of administrative reforms, culminating in the set of regulations of 1793 known as the "Cornwallis Code." His reforms were mainly based on the work of others, but their comprehensiveness and the smoothness with which they were effected were due to his tact and determination. The changes in the administration of justice and of the revenue have been criticized, especially the permanent revenue settlement for Bengal which Cornwallis recommended against the advice of experts. But his reform of the civil service introduced a general spirit of disinterested administration in India, and the connection between commerce and government was finally broken. In external affairs, the aggression of Tipu Sahib forced Cornwallis to contravene the official policy of nonintervention in native states, and make an alliance with the Marathas and the nizam of the Deccan. In 1791 Cornwallis personally took command of the forces against Tipu, and by a successful campaign in which Bangalore was captured and Seringapatam besieged, he forced Tipu to make peace.
Cornwallis returned to England in 1793, received a marquessate and was made master general of the ordnance with cabinet rank. He was viceroy of Ireland from 1798 to 1801, and ended the serious rebellion of 1798, proclaiming a general amnesty and defeating the French army of invasion. He strongly supported William Pitt's policy of union, and his popularity with both Roman Catholics and Orangemen helped carry it in Ireland. When George III refused to grant Roman Catholic emancipation in 1801, Cornwallis resigned. He was appointed plenipotentiary to negotiate the peace of Amiens in 1801. In 1805 he reluctantly returned to India to replace Lord Wellesley, but he died at Ghazipur on October 5, 1805.
Letters of Surrender at Yorktown.
Cornwallis' Letter to General Clinton.
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