« ZurückWeiter »
the only possible excuse for it is this the prevention of smuggling. The next year, he introduces a new measure, the obvious and undeniable tendency of which is, to encourage all illicit trade to an extent hitherto unknown in any period of our history; for by means of this new intercourse, no laws, no watchfulness, no penalties will have power enough to prevent the revival of every sort of contraband trade. I shall mention only a single article or two, to shew the facility which these new resolutions will give to the exercise of smuggling. At present, so anxious are we to guard against the illicit importation of French gloves, that we have had recourse to a prevention of unexampled severity. Besides the penalty, which is uncommonly high, the person in whose custody suspected gloves are found, is obliged to prove that they were made in this country. The onus probandi lies upon the person accused, an instance of severity unknown to the general penal provision of our statutes. When this communication .. with Ireland is opened, what will be the consequence? The person has only to say that they are Irish. It will be in vain that you call upon him to prove that they are manufactured there and thus you will have articles of every kind poured in upon you. Silk stockings is another article of the same kind. Distinctions will be impracticable; and every species of light goods, of small package and easy transfer, will flow in upon us, to the ruin of our manufactures.
I shall conclude, Sir, with supplicating the committee to take time to deliberate, and to inquire fully before they decide on this measure, which must make an entire revolution in the whole system of British commerce. We have seen the bene, fits of delay. Let us be wise from experience. It is impossible that Ireland can object to our desiring a sober deliberation on a subject so infinitely important. It is said, that Ireland is out of temper, and that she has been irritated almost beyond her bearing. Ministers are answerable for this irritation, if such irritation exists. The violences which they committed in Ireland deserve the most marked and general reprobation. Their attacks on the liberty of the press; their endeavours to prevent the legal and quiet meetings of counties to deliberate on the best peaceable means of amending their deficient representation; their proceeding against men by summary attachment: all were violences which, perhaps, may have inflamed Ireland, and now ministers are desirous of avoiding the consequences of imprudent insult by imprudent concession. But let us be cautious how we assist them in a design which may eventually turn out as insidious to that country as it would be ruinous to this; a design which may, perhaps, involve in it another commutation, and that a more.
or the casu should certwhen they aPhabits or
pernicious one, even than that well-known and universallyexecrated measure which now bears that name--a commutation of English commerce for Irish slavery. · Let us remember, that all the manufacturing communities of Great Britain are avowedly against the system. So general an union never took place as on this occasion. So large a number of petitions never were presented from the manufacturers on any former occasion; and what is still more remarkable, there is but one solitary instance of any manufacturing body having expressed a syllable in its favour. The voice of the whole country is, therefore, against the resolutions. It is within the memory of all men, that sometime ago the right honourable gentleman was an advocate for the voice of the people -6 What,” said he, when a number of petitions were presented against the India bill which I had the honour to move, “will you persist in this bill against the voice of the people? Will you not hearken to the petitions upon your table?" It was ever my opinion, Sir, that petitions should be heard, and most seriously attended to; but it was not my opinion, that they should always be implicitly complied with. A distinction should be made between petitions, as temporary circumstances, or the casualties under which they are presented, shall suggest; and I should certainly be at all times more inclined to pay respect to them, when they applied to subjects of which the petitioners could, from their habits or otherwise, be considered as competent judges -- much more so, beyond all question, than when they spoke merely from vague representations, and on topics with which they had no means of being conversant. The right honourable gentleman is of a contrary opinion. It is only when they come against the India bill that he thinks them worthy of nctice. When hundreds of thousands come to our bar, deprecating the countenance of a system, which, from their own knowledge, they pronounce to be ruinous to the manufactures of England, he treats them with something that merits a severer term than disdain. Mr. Wedgwood, Mr. Richardson, Mr. Walker, and the other great manufacturers, and who, from opulence and every other consideration, are worthy to be ranked with the best men in this House, have received from the right honourable gentleman every species of ill treatment and indignity that the lower or most degraded characters could receive, or the most contemptuous and violent could bestow. Their intelligence on their respective manufactures ought to give weight to their petitions as well as to their evidence, and to ensure them, not only a decent hearing, but a most attentive regard. The right honourable gentleman, however, considers the voice of the people only as sacred and commanding where it is ex101 erted against things upon which the petitioners are not competent to decide. For instance; if when these gentlemen who, I dare say, during the rage of opposition to the India bill, also signed petitions against it — were at the bar, they had been asked if they objected to that bill, and they had answered in the affirmative, would their testimony in the one case have been deserving of the same notice as on the interests of their particular manufactures ? Surely not. In the one case they spoke from what they heard, or from what they conjectured; in the other, from what they knew. Can the committee think that they know more of the Manchester manufacture, than Mr. Richardson and Mr. Walker? — of the iron manufacture, than the gentlemen that we have heard this day?- and of every other manufacture, than the persons who have spent their lives in the study, and embarked their fortunes in the progress? If we do know better, let us in the name of heaven discharge our consciences, and speak as we think, against those manufacturers; but at any rate let us delibcrate, let us take time to think before we act. Our decision will not be less efficacious for being the result of inquiry; nor is it possible that any evil can arise from a delay which affords some interval for decent discussion.
Before I sit down, Mr. Gilbert, it may not be amiss to suggest to gentlemen, that the present is a subject from which, above all others, private partialities or personal attachments ought to be totally excluded. This is not a question of personal struggle between man and man,'a contest for power, nor the mere war of individual ambition. It is a question of life and death for the country --- not for the official existence of this or that minister, but for the political existence of Great Britain herself. In the consideration of such a question, therefore, let gentlemen strip themselves at once of prejudices and predilections — let them guard their minds equally against an undue bias of every denomination, whether of political sympathy with the minister, or of attachment to opposition whether of individual respect for gentlemen on that side of the House, or on this — let them recollect that the minister has, by his conduct this day, demonstrated to the House, that implicit confidence in him is as dangerous as it is absurd; that infallibility is no more the prerogative of the right honourable gentleman than of the rest of the world. He has introduced sixteen new propositions, the general object of which is to correct and to qualify his original system, and the particular aim of some of which is to change the very essence or vital nature of his previous plan. Let us suppose, then, that this principle of implicit confidence had prevailed in the minds of gen tlemen, when this system was originally proposed to the House, if they had acceded to the propositions, in the shape and formation in which they were at first presented and that it was for a long time the minister's intention to obtrude them upon this House with all their original infirmities upon their head, is well known to us and to the world — what would have followed? Why, evidently this -- that this confidence so reposed, would have led gentlemen to do that, which in the opinion of the minister himself would have been wrong. Let this example, therefore, of the demonstrated and acknowledged peril which results from blind predilection and the total resignation of personal judgment, warn gentlemen how they fall into the same error a second time. The minister himself tells them this day, that they would have been in the grossest and most pernicious error in which the legislators of a great country were ever involved, if they had trusted entirely to him on a former occasion. I will take upon me to tell them that their error will not be less gross, nor less pernicious, if they trust him too implicitly on this.
I shall only add, Sir, that he who can understand so complicated and so extensive a subject upon so slight and transient a view of it, possesses an intellect not common to the general body of mankind, and which certainly cannot be the general characteristic of this House. For one, I can truly say, he must possess an understanding of infinitely more quickness and acumen than any to which I pretend. He that votes for the propositions without understanding them, is guilty of such a desertion of his duty and his patriotism as no subsequent penitence can possibly atone for — he sacrifices the commerce of Great Britain at the shrine of private partiality, and sells his country for the whistling of a name. The minister who exacts, and the member who submits to so disgraceful an obedience, are equally criminal. The man who, holding the first seat in his majesty's council, can stoop to so disgraceful and fallacious a canvas, as to rest his ministerial existence on the decision of a great national question like this, must be wholly lost to all sense of dignity, of character, or manly patriotism; and he who acquiesces in it from any other inducement but that of cautious and sincere conviction, surrenders every claim to the rank and estimation of an honest and independent member of parliament, and sinks into the meanness and degradation of a mere ministerial instrument, unworthy the situation of a senator, and disgraceful to the name of an Englishman.
After a debate which lasted till five o'clock in the morning, the committee divided on the question of adjournment moved by Lord North: Yeas 155: Noes 281. The first resolution was then agreed to.
May 19. The House having resolved itself into a committee to take into further consideration the Irish propositions, Mr. Pitt moved the third resolution : viz. “ That towards carrying into full effect so desirable a settlement, it is fit and proper that all articles, not the growth or manufacture of Great Britain or Ireland, should be imported into each kingdom from the other reciprocally, under the same regulations, and at the same duties, if subject to duties, to which they are liable when imported directly from the place of their growth, product, or manufacture; and that all duties origi. nally paid on importation into either country respectively, except on arrack and foreign brandy, and on rum, and all sorts of strong waters, not imported from the British colonies in the West Indies or America, shall be fully drawn back on exportation to the other." The resolution was strongly opposed by Lord North, Mr. Burke, and Mr. Pelham; and supported by Mr. W. Grenville, Mr. Pitt, Mr. Wilberforce, and Mr. Dundas. Mr. Sheridan observed, that as several fresh petitions had come in, and gentlemen not sufficiently acquainted with the subject would wish for more time, he would move, that the chairman report progress, and ask leave to sit again. - When the question was going to be put,
Mr. Fox said, that after having expressed his gentiments on the propositions so fully on a former day, and after hearing his noble friend (Lord North) discuss them so ably that night, he should not have troubled the committee again, if some observations had not fallen, in the course of the debate, from gentlemen on the other side of the House, directed so personally to himself, that not to take some notice of them would be pleading guilty to the charge. It was not without some astonishment that he heard the propositions defended on the score of their popularity, and that astonishment was increased when he reflected on the quarter from whence that defence came. The honourable gentleman, who was representative for the county of York, and who could not be unacquainted with the sentiments of his constituents on the present measure, as they instructed him to vote against it, had expressed the disapprobation of his numerous and respectable constituents in the same breath that he asserted the popularity of the measure. That circumstance alone should have instructed him better, if he was not to be informed by the petitions which crowded the table, containing the signature of some hundred thousands. There was a time when the opinions of the people were apparently collected from a less numerous and less voluminous body of evidence. There was a time when collected opinions were opposed to measures: and when those opinions were considered decisive on a question to which the epithet of