Abbildungen der Seite


were particularly owing. The right hon. House, a magistrate should be of opinion gentleman had said, that these meetings that I am irregular, he is to have the were not to be prevented, they were only power to stop me: he may say— The to be regulated. “ Attend," said Mr. cause which you allege for your griev. Fox, “to the regulation. I thought Iance is unfounded; you excite, by what knew the rights of man--aye, and the you say, jealousies and discontents that rights of Englishmen. (Here was a pro- are unfounded ;' and if I say what in his digious cry of Hear! hear!] What, said judgment or his wishes ought to be conhe, that is a slip you suppose. The rights cealed, he is to have a power to stop me, of man is a sentence without a meaning and to treat me as a rioter, if I do not Do you say that men have no natural obey him. I ask again, if this can be rights? If so, Englishmen's rights can called a meeting of free people? Did ever have no existence; this House would a free people meet so? Did ever a free have no existence. The rights of man, I state exist so? Did any man ever hyposay, are clear; man has natural rights ; thetically state the possibility of the existand he who denies it is ignorant of the ence of freedom under such restrictions ? basis of a free government; is ignorant Good God Almighty, Sir! is it possible of the best principle of our constitution." that the feelings of the people of this

The people, he had always thought, country should be thus insulted ? Is it had a right to discuss the topics from possible to make the people of this counwhich their grievances arose. În all in- try believe that this plan is any thing but stances, they had a right to complain by a total annihilation of their liberty?" petition, and to remonstrate to either The right hon. gentleman had next ad. House of parliament, or, if they pleased, verted to a bill which had been passed to to the king exclusively; but now, it seems, prevent the assembling of persons for the they are not to do so, unless notice be discussion of questions on the Lord's day, given to a magistrate, that he may be- from which he was to bring in a bill to come a witness of their proceedings. prevent the discussion of questions on There were to be witnesses of every word any day; and this, he said, was to be that every man spoke. This magistrate, applicable to all cases where money was this jealous witness, was to form his opi- to be taken. Why all questions were to nion on the propriety of the proceedings ; be prohibited where money was to be and if he should think that any thing that taken, merely on an allegation that such was said had a tendency to sedition, he questions might produce mischief, was, had

power to arrest the man who uttered he confessed, beyond his skill to under. it. Not only so, he was to have the stand. But this was not all; it was to be power of dissolving the meeting at his own applicable, it seemed, to places where no will. “Say at once," said Mr. Fox, money was to be taken, because, in truth, “ that a free constitution is no longer suit- persons might be admitted by means of able to us ; say at once, in a manly manner, tickets; and they must not amount to a that upon an ample review of the state number beyond a certain one which the miof the world, a free constitution is not nister should be pleased to insert in his bill, fit for you; conduct yourselves at once unless duly licensed by a magistrate.- He as the senators of Denmark did; lay would again ask-Was this, or was it not, ta down

your freedom, and acknowledge and prevent all political discussion whatever? accept of despotism. But do not mock Let them show him when this had obthe understandings and the feelings of tained since the revolution, or at any mankind, by telling the world that you time when this country could be called are free-by telling me that, if out of the free. The people are to be prevented House, for the purpose of expressing my from discussing public topics publicly: sense of the public administration of this they are to be prevented from discussing country, of the calamities which this war bas them privately. If then, without this occasioned, I state a grievance by petition, private intercourse or public debate, the or make any declaration of my sentiments, grievances of this country are to be felt, which I always had a right to do; but which and are such as to call forth a general deif I now do, in a manner that may appear sire that they should be redressed, what to a magistrate to be seditious, I am to are the public to do? They must seod, be subjected to penalties which hitherto it seems, to a magistrate, and under his were unknown to the laws of England. good leave they are to be permitted to If in stating any of these things out of the proceed. [Here there was a cry from the Treasury-bench of “No, no!”] “I do | tude; or were libels suffered to pass withnot mcan," said Mr. Fox, “to overstate out notice ? On the contrary, were not this power, God knows there is no occa- both at that time, punished with an extrasion for that, for there seems to be suffi. ordinary degree of rigour? Is it the incient care taken of magisterial authority tention of ministers, by these arbitrary in every step of this proceeding. Behold, measures to bring the country into the then, the state of a free-born Englishman! same disastrous situation in which it was Before he can discuss any topic which plunged during that unhappy reign? It involves his liberty, he must send to a might have been hoped, that the impres. magistrate who is to attend the discussion. sive lessons of modern times, and of events That magistrate cannot prevent such still fresh in their consequences, had not meeting ; but he can prevent the speak. yet been forgotten. Look to France ing, because he can allege, that what is before the period of her revolution. Was said tends to disturb the peace and tran- it the facility of public meetings, or the quillity of this realm.

freedom of discussion granted to the sudSir, I hope this bill will never come ject, that tended to produce that great into this House. I am not friendly to any change? On the contrary, was it not the thing that will produce violence.' Those absolute prerogative of the king? Was it who know me will not impute to me any not the arbitrary power lodged in minissuch desire; but I do hope that this bill ters? Was it not the oppressive privilege will produce an alarm; that while we have of issuing Lettres de Cachet against all the power of assembling, the people will who dared to utter their sentiments, and assemble; that while they have the power, complain of existing grievances, that exthey will not surrender it, but come for- cited the indignation of the people, and ward and state their abhorrence of the accelerated the downfall of the monarchy? principle of this proceeding; and those If, therefore, one view on which the prewho do not, I pronounce to be traitors to sent measure is held out to your accepttheir country. Good God, Sir, what mad. ance, be in order to prevent the troubles ness, what frenzy has overtaken the au- arising from the frequency of popular asthors of this measure! I will suppose for semblies, on that very ground ought the a moment that the only object which they friends of peace and of order to resist the have in view is the preventing a revolution adoption of the measure. In countries in this country. But that they should where men may openly state their grievhave proceeded upon a plan which has no ances and boldly claim redress, the effect regard for the liberty of the people, no of their complaints and remonstrances regard for the glorious efforts of our an- may, indeed, for a time be obstructed by cestors, no regard for their maxims, no the operation of ministerial corruption esteem for the principles and the conduct and intrigue ; but perseverance must ultiwhich have made us what we are, or ra- mately be effectua procuring them rether, if this bill be countenanced, what we

lief. But if


all legal means were, is to me astonishing! For to pro- of obtaining that object, if you silence receed thus, in order to suppress or prevent | monstrance and stifle complaint, you then popular tumults, appears to me to be the leave no other alternative but force and most desperate infatuation. Good God, violence. These are means so dreadful in Sir! We have seen and have heard of re

their effects that it may be matter of quesvolutions in different states. Were they tion whether any good they produce can owing to the freedom of popular opinions? possibly compensate for the evils with Were they owing to the facility of popular which they are necessarily attended; such meetings ? No, Sir, they were owing to as scarcely even the best cause the reverse of these ; and therefore I say, can justify. Let us examine a little if we wish to avoid the danger of such re- closely the argument on which so much volutions, we should put ourselves in a stress is laid, namely, the danger that state as different from them as possible. may arise from a popular discussion of What are we now doing? Putting our grievances. If the pretext of grievances selves in a condition nearly resembling be groundless, and not warranted by any the periods when these revolutions hap- immediate pressure, the more it is dispened. In the reign of Charles 1st, the cussed, the less effect it will have in ex. most interesting period to which we can citing discontent. But if you preclude look in the history of this country, was these political humours, if I may so call freedom of speech indulged to any lati- them, from having a vent, you then leave

you take


no alternative but unconstitutional submis- / whether the liberty of the press would note sion, or actual violence. If ever there continue to exist in all its force? That exists a just cause of grievance, one or was a mode of discussing all popular toother must be adopted; a tame acquies. pics, adequate to all the purposes of the cence, incompatible with the spirit of free-community. That alone was sufficient to dom or an open resistance, subversive of maintain all the blessings of the people ; the order of government. I know that and that could not exist in a republican peace and quiet are the greatest of all form of government, in an absolute moblessings, but I know also, that rational narchy, or any sort of government which liberty is the only security for their en. he knew, except a limited monarchy, joyment. I admire the British constitu- such as we happily enjoyed. In inflaintion, because it gives scope to the people matory assemblies where sedition was to exercise the right of political discus. copiously dealt out to the multitude, sion; not merely with the permission of a there ought to be something to save the magistrate, or under the control of an exe- public mind from imbibing the insidious cutive force, but on all occasions to state, poison. The great danger of such meetin bold and plain words, the grievances ings was, that they ouly heard one side of which they feel, and the redress which a question, and their ignorance and want they desire. I have only now to express of information led them on to action. It my firm determination to oppose the bill was very fit, therefore, that they should in every stage of its progress. And in be set right on such points. If treason the first instance, I shall conceive it ne- and sedition were afloat, the current ought cessary to move for a call of the House, as to be stopped; and if the laws already in it is impossible for me to suffer a question, force were inadequate, some regulation which involves so material an alteration ought to be made to save every thing dear, of the constitution, to pass in this House, to Englishmen. without solemnly, calling on every member Mr. N. B. Halhed said ;-Mr. Speaker, to give a vote on the discussion.

There are circumstances, under which no Mr. Stanley said, that if this bill passed unwillingness of public speaking, no conve were upon the eve of a revolution. sciousness of slender abilities, will authos Montesquieu had asserted, that the surest rize a perseverance in taciturnity : when a proof of a country's verging on destruction town is besieged, the most peaceable inwas an enormous increase of penal laws. habitant must occasionally handle the The existing laws were every way suffi- musket, or line the battery. I am the last cient to arm the magistrate with proper man who would wish io press myself power for the suppression of all 'illegal forward on the notice of the House, meetings. Did ministers imagine they or take an ostensible part in the business lived in the midst of people hostile to the of the day. Educated in the most loyal constitution ? Were not the laws for the principles of love for the constitution and punishment of misdemeanors adequate respect for the crown, I have hitherto conWhy should a law be brought in to au- tented myself in the silent enjoyment of thorize magistrates to attend at public the inestimable privileges of a free-born micetings? Did they not attend? Could Englishman, and a warrantable hope that they not, as Englishmen, attend and de. I should preserve them undiminished to clare their free opinions on any subjects my latest hour. The continuance of propounded at any public meetings ? lle those hopes, and of that enjoyment, is so considered the bill as a libel on the loyalty inseparably linked with the question ac; of Englishmen, and a measure which tually before the House, that I am persuaded would make him abhor the authors of it our resolution of this day will, in one way for the rest of his life.

or the other, decide upon them for ever. Sir W. Pulteney said, that the greatest I have therefore applied myself with all jealously ought to exist in the minds of the diligence I am capable of to the conthe people at any infringement of their sideration of the subject of our present deprivileges, but gentlemen would do well bate, and I hope gentlemen will do me to try, whether this consequence would the justice to acknowledge, that howattend the present measure. He agreed, ever deficient my capacity, there is not that the measure would militate against one member of this House who has better liberty, if it prevented free discussion : but pretensions for impartialicy at least of if such asseinblies as those in question judgment in a complete separation from were suppressed, he begged to know, all party attachment, and a disavowal of all political connexions whatever than concerted; and their accomplices, if they myself. I differed indeed last spring, and had any, share the same fate with themdo still most decidedly differ with the selves. But at all events with this clue, majority of this House on the subject of leading to a knowledge of the whole state the war: but there I stop. In no one in- of the case, I put it now home to every stance have I formed new attachments, or gentleman's breast, whether it was not forsaken my former private friendship, in more reasonable, more natural, and more consequence of this change of my opinions ; consonant to justice, to pursue that invesand I am now ready, and I hope I shall tigation upon the grounds of this inforever preserve that readiness, to vote and mation upon oath, than to turn shortly to divide with either side of the House, on round into a totally new path of research, which reasonableness and justice shall and shift the suspicion to a totally diffe. appear to me to preponderate.

rent quarter. In order, Sir, to form something of a I must confess, therefore, Sir, that when clear and consistent opinion of the nature I saw the third proclamation, that which and circumstances of ihe business of this is now the object of our discussion, I was day, it will not be altogether nugatory to most exceedingly surprised and alarmed. take into consideration, a distinct state- For what is the coincidence of facts on ment of the facts that have led to the which the circumstancess alluded to are measures now proposed. On the 29th affirmed to assimilate-none upon earth of October, his majesty, coming in state that I can see, but a mere proximity of to open the parliament, was assaulted date. A riotous and starving mob insult by some one or other, among a mixed his majesty, and appear even to aim at his and prodigious crowd, who threw a life on a certain day ;-a mob, evidently stone, which broke a window of the exasperated by personal sufferings of the carriage; and certainly endangered the severest nature, calling to the common life of the sovereign. There cannot be father of his people for peace and bread; any man in the whole kingdom more ready and on the day before, a peaceable assemthan myself, to acknowledge the atrocity bly of persons, who are not said or supof this act, and to consign the author or posed to be in a state of actual necessity, abettors of it to the most rigorous punish- and whose bchaviour was in every respect ment of the law. I was, therefore, ex. most tranquil and exemplary, had conveceedingly well satisfied, when I saw a pro ned to deliberate on the means of legally clamation, issued by the privy council, of- restoring their political rights. There is fering an immense, but not unfit reward, not the slightest symptom of union either for the discovery of the offender. I was in the principles or objects of the two asstill more satisfied when, by a second pro- semblies, or is it by the most distant hint clamation from an office of police, I had insinuated that this dirty-looking ostler or reason to suppose, that this wretch, though coachman out of place had been seen at not actually discovered, was at least accu- the meeting near Copenhagen-house rately identified. If it had been declared But it may be said, this meeting was neupon oath, that a dirty looking fellow, like vertheless dangerous, by instilling sedi. an ostler, had been seen to throw a stone tious or treasonable notions into the brains at the carriage, and that persons had been of an undistinguishing multitude, and so heard afterwards to compliment him on sideways, giving encouragement to the his dexterity-here one would think every blow that was actually stricken. I ask, thing that vigilance for the public weal, is there any proof of this? Is there any or concern for the life of the monarch ground for assuming it? Is it the first could suggest, would have concentrated time such an assembly has been collected all its efforts. The discovery of a shabby under the orators of this assembly, to ostler, and a coachman out of place (how- have disseminated, as it is urged, such danever cautiously they may be concealed) gerous doctrines, totally unknown, or if will hardly appear of any considerable known, have the existing laws been put in difficulty io any man who considers the force to bring them to justice ? Nothing present accuracy of intelligence, both in of the kind. Other assemblies have been government offices, and in those of the previously holden on the very, same subpolice.-Nor can it be seriously a matter ject. The same orators, whose names of doubt, but that if these people were are probably familiar to every member of discovered, their plot, if it were a plot, this House, have broached the same senwould necessarily be laid open and dis- timents at those meetings, and their speeches have been every where publish-sures they had formerly reprobated, to. ed and circulated, without a single anim- lay every possible impediment in the way adversion from any of the law officers of of a similar attack upon themselves. Conthe crown.

sidering the matter in this point of view, This, Sir, appears at the first blush so I have no hesitation whatever in declaring, singular a business, that I think it will not that the alarm so industriously spread in be amiss, if we analy it up as far as we the latter end of 1792, against the difcan go. We must then observe, that the ferent societies linked together for the grievances complained of by those against purpose of procuring parliamentary rewhom the present proclamation is imme. form, was perfectly wise, consistent, and diately directed, are such as have been natural. The method of calling out the attributed to the want of a reform in par- militia at a most unusual season, of apJiament: they are such, as pressing with prehending sundry persons, and seizing a extraordinary weight on the bulk of the voluminous mass of papers, with all the nation towards the close of a former most well-assumed trepidation of an immediate calamitous war, naturally connected the death-blow meditated against the constiidea of returning peace with that of an tution, was admirably well calculated to improved representation of the country: annihilate the most distant hopes of these And certain very able and distinguished societies in future, and coinmence a reign characters of those days so clearly exhi- of terror which no succeeding opposition bited the connexion between the profita- would have been able to shake. The ble abuses of war on the one hand, and means were ostensibly adequate to the the relaxed state of parliamentary inde- end proposed ; and the precipitation with pendence on the other, that by vigour and which the act of Habeas Corpus was susperseverance they at length drove the pended, showed the extreme eagerness war ministry from their seats, and set up of the parties to take advantage of the an administration of their own on the ba momentary paralysis of public opinion. sis of peace and reform. Far be it from What followed? . After a long lapse of me to deny that they continued to feel in time, the persons originally confined, were office the sentiments they had professed brought to their trial, under such peculiar on coming into power, or to suspect that circumstances of hardship, both as to the they did not deprecate that system of astonishing number of witnesses subpænaed hostility, which had been found so conve- against them, and the unheard-of phalanx nient to the profusion of their predeces- of professional men, drawn up in array, at sors.-But accidents will derange the the bar, that, I think, hardly any thing best-concerted plans; and though they similar can be found in the annals of manhad the skill to evade actual warfare, they kind.--I say, and I am sure many gentle. could not well avoid certain incidental ar. men who now hear me, can testify to my maments, which administered a momen- veracity, if they please, that even before tary gloss to the languishing war esta- trial these wretched victims were exultblishment. At last, Sir, the necessity of ingly condemned to the gallows. That a real and complete war, with all its train the assurance of their fate was in certain of inevitable extravagance, and official quarters perfectly proverbial ; and I now emolument, was fairly presurmised-and declare my opinion as an honest and inthen-then it was natural to look back dependent man, that if those persons had with some anxiety at the circumstances then suffered, not one of us now alive, under which their predecessors in office should ever have seen the rights of Hahad retired, and themselves acceded to beas Corpus restored to this country. possession. I am but speaking the lan- Nothing would have been required to guage of plain reason and ordinary com- keep up a perpetual necessity for the susmon sense, when I assert, that if in one in pension, but the sacrifice of a dozen or stance the plan for immediate peace and two of miserable wretches once in a year, parliamentary reform had triumphed over to exaggerate suspicions of treason: a an administration professing diametrically precedent would have been established opposite principles – the same means and who so fond of precedents as our might be apprehended, as again likely to courts of justice) for their condemnation, produce similar effects; and therefore it and in no very long period, popular premay certainly be deemed no more than judice might have gone hand and hand mere prudence and self-defence in those with the verdict. Thank God, the integ. who were about to adopt the very mea- rity of a jury impanelled in the metropolis,

« ZurückWeiter »