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likely to lead to such purposes as those | France it had been fonnd impossible to to which he had referred. The recent maintain a government on the principle instance of the Westminster meeting had of universal suffrage. The constitution been adduced to show that great bodies of 1791, in recognizing that doctrine, of people might assemble in the exercise sealed the doom of the monarchy, and of a constitutional right, and conduct the fate of the king became inevitable. themselves with suitable propriety and Did not the present period, then, particuorder. But might not such a meeting larly call on the House to adopt measures have taken place, even if this bill had to prevent their introduction and propapassed into a law? How, then, could gation in this country ?-It had been said, the bill be represented as subversive that the existing laws were sufficient, and of the best privileges of the people, or it had been asked, why had not prosecuas stabbing the principles of the con- tions been instituted against the authors of stitution ?--Perhaps it might be said, that the crimes complained of? Prosecutions the inconsiderable number of men, to had, in some cases, taken place, but it whom these seditious designs were as- was a matter of infinite difficulty to obcribed, could not be so formidable as to tain that evidence which was necessary to sanction such a measure. He felt the conviction. The number of offences highest pleasure in reflecting that their made prosecutions of all the offenders al. numbers were comparatively inconsider- most impossible, and even upon the existable; but inconsiderable as they were, ing laws, prosecutions would have occathey were capable of doing infinite mis- sioned great public expense. The existchief. It had been laid down as a maxim, ing laws were undeniably defective, as by the writers of their own sentiments, they did not reach the societies from that all revolutions were effected by mi which the evil originated. It was therenorities. One of the most distinguished fore the intention of the present bill at members of the constituent assembly once to provide against the deficiency of (D'Andre) had remarked that the active, the laws, by other means than punishpersevering spirit of the few would always ment, and by preventing the meetings to triumph over the peaceable and inactive anticipate the mischief they might occadisposition of the more numerous class of sien. the community. Considering the bold- Mr. Erskine said, he found it extremely ness which they manifested, the desire of difficult to reconcile what he had heard magnifying their number and importance, from the learned gentleman, with what he and their assumption of a formidable ap- had heard from gentlemen on the opposite pearance, the small number of people who side, on the night when the House composed these societies was no reason granted leave to bring in the bill. When that the bill was less required by the oc- leave had been asked to bring in the bill, casion. The incessant activity of their an hon. gentleman had said, that the crimachinations rendered it necessary for minal law of the land was amply sufficient government to embrace strong measures for the security of the government, and to oppose their progress. Some of the the comfort of the people, but that a pargentlemen opposite had said, why adopt ticular conjuncture of affairs had arisen, extraordinary measures? Had 'not the which made it necessary to enact the pregovernment of former times been protect- sent law. The learned gentleman, how ed by the existing laws ? It was true, ever, had that day taken a different that during periods of danger, the exist, course; he had asserted, that the present ence of the constitution had been ade- | act was strictly consonant to the princiquately defended by these laws, with this ples of the constitution; an act dever difference, that the object of these men thought of in the reign of Charles 2nd, was the total destruction of the constitu- after the horrors and confusion of the tion; that of the friends of the Stuarts former reign ; an act never dreamt of in only the change of the sovereign ; liberty, the reign of king William, when the goreligion, and property, if the present ob- vernment was newly established, during a jects of the societies were attained, were disputed succession, or in the two rebelto be overthrown. Representative go- lions that raged in the subsequent reigns ; vernment was the demand of the Corres- an act which even the present ministry ponding Society, as was proved on the never thought of passing, when they susState Trials. To these principles and pended that grand palladium of English their consequences they still adbcred. In liberty, the Habeas Corpus act; nor when
they had the reports of committees, state of the constitution, composed of mixed ing the existence of treasonable plots, and separate parts ? a direct and gross upon their table. Upon what grounds violation of the Bill of Rights, on the had the learned solicitor-general delended maintenance of which his majesty holds the necessity of passing the present bill? his title to the crown? Those, thereUpon any fresh reason that existed? fore, who advise his majesty to the meaUpon any new plots ? No. Instead of sure, bring his title into question, and adadducing new evidence, instead of going vise him to a breach of his coronation over the new conspiracies that were sup- oath, by thus destroying the unqualified posed to be hatching, the learned gentle and undeniable right of the people to peman had trodden again the dull track that tition. Did the learned gentleman find he had trodden so often before. The in the Bill of Rights, that the right of aslearned gentleman, out of his bounty, had sembling and petitioning had been a right been pleased to say, that he allowed the claimed with such firmness, and contended right of the subject to petition the king for with so much glorious struggle, as a and parliament, and that he considered right to be exercised with the permission that right not to be taken away by the of magistrates, or even of the king himpresent bill; not only not to be taken self? But the principles of the constituaway, but even to be rendered safer by it. tion and the Bill of Right were all forgotIn eontradiction to this position, he would ten; the principle of alarm s'emed to jusmaintain positively and distinctly, that the tify every violation of the liberties of the bill did absolutely destroy the right of people, and to afford a sufficient pretence the subject to petition. It wis a maxim of laying waste all the wisdom of our anof law when any thing was prohibited by cestors. law, the means by which such thing might The learned gentleman had said, that be done were also prohibited: on the there was no country in Europe where contrary when the law permitted a thing meetings were allowed to be held without to be done, it also permitted all the means the interposition of the magistrate ; no, by which such thing might be done. By not in ancient Rome: for his part, he did this maxim he desired the present bill not wish to look abroad for governments; might be examined. In the first part of he wished only to support the British the bill an exception was contained, constitution sicred and inviolable, as he which, it had been contended, was suffi- found it delivered into his hands, and as cient to preserve the freedom of the it stood at the Revolution. He was to country; it excepted meetings called by do his duty as a member of the British lords lieutenant, 'sheriff's, and justices of parliament: he was not then to consider the peace in their particular districts. what government was best; he wished to The constitution of England was, he said, support that which was already estamade up of balanced, mixed, and opposing blished, and which had stood the test of powers; the prerogatives of the crown, ages. It was one thing to make a go. and the right of the people were equally vernment, it was another to rob the peopoised, consequently the right of peti- ple of their rights ; which, if government tioning, perhaps against arbitrary mea- dared attempt, the people would be jussures, would be rendered nugatory by tified in resisting such glaring oppression. this bill. According to its enactments, He would say, again and again, that it po subject was to be discussed which the was the right of the people to resist that magistrates did not approve; thus, those government which exercised tyranny. magistrates who were appointed by, and it had been said, that bold language was removeable at the will of the crown (such held at public meetings; it was certainly as sheriffs, &c.) were to be the judges of the bold to say, that the people had a right nature of their petitions. The magistrates to resist, and that they ought to rise; but who represent majesty will therefore ne- there were some occasions which rendered ver permit the people to meet for the pur- the boldest language warrantable. — In pose of petitioning against a measure of his attempt to prove the seditious views high prerogative, or in any case where of the societies, the learned solicitor-gethe king may be supposed not to consult neral had neither cited any of the . the happiness of the people. Will any speeches that had been delivered at Coman pretend that this is not a flagrant inva: penhagen House, nor had he even brought sion of the people's privileges, and abso. down his own Old Bailey speech ; but the lutely destructive of the very existence people were discontented, and would not be
quiet. Upon this subject he would read people separated themselves too much the opinion of a man of the highest au- from the lower. This had been one of thority: he meant the late earl of Chat- the causes of the revolution in France. ham. . In 1770, when a motion was made Under their arbitrary monarchs there by the marquis of Rockingham, * relative were literally but two classes of the people; to the discontents that had broken out, a pampered, profligate proud nobility, and that great man, had said, “ If we mean a low, miserable, and abject rabble; no in. seriously to unite the nation within itself, termediate class, no knowledge, no virtue. we must convince them, that their com- It was to this that all the horrors that folplaints are regarded, and that their lowed the French revolution were to be grievances shall be redressed. On that attributed. To look back to the wretched foundation I would take the lead in re- state of the French people, divided only into commending peace and harmony to the two classes that he had described, it would people. On any other, I would never be seen, that man, by degrees, feeling the wish to see them united again. If the dignity of his nature, roused at constant breach in the constitution be effectually disgrace and persecution, shook off the repaired, the people will of themselves trammels of despotism, and asserted his return to a state of tranquillity. If not, rights. The people drew a parallel, may discord prevail for ever! I know to which, when he considered their enwhat point this doctrine and this language lightened minds, appeared to him to be will appear directed; but I feel the prin- astonishing; they drew a parallel between ciples of an Englishman, and I utter them the state of France and this country. without apprehension or reserve. The France had an unreformed church, and crisis is indeed alarming-so much the an unreformed state; a profligate despomore does it require a prudent relaxation tism, and the most profound superstition. on the part of government. If the king's There were no gentle gradations of rank; servants will not permit a constitutional and the government rose not, as had been question to be decided on, according to said by a celebrated writer of the English the forms, and on the principles of the government, from “ a broad base to a constitution, it must then be decided in point.” Where was the parallel between some other manner; and rather than it such a country and such a government, should be given up, rather than the nation and the country and the constitution of should surrender their birth-right to a England? Why did ministers not come despotic minister, I hope, my lords, old forward with this measure when France as I am, I shall see the question brought was distracted by that anarchy, from to issue, and fairly tried between the peo- which all the principles so prejudicial to ple and the government !". With the this country had arisen? When they came sanction of the sentiments of the venera- forward with triumphant descriptions of ble and illustrious earl of Chatham, he the improvement of the French constituwould maintain that the people of Eng. tion, instead of availing themselves of land should defend their rights, if neces- that opportunity of sailing into the harsary, by the last extremity to which freebour of peace, and putting an end to the men could resort. “ For my own part” miseries of a most di-astrous war; instead (said Mr. Erskine) “ I shall never cease of recommending the constitution to the to struggle in support of liberty. In no love of the people, by an experience of situation will \ desert the cause. I was its practical blessings; instead of the horn a free man, and by God I will never higher ranks endeavouring, by the ten. die a slave !" That the question should derness of their behaviour, to draw the be decided by such a contest, he declared lower orders back to content and to haphe did not wish : never would he do or say piness, a bill was brought forward which any thing that did not tend to avert the outraged every principle of freedom, and horrors of a revolution ; a calamity which overthrew the very foundation of the conthe supporters of the bill affected to fear, stitution ? Let any lawyer show that this though that bill was the most likely me- bill was consonant to the principles of the thod to produce it.
constitution ? He defied the whole pro• In the whole of the late proceedings fession to prove it. The constitution was and events, one of the most fatal things abrogated, and annulled by it. The bill had been, that the higher orders of the would not allow the people to meet with
out advertising their intention; and surely • Só Vol. 16, p. 747.
this was a very extraordinary circumstance. The people are the proper judges the exercise of that discretion ? If it was of the grievances under which they la- the intention of the minister to prevent bour. They may think the measures of the people from meeting, for the purpose administration a grievance, yet the ma- of proposing any alteration in church or gistrate is to be the judge of the nature state, or of exciting dislike to the king's of the complaint, however respectful and person and government, there was no neinoffensive, and may even pronounce a cessity for the present bill; and the prorequisition which censured the ruinous visions inserted in it, for the purpose of measures of a minister, or proposed a re- producing such an effect, ought to be formation of abuses, a crime against the blotted out. The fact was, that they law. Our ancestors were content to wait were determined to give the magistrates till some overt act appeared, which was the power of dispersing public meetings. the subject of punishment. But, under -He would proceed to show the gross this bill, the determination of a magistrate and abominable absurdities of this part is to interfere between the people and of the bill. Suppose thirty or forty of the assertion of their rights and the com. the most respectable magistrates in the plaint of their grievances. Depend upon country; suppose even that the twelve it, the people of England, unless they are judges of England were to join in prolost to all sense of freedom and of na- posing a meeting; two hired, hungry, tional honour, will not, and ought not to jobbing justices might disperse them all. submit.
Could a criminal information be filed He stated the power which the law against such magistrates for so doing ? bestowed upon magistrates, of arbitrarily The court of King's-bench had deterjudging of the intention of the people; mined a case that very morning, that and even, lest he himself might be re- might be applied in the present instance, sponsible for the consequences of any and which was sufficient to establish the meeting, the necessity a virtuous magis. legal principle of the clause in question. trate might be under of dispersing a meet. A law had been passed in the reign of ing of the best men with the purest views. James the 1st, authorizing the magisHe likewise stated various absurdities trates to search for a particular kind of which resulted from the authority be- leather. Upon this law a search had stowed by the bill on magistrates. He been ordered by a magistrate, a seizure would suppose that at such a meeting as had been made ; and, upon examination, had been convened, in the manner alluded the person from whom the leather had been to, he spoke with severity of the evils seized had been acquitted : a question that existed, and with firmness of the arose, whether an action would lie against grievances under which the people la- the magistrate for having ordered such a boured; he would suppose that he said, seizure? It had been decided in the affirwhat the minister himself once said, viz. mative, because the particular law gave that “ as long as the parliament remained no discretion to the magistrate. It would unreformed, no wise and virtuous admi- be much more manly, much more connistration could exist : he would suppose sistent with truth and candour, to come that he did this could the magistrate forward and tell the people of England disperse the meeting? He affirmed that that they were no longer to enjoy such he might disperse it
, and could not be privileges, than to insult their underpunished.-One of the clauses of the bill standings by telling them they retain that stated, that “ in case such meeting shall, liberty of which they feel themselves deby reason of any special circumstances, prived. He would ask, how they could become dangerous to the public peace, petition for the redress of grievances in the judgment of two or more justices without communication ? He had in his of the peace, &c." Here was a discre- hands an address to the jury at the Old tion given to the magistrates of the most Bailey, which would show that no condangerous kind. Where did the solicitor- spiracy had existed, and that the opinion general find a precedent of so broad a of the judge had not been as represented. discretion given before to magistrates? The chief justice says—" All men may, A discretion, too, for which they could nay all men must, if they possess the not be punished; because, when the law faculty of thinking, reason upon every placed any thing in the discretion of a thing which sufficiently interests them to magistrate, it could not punish him for become objects of their attention; and any mistake which he might commit in among the objects of the attention of free men, the principles of government, the ters might assume that pretence, it was constitution of particular governments, to be judged by its natural tendency. Was and, above all, the constitution of the it consonant with the spirit of the constigovernment under which they live, will tution, that men, met for the best of naturally engage attention and provoke purposes, should be dispersed, if a mispeculation. The power of communication nisterial spy thought proper to propound of thoughts and opinions is the gift of God, some point which appeared exceptionable and the freedom of it is the source of all to the magistrate ? Let gentlemen consiscience, the first fruits and the ultimate der what the present laws were by which happiness of society; and therefore it the constitution was defended. If it reseems to follow, that human laws ought quired new sanctions, he would willingly not to interpose, nay, cannot interpose, join in framing them; he would however to prevent the communication of senti- adapt his remedies to the discontents and ments and opinions in voluntary assem- disaffection of the people upon principles blies of men." From this it was evident suited to the nature of a free state, and that the judge considered voluntary of the nature of our own constitution. communication as not only lawful, but Mr. Burke, whose talents he reverenced, as a right which could not be taken away, and who had displayed his wonderful
He next commented upon the preamble powers for years, in opposition to the to the bill, and contended, that the most right hon. gentleman, by a most unfortutyrannous act had always been passed nate coincidence of opinion, had of late under the pretence of making the subjects recommended himself to his favour : that happiness the ground for the measure. great man, when speaking of the AmeriOther matters were also to be considered can war, with all those graces of oratory in the provisions of the act: it was in the which would carry down his fame to pospower of any one man, by going to a terity with that of the fairest productions meeting, and speaking a few seditious of Grecian and Roman eloquence, had words, whether apposite to the subject or expressed himself in terms peculiarly apnot, to afford a warrantable reason for a plicable to the present time. His words justice to dissolve the meeting ; any man were these: “ It is not very difficult for whatsoever, though he be not one who well-formed minds to abandon their insigned the notice, or who called the terest; but the separation of fame and meeting ; any spy (and magistrates had virtue is a harsh divorce. Liberty is in their spies) with half-a-crown in his danger of being made unpopular to Engpocket, might go, and, by uttering sedi- lishmen. Contending for an imaginary tious expressions, afford his paymaster power, we begin to acquire the spirit of the power of putting an end to all discus domination, and to lose the relish of hosion, and to the meeting. He said, he nest equality. The principles of our considered the law of the land as fully forefathers become suspected to us, beadequate to all the purposes of good go- cause we see them animating the present vernment, without thc introduction of opposition of our children. The faults the present measure. In any public which grow out of the luxuriance of meeting, when a breach of the peace was freedom appear much more shocking to committed, a magistrate, by the existing us, than the base vices which are genelaw, was entitled to interfere ; and in his rated from the rankness of servitude. support, was authorized to raise the posse Accordingly, the least resistance to power comitatus, if necessary: and by the riot appears more inexcusable in our eyes, than act, he had likewise the power of dispers- the greatest abuses of authority. All ing tumultuous assemblies. Where, then, dread of a stanıling military force is was the necessity for introducing a new looked upon as a superstitious panic. law, and giving a vital stab to the con- All shame of calling in foreigners and stitution ?
savages in a civil contest is worn off. We The learned solicitor-general had ob- grow indifferent to the consequences ineserved, that prosecutions had little effect, vitable to ourselves, from the plan of and under that pretence, licensing acts, ruling half the empire by a mercenary Mr. Erskine said, were to be introduced. sword. We are taught to believe that a deAll laws, in all governments, even the sire of domineering over our countrymen is most despotic, in their preamble, pre- love to our country; and those who hate tend to be dictated for the good of the peo- civil war abet rebellion; and that the ami.. ple; and however the bill and its suppor-able and conciliatory virtues of lenity, mo