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election; in reply to which he was at liberty to affirm, that while he gave his decided opinion in favour of the sovereignty of parliamientary law, he never had uttered any sentiment which was in the least unfavourable to the right which the people indisputably possessed of expressing their sense of every public
From the Middlesex election the right honourable secretary had proceeded to catechise him upon his conduct during the American war, and by talking of his erecting a stage without doors, he seemed to speak with some contempt of the manner in which he (Mr: Fox) had acted at certain meetings, that were held at Westminster-hall and other places, upon these occasions : he found himself accused with having pronounced invectives against persons who were then in high authority. The right honourable gentleman had forgotten the conduct which his right honourable friend (Mr. Pitt) had adopted, and those eloquent speeches he had at that time delivered, in which public harangues to the people were described as the most agreeable and most useful duty which representatives in parliament could discharge to their constituents. In answer to the charge, that he had, in a personal manner, attacked those who had no opportunity of appearing in their own defence, he had to say, that it was the duty of every man, and particularly of every member of parliament, when the conduct of the executive government was called in question, to represent the characters and conduct of members in their true colours. What was the use or the value of a popular meeting, upon a political subject, without that freedom? At meetings held in Yorkshire and other places at that time, such had been the practice of others. Although he had then spoken freely of government, when he opposed its measures, he was willing to allow others to oppose him. In the year 1784, for instance, the house would recollect what had happened. Mr. Burke, in his emphatical language, had called the parliamentary conduct of some gentlemen the revolution of 1784. In that year, the House could not have forgotten how he had been opposed; what invectives had been employed against him, and those in places, where, as the right honourable gentleman had said, he could not be present to answer.
Did he ever make one unmanly murmur upon that occasion ? Did he ever complain of that invective? Did he ever say one word against the sacred right of the people to assemble and freely discuss political subjects when those discussions were against him? Never in any one instance had he uttered a syllable that went to question the right, or to blame the practice, of holding public meetings of the people. He had endeavoured to answer much of the reasoning that had been urged against him at these meetings; but he had not said a word against the propriety
of holding them. What was the principle of the present bill? To restrain the exercise of free discussion at all those meetings.
The right honourable secretary had asked, what advantages had resulted to the country from those political meetings during the American war? He did not mean to arrogate to himself any extraordinary share in the opposition which he made to that war. It did not become him to say much upon that subject; he trusted he might, however, be pardoned, if he said that the popular meetings in question, tended to hasten the conclusion of that war. Was the right honourable gentleman of that opinion, or was he not? What did he think of the meetings that were held at Norwich and at other places ? Upon this head the right honourable secretary might have some information from one of his present friends*, if he wanted any information. Those measures went further than to put an end to the war; they contributed to the correction of some of the abuses of administration, since the celebrated bill of Mr. Burke, which did that gentleman so much honour, was founded on those measures. Perhaps he should be told, that all the meetings that had any effect (indeed, he had been told so already,) were called by the sheriff, and that all that was said at the meeting at Westminster had no effect, because it was not a meeting which had that authority. He wished to know what magic there was in a meeting that was called by the sheriff
, in preference to any other public meeting? So much of the subject, therefore, as related to public meetings, he recollected with pleasure and satisfaction. Public meetings had contributed to put an end to the American war: and if he had said some things against any of those individuals who advised it, he was consoled with the reflection, that if he had helped to shorten that destructive war only one year, he had contributed to prevent the increase of the number of helpless orphans and mourning widows-he had contributed to lessen the distress of the poor and friendless. Let him not be told, then, that he had acted an unmanly part, by frequenting those public meetings. He must again say, that if there was any glory in putting an end to the American war, he should be proud to hear that he had, in common with others, a share in that glory. When the right honourable secretary talked of invectives thrown out at those public meetings, against persons who were not - present, he would recommend to him to reflect on what had happened the day before at the meeting at Palace-yard. He knew, and if necessary, he could prove, that
* Mr. Windham. See the note to Vol. v. p. 208.
there has been manifested a good deal of zeal: in fact, an active canvass had taken place on the part of ministers, in order that their friends might attend that meeting. Messages were sent about, stating that it would be agreeable to government if their friends took care to be present. The consequence was, an attendance was procured, and many friends to government, persons of authority, were there, among whom was his noble colleague, Lord Hood, and two honourable gentlemen in his eye (Messrs. Canning and Jenkinson); he hoped, therefore, the right honourable gentleman would not complain that any
attacks had been made on ministers in the absence of their friends that day.
The right honourable gentleman had also accused him of having altered his course for some years with regard to public meetings; that he had been fond of attending them in the earlier part of his parliamentary life, but that he had of late declined them. He admitted the observation to be founded in truth; the reason was, that for some time past he did not see that his attendance at public meetings could be of any use to the public: whenever he thought it might become so, he was ready to attend; and this he thought a part of his public duty, whatever opinions other persons might entertain upon that subject. If ever such attendance had been necessary, it was so at this time; when the constitution was attacked, it was the duty of every man to exert himself in its defence: he should therefore give all the authority he could pretend to, to such meetings, for the purpose of supporting the rights and liberties of the people. Avowing that for his motive, he was ready to meet any ministerial censure that might be cast upon him. The right honourable gentleman had asked him, if he thought that any efforts of his could be heard with attention ? and whether he imagined his eloquence could make any impression on such a multitude as thirty thousand ? He had no such idea; he had nevertheless used all his endeavours to explain to them the nature of the subject which they had to consider. The right honourable gentleman had also asked, whether he thought they applauded him ? His answer was, that he was not so vain as to expect it: he attended not for the purpose of receiving applause, or commanding assent; he went for the purpose of learning the sense of his constituents on the most important political topic which could be presented for their deliberation. It was, he confessed, somewhat unpleasant, particularly at his time of life, to attend popular meetings; the labour and fatigue, however, he considered as the merest trifles, when compared with the fate of the question which had yesterday been submitted to the inhabitants of Westminster, whose applause at the meeting arose from the
feeling which those present had of the propriety of the measure they were met to adopt. This arose out of the detestation they felt for the bill before the House. In that view he saw the utility of such meetings, and it was on that ground that he attended them. At that meeting the bill met what it ought to meet, and what, if the public had any regard for their liberties, it would meet all over the kingdom — general execration and abhorrence. Execration that would be increased in consequence of certain opinions that had been lately delivered in that House. The more the public had that feeling (which, thank God, they began to manifest,) the more he thought it his duty to give such meetings his countenance; meetings on which, perhaps, depended at this moment, the very essence of our constitution. That was his firm and sincere opinion ; and that he believed to be the opinion of the public; for very plain and very decided language must at this moment be spoken to save the country from absolute ruin.
The right honourable gentleman had been pleased to pay him compliments on his talents, and had intimated a wish that they should never be exercised any where but in that House. To this he would answer, that he attended that House not for pleasure, but for duty; and he trusted that his attendance there might be more or less useful to the public; of how much use it was, it did not become him to determine. The right honourable gentleman had then asked, if he expected to convince that great multitude by his eloquence ? Most certainly he did not; as little did he expect to convince that House. It had been said, that the majority of that multitude came pre-determined; perhaps they did. Did the majority of that House come wholly undetermined ? Was there no resemblance between the House and that meeting in that respect? He had some experience of the House; and whenever he wholly despaired of persuading the majority of the House on points where the constitution was at stake, he thought attending such meetings as those alluded to useful, because it tended to enable him to arrive at the opinion of the public. Let this be stated to the House; and if this had no effect upon it, his attendance there would be useless, and even burthensome.
It was matter worthy of observation, that the debates on the bill had afforded the first occasion, since the accession of the house of Brunswick to the throne, of an open and parliamentary espousal of the cause of the house of Stuart. On the preceding night it had been said by an honourable baronet, (Sir Francis Basset,) and the idea had been borrowed that
of the press.
evening by the solicitor-general, that even if there had been a revolution in the reigns of George the First and Second, it would not have been accompanied with the same dangers which would flow from a similar event taking place at the sent crisis; as in the former case, the descendants of the house of Stuart might have been reinstated on the throne; whereas, at the present moment, anarchy, and a general dissolution of all the principles of civilized society, would follow any dispute about the constitutional rights of the sovereign. This was jacobitism in perfection, and he was not at all surprised at hearing jacobites come forward with such reasonings. What would the house of Stuart have done, had they been established on the throne? They would have introduced the catholic instead of the protestant religion. They would, perhaps, have put an end to parliaments, resumed the rights of juries, and subverted the liberty of the They would not, it was said, have invaded the rights of property, nor invented the detestable name of French equality, the inroads of which our British heroes swear by their lives and fortunes to resist. But if in the choice of dangers, a man must forfeit his life and property, in order to avoid a greater evil, (for the blessings of the constitution were out of the question, under the government of the Stuarts,) whatever may be the theoretical distinction, there was very little practical difference between the one or other alternative.
The right honourable gentleman had deprecated the idea of the legislature adopting the doctrine of resistance as a practical principle, though, at the same time, he allowed, that resistance must inevitably follow from a system of oppression long pursued. A most worthy and enlightened man, (General La Fayette,) in a neighbouring kingdom, which it was the fashion to refer to for instances of atrocious criminality, had affirmed resistance to be the most holy of duties, which the people of England were called to exercise; and perhaps the difference between him and the right honourable secretary would, on a second thought, appear but trifling: No man ever supposed that the legislature should adopt the doctrine of resistance, as a direct and practical maxim, though every man was convinced, and even the speech of the right honourable secretary himself strengthened the conviction, that resistance, in certain circumstances, was impossible to be avoided. With respect to the right which parliament possessed, of altering the bill of rights, he agreed with the right honourable secretary. He never could consent to the proposition that there were some fundamental laws of the constitution which parliament was incompetent to alter. They certainly were competent to make any alterations in the code