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gour? Is it the intention of ministers, by these arbitrary measures, to bring the country into the same disastrous sittiation in which it was plunged during that unhappy reign? It might have been hoped, that the impressive lessons of modern times, and of events still fresh in their consequences, had not yet been forgotten. Look to France before the period of her revolution. Was it the facility of public meetings, or the freedom of discussion granted to the subject, that tended to produce that great change? On the contrary, was it not the absolute prerogative of the king? Was it not the arbitrary power lodged in ministers? Was it not the oppressive privilege of issuing Lettres de Cachet against all who dared to utter their sentiments, and complain of existing grievances, that excited the indignation of the people and accelerated the downfall of the monarchy? If, therefore, one view on which the present measure is held out to your acceptance, be in order to prevent the troubles arising from the frequency of popular assemblies, on that very ground ought the friends of peace and of order to resist the adoption of the measure.

In countries where men may openly state their grievances and boldly claim redress, the effect of their complaints and remonstrances may, indeed, for a time be obstructed by the operation of ministerial corruption and intrigue; but perseverance must ultimately be effectual in procuring them relief. But if you take away all legal means of obtaining that object, if you silence remonstrance and stifle complaint, you then leave no other alternative but force and violence. These are means so dreadful in their effects, that it may be matter of question whether any good they produce can possibly compensate for the evils with which they are necessarily attended; such means as scarcely even the best cause can justify. Let us examine a little closely the argument on which so much stress is laid, namely, the danger that may arise from a popular discussion of grievances. If the pretext of grievances be groundless, and not warranted by any immediate pressure, the more it is discussed, the less effect it will have in exciting discontent. But if you preclude these political humours, if I may so call them, from having a vent, you then leave no alternative but unconstitutional submission, or actual violence. If ever there exists a just cause of grievance, one or other must be adopted; a tame acquiescence, incompatible with the spirit of freedom, or an open resistance, subversive of the order of government. I know that peace and quiet are the greatest of all blessings, but I know also, that rational liberty is the only security for their enjoyment. I admire the British constitution, because it gives scope to the people to exercise the right of political

discussion ; not merely with the permission of a magistrate, or under the control of an executive force, but on all occasions to state, in bold and plain words, the grievances which they feel, and the redress which they desire. I have only now to express my firm determination to oppose the bill in every stage of its progress. And, in the first instance, I shall conceive it necessary to move for a call of the House, as it is impossible for me to suffer a question, which involves so material an alteration of the constitution, to pass in this House, without solemnly calling on every member to give a vote on the discussion.

The motion for leave to bring in the bill was also opposed by Mr. Stanley, Mr. Maurice Robinson, Mr. Curwen, Mr. Sheridan, and Mr. Grey. The House divided on the motion for leave to bring in the bill : Tellers.


Mr. Grey 2
R. Stewart

42. Leave was accordingly given to bring in the bill, and, on the motion of Mr. Fox, a call of the House on that day fortnight was agreed to.

{Lord Belgradert } 214

November 16.

The bill " for the safety and preservation of his majesty's person and government, against treasonable and seditious practices and attempts,” passed the House of Lords this day, and was brought down to the Commons. After it had been read a first time, Mr. Sheridan, insisting that no proofs had been adduced to authorize so harsh a measure, and that ministers had no right to bring forward such a bill without the clearest proofs of its necessity, moved, “ That a committee be appointed to inquire into the existence and extent of the danger of seditious meetings, as referred to in his majesty's proclamation.". The motion for an inquiry was opposed by Mr. Powys, Mr. Windham, Mr. Pitt, and the attorney-general, as creating a delay that might be productive of much danger. The tranquillity of the public, they said, required the promptest measures. The latter expressed great solicitude in vindicating his conduct at the late trials: he insisted on the propriety of the bill in question, which, he said, would, at the most, prove the adoption of a lesser evil, to prevent a greater, The present laws of the land were, in his opinion, inadequate to prevent the appearance of such publications as he had read, and of such meetings as had been held; new laws were of consequence necessary.

Mr. Fox said, that as he did not wish, in the present stage of the business, unnecessarily to detain the House, he would

principally advert to what had fallen from the honourable and learned gentleman who had last spoken, who had gone into a very wide field, and introduced different topics, partly of a personal nature, and partly of a more general description, as applying to the question before the House. He was not one of those who thought that the attorney-general ought not, in the recent instances, which had been referred to in the course of debate, to have prosecuted for high treason. The declaration of the two Houses on that subject was decisive. Whenever it was the opinion of the attorney-general that persons had been guilty of high treason, it was his bounden duty to prosecute. But it did not follow, because those persons had been acquitted of the crime of high treason, that if they had been tried upon a different charge, they would have been found guilty of a misdemeanor. He had no doubt, that under this alteration of the charge, the jury would have conscientiously exercised their judgment, and brought in an honest verdict according to the circumstances of the case. The honourable and learned gentleman said, that acquittal did not disprove guilt. He was not one of those who would contend that acquittal was a decisive or unequivocal proof of innocence. In common cases there were many circumstances that might engender doubt as to the question of guilt or innocence. First, when the existence of the offence was ascertained, the difficulty was to prove by whom it had been committed, to what particular quarter the guilt should attach. Secondly, even when there was a moral certainty, with respect to the authors of the offence, there was often extreme difficulty in bringing home the charge to the individual, by legal proof. Neither of these circumstances, however, existed in the case of the individuals tried for high treason. There could neither be doubt as to their persons, nor difficulty in proving that they were the authors of the acts charged against them. They were acquitted by a jury not less respectable than the committee of that House who had drawn


the report respecting their proceedings. He would say not less respectable, from their situation in life; and in his opinion, not less respectable, because they were removed from those objects of ambition which might be supposed to have had some influence with the members of that committee, and which some of them since might have been deemed pretty well to have attained. In the course of the business, he had been early convinced of the want of evidence sufficient to convict those men, and had broadly stated his sentiments on that subject; but the honourable and learned gentleman had said, that Mr. Erskine, and Mr. Gibbs, the prisoners' counsel, thought differently. For one of those gentlemen, from habits

of long intimacy, he entertained sentiments of the highest regard and friendship; of the other, from all he had heard of him, he had been taught to think with the greatest respect. But he should not have felt for one that ardent friendship, nor should he have deemed the other entitled to that sincere respect, if, in a question of life and death, where they were called upon to act as counsel, from any speculation of their own, with respect to the guilt or innocence of the prisoners, or with respect to the nature of evidence, they had neglected to set up that defence which was infallibly calculated to save the lives of their clients. Was it in consequence of the result of the trials that the bills were brought in ? He was told that · not from these trials only, but from their subsequent proceedings the dangerous temper of these meetings had been proved, and that their mischievous tendency could not be corrected, except by some new legislative regulation. He would appeal to ministers what had been the effect of the former regulations they had adopted. Had they not suspended the habeas corpus act, upon grounds which he must ever contend to be slight, and such as by no means warranted so violent a measure? Had they not afterwards renewed that suspension ? The suspension, however, they had afterwards allowed to drop during the interval of the sitting of parliament. He had congratulated himself at the beginning of the session, when he heard his majesty talk of the spirit of order and submission to the laws, which, with a very few exceptions, had discovered itself among his faithful subjects. Coupling this declaration with the conduct of ministers, in allowing the suspension of the habeas corpus to drop, he had flattered himself that ministers had now renounced the opinion, that the evil to be dreaded from certain principles would be diminished by vigorous judicial proceedings, and the prosecution of the war with France. He did not think for his own part that the evil was in any degree diminished; but he conceived that ministers had begun to form more just opinions on the subject, that they had begun to perceive the folly and inefficacy of their former measures, and to adopt in the course of their future proceedings the suggestions of a milder spirit and more enlightened policy. Unhappily, however, for the country, it appeared from the present measure, that he had been mistaken in these expectations. Was it in consequence of the meeting at Copenhagenhouse, or the meeting at St. George's Fields, that they had been induced to bring forward the present bills ? Both these meetings, he remarked, had taken place previous to the commencement of the present session, when the ministers put into the mouth of his majesty a declaration of the spirit of order and submission to the law, which had manifested itself in the country. Would they then say, that any thing which had

occurred at those meetings, was the ground of their present measures? If they did say so, he defied even credulity to believe them. He had stated, that notwithstanding the prosecutions which had been carried on in this country; notwithstanding the still more disgraceful judicial proceedings in Scotland, which exhibited a mere mockery of justice; still he had hopes, from the conduct of ministers, in allowing the suspension of the habeas corpus to drop, that that law would be left to its course, and even that liberty would revive. But, then, what had happened on the 29th of October -- that outrage on his majesty, which they all equally deplored. He was told that outrage was connected with the proceedings of certain societies. He was referred for proof to the coincidence in point of time, and the notoriety of their transactions. Here he remarked, that while ministers declined giving that proof to which the House was entitled, and which they ought to have received before they consented to entertain a question of such deep importance to the constitution, they brought a sort of evidence which was worse than all; evidence was brought from a proclamation of the executive government. An attempt was made so far to degrade the House, as to bring in a bill upon the evidence of a proclamation of his majesty's ministers. Part of the honourable and learned gentleman's speech he confessed had strongly affected him. He talked of the contempt into which parliament had fallen. If parliament were so careless of their duty, so lost to all sense of character as to take a proclamation of the executive government as evidence of the facts, upon which they were to ground their proceedings, they would, işdeed, deserve that contempt which they were said to have incurred. The honourable and learned gentleman had read a number of papers, in order to shew the atrocious spirit and dangerous views of the persons who composed these meetings. It was a sort of evidence which he confessed he received with much suspicion, in consequence of the distrust with which he was accustomed to receive every such communication from that quarter of the House. If such facts existed, as had been stated by the honourable and learned gentleman, why were they not brought before the House in such a way as might constitute a proper ground for their proceedings? Why ought not the House to have the spies of the right honourable gentleman at their bar, in order to examine them as to their report of the facts which might have come under their inspection ? The honourable and learned gentleman said that spies were instruments whom government had at all times found necessary to employ. Mr. Fox admitted that there were different sorts of spies. First, there were persons who might by chance be privy to some intelli

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