Slike strani

did not apply at all to the present case. If they talked of precedents from better times, why had the noble lord chosen to pass over the first years of the reign of William 3rd? Had there then been no danger to the person of the sovereign, and the safety and security of the government? The acts passed in that reign would have been as good models to copy from as those in the reign of Charles the 2nd. He recurred to the statute of Edw. 3rd which at present was reckoned the best definition of the treason laws, and which he concluded was very different from the present bill. He compared the preamble of the bill with its contents, and denied that there was any thing in it applicable to any circumstances that were known to exist. That part of the bill concerning misdemeanors, struck him as infinitely more dangerous than the other; for where treason was the crime, and a man's life was at stake, both judges and juries acted with more hesitation, and of course the subject was better guarded and more safe, than when merely property or the personal liberty of the subject were at stake. The words of the second enacting clause, he considered as a libel on the times, in consequence of words being put in that were never before used; for instance, the word "constitution". who could define the constitution in an act of parliament? Law and government could be defined, but he had good authority, from a pamphlet which he imagined was well known to ministers, to say, that the word constitution could not. From the wording of this clause, he must insist, that it created new crimes by new phrases. The word "people" came under the same uncertainty as constitution, and was not to be found in other acts. He still, however, conceived the reservation in favour of members of parliament to be the most dangerous innovation on the laws; and when laws were either strained to a degree of oppression, or new laws made tally subversive of the liberty of the subject, it must be expected, and would follow, that the people would resort to force. He was supported by great authorities in saying, that times and circumstances might be such as not only to justify, but to make resistance become a duty, and, in certain instances, he should feel himself compelled by a sense of duty to resist an act of parliament founded in tyranny and oppression, if prudence did not restrain him. He was much against parlia

ment giving great latitude to judges by any new powers. There never had been an instance of either judges, or the legis lature, stretching their proper functions, but it had been followed quickly by consequences of the most fatal tendency. He mentioned the case of the archbishop of Canterbury, in 1640, when it was held that an attack on a privy counsellor was levying war against the king. If the present bill was only one of a series about to be introduced, the prospect was truly alarming.

The Earl of Mansfield said, that, differing with the noble lord upon many of the topics which he had introduced into the discussion, he perfectly agreed with him in the observations on the danger of extraordinary powers vested in the executive government. He could not repose so much confidence in the integrity of any ministers as to confer an authority they might easily abuse, and in such a situation he would distrust even the noble lord's moderation. Yet it had ever been the practice in this country to accommodate the laws of treason to the circumstances which occurred, and to enact such regulations as the exigencies of the case required. Could their lordships forget the provisions adopted in the reign of William 3rd and queen Anne for the security of the Protestant succession? The periods from which the precedents were drawn, had been much insisted on, though he conceived that the present bill was in itself a wise and salutary measure, and had no need to be defended by example. He had, however, heard with surprise, the arguments maintained upon this head. Reprobated as the times of Charles 2nd had been, he would venture to say that they were good times. He asked, who was the minister at the era alluded to? It was the earl of Clarendon, whose attachment to the constitution, and whose distinguished virtues had contributed esto-sentially to its preservation, and whose whole conduct exhibited a model which was worthy the imitation of every minister.-There were two points which it was important to consider: first, whether, in the existing circumstances, any legal provision were necessary, and whether that now proposed was proper to be adopted? He believed there was but one sentiment with regard to the outrage committed on his majesty; but it was their duty to guard against the renewal of such attempts. It had been said, that the statute

[ocr errors]

of Edward 3rd was sufficient; but he considered this statute as furnishing too many evasions, and as liable to too much uncertainty, to be a suitable remedy for such an attack as had been made upon his majesty. The statute of Elizabeth had been justified by her situation: but he would remark, that the provisions it contained were copied into that of queen Anne. A denial of her right was declared to be high treason; and upon this act a person had been convicted and executed. In Charles 2nd's reign, he said, much of the leaven of republicanism remained. There were also Fifth Monarchy men, who indeed differed from the republicans of the present day, who wished for no king, as they adhered to the idea of a king of a certain description. On the second part, he justified the words" and constitution," which had been put into the clause. The people of this country had been accustomed to hold their constitution in the utmost veneration, and to prize the blessings it produced; and he hoped this sentiment in general was not impaired in consequence of the comparisons they had of late an opportunity to make. He said, that all the ill temper and ill blood which pervaded this country arose from the seditious publications with which it was inundated.

mited monarchy" proved it. To define the point at which the right should begin to be exercised, or even to discuss it without strong and urgent occasion, appeared to him to be highly improper. With regard to the present bill, the evidence their lordships had heard at their bar, on the first day of the session, certainly proved, that a most daring outrage had been committed upon his majesty; every one of their lordships, therefore, would heartily concur in taking immediate measures to mark their indignation at what had happened, and effectually to protect the person of his majesty from the possibility of such a circumstance again arising. So far, the measure had his concurrence; but he could not say that, from any thing he had heard, he was reconciled to the rest of the bill. When the attack upon his majesty was coupled with the proceedings of certain societies, he could not see the chain of reasoning that connected the two together. No proof whatever of such connexion had been adduced, and therefore he was not prepared to consent to the whole of the bill.

The Earl of Abingdon objected to the bill, as a violation of the constitution, and an unnecessary multiplication of the law of treasons.

The Duke of Norfolk observed, that the doctrine of resistance was a principle inherent in the constitution, and it was to the exercise of that principle that the family of Brunswick owed their elevation to the throne. In every limited monarchy the right of resistance must necessarily exist; indeed, the very words "Ji

"Hoc fonte derivata clades, In patriam, populumque fluxit." The experience of every age and country had demonstrated the fatal effects of sedition. However men of sense might despise the gross publications so industriously circulated, it was a mistake to ima-lating the rights of the people. gine that their grossness would form the antidote to their pernicious influence. It was easy when the cup was presented to the multitude to conceal the poison it contained. The most enormous crimes had been found to originate in the delusions which false principles had inspired, and the murderers of Henry 4th confessed, that they had been induced to perpetrate the crime by the doctrines they had imbibed. He cautioned the House against being lulled into security by the syren eloquence of the noble lord, and concluded with giving his hearty assent to the bill.

The Duke of Leeds said, that his respect for the sacred person of his Majesty would induce him to consent to go into a committee with the bill, in hopes that it might be so qualified, as to be a sure protection to the king without vio

It was

material for their lordships to weigh the bill most seriously, for there never was a measure more imminent in its consequences to the king and people.

The House divided: Contents, 56; Proxies 23. Not-Contents, 7; Proxy, 1. The bill was then read a second time.

List of the Minority.

Earl of Lauderdale,
Duke of Bedford,
Earl of Abingdon,
Lord vis. Chedworth,
Earl of Derby,

Earl of Besborough,
Lord vis. St. John,

Proxy. Earl of Guilford.

Nov. 11. The House being in a committee on the bill,

The Duke of Leeds moved an amendment on the second clause, that instead of the words "established government, or constitution," there should be inserted the words "established constitution, con

sisting of King, Lords, and Commons." | There were many persons, who, while they professed the greatest attachment to the constitution, indulged themselves in the most virulent invectives against its component parts; so that his intention was, to mark an attack against any one of the branches, as equally coming under the description of an offence against the constitution.

The Lord Chancellor was inclined to think, that the amendment would tend to create that very confusion which it was intended to prevent. If these words were inserted, it would be necessary, in framing an indictment upon this bill, to introduce the very words of it, and to say, that such an act was done, or word spoken, with intent to destroy, &c. the constitution, consisting of King, Lords, and Commons. Now, would it not be very easy, if the law stood so, to write a most atrocious libel with impunity? For instance, a person might write thus, "The constitution of England consists of King, Lords, and Commons; but I do not like an hereditary monarchy; it is an absurdity. I think an hereditary House of Lords still worse; and I think the Commons should be chosen in a very different manner. I would have an elective monarchy, and the dignity of peerage should be granted only for life, or for a session of parliament." Here was an instance of a man admitting the constitution, as consisting of King, Lords, and Commons, and yet destroying the very foundations of the constitution.

Lord Thurlow said, it was difficult to define, with logical accuracy, the terms government and constitution. He reprobated with great severity the attempt to vilify or degrade the person of his majesty, which he reckoned a subject too sacred for petulant and wanton attacks: but he considered the operation of the penal enactment of this clause as too severe in many cases to which it might be applied. Was it a matter of such criminality as that to which he had alluded, to say that it was an abuse that twenty acres of land below Old Sarum Hill should send two representatives to parliament? Yet, this might be represented as tending to create a dislike of the established constitution, since under it such a case existed. He was decidedly of opinion that the present laws of the country were fully adequate to the punishment and restraint of the crimes which this clause was meant to

embrace. It was not from the want of proper laws that dangerous principles had been disseminated, and had assumed a threatening aspect, but because those laws had not been employed by the executive power to remedy the evil, and to punish the offenders. New acts and severe penalties he thought little calculated to attain the object proposed. He was convinced in his own mind, that severe penal laws never conduce to the safety of a prince, or the preservation of any constitution. A jury would be inclined to acquit a person prosecuted under the penalties of this bill, who was guilty of the facts in the indictment, rather than expose him to transportation to Botany-Bay for seven years. It was by accommodating the severity of punishment to the magnitude of the offence, and by properly exercising the moderate penalties of the laws, in every case which occurred, that crimes were to be restrained. In adverting to the succeeding clause of the bill, which places the power of prosecution at the discretion of ministers, he observed, that though he would not suspect that the present administration could convert to an improper use any authority with which they might be invested, there was much danger that in future it might be misapplied. The minister might choose to protect one culprit, while he launched the whole vengeance of the law upon another. He might even employ, for sinister purposes, creatures to commit trespasses under this bill, from the punishment of which he might wish to shield them.

The Lord Chancellor was surprised at the opinion which the learned lord had expressed. The magnitude of the crimes against which this clause was directed, must be obvious to every noble lord who read the publications which the press teemed with. They aimed at the subversion of every part of the constitution. They taught the people that royalty was a usurpation of their rights, and aristocracy a nuisance to which they should not submit. They laboured to persuade them that they had no political existence, that they were slaves, and that they ought to assert their importance, and menaced the same evils which this country had once experienced, and of which a neighbouring nation afforded a distinct example. Were such enormities too rigorously punished by the penalties of this bill?

The Bishop of Rochester spoke in favour of the clause, and of every part of


[blocks in formation]

Lord Grenville admitted the propriety of the proposed amendment; and after some farther conversation it was modified. The Duke of Bedford could not let the clause pass without giving it his decided opposition. He looked upon it as a daring attack and flagitious outrage on the liberty of the subject, and felt as a man that might incur the penalty in making this declaration. He then adverted to the observations of a noble prelate, and in contradiction to him, said, he must regard every borough as a component part of the House of Commons, and every law a component part of the constitution. Otherwise a man might first write or speak against the representation of the borough of Old Sarum with impunity, and so go on singly, from borough to borough, and from county to county, till he had shown that the whole system of the representation of the House of Commons was corrupt.

thought they did more harm than good; for the bill was merely directed against those idle and seditious public meetings for the discussion of the laws where the people were not competent to decide upon them. In fact, he did not know what the mass of the people in any country had to do with the laws but to obey them, with the reserve of their undoubted right to petition against any particular law, as a grievance on a particular description of people.

The Bishop of Rochester thanked the noble duke for the honour he had done him in noticing what he said, and in order to explain his meaning more fully, repeated his argument respecting the borough of Old Sarum, declaring, at the same time, that he concurred with the noble duke that, if any person were so to proceed through the whole state of the representation of the House of Commons, or through all the laws and statutes of the country, as to suggest a general conclusion, that the government was corrupt, he would incur the penalties of this bill. Common speculative and philosophical disquisitions, however, might be still written and published, though he always [VOL. XXXII.]

The Earl of Lauderdale said, a short speech required a short answer. He should have supposed the noble prelate had been educated in a foreign country, and not in England, when he declared that he did not know what the people had to do with the laws, but to obey them. If he had been in Turkey, and had heard such a declaration from the mouth of a Mufti, he should have attributed it to his ignorance, the despotic government of his country, or the bias of his religious opinions; but to hear a British prelate, in a British house of parliament, declare that he did not know what the people had to do with the laws but to obey them, filled him with wonder and astonishment.

The Committee divided on the clause: Contents, 45; Not-contents, 3.

Nov. 13. The Bill was read a third time. On the motion, that it do pass,

The Duke of Bedford said, that after the ample discussion the bill had undergone, it was not his wish to occupy their lordships time, by going over the grounds of objection that had already been taken to it. He felt, however, so great a depression of spirits, and found himself so overwhelmed with anxiety of mind, when he contemplated the measure in question, that he was impelled to oppose the bill through every stage of it, and would endeavour, by one more effort, to impress their lordships with the sentiments he entertained on the subject. I conceive, said his grace this measure to be, not merely an extension of the criminal law, but a stab to the constitution, and an attempt to strike at the foundation of the liberties of Englishmen. I shall therefore shortly advert to the reasons by which this measure is supported, and the arguments by which these reasons are enforced. I ought to say reason, for one only has been assigned, namely, the outrage against his majesty. This outrage we all equally lament: the sentiments of regret and abhorrence which [S]

we felt on the occasion, we have stated in our address to his majesty, and requested him to take all possible means to discover and punish the authors. How, then, can this bill operate, with respect to that outrage? It stated, that its object is, to render the person of his majesty more secure. No doubt we would all cheerfully concur in any measure, which might tend to the greater security of his majesty's person. But how can the person of his majesty be rendered more secure? Does it not already possess all the guard which it can derive from the reverence of office, and the enactments of law? An attempt has been made to connect the outrage against his majesty, with the proceedings of certain meetings, where seditious doctrines are said to have been delivered. To this I have only to answer, that to the proceedings of those meetings we cannot legislatively refer; they are not before us in any shape upon which we can act. I may be told that the notoriety of these proceedings, are sufficient grounds upon which we may go on the present occasion. But it has not been proved, that their proceedings were of the nature which has been described; much less has it been made out, that there existed any connexion between those proceedings and the outrage against his majesty. But not only is there this absence of proof, which should preclude us from taking any steps on the subject; in the conduct of ministers there are positive circumstances which give room for suspicion that they do not believe their own assertion. If the proceedings of those meetings were of that notoriety which has been described; if their tendency went to those objects which has been imputed to them; if the tenor of their discourses was calculated to alienate the affections of those present from his majesty, and incite their minds to dislike and hatred of the constitution, are there not laws already existing to repress those meetings, and to punish the authors of those discourses? I must, therefore, contend, that ministers were guilty of a most shameful breach of their duty, if they neglected to enforce those laws, and allowed the meetings to go on, while they were aware of their dangerous tendency. Ought they not rather to have repressed their progress by those means which the constitution has put into their hands, than now, by a new law, to seek to take away the lives of those, whom by their neglect,

they suffered to advance to that pitch of criminality, which they now contend, renders an alteration of the constitution necessary? I have therefore a right to infer, either that ministers were guilty of a most scandalous breach of duty, or that they do not believe their own assertion, when they impute to the meetings the seditious proceedings and the dangerous tendency, which they have made the pretext for the present measure. Such, then, being the only reason which has been urged in support of this bill, it remains with your lordships to decide whether it is of that weight and authority, which ought to influence you to sanction the passing of a new law, so serious in its nature, and so alarming in its probable consequences.-It was a mistaken idea, that the severity of the law was the best protection of a government. It was common for noble lords to go to France for their examples, nor would he there decline to meet them. He would confess that the French revolution was the most sanguinary and calamitous which the history of mankind ever exhi bited; but he would tell their lordships how this disastrous revolution was produced. It was not effected by the ha rangues of field preachers, or the discus. sions of political clubs; it was by the profligate manners of a licentious court, which sanctioned by its example, and extended by its influence, a contempt of morals and of decency; a corrupt and unprincipled succession of ministers, who involved the nation in an unjust and unnecessary war-who squandered the resources, and irretrievably ruined the finances of a flourishing nation-who stretched the severity of the law beyond the sufferance of human nature. It was by these causes that the old government of France forfeited the attachment and the support of the people. In this country, the personal virtues of the monarch constitute a marked difference, the amiable character of the king may banish the licentious immorality of a French court. In the constitution of the cabinet, and the measures of corrupt and wicked ministers, will be found the conduct that contributed to the fall of the French monarchy: a war undertaken and obstinately prosecuted, without regard to the interest or to the wishes of the people of this country; new places created, and rewards bestowed upon the partizans of their corrupt system; and pensions of almost unparalleled profusion lavished upon the avowed advo

« PrejšnjaNaprej »