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deration, and tenderness to the privileges to prove that the offences recapitulated in of those who depend on this kingdom, the bill could be punished by the existing are a sort of treason to the state." laws. The 13th of Charles 2nd was ad
This was not a pompous display of the mitted to be the precedent of the bill; oretical ob-ervations, but a series of wise but it must not go the same length. and political reflections, meant to have a Under that act 100,000 persons might real and practical consequence. “ Gen. | assemble, and sign any petition to the tlemen,” exclaimed Mr. Erskine, “ will king or the parliament voluntarily; but see by this, that the word eqaulity is not a the act prevented persons from hawking word of new coinage, and introduced into about petitions to persons to sign, who the dictionary only three years ago, but might not know that any grievances exa word of long and ancient usage, and isted. It also provided, that not more stamped with the sanction of such an than ten persons should present any petiauthority as that of Mr. Burke. In my tion to the king. It only authorized maopinion, the higher ranks do ill in thus gistrates to interfere when an overt act seceding from the lower. If the latter of tumult took place, or to require secu. have swerved from their duty, would it rity if danger to the peace was apprenot be better for the former to rally them hended; but it never prohibited a meetround the principles of the constitution, ing to be held; it did not forbid volunand lead them back to their duty, than tary communication, but prohibited tuthus to make, as it were, a separate cause multuous petitioning: this bill prohibits against them? Let those higher ranks re- petitioning upon grievances which actucollect what must be the certain conse-ally exist.-- An unreformed parliament quence of any contest between them and had been alluded to. The language of the lower ranks. Such a contest, I am the minister once had been, “ That we sure, I deprecate sincerely ; and it is be- had lost America by the corruption of an cause I sincerely deprecate it, that I thus unreformed parliament; and that we wish the higher ranks to take it into their should never have a wise and honourable most serious contemplation. What dis- administration, nor be freed from the evils traction has seized the House! You have of unnecessary war, nor the fatal effects said, that from the convulsed state of of the funding system, till a radical reform France, you expect better terms of peace. was obtained.”
The right hon. gentleWill she not act in the same manner with man had in that prediction shown his proyou? if you give her reason to suppose phetic power ; for, to such a parliament that you are convulsed, will she not ex- was owing that detestable, ruinous, and despect better terms of peace from you on tructive war into which he had plunged the account of such convulsions? Good God! country. The right hon. gentleman would, because a prince, whose morals make him however, brand with the imputation of sedear to every man in the nation, was dition, all who employed the same language going down to his parliament during a that he himself once had held, or who war that has snatched the bread from the expressed their discontent at the fatal mouths of the poor; because, in the measures of his administration. That the erowd that surrounds him, there is one societies should complain of this evil was man, miscreant enough to offer an out surely not to be wondered at. Though rage to that prince; the outrage com- they had complained, he would ask, had mitted by that one man, and which I af- they raised the standard against the confirm is punishable by the statute of Edw. stitution of the country? În arguing this 3d is to be charged against the whole peo- question, he desired not to be answered ple of England, and we are to be de- by old musty records that had been prived of our most valuable rights and produced on the trials, by that mass privileges. As there is always a disposi- of matter which so wearied the pation to exaggerate events, the French will tience of every man who was prebe induced, by our proceedings, to form sent when it was produced, or by those an idea that a wish to change the governa letters which had been read upon every ment of the country, and to introduce subject. He desired not to be answered ruch a constitution as that of France, ac- by such documents ; because he con. tually exists in England, and they will tended that, in the trials that had make
you spend twenty millions more in occurred, the issue that had been joined the prosecution of the war.”
was, whether the real object of the soHe then entered into a legal argument, cieties was, a reform in parliament, or
whether that was only a pretence to cover | ing down of mills, yet, as he had taken traitorous designs against the constitu: part in the meeting of persons so tion? The chief justice Eyre had alluded ployed, waved his hat, and approved of to this issue in his charge to the grand the proceedings, he came within the jury, when he had said, “ if there be meaning of the act, and was held to be ground to consider that the reform of guilty of felony.-On the whole view of parliament had been a mere colour or the subject, therefore, he was clearly of pretext laid hold of as a design against opinion, that the existing laws were amply ihe government of the country, in that sufficient; that they did not require any case he had already stated what his extension; and that there was not the opinion was upon that subject; and the least necessity for the present bill. That only question in such event would be, bill he felt to be a daring attack upon the whether or not the matter of fact could be principles of the constitution : he felt and proved ?” The chief justice had farther saw also, that ministers, at a time when said, that “ if these associations meant every thing should be done to restore nothing more than a redress of grievances, harmony and peace to the country, were and to have nothing else in view, then of adopting measures that not only tended. course no charge could be made against to produce such an effect, but tended to them.” The issue, therefore, was, whether swell the sum of public grievance, and to the real object of the societies was a lay the foundation for fresh discontents reform in parliament, or a design to in the minds of the people. destroy the constitution? The indictment Mr. Milbank said, the riot act already against the prisoners expressly charged authorized any magistrate, mayor, or them with holding a convention with a sheriff, to disperse any meeting composed view to depose the king, and to destroy of twelve persons or more, suspected of the constitution. The jury by acquitting assembling for tumultuous purposes, and them had decided that no such design to if those persons did not immediately disdestroy the constitution existed. Their perse, when so commanded, they were verdiet was not given from a disagreement guilty of felony. The bill, he feared, with the judge on the point of law, but might be made use of for pernicious purthey had founded it on the principle of poses, and suffer many an error to creep the fact that had been alleged, not hav- into the state; and upon these principles, ing been proved. He had said, secondly, convinced that there was already a strong that the existing laws were sufficient for and satisfactory resistance to every probathe punishment of the offences recapitu- ble evil, of the nature adverted to in the lated in the present bill, because, if per- bill, by the law as it now stands, he sons assembled for any unlawful purposes, should oppose the motion. those assemblies were unlawful assen es, Mr. Anstruther said, that the learned and might be punished as such. If gentleman who spoke last but one had there were tumultuous proceedings, the attempted to trace the bill up to a general magistrates, under the statute of Henry system of separating the rich from the 4th (which lord Mansfield, in the case of poor, as if the former were set up in lord George Gordon, held to be still in battle array against the latter. To this force), might take sureties from persons he must give the most unequivocal con. guilty of such proceedings, and might tradiction; on the contrary, he would assemble the posse comitatus to disperse assert, that there were associations formed such tumultuous meetings. He therefore of all classes of people, for the suppression contended. that no man could be guilty of Jacobins and Jacobin principles; and of any of the overt acts that had been that the wealthy and higher orders were, mentioned, without being affected by the in conjunction with the lower, standing laws as they now existed. There was, forward equally in defence of the great lastly, the riot act, the provisions of which mass of the people, against the disseminawere fully sufficient for the dispersing of tion and progress of mischievous princiillegal meetings. By the laws as they ples which threatened to destroy all ranks, now stood, it was necessary that a person and bury them in one common ruin. should be actually doing an unlawful act, The same gentleman had laid it also in order to subject him to punishment : down as a fundamental proposition, that in the case of the king against Boyce, it the liberty of the subject was taken away was held, that though the defendant had by the bill; because, when the law prohinot been actually concerned in the pull. bited any thing, it prohibited at the san (VOL. XXXII.]
time, every manner of doing it; hence in- | novelty of the measure, and it had been ferring the converse of the proposition, roundly asserted, that it was unknown to that what it permitted, was permitted in the constitution: he wished to remind the every way; and therefore, in restraining House, that new circumstances must the right of public meetings in any way, always originate new measures in every the principle was so far violated. In legislature that did its duty: he denied answer to this, he must declare that the that it was unknown in principle, and learned gentleman was mistaken; for asserted that at all times the constitution nothing was clearer than that the law contained a principle of exertion adequate prolibited every method of doing that to every emergency, and its own protecwhich was forbidden, yet the inverse of tion in particular. The general principle that proposition could never be maintained, was to allow as much liberty as was con. that what it permitted it allowed to be sistent with its own security, and the real done in every manner. In proof of which welfare of the subject; but the actual he referred the House to the very bill quantum had often fluctuated in the depending, where public meetings were course of our history, as emergencies permitted with certain formularies, but
The statute of treasons, so much were forbidden without them. His learned relied on, the 25th Edward 3rd expressly friend had, nevertheless, contended, that says, “ that when new cases arise, recourse a lawful act could never be done in an must be had to parliament;" and in later unlawful manner, and seemed to found times, particularly since the reign of his opposition to the bill on that general Elizabeth, parliament had interfered in argument, maintaining, that it was an cases much more similar than was geneabridgment of the hitherto acknowledged rally imagined; they had enacted laws to liberties of the country. The major pro- condemn dangerous tenets, and annexed position was not only invalid, but the penalties. This was always done where minor was so likewise; the country having powerful and active parties attempted to never before been in a similar predicament carry dangerous opinions into practical to the present, consequently, could not effect. It was to be recollected, that before require that abridgment. Suppos- these laws were made solely from motives ing, for a moment, that the bill were an of political prudence, unconnected with abridgment of the liberties of the people, moral guilt. What moral offence was it, no precedent of the same effect could be for example, to deny the king's title to stated, because no similar cause could be the crown, or to call him a heretic? instanced. His learned friend had also History had shown, that these opinions said, that the oill would take away all right were connected with very wide and deepof petition, because two magistrates, in rooted practical consequences, and there. the exercise of the discretion invested in fore they were condemned, forbidden, and them, might disperse the meeting previous made penal in the highest degree. The to its deliberation or resolutions, on trivial, same prudent policy of our ancestors had capricious, and unfounded grounds, and gone farther, and had looked to the conyet was not liable to be called to account nexion of such tenets with the power for so doing. The learned gentleman was and disposition of foreign states, and here again mistaken ; because in this case, relaxed or strengthened their measures as in any other abuse of power, magis accordingly. In the reigns of Charles trates would be subject to account and 2nd, William 3rd and George Ist, frequent punishment, if they should presume to instances of this interference were to be disperse any public meeting without fair, found. The measure was, therefore, in reasonable, and good grounds.--His learn- principle, directly warranted by precedent ed friend had attempted to fasten a contra- and experience. The severity of the diction on the solicitor.general, who punishment had also been cited as objecmaintained that the bill was not only con- tionable ; but in the cases alluded to, sistent with the liberty of the people, but equal if not greater severity was to be that it protected and preserved that found. If there had not been precisely liberty. This he thought perfectly re- such a bill, it was because no such precise concileable, when fairly stated, inasmuch evil ever existed before; but through the as the bill left every useful and constitu- whole current of history, we saw the par. tional liberty untouched, and only res- liament at times meeting every new evil trained the pernicious excess and abuse with new laws, and by so doing our ances. of it.-Much stress had been laid on the tors had laid down the principle, and given us the example. In the reign of arrived at the crisis in which they could Edward' 6th a more severe act was properly address them? They came at passed ; and to it we owe the preserva- length, it seemed, to a resolution to petition of the reformed religion in our tion the king in his way to parliament. church; by which any person who circu- In the course of his passage there, he was lated hand-bills, which brought a meeting grossly insulted, and treated with atrotogether, who entered into resolutions cious violence. It had been contended, inimical to the reformed religion, or that there was no legal connexion becalled a meeting together by sounding a tween the previous meeting and the outtrumpet, even though he absented him- rage committed on that occasion ; but self from the meeting, was liable to the there was a high degree of probability penalties of high treason, if any thing that the one proceeded from the other. treasonable passed at such meeting so There was, in fact, a natural connexion convened. What would the learned gen- between the principle avowed and distleman mean to establish by his argument, persed at that meeting, and the fact that that, when rebellious and civil wars followed. Whether or or no the paper existed, no such harsh measures were intituled “ King-killing” was espoused adopted? Did he mean, that we should and circulated at that meeting, Jacobin wait for such an event to apply a remedy? principles were asserted to the utmost Should we wait to see the calamitous extent; and the former doctrine was only scenes which passed in France re-acted an inference from them. So far had they here? Should we wait until a mild and carried their principles, that they even amiable monarch should be led to the found fault with the government of France, block? or, should we not prevent such as not being sufficiently Jacobinical, since threatened evils by a timely and tempe- it admitted a distinction between those rate interference? Dught government to who had property and those who had abdicale itself, by permitting the designs none; a distinction which Mr. Thelwall of factious men to overthrow the consti. had publicly declared to be “ infamous ;" tution With respect to the argument, and regretted that he had not the voice drawn by his learned friend, from the of Stentor, to make himself heard in charge of the judge, and the verdicts of every part of the assembly. They came the juries, on the trials of the supposed to a resolution at the meeting to petition conspirators, he would only say, that the the king, and address the nation. The ending of the grand jury was a proof of petition not having been noticed, they the existence of the conspiracy, while the declared afterwards, that it was either verdicts of the juries went only to the ex- suppressed or passed over with unfeeling culpation of individuals charged with contempt. It remained, therefore, to inbeing accomplices ; it would therefore be quire, whether the bill was such a one as absurd for them to say, that they must they ought to adopt under the present cirstop from applying remedies to the fact, cumstances ? The act would not, be because the guilt of an individual was not said, prevent any public meeting called established; for the office of a legislator by sheriffs, magistrates, or corporations. was governed by very different principles It even authorized others, under certain from that of a juror. With regard to conditions, if notice be given by three the conspiracy, the moral probability re- householders. They must, besides, farmained the same, and the verdicts of the ther assign the object; and what resjuries did not at all impeach the report of traint was it to the known constitutional the secret committee. Could the House meetings of the country, to enact that possibly forget the transactions of the it should not be held if the subject was London Corresponding Society? Had it on the face of it seditious ? The magisescaped gentlemen's recollection, that trate might, however disperse it, if, for they had formerly decided not to petition whatsoever ostensible cause it was called, parliament; that they represented the go- the deliberations or resolutions became Fernment and constitution merely as im- seditious. One of the clauses prohibited positions and grievances on the public; political lectures where money was taken; that they were chiefly employed in dis- this was properly meant, to check the seminating writings subversive of both; pernicious practices of disseminating seand that on the murder of Louis 16th, dition under the unsuspecting garb of they addressed the National Convention, amusement and instruction: At these saying, that that unhappy country had places the doctrine of holy insurrection and sovereignty were blended with amuse- 1 fore confine himself to the first chiefly : ment: but, in endeavouring to restrain and he hoped to make it appear, that these new-fangled occupations, it was there was not to be found, in the whole strange to be reproached with limiting the records of history, any one case that called old customs and established usages of the so loudly for the interference of parliacountry: To clubs and meetings such as ment. Much difference of opinion res. these, and not to the ancient despotism, pecting the meetings lately held had preFrance had owed all its miseries. For vailed, and the outrageous assault on that these reasons he heartily approved of the part of the constitution which the House bill.
was particularly called on to guard and Mr. Harrison said, he abhorred as protect. Upon this gentlemen had spoken, much as any man the outrage committed each according to the impression his mind on the person of his majesty ; he neverthe- had received, and each referring to a less could not consent to implicate bodies cause correspondent to that impression. of men in the atrocious transactions of a One hon. gentleman had said, that it was few individuals. The pressure of dis- an accidental outrage. Let the House tresses occasioned by the war, together consider whether it would be possible to with the high price of provisions, had persuade the nation, that the sovereign produced ill-temper, and a disposition was insulted, and personally assaulted in among the lower classes, which in a mo- his way to parliament, by accident, or, in ment of madness, might prompt some of other words, without cause or motive. them to make so desperate an attempt: Gentlemen had corrected themselves, and the way to prevent the repetition of such said, that it was not owing to accident, crimes, was not, however by acts of un- but to a plot of the government, in order exampled severity, but by giving them to propagate an opinion of the disloyalty peace, and puiting measures in such a of the nation. In contradiction of those train that their distresses might subside. two suppositions, some gentlemen had If the necessity for farther laws could be said, that ministers had endeavoured to satisfactorily proved, no man would be prove that the loyalty of the nation was more ready than himself to promote them; never so high as at present, as if they but it had not been shown that the pre- were determined to contradict their first, sent laws were defective; on the contrary, second, and third assertions. At the the crown lawyers themselves had proved same moment they had farther declared, them to be sufficient. Should this bill that it was owing neither to accident nor pass, there would be an end of all freedom to a plot of government, but to the feelof debate, of inquiry into the conduct of ings of the people, irritated by an unsucministers, and of every means of obtaining cessful war, and a scarcity of bread. On a redress of grievances.
these different assertions, loose and conThe Earl of Mornington said, that the tradictory as they were, he would say but circumstances which constituted the ne- few words. An hon. gentleman had cessity for the present measure, and the asked, did it ever before happen, that the applicability and competency of the mea- sacred person of the sovereign was so sure to the urgency of the case, struck outraged ?
To this he would auswer, him so forcibly, that he was surprised so that if it never did happen before, if the much difference of opinion had arisen minds and character of the people were upon it; he would therefore endeavour, so changed and brutalized, was not the not without hopes of success, to explain House to look for some other cause, andinit distinctly to the House. The whole quire what that dark motive could be, that scope of the case resolved itself, in his armed the people against their sovereign? mind, into three distinct heads of consi. And would not that inquiry lead them, deration. The first was, did there exist by natural and obvious steps, to those an evil of magnitude sufficient to call for societies, whose existence, even the scepe some remedy? Next, was there power ticism of the warmest opposers, of the in the law, as it stood, adequate to the bill, could not deny, and whose whole evil ? And, thirdly, was the bill under transactions were obviously founded on consideration competent to meet the evil, principles that led directly to the act alor did it exceed the degree of power ne ready commemorated ? - He would not cessary for that purpose? On the se refer to former proceedings, or the report cond and third of these questions much of the secret committee, nor would he had already been said; he would there adyert to the trials of the supposed con