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injudicious. He always thought the war was a war of aggression on the part of France, and that it was absolutely impossible for this country to keep out of it. He was fully convinced of the necessity of peace, upon such terms as were consistent with the interests and honour of the country, and would therefore vote for the address.
The Address was agreed to.
Dec. 14. Earl Fitzwilliam said, that he ought to apologise to the House for not having been present, when the subject to which he was now desirous of calling their attention, had come regularly before them. He was then at a distance in the country, but immediately on hearing its contents he had come to fulfil what he felt to be an urgent and indispensable call of duty, in delivering his sentiments on the message. The present war was of a nature different from all common wars. It was commenced, not from any of the ordinary motives of policy and ambition. It was expressly undertaken, to restore order to France, and to effect the destruction of the abominable system that prevailed in that country. Upon this understanding it was, that he had separated from some of those with whom he had long acted in politics, and with other noble friends, had lent aid to his majesty's ministers. Upon this understanding he had filled that situation, which he some time since held in the cabinet. Knowing, then, on such authority, the object of the war to have been to restore order in France, he was somewhat surprised at the declaration in the message, that his majesty was now ready to treat with France. When he looked to the actual situation of France, he saw no change of circumstances, which could justify such a declaration consistently with that object for which the war was undertaken. He could regard it in no other light, than as an entire departure from the principle on which the war had been commenced. His lordship then proceeded to examine what other motives might be assigned for the war, besides that which he had mentioned. If it had been a war for any common object, it could not have been protracted to such length, and even at an earlier period might have been concluded upon terms much more advantageous than at present. If it had been a war merely for the protection of our allies, all interest in carrying it on must have ceased, when
Flanders and Holland had fallen into the hands of the enemy, and the latter had concluded a treaty of alliance with France. If it had been a war for aggrandisement, or extension of territory, we might have treated with much more advantage at the period when the Austrians had made such progress in the French territories, or when we ourselves had got such large acquisitions in the West Indies. We might then have made much more brilliant terms than we could pos sibly expect in the present moment. But it was alleged, that the present. government in France, was the only one which had sufficient power to make a negociation. Of the present government ministers as yet had had but a short experience: and former governments, while they lasted, had not shown any want of the necessary authority for the objects of executive administration. Was the present government in France so materially altered in its nature and construction, as all at once to produce that crisis which the message described? In its principle, he affirmed it to be precisely the same as those which had preceded it. It was still a pure unqualified democracy, containing the seeds of dissention and anarchy, and affording no security for religion, property, or order. What was the character of the men of whom that government was composed? Were they not the very men who had been instrumental in producing those scenes of anarchy and blood, which originally had occasioned the war? Would his friends so entirely divest themselves of those feelings which induced them to lend their support to the war, as to be ready to go into an alliance with the men, against whose power they had united to make a stand? Would that noble lord (Grenville), who had made so pathetic and forcible an address to the House on the murder of the French monarch, now join hands with his assassins, when they had aggravated their guilt by embruing their hands in the blood of his unhappy queen, and his innocent sister? Upon these grounds, he disapproved of the message and the address.
Proceedings in the Commons respecting Mr. Reeves's Libel on the British ConstiMr. Sturt, in tution.] November 23. this day presenting to the House a petition signed by 12,113 persons, purporting to be the petition of the London Corres
ponding Society against the treason and sedition bills, justified that society from the aspersions thrown out against them and their writings; and to prove that things at least as exceptionable had appeared from the partisans of the ministry, he read to the House several passages from a pamphlet, intituled, "Thoughts on the English Government," said to be written by Mr. Reeves, the framer and president of the Association against Republicans and Levellers, and among others the following:
plaint, and then move that the passage complained of be read by the clerk.
Mr. Pitt said, he would not say a word upon the merits or demerits of the pamphlet, but he called upon the House to decide whether they ought to sacrifice the important subject of discussion, which was expected to occupy the attention of the House a great part of the evening, to a subject of inferior moment, which had accidentally occurred. He therefore moved, "That the Orders of the day be now read."
"With the exception of the advice and Mr. Jekyll hoped there was still enough consent of the two Houses of Parliament, of honour and independence in a British and the interposition of juries, the go-jury, and virtue sufficient in English vernment, and the administration of it in judges, to bring the author to condign all its parts, may be said to rest wholly and punishment. The question was not, whe solely on the king, and those appointed ther the House of Commons ought to be by him. Those two adjuncts of parlia- calumniated, but whether it ought to be ment and juries are subsidiary and occa- lopped off as an excrescence. He spoke sional: but the king's power is a sub- on the ground of privilege, and therefore stantive one, always visible and active. the question which he spoke to was enBy his officers, and in his name, every titled to the priority of every other disthing is transacted that relates to the cussion. He appealed to the highest aupeace of the realm and the protection of thority of the House if he was not per the subject. The subject feels this, and fectly in order. acknowledges with thankfulness a superintending sovereignty, which alone is congenial to the sentiments and temper of Englishmen. In fine, the government of England is a monarchy; the monarchy is the ancient stock from which have sprung those goodly branches of the legislature, the Lords and Commons, that at the same time give ornament to the tree, and afford shelter to those who seek protection under it. But these are still only branches, and derive their origin and their nutriment from their common parent; they may be lopped off, and the tree is a tree still; shorn, indeed, of its honours, but not like them, cast into the fire. The kingly government may go on in all its functions, without Lords or Commons, it has heretofore done so for years together, and in our times it does so during every recess of parliament; but without the king, his parliament is no more. The king, therefore, alone it is who necessarily subsists without change or diminution; and from him alone we unceasingly derive the protection of law and government."
Mr. Sturt then moved, that the House do order the attorney-general to prosecute the author of the said pamphlet.
The Speaker said, that the motion could not be made in that form. The hon. member must first make his com[VOL. XXXII.}
The Speaker said, that questions of privilege certainly claimed a precedence in discussion, and all that was necessary to be done at present, was for the House to consider whether it was a question of privilege.
Mr. Erskine, taking for granted that the passage quoted from Mr. Reeves's pamphlet was a libel, argued either that it was a question of privilege, or that it was
If it was not, he contended that it was prejudging the case to direct the king's attorney-general to file any information he had received against the libeller. But if it was a libel (and if it was not, he knew not what was, for not only the constitution, but the very existence of the House of Commons was represented as a matter of little or no concern), the only point to be settled was, whether a libel upon the House of Commons was or was not a question of privi lege. Here Mr. Erskine referred to the instance of the king against Stockdale, in which the attorney-general was directed to prosecute Stockdale for a breach of privilege of the House, not very dissimilar from the present. The Speaker had
And for the Trial of Libel on the House of State Trials, vol. 22,
See Vol. 27. p. 11.
that the House of Commons could be lop ped off, and that government might go on with its wonted vigour. So different was his opinion, that he was convinced the monarchy of the country could not go on an hour without the House of Commons, without the existence and practical exercise of those doctrines which placed the monarch of the country on the throne. The publication in question was clearly a breach of privilege; and the best way of coming to the order of the day, would be to have the pamphlet first read, that the House might determine upon it.
Mr. Pitt said, that no complaint of a breach of privilege had been made. There could be no doubt of the order which the rules of the House authorized where such a complaint was formally stated; but as the customary mode of introducing the subject had been neglected, it ought not to be taken up in preference to the order of the day.
Mr. Sheridan said, it was easy to get rid of the dilemma which the right hon. gentleman had made out. In order, therefore, to remove the punctilio devised by the political special pleader, he would move that the particular passage be taken down; which being done, he urged the propriety of an immediate discussion.
The Attorney General said, that before he could decide upon the passage in question, he should think it became him, as a jury would do, to read the whole book, in order to see whether the context qualified the argument complained of as a breach of privilege.
given a decided opinion on the point, that a question of privilege claimed a priority of discussion. The chancellor of the exchequer, on the other hand, had pressed the importance of the bill about to be discussed, as if the people of England were more anxious to have their liberties taken away than to preserve the very existence of the right of representation; a position which that right hon. gentlemen might endeavour to palm upon the House, but which would require much more ingenuity of argument than he could command to render it palatable.
Mr. Pitt said, he did not mean to argue upon any of the sentiments contained in the pamphlet; the leading consideration was, whether it was a breach of privilege or not? And, if it was, he thought, instead of recommending the attorney general to prosecute, the House should vindicate its privileges by acts of its own. However, he was at present for passing to the order of the day.
Mr. Fox considered the objection which had been started by the chancellor of the exchequer as the strangest he had ever heard. A member of parliament had complained of a breach of privilege; and because an informal remedy had been proposed by a single individual, was this to alter the fact in limine? But the great object was to get forward to the order of the day. How differently did ministers feel on the code of liberty, and on the code of despotism! The Corresponding Societies came forward with spirit in the cause of parliamentary reform, and a few paltry libels were published; the Habeas Corpus act was immediately suspended, indictments for high treason were drawn up, new treasons enacted, and the bill of rights repealed. A more atrocious libel than any that had been published had appeared from the pen of a ministerial hireling against the House of Commons, and the motion which was made was the orders of the day! Though he was no friend to prosecutions for opinion, yet, in the present instance, he called upon the House to come forward in vindication of their privilege, their dignity, and their existence.
Mr. Serjeant Adair said, that, although the present discussion was rather untimely, he could not vote for the order of the day, when a subject came before the House which no one could doubt was a breach of privilege of the grossest nature. He could not tamely hear it asserted,
Mr. Windham (secretary at war) said, that after hearing the passage read, he was not prepared to deliver his mind upon it; but it was not conformable to the interpretation given it by gentlemen. As far as he was then prepared to decide on it, it might be perfectly innocent. was, he thought, merely the opinion or declaration of an antiquarian or historian, speaking his sentiments of the British constitution. It merely meant, that monarchy was antecedent to the other parts of the constitution, and might possibly survive or subsist without them. It was merely such an opinion as an historian might give of any form of polity: possibly it was wrong; but, however, he imagined, that there was not in the context any thing to justify gentlemen in so severely attacking it. He was persuaded, that if it were tried before that tribunal which gentlemen sentenced it to, there was not
sufficient to condemn it. With respect to the person who was said to be the author, very indecent language had been used, but the gentlemen who so traduced his character had good reason: he had incurred their displeasure, in proportion as he had gained the good will of the country. He hoped neither the House nor the country would forget his exertions in 1792. If they did, they were ungrateful. Mr. Reves was a man holding a respectable place under government, and receiving the rewards of honourable services: his conduct was approved by the greater, and, he was sure, the better part of the nation. The gentlemen opposite charged ministers with being slow in calling libellers to justice; they argued as if the constitution was overturned by a single libel; but they felt no apprehension from all the libels of the societies, though their professed object was the ruin of the constitution. These were the errors of liberty to be sure. But though their avowed intention was the subversion of all order and government, there were none of these alarms felt by gentlemen opposite. Except the single libel of Paine, there was not one acknowledged by the opposition to be unconstitutional. Gentlemen affected to feel sore, that Lords and Commons were arraigned in the publication alluded to, though they never before evinced the smallest sensibility about all the calumny which the societies had heaped upon parliament. Even in the speeches of many of the gentlemen opposite, he and his friends had been distinctly arraigned; but he wished the country to judge, whether there was more despotism in the ministry, or anarchy in the opposition. He knew well their motive for traducing Mr. Reeves, and other active magistrates, and especially those of Westminster. Their designs were clearly developed, and their zeal after their former supineness well understood. If the charge amounted to a breach of privilege, it might be tried; but, as far as he could judge, the sentiment was innocent, and by no means justified the commentaries bestowed upon it. General Smith said, he believed the right hon. gentleman was the only man in the House who would venture to declare sentiments so derogatory to the constitution and the privileges of that House. Having heard the right hon. gentleman on other occasions, when the liberties of his country hung on his tongue with honied elo
quence; when he heard him now maintain the utter subversion of it, he could not help exclaiming,
"Who would not laugh if such a man there be; "Who would not weep if Atticus were he!" Mr. Hardinge said, that he was equally astonished and shocked, at the doubt which had been entertained by his right hon. friend upon the sense of these words detached from their context and standing by themselves. That he would protest against the doubt, though he loved and revered the man. That in his view, a libel more gross upon the House of Commons, could not be imagined. That he thought no context would, or could, explain it away 60 as to make the words less criminal; but that upon general principles, it was a debt of justice to read and examine the whole book. This would be the duty of those who were to sit upon it in judgment, if it should be accused in a legal form; and he hoped the juries of England would ever exercise the right of judging for themselves, upon the seditious tendency of all published words, instead of assuming the sedition because the accuser imputed it. That he should protest equally against another topic in his right hon. friend's argument, which he thought injurious to the public spirit of the House, namely, a panegyric upon the man, when the act was to be considered. This he had reprobated in the case of Mr. Hastings, and would never see it again attempted without resisting it.
Mr. Grey said, that he had heard shocking things from the secretary at war, though when compared with his conduct they ceased to be surprising. That furious reprobation of his old friends corresponded with the new principles he had adopted. The conduct of the right hon. secretary clearly showed that with him the monarchy was every thing. From such sentiments avowed in the cabinet, the country might judge where the treason existed. The right hon. gentleman complains of the indecency of attacking absent characters. Yet this tenderness for absent characters was with the right hon. gentleman a novelty. author of this libel was entitled to candour and to indulgence. It was only an historical fact for the discussion of antiquaries. Had citizen Lee, however, stated that democracy was the root, and monarchy only an excrescence, what would the right hon. gentleman have said?
Would he not have pronounced it treason? Should we not have heard it was copying the French? And had the words lop off been employed, it would instantly have associated all those ideas, and produced those descriptions which the right hon. gentleman's warmth of fancy conjured up in such glowing colours. An antiquarian or historian, the right hon. gentleman had said, might be exceedingly doubtful whether the Lords and Commons had not been mere branches from the root of monarchy. After language so extraordinary, all his doubts at length vanish, and he thought proper to assert, without qualification or explanation, that the passage, as it stood without any qualification rom the context, was perfectly innocent. He hoped the right hon. gentleman would have the courage to support his opinion, and to defend the pamphlet in question. The right hon. gentleman had thought proper to ascribe their hatred to Mr. Reeves to his conduct in 1792, and to date their desire to run him down from that period. For his own part, he was ready to confess that the conduct of that gentleman, in 1792, did not much recommend him to his good opinion; and those persons who had been misled by Mr. Reeves, and induced to follow similar conduct and adopt similar opinions with him, lamented their acquiescence, as they saw, at this time, the measures that were produced in consequence. The right hon. gentleman had triumphantly asked, why they did not prosecute the Corresponding Society, and other seditious writers, as well as this libeller of the House of Commons. The right hon. gentleman might be answered, that to look to pamphlets was not their general system; their object was to look to government, to watch their measures with jealousy; but, on the other hand, when ministers were dealing out prosecutions in the gross, and in some cases stretching the laws beyond their tone, they had suffered this daring breach of privilege and libel on the constitution to go without punishment; a libel, too, which was as much directed against the safety of the monarch, as against any other branch of the constitution. Before he sat down, he begged leave again to ask the right hon. gentleman, whether he would manfully and daringly, without construction, reservation, amendment, or qualification, by reasoning, and by his vote, at another time, support the opinions
and sentiments which he had maintained that night? Mr. Grey concluded by declaring Mr. Reeves's pamphlet to be a most dangerous libel, and a libel seditiously and malignantly aimed at the safety of the monarch.
Mr. Windham believed his declaration had been, that he was not prepared definitively to give an opinion upon the extract; but as far as his judgment went, he thought one of the passages selected only stated an historical fact, "that the Lords and Commons were branches from the monarchy," and the other, what might possibly be a fact, "that the monarchy could subsist without these branches."
The Solicitor General said, that when it was stated that the extract amounted to a breach of privilege, it struck him that it was incumbent on the House to have the pamphlet read. He hoped, therefore, that the motion would be withdrawn until that was done.
Mr. Brandling thought the passage a gross attack on the privileges of parliament, but he could not agree that the consideration of the subject ought to supersede the other business before the House.
Mr. Lambton said, he could not conceal his surprise, after what he had formerly heard from the secretary at war, that he should that day avow himself the assassin of liberty. The right hon. gentleman affected a surprise that the House should be roused at this solitary instance of an attack upon the constitution. Was it a solitary instance? If it came there a solitary instance, it had found an auxiliary in one high in trust and office. Was the instance solitary, when two bills had been introduced, the one making an intention an overt act of treason, and the other directly subversive of the Bill of Rights?
Mr. Fox said, he was always sorry when he felt himself obliged to arraign the general character of any man: but of Mr. Reeves he must say, that he never could mention him with respect, since he had seen in the public prints a letter respecting him from Mr. Law. He asked, was this a solitary libel? He always doubted the wisdom of prosecuting for opinions; but when opinions were made the grounds for the alarming bills then pending, it was for the House to consider, whether they ought not to hold this libel in equal abhorrence with any that ever came before them. He proposed merely that the