Slike strani
PDF
ePub

had supported, and would support, some restrictions in the way of importation, to protect the British corn-grower. Ordered to lie on the table.

BRIBERY AND CORRUPTION AT ELECTIONS.] Lord John Russell said, that in rising to move for leave to bring in the bill, of which he had given notice, he did not intend to trespass long on the attention of the House. In former days it had been found, that when complaints had been made to the House respecting the manner in which elections had been made, the decision of the House on those complaints had been so much influenced, that it had been found necessary to adopt a different system respecting them. The House had been obliged (and he did not think it much to their credit that they had been so obliged) to impose upon a select number of their own body the task of deciding, upon their oaths, as to the justice of the complaints made to them. The remedy which had thus been applied, it was generally admitted, had been successful; and so it was as far as regarded the question between party and party, but it was not as successful as far as regarded the interests of the public; for it was evident that there might be corrupt elections, and yet that the committee chosen under the law, commonly called the Grenville act, could not apply the remedy which the case demanded. It might happen that there had been corrupt practices in which the petitioner had engaged, and which he was therefore afraid to bring forward, because he durst not stand the test which, in the committee, would be applied to him. It might also be the desire of the petitioner, who sought to set aside an election on specific grounds, to try another election, when he intended to practise those corrupt practices; which, if they were disclosed to the House, would defeat the return of his opponent. In all these cases, it was manifest, that the public had no protection, and that there were no powers vested in the committee to pursue the matter further than the mere decision upon the merits of the case before them. The public, too, had, by the operation of this act, and the appointment of a committee for such purposes, lost a certain degree of security which they had formerly, when those questions were fully and amply discussed by the whole House of Commons; and when it was in the power of all its members to judge of the

extent to which certain practices might have been carried in any particular place. The remedy he would propose was, that, where a complaint had been made upon petition, from any person or place, within the period of six years after the commission of the offence, then the House, if it thought the complaint, upon examination, fit to be entertained, should appoint a committee, in the same manner as under the Grenville act, but composed of only fourteen members, and the member interested in the petition. He did not intend that there should be any power of rejecting those appointed, or striking them off, in consequence of any objections raised by any of the parties. This committee, so appointed, should examine the evidence in support of the allegations, and report to the House their opinion upon the case submitted to them. The reason, he begged to observe, why he proposed that the proceedings should be carried on by petition, as under the Grenville act, rather than by a resolution of the House, was this, that it would be for the House to judge on the terms of the petition, whether it contained matter worthy of being submitted to the consideration of a committee-a course in which there was nothing new, as, on every case of the kind, the House had the power to reject petitions, on the ground that there was nothing in them to warrant their interference; and, after the evidence had been examined in detail before the committee, it would be for the House to declare, whether there was, in the disclosures made by that evidence, a sufficient case to induce the legislature to take further proceedings. He thought it would hardly be said, that the practices to which he had alluded did not require some new remedy. They were known to prevail to a very great extent already; and, in all probability, this year would, in many of the boroughs, give occasion to practices which were disgraceful to those boroughs, and detrimental to the liberties of the people. On this occasion he argued more favourably of the success of his proposition, because he calculated on having in support of it the authority of an hon. gentleman whom he could never yet induce to vote with him in favour of reform, although he had done all in his power to accommodate his notions to those of the hon. gentleman. He alluded particularly to the hon. member for Penryn (Mr. Grenfell), who, he found, had lately been addressing his con

other part of the county,-to follow, in short, the example which had been proposed with respect to Grampound, the franchise of which was to be given to Leeds. The change which that measure had undergone in the House of Lords, in giving it to the county of York instead, he thought was no improvement, but the contrary. In this manner, slowly, but effectually, as far as it went, would the representation of the country be reform. ed; and, to use an expression of a noble friend of his in the other House of parliament, the wool, the cotton, and the iron of the country would be represented in parliament. He would now conclude without saying at that moment any thing respecting the general question of reform, to which he should be prepared after Easter to call the attention of the House. On that occasion he should avail himself of the authority of a distinguished statesman, as on this he had had the benefit of the address of the hon. member for Penryn to his constituents; and he would call upon the House, in the words of the right hon. Secretary for Foreign Affairs, on a recent occasion, not to reject the improvement which he should submit to them, "because it was an innovation, lest they might hereafter be compelled to submit to an innovation which was no improvement.” The noble lord concluded with a motion for leave to bring in a bill "for the better discovery and suppression of Bribery and corrupt practices in the Election of members to serve in parliament."

stituents in language which favoured entirely his own view of this important subject, and which he would read to the House. The hon. member, whose talents would do credit to any place which might send him as a representative to parliament, and who had, upon all occasions served his constituents with the greatest ability and earnestness, now found it necessary to address them in language to this effect:-"Gentlemen, I am under the necessity of informing you, that I mean to withdraw my name as a candidate for the representation of your ancient borough, in the ensuing parliament; and I do so in consequence of having received some very sufficient, though rather unexpected hints, which have satisfied me that it will not be possible to succeed in any attempt to represent you in parliament, unless by having recourse to practices to which I never can submit-practices which have twice, within two years, endangered your existence as a borough, and which, not six years ago, subjected one of your representatives to a heavy fine and a tedious imprisonment, as a punishment for the offences which are now about to be revived." Now, he would ask, not of those who had always voted with him upon the question of reform, but of those who acknowledged that abuses might exist, but refused, as they said, to pull their house about their ears, unless we could point out some specific ground of complaint, and show how we were to apply an efficient remedy-he would ask, whether this was not a case exactly such as they required, and one which would warrant some measure to put down the practice which it announced still to be in existence? He asked them whether it was not the best and most satisfactory mode of proceeding, first to prove the specific grievance, and then to apply the remedy? What he proposed to do was, if the committee should report that general corruption prevailed in a borough, that the House should proceed as in the instances of New Shoreham and Grampound,-that a bill should be brought in for disfranchising them; and then, as the nature of the case might direct, that the right of electing members should be transferred elsewhere. If the neighbouring hundred were a populous one, the franchise might be transferred thither; but if the borough were a small one, and the neighbourhood scanty, then it should be transferred to some populous place in an

Mr. Grenfell said, he could not deny that such an address had been issued by him to the place alluded to; but he did not see that there was anything contained in it which would prevent him from opposing, as he had always done, any innovations, founded upon an undefined speculative plan of parliamentary reform.

Mr. Wynn admitted, that it was the duty of the House to oppose, as far as possible, any practices which might tend to defeat the fairness and purity with which elections ought to be conducted. He objected, however, to the proposition of the noble lord to empower a committee in the manner suggested by the noble lord. The manner of forming such a committee might tend to defeat the very end proposed, because it would only secure, that one member (he who presented the petition) in favour of the petitioner should be on the committee. The expenses of the investigation would also form another and

a very serious difficulty. He threw this out, not in hostility to the measure, but as it occurred to him in the shape of an objection on the face of it. On the one hand, if the expenses were to fall on the parties preferring the petition, they would be seldom brought; for few persons would be found willing to bear those expenses for the sake of an investigation, the result of which could in no way benefit themselves. On the other hand, if the expenses should be paid by the public, that circumstance would give occasion to many of what were called fishing petitions, in which the parties depended upon the chance of any evidence they might get, and without any previous authority, or sufficient ground for the proceeding. He also understood the noble lord to state, that the power of appointing the committee was not to be imperative on the House, but optional. He thought this was likely to give rise to very unpleasant discussions, in which the result would often not be so satisfactory as when the whole decision on the election was left to the committee. He hoped that when the noble lord brought in his bill, he would find some means of obviating these difficulties.

Lord John Russell said, he intended to propose that the expenses should be paid as in other committees, and that notice of the application should be given to the borough, who would be allowed to oppose by their counsel and agents.

Leave was given to bring in the bill.

[ocr errors]

JAMAICA SLAVES' TRIALS.] Mr. Denman, in bringing before the House the motion of which he had given notice on the first day of the present session, begged to premise, that, although the papers upon which that motion was founded, had been ordered on the 1st day of March last year, yet they had not been laid upon the table until a late period of the session, and that he had not had an opportunity of reading them, until some time in the recess. He was well aware how extremely difficult it was to arrest the attention of the House at the present moment of danger and alarm, unless upon some question connected with com mercial distress, or the state of the currency; but yet he thought, that the subject to which he was about to implore their consideration, was one in which they could do more good than they had been able to effect in all the protracted discussions

upon that truly important, but, unfortu nately, ill-understood, matter of inquiry. For as, in the one case, it was difficult to trace the causes of the evils which all felt and acknowledged, and still more difficult to apply a remedy to misfortunes which each succeeding discussion seemed to prove more and more beyond their reach or control; so, in the other, he would be able to show, that they themselves had been the cause of the commission of great crimes, for which they were deeply responsible, and to which it was in their power to apply an instantaneous and effectual remedy. In the one case, they were engaged, night after night, in discussions, which, from their ignorance of the disease or the remedy, could hardly turn to any practical benefit; while, in the other, they could immediately make themselves acquainted with all the circumstances of the case, and see that it was in their power to make that knowledge a means of preventing the further commission of deeds disgraceful to the character of the country. This much he would say, that if they did not look upon the case he would submit to them as deeply worthy of their attention, they would prove themselves unfaithful representatives of the people of England, who, in spite of all their distresses and difficulties, he rejoiced to say, had never for one moment lost sight of their suffering fellow-creatures on the other side of the Atlantic, or ceased to feel, with a truly Christian spirit, the horrible state of oppression to which they were subjected.

Considering, then, that judicial oppression was the hardest of all evils to bear by civilized man, and that it had, in the case to which he was about to allude, reached the highest pinnacle of its power -a height, indeed, far beyond any thing they could possibly conceive-he would briefly state the circumstances, which, he hoped, would convince the House of the propriety of their expressing a strong opinion upon the conduct of those who were invested with the power of administering justice to their fellow-creatures. The transactions to which he alluded, occured in Kingston, Jamaica, in December, 1823. He begged to observe in the outset, that what he had to state was wholly contained in the documents laid upon the table by the authority of the House; a course to which he was restricted from his not possessing any other source of information, and which he indeed could not

regret, as he felt convinced he should be not be safe any where else."-So they able to furnish from them more than suf-would find, that the whole charge rested ficient grounds for the prompt interference of parliament. It appeared, that the idea of insurrection, which caused the execution of a certain number of negroes, had its origin in the conversation of an inhabitant of the parish of St. Mary's, in the island of Jamaica, with his negroe boy, on the 16th of December, 1823. That person, named Roberts, a butcher, having occasion to chide his boy for neglecting his person and apparel, received some answers, in exculpation of his negligence, which caused the trial of eight persons, for a pretended conspiracy, in three days after; and a sentence that they should be hanged by the neck till they were dead, to be actually executed on these unhappy men in four days after their condemnation. Every one of them, in that sad moment, denied most strenuously their guilt; and refused, one and all, even on the scaffold, to purchase their safety by any confession which would have involved any others in the alleged crime for which they were about to suffer. The mode in which the conspiracy was said to be discovered, was this "On Monday, the 16th December, the butcher, Roberts, scolded his negroe boy, William Stirling, for not getting his frocks, and asked him how he would appear to follow him about at Christmas? William said, Massa, you will have bad Christmas.' Witness said, for what? are the negroes a going to rise? He said, yes, his father told him so. Witness asked him if he had seen the negroes meeting; he said, yes, two times; but that his father told him more than he knew at the meeting. Witness asked him if any of his negroes were among them; he said, he believed George was. Witness asked, if any more Bay negroes; he said, yes, Mr. Walker's Ned and Douglas. Witness asked, if he thought they were going to kill all the Buckrahs (Whites); said, his father told him so. Witness then asked him what he must do; should he go to Kingston or Spanish-town? He answered, no; negroes would walk all about the country. Witness asked, if he should pack up his books and go to the fort, or Mr. Beard's, would he be safe? He said, no; negroes would walk all about, and Wentworth negroes would rise the same as Frontier. Witness asked if they would kill every body? He answered, yes, every body; and advised witness and captain Barton to go on board of ship, and take him with them; would VOL. XIV.

upon the evidence, scarcely supported in
any one instance, by a boy who had
trumped up a story to save himself from
correction. They would even see that the
master had led the way in every question,
and had actually put into the boy's
mouth, what he should say; and that he
did say all this on the leading of the master
could not be considered very extraordinary,
when it presented such a good opportunity
of diverting the attention of the master
from the boy's negligence, to the master's
personal safety. If the boy had been, in
the first instance, taken before a magis-
trate, and examined with proper judicial
inquiry, the case would have been differ-
ent; but they would find, that without
any step of that kind, the authorities pro-
ceeded to take precautions for their se-
curity. With any of these precautions he
did not mean to find fault.
If they
dreaded an insurrection of the negroes,
nothing was more politic than to shew, by
the sight of an overwhelming force of
grenadiers and of Windward Browns, and
corps of light infantry, how hopeless
any such attempt must prove on the part
of the negroes. Nothing could be more
proper if apprehension existed; but still he
should have conceived it necessary to have
had a solemn investigation of all the cir-
cumstances before a magistrate, and have
examined the persons accused separately,
so as to have seen how far their tales
varied from each other, and in what cir-
cumstances the story of the boy could
have been supported. The boy, when
at last taken before the magistrate, re-
peated his childish story with an addition,
very like what a boy would make who
wished to have his evidence thought more
impressive, that he saw them flourish cut-
lasses. And upon this evidence, without
any other proceedings, without a previous
examination of the unhappy accused be-
fore a magistrate, or any attempt to con-
front them with their accuser, were these
individuals in three days brought to trial.
Nothing was done in the way of previous
examination to avert the possibility of
falsehood, or save the authorities from the
charge of unnecessary bloodshed. They
were apprehended on the 16th, on the
19th they were brought to trial. The
boy, upon being examined on the trial,
repeated the story he had told his master,
adding some circumstances for the purpose
of confirming and explaining that which
3 T

was before only general. It appeared by the papers he had alluded to, that the boy stated, that "his father, James Sterling, told him that the negroes were going to rise, and that he, witness, must keep himself away or he would get hurted; and he advised his master to go on board of a ship. His master asked him if he went to the fort, or to Mr. Beard's, would he be safe? Witness said no, that he must go on board a ship, as the negroes were going to rise, and walk all about, and murder every body. After his father had told him this, he went to Frontier to see him there; saw the prisoner and other negroes; they were talking, but he did not hear what they said; some of them were flourishing cutlasses, as if they would cut off some person's head; he, witness, was then near them (about three yards); there were a number of men, and some women among them; saw Ned and Douglas there. Another evening, going to his father, he saw them again; they were flourishing cutlasses, and said they would go on Port Maria Bay at Christmas fall; he did not see prisoner that night" Although there were many other individuals mentioned who might have been examined, and who could have vouched for it if it was true, only one was brought before the magistrates, who on the 16th of December instituted the preliminary inquiry. This witness was Ned, the slave mentioned by the boy, and he finding that he would be implicated in the accusation made by the boy if he should attempt to contradict it, confirmed the statement as to the meeting of the slaves. Being examined he deposed-"That he was present at a meeting about ten days ago, held at the bridge near Frontier estate, and heard a consultation respecting which way they were to act; that they intended to have risen at Christmas fall, but in consequence of the appointment of guards, they changed the day for the day after the full of the moon, Thursday night next, the 18th instant, when they thought it would be full. That the intention was then to burn the trash house and works at Frontier estate, and when the white people came to quench it, they would then destroy them; after which they were to begin at the top (the east) of the bay, and set fire to the buildings, when a general massacre was to take place: that it was to be general throughout the parish at the same time, and that the negroes before mentioned, belonging to Frontier estate,

were the most prominent persons that he knew of at the meetings."

On the evidence of these two young boys, eight individuals were deprived of life. The boy Douglas appeared to have been disposed of in a most extraordinary manner. He had a right to infer, that he had been put on board ship only because it had been discovered that he could give no evidence which could implicate any individual. The accused persons were all tried on the 19th of December. First came Charles Brown. It was not unimportant to remark, that this individual had been an overseer, and had conducted himself with great severity to the slaves, particularly the women. If, therefore, any individual was wanted to fill up the dramatis personæ of the plot, this Charles Brown was the person whom the intemperate imagination of the boys was most likely to fix upon to supply the omission. The proofs of guilt against this slave were very trifling; indeed there was little to affect him. The next persons tried were William Montgomery, and four others. The evidence against these were as slight as that given in the former case.

The next case it was impossible for any person to contemplate without a good deal of emotion. It was the case of James Sterling, the father of the boy William, who, in order to escape the punishment which he anticipated for not having done what was expected of him, had given the first information which formed the foundation of these horrid transactions. The first witness against the boy William's father was the boy Ned. He being admonished to speak the truth, said he knew the prisoner. He was not sworn to give evidence: on none of the trials were the boys sworn to give evidence. The boy William was then called to give evidence against his father. Being admonished to speak the truth, he said "he went to his father's (the prisoner's) house, who told him the negroes were going to rise, and he, witness, must take care of himself, and keep out of the way, in case he should be hurt, because they would kill every body. His master asked him if he thought the negroes would rise? He told him 'Yes.' He asked him if he thought the negroes would kill him (his master)? He said, he did not think so, but advised him to go on board the ship." His master asked him if he would not be safe if he went to the fort or to Mr. Beard's? He, witness, said no; he had better go

« PrejšnjaNaprej »