Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

are the springs of human actions? Have say that from the explanation which they the opinions of men no influence upon had just heard from the learned prelate, their actions ?-Not their speculative opi- of his extraordinary declaration on a nions upon mere abstract subjects, but former night, there seemed to be so much their opinions in morals, religion, and po- variation from what he conceived really litics,-have these no influence on their to have been said, that he considered the actions? Have these publications no objectionable ground of the reverend pretendency to spread opinions ? Are they late's sentiment in a great measure renot circulated for that purpose, with moved, though the impression of the great industry, and with too sensible an maxim, as first broached, was not altered. effect? Have not the minds of the com- He, for one, had not doubted the learned mon people been turned by such publi- prelate's knowledge of the law; indeed his cations to subjects to which it had been speech of that evening proved that he unbetter if their minds never had been derstood and knew how to apply it with ad turned? Have they not been poisoned vantage. Ifthereverend prelate had persistwith false and pernicious notions? And edin asserting in an unqualified manner what has not a great change in the demeanour he conceived him to have advanced in the of the lower orders actually been producd ? preceding debate, he certainly would -"My lords, in the length of this argu- bave moved that his words should have ment, I had almost forgotten to take no- been taken down, and should have tice of what dropped from the noble earl, thought any man who held such unconrelating to some supposed transaction of stitutional doctrine ought to be himself Àny former life. He has told your lord placed on the “ stepping-stone to glory." ships that I was once present at a meeting

The Earl of Lauderdale was glad to for reform in the borough of Southwark. see that the reverend prelate had not so My lords, I cannot conceive to what the far forgotten his duty, as to disdain to give notle earl alludes: I hope he will have some explanation of what was at least the candour to assist my recollection, by inadvertently uttered. specifying occasion, time, and place. Ican- The Earl of Abingdon said, he should not recollect that I was ever in my life give his hearty opposition to the bill, present at a meeting for reform in the bo- because he thought it an unnecessary inrough of Southwark, or any where else. fringement upon the liberty of the people I have never been a great frequenter of He wished to ask the reverend prelate, public meetings of any kind; except that whether vox populi was not vor Dei? He Lately I have attended, and taken an active would prove it was ; and that God Al. part, at meetings in my own county, to conmighty always inspired the people upon sider of measures for alleviating the dis- such occasions, and would do so still: tresses of the poor. I well recollect, that he would prove this by authors as old as some years since, when I was a private cler. Methusalem. If the bill passed, resistsyman, and rector of Newington I attended ance to it might be deemed rebellion, but an election meeting in Southwark. The no- if the compact settled by the Bill of ble earl will probably think that one of the Rights was broken, the government might best actions of my life, when I inform happen' to be in a state of rebellion laim, that it was a meeting of freeholders against the people. His lordship added, of Surrey, who wished to promote an op- that the arguments he had heard that day, position, at a general election, to a can appeared to him to be calculated to endidate who was supposed to have at that force the exploded principle of passive time the favour of the court. But that obedience and non-resistance, and that was no meeting for reform, but an elec- all who maintained such doctrine, whe tion-meeting; and I cannot recollect that ther bishops or lay peers, were damned I was ever present at any other public beyond all possibility of redemption, by meeting, of any sort, in the borough of revolutionary principles. Southwark. If the noble earl can by any

The House divided : Contents, 41; circumstances bring it to my recollection Proxies, 25-66. Not contents,5; Proxies, that I ever was, I will not attempt to dis-2--7. The bill was then passed. semble the fact: there håve been few ac

List of the Minority. tions of my life that I wish to be con

Duke of Bedford, Lord Chedworth, cealed.

Earl of Lauderdale,

PROXIES. The Duke of Bedford said, that feeling Derby,

Earl of Guilford, and himself particularly called upon, he must Abingdon,

Thanet

Protest against the Passing of the Trea-ceeding legislatures, our statute book has, sonable Practices Bill.] The following with every mark of generous indignation Protest was entered on the Journals : been uniformly cleared of these temporary - Dissentient.

and unconstitutional excrescences, a cir1.“ Because we conceive this bill to be cumstance which we now regard as a founded on a false pretence. It recites a solemn warning against creating new and daring outrage on his majesty's person, unheard-of misdemeanors, or altering the (which we feel with the utmost horror), treason laws of our country. and purports to provide farther remedies (Signed) “ BEDFORD, against such practices, whilst, in reality,

• DERBY, it affords no additional security whatever

“ LAUDERDALE." to his majesty's person, and leaves us to regret, a deep and irreparable injury to Debates in the Commons on the Seditious the laws and constitution of our country, Meetings Bill.] Nov. 10. The order of by making the compassing, imagining, the day being read for taking into consiinventing, and devising the levying war a deration his Majesty's late Proclamations, substantive treason; thereby departing in

Mr. Pitt rose. He said, that the cirà most dangerous and unjustifiable manner cumstances upon which he meant to from the statute of the twenty-fifth of ground the proceedings of that night, Edward the 3rd : the salutary provisions had made so deep an impression on the of which we cannot be tempted to aban- mind of every gentleman in that House, don, by the example of temporary statutes, as well as on that of every man in the whose doubtful policy stands in opposi country, that it would not be necessary tion to a law, in which the wisdom of our for him to make any comments on them. ancestors has been so repeatedly, recog. The public had seen with becoming innized by the legislature, and so strongly dignation, that a virtuous and beloved confirmed by the permanent experience of sovereign had been attacked in the most its benefits.

criminal and outrageous manner, and at 2. “ Because the free discussion of the a tiine 100 when he was in the exercise administration of government in all its the greatest and most important function branches, by writing, speaking, and meet of kingly capacity, when he was going to ing, for the purpose of representing griev. assemble the great council of the nation ances to any of the three branches of the --that great, and indeed only resource legislature has afforded the best protection against every national evil. The first to the liberties of the people, and is the impulses of every man's mind, after an undoubted inherent right of Englishmen. attack so immediately directed against Yet this bill erects into a high misdemea- the life of the king of these realms, must nor, the exercise of this most valuable be those of horror and detestation of the

privilege, and inflicts, in certain cases, the wicked, the diabolical wretches, who, in * pains and penalties of transportation for contempt of the respect and reverence the offences which it creates, a punishment due to the sacred character of their soin the case of misdemeanors, thus gene- vereign-in contempt of the whole legisrally constituted, as unprecedented in the lature, by a kind of concentred malice, history of our laws, as it is unnecessary directed a blow at once at its three and unconstitutional.

branches, in attempting to assassinate a 3. “ Because the extension of the mild and benignant monarch, who was treason laws, and the creating new misde- the great cement and centre of our glomennors, is an alarming encroachment on rious constitution. In contemplating the security of the subject, and affords no this calamity, the House would feel that additional protection to his majesty's some correction must be given to the person and government; for the state of laws, at present in force against such every king, ruler, and governor of any crimes ; means must be found to repress realm, dominion, or commonalty, standeth the spirit which gave birth to so daring an and consisteth more assured by the love outrage, and to prevent such unpreceand favour of the subjects towards their dented consequences of sedition, and of sovereign, ruler, and governor, than in the sedition too leading to assassination by the dread and fear of those laws with rigorous most despicable, as well as the most danpains and extreme punishments, which gerous of all modes of attack, against the have at all times disgraced our code. vital principles of the state, in the person Ilistory, however, shows us, that by suc. of the sovereign.

If, under this first impression, every which he hoped would soon be laid before man should think himself called upon them for their concurrence. His motion, (as he was sure would be the case), by therefore, was not directed to alter or enthe loyalty and allegiance he owed to the force the laws of the king's safety, but to sovereign office, and by affection to the prevent those meetings, to which all the person of the sovereign, by the reverence mischiefs he had mentioned were attridue to religion, by self-preservation itself, butable. and the happiness of society at large, to The meetings to which he alluded, were, apply a remedy to those very alarming he said, of two descriptions; under the first symptoms, another impression would of those descriptious, fell those meetings arise out of it, equally forcible, and which, under a pretext (to which they equally obvious, namely, that they would by no means adhered) of petitioning pardo this business but by halves, and act liament for rights of which they affected carelessly and ineffectually, if they di- to be deprived, agitated questions, and rected their attention only to that sepa- promulgated opinions and insinuations rate act, and not to those very mischiev- hostile to the existing government, and ous and formidable circumstances, which tending to bring it into disrepute with the were connected with it, in point of prin-people. The other description, though ciples, and which produced it in point of less numerous, not less public, nor less fact.

dangerous, were concerted evidently for In endeavouring to lead the attention the purpose ofdisseminating unjust grounds of the House to the remedies which ap- of jealousy, discontent, and false compeared to him most likely to be efficient plaints, against the constitution; of irrito this purpose, he would not advert to tating the minds of the people against legal distinctions, but to prudential prin- their lawful governors ; and of encouragciples. If the House viewed the sepa- ing them to acts of even treason itself. rate act with that eye of horror he con. In these meetings, every thing that could ceived they must, and if, viewing it so, create faction, every thing that could ex. they felt the conviction, that a repetition cite disloyalty, every thing that could of such enormities should be prevented prepare the minds of those who attended immediately; the next point that would for rebellion, was industriously circulated. impress itself upon their minds, as arising Both these required some strong law to from the two former, was, that they prevent them; for, if the arm of the exeshould adopt some means to prevent these cutive government was not strengthened seditious assemblies, which served as ve- by such a law, they would be continued, hicles, to faction and disloyalty, which if not to the utter ruin, certainly to the fanned and kept alive the Same of dis- indelible disgrace of the country. affection, and filled the minds of the peo- As to the first of those descriptions, ple with discontent. He had the most no one would venture to deny the right indubitable proof to support him in say of the people to express their opinions ing, that this sentiment pervaded not only on political men and measures, and to that House, but all the kingdom ; and discuss and assert their right of petitionthat in no one instance which had ever ing all the branches of the legislature; occurred, were the Commons called upon nor was there any man who would be more loudly by the wishes and prayers of farther from encroaching on that right an anxious community, than they were at than himself. It was undoubtedly a most this time by the whole people of England, valuable privilege, of which nothing should to avert the ruin with which those assem- deprive them. But on the other hand, if blies menaced the country, by preventing meetings of this kind were made the their further proceedings. In full hopes mere cover or the pretext for acts which that the House felt the force of these were as inconsistent with the liberty of impressions as forcibly as he did, and the subject as it was possible to imagine would agree to some such measure as he any thing to be ; if, instead of stating had alluded to, his motion of that day grievances, the people were excited to would go to that object. It might, per rebellion ; if, instead of favouring the haps, occur to gentlemen, that a law principles of freedom, the very foundashould be previously made for the pro- tion of it was to be destroyed, and tection of his majesty's person; but he in with it the happiness of the people ; it formed them, that the other House had now was high time for the legislature to interunder its consideration a bill to that effect, pose with its authority. [VOL. XXXII.]

[T]

This consideration, he confessed, occa / assembly, and that after reading the sioned considerable difficulty, but it did riot act, and ordering them to disperse, not create an insuperable dilemma. In any number of persons remaining should, applying the desired remedy, two things as by the riot act, incur the penalty were to be looked to the first, to correct of the law, that of felony. The House the abuse of a sacred and invaluable pri- would see, that this summary power vilege; the second, to preserve that pri- in the magistrate, while it would still vilege inviolate: caution was therefore leave to the people the fair right to penecessary, lest, on the one hand, they tition, on the one hand, would, on the should encroach on the rights of the peo- other, prevent the abuse of it. This, he ple, or, on the other, should suffer the abuse said, was the outline. All detail he would ofthose rights to become the instrument of reserve for future discussion. their total extinction. This was a matter

Under the other description of meetings, of great delicacy, and should be attended through which the minds of the people to in the detail, but the House would were poisoned, fell those of public lecsee, that at present the real question was, turers, who made the dissemination of sedid not the pressure of the moment call dition the source of livelihood. To them for some remedy?

he thought it would be proper to apply According to the opinions which he regulations something like those that had collected, as well as he had been passed about fourteen years ago, in an act able, from others, and such as he had which, from the learned gentleman who formed for himself, the great point wanted brought it in, was called Mansfield's act, at this moment was a more clear and de- and by which all houses wherein meetings fined power in the magistrate, to disperse of an improper kind were held on a Sunday, and put an end to all meetings likely to were to be treated as disorderly houses. be productive of consequences such as And, to avoid evasion, the clause should were already mentioned. He by no apply to every house wherein any people means meant this power of dispersion to met, exceeding a certain number to be extend to meetings professedly and ob- stated in the act, the real family of the viously lawful, and held for legal and house. These, said he, are the outlines of constitutional purposes; but that, in every the measure I have to propose ; and so case of a numerous meeting, of whatever convinced am I that there can be but one nature, or under whatever colour, notice feeling, and one opinion, that some meashould be given, so as to enable the ma- sure of this kind is necessary [here a cry gistrate to keep a watchful eye over their of hear!" from the opposite side] ; and proceedings. He should therefore pro- so little am I shaken in that conviction by pose, that whatever be the pretext of a the adverse vociferations of hear, hear !" public meeting (if the House was at all that I am sure I should but show a disof opinion there was any necessity for trust of the cause, if I said any more. I the regulation of such meetings), such will therefore only move, “ That leave be notice should be given to the magistrate, given to bring in a bill for the more effecin order that he might attend, for the tually preventing Seditious Meetings and preservation of the public peace; that he Assemblies." might watch the proceedings, to prevent Mr. For said, he trusted it was, unneany measure that might tend to attack, cessary for him to preface what he had to or to bring into contempt, either the so- say, by a declaration, that he felt as much vereign himself, or any branch of the es- horror at the attempt which was made tablished government of the country against his majesty as any man in the That the magistrate should be empowered kingdom: quite as much as any man to apprehend any persons whose conduct who might move, who might second, should seem calculated for those pur- or who might support the bills which poses, and that any resistance to the au- it seemed was to be offered to the thority of a magistrate so acting, should be House. Having agreed so far with the deemed felony in every person concerned minister that night, there he must take his in it. That, on perceiving the proceedings leave of him. He did not think he should of such meeting to be tumultuous, and well express bis feelings, if he declared leading to the bad consequences he had that his indignation at what had happenalready mentioned, the magistrate should ed even on that day, was more than equal have power similar to that which he had to what he felt from what he had heard already by the riot act, to disperse that this night. The right hon. gentleman had

adverted to a bill at that time in the other regularly proceed, for they were points on House, which was stated to have for its which there was no proof. Nothing was object the better security of his majesty's more clear than that the House of Comperson, and on which it was probable the mons ought never to proceed upon any House would have some communication measure that night trespass upon the with their lordships. He believed it would rights of the public, without evidence be difficult for the right hon. gentleman to that was decisive, even in cases of extreme show the necessity for that bill, if he necessity; but there was no evidence meant to ground that necessity upon the whatever to connect any of the proceedassumption that what happened on the ings of these meetings, with the daring first day of the session was in consequence insult offered to his majesty:

The right of what passed at meetings to which he hon. gentleman had said, Should not the had alluded. He disapproved highly of House endeavour to prevent the repetition all these experiments, which were profes- of such an insult? Undoubtedly it should. sed to be intended as securities for the But then it should be upon evidence, and enjoyment of all the blessings of our con here the right of persons to meet any stitution. He knew the constitution had where to consult on public measures, was existed for ages sufficiently guarded by to be affected in consequence of what the law as it now stood, and therefore, if happened to his majesty on the first day the right hon. gentleman had not opened of the session, although there was no evihis plan, which, he declared struck him dence to prove that the outrage arose from with horror ; if he had not said a single any proceedings that were had at any word upon that detestable plan, he should public meeting previous to that day. Some have given his negative to the proposition persons, perhaps, might consider the in question; because the proposition it proclamation itself as evidence. He self laid it down as an assumed fact, that could agree to no such rule; he well knew the law at present is insufficient to prevent there were those who doubted the truth of breaches of the public peace. It was said, the proclamations: who believed many of that a seditious meeting had been held them to be the acts of ministers for cersomewhere in the neighbourhood of the tain purposes of their own; and he was metropolis a few days previous to the meet- sure it was not regular in that House to ing of parliament; that at such meeting take things for granted, merely because very alarming proceedings had taken they appeared in a proclamation. place, striking at the very existence of These were strong objections to proparliament itself. That such proceedings ceeding upon this subject without better took place he did not know; but, this he evidence. All this, however, was trifling, knew, if speeches were made that had in comparison with what the right hon. such a tendency, the speakers were amen- gentleman had said upon the subject. He able to the law. If hand-bills were dis- had said, that there might be a difficulty tributed that had such a tendency, the to preserve the right of petitioning, and distributors were amenable to the law. If to prevent abuses of that right. Difficulty any person had so conducted himself as and delicacy, he confessed, there were: to be the means of causing the people so but that did not embarrass him; for, he assembled to form a resolution, having said, they might be settled in the detail. such a tendency, he was amenable to the Thus the right hon. gentleman talked with law, and, when proved guilty, was liable ease on the rights of the subject, as if he lo adequate punishment. But this bill was expected to bring the public to submit to to proceed upon the flimsy pretext, that the most rigid despotism. In that detail, all the violence and outrage that had been Mr. Fox said, he would never take a offered to his majesty was the result of share, for he would never attend the de this meeting, of which there was not the tail of a measure which in its essence was colour of proof. He knew, indeed, that so detestable. The right hon. gentleman the right hon. gentleman had attempted to had hinted at two points. With regard connect them; he knew, too, there had to the first, that of public meetings for been, and would be endeavours to con- the discussion of public subjects, he must found the two things.

not only confess them to be lawful, but It was ridiculous to talk of these things must allow them also to be agreeable to being perfectly notorious ; that these pro- the very essence of the British constituceedings were clearly seditious; they were tion, and to which, under that constitupoints upon which that House could not tion, most of the liberties we enjoyed

« ZurückWeiter »