« ZurückWeiter »
the House of Commons, for a power to be y were not equally and individually reprevested in the people of petitioning his ma- sented, the aggregate body was to all injesty to hold or dissolve the parliament, and tents and purposes, virtually represented ; to remove the grievances to which it might and that, for instance, the member for be their fate to be subjected. Perhaps he Westminster was equally zealous in promight be laughed at for the superstitious moting the general interest of the country, veneration in which he held the names of he was in consulting the more immedisome great and ancient families in the ate interests of his constituents. From kingdom. There was no one for which this reasoning, the inference which natuhe had a more profound respect than that rally occurred was this, that they who had of Cavendish ; and sorry was he to see, not an equal influence in choosing reprethat in a question of such great constitu- sentatives in parliament, and who, in fact, tional importance, not one of that illus- had none, should by the exercise of petitrious family, who had so many seats in tion have an opportunity of making their parliament, was to be found either in the grievances known to those who were the minority or the adverse ranks.
virtual representatives of the nation. He defended the sentiments of his Whereas, in the present bill the privileges learned friend (Mr. Erskine), which had of petition, as well as the powers of been misunderstood or misrepresented by election, were confined to boroughs and the right hon. secretary. His learned corporations who actually had representafriend did not mean, and no man who pre- tives whom they had it in their power to tended to the character of a statesman, he entrust with the exercise of their functions. was convinced, would presume to say Would it not be much more suitable and that property ought not to have great po- becoming to extend this privilege to the litical weight. But even the right hon. poor householders, and the millions of ungentleman himself would not contend, that represented people in the country who property had an exclusive right of thinking have no other medium through which to and speaking upon subjects of constitu- make known their grievances, and to tional importance. This would be to rob pour in their complaints ? Deprive them man of his natural and indefeasible rights of this right of petitioning, and you take and to reduce society to its original ele from them all that is valuable in their poments. In another place, report declared litical existence. In this view, then, the that a person of high authority, considerable bill went to institute a fatal distinction talents, and great learning (the bishop of between the constituents and non-constiRochester), had said, that the mass of the tuents in the kingdom ; a distinction which people had nothing to do with the laws, but was sufficient to destroy the harmony and to obey them. And this strange assertion peace of the country; to confute the had been made by a member of that order, only argument which could be adduced in who beyond all others were taught in their opposition to parliamentary reform, and religion to recognize the natural equality to convert the government of the country of man. But he trusted that the people into an aristocracy, or an oligarchy. of England would not tamely surrender He then proceeded to inquire how far their indisputable and hereditary right, the bill actually went in its provisions, to whatever inclination an arbitrary minister limit the right of petitioning. The sheriff or a supercilious prelate might betray, to must call the meeting. But what was to wrest them out of their possession. How be done, if he refuse to call a meeting absurd was it that because a man had not upon a subject of pressing importance? the good fortune to have a freehold qua- Can a meeting be held without his perlification of forty shillings valued rent, he mission or not? But was not the sheriff must not be allowed to speak his senti. an officer noroinated by the crown ; and ments on subjects which involve his dear-what a mockery was it, to solicit permisest and most important concerns! At sion from the crown, to meet in order to present he would not enter into the argu- petition the crown?
Suppose, for inments for and against parliamentary re- stance, that the object of the petition form. The sum of the argument on the were to be a dissolution of parliament, one side was, that the people of the would the crown countenance a petition country were not equally represented; for any such purpose, as long as the king and the only answer bearing the smallest found it for his interest to retain the parsemblance of speciousness, which had liainent then in being?. On the supposibeen made, was, that though the people tion that redress of public grievances was
the object, how could the people expect thought that a judicious selection of the
doubt have ensued, but the investiture of He applied this reasoning to the meet- a new prince with the sovereign power ing at Copenhagen House, the object of might have quieted the commotion. Had which he contended to be strictly legal, parliament made a bold and open attack whatever were the forms of the petitions upon the trial by jury, a speedy remedy which were then drawn up, but an object would have been found in the deluge of which would have been resisted à princi- argument and declamation which would pio, had the bill now pending been pre-I immediately have issued from the press. viously in force. There was another Petitions would have been poured in, reclause which was almost too ridiculous to monstrating against the assault on public mention, namely, that which prohibited liberty; and the voice of the people all public lectures delivered for money. raised with unanimity and firmness, would What would become of the professors of have awed the proudest minister into subthe different sciences in the universities? mission. But when the power of speakWould they not be clearly involved in the ing was taken away, what was there left operation of this clause? But even in its but the patience of implicit submission ? most qualified construction, he could not What hopes could be entertained that conceive by what principle of policy a grievances would be removed when those man was to be prohibited from acquiring who felt them dared not complain! In his subsistence by instructing the people in such a case, it would give him but little the principles of the constitution. of Mr. anxiety that a spirit of resistance was Thelwall and his lectures, he was en- found impossible to be suppressed. At tirely ignorant. If, however, they were present he believed a spirit of discontent innocent, why should he be disturbed ? to be pretty general in the country, and If they were seditious and treasonable, he had no hesitation in saying, that it ori. why was he not prosecuted under the ex- ginated in a bad government, in wicked isting statutes ? The same observations and ruinous measures, and in the blind applied to the papers which had been and unmeaning confidence which the peoread by the noble lord (Mornington): if ple had reposed in an unfortunate and they were treasonable, the authors of desperate administration. The discono them were amenable to the treason laws. tent might, perhaps, exist in some degree He would not be understood as deliver- previous to the war, but he affirmed that ing an opinion whether they were or not, it had spread since to a much more nor even whether every seditious paper alarming extent. If the discontent origiWhich was circulated ought to be sub- nated in French principles, it was indebtmitted to the course of law. He rathered for its currency to the measures of
British ministers. He wished to bring | must take place. Mr. Fox here exposed them to issue upon this point. They said the fallacy of the assertion, that universal the people of England were loyal; so suffrage was the cause of the downfall of said he, They asserted that there were the ancient despotism of France, and of malcontents in the country ; in this also the overthrow of the first constitution. he agreed. But he would ask, whether He urged upon the serious consideration the danger to be apprehended from of ministers the situation into which they French principles, was greater now or two had reduced the country, and implored years ago? Let them say either the one them to give up a system which was or the other ; but he intreated them, for pregnant with ruin, and to employ every God's sake, not to say both. For his own lenient and conciliatory means for gaining part, he thought it was greater. If it the affection of the people, and attaching was, he demanded if the increase of dan- them to the constitution. He said, he ger was not owing to the calamitous war knew there was a spirit in the country to which was unjustly commenced, and ward off the ravages of anarchy : he hoped, had been unfortunately prosecuted? If also, there was a spirit to resist the strides the danger was diminished, why would of oppression. Before he sat down, he they apply a more hazardous remedy than would say a few words with respect to the when the disease was described as raging general scarcity of provisions that prewith its utmost fury? Whatever was the vailed, though not connected with the degree of danger in which the country subject before the House. If the war now stood, he was firmly of opinion, that was not the principal cause of the scarit would be increased rather than lessened city, that it was an integral part could not by the remedy proposed. The danger had be disputed. Though the harvest was in principally arisen from a system of terror, general abundant, yet wheat was not so which ministers had adopted; and the productive as had been expected. Other most effectual mode of protracting the articles of consumption which were more danger was by continuing this system, plentiful were equally dear; so dear, that of which the present bill seemed to form the poor could not, for the price of labour a most prominent part.
(which was in no proportion to the dearHe next adverted to what had been ness of provisions) buy enough of bread. said of the danger of universal suffrage There were many other mischiefs that and annual parliaments. They had been followed in the train of a destructive war, represented as the cause of the subversion the expenses of which had lowered the of the old French government, and they value of money, as it had increased the were described as the instrument employ- price of necessaries. Though the blessed by the Corresponding Society, to de- ings of returning peace could not in a molish the British constitution. He pro- month, or a year, restore plenty, and refessed himself no friend to either ; but he pair the hardships of the war, still they quoted the high authority of the duke of afforded the only cure for famine and poRichmoud, by whom they had been sup- verty. Thus he might in some degree ported, and drew this inference, that the say— Sublata causa, tollitur effectus. The opinions of those in the higher and lower war ended, peace would, if not immedistations of society were treated in a very ately, at least in time, bring back the different style of respect. When the mem- country to its former state of prosperity bers of corresponding societies think now, Mr. Fox concluded a masterly speech by as the duke of Richmond thought some saying, that he should consider it an unyears ago, there is a general outcry, Will pardonable omission to conceal from the you presume to touch the sacred ark of the people, that they had to reproach themconstitution with unhallowed hands? But selves for a great part of their calamities nothing was said when a daring minister by their supineness, in not bringing mi. comes forward – not, indeed, with unhal-nisters to an account for their destructive lowed hands, for a minister's hands are measures, and with calling on the House like those of the high priest of old, which to be aware of what they were doing, and it would be sacrilege even to look at- not to continue a blind confidence in gonot to touch it only, but to tear it in vernment to the ruin of the country. pieces.
Mr. Pitt said, that as he had repeatedly The sole reason assigned for this out- delivered his sentiments upon the bill, he rage against the constitution, was, that felt but little inclined unnecessarily to when new occasions happen, new changes take up the attention of the House, par[VOL. XXXII.]
ticularly as most part of what had been bravery might have been ineffectual, if already said that day had little connexion they had not secured their object by lewith the question. Under this descrip: gislative provisions. It was in this man. tion he did not include the comparison ner, more than by personal valour, that which the right hon. gentleman had they preserved the constitution. What thought proper to draw between a revo- was the bill of rights itself, but a measure lution in this country in favour of the adopted by our ancestors in consequence House of Stuart, and a revolution in fa- of their finding themselves under new cir. vour of that kind of government which cumstances ? They declared it to be high French principles would recommend and treason to dispute the queen's authority, inculcate. No man could be more sen- to deny that the parliament was comsible than he was of the dreadful calami- petent to confine and limit the succession ties that the nation would sustain by the and, finally, to render attempts to introre-establishment of a popish pretender, duce a system, different from that which who would, no doubt, endeavour to sub- they had established by the laws, felonivert our liberties, our religion, and our ously penal. Upon examining the prelaws, and possibly he might Succeed in sent bill it would be found, that their exhis object. He had no hesitation, how ample was rigidly adhered to, and preever, in declaring, that were he to choose ventive measures resorted to, on motives between two such horrible alternatives, of policy and prudence, in order to guard he would chearfully prefer the restoration against that extreme which would make of the pretender to that cruel and deso- it necessary for many to risk their lives lating system of anarchy, which would in a contest, and be involved in all the radically destroy all those principles by miseries that attend a civil war. One which social order was maintained. He great recommendation of this temporary scrupled not to agree with the right hon. measure was, that it strictly adhered gentleman in declaring, that were we to the examples of former times; and under the same circumstances that pressed while it added to the general secuon our ancestors, we should be equally rity, made no innovation on the conready to make the same sacrifices that stitution, nor, in the smallest degree, they had done in so necessary a resis- weakened the spirit of the laws. Our tance; and he farther admitted, that ancestors in times of danger, and even when we expressed ourselves equally during that interval which took place bewilling to risk our lives in an opposition tween the deposition and the restoration to either Jacobitical or Jacobinical prin- of the monarchy, adhered as much as so ciples, we had no more to offer, nor were peculiar a situation would admit, to ancient we any longer to seek for any practical forms, and conducted the public business difference. It happened conveniently for by means of both Houses of Parliament, his purpose, that the arguments and illus- if that assembly could properly be called trations employed by the right hon. gen- a parliament, when it was actually de tleman furnished him with materials which prived of one of its component parts, would serve for an answer to most of Iris Were there no precedents, no landarguments, as far as he had urged any marks, to guide their proceedings on the thing closely connected with the subject. present emergency? In days of difficulty Of this comparison between the two kinds and danger, which had threatened one of revolutions alluded to in particular, branch of the legislature, and when without attempting to reason on which doubts had arisen respecting the compeside the choice ought to preponderate, it .tency of parliament to legislate in one was sufficient to say, that we were ready particular case-limiting the succession with our lives to resist the introduction of the crown, our ancestors made a law of either.
suitable to the occasion. But at this time Here, then, he wished to pause, and what was the enemy that we had to conbeseech the right hon. gentleman to adopt tend with, and what the danger to be rethe sage counsels of his ancestors, with the pelled ? Not an attack upon one branch same ardour which he expressed when he of the legislature, not a doubt about the declared his desire to imitate the valour right to legislate in a particular case; the of their arms.
Our ancestors expelled right to legislate at all was questioned, the family of the Stuarts, and established and the legality of monarchy itself in any the glorious and immortal revolution, in shape was denied. Was that, he begged the first instance by the sword; but their to ask, a proper time to sit still, and refrain from taking vigorous and effectual framing alterations in the constitution almeasures, merely because they might de- ways devolved. viate in some degree from established The next point to be considered had practice? The parallel that had been at- been insisted upon much in the House, tempted to be drawn between the mea- and, as he understood, made very
indus, sures of the executive government at trious use of out of it; viz. that the prethis time, and those of the House of sent bill was calculated to create a differStuart, in no degree applied. In the days ence, and cause a separation between the of the Charles's, the people were above all lower and the higher orders of the people. taught to look up to parliament for safety The effect of this bill he was ready to and protection: they might undoubtedly maintain would be diametrically the relook elsewhere for assistance, but parlia. verse. The system of dividing the orders ment was the centre in which all their of the community was that which formed hopes and dependence rested, and in the grand spring and power of Jacobinism which alone they were led to expect re- which the present bill was evidently caldress for their grievances: such had been culated to oppose, to check, and to sup, the example of their ancestors at the re- press. It was by exciting the envy and volution, and as it was before their eyes, hatred of the poor against those in it ought to regulate their proceedings. higher stations, by holding out to them
The right hon. gentleman had talked the hope of exchanging their conditions, of risking his life in defence of the consti- and by representing property as the easy tution : he was not asked now to risk his prey of the indigent, the idle, and the li. life, he was asked only to apply the laws centious, that the profligate principles of to the present state of the country, in | Jacobinism had succeeded in destroying such a manner as to render the risking all social order in France, and the same of lives, for the present at least, unneces- end had been aimed at, by the same means sary; and he was asked to do this in time, in all other parts of Europe. Under our before the evil which threatened us should happy constitution, he believed there was have risen to such a height, as to bring no man of rank or property, at this time, on personal dangers. Gentlemen had so negligent of his duty, and so unacmade much objection to this bill, as de- quainted with his interest, as to draw a barring the subject of the right to peti- line of separation between himself and tion, as secured to them by the bill of those that were below him, in rank, afflu. rights. But did the bill of rights imply, ence, or degree. What nation in the world that any other than parliament was to be now existed, or had been known to exist, the channel through which evils in the in which the great and the low were placgovernment or constitution were to be ed at so little distance, and so slightly seredressed? The revolution itself tended parated ? A continued and well cemented also to prove the point he was contending connexion, which could not easily be dis. for ; since it was a memorable example, solved, was so visible, that it was impossithat even when the throne was vacant, ble to fix upon any link in the general and when the forms of the constitution chain where the union of the parts did necessarily failed, yet, even then, so strong not immediately appear.
The middle was the impression on the minds of men, class derived supply, vigour, and support, of the maxims which they had before from that below it; diffused it through all learnt, that no new constitution was around; communicated and received reci. formed in consequence, but the old con procal aid from that which was above it; stitution was still considered as subsisting, and an animating spring gave that activity The two remaining Houses of parliament, and general circulation of benefits to the and those two Houses alone, were then whole, which composed the order of well. resorted to, and not the sovereignty of regulated society. the people, as the means through which The manner by which the right hon. the other branch of the legislature was gentleman had attempted to prove that the to be supplied. It was not to that sove tendency of this bill was to make such reignty of the people which is now talked invidious distinctions, was most extraorof, that recourse was had. Thus, there- dinary. The bill had been held out as a fore, the revolution itself conspired to bill which proscribed all meetings whatsoshow that it was to parliament, or to the ever from petitioning parliament, except people in parliament, and not to the peo-such as were licensed. So far from this, ple out of parliament, that the right of the bill left all'established meetings pre