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manly as they were just, against a pend. two other French words (put into Enging law of restraint upon the liberty of lish) "domiciliary visits." of all the inthe subject. He would state them fairly, explicable events in the political scene, and watch the extent of them. “Let a perhaps none had ever more astonished meeting be duly convened—the magis- him than to find such a want of memory trate with no pretence for suspicion, in. on the other side of the House upon this trudes himself. This very intrusion is of topic. It was true, that every man's house itself a check upon freedom of debate. was his castle, but was it also his theatre? Let the meeting be assembled bonâ fide and so as to exclude all interference of the and singly to discuss the reform of parlia- executive power ? These were political ment, or something of that nature : let the theatres, and made the vehicles of sedimagistrate, paid by government (as in tion. Was there no other description of Westminster he is) act like a mercenary theatres in England? And could the in the bad sense of the term; and in order hon. gentleman over against him (Mr. to court the minister best (as he may ima. Sheridan) give no account of them? gine), let him intercept, by his imperial Had he never heard of theatres for veto, a popular statement of the mischief; dramatic purposes? If he had, could let him attempt the arrest of a debating he never have heard of an act which individual ; let an obstruction to that legal passed in the 10th of the late king? An injustice be made by some around him ; act which disallows any theatre unlicensed, let the magistrate then disperse the meet- or play even in a licensed theatre, which ing, and announce the penalty of death has not the king's previous approbation for disobedience to the mandate of disper- through his chamberlain, who is no magission; let him call in the military to his trate, and from whom there is no appeal? aid, if such a meeting cannot be dispersed is the cause of that restriction light in by the civil power alone.” Is not this, he the analogy of its bearing upon this part would ask, invidious enough ? and is not of the bill? Sedition had found its way he, in thus putting it, an adversary against into that school of morality; upon that himself; or at least against the bill? He ground alone the restriction was built, not would, however, in general, protest as here, for a limited period, but, for ever; against the calumny to which the magis- not liable to any control over the custotrates who act in the metropolis, had been des ipsos,” but the offspring of absolute, exposed, though he had stated an instance of personal, of individual discretion and of gross and scandalous abuse in theory, will. The act passed the Commons with and for the purpose of the argument. uncommon haste, and without one divi. He would add no disingenuous colouring sion. The Whigs and the Tories, the mito soften the mischief, but yet would soften nister and the opposition, supporting it. it by a fact; which is, that against that Upon the several days which the legal abuse there is a remedy at hand, in the stages of the bill had occupied, the House control given to other magistrates over was not ill attended; upon many of them, these delinquent justices of peace, viz. the divisions took place; the minister was then judges of the land, who have their offices vehemently opposed, and was beginning for life, and in the additional control of to lose ground. In the House of Lords, juries, who will avenge the insulted ge- it was opposed by the late earl of Chesnius of the people, and convict the of- terfield, in a very elegant, ingenious, and fender, whom the judges cannot spare. popular speech, which is in print." The But now, in a balance of political evils, expressions are beautiful, and the images take the other alternative, and choose be- full of grace; but a more flimsy argument tween them. Jacobin clubs disseminating he never had seen. Lamenting, for the through affiliated societies, openly and honour of the talents over against him, without fear of check, every mad prin- that he detected in their topics evident ciple that can degrade the head or pollute plagiarism from that work: every topic the heart! Let the good sense of the now used by them was anticipated there, legislature, guarding the public interest, and the conceit of prophetic sagacity was make the option between these alterna- not spared. “ It was tyranny over opi, tives !
nion. It fettered political freedom, and Having gone thus far, he should very the energies of an independent spirit-it soon dismiss the licence of political schools or lectures, and the right of in- * For the Earl of Chesterfield's Speech on specting them, which had been called in the Play-house Bill, see Vol. 10, p. 328.
would be of no use, it was a dicatur, | practice and sound discretion. that would necessarily end in the curse of administer with justice and caution, the an imprimatur, and would in that shape duty at present incumbent on parliament, fall with redoubled weight,-it was the first was the sure method to make its expedia hint: and the liberty of writing would soon ents effectual, and to give vigour to the follow the liberty of speech; the laws law we were called upon to enact. Did were adequate ; the bill was unduly and there exist any necessity for the interfersuspiciously hurried through the House of ence of parliament on the present occaCommons,—the best way to correct po- sion? Had it a right, arising out of that pular disaffection was, to deserve popular necessity, to circumscribe the liberty of esteem, &c. &c." What has been the the people to meet for the purpose, or result? It has been innocent at least, and under the pretence, of petitioning to any the mischief at which it aimed, that of branch of the legislature? How far did seditious theatres under this dramatic veil, that necessity, and the right derived from had been suppressed. If it was a tyranny it, extend? These were the first ques. in itself upon genius, wit, and freedom tions for honest and independent men to of thought, where has the hon. gentleman decide.- The best criterion of the neces. (Mr. Sheridan) lived, that he could suffer sity arose from the consideration of the its continuance ?--he that had an interest, consequences which might follow from as the Congreve and Wycherly of his time, abstaining to interfere. And here he wished (with a dash of the political reformer) to to pause, and leave it in some degree to make such theatres free as air? And if | the minds of gentlemen to supply this theatres dramatic, in their general office, part of the argument; because it was were checked upon account of this occa- impossible for any lover of genuine lie sional abuse, by the permanent control berty to have failed to gain from recent of a chamberlain, what shall we say of a experience, if not before from history, check only for a time upon Mr. Thelwalls observation and reflection, a sufficient political theatre, and by a magistrate fund of ideas to convince him, that some sworn ? Are such theatres less prone to strength was necessary in the hands of abuse for purposes of sedition? Is the executive government, to repress the delicence here under a magistrate's view less structive machinations of some persons in convenient, or less wanted at this time this kingdom.--But it was said, were not a time in which not occasional, but uni- the laws in being sufficient to empower versal abuse of general freedom has en- the executive to repress these disorders? dangered the safety and existence of the Upon this part of the argument the oprealm? If there ever existed such a posers of this bill derive a great advantage, thing as an argument à fortiori, it was in from an imputed remissness on the part of all branches of the parallel decisive here, government to employ all the weapons al. and he challenged all the abilities in battle ready in their hands; and, perhaps, from array against bim to answer it.
an unskilful use of those which they have Mr. M. Montagu said, that since he employed. Upon this head, he confessed had the honour of a seat in that House, himself to be of opinion, that blame no subject had occurred which required would possibly attach to them. Still he so calm and deliberate a discussion, and believed that the existing laws required to to which the circumstances of the times, be reinforced, and particularly to be dethe temper of individuals, and even acci- clared and notified by some fresh act, dent itself, had so little contributed to af which should instruct the ignorance, and ford such a disposition. To narrow the rouse the activity of the peace officers. ancient right of petitioning, by any in- The same argument of the sufficiency of croachment on its free exercise in the ut- the laws might have been urged with equal most latitude, was to touch one of the truth in 1780, when London was in flames; main pillars of the constitution. This was because few understood, many doubted, a truth which could not be denied. It fol. and none dared act on the established prolowed of course, that the only justifica- visions. Upon this ground, he was for a tion for even the slightest interference new act, which he confessed he should must rest on an imperious necessity, and approve the nearer it approached to a dethat the right of that interference could claratory act. But the rise of new species be only commensurate with the danger of tumult, required new provisions, and to be prevented. This principle was not we ought at least to be sure that we renmore true in the abstract, than in wise dered the measure effectual.
Mr. Sheridan said, that the direct allu- vity, since he seemed disposed to adopt the sions which had been made to him, would same mode of illustration. The learned prevent any surprise at his anxiety to gentleman had likewise thought proper come forward. It had been remarked, to assume the task of stating the argument that during the late momentous period, against his own side. In this he had sucthe magistrates had been extremely su- ceeded to admiration ;, in the course of pine, and had not been active to exert his speech, he seemed all along to argue their authority in suppressing the meet- against the part he really meant to esings, and resisting the principles, from pouse. This, indeed, was not an uncomwhich so much of the danger was thought mon case with the learned gentleman, nor to arise. If any evils, however, had arisen with the profession to which he belonged, from their neglect, he would ask how the to speak on both sides the question. How present bill was calculated to secure their he had discharged the duty to his client activity? Instead of prompting them to he would not decide, but he would by no greater vigilance, it threw impediments in means advise the meetings complained of the way of their exertion. They were to put their brief into his hands.- The placed in an odious situation, when they learned gentleman had called upon his could not execute their trust, without in- side of the House to say whether Jacocurring the detestation of their fellow sub- bin principles had not increased of late, jects. Men of virtue and talents would and then objected that the proof of it avoid a station which they could not fill was demanded. To this he would again with credit or respect. He had been ac- say, “ prove it.” It was not, however, cused of casting reflections upon the ma- juridical proof that he looked for; but gistrates in this country, although he had that kind of proof that ministers them never uttered a sentiment in general dis- selves had brought forward previous to the paragement of that class of men. He had passing of the act for the suspension of limited his charge to the justices of West- the Habeas Corpus. That measure, howminster. who were appointed, paid, and ever, was not near so strong as the precontrolled by the executive government. sent. It was, therefore, not extraordinary He was pleased, that the learned gentle that he required, on a greater occasion, man had placed the argument upon that what they had voluntarily brought forward footing, on which alone the subject ought on a less. Was it wonderful that now he to be considered, namely, what the neces should demand a similar proof? For. sity was that required the interference of merly, the House had been deceived by the legislature ; aud whether the present the assertions of the minister; and he measure, or any part of it, was adapted was on his guard against a fresh imposto meet the exigency of the case such as ture. None of the plots which had been it might be. In the applauses which had announced in such alarming descripbeen given to the speech of a learned gen- tions, the plots to seize the tower, tleman (Mr. Grant) on a former occasion, and the various other conspiracies, he heartily agreed, as it was a perform had existed. The verdict of impartial ance conspicuous for ingenuity of reason- juries had decided that ministers had ing, and the appropriate character of its stated to the House, what the event did language. Without detracting from its not justify. Where was, likewise, the plot merit, however, he could not but observe, which had been fabricated at a very par
that the main points involved in the dis- ticular period, during the sitting of the eússion had been omitted: he had neg- grand jury, upon which various persons lected to establish the existence of the ad been apprehended, and harshly and evil, and to demonstrate the fitness of the unjustly confined for many months, with remedy. The learned gentleman had ob- out the shadow of proof or reality for the jected to him, that he called for the proof accusation. Being thus three times deof the disorders to which the application ceived, does the learned gentleman trust was to be made, and had summed up all again to the assertions of administra his argument in the two words, “ prove tion ?-He was ready to declare, that it." The learned gentleman seemed stu- he did not think the principles complained dious of brevity, and had divested these of were increased. “And on which side Words of all the observations with which did the presumption lie? There was a they had been connected. He wondered, most important difficulty to be surmounted at the same time, how the learned gentle- before the gentlemen on the other side man found fault with this imputed bre could maintain their argument with con. (VOL. XXXII.)
sistency. If they knew the increased and quences of this ? It had shown that they increasing danger of seditious doctrines were as ignorant of the temper and disand assemblies, why did the speech from positions of Englishmen, as ministers the throne bear the language it contained ? were in the regulations which they meant If ministers were acquainted with the evils to impose upon them. Miglit they not, they now magnified and insisted upon, in good earnest, have relinquished the exin what light was the declaration of travagant, and tempered the wild ideas the king, of the loyalty and good order of which they were use to entertain ? the country, to be considered? Or how The hon. gentleman opposite (Mr. Pitt) were they entitled to argue on the ground had been the strenuous advocate of parthey assumed at the opening of the session liamentary reform, though he had not of the advantage which in this respect gone the length proposed by the duke of the war had produced ? Mr. Sheridan | Richmond. He did not believe that any said, he believed these principles and this one considered him as a better man than danger to be diminished. As a proof of when he maintained those principles. it, he would appeal to the attorney-general. The duke of Richmond, he was informed, When the Habeas Corpus act was sus had been heard to say, that he was conpended, numerous prosecutions were vinced of the folly of the plans of reform going on, and the gaols every where were that he had prosecuted. But were those filled with this species of criminals. gentlemen to monopolise the privilege of Were any such heard of now? It was abandoning their professions and their said, that the different societies still pro principles ? Ought not the same candour fessed their former objects, and held their to be extended to the societies, and former language. He would nevertheless might not they be allowed to change their affirm, that their professions and conduct conduct? Even the example of France had been materially altered. Formerly might have contributed to withdraw them they had said, that that House was too from their attachment to the principles corrupt to be honoured with petitions, which had been introduced into that and that reformation was only to be country with so little success. He beeffected by the persevering exertions of lieved, on the whole, that the mischief the people. They had since found that was beyond calculation less.—The learned such pretensions were little fitted to gentleman had insisted on the advantage procure converts, and had retracted that would arise from notice being given them in form. They had disavowed their of meetings when they were held. former claims and their former language. Would any man for a moment contend, The bad success with which their that the meetings of the Corresponding schemes had been attended, while they and other societies were clandestine? maintained these extravagant objects, They had often been charged with an opwas a proof of the general attach-posite conduct, and the boldness of their ment of the country to the constitution. proceedings, had been urged as an aggraWhether they were sincere in their late | vation of their guilt. He considered the professions it was impossible for any man first clause to amount to a prohibition of to decide. The learned gentleman had all public discussion. The notice was to said, that they had a right to hear what be given by seven persons, resident housewere the sentiments of the side of the holders, in the place where the meeting House on which he (Mr. Sheridan) sat, was required, in the newspaper usually upon this subject. He asserted that they circulated there. No meeting could take had acted jesuitically, and had declined place of persons not householders. Jourany explicit declaration. On the contra- neymen tradesmen might have occasion ry, he would maintain that they had acted to assemble to complain of a grievance, with uniform fairness and consistency. or lodgers to take measures against the He had never, for his own part, scrupled exorbitance of rents, without being exto affirm, that there might be some pains posed to the severity of the law. Would taken to circulate sedition through the the editor of a country newspaper, he decountry, for desperate individuals there sired to ask, always insert the notice were in every state. The practice of which was necessary to constitute a legal imitating the cant of the French, and all meeting? He was to judge whether the the mummery attending their proceed persons signing it were householders, ings, were certainly highly ridiculous. and whether he would be satisfied with What, however, had been the conse- their responsibility. He might say that he had not leisure for these inquiries, | the present bill. The former was intend. and might refuse to insert it. Instances ed to enable the magistrate to act to prehad already appeared how partial the convent violence about io be committed, and duct of such men might be. Country where by a tardiness of the application, newspapers were greatly under the influ- the remedy would have come too late. ence of the crown. They might, even Nothing of this nature, however, was called with the danger hanging over them by for by the present case, nor could there this bill, be justified in their refusal. The beany parallel between the circumstances. other alternative of applying to the clerk | Resistance to the magistrate was felony, of the peace, five days before the meeting and if twelve men peaceably remained, was to be held, might likewise be frustrat- military execution was to take place. The ed; and no legal means remain to consti- | riot act was only to be enforced when the tute a meeting under the operation of the persons assembled acted riotously and tustatute. It was a mockery to give to the multuously. It was also to be recollected people the privilege of holding a meeting, that the riot act was introduced upon the and to affix to that privilege such conditions eve of a rebellion, when the constitution as did not at all depend on their own will was assailed; not by popular meetings and choice. Why had not the old modes and political debates, but by a great part of giving notice been adopted, by means of of the inhabitants of the country, supportthe common cryer, or by an intimation at ed by men of the first fortune and influ. the church door? In fact no meeting could Compare that measure with the hereafter take place; all discussion would present, and how feeble must it appear ! be annihilated. Notwithstanding the mo- Yet Blackstone questions whether the redification which had been attempted upon maining part of the act, after the necesthe bill, magistrates might still come and sity which had occasioned it had ceased, disperse a meeting which had entered upon was not inconsistent with the spirit of the discussions which they might disapprove. constitution. Suppose, however, which Any thing which, in their opinion tended was no improbable case, that the persons to create dislike ; any deliberation on the desirous to assemble could not procure subject of parliamentary reform, or of ex- the insertion of their notice in a newspaper, isting grievances, would instantly autho- | nor their intentions notified to the jusrize him to interpose. Nor could any tices in sufficient time, what was to be responsibility attach to his conduct, done, in order to effect the purpose for where he acted in this manner. Even which they meant to assemble? Resistshould they get the length of debating a ance, should they meet, would be useless. question, must it be regarded as nothing He would recommend to them to exercise to speak under the watchful ear of an at- only passive resistance. Should they, to tending justice? Where, it was said, was the number of fifty and upwards, meet, and the harm of the magistrate being thus au- send for a magistrate, and remain above thorized ? He was entitled to seize the the number of twelve above one hour after person who was “ wilfully and advisedly" being ordered to disperse, what course exciting the people to the dislike of go- would the magistrate follow? Would he vernment. Be it remembered, however | inflict military execution, or commit to that as it was impossible for the magis- gaol the supposed culprits? If so, would a trate to decide what words came under jury find them guilty under the present this description, he could only exercise bill? could they be punished in thus his own judgment; consequently, however throwing themselves on the conscience of legally constituted a meeting might be, it their country? Of what avail, then, was depended upon the caprice of the magis- the law which could not be put in executrate whether any deliberation should tion? He disclaimed intending any thing take place. Nobody of character would personal to the magistrates for Westminaccept the charge which this bill required ster, he could not, however, but say, he to be performed. The lowest magistrate thought all the magistrates in the kingdom a petty constable might put a stop to an must be assimilated to the Westminster assembly, as soon as any words were ut- justices, in dependence on the crown, and tered which he considered to be obnox- tutored in the new doctrine of lopping off ious.--He reprobated the hardship of the branches of the Lords and Commons, seizing a person in the arbitrary manner before they would be brought to contri- . prescribed by the bill. The riot act had bute their exertions to realize so sanguinbeen intended for a different object from ary a system. The learned gentleman