« ZurückWeiter »
the same feelings and the same sentiments with regard to Ireland.
And now, as to the only other point which I intend to notice in the speech of the bonourable gentleman, I mean the state of a conspiracy in this country; he has said, that much might be known to government which is not known to him. I know that much is known to government which cannot be known to him upon that subject. I know that the country at large is sensible, that there is a body of men, too considerable in number and activity for government to pass by them unnoticed; men who are going on with the daring purpose of corresponding with the French, for establishing a spirit of republicanism in this country, under the auspices of a foreign force. This is supported by the conduct of our enemies; we can see nothing of the proceedings of our enemies ; we can see none of the speeches of their leaders, in whicb it is not attempted to animate the French people to invade this country; no temptation to make their armies embark'; no endeavour to prevail upon their scanty marine to try their feeble efforts, that is not followed up with the hope of success, by the co-operation of traitors in this country. I think, therefore, I
may venture to say, that when the crown does state by a message, that the information is received of the existence of such a design, we ought to be prepared in the best manner possible.
When we know that the enemy are forming a plan to invade this country ; when we know that in former times, on such communications from the throne, our ancestors, without investigation, had recourse to the measure of enabling his Majesty to secure and detain those who are suspected of conspiring against his government, I say, we should be wanting to ourselves, if we hesitated in adopting the measure to which the honourable gentleman alluded, seemingly with a dislike, in one part of his speech, but which I hope this house will give effect to before we separate this night. It was my intention to have moved for that law immediately after disposing of the address; but that having suggested itself elsewhere, we may be enabled to give it the force of law more speedily. I hope the interval will not be a
great many minutes before we see that measure has received the sanction of another house of legislature. It is a measure that becomes necessary on grounds intiinately connected with the subject now befose us, I am very glad there is now no difference of opinion upon the main question; the union of this house is very desirable upon this point; and therefore, although I may protest against some of the doctrines of the honourable gentleman who spoke last, I am unwilling to dwell upon the points on which we differ, because I am unwilling to disturb their unanimity.
The question upon the address was immediately put and agreed to nemine contrudicente.
A message from the Lords shortly afterwards informed the House that their Lordships had passed a bill, intituled," an act to empower his Majesty to secure and detain such persons as he may suspect to be conspiring against his person and governigent.”
On Mr. Dundas' moving “ that this bill be now read a first time,"
Mr. Sheridan declared, he was so tenacious of the liberty of the subject, and so unwilling to assent to any infringement upon it, that, until better proofs were given of the necessity of the measure than the minister's assertion, he must meet the present motion with his decided negative.
Mr. Pitt said, that with regard to the existence of a conspiracy, what he had said had been misrepresented by the honourable gentleman * who spoke last. It had been stated, as if he had conveyed an idea, that nothing was to be found in this country but loyalty and attachment to government. That loy, alty, indeed, he was happy to think was general; but so far was he from stating it to be unanimous, that, on the contrary, he stated expressly, that although a large portion were favourable to government, there were, nevertheless, a description of persons too considerable, both in number and activity, to be passed by unnoticed, whose conduct was opposite to the general sense of this nation. Was it then to be contended, that, because these çircumstances were so plain as to call forth the zeal of almost
• Mr. Sheridan
every man in the country, except its enemies, therefore we were to take no precaution whatever sor our own safety? The honourable gentleman said, there was a period when we ourselves did not think it necessary to take this precaution, without laying before parliament different evidence from that which is before it now.
There was, indeed, a time when evil disposed persons were active, and when there were insurrections and dif. ficulties to be overcome, and danger to be avoided.
But would the honourable gentleman undertake to say, that the preparations made by the enemy for a descent upon this country, were at any other period during the war ever so ripe, so extensive, and so truly alarming as at the present crisis ? He would hardly risk so ill-founded an assertion. France had, in the former part of the contest, been totally engaged in her continental wars; the powerful confederacy which had been formed against her, kept her troops in constant action, and employed every means and every resource to which she could resort. She was so completely occupied as to render every hostile design against us ridiculous, and every attempt perfectly nugatory. We were well aware of the weakness of her means, with respect to the execution of any project of invasion against us, though we were at the same time fully satisfied of her destructive views, and her wishes to annihilate us as an independent nation. Situated and involved as she was then, we had less to apprehend from any attempts which, in the heat of inordinate ambition, and urged on by intemperate revenge, she might madly be induced to make, for the purpose of destroying our political and civil liberty, our religious blessings, and our commercial prosperity. But the case was now extremely different.
The French government, freed from the perplexities and struggles in which it had been involved by the military 'exertions of the continental powers, was at liberty to employ its troops directly against us, and centered all its hopes in attacking this nation, which had so gloriously opposed the torrent of general anarchy, and manfully continued the contest vigorously, successfully, and alone, against all the force, and against all the arts and machinations which it could employ. The force it had big therto employed had been defeated with disgrace and shame; and the base undermining machinations with which it worked, to diffuse disaffection, and propagate the doctrines of anarchy, in the heart of the country, would, he trusted, be speedily and guccessfully counteracted. If he wanted any other evidence to shew the necessity of the interference of parliament, to invest the executive government with the power stated in the bill, he would make use of no other to recommend it than the prompt and spontaneous offer which the honourable gentleman had made in the beginning of the debate, to join in the most effectual manner in promoting the zealous and spirited unanimity of the whole body of the people, in their exertions to secure from the rapa- : city of an unprincipled, plundering, and lawless invader, the pos: session of every object that was truly dear to them. But was there any thing, he would ask, that could produce unanimity in a greater degree, and secure the vast benefits naturally resulting from the great and happy co-operation of all well-disposed pere sons, jointly exerting themselves with one heart and with one hand for the preservation of their most valuable rights, than the adoption of the present measure, weich went to disable disaffected and dangerous men from destroying, by open acts of violence, and insidious arts, that unanimity on which the honourable gentleman had laid such stress for effecting the salvation of the country? How, therefore, the honourable gentleman's ob, jections could be fairly reconciled with the animating and patriotic professions which he had made, and which, in fact, did him so much honour, he could not help saying be was at a loss to determine.
The honourable gentleman did feel, from the natural effusion of the warmth and impassioned sentiments of patriotism which he bad delivered, that the zealous co-operatiou of every individual was required at this important crisis in the common der fence; and surely he would not, upon mature reflection, weaken. that most desirable end, by his opposition to a bill which directly went to invigorate the public mind, and to cement the effective
and irresistible union of men of all parties and of all descrip tions, by freeing them from the apprehensions and dismay to which they were liable, by suffering men tainted with principles hostile to the constitution, and, indeed, bent on the destruction of it, to remain at large, in readiness to contrive and carry into execution their horrid projects. So far, therefore, was the bill from being objectionable, that it, on the contrary, promoted, in the most effectual way, the chief object which the honourable gentleman had at heart. The honourable gentleman had, in the first stage of the debate, acted honourably, and it was earnestly to be hoped that he would follow up that conduct by acting consistently, But was it consistent with that vigilance and with that spirit of precaution, which the honourable gentleman had so strenuously recommended to the house and to the country, first, to let us suffer the invasion to take place, and then proceed to suspend the Habeas Corpus act? In other words, we were to be uncommonly vigilant and cautious when the enemy had once ob. tained a footing in the country; and at the moment when we were threatened with the most iinminent peril, we were only then to think of securing ourselves against the dangerous, and perhaps, fatal activity of domestie traitors.
But it was urged, that notorious proofs ought to be furnished ta induce the house to give their assent to the present measure. lp answer to that, he would ask, wbat was the nature of the proofs which appeared ? The house had been told, on the authority of the executive government, which no gentleman could attempt to say would be lightly hazarded, that a strong spirit of disaffection prevailed both in this country and in Ireland. Yet, if that information was not deemed sufficiently satisfactory, he would maintain, what he was completely satisfied could not be denied, that the house and the public had been told so upon the testimony of the French themselves. Were gentlemen then to disbelieve all these authorities, and were they to give no credit whatever to the publications of the French government, which had uniformly in almost every topic that related to the plan of inva. şion, held out, as an encouragement and as a facility to execute