Gambar halaman

fertion to be true, that the outrage upon the king, which they all lamented, was to be afcribed to the meeting in the fields near Iflington; nor did he think there was the fmalleft connection between the London Correfponding Society, and the mob who committed the outrage in Weftminster on the first day of the feffion. That fociety had no more to do with it than his majefty's cabinet. The cabinet, indeed were evidently more deeply involved. The cabinet had commenced the war; and, by their mad continuance of it, had reduced the lower order of people to the most abject and intolerable diftrefs. Was it therefore to be wondered at, in fuch circumstances, if fome thirty or fifty infatuated individuals, in a mixed affembly of 100,000, fhould break out and vent their indignation in any manner that the irritation of the moment fuggefted?

The noble lord then went into an historical review of the events that had occurred in different reigns, and the effects of fanguinary laws against treafon, as conducive more to the deftruction of monarchical governments, than to the protection of them, and the prefervation of public tranquillity. He adverted to the right of granting money in the other house of parliament, and asked, if the noble lord chofe to follow the precedent of Charles the Second, and defire the commons to grant three years' pay to the army, whether he could expect to fucceed in the attempt? He contended ftrongly for taking precedents from better times, and then recurred to the ftatute of Edward the Third, which was accounted the beft definition of the treafon laws, and was very different from the prefent bill, which contained words never before employed upon fi.nilar occations;


for inftance, the word conftitution, Who could define the conftitution in an act of parliament? Law and government could be defined; but he had good authority, from a famous pamphlet well known to minifters, to fay that the word conftitution could not. From the wording of this claufe, he muft infift that it created new crimes by new phrases. The word people came under the fame uncertainty as conftitution, and was in no other act of parlia ment. His lordship then faid, that, however displeasing it might be to fome of their lordships to hear it, he was juftified by great and known authorities in faying, that times and circumftances might be fuch as not only to juftify, but to make refiftance become a duty. He was much against parliament giving great latitude to the judges by new powers.

Lord Lauderdale concluded his fpeech with making fome obfervations upon the fituation of public affairs, and the deranged state of the finances.

Lord Mansfield expreffed a very different opinion of the bill. It had been faid, that the ftatute of Edward the Third was fufficient ; but he confidered that ftatute as furnishing too many evafions, and as liable to too much uncertainty, to be a suitable remedy for fuch an attack as had been made upon his majefty. The ftatute of queen Elizabeth had been juftified by her fituation; but he would remark, that the regulations it contained were copied into that of queen Anne. A denial of her right was declared to be high treafon; and upon this act a perfon had been convicted and executed.

In the reign of Charles the Second, he faid, much of the leaven of republicanifm remained. There were alfo Fifth-monarchy men, who, indeed,


indeed, differed from the republicans of the present day, who with ed for no king, as they adhered to the idea of a king of a certain de fcription. He juftified the words, "and conftitution," which had been inferted in the claufe, after the words, "eftablished government," in the second part of the bill. He confidered the words, as, in every view, proper and parliamentary. Refpecting fedition, he could not agree with infinuations that seven years' transportation was too fevere a punishment for the fecond of fence; and though told that it would give diffatisfaction without doors, he would not allow this circumftance to influence his mind, in fpite of the unpopularity his conduct might occafion. He concluded with fome compliments to the known humanity and fortitude of his majesty.

After fome explanation between lord Grenville and lord Lauderdale, the duke of Norfolk rose, and contended that the doctrine of refiftance was a principle of the conftitution, to which the family of Brunfwick owed their elevation, and which in every situation he would remember, though he would not fix the precife occafion on which it ought to be employed. He was of opinion, that, from the evidence they had received at the bar on the first day of the feffion, fome meafure might have been propofed to prevent his majefty from being molefted in his paffage to and from parliament, which he thought not fufficiently provided for by the ftatute of Edward the Third; yet, he faid, that in its prefent form, and embracing fuch a variety of objects, he would certainly vote against the bill.

The earl of Abingdon oppofed the bill; and unaccountably introduced fome obfervations on his own cafe, and on the late Mr. Eftwick.

The duke of Leeds faid, that his refpect for the facred person of his majefty would induce him to con fent to go into a committee with the bill, in hopes that it might be fo qualified, as to afford a fure protection to the king without violating the rights of the people. He would wish to leave out the word "government" altogether. It was more general, and capable of a wider latitude of conftruction, even than the word "conftitution."

The marquis Townfend faw nothing in the bill to prevent counties from deliberating on public measures, and expreffing their free opinion on every fubject.

The duke of Bedford concluded the debate by saying, that no fatistisfactory anfwers had been given to the arguments against this bill; but fpecial care had been taken to mifapprehend what had fallen from him and others. This bill, in his opinion, did not give any additional fecurity to his majefty, while it affected the most valuable rights of Englishmen; and therefore he again declared that he should think it his duty to give the bill the most decided oppofition in every legal way that it could be oppofed, and that in every ftage both in the house and out of it; for if that bill paffed into a law, there was fuch an infringement in the conftitution as no man could contemplate without horror.

The question was then put, and the houfe divided: contents 56, proxies 23-non contents 7, proxy 4*.

The bill was then ordered to be committed the next day.

*The minority were, the duke of Bedford, the earl of Lauderdale, the earl of Abingdon, lord viscount Chedworth, the earl of Derby, the earl of Befborough, lord viscount St. John. -Proxy, cart of Guildford.




In the houfe of commons, on the fame day, November 10, the chancellor of the exchequer moved the order of the day, for taking into confideration his majesty's proclamations of October 31, and November 4, 1795.

Mr. Pitt painted in glowing colours the ftrong impreffions which the criminal and outrageous infult committed upon his majesty in perfon, on the first day of the feffion, had made upon the minds of all his fubjects, and remarked, that thofe outrages proceeded from circumftances upon which he meant to ground the proceedings of that night. If, under this first impref. fion, every man fhould think himfelf called upon by the affection he owed to the perfon of the fove-. reign, to apply a remedy to thofe very alarming fymptoms (which he prefumed would be the cafe) another impreffion would arife out of it, equally forcible, namely, that they would do this bufinefs but by halves, if they directed their attention folely to that feparate attack upon the perfon of his majefty, and not to thofe formidable circumstances which were connected with it in point of principle, and which produced it in point of fact. If the houfe meant fuch enormities fhould be totally averted, they fhould adopt fome means to prevent thofe feditious affemblies, which ferved as vehicles to faction and difloyalty, which fanned and kept alive the flame of difaffection, and filled the minds of the people with difcontent.

His motion was not, therefore, to alter or enforce the laws for the king's fafety, because the other houfe had then before them a bill to that effect; but to prevent those meetings to which all the mifchiefs he

had mentioned might be attributed.

The meetings to which he alluded were of two defcriptions; the firft, under a pretext of petitioning parliament for rights of which they affected to be deprived, agitated questions, and promulgated opini ons, hoftile to the exifting government, and tending to bring it into difrepute with the people. The other description, though lefs numerous, not lefs public nor less dangerous, was concerted evident. ly for the purpose of diffeminating unjust grounds of jealoufy and difcontent, and of encouraging the people to acts of even treafon itself. Both these required fome strong law to prevent them; for if the arm of the executive government was not ftrengthened by fuch a law, they would be continued, if not to the utter ruin, at least to the difgrace of the country.

No man would deny the right of the people to exprefs their opinions on political men and measures, and to difcufs and affert their right of petitioning all the branches of the legislature; but it was the duty of the houfe to prevent these privileges from being made a pretext for fubverting the established government of the country. He confeffed, however, that it was necessary to proceed with caution in this bufinefs, left, on the one hand, they fhould encroach on the rights of the people, or, on the other, fuffer the abufe of thofe rights to become the inftrument of their total extinction. This matter ought to be attended to in the detail; but the house would fee, that at prefent, the real question was, " did not the pressure of the moment call for fome remedy?"

According to the best opinions he could collect, the great point wanted

[ocr errors][ocr errors]

wanted then was a more clear and defined power in the magiftrate, to difperfe and put an end to all meetings likely to be productive of confequences fuch as were already mentioned: he by no means meant this power of difperfion to extend to meetings obviously lawful, and held for legal purposes; but that in every cafe of a numerous meeting of whatever nature, or under whatever colour, notice thould be given, so as to enable the magiftrate to keep a watchful eye over their proceedings-to recognize the power of the magiftrate to be prefent at fuch meetings, and to enforce penalties on thofe who fhould obstruct him in doing fo; and, on whatever pretext the meeting might be held, if it appeared to be of a kind that was likely to promote fedition againft government, to invest the inagiftrate with power to apprehend the perfons on the fpot-to make any obftruction to the magiftrate felony and to make a provifion, that if arrefting fhould not be found fufficient to difperfe the meeting, they hould be difperfed in the fame manner, and under the fame penalties, as those contained in the Riot Act. This fummary power in the magiftrate, while it would ftill leave to the people the fair right to petition, on the one hand, would, on the other, prevent the abuse of it. This, he faid, was the outline of the bill he meant to propose.

which all houses wherein improper meetings were held on a Sunday, were to be treated as diforderly houses. And, to avoid evafion, the claufe fhould apply to every houfe wherein any people meet, "exceeding, by a certain number to be stated in the Act, the real family of the boufe."

So convinced am I," said he, "that there can be but one feeling, and one opinion, that fome measure of this kind is neceffary; [here a cry of "hear!" on the oppofite fide] and fo little am I fhaken in that conviction by the adverfe vociferation of "hear! hear!" that I am fure I fhould but shew a distrust of the caufe if I faid any more. I will therefore only move,

Under the other defcription of meetings, through which the minds of the people were poifoned, fell thofe of public lecturers, who made the d ffemination of fedition the fource of a livelihood. To them he thought it would be proper to apply regulations, fomewhat like thofe that paffed, about fourteen years before, in an Act which was called Mansfield's Act, and by

"That leave be given to bring in a bill for the more effectually preventing feditious meetings and affemblies."

When the fpeaker had read the motion, Mr. Fox rofe, and faid that he felt as much horror at the attempt which had been made against his majefty as any man in this kingdom; but he did not think he fhould exprefs well his feelings, if he declared that his indignation at what happened even on that day, was more than equal to what he felt from what he had heard that night. The chancellor of the exchequer ought to fhew the neceffity of the bill he propofed; if he meant to ground the neceffity upon the affumption that what happened on the first day of the feffion was in confequence of what paffed at the meetings to which he had alluded, he believed he would fail in the attempt. It was faid there was a fee ditious meeting held fomewhere in the neighbourhood of the metropolis a few days before the meeting of parliament; that at fuch meeting very alarming proceedings had taken place, ftriking at the very B 2 existence


existence of parliament itself. fuch meetings were held, and fuch fpeeches were made, the fpeakers were amenable to the law, and, when proven guilty, were liable to adequate punishment. But this bill was to proceed upon the flimfy pretext that all the violence and outrage that had been offered to his majefty was the refult of this meeting; of which there was not the colour of a proof.

It had been asked, whether the house should not endeavour to prevent the repetition of fuch an infult? Undoubtedly it fhould. But then it fhould be upon evidence; and here the right of perfons meeting any where, to confult on pub lic meafures, was to be affected in confequence of what happened to his majesty on the first day of the feffion, although there was no evidence to prove that the outrage arofe from any proceedings that were had at any public meeting previous to that day. Whatever fome perfons might think to the contrary, the proclamation was not evidence: many had thought proclamations to be the acts of minifters for certain purposes of their own, for the increase of power.

The right honourable gentleman who proposed the bill, fpoke with cafe on the rights of the subject, as if he intended to bring the public to fubmit to the most rigid defpotifm. In that detail, Mr. Fox faid, he fhould never take a share, for he would never attend the detail of a measure which in its effence was deteftable. He contended, that public meetings for the difcuffion of public fubjects were not only lawful, but the very effence of the conftitution, and of the liberties which Englishmen enjoyed. The mover of the bill had faid that these meetings were not to be prevented,

they were only to be regulated. "Attend," faid Mr. Fox, "to his regulation. I thought I knew the rights of man, and the rights of Englishmen. [Here was a great cry of hear! hear!] What," faid he, "is it a flip, do you suppose, and that the rights of man is a sentence without a meaning? Have men no natural rights? If fo, Englishmen's rights can have no existence. The rights of man, I fay, are clear: man has natural rights; and he who denies it, is ignorant of the bafis of a free government; he is ignorant of the first principles of ours, for these rights are naturally connected with the best parts of the history of our country."

The people, he faid, had always a right to difcufs their grievances, and to petition, for redrefs, not only the houses of parliament, but even the king himself; but now, it feems, they are not to do fo, unlefs notice be given to a magiftrate, that he may become a witness of their proceedings. This attendant magiftrate, this jealous witness, was empowered to arreft any person whom he in his wifdom thought had uttered any thing feditious. Not only fo; he had power to diffolve the meeting at his own will. "Say, at once," faid Mr. Fox, "that a free conftitution is no longer fuitable to us; conduct yourselves at once as the fenators of Denmark did: lay down your freedom, and acknowledge and accept of defpotifm; but do not mock the underftandings and the feelings of mankind, by telling the world that you are free. Can a meeting, under fuch reftrictions as the bill requires, be called a meeting of free people? Is it poffible that the feelings of the people of this country fhould be thus infulted? Is it poffible to make the people of this country believe,


« SebelumnyaLanjutkan »