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the bill to be rejected, the conse- supine as not to resist it with the -quences would quickly prove how vigour and spirit of their ancesnecessary it was for the preservation tors. not only of the king but of every. The principle of the bill was well-affected subject, as well as of decidedly approved by Mr. Wil the good order and peace of the community.

The attempt of ministry to enact such a law as that purported by the bill, was represented by Mr. Curwen as the most flagitious innovation. Its direct and visible aim was to strip the subject of his most valuable privilege, that of speak ing his mind on every matter relating to the public. Herein consist ed, in fact, the very essence, not only of English, but of all real liberty. The movers of the bill had reason to wish themselves authorized to impose silence on the people, who had so much reason to be displeased at their conduct. The voice of that people had occasionally prevented them from prosecuting their imprudent schemes, and constrained them to listen to disagreeable admonitions. So resolutely was he determined to prefer this voice to that of ministers, that he did not scruple to avow himself ready to support it at the risk of his property and his life. It appeared to him immaterial whether the constitution fell by insurrection or by despotism. The bill proposed would effect it as certainly as any of the tumultuous proceedings of an enraged people. But this fatal bill was obviously dictated by ministerial resentment at the opposition it had met with, both in and out of parliament. He did not, however, imagine, that, when the inimical intentions it displayed against public liberty were duly perceived, the people of England would remain so heartless and

berforce, as tending to check the licentious disposition, among the common people, introduced by the doctrines imported from France. The ideas of that people, on religious as well as political matters, had lately made an alarming progress in this country, and it was the duty of the legislature to discourage them by all prudent and legal methods. He did not consider the bill as an invasion of public liberty, which, he was persuaded, would rather be strengthened, when popular discussions upon national affairs, and meetings called for that purpose, were duly regulated. He concluded, however, by acknowledging, that he sincerely wished there had been no occasion for such a bill, to which his assent was extorted by the necessity of choosing, among a variety of difficulties, that which appeared the least productive of evil. The meetings of individuals, to debate upon national affairs, had certainly been attended with such improper freedoms, that they well deserved to be restrained. The only assembly, to which the people could resort with well-grounded confidence of meeting with friends to listen to their grievances and to redress them, was the house of commons; it was the shield of public liberty, it was truly a popular meeting, wherein the nation would always find able and resolute defenders of its constitutional rights; it was a tribunal, before which its cause would be pleaded with efficacy, and where its complaints, when justly founded,


would never be refused an attentive hearing.

Mr. Sheridan severely animadverted on the motives assigned by Mr. Wilberforce for supporting the bill. Instead of strengthening publie liberty, it went directly to destroy it, by silencing every voice that might have been heard in its defence. Ministers had boldly asserted, that one of the fortunate consequences of the war, was the eradication of French principles; but the falsehood of this assertion was evident, from their gradual increase through out the multitude. The discussions of the people would now, he observed, be wholly at the disposal of ministerial dependants and agents, either to permit, or to forbid, as they thought proper, or, more probably, as they were directed. Thus, in fact, that liberty of speech, upon which Englishmen were wont to value themselves, they would hereafter hold barely upon sufferance. Were the bill to pass, he should consider the house of commons as no longer able to express the real sentiments of their constituents, who, when restrained by terror from the manifestation of their thoughts, would not have it in their power to lay them before their representatives, between whom, and themselves, that free communication of ideas, on the national business, must cease, which constituted the principal basis of English liberty.

The bill was opposed also by Mr. Martin, who explicitly charged the minister with having seized the opportunity of the late riots, to raise an alarm throughout the nation, that might be converted to the sup port of the ruinous measures in which he was still resolved to persist. War, alone, was now become the object

of ministers. They studied to pro pogate the like infatuation in every part of the country, which now exhibited endless scenes of military pa rade. The bill tended, as other ministerial measures, to introduce an arbitrary system of government. This was evidently the project which he must have formed, by accompa nying it with so many restrictions on the personal freedom of individuals. There was a time, when the people of this land would not have borne such an audacious attempt on their liberties, nor any minister have dared to try the experiment.

Mr. Windham sharply contended in favour of the bill. He observed, that loud asseverations, of the loss of liberty, were heard from the oppo sition in the house, and the popular meetings: a marked unanimity of sentiments subsisted between them. But it was time to suppress these sentiments, wherever they took occasion to manifest themselves, by pu nishing, with merited severity, their propagators and abettors. It was absurd to affect an ignorance of the designs in agitation at the meetings, of the commonalty, and of the societies, that pretended to have no other object in view, than peace and reform. Their object was to concert the methods that were most likely to embarrass and subvert the present government, and to substi tute another, more consistent with their own notions, which were, in fact, those adopted in France. This was the country of their predilec tion, and to the arms and councils of which they notoriously wished every possible success against themachinations of so dangerous a party, existing in the bosom, as it were, of the nation, and striving, with indefatigable efforts, to infuse into it the

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poison of their detestable opinion. Was it not the duty, as well as the interest, of the legislature, to arm itself with every precaution? Every man that valued his country, and its constitution, would, on this occasion, come forward, and join, with heart and hand, in its preservation from the calamities that must be fall it, were the French, and their English adherents, to succeed in their designs against this country. It was against those united enemies the present bill entirely militated? it was inimical to no Englishman that loved his country. In the actual circumstances of affairs, it was the only remedy applicable to the mischiefs meditated by our foes abroad and at home, who, if not impeded in their plans, by the measures so judiciously proposed, would continue to carry them on, till it might become highly difficult to frustrate them. These plans were, undeni ably to overturn every political institution differing from that established in France, which they boastingly as serted was the only just and lawful one in Europe. He would ask every man of spirit and patriotism in that house, and in the whole nation, whether such presumption were supportable? Could it be deemed unjust to take up arms against so as suming and arrogant a people, or to frame acts for the counter-acting of those among ourselves, who were either so weak, or so wicked, as to abet them? The bill he allowed to be of a nature hitherto unknown, and new to the ideas of the people of this country; but extraordinary cases required extraordinary treatment. Enormities, uncommonly atrocious, must be encountered by laws adequately severe. Such was the rage that actuated the enemies

to government, that they had cir culated opinions and sentiments tending, unequivocally, to affect the king's life. Could the legislature, consistently with its professed attachment to the sovereign, and, with its own reputation and dignity, pass by, unpunished, so execrable a violation of all principles on which the constitution of the land, and the peace of the public was founded? Did ever any government suffer individuals, of this character, openly to meet and consult together in the face of day? They had too long been tolerated, and it were a disgrace to parliament, and would argue pusillanimity, to allow them to meet any more. No such meetings were permitted by the new constitution lately adopted in France, however the rulers in that country might be ready to avail themselves of our imprudence, in baving so long, and so unpardonably connived at them.

In reply to these allegations, it was observed, by Mr. Gray, that ministry, after exulting in the extinction of democratic principles, operated by their vigilance, now came forward with a bill, which they founded on the necessity of obviating the alarming progress they had made, and were daily making, throughout the nation: to which of these assertions were we to give credit? If those principles were not extinguished, ministry had been deceived, or had endeavoured to deteive the public. If they were, in reality, extinguished, the bill they proposed to pass against them origi hated from other motives; and those could be no other, than to silence the complaints of the people, enraged at their misconduct, and, chiefly, at their persisting in it, notwithstanding

withstanding the admonition of constant experience, daily proving, in the face of Europe, that they had undertaken what was impracticable, or, at least, what they had not abilities to execute. The connection between the meetings, and the insult offered to the king, instead of being supported by the least evidence, was totally disproved by every circumstance. But ministers wanted a pretence for depriving the people of that privilege which they most dreaded, that of exposing their incapacity, their imprudence, or their evil designs. Which of those imputations lay heaviest on ministry it was hard to decide; but the public, at large, loudly charged them with every one of them. The standing laws were of sufficient energy to reach and to punish conspiracy and sedition. To what end were additional ones to be enacted, unless to arm ministry with powers unknown to the constitution; and which, from their incompatibility with its nature, must unavoidably affect its destruction. It was, therefore, incumbent upon every friend to the constitution to oppose the bill with the firmest perseverance, as the passing of it would prove the surest step towards that uncontrollable situation, wherein ministers had so long, and so visibly, made every effort to place themselves. After a few other remarks, on each side of the question, the motion for bringing in the bill was carried by two hundred and fourteen against forty


The propriety of a call of the house, previously to the decision of so weighty a maiter, being insisted on by Mr. Fox, he was told, by Mr. Dundas, that he had so little objection to his demand, that, unless

it could be made apparent, that a plurality of the people sided with ministry on this occasion, the bill ought certainly not to pass, but he was fully satisfied of its being generally approved. He had, he said, "been besieged in his office, for months past, with applications for such a bill." It was in concurrence with the desire of a great number of persons of weight with ministers, that they had been persuaded to bring it into parliament.


The speech of Mr. Dundas gave occasion to Mr. Sheridan of making some pointed observations. Minis. ters, he said, had, in the first instance, grounded the necessity of the bill upon the outrageous behaviour of the populace; but the force of truth had now compelled them to acknowledge, however inadvertently, that this bill had long before been resolved upon thus the professions of ministers were unworthy of credit, and their arguments stood upon no justifiable grounds; they made the first in defiance of truth, and they used the second with undeniable consciousness of their impropriety. Mr. Sheridan concluded by intimating that ministerial resentment, at their disappointment in the trial of Hardy, and the other members of the corresponding society, had, ever since, been brooding over the means of obtaining revenge.

Mr. Maurice Robinson, and Mr. Grey, seconded the motion of Mr. Fox for a call of the house, before a final decision took place in a bu siness of such universal concern to the nation: the motion was agreed to accordingly, and the call appointed for that day fortnight.

In a committee of the whole house of peers, on the eleventh of Nu


the king's person and government was formally read, and produced long and spirited debates on its various clauses. The duke of Leeds moved, that, instead of the word government, in the second clause, the words, consisting of king, lords, and commons,should be substituted, as defining, more specifically, the constitution than the word govern


vember, the bill for the safety of an usurpation of national rights, and aristocracy an oppressive institution: they boldly gave the public to understand, that both these branches of the constitution ought to be lopped away, and democracy alone to remain; threatening, at the same time, to lose no opportunity of carrying those purposes into execution. Were such flagitious designs, said the lord chancellor, permitted to be avowed, in the undisguised, insulting manner they had so long been, to the astonishment and indignation of the sensible part of the public,'" what must become of the authority of the state, and of the safety of all its component members? Was it not evident, that all the evils which had afflicted this nation, in the last century, and all those experienced by France, at the present hour, would be renewed in this country, did not the legislature proceed with expe dition and spirit to put a stop to the dissemination of those principles that tended, so manifestly, to produce such calamities?

The lord chancellor and lord Grenville were of a different opinion; but lord Thurlow asserted the difficulty of defining, with exactness, the terms government and constitution; the penalties enacted by the second clause appeared to him unduly severe. Was it equitable to criminate a man for saying it was an abuse, that twenty acres of land, near Old Sarum, should send two members to parliament? The laws in existence were, in his judgment, amply sufficient to punish every crime and misdemeanour therein alluded to, without needing its assistance. He reprobated the system of adding new laws and penalties to those already enacted, and condemned the whole of this clause, together with the following one, by which ministers were empowered to prosecute discretionally.

Much surprise was expressed by the ford chancellor, at the opinion delivered by lord Thurlow. The enormity of the offences, at which this clause was pointed, must, he said, be acknowledged by all who read the publications of the day: they were, in every sense, directed against the existence of the government and the constitution: they explicitly told the people, that they were in no wise bound to submit to their rulers: that monarchy was

The lord chancellor was supported by lord Mansfield, and opposed by lord Lauderdale, who noticed, that instead of encountering the arguments of lord Thurlow, he had described the pernicious tendency of the writings circulated by the democratic faction, which had not been denied, and which were no less deprecated by the parliamentary opposition to ministry, than by ministers themselves. But the fact was, that we lived in times, when the partiality to one branch of the constitution was such, that revilers of the others might go unnoticed and unpunished, while that alone would be fenced and protected by clauses and penalties against those that spoke, or wrote, of it disre


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