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most vulgar professions, gave up a considerable portion of Their time and occupations in attending the numerous meetings that were called-in every part ol'lhe kingdom, to the profesied intent os counteracting this attempt of the ministry.
The whig club, comprising not a few individuals ol'lhe first rank and property in the kingdom, led the way in this celebrated opposition. jt met on the eleventh of November, and was presided by the duke of Bedford. All the members of bo'h houses of parliament belonging to the club attended on this occasion. The speeches and opinions delivered were uncommonly spirited and resolute. After mature deliberation; jt was unanimously resolved, that they would give every aid to the civil magistrate in detecting, and bringing to punishment, the persons concerned in the daring attnek made upon the king, in his passage to parliament, on tlie first day of the session: that,lamenting, as they did, this nefarious' act, they sow, with the utmost concern, that it had been used as a pretext for introducing into parliament a biH, striking at the liberty of the press, and the freedom of public discussion, in substance and effect destroying the right qf the subject topetition the branches of the legislature for redress of grievances, ?nd utterly fu' versive of the gisnuiric principles' of the Constitution; and for proposing another measure, calculated to produce similar eflefu, by meons still more exceptionable. That ii was therefore highly expedient, that meetings of the people, in' their relpective districts, should be immediately called, to consider this important subject, and for the purpose os petitioning parliament against the said bill, or any other measure which 10 • >•
might tend to infringe the just rights of the people of Great Britain.
The Corresponding society's numerous members, together with, an immense multitude of their adherents and well-wishers, aslembledon the twelfth of November, in the fields near Copenhagen-house. Here they solemnly denied all intentions of raising commotions, and disproved, by the strongest arguments they could adduce, the charge brought against them by ministry, of being concerned in the outrages committed against the king. They framed three petitions, one to the king, and the two others to the lords and commons; stating them lo be the unanimous petitions of nearly four hundred thousand British subjects, met together to communicate their sentiments, and express them freelv, as authorised to do by the bill of rights, on the measures of ministry, which tended to invade the liberties vested in them by the constitution. They supplicated, therefore, the king to exert his royal authority, in the preservation of his people's rights, directlythreatened by the two bills brought forward by his ministers; and lluey requested the two houses to interfere in behalf of the public, against the ministerial attempt to procure their pasting.
The livery of London, the electors of Westminster, and the freeholders of Middlesex, agreed to remonstrances and petitions of the' like nature; and werefbl'owed by a number of counties, and almost every town of note in the kingdom. In the public meetings, held for those purposes, people were nearly unanimous in their opposition to> the bills: but they were secretly counteracted by the agents of ministry, who circulated clandestinely '■■••• countereoiroici^addresses in their favour. It was strongly ailerted, at the time, that thele were signed by none but minilierial dependents, such as officers ot' the customs and excise, and military men. So great was the repugnance of tiie people it large aslerteJ to have been, thai lite lignalures ot' youth at school was resorted to. But with all those exertions, the petitions, on the tide, ot"the ministry, did not exceed sixtysour subscribed by about thirty thousand individuals osthe above.qelrription. while the addresses against the bills, amounted to near one hundred, and the subscribers to upwards of one hundred and thirty thousand.
Among those who signalized their adherence to ministry, were the members of the association, formed, with the countenance and aid os government, by Mr. Reeves, at the close of 1792, and the commencement of 1793, against republicans and levellers. They stood forward on this occasion, with extraordinary zeal, in support of the two bills, of which they expressed the highest approbation in the address which they presented to the king.
But, notwithstanding the disproportion of numbers against them, ministrv persisted, with unremitting resolution, in carrying forward their deigns. However, opposed by the majority of the nation, they were secure of a support in parliament, that would enable them to compass the point proposed. The popular opinions were, in the mean time, represented by those who argued in defence of the bills as the mere ebnlitionsof party zeal, and dictated to the people by the leaders of parliamentary opposition, who hoped to excite such complaints and clamours against the conduct of government.
as might deter it from the prosecution, of its plans. These, they asserted, were, in the opinion of the judicious and the more respectable part of the community, neceflary for the internal tranquillity of the kingdom, and could only be disapj proved by those factious and disaffected people, who sought, for ma-! ljcious purposes, to throw the country into confusion. , .-. ., While the nation at large wai thus agitated, its representatives were taken up with no less violent debates on the petitions now presented to them from every quarter. That from the corresponding society was laid before the houle on the. twenty-third of November, by Mr. Sturt, who warmly exculpated that society from the imputations of treason or sedition. In order to shew at the same time, the malevolent intentions of ministry, and its partizans, he produced a performance, attributed to Mr. Reeves, the framer and president of the associations against republicans and levellers, wherein it was unequivocally maintained, " that the government of England was a monarchy; that the monarch was the ancient stock from which have sprung thosegoodly branches of the legislature; the lords and rommnns; (hat these, however, were still only branches,and that they might be iopped off, and the tree be a tree still, shorn indeed, of its honours, but not, like them, cr.ft into the fire."
So tlngrant a violation of the' fundamental principles of the English constitution, excited the indignation, not only of the opposition, but of many of the members friendly to ministers. The public loudly proclaimed it, a stub aimed at the vitals of the constitution, and loaded tae author with the most opprobrious
©us epithets. So universal was the detestation of the principles contained in this performance, that it Was judged requisite, in order to appease the public, formally'to vote it a libel on tiic constitution, and to direct the atlori>e} -general to prosecute the author. But so weak and laint was the prosecution, in the opinion os the public, tiia' they stigmatised the prosecutors, as acting inowingly under the controui of directors, who certainly would not sutler so valuable an instrument of their designs, to suffer an injury for having acquitted himself so much to their satisfaction.
On the twenty-fifth of November, a motion was made, by Mr. Curwen, to postpone, one week, the discussion of the two bills. He spoke, with marked vehemence, against the bill for preventing seditious meetings, as tending, in its infallible effects, to change the whole constitution. It was only in popular meetings, he observed, that the real sentiments of the people could be manifested; and fhese sentiments, thus sreelv expressed, had hitherto, though affectedly slighted by ministers, proved an effectual restraint on their power, and stemmed that torrent ot' corruption with which they endeavoured to overwhelm all resistance to their measures. Were this strongest, and almost only remaining, bulwark of the constitution to be demolished, all opposition must fall with it, both within, as well as without, the house; as the commons, when no longer supported, bv the concurring voice of she"people, would quickly experience n diminution os their own consequence, which, they must be conscious, rested entirely on the consequence of the people. Were these to be silenced, how could their re
presentatives, consistently, pretend to deliver the opinion of their constituents? The influence of the crown had, of late years, overweighed all the importance of the democratic part of the constitution, by depriving it of so alarming a proportion of its property, and annexing it to the aristocracy, through the creation of such a number os peers. If the remaining friend? to the democracy valued its existence, and considered it as the only solid foundation of liberty, a truth not to be denied, they would rally around it, without delay, and exert their whole strength to preserve it from the ruin with which it was novv menaced, more obviously, and more dangerously, than ever.
In the course of the memorable speech, which he made on this day, Mr. Curwen took occasion to bring, to the recollection of the house, an expression that had fallen, two days bf lore, from Mr. Windham, in a debate on the bill, for securing the king's person against popular insults. This gentleman, in answering a speech of Mr Fox, had given him to understand, in explicit terms, that ministers were determined- to exert a vigour beyond the law. So singular an expression did not fail to strike the whole house with astonisliment. By the enemies to ministry, it was construed into an inadvertent avowal, that they were resolved to pay no regard to the laws in the execution ot their projects, and would destroy such as stood in their.way; and it was, in fact, blamed by both sides of the house, as equally imprudent, and intemperate.
Mr. Curwen *s animadversions, on these words of Mr. Windham, were extremely spirited and severe. He rebuked him, forcibly, for presum
ing, that the many men of intrepidity, with which the parliament and nation abounded, would tamely permit him, and his associates, to trample on their rights, and submit to become the passive instruments of their violation. Mr. Wyndham replied only by a smile. Mr. Curwen's motion was, nevertheless, outvoted by two hundred and sixty-nine against seventy.
On the twenty-seventh osNovember, the houle went into a committee on the bill for preventing seditious meetings, when Mr. Fox, Mr. Grey, Mr. Whitbread, Mr. Lair.bton, and all the other members of the opposition, Mr. Sheridan excepted, left the house. Even Mr. Sheridan declared, that he did not remain, for the end of proposing any alterations in the bill. To do juiiiee to the public, it ought, he (aid, lo be negatived in every part of its contents.
The secession of the minority underwent a variety of discussions on its propriety Many were, indeed, of opinion, that well knowing their presence could be no impediment to the passing of the bill, a formal secession from an assembly, that was, ■ in their judgement, relolved to destroy the liberty os the nation, would make a greater impression upon the public, than isthey were to continue sitting in the house, and opposing the ministers, as usual, to no purpose. But many were of a different opinion, and thought, by their presence and re(istance,notwith standing that the bills would have past, they must have been divested of much of the severity with which they were accompanied, and that it became them, at all events, lo dispute every inch of the ground, of which, by their retreat, the m inisiry would now become undisturbed polleslbrs,
The bill was, of course, carried through the house without opposition, and without any other modifications than its supporters thought necefiary to render it less odious to the public. It was proposed, by the solicitor-general, on reading the third clause against the meeting of more than fifty persons, that if twelve of them remained together, one hour after being ordered to disperse, it should be adjudged death, without benefit of clergy. But an amendment was moved, making it only punishable as a misdemeanour. Thu was seconded by Mr.'Witbersorce, Mr. Stanley, Mr. Banks, and Sir W. Dolben: but the severity of the solicitor-general prevailed, and his motion was carried by eighty votes against only 'thirteen; lo completely was the house devoted to the inexorable disposition os the frameri os this bill.
This was evinced no less glaringly, on discussing that clause which empowered the magistrate prelent at any popular meeting to diflblvo it immediately, fliould he be os opinion, that any subject brought forward were unlawful, or os a seditious tendency. The .clause was confirmed, and the magistrate also, authorized to seize and commit the p'»ron whom he judged guilty-of such offef.ee.
The last clause respected the duration os the bilh The solicitor? general, consistently with (he severs system he had embraced, moved that it fliould last three years. Mr. Stan? ley endeavoured to reduce it la one, or at most to no more thaij two, but the majority conUnuetj immovcab!e in its compliance with the solicitor, and the term of thn e years was voted by forty-lix agiinft only two.
The bill was read a third time, nccording to form, on the third of December, and carried up to the House of lords on the fame day.
The bill for the security of the sovereign, was, on the thirtieth of November, taken into consideration by a committee of the whole house of commons, when Mr. Erikine opposed it by a variety of reasonings. He observed, that the bill diminished the liberty of the subject, without adding to the safety of the king's person. It was a political maxim of long standing, that the best government was that which produced :he greatest security with the fewest restraints, and that the worst was that which increased penalties without undisputed evidence os their propriety. Another maxim, of equal force, was to"preferve ancient laws in their primitive simplicity, till experience had proved them inadequate to their intended purposes. The statute of Edward III. concerning treason, had not been proved, but merely asserted, to be unequal to the punishment os the outrages referred to in the two bills. In the opinion of one of the greatest luminaries of the law in this country, the lord-chief-justice Hasp, that important statute had been enacted, as a remedy against former oppression, and to secure the subject against illegal prosecution. To compass, or even to imagine, the death of the king, was, by that statute, declared high treason: could words be found of stronger import, or of plainer meaning? To levy war against1 the king, or to grant comfort and protection to his enemies was, by that statute, made equally criminal; but it did not make the compassing to levy war against him high treason, because the legislators of that day did not coitsidcr a conspiracy to levy such
a war as more than a misdemeanour, which, like many others, might r.ot deserve niaiei ial notice, while no clear and overt act could be adduced to prove it, aud without which act no treasonable intentions could lawfully be presumed. Mr. Erikine argued, from the decision of lord-chiesjusticc Holt, that overt acls alone, properly established, ought to be admitted as proof's of guilt in trials for high ^reason. Trie !>i!l in contemplation would, he explicitly affirmed, extend the '-rime os high treason to such a multitu le ostrivial cales, that every petty misdemeanour might be brought within its construction. After a variety of other arguments had been used on both sides, the debate doled by two hundred and three votes, for the commitment of the bill, against forty.
On the third reading of this bils, the tenth of December, it was opposed in the same manner, and maintained with the same reasonings as antecedently, but it passed, with all its clauses, after some ineffectual objections to that in particular, which enacted its duration till the demise of the king.
The bill to prevent seditious meetings was read a first time on the third ot December, and its second reading took place on the ninth, when lord Grenville urged a multiplicity os reasons in its favour. He declared it necessary for the preservation of the lives and property of individuals, and for the security os the constitution, and liherties of the people, for which he alleged that the laws in being had not sufficiently provided.
The marquis of Lausdowne, and theearls of Moira aud Derby.strenuoufly opposed it. They particularly reprobated that clause which autho