Imágenes de páginas

tory of insurrection, in which the House might contemplate those great machines of jacobinism, the societies alluded to in the report. At that period the Corresponding Society had laid, in due form, before the society for constitutional information, a deliberate and deep-concerted plan for actually assembling a convention for all England, not to be the representatives of these particular bodies for the accomplishment of particular legal purposes, but to be the representatives of the whole body of the people of England, and evidently to exercise legislative and judicial capacities, to overturn the established system of government, and wrest from the parliament that power which the people and the constitution had lodged in their hands. Within a few weeks the plan was fixed upon to be carried into execution, .. and in their circular letter they precisely and emphatically stated, that no time was to be lost ; and lest, by any possibility, their ruinous intentions should be misunderstood, the letter was addressed equally to all parts of the island, and circulated with a share of vigour, cunning, and address, truly astonishing. It contained also a declaration that a central spot was fixed upon, which they would not venture to name till they had assurances of the fidelity of those to whom they were to disclose it ; which central spot they chose, as they themselves asserted, for the purpose of having with greater facility the delegates of the whole island present when they assembled; and they particularly desired each separate society to send an exact account of the number of its members, friends, and adherents, in order to estimate their force. Of this they informed the society for constitutional information, in a letter, accompanied with a set of resolutions.

It might be objected that men of the description which he had stated, could not be expected to act so consistently, and under such well-managed disguise; but when, on inspection, it appeared that their plans had been carried on with a degree of cunning and inanagement that greater men in worthier causes had failed in manifesting, that objection could have no weight when opposed to evidence thus incontrovertible. Who was there that

knew what jacobins and jacobin principles were, but must see, in the pretences of reform in parliament held out by these societies, the arrogant claims of the same class of men as those who lorded it in France, to trample upon the rich, and crush every description of men, women, and children ; the dark designs of a few, making use of the name of the people to govern all: a plan founded in the arrogance of wretches, the outcasts of society, tending to enrich themselves, by depriving of property, and of life, all those who were distinguished either for personal worth, or for opulence? --- a plan which had been long felt by the unfortunate people of France in all its aggravated horrors, and which, he feared, would long, very long, continue to be felt by that illfated country.

From the period he had mentioned, they had acted upon that horrible plan; and subsequently (on the 14th of April) the House would find a meeting of the society, their proceedings in which meeting, carried with them no faint illustration of what they might be expected to do in the full majesty of power. There would be found resolutions arraigning every branch of the government, threatening the sovereign, insulting the House of peers, and accusing the Commons of insufficiency : there would be found notice taken of the measures of parliament, which had been previously made the signals for an insurrection of the people, and declarations that certain measures, if adopted, whether with or without the consent of parliament, should be rescinded, under their doctrine, Salus populi suprema lex, and that the constitution had been utterly destroyed. Could there be a more explicit avowal of their views ? All the materials from whence proof of these allegations was drawn, rested on their own authentic records, and on the express and unequivocal avowal of their own deliberate acts in their meditated system of insurrection. This was the essence of the subject; but if the House were of opinion, that this so deeply affected the safety and existence of parliament itself, and struck at the root of govern. ment and the constitution, as to demand interference, there were, in addition, other things which must contribute not a little to increase the impatience of the House to baffle the views of those conspirators, and stop the final execution of their projects.

For his part, Mr. Pitt said, such was his opinion of the British constitution, that, even supposing the executive government had been guilty of every neglect of their duty in watching over its safety, and parliament had been supine under those manifestations of sedition, he conceived its enemies must nevertheless have failed of success; but, however persuaded he might be of this fact, it was still right to prevent, by timely interference, the small misery which a short struggle might necessarily produce, and to save the nation at large from the reproach, that they had seen such acts, and heard such avowals, without having adopted proper steps to check their execution, and punish those who were so wicked as to devise them. There were stated in the close of the report, on grounds not light or trivial, though not minutely entered into in the report till after fuller investigation by the committee, allegations that arms had been actually procured and distributed by these societies, and were in the hands of those very people whom they had been striving to corrupt: and that even now, instead of breaking up this formidable league, and disbanding and dispersing this jacobin army, they had shewn. themselves immoveably bent on the pursuit of their purpose, and displayed preparations of defiance and resistance to the measures of government.

It remained for the House to consider what was to be done ? and, in considering that, they would not refer to the quality of the persons, but to the nature and magnitude of the objects they had in view. It would be found, when the causes and proceedings were taken into contemplation, that so formidable a conspiracy had never before existed. The enquiry was yet far from complete, and unfit for final decision, the documents being very voluminous: but the committee had deemed it their duty to shew the House that instant precaution was necessary, and had therefore, though unable to finish the important research, laid before the House what they had yet done, which he hoped would be thought

sufficient grounds for adopting the measure he intended to propose. It had been usual, in time of danger, to enact a temporary suspension of the Habeas Corpus law. As that great and essential benefit to the subject had been suggested, and provided for the preservation of the constitution on the one hand, so, on the other, it could not exist if the constitution was gone. The temporary sacrifice of that Jaw might be, on certain occasions, as necessary to the support of the constitution, as the maintenance of its principles was at all others. It had been suspended at a time when the constitution and liberty of the country were most peculiarly guarded and respected ; and such a suspension was more particularly called for at this crisis, when attempts were made to disseminate through the realm, principles and means of action that might endanger that constitution, for the preservation of which that law had been made, and which might produce much more lamentable effects, and at last require a remedy greater in extent and more dreadful, than the one now proposed. This was not his opinion alone, but the sentiments of all those respectable gentlemen of the committee who had investigated the matter. He should therefore move “ for leave to bring in a bill to empower his Majesty to secure and detain all such persons as should be suspected of conspiring against his person and government."

The motion was carried,

Ayes............... 201

Noes............... 39 and, after another division, on a motion made by Mr. Grey, “ for a call of the House," which was negatived, the bill was presented, read a first and second time, and voted into the committee; where its various clauses being adjusted and agreed to, the report was received, and the bill ordered to be engrossed and read a third time the next day,


May 17. 1794.

On a motion for the third reading of the bill, which had been introduced the preceding day, “ for suspending the operation of the Habeas Corpus Act,” the measure was strenuously opposed, particularly by Mr. Grey, Mr. Sheridan, and Mr. Fox.

Mr. Pitt, in defence of the motion, observed, that from the lateness of the hour, and having but little inclination to go much at length into a question which had been already so fully discussed, it was not his intention to detain the House for any great length of time; and, indeed, the very able manner in which his honourable friends had already argued it, rendered it unnecessary for him to say much. The right honourable gentleman* commenced, and had concluded, his speech, by holding out, as an incontrovertible argument, that the measures at present necessarily adopted by administration, would impair materially, if not totally destroy, the constitution of this country; a mode of reasoning that he could never suffer to pass without a reply. Pursuing that strain of argument, the honourable gentleman had pronounced, in terms of unrivalled eloquence, a mnost pathetic funeral oration on the supposed departed liberties of British subjects, which he had stated as having expired with the introduction of the present bill — a bill, in his mind, nothing worse, or more dangerous in its consequence, than what had been known, from the experience and practice of our ancestors, to be a wise and proper measure, when the existing circumstances of the country demanded such a measure, and required that the hands of the executive government should be strengthened. That necessity, however difficult it might be to convince that honourable gentleman of its existence, he trusted, liad been fully made out to the House, and to all those who had given themselves the trouble of bestowing the slightest consideration on the subject ; and such necessity having been proved to exist, it came then to be considered, whether the danger was

* Mr. Fox.

« AnteriorContinuar »