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PEOPLE OF HAMPSHIRE.
WHAT DOES WILD INNOVATION MEAN?-A LIST OF INNOVA.
TIONS.-SURRENDER OF SINECURES.
(Political Register, Februury, 1817)
London, 11th February, 1817. COUNTRYMEN,
The things we pray for are called innovations. The word innovation, which merely means the introduction of something new, is a very pretty word, though it only serves as a blind on this occasion. To make a dirty narrow street into a wide clean street is an innovation ; but there is no harm in it. To make an impassable lane into a turnpike-road is an innovation. So that an innovation may be a very good thing, though, as in the case of the enclosure and private appropriation of the beautiful Forest of Bere, which has destroyed hundreds of thousands of growing oaks, within a few miles of our greatest naval arsenal, in order to make way for the growth of miserable crops of straw with little or no corn, an innovation may be a very bad thing. But, at any rate, we propose no innovations. We propose nothing that has not been before in our country. We propose Annuul Parliaments, and that every man who pays tares shall have a vote choosing those who lay the taxes on us; and we are ready to prove that these are not new,
old indeed. But, for the argument's sake, if we did propose an innovation, I should be glad to know what objection that would be to us, supposing the proposition to be good in itself? Is every thing to go on undergoing changes except such changes as may favour the people of England? To hear this objection, especially in the House of Commons, one would imagine, that our laws had never been changed since the island was first settled by a civilized people. Far different, however, is the fact, as a short list will show.
1. There is now a law to license printing-presses, to punish men who
make use of presses not licensed. Every Printer, Type-maker, and Press-maker is compelled, under a heavy penalty, to keep an account of all the authors and others who employ them, and to be ready to give evidence, against them, if called upon. Is not this an innovation ?
2. Every Printer is compelled to print his name and place of abode at
the bottom of every thing that he prints ; he is compelled to keep a copy, in order to its being produced, if called for, to the Secretary of State ; any publisher, printer, and proprietor of a newspaper are compelled to go to a place called the Stamp-office, and there swear, that they are so, and they are also obliged to make oath to their several places of abode ; and the publisher is obliged to deposit one copy of every number of the paper in the Stamp-office, where it is ready to be produced against all the parties, at any time, in prosecutions for libel; so that the parties are thus compelled, under heavy penalties, to furnish, in case of prosecution, evidence against
themselves. 3. Special Juries are also an innovation, especially in matters of a
criminal nature. A Special Jury consists of forty-eight men, nominated and appointed by the Master of the Crown-office, of these forty-eight the man who is to be tried for a libel may strike off twelve, while the Attorney-General's man or the Government prosecutor does the same, and the first twelve who come into the box out of the remaining twenty-four make the Jury to try the cause. But, what is the use of this striking off, when the master of the Crown-office appoints the whole ? Observe what a difference here is from the case of a Common Jury, who consist of a great number of men, called together by the summonses of the constables from all parts of a county, all the names of whom are put into a box, and, when a man is going to be tried, the ballots are taken out promiscuously, and the first twelve are the jury to try the case. Here the officers of the crown have no power of choosing ; but, in the other case, they have the full power of nominatiny and appointing the jury; that is to say, out of all the men in Middlesex, for instance, who are in the sheriff's book, they may take, and do take, just the forty-eight which they please and no other. And this is the sort of jury, by which every man is tried, if he be prosecuted by the Attorney-General. And, you will bear in mind, that juries were intended to protect men's lives and property against any undue
bias that might exist in persons in authority. 4. The stamping of newspapers, and, thereby, checking the circulation
of information as to matters connected with politics. 5. The compelling of all publishers of pamphlets to carry a copy of
each and lodge it at a Government-office, in order that the Government may have it in its power to know what every man is about in this respect ; in order that it may see what is circulating amongst the people; and, in order that it may know who to prosecute, if it
thinks proper. 6. The Attorney-General's powers are tremendous. He can, at any
time, bring an accusation against any body, by what is called an ex-officio information ; he can compel the party to plead; he can bring him to trial, or he can put the trial off as long as he pleases, and may keep a charge hanging over a man's head during the whole life of such man. When he has brought the man into court, be can stop the proceedings upon the spot; he can go on with them; he can, in any stage of the matter, forgive the man by wiping away the charge against him. He can, if two men publish the same thing, prosecute both, and let the one off without actually bringing him to
punishment, while he brings the other to punishment; and this was actually done only about five or six years ago. After a man bas even been convicted on an information of the Attorney-General, the latter can even then let him off by not bringing him up for judgment; or, he may let the poor wretch remain in a state of uncertainty for years; and, after that, bring him up and have bim punished. He may commence a prosecution against a man this year, as was done by the late Lord Thurlow against Mr. Horne Tooke, and never bring him to trial for years afterwards, and never at all, if he does not like it. But, these powers, though they are all innovations on the Common and Ancient Law of the land, have received, of very late years, and in the Attorney-Generalship of Sir Vicary Gibbs, a most dangerous addition ; namely, the power of holding to bail, or send. ing to prison in default of bail, the moment an information ex-officio is filed; and, observe, that this may be done, too; and it actually was done by Sir Vicary Gibbs in the year 1803, without at last bringing the party to trial! He filed an ex-officio information against a man, he called the man up to give bail, the bail was not to be had, the man was ACTUALLY IMPRISONED, and he NEVER WAS BROUGHT TO TRIAL ON THE INFORMATION!- This terrible power has not existed more than about eight or nine years.-Yet, our revilers and slanderers talk about the danger of our innovations, as they have the impudence to call them. But about the innovations that I am here talking of, they
say not a single word. 7. In all informations, such as I have been speaking of, for what are called
libels, that is to say, writings wbich the Attorney-General chooses to prosecute men for, the charge against the accused was, formerly, that he had put forth something FALSE, scandalous and malicious; but, of late years, that is to say, within about fifty years, the word false has been left out; so that, though the publication may be all true, it, nevertheless, according to this new practice, may be very
criminal. All the above things, except some of the powers of the Attorney. General, are innovations of very modern date. Special Juries, as applicable to criminal cases, are not more than of about sixty or seventy years' standing; and all the Licensing of Presses and Stamping Laws, as far as relates to the press, are of not more than twenty-five years standing, except a trifling part of the newspaper stamp. 8. The whole of the Game Laws are an innovation upon the common
and ancient law of the land; many of them are of very modern date; and that law, by which a man may be TRANSPORTED for being engaged in poaching, after a certain hour in the evening, and before a certain hour in the morning, was passed only last
year! - Is not this an innovation ? 9. The whole of the Ercise Laws are an innovation upon the common
and ancient law of the land, which held, that every man's house was his castle, whereas these laws authorize officers to go into many persons' houses at any hour of the day or of the night; and, in some cases, the Excise officers may actually keep the keys of people's premises ! And, though some of these laws are of more than a century standing, the far greater part of them, including
the penalties of fine, imprisonment, banishment, and even death, are of modern date, and are a complete and most awful
innovation. 10. Paper-money and all the laws relating to it, all the hanging laws for
furgery, all the whole train of this terrible system is an entire
innovation; things wholly unknown a hundred and twenty years ago. 11. The Debt, the Funds, the Stocks, and all the laws relating to them,
the mortgaging of the taxes ; all are an innovation. 12. The Civil List is an innovation. The Kings of England maintained
their splendour out of the produce of their own Royal Domains, such as the New Forest, &c. They had now and then grants from the people, but in the main, they lived upon their own revenues. It is not till very lately that this has been changed, and in my opinion, to the great injury of the King and his Family, whose estate has been taken by what is called “the public,” but of the produce of which estate I can never discover that “the public"
receive any thing worth speaking of.- Is not this an innovation ? 13. The Police Justices and all the whole of that establishment is an
innovation. England was until the time of Pitt, too happy to need an establishment of this sort. Ordinary Justices of the Peace, Gentlemen of the Counties, Constables, Tithing-men, Mayors, Aldermen, Bailiffs, Beadles. These were quite sufficient, without resorting to a Police, the very sound of which word was hateful to English ears, because it was well known to be a dark and inexorable instrument of tyranny in France and other despotic countries.About twenty-three years ago our Police was established; that is to say Justices were hired at a salary, and officers hired to serve under them at a salary. These Justices may be turned off and deprived of their salaries whenever the Crown is advised to turn them off. They have not only the power to take up and commit thieves and robbers and murderers, but to license public-houses, to refuse licenses to public-houses without cause assigned, to impose fines under the Excise-Laws, Game-Laws, Stamp-Laws, Hawker's Act, and, in short, to do every thing that thie ordinary Justices of the Peace may do ; and, as they are very numerous and are enabled to act as Justices of the Peace throughout the Counties of Middlesex, Surrey, Kent, and Essex, they have, in fact, a most monstrous degree of power. They can and do sit at the Quarter Sessions in all those Counties, and, of course, they possess more power in all these Counties than can reasonably be expected to be possessed by all the Gentlemen in the same Counties, who serve as Justices of the Peace without salaries.—Here is an innovation, if people want to find innovations to cry out against !-If the necessity of the times; if the vast increase of the Metropolis ; if these require a set of thief-takers by profession, and persons to be paid salaries to exercise certain powers of Magistrates, surely it cannot be necessary, that these same persons should have the power of licensing and refusing to license public houses, that they should have cognizance of cases under the Excise-Laws, the Stamp-Laws, and the Poor-Laws. - It is said, in the newspapers, ;that these powers are going to be taken from them by Act of Parliament; but, as the thing now stands, this alone is an innovation of most fearful magnitude and most terrible effect.
14. I could make this dozen of innovations into twenty dozen ; but, at
present, I will stop with the Bank of England ard its cash stoppage. The Bank itself (the greatest evil that this or any other nation ever experienced) is only one hundred and twenty years old; and we Reformers ask for nothing that is not five times as old. But the cash stoppage is the thing, and that is only twenty years old, come the 27th of this very month of February.—The Bank had always put forth notes which were payable to the bearer, on demand, in gold, or silver. But, in February, 1797, when people began to like gold and silver better than the notes of the Bank, they went to the Bank to get their money. The Bank Company, that is to say, the Governor, Directors and the other persons who had put forth the bank-notes, found that they had not wherewith to pay their notes. They were very hard run, and they applied to the Minister, Mr. Pitt, to inform him that they were in alarm for the safety of their concern.-lo short, they refused to pay their notes on the 27th of February, having obtained an Order in Council to do so-"Well," you will say, “but the holders of the notes sued them for payment, did they not?" No, faith ! for an Act of Parliament was soon afterwards passed to protect the Bank Company against all such suits of their creditors, and to screen them from the effects of their having violated the law !- This protection and this screening has been carried on, by divers Acts of Parliament, from that day to this; and though it is written upon every bank-note, that the Bank will pay so much or so much to the bearer on demand, it does not mean that it will pay him one single shilling in gold or in silver, but that it will give another note, or other notes, in exchange !-And (yet hear it, O! Englishmen!) when you ask for a Reform of the Commons' or people's House of Parliament, you are called wild, visionary, misguided, and, above all things, you are called innovators !*
Now, then, without going any further, what have the corrupt to say ? Will they say, that these are not innovations ? Will they say, that time and a change of circumstances have rendered those innovations ne. cessary ? And, if they say this, why do they cry out against us for proposing what they call an innovation ? For, if we were to allow it to be an innovation, why should our proposal be rejected upon that ground, seeing that no other alteration of the laws and usages of the country has ever been objected to with success upon that ground ? The whole history of the Bank stoppage is contained in my little book called PAPER AGAINST GOLD; but I have here given enough of fact to show what the nature of that memorable transaction was, and also enough to make good the allegations contained in the eleventh paragraph of our petition.
It is very curious, that the surrender, or, rather, the dropping of Lord Camden's great sinecure, should have been announced directly after the
In this Register Mr. COBBETT quotes the speech of Earl GROSVENOR, made in the House of Lords, February 14th, 1817, in which his Lordship, in speaking of the “ designs" of the Parliamentary Reformers, and the manner in which the Reformers were being treated, says :-“I consider the Septennial Act (passed in “ 1817), a direct infringement on the Constitution, and a violation of the rights and " liberties of the people. *** The Act repealed itself, and ought not to remain on the " statute-book."-ED.