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by it.” After this, these writers propose, that it should be put doun by force of law, and they must mean new law too.
Can your Lordship form an idea of any thing more foul, more base than this? If the people do swear by my little book, they must, 1 hope, be in the right way; for never did any man more sedulously propagate precepts of peace, harmony, patience, fortitude, and obedience to the laws. I do feel proud, I must feel proud, at the wonderful extent of my writings ; but I feel much more proud in the reflection, that those writings; without appealing to the low passions of men, but relying for success on the force of truth and reason, have greatly tended to enlighten the understandings of the people, and thereby to prevent those violences which have always heretofore, in this country and in all other countries, been the inseparable companions of great national misery. Your Lordship has truly observed, that the conduct of the people is meritorious beyond all example. Indeed, the spectaele of probably four millions of people having, at different places, met in large bodies to petition on the subject of grievances, without a single riot or act of violence, is one of the most grand as well as most affecting, that ever presented itself to the mind of man; and, it so honourable to our national character, that we must hate and abhor the wretch, who calls himself an Englishman, and who can see it without delight. Yet, these Sinecure Placemen of the Quarterly Review, would have an imprimatur, a prohibition, enacted against the writings, which, above all others, have contributed towards the producing of this most admirable effect.
Your Lordship has heard enough about the libellous bill posted up against Mr. Hunt; you have read also of a placard, posted up to excite riot at the last Spa-fields Meeting, and from the examinations before the Lord Mayor, you have seen that placard traced to its source. I could prove, that a posting-bill against me was issued out, in the hands of five bill-stickers, from the Courier Office, to be stuck up in the dead of night, and that some of these people, having been taken into custody by the watch, were released by the constable of the night upon their telling him who were their employers. What can your Lordship, what can any honourable man, think of these transactions ?
Is it my Lord, inflammatory matter that I have here been doing myself the honour of addressing your Lordship? Yet of this very stamp have all my writings been for many years past. The subjects that I treat of, and of which to treat is my taste and my delight, are all of a nature to produce thinking, and to call forth the reasoning faculties of the mind. How much have we heard of plans, and how many hundreds of thousands of pounds have we seen expended, in order to enlighten the people! And, if this be really the object of the promoters of those plans, what praise, is not due from them to me, who am endeavouring to communicate to the people at large all that I have acquired from a life of application and experience; who am, in short, endeavouring to take one head, full of useful knowledge, and to clap it safe and sound upon every pair of shoulders in the kingdom ?
“ The race that write,” are my, Lord, but too generally speaking, full of envy. The partiality of mothers for their children is a trifling weakness, compared to that of authors for their works; and, in both cases, the partiality is usually strong in proportion to the worthlessness of its
object; because parental fondness steps forward as a compensation for the neglect or contempt or hatred of the world. But, unhappy authors, not content with blindly doating on their own unsuccessful progeny, always endeavour to avenge their disappointments and shame on those of a different description. This is the case, at this moment, with the Quarterly Reviewers, and with many, many others! They would tear me to pieces for writing; they would tear the people to pieces for reading ; they would chop off my hand, and pluck out the people's eyes; and, this, or something very near to this, they, or somebody else, must do, before I shall cease to write, or the people cease to read
This very moment a Second Edition of the COURIER comes kindly to inform me, that the Green Bag has brought forth, amongst other things, a report relative to "the publication of inflammatory and seditious works " at a CHEAP rate, the end and intention of which is to root out all " feelings of religion and morality, and to excite a hatred and contempt “ for the EXISTING STATE OF THINGS.” Ah, ah! Say you so ! Well! But are there not plenty of laws already for the punishment of seditious writings, and also of irreligious and immoral writings ? Oh, yes! My work cannot be meant, then ! Yet there is that ugly word CHEAP! Why, in the name of goodness, dislike cheup publications ? I thought that all the kind, all the benevolent, all the religious, all the moral, all the philanthropic, all the good, dear Bible and Religious Tract Societies, were endeavouring, by all the means in their power, to send forth CHEAP publications. What! It surely cannot be an objection to a publication, that it is CHEAP! How are the people to get at reading, if they cannot have it CHEAP? These CHEAP publications do, it seems, according to the Courier's account of the Green Bag, tend to excite a hatred and contempt for the EXISTING STATE OF THINGS. This is a very large phrase. If it had said for the King, for the Parliament, for the Lords, for the Church, for the Laws, there would have been a clear meaning ; but, the existing state of things may mean Sinecures, Pensions, Grants, Standing Army, a certain mode of getting Seats, it may mean the Pauperism and Misery that now overspread this formerly happy country. However, my Lord, if a law were to be passed against CHEAP publications, I can assure your Lordship, that no general classification would hide the real object. All the people in England would understand most elearly what was meant. But,
my Lord, nothing short of a TOTAL BREAKING UP OF THE PRESS could sever the people of England from my writings. If a law were passed to make my writings of high price, the people would club their twopences to get at them, and they would value them the more, and seek them with more avidity, on account of what they could not but regard as a prohibition. Whether any attempt of the sort will be made is more than I can say; but, of one thing I am very sure, that nothing short of a direct imprimatur ; nothing short of a censorship; that is to say, nothing short of the Government having the power to examine works before they be printed, and to forbid their being printed if it chooses ; nothing short of this, will, can, or shall, keep my writings from the eyes of my suffering countrymen. More than a MILLION of my little books have been sold within the last six months ; and, though the people are tormented with the goawings of starvation ; though this is acknowledged and proclaimed in Parliament as well as out, not one riot, not a single breach of the peace, has occurred at any of those numerous and multi
tudinous assemblages, where the principles of my little book have been held forth and acted on.-Hundreds of gentlemen are ready to attest, that it is their firm belief, that the exemplary patience and fortitude of the people and the consequent peace of the country are to be, in a great degree, ascribed to the influence of this little book; and, yet, in the face of all this—but, it is useless to talk ; nothing short of an imprimatur will, can, or shall keep my writings from the eyes of my suffering and faithful countrymen, who will, I have no doubt, in many places, send up petitions in time against any such measure.
In the full conviction, that your Lordship will hold in abhorrence all these attempts at foul play, and in the anxious hope, that you will do me the honour to lend your patient attention to what I have here written, I am, with the greatest respect, Your Lordship’s most obedient servant,
The Suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act.-The Sedition Bills.-- The Petition of
Mr. Cleary.- The Petition of Mr. Hunt.— The Defence of Annual Parliaments and Universal Suffrage by the Duke of Richmond.
(Political Register, March, 1817.)
London, 25th February, 1817. COUNTRYMEN AND FRIENDS,
Before this Letter will reach your hands, Acts of Parliament of the most tremendous importance to us all will probably be passed, such Acts being at this moment before the House of Commons in the shape of Bills ; from which shape they are changed into laws in a few days, and which laws most deeply affect our liberties and lives.
I will first explain clearly what the Habeas Corpus Act is. You all know that, according to the laws of our country, do man can be sent to any prison until he has been brought before a Magistrate; and then the
Magistrate cannot send him to prison unless there be evidence upon oath against the accused party, nor until the accused party be made fully acquainted with the nature of his alleged crime, and has been heard in his defence, and confronted, or placed face to face with his accuser before the Magistrate. Then, when the man is, after all.this, sent to prison, there must be a written wurrant of commitment sent with him ; and in that warrant the nature of the man's alleyed crime must be clearly expressed.
This is this law of the land, and most excellent is the law ; for if a man could be seized and sent to prison without these precautions, who would be safe ? And, in order that this most necessary law may be duly attended to, there is another law for preventing any neglect of the observance of all these matters; and this law is usually called the Habeas Corpus Act. It is so called because the writ, which I shall speak of presently, begins with these two latin words, Habeas Corpus. This Act enables any man who may be put into any prison, or confined in any manner, to apply to a Judge for what is called a writ, or command to bring such man before the Judge, that the Judge may hear his complaint ; and then the Judge, if he finds that the man has been sent to prison, or confined, without all the necessary evidence and forms before-mentioned, is obliged to order the prisoner to be discharged; and the prisoner may then prosecute the persons who have imprisoned him, or kept him shut up, though it be only for a short space of time.
Now, you will see how valuable, how precious a part, this is of our laws. This Act of Parliament is justly called the Personal Safety Act ; for, without it, as you will clearly see, no man's person is safe, except accidentally ; for, if Magistrates, or any body else, can take up any man they choose, and send him to prison without evidence upon oath, without his being heard in his defence, without his being confronted with his accuser s, without a written warrant stating the nature of his offence, without any limit of time, and without being able to get a writ to be brought out before a judge to huve the cause of his imprisonment inquired into; if this be the case, what man can possibly regard his person as being in safety? And, my countrymen, this is the state, in which every man of us must be placed by the SUSPENSION OF THE HABEAS CORPUS ACT, that is to say, by making that Act of no force, while the suspension lasts, and by enabling the Ministers to imprison, and to keep in prison, any body that they shall think proper.
Amongst all the excellent provisions of the laws of England, those which provide for the perfect safety of our persons are the most valua. ble. It is, indeed, principally owing to these provisions, that this Government has been so much boasted of in comparison with the governments on the Continent of Europe, where men are taken up, crammed into prisons, and remain sometimes for years, without ever being told their crime, and, sometimes, without their relations and friends ever knowing what is become of them. This was the case in France before the Revolution, and it may be the case again now for what I know. It was the case in Spain and in all countries where the Inquisition existed. A man, woman, any body, is taken up, put into prison and there kept as long as the persons in power choose! In the case of the Inquisition the wives or children of unfortunate creatures, so seized, do not dare so much as to inquire after the husband or father. They go into mourning, and always speak of the poor wretch as being dead! In France, there was one particular prison, called the Bastile in which wretched victims of power used to be confined; and Mr. Arthur Young,who is the Secretary of the Board of Agriculture in London, relates in his account of the causes of the French Revolution, that a Scotchman had been confined in this Bastile for more than twenty years, without ever having been told for what he was confined ! He says, that he was forgotten ; and that it was by mere accident, that he was at last released at the request of an English Ambassador. People used to be confined in this cruel manner in virtue of what was called a Lettre de Cuchet, that is to say, a Secret Letter, in which the devoted victim was merely named and ordered to be shut up. Mr. Young tells us, that this was carried to such a length, that these Secret Letters were, at last, actually sold in the reign of Louis XV. to any individuals who would pay a sufficient sum for one of them; so that, any rich man, or woman, who had a spite against ano: her man, or woman, might get such person shut up in a cold prison for any length of time.
I am not supposing, that things will ever be carried to this length in England, or to any thing like this length. I will say, I do not believe, that any one wishes to see us reduced to this state of intolerable slavery, degradation and infamy. But, the suspension, even for a day, of this valuable, this sacred law, is so serious a matter, that, really, it is a subject fit to make the whole nation put on crape, sackcloth and ashes. Before I go any further, I beg you to attend to what Mr. BLACKSTONE, who was a Judge, has written upon this law of Habeas Corpus, or personal safety.
“ Of great importance to the public is the preservation of this personal liberty: for if once it were left in the power of any, the highest magistrate to imprison arbitrarily whomever he or his officers thought proper (as in France it is daily practised by the Crown,) there would soon be an end to all other rights and immunities. Some have thought, that unjust attacks, even upon life, or property, at the arbitrary will of the magistrate are less dangerous to the commonwealth, than such as are made upon the personal liberty of the subject. To bereave a man of life, or by violence to confiscate bis estate, without accusation or trial, would be so gross and notorious an act of despotism, as must at once convey the alarm of tyranny throughout the whole kingdom. But confinement of the person, by secretly hurrying bim to gaol, where his sufferings are unknown or forgotten, is a less public, a less striking, and therefore a more dangerous engine of arbitrary government. And yet sometimes, when the State is in real danger, even this kay be a necessary measure. But the happiness of our Constitution is. that it is not left to the executive power to determine when the danger of the State is so great as to render this measure expedient. For the Parliament only, or legislative power, whenever it sees proper, cau authorize the Crown, by suspending the Habeas Corpus Act for a short and limited time, to imprison suspected persons without giving any reason for so doing; as the senate of 'Rome was wont to have recourse to a dictator, a magistrate of absolute authority, when they judged the republic in any imminent danger. The decree of the senate, which usually preceded the nomination of this magistrate, · Dent operam consulles, nequid respublica detrimenti capiat,' was called the 'senatus consultum ultime necessitatis.' In like manner this experiment ought only to be tried in cases of extreme emergency; and in these the nation parts with its liberty for awhile, in order to preserve it for ever.”
Now, then, the question is, whether such case of “ extreme emergency" does now erist. You have read, in the public papers, the Reports of the Secret Committees of the two Houses, upon which this Suspension Bill