Imágenes de páginas

titles and distinctions. It is to you whom I address myself, and not to those poltroons, who crouch, like beaten spaniels, at every symptom of corruption's displeasure.

It is now about five years since you stood forward so boldly in the cause of Parliamentary Reform. At that time, corruption bad felt no check ; she was at the height of her flight ; her conceit and insolence were extreme ; to open one's lips against her seemed to be as useless as it was dangerous. Yet, did you, even at that time, make your voices heard ; you protested against the continuance of the war, when there ap. peared no other object in view than that of restoring the House of Bour. bon and all the other despotisms of Europe ; you declared your conviction, that ruin and misery would be brought upon your country; you exposed the arts which had been made use of to deceive you ; in short, rou carried on a contest worthy of freemen, and of freemen, too, breathing an air rendered pestiferous by the breath of slavery.

All your assertions have now been verified ; all your apprehensions bave now been proved to have been well-founded. Those assertions which your enemies then called false and seditious, they now put forth themselves as acknowledged and notorious truths. Yet, they have not learned to be just towards you. They appear to have derived no profit from the past. And, though these dreadful calamities, which you foretold in 1812, have actually come upon us ; though your enemies acknowledge that they are come upon us, so far are they from confessing their former errors, that they seem, more than ever, resolved to be the persecutors and slanderers of those who warned them of the danger, and who called upon them to prevent it.

My good friends of Bristol, the circumstances attending your recent meeting on Brandon Hill, have excited a great deal of attention, as they exhibit a striking instance of the conduct of the magistrates to public meetings. You had, in a very respectable number, signed a requisition to your Mayor, to be pleased to call a meeting, in order to take into consideration the propriety of presenting a petition to Parliament for the abolition of sinecures and unmerited pensions, for a reduction of the stand. ing army, and for a constitutional reform of the Commons' House of Parliament. To this requisition the Mayor gave a refusal ; and, instead of calling a meeting of peaceable citizens to deliberate on their rights and to send up their petitions in this time of dreadful distress, his worship thought proper to call a meeting of a very different sort; namely, of troops of all descriptions, and from all parts of the country!

Now, let us take a full view of this transaction. You will observe that the right of petition is, in fact, our only safeguard against being as much slaves as the negroes are ; for if men are not permitted to make their sufferings and their injuries known to those who possess the power to see them righted, the rich and powerful may knock out the brains of the poor with impunity. Suppose a rich man were to murder his labourer, and suppose that no officer of justice would do his duty towards punisbing such offender. What redress is there for the widow and children of the murdered man? Why a petition to king, or Parliament, or both, makes the matter known to those who have the power to redress, and proceedings are adopted accordingly. Having endeavoured to prevent the people's petitioning was one of the crimes which drove the House of Stuart from the throne of this kingdom. For, as all the world knows, this present family is not the family who are entitled to the throne by

regular hereditary right. They have a much better title to it; that is to say, an dct of Parliament, which appointed them to reign instead of the Stuarts, who had behaved in so tyrannical a manner, that our fore. fathers very wisely set them aside for ever, and put up this family in their stead. The tyrant, James the Second, who was the last of the Stuarts, endeavoured to gag the people of England, in the same way that the song of corruption are now recommending that we should be gagged. And in that memorable statute, called the Bill of Rights, it is expressly de. clared, that one of the crimes, for which he and his family were to forfeit the crown, was, the obstructing of petitions. The same bill declares, that the right of presenting petitions to the king or either House of Parliament, is an inherent right, a part of the birth-right of every Englishman.

The Mayor of Bristol, was not, that I know of, bound to call a meeting upon your requisition : but, I am very sure, that you had a right to meet, at any time or place, or in any manner that you chose ; and, I am very certain also that all those persons acted unlawfully, who, by any means wbatever, endeavoured to prevent you, from meeting, whether by an open display of force, or by written or verbal threats. All those persons who published bills threatening to punish, by turning off, &c. the men who attended the meeting, have been guilty of a conspiracy to obstruct petitioning : and, therefore, I would very urgently recommend to you to obtain proof, I mean legal proof, of their having published such handbills, At any rate, get all the bills, and keep them safe ; and, I would advise you, also, to take minutes in writing, and to be ready with evidence to prove, on oath, the fact of posting of troops round, or near, your place of meeting. With this evidence ready, a petition to Parliament against these proceedings may be strenuously maintained ; and, we shall see, then, what the right of petition really is; we shall see what the birth-right is really worth; we shall see, at once, what we have to trust to, in future ; we shall see, whether the right of praying be, at last, to be denied us.

But, in the meanwhile, what a sight did Bristol exhibit on that day; on the memorable 26th of December. The people in the deepest state of misery, beg their chief magistrate to preside over them, while they agree upon a petition to the Parliament; and their chief magistrate chooses rather to surround himself, and fill the city with troops! Upon what ground were those troops called in ?-There had been no riot. There had been no indication of an intention to riot. In every part of the kingdom had numerous meetings been held, and in no one instance had there been any riot, either before or after the meeting; for, as to the contemptible thing in London, it arose out of the assemblage in the Old Bailey, which had been drawn together by the hanging of four men that same morning, and from which spot the rioters, chiefly starving sailors, went almost directly to the gunsmith's shop. The meeting of peti. tioners, in Spa.fields, had no more to do with the sailors' riot than you had. The meeting was not even interrupted by that riot. It was perfectly tranquil, went through its business, and dispersed without a single breach of the peace. But, this sham plot has now been completely exposed. Mr. PRESTON, whom the base proprietors of the Courier and the Times newspapers represented as having confessedhimself concerned in an insurrection, conspiracy and plot," is out upon buil, though they asserted, that he had confessed his guilt as a Trailor! The elder Mr. WATSON, whom these same bloody men had asserted to have been proved to have participated in the robbery of the gunsmith's shop, is committed for trial; but, for what? Why, for endeavouring, it is al. leged, to hurt or maim, a patrole who seizes hold of him in the dark, out in some fields near London! Thus, all is blown to air, as I said it would in my Register, No. 24, vol. 31. Thus, the charge against this unfortunate gentleman also was wholly false. And yet, it is the Courier and the Times who cry out against the licentiousness of the press. We shall see whether the law-officers of the Crown will stretch forth the arm of protection for Messrs. Preston and Watson, whose lives these bloody men have so directly and so audaciously aimed at. The columps of these papers will prove, that the proprietors have endeavoured, by the means of falsehoods, which they must have invented to take away the lives of these gentlemen : and, is there no punishment for them ? Are they to do these things with impunity ?

Thus, then, it has been proved, not only, that there was no rioting on the part of the petitioners in London, but, that they, under the guidance of the very same gentleman, who took the lead at your meeting, remained quiet at their post, while riot was going on in the City. What ground was there, therefore, for the military preparations on the part of the Mayor of Bristol ? And, what ground was there for swearing-in 2000 special constables ? There have been held meetings at which petitions have been signed for a reform of Parliament, by more, I believe, than half a million of men! And, at no one of these meetings has any riot taken place. Nay, rioting has ceased as meetings for Reform have increased. At DUNDEE and in the Isle of Ely and in SUFFOLK and at BIRMINGHAM, where there have been riots, there have been NO meetings for petitioning. In short, meetings for petitioning have put an end to rioting. And, this is very natural; because, when meetings are held, and the people's attention is drawn towards the real causes of their misery, they at once see, that the remedy is not a riotous attack upon the property of their neighbours ; and they wait with patience and forti. tude to hear what answer the Parliament will give to their petitions.

It seems to me, therefore, very wonderful, that those who have property, and who do not share in the taxes, should not be eager to promote meetings to petition; but the conduct of some of your rich neighbours has more than folly in it ; it is deeply tinged with tyranny. I allude to the threats which they published against all those of their workmen who should attend the meeting on Brandon-hill, and which threats ought never to be forgotten by you. But this hatred to the cause of public liberty is, I am sorry to say it, but too common amongst merchants, great manufacturers, and great farmers; especially those who have risen sud. denly from the dunghill to a chariot. If we look a little more closely into the influence of riches, in such a state of things as this, we shall be less surprised at this apparently unnatural feeling in men who were, but the other day, merely journeymen and labourers themselves. As soon as a foolish and unfeeling man gets rich, he becomes desirous of making the world believe, that he never was poor. He knows that he has neither birth nor education to recommend him to the respect of those who have been less fortunate than himself. Though they pull their hats off to him, he always suspects that they are looking back to his mean origin; and instead of adopting that kindness towards them, and that affability which would make them cheerfully acknowledge his superiority, he endeavours, by a distant and rigid deportment, to extort from their fears

that which he wants the sense to obtain from their love. So, that, at last, he verifies the old maxim: “Set a beggar on horseback, and he'll ride to the Devil."

Thisis the very worst species of aristocracy. It has all the pride and none of the liberal sentiments of the nobility and great gentry; and, the farming and manufacturing aristocracy is worse, a great deal, than the mercantile, because the latter must have more knowledge of the world, which is a great corrector of insolent and stupid pride. As to the farmers, who have grown into riches all of a sudden, they are the most cruel and hardened of all mankind. There are many of them, who really look upon their labourers as so many brutes; and though they can scarcely spell their own names or pronounce the commonest words in an intelligible manner, they give themselves airs, which no gentleman ever thought of. I have heard sentiments from men of this description, which would not have disgraced the lips of negro-drivers, or of a Dey of Algiers. Such men are always seeking to cause their origin to be forgotten. They would with their hands pull down their superiors and with their feet trample down their inferiors; but, as they are frequently tenants, and as their meanness is equal to their upstart pride, as they are afflicted with

“Meanness :hat soars, and pride that licks the dust," their chief aim is to trample into the very ground all who are beneath them in pecuniary circumstances, in order that they may have as few equals as possible, and that there may be as wide a distance as possible beteen them and their labourers.

Such men are naturally enemies to any Reform that would restore the great mass of the people to liberty and happiness ; and so blinded are they by these their base passions, that they almost prefer being ruined themselves, to seeing their labourers enjoy their rights. Of the same materials a great part of the master manufacturers appear to be composed; for, in almost every instance, they have declined to condescend to co-operate with the people at large. They will, however, soon see, that their hopes of maintaining their monopoly of happiness and plenty are delusive. They and the upstart farmers have only begun to taste the fruit of the system, which they have so long assisted to support. The axe is, indeed, laid to the root of their riches : but, as yet, the trunk and branches hardly feel the effects of its blows. They will find, when, perhaps, it may be too late, that prosperous farmers and master manufacturers cannot exist without happy journeymen and labourers ; and they will also find, that the measures, which are necessary to preserve their property, are those and those only which will insure to the people at large the enjoyment of all their constitutional rights.

This race of men seem alarmed at the idea of their labourers and journeymen having votes at elections as well as they ! And why not? Are not those journeymen and labourers as heavily taxed ? Have they not wives and families? Have they not liberty and life to preserve ? The upstart, bigbellied, swell-headed farmer can bluster and bully (out of his landlord's hearing) enough about sinecures and pensions. He can swear and rave on this score like a madman. He can rail against the taxes which he has to pay, and against the tithes too he can curse like a Cossack or Pandour. But bid bim come to a meeting, or put his hand to a petition, and you soon see what a wretched selfish thing he is. He would gladly enough see the people push forward to obtain a repeal of taxes, and to ease him of the weight of sinecures and pensions; but a reform, which would give to this

same people rights equal to himself, he does not understand ; he“ does not see what good it would do ;' though if selfishness had not wholly blinded him, he would see that no good can possibly be done without it.

You, my good friends of Bristol, who have upon the late occasion, ex. perienced so much annoyance from this description of men, or at least, from men resembling them in point of motives and character, should not fail to bear in mind who the individuals have been ; that is to say, you should keep safe all the threatening handbills which they published to obstruct you in the exercise of your invaluable right of petition. For, be you well assured, that the ensuing session of Parliament will never pass over with out something being done to call the conduct of these persons in question. What would have been said of any of you, who should have put up bills, threatening to set fire to the warehouses and dwellings of the merchants; if they called in troops, or did any other thing, to prevent you from meeting to petition ? Yet, would this have been more unlawful, or more cruel, than for them to threaten you with starvation, if you persisted in meeting to petition ? To have issued such incendiary threats would, indeed, have been criminalin a high degree, and would have merited severe punishment, because no man has a right to put another man in fear for his life or his property, and I would much sooner forgive a man who should rob me on the highway, or who should steal my sheep or my horses, than a man, who should threaten to destroy my house or goods by fire. What, then, ought to be my feelings towards a man, who, without any provocation, without any offence against him, without any attempt to injure him in any way what. ever, and merely because I proposed to exercise my own undoubted right, were to threaten to deprive me of house and home and even of bread for myself and my family? What ought to be my feelings against such a man ? I leave you to judge. And, when you have decided, you will want no one to tell you what feelings you ought to entertain towards those cruel and insolent men, who have published, or uttered, in any way whatever, threats against you upon the late memorable occasion.

Quitting, now, the particular scene before us, I beg leave to call your attention, and also the attention of all who love their country and its liberties and its peace, to the endeavours, which corruption's press is making use of, in order to pave the way, if possible, for the enactment of GAGGING BILLS. Observe, that I am in no fear that these endea. vours will succeed, and that I am convinced, that more than one-half of us must be actually killed, before such a project could be put in force. But, the endeavours, to produce this state of slavery, or this scene of civil war and bloodshed, it is my duty to notice betimes, and to warn my country against their pernicious and diabolical authors.

You must have observed, indeed every man with his eyes open must be well convinced, that it is the hope of a Reform which has hitherto kept the country in a state of tranquillity under its unparalleled sufferings.This hope has been excited by public meetings and more especially by publications, and amongst these publications, mine certainly may claim a distinguished place. Now this being the case, manifestly and notoriously the case, in the usual course of things it would have followed, that the writers who profess to be friendly to the Government, would have applauded my labours, seeing that the tendency and the real effect of them is to preserve the public tranquillity; to prevent those crimes which the Judges so severely reprobate, and which they punish very frequently by

« AnteriorContinuar »