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argument against those of the present day; it was indeed not at all in the style of accuracy and ingenuity of his Right Honourable Friend, that while he stated the meatures in Queen Elizabeth's time as of a considerably stronger nature than those he now complained of, and admitted that they were taken in an epoch of unexampled glory to this country, he yet put it to the House as a matter of distinction, that those measures were then well grounded: while there was so little argument required to prove that, he believed the House would anticipate him in averring that the necessity of such a measure was greater, because the time was infinitely more alarming when the Bills were passed, than it was in the reign of Queen Elizabeth, or at any other period of our history: for since the Revolution in France, our situation had been daily growing more and more alarming, from the contagious example, and pernicious principles, which the Rulers of that unhappy country held out to the disaffected and feditious in all countries. His Right Honourable Friend had also alluded to the reign of Charles II. and quoted the law which punished persons who should be proved to have called the King a Roman Catholic. His Right Honourable Friend had said, that nobody would think of making this penal now, because no person in his senses would believe it to be true of his present Majesty. He, however, must deny the inference which his Right Honourable Friend had drawn. He did not believe this law was passed because King Charles really was a Papift. In all his reading of the History of England, he could find nothing to induce him to adopt that opinion. Religion was then a topic about which men were particularly folicitous, and a false accusation of that kind might, in those days, have been attended with very different consequences from what it would be in the present. Could the Roman Catholic religion be made a topic of complaint against the Government in the present times, the discontented would readily take advantage of it, and ascribe it to his Majesty. It did not follow, therefore, that the Government in the reign of Charles II. was vulnerable in this point, but that the popular opinions of the times were calculated to render any charge of that kind a matter of importance. .
In one of his charges against one of the Bills, his Right Honourable Friend had essentially mistaken it; for there was no part of it which admitted of an additional penalty on a libel. If it did, he himself, he said, would be among the foremost to concur in the Motion for the repeal of the Bill: but, instead of that, it affixed the penalty to a particular offence, defining in special terms the nature of that offence. A single glance at the Bill would Thew, that the penalty was annexed not to the crime of libel in general, but were it even so, that vice in it would be cured by the Act for enabling Juries to judge of the law as well as the fact---which his Right Honourable Friend had, greatly to his honour, brought into Parliament, and which would bring the whole of the matter within the province of a Jury. It was not poslible that the House would allow its judgment to be confounded by the ingenuity and eloquence of any Gentleman, so far as to agree, that that clause enacted an additional penalty on libels, which provided that a writing, which, if followed up by an overt-a , would amount to treaion, was punishable in the first instance as a libel, and in the second with transportation. say, that for that reason no law should be made---that no restraint should be laid on the communication of wicked men---that treason was as dangerous when communicated in whispers in the closet, as when openly preached and recommended abroad: or that popular acclamations were as little dangerous as the insidi. ous propagations of private disaffection ?
He faid he would not follow his Right Honourable Friend into the foreign matter he had introduced into his argument, from the Laws of Scotland, or enter into a discussion of the merits of those laws; but some expressions had fallen from him, which forbad him to remain entirely silent upon that point. His Right Honourable Friend had stated that some men of useful talents and acquirements had been sent into banishment, and died in a diftant country, merely on account of the excess of ther love for the British Constitucion ; but this he could by no means admit. Had the House forgotten that Mr. Skirving was the Secretary of the Scotch Convention that Mr. Gerald and Mr. Margarot were Members of that Convention? Was it in their excess of love for the British Conftitution, that they had in their proceedings used the language and forms of that execrable body of men in France, who had buried the liberties of their country in the grave of their sovereign ? Did their resistance to the Acts of the Legislature arise from the excess of their love for the Bri. tish Conftitution ? Did their appointment of Delegates to take the power out of the hands of the King, Lords, and Commons, arise from the excess of their love for the British Conftitution ?--“God forbid," said he, “ that the British Constitution should have many such lovers.”
As to the Meeting of Surrey, he had not information on the subject fufficient to form a judgment on the conduct of the Sheriff'; possibly his decision might have been right; but his Right Honourable Friend had said, that the Sheriff could not have acted so before the Bill was passed, because another person might be got to preside at the Meeting, and do justice. He now called on his Right Honourable Friend to state in his reply what part of the Bill restrained that Meeting from putting whomsoever they pleased in the Chair. His Right Honourable Friend had asked, “ Would the Bills prevent men from communicating their thoughts to each other?” He would not only admit that they could not, but he would go much farther, and say, that no poilible provision of the Legislature could. But would any one
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· His Right Honourable Friend had gone into a comparison between the itate of Ireland and this country. He had said, that no Committees of Correspondence with France had existed previous to the year 1791; but that since strong measures had been adopted by the Government of Ireland thele treasonable correspondences had taken place. Though this proposition were true, the argument used by his Right Honourable Friend would not be logical. It was obvicus, however, that such correspondences might have existed before, though they had not been discovered by the Government. But the true answer to his Right Honourable Friend's argument was this, that the case was exactly the contrary in this country, and his reasoning did not apply at all to the present state of Great Britain. If sublequent events were permitted to explain past causes, he would maintain that the passing of the laws which the Right Honourable Gentleman proposed to rep.al, had been the means of preventing this country from being now in the situation of Ireland. Every one who had read the proceedings of Parliament, every one who had paid attention to the various trials which had taken place in this country, must be convinced that a traitorous correspondence had been carried on between persons in this country and the French Government, previous to the passing of the Bills. So that those circumstances which his Right Honourable Friend had argued the mealures for strengthening Government in Ireland had produced, he had a right to argue were prevented in this country, by the laws which the Right Honourable Gentleinan fought to set aside. That those laws had secured the peace and tranquillity of the country, was a proposition which he thought could not be denied. He believed that consternation was felt by all orders of men at the proceedings of those Societies, which had so long distracted the country. Meetings were held for little less than destroying the Government, and overthrowing the Constitution ; and it surely was not yet forgotten, that the immediate effect of one of those ineetings was an attempt upon the life of the Sovereign. Whether thefe Bills had removed the discontents which existed before they were passed he would not take upon himself positively to determine; discontent might indeed still rankle in the bosoms of a few, but could neither be propagated, nor produce effects of any consequence to the safety of the State. He said that
it could not be denied the Bills for a short time had been an additional cause of discontent; but why? because at the time they were paffed, much misrepresentation had been used to make the peop.e averte to them. If th: Bills had indeed been such as they were reprefenied to be, he could not be surprised at the discontent they produced; but it was not from the measures themselves the ciamour against them arose, but from the gross deceplion practised upon the public in representing them as repealing the Bill of Rights, and taking away the right of the people to petition the Throne. For himself he could conscientiously fay, That if they were so, he would be glad the discontents were greater. But why had the discontents subsided ? Because the people, instead of judging as before from misrepresentation, had read the Bills, and judged and felt for themselves. The proceedings of a number of public meetings, for these four weeks past, thewed that the people enjoyed the full exercise of their conftitutional liberty, and afforded further proofs of the misrepresentations which had been made upon this subject.
That those Bills had a very great effect in suppressing fedi. tious meetings, no one could deny; but that they had the effect, or warranted the preventing a single meeting, for the proper conftitutional purposes of petitioning Parliament, or prevented the representation of one grievance, real or imaginary, could not be proved ; in short, it was his conviction, that if Ministers were willing to abuse their power, there was nothing in the Bills to enable them, and if there was, they would not attempt it.
He declared, that he was conscientiously persuaded much mirchief would arise from a repeal of those Biils. When he looked to the state of the country---to the progress of the French arms, and the general propagation of French principles; to the situation of Ireland, and to a recent event at Portsmouth; he was free to confess that there was the most serious cause for alarm; he thanked God, however, there was none for despondence: to say the times were not critical would be idle, and he was convinced the nation could only be saved by Parliament, unbiassed by popular clamour, and uninfluenced by Government. At such a moment to repeal Acts made neceffary by public danger in much less dangerous times, and which had produced such lalutary effects, would be impolicy---would be madness. At all events it could not be attended with any injurious effects to leave it to the natural period of its extinction, as little of their time remained, being passed in December 1795, for three years only--at the expiration of that time, Parliament would be called upon to decide upon the propriety of their continuance; and he hoped in God it would not be then found necessary to keep
them in force : for even though the objections which his Right Honourable Friend had made to them were utterly unfounded, he would defire their repeal, for he thought it was not enough to say of a measure in order to its adoption that it was not actually mischievous to the Pritish Constitution ; it should be absolutely founded in necessity; and the moment that necessity ceased, that inoment the law fhould end.
That these Bills were, to a certain degree, restraints, he admitted ; and every restraint, however innocent, should be avoided; but that they affected the sacred right (for sacred he would call it) of the subject to petition, that he absolutely denied. If the exception to the restraints were read, it would be found that there was not a constitutional mode of meeting which was not provided for. Every county meeting---every corporation---every meeting convenied by a magistrate, or by grand juries, were expressly excepted from, and did not come within the operation of the Bill at all. And that it should not be said any description of men were restrained from bringing forward political opinions, a right was given which authorised every meeting called at the requeit of seven householders; and such meeting might be held in defiance of all the powers in the kingdom. But it is said, that when they have met, the people are restrained from discussing those topics with freedom, which interest them most. How were they restrained? They were indeed restrained from bringing forward any proposition for altering the form of Government of this country, as it is vested in Kings, Lords, and Commons. This restraint then only prevented them from destroying the Constitution. Was it an unreasonable restraint to say that men fo assembled, should not be allowed to come forward with propositions tending to annihilate the Government of the country? The object of the Bill which proposed to prevent any act of contempt to his Majesty's person or Government, had not in view, as it had been misrepresented to have, the strengthening the hands of his Majesty's Ministers, and sheltering them from the candid inquiries of their fellow-subjects. He believed that every man who read these Bills, would be perfectly convinced how much and how grossly they had been misrepresented. He begged it, however, to be understood, that in all he had said he had not offered any argument tending to shew that they should remain in force for one moment longer than they were absolutely necessary for the peace and the happiness of the country.
His Right Honourable Friend had uttered one opinion, which he'declared he himself had felt as warmly as any one, namely, that Liberty was the most secure guard of Order---for permanent and secure order never could exist where there was not ra.