« PreviousContinue »
had risen above the humble charge of felony; and he was the leader and the army in this great machination against the being and the dignity of the state. Forty thousand people were desired by public advertisement, to assemble; and in the same advertisement, the civil officers were also desired to
attend to keep the peace. The forty thousand people obeyed the invitation; but the justices and the constables did not. Though it could hardly be believed that so many people could assemble, however pious in their intentions, however orderly in their demeanour, without giving rise to some disturbance, by the interposition of vagabonds, who would take advantage of the occasion; yet the civil officers took no notice of the advertisement. They assembled; and as it was suspected, a multitude of the most abandoned wretches mingled with them, and they pulled down a chapel that night. So weak and untremendous was that mob, that the very chief justice who declared afterwards from the bench, that it was an army levying war against the person and majesty of the crown, took five or six of them with his own hand. Several were taken, and afterwards expiated their offences at the gallows. The day after they were silent and harmless;-a very significant proof of its being no conspiracy; for it was not the nature of a plot to admit of intervals and cessation; its success depended on its rapidity: it would give no leisure for detection and defence-but with closeness it would connect dispatch. When they rose again, they demolished the house of a gentleman, whom he could not better describe than by saying, it was a house that should have fallen by any other storm than that of popular fury. It was then, and not before, that their rage burst out; and they went to pull down and destroy the prisons, as if conscious of their guilt, and knowing that they could find no fit associates for men who had been guilty of such a deed, but in the cells and dungeons, among those wretches who had forfeited
their lives to the laws of their country. In all the trials, in all the proceedings, gentlemen would find no solid and convincing proof of there having been any deep-laid scheme-any regular machination, -any plot against the country in these riots.
The other reason which might justify government for the orders which they issued, was, that they believed the substitution of the military to be a safe, easy, and constitutional measure, in all cases of tumult and riot. He would not attempt to go into any serious investigation of this argument; but only assert, if it were true, that in cases of extreme danger, such a remedy might be safe, easy, and constitutional. Still it would be improper to be acknowledged by parliament; for what might be legally done, would be done oftener. He wished to see a bill of indemnity pass, by which the question would be established on its proper basis; and the people would have the confidence of knowing, that though the late interference was salutary, it was unconstitutional. If he wanted any additional reason to convince him of the danger of leaving such a power in the hands of the crown, a circumstance which occurred in the other house on the opening of the session, would give him the most convincing proof of the necessity of deciding on the doctrine. This was, that His Majesty was praised and exalted for not having acted, in that hour of terror and confusion, like the King of Sweden, in directing his arms against the liberties of the country. This was an expression so alarming in its nature; so threatening and so formidable, that he could not help thinking it incumbent on the house to rescue the country from a suspicion so dreadful. What! was it in His Majesty's power, at that moment, to have trampled on the liberties of the country, and to have introduced military government in the place of the present constitution? Was that the crisis when this might have been established, when the minds of the people were
lost in terror and confusion? No, that was not the moment of danger; the crisis was, when, after the interference of the military power, the chief justice of England said, that it was legal; and asserted, that the military acted not as soldiers, but as citizens; and when this declaration was not objected to by a specific resolution of parliament, but bore the testimony of general acquiescence. That was the moment when the liberties of the people were in danger; and if it did give the opportunity to the crown, the opportunity still existed. It had been asserted, in some instances at least, without a cause, the danger was confined to the metropolis; then, why was the order extended to every part of the kingdom? On granting that it was necessary to extend it, why continue it for four months? If this doctrine was to be laid down, that the crown could give orders to the military to interfere, when, where, and for what length of time it pleases, then we might bid farewell to freedom. If this was the law, we should then be reduced to a military government of the very worst species, in which we should have all the evils of a despotic state, without the discipline or the security. But we were given to understand, that we had the best protection against this evil, in the virtue, the moderation, and the constitutional principles of the sovereign. No man upon earth thought with more reverence than himself, of the virtues and moderation of the sovereign; but this was a species of liberty which he trusted would never disgrace an English soil. The liberty that rested on the virtuous inclinations of any one man, was but suspended despotism; the sword was not indeed upon their necks, but it hung by the small and brittle thread of human will. He adverted to His Majesty's speech from the throne after the riots, which had been peculiarlycalled His Majesty's own speech; he desired it to be read from the table.
The clerk then read the first part of His Majesty's speech on the 19th of June last, viz.
"The outrages committed by bands of desperate and abandoned men, in various parts of this metropolis, broke forth with such violence into acts of felony and treason,-had so far overborne all civil authority-and threatened so directly the immediate subversion of all legal power, the destruction of all property, and the confusion of every order in the state; that I found myself obliged by every tie of duty and affection to my people, to suppress, in every part, those rebellious insurrections; and to provide for the public safety, by the most effectual and immediate application of the force intrusted to me by parliament."
Here, said Mr. Sheridan, His Majesty takes the whole upon himself; and rests the issuing of the order on its true ground-the necessity of the case. If His Majesty's ministers had followed the example of the Sovereign, and come down to parliament desiring a bill of indemnity, the house would have added panegyric to their consent; and would have praised their moderation in the second instance, while they extolled their exertion in the first. He entreated the house to forgive him for having dwelt so long on these excesses, which were all that could be urged in favour of ministers for acting as they did on that occasion. Either they must believe that the whole of the outrages was the result of a deliberate plot and machination, contrived by the enemies of this country, and aiming at the overthrow of the empire; or that the substitution of the military was a safe, easy, and proper remedy, in all cases of riot and tumult. These were the only arguments which could justify ministers in the orders they had given. He would trouble them no farther than by offering to them the propositions which he held in his hand, as the ground of a remedy for the evil of which he had complained. He carried his ideas much farther than he had
brought them forward to the house; but he had been restrained by the opinions of men for whom he entertained much respect. He now read his motions, the purport of which were as follow:
1. "That the military force entrusted to His Majesty by parliament, cannot justifiably be applied to the dispersing illegal and tumultuous assemblies of the people, without waiting for directions from the civil magistrates, but where the outrages have broke forth with such violence, that all civil authority is overborne, and the immediate subversion of all legal government directly threatened."
2. "That the necessity of issuing that unprecedented order to the military, on the 7th of June last, to act without waiting for directions from the civil magistrates, affords a strong presumption of the defective state of the magistracy of Westminter, where the riots began."
3. "That a Committee be appointed to inquire into the conduct of the magistracy and civil power of the city of Westminster, with respect to the riots in June last; and to examine and report to this house, the present state of the magistracy and government of the said city."
He concluded with moving the first of those propositions, which, he said, as it was altogether declaratory, he trusted would not be opposed. At the same time it was not essential to the subsequent motions, which were specific, and went to the purpose for which he had presumed to call the attention of the house.
The Honourable General, then Mr. Fitzpatrick, seconded the motion. The Earl of Surrey objected to the latter part of it "as making the purport of the whole vague and indeterminate. Overthrowing the civil power was a matter" he observed, “which would admit of various acceptations; and if a discretion was given to government to interpret that charge, it might be applied to every riotous act whatever."
To this Mr. SHERIDAN replied, the noble lord had not accurately attended to the words of his motion;