Page images



I tell him in reply, that if he were to search the history of my life, he would find that the period of it, in which I struggled most for the real, substantial cause of liberty is this very moment I am addressing you. Freedom, according to my conception of it, consists in the safe and sacred possession of a man's property, governed by laws defined and certain ; with many personal privileges, natural, civil, and religious, which he cannot surrender without ruin to himself; and of which to be deprived by any other power is despotism. This bill, instead of subverting, is destined to give stability to these principles; instead of narrowing the basis of freedom, it tends to enlarge it; instead of suppressing, its object is to infuse and circulate the spirit of liberty.

What is the most odious species of tyranny? Precisely that which this bill is meant to annihilate. That a handful of men, free themselves, should execute the most base and abominable despotism over millions of their fellow-creatures; that innocence should be the victim of oppression; that industry should toil for rapine ; that the harmless laborer should sweat, not for his own benefit, but for the luxury and rapacity of tyrannic depredation; in a word, that thirty millions of men, gifted by Providence with the ordinary endowments of humanity, should groan under a system of despotism unmatched in all the histories of the world.

What is the end of all government ? Certainly the happiness of the governed. Others may hold other opinions, but this is mine, and I proclaim it. What are we to think of a government whose good fortune is supposed to spring from the calamities of its subjects, whose aggrandizement grows out of the miseries of mankind ? This is the kind of government exercised under the East India Company upon the natives of Hindostan; and the subversion of that infamous government is the main object of the bill in question. But in the progress of accomplishing this end, it is objected that the charter of the company should not be violated ; and upon this point, sir, I shall deliver my opinion without disguise. A charter is a trust to one or more persons for some given benefit. If this trust be abused, if the benefit be not obtained, and its failure arise from palpable guilt, or (what in this case is fully as bad) from palpable ignorance or mismanagement, will any man gravely say that that trust should not be resumed and delivered to other hands; more especially in the case of the East India Company, whose manner of executing this trust, whose laxity and languor have produced, and tend to produce consequences diametrically opposite to the ends of confiding that trust, and of the institution for which it was granted ?

I beg of gentlemen to be aware of the lengths to which their arguments upon the intangibility of this charter may be carried. Every syllable

HENRY GRATTAN (1750-1820)



RELAND is eminent among nations for the number of famous

orators who have been born upon her soil. We may name

men of such celebrity as Burke, Sheridan, Sheil, Emmet, Curran, Grattan, and O'Connell. Among these Grattan stands high. Of his eminence in oratory it is difficult to say too much. Lecky says of him : “No British orator except Chatham had an equal power of firing an educated audience with an intense enthusiasm, or of animating and inspiring a nation,” and Mackintosh asserts that, “ The purity of his life was the brightness of his glory. Among all the men of genius I have known, I have never found such native grandeur of soul accompanying all the wisdom of age and all the simplicity of genius."

THE RIGHTS OF IRELAND [Of Grattan's speech in 1780, on “Liberty as an Inalienable Right," it has been said : "

Nothing equal to it had ever been heard in Ireland, nor probably was its superior ever delivered in the British House of Commons. Other speeches may have matched it in argument and information, but in startling energy and splendor of style it surpassed them all.” His eloquence on this subject is vividly displayed in the following extract.]

England now smarts under the lesson of the American War; the doctrine of imperial legislation she feels to be pernicious ; the revenues and monopolies annexed to it she has found to be untenable ; she has lost the power to enforce it ; her enemies are a host, pouring upon her from all quarters of the earth; her armies are dispersed ; the sea is not hers; she has no minister, no ally, no admiral, none in whom she long confides, and no general whom she has not disgraced ; the balance of her fate is in the hands of Ireland ; you are not only her last connection, you are the only nation in Europe that is not her enemy. Besides, there does, of late,

[ocr errors]
[blocks in formation]

a certain damp and spurious supineness overcast her arms and councils, miraculous as that vigor which has lately inspirited yours.

For with you everything is the reverse; never was there a Parliament in Ireland

possessed of the confidence of the people ; you are the greatest political assembly now sitting in the world ; you are at the head of an immense armynor do we only possess an unconquerable force, but a certain unquenchable public fire, which has touched all ranks of men like a visitation.

Turn to the growth and spring of your country, and behold and admire it. Where do you find a nation which, upon whatever concerns the rights of mankind, expresses herself with more truth or force, perspicuity or justice-not the set phrase of scholastic men, not the tame unreality of court addresses, not the vulgar raving of a rabble, but the genuine speech of liberty, and the unsophisticated oratory of a free nation ?

See her military ardor, not only in forty thousand men, conducted by instinct as they were raised by inspiration, but manifested in the zeal and promptitude of every young member of the growing community. Let corruption tremble; let the enemy, foreign or domestic, tremble ; but let the friends of liberty rejoice at these means of safety and this hour of redemption. Yes, there does exist an enlightened sense of rights, a young appetite for freedom, a solid strength, and a rapid fire, which not only put a declaration of right within your power, but put it out of your power to decline one. Eighteen counties are at your bar ; they stand there with the compact of Henry, with the character of John, and with all the passions of the people. “Our lives are at your service, but our liberties— we received them from God; we will not resign them to man.'

I read from Lord North’s proposition ; I wish to be satisfied, but I am controlled by a paper-I will not call it a law—it is the 6th of George I. [The paper was read.] I will ask the gentlemen of the long robe : Is this the law ? I ask them whether it is not practice. I appeal to the judges of the land whether they are not in a course of declaring that the Parliament of Great Britain, naming Ireland, binds her. I appeal to the magistrates of justice whether they do not, from time to time, execute certain acts of the British Parliament. I appeal to the officers of the army whether they do not fine, confine, and execute their fellow subjects by virtue of the Mutiny Act, an Act of the British Parliament; and I appeal to this House whether a country so circumstanced is free. Where is the freedom of trade? Where is the security of property? Where is the liberty of the people? I here, in this Declaratory Act, see my country proclaimed a slave ? I see every man in this House enrolled a slave. I see the judges of the realm, the oracles of the law, borne down by an unauthorized foreign power, by the authority of the British Parliament



[ocr errors]

was a

UBLIN has the honor of being the birthplace of two of Great

Britain's most famous orators Edmund Burke and Richard

Brinsley Sheridan, though both of them spent their lives and won their fame in England. Sheridan was a man of double, or triple, powers; the greatest of modern English dramatists; a wit of the first water; and an orator of striking ability. Studying in Dublin and at Harrow, he wasted his time in indolence, and left school with the reputation of “an impenetrable dunce." There never greater mistake. He might have graduated with a splendid record, if he had chosen to study.

Sheridan first showed his powers in the drama. The “Rivals," first played in 1775, soon became very popular. The “Duenna” met with brilliant success, and the “School for Scandal ” established his reputation as a dramatic genius of the highest order. It also showed his great powers as a wit, it scintillating with witty sayings from end

His reputation made in the drama, in 1780 Sheridan entered Parliament, where he was destined to make his mark brilliantly in oratory. It was especially in the trial of Warren Hastings, in which Sheridan, Burke, Fox and others represented the House of Commons before the House of Lords, sitting as a court of impeachment, that he established his fame, his Begum speech creating an extraordinary sensation at the time, and being still regarded as one of the most splendid examples of eloquence extant.

THE ARRAIGNMENT OF WARREN HASTINGS [Sheridan made two famous speeches in the Hastings trial. The following extract gives an excellent idea of his powers. It is a fine example of ironical oratory, ending with an earnest appeal to the principles of honor and virtue.]

« PreviousContinue »