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him, that he might fall under the penalty of their bylaw, made to serve a particular purpose ; in opposition to which, and to avoid the fine thereby imposed, he hath pleaded a legal disability, grounded on two acts of parliament. As I am of opinion that his plea is good, I conclude with moving your lordships, į
"That the judgment be affirmed.”
LORD MANSFIELD'S SPEECH,
IN THE HOUSE OF LORDS, MAY 8TH, 1770, on A BILL TO DEPRIVE PEERS OF THE REALM OF CERTAIN PRIVILEGES.
THIS speech has been very justly admired as among the most chaste, polished, and elegant productions of Lord Mansfield's eloquence. It was delivered in an animated discussion which took place on a bill introduced into the house of lords on the 8th of May, 1770, to annuļ the privilege which protected against legal process the servants and property of peers of the realm. The bill, so congenial with the spirit of English jurisprudence, whose greatest boast is the equal and exact distribution of justice, was finally passed,
WHEN I consider the importance of this bill to your lordships, I am not surprised it has taken so much of your consideration. It is a bill, indeed, of no common magnitude ; it is no less than to take away from two thirds of the legislative body of this great kingdom certain privileges and immunities, of which they have been long possessed. Perhaps there is no situation that the human mind can be placed in, that is so difficult, and so trying, as where it is made a judge in its own cause. There is something implanted in the breast of man so attached to itself, so tenacious of privileges once obtained, that, in such a situation, either to discuss with impartiality, or decide with jus
tice, has ever been held as the summit of all human virtue. The bill now in question puts your lordships in this very predicament; and I doubt not but the wisdom of your decision will convince the world, that, where self-interest and justice are in opposite scales, the latter will ever preponderate with your lordships.
Privileges have been granted to legislators in all ages and in all countries. The practice is founded in wisdom; and, indeed, it is peculiarly essential to the constitution of this country, that the members of both houses should be free in their persons in cases of civil suits. For, there may come a time when the safety and welfare of this whole empire may depend upon their attendance in parliament. God forbid that I should advise any measure that would in future endanger the state ; but the bill before your lordships has, I am confident, no such tendency, for it ex. pressly secures the persons of members of either house in all civil suits. This being the case, I confess, when I see many noble lords, for whose judgment I have the greatest respect, standing up to oppose a bill which is calculated merely to facilitate the recovery of just and legal debts, I am astonished and amazed. They, I doubt not, oppose the bill upon publick principles. I would not wish to insinuate that private interest has the least weight in their determie nation.
This bill has been frequently proposed, and as fre. quently miscarried; but it was always lost in the lower house. Little did I think, when it had passed the commons, that it possibly could have met with such opposition here. Shall it be said that you, my lords, the grand council of the nation, the highest judicial and legislative body of the realm, endeavour to evade by privilege, those very laws which you enforce on your fellow subjects ? Forbid it justice. I am sure, were the noble lords as well acquainted as I am with but half the difficulties and delays that are every day occasioned in the courts of justice, under
pretence of privilege, they would not, nay, they could not, oppose this bill.
I have waited with patience to hear what arguments might be urged against the bill; but I have waited in vain. The truth is, there is no argument that can weigh against it. The justice, and expediency, of this bill is such as renders it self evident. It is a proposition of that nature that can neither be weakened by argument, nor entangled with sophistry. Much, indeed, has been said by some noble lords on the wisdom of our ancestors, and how differently they thought from us. They not only decreed, that privilege should prevent all civil suits from proceeding during the sitting of parliament, but likewise granted protection to the very servants of members. I shall say nothing on the wisdom of our ancestors; it might perhaps appear invidious, and is not necessary in the present case. I shall only say, that the noble lords that flatter themselves with the weight of that reflection, should remember, that, as circumstances alter, things themselves should alter. Formerly. it was not so fashionable either for masters or servants to run in debt as it is at present; nor formerly were merchants or manufacturers members of parliament, as at present. The case now is very different. Both merchants and manufacturers are, with great propriety, elected members of the lower house. Commerce having thus got into the legislative body of the kingdom, privilege must be done away. .
We all know that the very soul and essence of trade are regular payments : and sad experience teaches us, that there are men, who will not make their regular payments without the compulsive power of the laws. The law then ought to be equally open to all; any exemption to particular men, or particular ranks of men, is, in a free commercial country, a solecism of the grossest nature. But I will not trouble your lordships with arguments for that which is sufficiently evident without any. I shall only say a few words to some noble lords, who foresee much inconveniency from the persons of their servants being liable to be