« PreviousContinue »
arrested. One noble lord observes, that the coachman of a peer may be arrested while he is driving his master to the house, and consequently he will not be able to attend his duty in parliament. If this was actually to happen, there are so many methods by which the member might still get to the house, I can hardly think the noble lord to be serious in his objection. Another noble lord said, that by this bill one might lose their most valuable and honest servants. This I hold to be a contradiction in terms: for he neither can be a valuable servant, nor an honest man, who gets into debt, which he neither is able nor willing to pay till compelled by law. If my servant, by unforeseen accidents, has got in debt, and I still wish to retain him, I certainly would pay the debt. But upon no principle of liberal legislation whatever, can my servant have a title to set his creditors at defiance; while, for forty shillings only, the honest tradesman may be torn from his family and locked up in gaol, It is monstrous injustice! I flatter myself, however, the determination of this day will entirely put an end to all such partial proceedings for the future, by passing into a law the bill now under your lordships'
I now come to speak upon what, indeed, I would have gladly avoided, had I not been particularly pointed at for the part I have taken in this bill. It has been said by a noble lord on my left hand, that I likewise am running the race of popularity. If the noble lord means, by popularity, that applause bestowed by after ages on good and virtuous actions, I have long been struggling in that race, to what pur pose all-trying time can alone determine; but, if the noble lord means that mushroom popularity which is raised without merit, and lost without a crime, he is much mistaken in his opinion. I defy the noble lord to point out a single action in my life where the po pularity of the times ever had the smallest influence on my determinations. I thank God I have a more permanent and steady rule for my conduct-the dictates of my own breast. Those that have foregone
that pleasing adviser, and given up their mind to be the slave of every popular impulse, I sincerely pity; I pity them still more, if their vanity leads them to mistake the shouts of a mob for the trumpet of their fame. Experience might inform them that many, who have been saluted with the huzzas of a crowd one day, have received their execrations the next; and many who, by the popularity of their times, have been held up as spotless patriots, have nevertheless appeared upon the historian's page, when truth has triumphed over delusion, the assassins of liberty.Why, then, the noble lord can think I am ambitious of present popularity, that echo of folly and shadow of renown, I am at a loss to determine. Besides, I do not know that the bill now before your lordships will be popular; it depends much upon the caprice of the day. It may not be popular to compel people to pay their debts; and in that case the present must be an unpopular bill. It may not be popular neither to take away any of the privileges of parliament; for I very well remember, and many of your lordships may remember, that not long ago the popular cry was for the extension of privilege; and so far did they carry it at that time, that it was said that privilege protected members from criminal actions; nay, such was the power of popular prejudices over weak minds, that the very decisions of some of the courts were tinctured with that doctrine. It was undoubtedly an abominable doctrine. I thought so then, and think so still; but nevertheless it was a popular doctrine, and came immediately from those who were called the friends of liberty, how deservedly time will show. True liberty, in my opinion, can only exist when justice is equally administered to all, to the king, and to the beggar. Where is the justice, then, or where is the law, that protects a member of parliament more than any other man from the punishment due to his crimes? The laws of this country allow of no place nor no employment to be a sanctuary for crimes; and, where I have the honour to sit as judge,
neither royal favour nor popular applause shall ever protect the guilty.
I have now only to beg pardon for having employed so much of your lordships' time; and I am very sorry a bill, fraught with so good consequences, has not met with an abler advocate; but I doubt not your lordships' determination will convince the world that a bill, calculated to contribute so much to the equal distribution of justice as the present, requires, with your lordships, but very little support.
LORD CHESTERFIELD'S FIRST SPEECH
ON THE GIN ACT, FEBRUARY 21ST, 1743, AFTER THE SECOND READING OF THE BILL.
THE act of parliament of 1736, by which no person was permitted to sell spirituous liquors in less quantity than two gallons, without a license, for which 50%. were to be paid, having proved, from the difficulties attending its execution, ineffectual in checking the progress of drunkenness among the common people, a new bill was introduced into the house of commons and carried, laying a small duty on spirits per gallon, at the still head, and reducing also the price of licenses to twenty shillings.
During the debate on the bill, in the house of lords, the Earl of Chesterfield delivered two speeches, both of which we preserve. Leaving his powers of reasoning for more weighty discussions, he here employs to expose and to decry the silly tendency of the measure the pleasantry of wit, and the sportiveness of good humoured irony. These speeches have very great merit. They will be read with avidity by those who relish the sprightly sallies of genius, or who are emu ous of a style of eloquence which though it may not always convince, will never fail to delight.
THE bill now under our consideration appears to me to deserve a much closer regard than seems to
have been paid to it in the other house, through which it was hurried with the utmost precipitation, and where it passed almost without the formality of a debate. Nor can I think that earnestness, with which some lords seem inclined to press it forward here, consistent with the importance of the consequences which may with great reason be expected from it.
It has been urged, that where so great à number have formed expectations of a national benefit from any bill, so much deference, at least, is due to their judgment, as that the bill should be considered in a committee. This, my lords, I admit to be in other cases a just and reasonable demand; and will readily allow that the proposal, not only of a considerable number, but even of any single lord, ought to be fully examined, and regularly debated, according to the usual forms of this house. But in the present case, my lords, and in all cases like the present, this demand is improper, because it is useless; and it is useless, because we can do now all that we can do hereafter in a committee. For the bill before us is a money bill, which, according to the present opinion of the commons, we have no right to amend, and which, therefore, we have no need of considering in a committee, since the event of all our deliberations must be, that we are either to reject or pass it in its present state. For I suppose no lord will think this a proper time to enter into a controversy with the commons, for the revival of those privileges to which I believe we have a right; and such a controversy, the least attempt to amend a money bill will certainly produce.
To desire, therefore, my lords, that this bill may be considered in a committee, is only to desire that it may gain one step without opposition; that it may proceed through the forms of the house by stealth, and that the consideration of it may be delayed, till the exigencies of the government shall be so great, as not to allow time for raising the supplies by any other method.