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word of long and ancient usage, and stamped with such an authority as that of Mr. Burke. It was his opinion, that the higher ranks did wrong in thús seceding from the lower. If the latter had swerved from their duty, it would be better for the former to rally them round the principles of the constitution, and lead them back to their duty, than thus to make, as it were, a separate cause against them. Let those higher ranks recollect what must be the certain consequence of a contest between them and the lower ranks. He contended, that if the proposed measures were adopted, it would indicate to France, that this country was in a convulsed state; and as we had expected better terms from them on account of their being in a convulsed state, so they, on the same ground, would be induced to expect better terms from us, if they supposed England to be in a state of confu
Good God! said Mr. Erskine, because a king, whose morals make him dear to every man in the nation, was going down to his parliament during a war which had snatched the bread from the mouths of the poor,because, in the crowd that surrounded him, there was one man miscreant enough to offer an outrage to that king, for which act he might be punished by the statute of Edward the third,-are the whole people of England, on that account, for the crime of one man, to be deprived of their most valuable rights and privileges?
The learned advocate then went into a legal argument, to prove that the offences recapitulated in the present bill might be punished by the existing laws, and that those laws were amply sufficient. The 13th of Charles the Second was admitted to be the precedent of the bill. Under that act 100,000 persons might meet, and sign any petition to the king or the parliament voluntarily; but the act prevented persons from hawking about petitions to persons to sign, who might not know that any grievances existed. It also provided that not more than ten persons should present any petition to the king. It
authorised magistrates to interfere when an overt act of tumult took place, or to require security if danger to the peace was apprehended: but it never prohibited a meeting to be held. It did not forbid voluntary communication, but prohibited tumultuous petitioning; whereas the bill then before the house prohibited petitioning upon grievances which actually existed. He then alluded to a reform in parliament, and observed that the language of Mr. Pitt once had been, “That we had lost America by the corruption of an unreformed parliament; and that we should never have a wise and honourable administration, nor be freed from the evils of unnecessary war, nor the futal effects of the funding system, till a radical reform was obtained." But the same right honourable gentleman was then attempting to brand with the imputation of sedition all who employed the same language which he himself had once held, or who expressed their discontent at the fatal measures which in that speech he had himself predicted.
On the same Subject.
He urged several grave and weighty arguments, to prove that the consequences which had arisen from the propagation of jacobinical principles in France, afforded no justification for the legislature of this country to enact new laws, with a view to the prevention of similar effects here: he thought the members of that house had nothing to do with what had passed in France. The bill was to be objected against, as establishing a bad pre
cedent, under countenance of which a variety of bad laws might creep into the state, and defile the pages of the statute-book. While he thought the existing laws sufficient to suppress seditious assemblies, he could not help remarking the variety of misconceptions that had taken place respecting the bill; and in no particular more than in the idea that it trenched upon the right of the subject to discuss public grievances, to petition, complain, or remonstrate, or otherwise address the king, or either or both houses of parliament, respecting them. So far from that being the case, the bill set out with recognizing that principle in the plainest and broadest manner. His lordship pointed out the distinction be. tween the extent to which the provisions of the bill went, and that of the provisions of the act of Charles the Second, and the act of George the First, commonly called the Riot Act. By the latter, the persons assembled for an unlawful purpose did not incur the penalty of death, unless they continued together riotously and tumultuously for one hour after the act had been read. By the present bill, if an assembly met for the mere discussion of public topics, continued together peaceably to the number of twelve or more, for one hour after proelamation made commanding them to disperse, they were guilty of felony without the benefit of clergy; and the magistrate was ordered to put them to death, or at least he incurred no penalty, if, upon resistance, any of the persons so continuing together lost their lives. This was, in his mind, an insuperable objection to the bill; and he therefore voted against it.
On the Address to his Majesty.
He censured the speech, and the ministers by whom it was written. It was not, he said, enough that they should for three years persist in a war for miserable speculation, add one hundred millions of debt to the capi tal, load the people with four millions per annum of permanent taxes, and make them feel all the miseries of scarcity, but they must be insulted by the falsehood of being told "their station was improved." How improved? It could not be shewn from the successes of the Austrian army. After the loan voted to the em peror, and the pretences upon which it was granted, the people were told that it was an improvement of their situation, that the French had been recently obliged to retreat from posts of which they were not in possession at the time of the guarantee. Was it an improvement, that they had extended their dominions, beyond the Rhine, had got Manheim, and over-run the greater part of the Palatinate? Was it because the French had not over-run Italy, that our situation was improved? Mr. Fox spoke in strong terms of the lofty disdain with which he had been treated the preceding sessions, on occasion of his predictions respecting the scarcity of grain. When another gentleman (Mr. Hussey,) at a later period, and upon certain information, used the same forcible dissuasive against war, he was rebuked for a suggestion which was treated as unfounded in fact. Was the verification of those warnings an improvment? The suf
ferings of the poor he stated to be extreme. Oh! but France was reduced to unparalleled distress, and this was our comfort! He would not quarrel about words; but he must notice the strange logic, "that the people of this country were to be told that this unparalleled distress of the French was owing to the war, whereas the distresses in England had nothing to do with it." The depreciation of paper currency in France had been, he said, the incessant story with which the parliament and the people had been deluded from the beginning of the war. Two years ago, the assignats were said to be at a discount of 80 per cent. and this appeared to be tantamount to extinction; but when experience and prac tice were regarded, when the example of America was referred to, an enlightened statesman would hesitate before he presumed to delude his country by building upon such an hypothesis. Accordingly, France had added another lesson to that of America. France, which was reduced to such a state of weakness as to be an easy prey,-France, who in June last, was said to be gasping in her last agonies,-France, since the date of this expiring agony, had made the most brilliant campaign that the history of mankind exhibited. Such agonies excited his fears; and surely no man of common sense, after such an issue to this kind of reasoning, would again calculate upon success from the depreciation of their paper. Another argument used was, that the French were so destitute of provisions, as to be obliged to unload the ships at Brest to supply Paris with bread. But what must be their feelings in the cause in which they had engaged, that could, under such a pressure of scarcity, rouse them to such exertions? From a minute investigation of the speech, Mr. Fox observed, that it held out to the country even less hopes of peace than his majesty's speech the preceding year. At no period of the revolution might it not have been equally said, "that it would produce consequences highly important to the interests of Europe." Mr. Fox noticed the anVOL. II. 66