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LORD CHATHAM'S SPEECH,
DELIVERED IN THE HOUSE OF LORDS, JANUARY THE 9th, 1770, IN REPLY TO LORD MANSFIELD, on an amenDMENT TO THE ADDRESS TO THE THRONE.
DISGUSTED with the conduct of the cabinet over which he presided, without the power of control or direction, lord Chatham resigned his place late in the year 1768, and with a mind soured by discontent, and enfeebled by the anguish of disease, retreated from publick life to the privacy of the country, where he resided for nearly two years.
During his retirement, he estranged himself so entirely from the concerns of politicks and the strife of party, that his former lofty pretensions and commanding influence in the state dwindled to insignificance, and he to whom every eye was once directed, attracted, for that time, little regard or attention.
This relaxation, however, produced, very unexpectedly, the restoration of his health, and by a reconciliation with his nearest relative, lord Temple, the solace of whose friendship he seems to have required, his mind, long clouded and oppressed, again shone forth with a brightness and intensity of force, not surpassed in the meridian of its splendid career.
At the meeting of parliament, January 9th 1770, he resumed his seat in the House of Lords, and on the motion for the address to the throne, pronounced one of the most celebrated of his speeches, which, unfortunately, is imperfectly preserved. He commenced it in a very impressive manner. advanced period of life, my lords, bowing under the weight of my infirmities, I might, perhaps, have stood
excused if I had continued in my retirement, and never taken part again in publick affairs; but the alarming state of the nation calls upon me, indeed forces me to come forward once more, and to execute that duty which I owe to my God, my Sovereign, and my Country." He then entered into a wide examination of the external, as well as internal relations of the country, and drew an able, though exaggerated picture of its situation, and the dangers which threatened it.
He said, that the posture of foreign affairs was highly critical; but he dwelt more on the divisions and distractions which prevailed in every portion of the empire. He lamented those unhappy measures which had alienated the colonies from the mother country, and driven them to such excesses. But he still thought that they should be treated with tenderness; for, "these excesses were the mere irruptions of liberty which broke out upon the skin, and were a sign, if not of perfect health, at least of vigorous constitution, and must not be repelled too suddenly, lest they should strike to the heart. That liberty was a plant which deserved to be cherished. That he loved the tree and wished well to every branch of it. That like the vine in Scripture, it had spread from East to West, had embraced whole nations with its branches, and sheltered them under its leaves."
Passing from the discontents of America, he proceeded to notice those which existed at home. The latter he attributed to the conduct of the house of commons in the expulsion of Mr. Wilkes, and conceived that it ought to be distinctly stated as the cause to his majesty. With this design he concluded his speech by moving, as an amendment to the address, "That we will, with all convenient speed, take into our most serious consideration the causes of the discontents which prevail in so many parts of your majesty's dominions, and particularly the late proceedings of the house of commons touching the incapacity of John Wilkes, Esq. expelled by that house to, be re-elected a member to serve in this present parliament; thereby
refusing, by a resolution of one branch of the legislature only, to the subject his common right, and depriving the electors of Middlesex of their free choice of a representative."
This amendment was powerfully resisted by Lord Mansfield. Nothing remains however of his speech except a meagre account of the general course of his argument. He contended" that the amendment violated every form and usage of parliament, and was a gross attack on the privileges of the house of commons. That there never was an instance of the lords inquiring into the proceedings of that house with respect to their own members, much less of their taking upon them to censure such proceedings, or of their advising the crown to take notice of them. If, indeed, it be the purpose of the amendment to provoke a quarrel with the house of commons, I confess said his lordship, it will have that effect certainly, and immediately. The lower house will undoubtedly assert their privileges, and give you vote for vote. I leave it, therefore, to your lordships, to consider the fatal effects which in such a conjuncture as the present, may arise from an open breach between the two houses of parliament."
Lord Chatham immediately arose and delivered the following speech in reply.
His amendment was rejected.
THERE is one plain maxim, to which I have invariably adhered through life: that in every question, in which my liberty, or my property were con cerned, I should consult and be determined by the dictates of common sense. I confess, my lords, that I am apt to distrust the refinement of learning, because I have seen the ablest and the most learned men equally liable to deceive themselves, and to mislead others. The condition of human nature would be lamentable indeed, if nothing less than the greatest learning and talents, which fall to the share of so small
a number of men, were sufficient to direct our judg ment and our conduct. But Providence has taken better care of our happiness, and given us, in the simplicity of common sense, a rule for our direction, by which we shall never be misled. I confess, my lords, I had no other guide in drawing up the amendment, which I submitted to your consideration; and, before I heard the opinion of the noble lord who spoke last, I did not conceive that it was even within the limits of possibility for the greatest human genius, the most subtle understanding, or the acutest wit, so strangely to misrepresent my meaning, and to give it an interpretation so entirely foreign from what I intended to express, and from that sense which the very terms of the amendment plainly and distinctly carry with them. If there be the smallest foundation for the censure thrown upon me by that noble lord; if, either expressly, or by the most distant implication, I have said or insinuated any part of what the noble lord has charged me with, discard my opinions for ever, discard the motion with contempt.
My lords, I must beg the indulgence of the house. Neither will my health permit me, nor do I pretend to be qualified to follow that learned lord minutely through the whole of his argument. No man is better acquainted with his abilities and learning, nor has a greater respect for them, than I have. I have had the pleasure of sitting with him in the other house, and always listened to him with attention. I have not now lost a word of what he said, nor did I ever. Upon the present question I meet him without fear. The evidence which truth carries with it, is superiour to all argument; it neither wants the support, nor dreads the opposition of the greatest abilities. If there be a single word in the amendment to justify the interpretation which the noble lord has been pleased to give it, I am ready to renounce the whole Let it be read, my lords; let it speak for itself.* In what instance does it interfere with the privileges
*It was read.
of the house of commons? In what respect does it question their jurisdiction, or suppose an authority in this house to arraign the justice of their sentence? I am sure that every lord who hears me will bear me witness, that I said not one word touching the merits of the Middlesex election. So far from conveying any opinion upon that matter, in the amendment, I did not even in discourse deliver my own sentiments upon it. I did not say that the house of commons had done either right or wrong; but, when his majesty was pleased to recommend it to us to cultivate unanimity amongst ourselves, I thought it the duty of this house, as the great hereditary council of the crown, to state to his majesty the distracted condition of his dominions, together with the events which had destroyed unanimity among his subjects. But, my lords, I stated events merely as facts, without the smallest addition either of censure or of opinion. They are facts, my lords, which I am not only convinced are true, but which I know are indisputably true. For example, my lords: will any man deny that discontents prevail in many parts of his majesty's dominions? or that those discontents arise from the proceedings of the house of commons touching the declared incapacity of Mr. Wilkes? 'Tis impossible. No man can deny a truth so notorious. Or will any man deny that those proceedings refused, by a resolution of one branch of the legislature only, to the subject his common right? Is it not indisputably true, my lords, that Mr. Wilkes had a common right, and that he lost it no other way but by a resolution of the house of commons? My lords, I have been tender of misre. presenting the house of commons. I have consulted their journals, and have taken the very words of their own resolution. Do they not tell us in so many words, that Mr. Wilkes having been expelled, was thereby rendered incapable of serving in that parliament! and is it not their resolution alone, which refuses to the subject his common right? The amendment says further, that the electors of Middlesex are deprived of their free choice of a representative. Is