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He died 1782. The following is the most brilliant display of his eloquence that I have met with ; which I was at some pains to pick out from among the shreds and patches that remain of his speeches. His legal knowledge is said to have been very great; but as this is a subject which I do not understand, I must leave it to the lawyer, to pronounce his panegyric in good set terms of their own.”
LORD ASHBURTON was, most probably, the author of the famous letters signed Junius. He was a man of consummate genius, eloquence and erudition, and acquired a fortune of £ 20,000 sterling a year, by his practice, for twenty years at the Bar.
See 2nd. vol. page 90. of Bissett's Life of Burke.
I will not take up the time of the house in debating the bill upon legal grounds : for where there is no reason or justice, there can be no law ; law supposes a rule, which, while it prescribes a mode of conduct, respecting either the public or individuals, defines the offence, annexes the punishment, and besides, especially provides and directs all the intermediate steps between the charge and conviction, but more particularly the measure and quantity of the punishment. What does this bill say? No crime is imputable, no examination of innocence or criminality is to follow. The punishment is inflicted, in the first instance, on the ground of mere suspicion.
A man may be suspected ; any man may be suspected; but his guilt or innocence is entirely out of the question: no inquiry whatever is to be made into either, as long as the present bill continues in force. I confess there have been times, in which it has been found extremely necessary to suspend the habeas corpus act; such, in particular, were the too late, most unnatural and unprovoked rebellions in Scotland : but then there was a necessity stated. That necessity was not denied ; it was, indeed, notorious : but will any man say that is the case at present ? Is there a rebellion within the kingdom? Is there a pretender claiming the crown, as his legal and constitutional inheritance ; and that at the expense of both our civil and religious rights--the very essence, as well as the form of our constitution ? No such thing : the idea is ridiculous. Are we, on the other hand, afraid that the people of A. merica, will pass the Atlantic on a bridge, and come over and conquer us? And that their partisans lie in ambush, about Brentford, or Colnbrook ? That it may be presumed, will be hardly contended, even in the present rage for assertion without proof, and conclusion without argument. No, this bill, I plainly perceive has been manu. factured for other purposes. It can be stretched, and twined, and twisted, by the ingenuity of my worthy and learned friend, over the way (Mr. attorney general) or by some of his brethren equally ingenious, to affect and reach men who never saw America, or, peradventure, the high seas, as strongly, at least as efficaciously for the mere temporary purposes of prosecution and revenge, as if they had been caught in arms—in open rebellion.
If even ministers had contented themselves with this first ebullition of their fiery, irresistible zeal for persecution, the public might look on with a mixture of contempt and astonishment, at the insolence and folly of the attempt; but when they go a step farther, and venture to couple it with the power untried hitherto in the annals of this country; a power including in it the most bloody species of proscription, I confess I begin to feel senti. ments of a very different nature. What does the clause say? After empowering the apprehension on the mere grounds of suspicion, and directing the commitment to any common gaol within his majesty's dominions, are not we told," or to any other place of confinement, especially appointed for that purpose, by warrant under his majesty's sign manual, by any magistrate, having competent authority in that behalf;" (who is hereby authorized to commit such persons to the place so to be appointed?) Is not this evidently a power to punish the innocent, but to inflict such pains upon them as an honest mind must revolt at, and contemplate with horror? The magistrate may take up and commit, on suspicion, to the common gao!, and by the sigo manual, to any other place especially appointeil, and is further authorized to commit accor. ding to such special appointment. What is this but to authorize the mode, measure, and place of confinement, at the pleasure of the minister, which, besides, manifestly,
includes in it the power of temporary banishment, as well as confinement, to any part, or to the most remote, unhealthy and pestiferous climate within the wide circle of his majesty's dominions, in the four quarters of the globe? If this be the intention of my honourable and learned friend over the way, and his no less honourable employers, in God's name, let him speak out; let us know, let the public know, what they are to expect. Let him and his friends no longer amuse us with a formal, circumstantial story of America and the high seas, and the crime of piracy. Such tales may be amusing to some people, and they may answer certain purposes out of doors, and in some particular places; but to talk of them seriously, within these walls, will not, I believe, be attempted. The power endeavoured to be vested in the crown by this bill, is evidently a dictatorial power, or similar to that exercised by the Roman dictator. We all know the motives for granting such a power. It will hardly be contended that any such motives exist at pre
We all know the frequent abuse of it, and the horrid purposes, towards the latter period of the commonwealth, to which it was employed; and I presume there is not a schoolboy of three years standing, who is ignorant that that mighty republic was overthrown by a dictator.
Such will always be the case when powers are granted through ignorance, wantonness, or design. If the present bill were to have no other evil effect than establish-, ing a precedent for future ministers to come to parliament on the same errand, I should be against it; but when I behold it in the light I do, I must deem it a most formidable, dangerous, and, I fear, fatal attack upon the liberty of this country. It seems directed at its vitals, and in my opinion, threatens its total destruction, if not a dissolution of the constitution. Before I conclude, I must obse xe, if any thing were wanting to shew the true complexion of this bill, the words high seas and piracy will fully explain it; these words apply to the seas contiguous to Great Britain and Ireland. It is indeed plainly perceivable, whatever the title of the bill may be, it is not an American so much as it is a British suspension of the habeas corpus act. It may overtake any, man, any where.
It authorizes a discretionary punishment without a co. lour of legal proof, or even a probable ground of suspicion. It makes no distinction between the dreams of a sick man, and the ravings of a demoniac, and the malice of a secret and declared enemy.
No man is exempt from punishment, because innocence is no longer a protection. It will generate spies, informers and false accusers, beyond number; and furnish the means of gratification, emolument, and satiety, to the most profligate of the species; while it will let loose with impunity, the blackest and most horrid vices which disgrace the human mind. In fine, it will realize what has hitherto been looked upon as the creature of po. etic fiction; it will scatter over the land more ills and cur. ses, than were ever supposed to flow from the Pandora's Box. Justice will be bound, as well as blind; and it will be in the power of every revengeful minister, or mercenary villain, to satiate his revenge, or fill his pockets, at the expense of the best and most virtuous men in the commonwealth.
Extract from a Speech of JOSEPH HOPKINSON, Ese.
(counsel for Dr. Rush) in an action for a libel brought by Dr. Benjamin Rush, against William Cobbet, in the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, December Term, 1799.
PARTIES have in our country, become wrought up to such illiberal fury, that every action of a man's life, from the most important to the most obscure and trifling, is traced to party motives and party principles his attachments and his enmities his connexions in business or otherwise, nay, almost the colour of the cloth he wears, and the species of diet he feeds on, are ascribed to his party and political principles. This is an unhappy state of things." Were I of the party to whom it has happened the defendant has opposed himself, I should expect that all I shall now or ever say against this man, would by many of my fellow-citizens, perhaps by you gentlemen, be deemed to be the mere vengeance of party spirit, the unmanly gratification of political hatred-But my opinions of this man have ever, even from the commencement of his extraordinary career, been the same ; and are now, as they always have been, honest, consistent and consci
entious--my political character depends not in the slighto est degree upon his recommendation or his censure-I
have had both ; I have regarded neither. Doubtless his dark and virulent spirit prepares some attack, which his insufferable arrogance informs him will be formidable and destructive to lawyers, court and jury, that shall dare to do him justice. For myself, I declare, if the declaration be necessary, that there is not in the bounds of creation, that thing so feeble or so vile, that I should hold it in greater contempt, than the resentment of William Cobbett; and I will answer that you will not be driven from your duty or your oaths, by a fear of being placed on his black list. He has, indeed, the unquenchable and vindictive spirit of an inquisitor, but wanting all power, it is harmless and contemptible. The ridiculous vanity of this man, and his ignorance of his true situation in this country, and of the kind of value or use that has been put upon him, has led him into an opinion that his voice is the voice of fate, either with regard to public measures and character, or to private reputation. This, however, is an error which it lies with the public to correct; and they will find their interest and their honour deeply concerned in doing it speedily and effectually. God forbid that my country should have sunk so low, that an opposition to such a wretch as this, will be deemed unfriendly to our government. When tempests agitate the ocean to its foundation, and rock it in convulsions, numerous noxious animals are thrown up, which would otherwise never have seen the light; so in a troubled state of things, wretches are cast up from the very dregs and slime of the community, who, in more happy times, would have lived and rotted in obscurity.
The attack made on Dr. Rush, is of the most deadly and violent kind that malice could invent, or abandoned depravity execute. He is accused of murder, or destroy.