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finition of what was to be accounted defiance of all law and government. treason, was much clearer and pre- He justified the wording of the bill cise than in the words of the pre. as sufficienily clear and intelligible, sent bill, which contained words and was os opinion that seven years and phrases, the meaning of which transportation was not too severe for might be so construed as to create che etience on which the bill innew crimes at the option of mi. fic!ed it. nisters. There were times, he said, The duke of Norfolk took this when resistance on the part of the occasion to assert, that to the prin. people was justifiable, and even ciple of resistance the family of considered as a duty, by great and Brunswick owed its exaltation to well-known authorities. The heads the British throne; this principle of the law should not therefore be ought therefore never to be forentrusted with a discretionary power gotten by the friends of liberig. of extending, or interpreting the Though they should be careful not laws, as thereby the freedom of in- tu misapply it, yet occasions might dividuals could never be secure; arise, as they had formerly arisen, and as the sense of such a state when the application of it would of insecurity might justly rouse become as necessary as at the pethem to such exertions, for the re- riods to which he alluded. From covery of their rights, as might the evidence relating to the insult throw the realm into the most fatal offered to the crown, he was perdisorders.
suaded that measures might easily The statute of Edward III. was be adopted to prevent such outrepresented by lord Mansfield, in rages in future; but he thought reply, as too lax and imperfect ; it himself bound to reject the bill prowas not explanatory in various cases duced by ministers in its present similar to that which was now una form, as invading the liberty of the der consideration ; it was not suf- subject in a variety of respects, and ficient therefore in prevent or to placing it too much at their disa punish adequately delinquences of posal. ibis nature. The statule against After other peers had delivered treason in the reign of Elizabeth their opinions on the subject, the served as a precedent to that under duke of Bedford concluded it, by queen Anne, and ought not to bave saying, that the reasonings against been spoken of as unfit to be imita- the bill had met with no adequate ted. The laws enacted to the same answers; they stood upon purpose under Charles II. were point- tional ground, and though they ed at the republican party at that might be out voted, they could not day, which, like the same party ai be refuted. The bill added nothing the present, consisted of sworn ene- to the personal safety of the king, mies to monarchy, and of conse. but increased the power of the quence to the sovereign that wore crown in a most unconstitutional the crown : if it was deemed neces- degree ; be would therefore oppose sary tben to protect him from their ir, as a direct attack on ihe liberty fury, it was no less indispensible now, of Englibben. Should it unhappily that principles of the most rebellin pass into a law, it would prove so ous nature were openly circulated in fatal an infringement on the constitution, that the public would soon these rights ought to be kept within be sensible of the change effected in their intended limits, and it was the its condition, and lament, when too duty of parliament to prevent their late, the spiritless acquiescence of becoming instrumental in the subthose who, forgetting their own dig- version of the established governnity and interest, as well as that of ment. The rights of the people the nation, bad sacrificed it to un- doubtless ought to be respected, but justifiable motives, or personal views. it was equally indispensible to obOn putting the question, it was care viate their abuse. The question ried in favour of ministry by seventy
before the house was, to use Mr. pine votes against eight.
Pitt's own words, “Whether the On the same day, Mr. Pilt moved, pressure of the moment did not rein the bouse of commons, that the quire an instant remedy?" A preroyal proclamations, in consequence cise and acknowledged power was of the late riot, shouid be taken into wanting in the magistrate to disperse consideration. He grounded his such meetings as threatened dismution on the necessity of prevent- orders. Ths power indeed ought ing such insulis being offered to the not to extend to meetings held for suivereign, as he had experienced on lawful purposes, but only to authe opening of the session. He pre. thurise him to watch over the prosuraed every loyal subject would ceedings of any large assembly, unile with him on this occasion, and whatever might be the object of tbal methods would be taken to ob- those who assembled. To this inviate those causes from whence the tent, nolice should be given to the outrages proceeded, which were the magistrale previously to the intend. factiuus meetings of disaffected peo- ed meeting; he should be eme ple, wherein seditious discourses powered to be present, and if it were constantly held, and principles appeared of a seditious tendency, to maintained uiterly subversive of seize the guilly on the spot; to obe good order and obedience to go- struct him should be made felony ; vernment. Tie pretence of these and if the meeting did not disperse meetings was to petition the legis. at bis tommand, the penalties prolature for righıs withheld from the vided in the riot-act should be inpeople; but the real motive was, flicted on the refractory. There to promulgate opinions inimical to was, added Mr. Piti, another species government, and calculated to bring of meeting, consisting of persons it into contempt. If the executive who allended publie lectures on power were not invested with sufo political subjects; the lecturers were ficient authority to control these men notoriously disaffecied to gomeetings, they would finally en. vernment, and the doctrines they danger the existence of the state. delivered were calculated to instil
he acknowledged, the in- the rankest principles of resistance dubitable right of the people to pass and rebellion to the established their judgment upon ministers and powers. In order to obviate this their measures, and freely to express effectually, the act against disorderly their sentiments on all political sub- houses should be applied to meetings jects
, as also to petition the different of this kind, whenever '“ they exbranches of the legislature ; but ceeded, by a number to be stated
in the act, the real family of the can have no existence. The rights house.” So alarming a restriction of man, I say, are clear: man has occasioned an immediate cry of natural rights, and he who denies hear him, on the opposite side, but it is ignorant of the basis of a free Mr. Pitt persisted in his determi- government: he is ignorant of the nation, and moved for leave to in- first principles of ours, for these troduce a bill for the prevention of rights are connected with the best seditious meetings.
paris of the history of our country." The motion being read, Mr. "The people, Mr. Fox continued, Fox began a long and animated had an inalienable right to delibespeech, by declaring his abhorrence Tale on their grievances, and to deof the treatment offered to the mand redress from the Mgislature, king, but professed himself no less but were forbidden by this bill to offended at the discourse he bad exercise these rights without the just heard. An attempe had been attendance of a magistrate, and pre. made to found the necessity of vious notice to bim of their intenframing the bill proposed on the tion. He was empowered to arrest proceedings of the assemblies so
any one present, whose words be highly reprobated by ministers, might think proper to call seditious, who contended that they struck at and even to dissolve the meeting at the existence of parliament itself; his own pleasure. "Say then at but if such were the real case, once, Mr. Fox exclaimed, that a free were not those who broached these constitution is no longer suitable to rebellious tenets amenable to the Conduct yourselves at once as law, and liable, on conviction, to the senators of Denmark did : lay condign punishment? There was no down your freedom, and acknowo evidence that the late outrages, ledge and accept of despotism, but though justly complained of, o!iJo not mock the understandings and ginated in the meetings alluded wv. the feelings of mankind, by telling Proclamations were no evidence ; the world that you are free. Can & they were the fabrication of mic meeting, under such restrictions as nisters, frequently to serve the the bill requires, be called a meelworst purposes. Public discussions, ing of free people? is it possible to on national subjects, were not only make the people of this country be. legal, but the very life of the En- lieve that the plan is any thing but glish constitution ; without these no a loial annihilation of their liberty;" liberty could subsist. The bill, it Afier some strictures on the number was said, would not prevent, but of persons to whom the bill limited only regulate them.
si Bul aliend, bencefurih all meetings ; said Mr. Fox, to the regulation ; 1 pursued Mr. Fox, the state of a free thought, he continued, whai I knew Englishman; before he can discuss the rights of men, and the righis of any topic which involves his liberty, English men." A great cry arising or bis rights, he is to send to a maof hear him : Whal, said be, do gistrate, who is (o attend the disyou suppose it a slip, and that the cussion; that magistrate cannot prerights of man is a sentence without vent the meeting, but he can pre. a meaning ? have men no naturai vent their speaking, because he can rights ? if 40, Englishuren's rights allege that what is said has a ten
dency dency to disturb the peace of the appeared to him a sufficient motive kingdom.” Mr. Fox hoped thai for opposing so oppressive a bill the people would perceive ibe dao. There existed laws adequate to the ger that threatened their freedom, suppression of unlawfui meetings ; and meet together, while io still but the bill was, in fact, the severremained lawful, to consult in est libel oa ibe good sense and alwhat manner to preserve it from the tachment of Englishmen to their infringement designed in the bill constitution ; it represented them proposed, and to express their de- as insensible of its worth, incapatestation of it. He had seen and ble of enjoying liberty, and deserve heard of revolutions, but experi- ing, for that reason, to be deprived ence bad shewn they were not ow- of it. ing to the freedom of popular meet. In answer to these arguments, sir ings, but to the tyranny exerted William Pulteney admonished the to enslave men. The French revo- opposers of the bill to consider it lution arose from ministerial op- impartially, before they described pressions, and the arbitrary pro- it in such odious colours. It by.no ceedings of a despotic government means prevented free discussion, that held the people in continual that of the press particularly, which dread, and silenced their very fears be viewed as fully adequate to the by the terror of those punishments support of that public spirit, andi suspended over those who dared to those popular maxims on which the utter their sentiments. If the peor constitution rested. The press was ple's complaints were groundless, the strongest pillar of hberty, by the less they were noticed, the the latitude with which every polia sooner they would cease, as false tical subject was allowed to be surmises would very soon be disco- treated : wbile ibis remained un vered and lose their effect; but, if touched, ihe publie was in no dan well-founded, the efforts made to ger of ever seeing the constitution repress thein musi terminate, either subverted, and it was a privilegio in a base-minded submission of the which he would never consent to people, or in a resistance fatal to part with ; but it could not exist in ibeir rulers as well as to themselves. a democracy any more than under Were the introduction of such a an arbitrary government, nor, in bill insisted on, he tbought himself truth, any government but a limite bound, previously to any farther ed monarchy like our own. The discussion, to move for a call of the great danger of popular meetings house.
was, that they heard only one side Mr. Fox was supported by Mr. of the question. Uninformed mulStanley, who explicitly affirmed, titudes were easily deluded by the that if the bill should pass, he specious and inflammatory speeches should consider this country as on of designing persons, who well the eve of a revolution. He re- knew, that in such meetings they minded ministers of the well-known would have little, or rather no con. assertion of Montesquieu, that a tradiction, to encounter, and find numerous increase of penal laws their audieuce ready prepared to as a sure prognostication of a state's acquiesce in whatever they might verging to its decline. This alone think proper to deliver. Times
and circumstances called for regula- posed by it to infuse such terror into tions apposite to the dispositions of the societies so long obnoxious to men at different periods. The pre. them, as would deter them, at once, sent temper of men was marked by from ever daring to resume the proprecipitation and temerity, and secution of their designs, and thus ought to be repressed accordingly, to crush, at one blow, all attempts Proceedings thai bordered on sedi. and ideas to affect any reform in tion ought certainly to be opposed parliament, or to remedy any of with firmness and diligence. Were ihe abuses and grievances so long magistrates, in such cases, to ex- complained of by the nation at ceed their powers, they would cere large. tainly be called to a severe account, The bill was opposed by Mr. in a country where juries had shewn Maurice Robinson, as separating themselves so tenacious of the liber. the interests of the king from those ties of their fellow-subjects, and of the people, and setting them, where the spirit of liberty animated, as it were, in opposition to each so manifestly, the Isgislature itself, other. The king, as father of his as to induce it to declare those very people, was in justice bound to juries competent judges whether a treat them with paternal care, and publication should be deemed a nut to permit ministers, on the prelibel.
text of consulting his personal digMr. Halbed acknowledged the nity, to render their condition worse propriety of the first proclamation, than ever it bad been, by punishing offering an ample reward for the the many for the offences of a few, discovery of those who had insulted hurried into the commission of their the king, but totally disapproved of delinquencies by the pressures of that proclamation, in coincidence hunger and want. No evidence with which the bill had been had been produced to countenance brought into the house. The mis. the ministerial assertion, that the behaviour of the populace, he af- riots were caused by the popular firmed; proceeded from the sense assemblies, held in the vicinity of of their feelings, and ought not, in the metropolis.
the metropolis. The clear and equity, to be attributed to that well-known purpose of these meel. meeting of the people, three days ings was to petition for peace and before, which had not exhibited reform, the endeavours to obtain the least sign of a riotous disposition, which could not, by any legal conand had parted as peaceably as it struction, be deemed acts of sedihad met. The miserable situation tion. of the rioters, though not a justifi- The bill was supported by Mr. cation, ought to weigh with those alderman Lushington, as a measure who reflected to what irregularities without which the person of the men might be driven, when they sovereign would be continually exwanted bread. But the inveteracy posed to the insults of the vilest poof ministers to men who had oppos. pulace, who would become the ed their measures, with such constan- more daring and outrageous when cy and determination, was the real they saw that parliament passed by motive that prompted them in the unnoticed the criminal insolence of formativa of this bill. They pro- which they had been guilty. Were