« AnteriorContinuar »
two or three of them would keep themselves in reserve, in order to lay before the people, the whole of the discussions in which they are so deeply interested. As ! have no other mean of deriving informarion respecting the debates than through the medium of the newspapers, I am obliged to present my readers merely with a very defective analysis of them. But, when no report is made of the answers given to objections, I shall endeavour to supply its place, by offering to my readers my own observations upon them.
- Very little interest was excited in the course of the debate upon the king's speech, as every argument which was alledged for and against the ministers had been previously agitated during the elections. It was urged hewever, against the ministers, that the late dissolution of parliament was an unprecedented event, and that the instances during the years 1784 and 1786 bore no analogy to the late uccasion. The first period, a dissolution was rendered nccessary by a dispute between the two houses of parliament, which led them to counteract each other; auch upon the second uccasion, the temper of the times was tranquil. This is a most curious mode of reasoning, because ihe instances adduced destroy the effect of the conclusions drawn from both of them. For,"if adissolution were expedientu heu the two houses differed, how much expedient did such a measure becoine when his majesty and his confidential servants differed upon a point which involved the most sacred interests of the state, and, in an especial degree, the conscience of his majesty? In answer to this, it is affirmed, that the catholic bill was withdrawn as soon as it was found to be oba noxious to the king's feelings. True: but how was it withdrawn? in the most un. gracious manner, and in a tone of arrogance, which compelled his majesty lo require from his late ministers a pledge that liis mind should not be again disquiered by the Tevival of the subject. It was not, therefore, the mere circunstance of the introduction of the hill, but the refusal of the ex-ininisters to accede to the pledge required, and their intemperate conduct subsequent to that refu jual, which caused the late dissolution. The difference upon this occasion was not between the two houses of parliament, but between the king on the one side, and his late ministers with their parliamentary adherents on the other. They had the audacity to moot the sovereign's right to demand any pledge from his confidential servants, and therefore, their successors acted conseitutionally and wisely, when they sevised his majesty to recur to the sense of the people, upon the disputed point. If the late administration had
succeeded in carrying their attack upon the royal prerogative, there would bave 5 been an end of the British constitution; for the king is not a cypher in this country,
he forms singly a most important branch of the legislature; and is clearly understood to possess a will of his own, though he be not personally responsible for the measures of his government. This responsibility attaches to his confidential advie sers; because, the calàinities into which this nation was thrown by a different doctrine, during the reign of Charles the first, rendered it necessary to recognize as a / fundamental principle of our constitution, that the king, in his political capacity, can do no wrong. Hence, the agitation of the king's personal responsability, which the ex-ministry provoked upon their expulsion from office, was alone sufficient to justify the dissolution.
With respect of the inconvenience which private individuals are said to have sustained from the abruptness of the dissolution, I answer, that the stability of the constitution is a parainuunt consideration, and that no personal inconvenience should be allowed to impede a mcasure, the object of which was, to secure the blessings and security, which the people at large enjoy under that constitution. If it be admitted, that there is no analogy between the cause of the dissolution in 1784 and 1807, it must also be allowed that the dissolution in the latter case originated in a circumstance unprecedented in the history of this country since the epoch of the revolution. No ministers had before dared to question the exercise of their sovereign's prerogative, and his right to prescribe a rule of conduct to his confidential servants, in a case wherein his conscience was peculiarly affected. An event so unprecedented called for the interposition of the people, and if the late parliament had sat for four days only instead of four months, the necessity of an appeal to the people would have been equally justified: The equipoise of our government, or as it is frequently termed, the balance of the constitution, has been preserved by the measure; for if the opposition defend the dissolution of 1784 on account of the dis
pure bletween two branches of the legislature, they cannot refuse to ac. knowledge its propriety in the late instance upon a point infinitely greater magnitude. The inconvenience which individuals felt at that period was as great as what has bern endured at the present time, with this distinction, as will presently be related, that a provision has been made since the meeting of parlian ent for obviating the inconvenience which might have arisen from the suspension of the privare bills before the legislature. This measure has been pronounced to be å supercession of the rules and forms of parliament, in order to cover the misconduci of ministers in the act of the dissolution. But I have already shewn that this act was accusioned by the gross misconduct of the late ministers, and therefore, they are accountable for the evily if it be one, of which they complain. Besides, in cases where an unforesee cnoningency unhinges the regular course of parliamentary prodedings, and is likely to occasion injury to individuals, the wisdom and power of parliament can always be exerted to rectify the evil. The argument is therefore, rathet a splenétic ebullition of a factious spirit than a reasonable objection.
I shall not occupy the time of ny readers in exposing the absurdity of the in, ferénce drawn from the instance of the dissolution of 1786. In the year 1784, 1 maintain that, the temper of the times was much more disturbed by domestic differences than at present. An aristocratic confederacy then attempted to place the crown in a state of pupillage; the people were called upon to rescue it from the attempt ; and they were responsive to their sovereign's call. A similar attempt has been renewed by an aristocracy, composed of a portion of the former one, in alliance with the very men who, at that time, were zealots in support of the king's prerogative. The result has been the same in both cases. As to the tranquil season of 1786, it proves nothing; for the disposition of the people, at, the present conjuncture, is full as temperate as it was then. And if it were not, how can the opposition be surprized at the public feelings, when the vital interests of the empire were at stake, from their unpardunable effort to bring the personal conduct of their sovereign before a public tribunal ? But, I insist, that there was no “ ferment of all the bad passions of the mind, artfully and wickedly excited;" a sense of just indignation against a tyrannical soligarchy did exist at the late elections ; but it is false, that *** an infamous and beastly cry of no popery”, was artfully and wickedly excited. That the cstablished church was endangered by the introduction of the catholic bill, no coxisciencious member of that church ever doubted; but, the assertion of a fanatical and intolerant cry having been artfully excited, is an infamous calumny. Not the least symptom of fanaticism or intolerance bas been "evinced throughout the country; on the contrary, in all the addresses to the throne, " without one exception, the people have confined themselves to the expression of · their gratitude to their sovereign for the firmness with which he resisted a measure, - which, in their opinion, threatened the safety of our ecclesiastical establishment.
The only inference which can be drawn from such addresses is, that the great majority of the nation retain a beastly affection for the religious establishment of their
forefathers, an awful remembrance of the miseries which once, attended the subversion of that establishment, and a reverential gratitude tuwards their king for maintaining, religiously, the political and religious principles which seated his family on the throne of these kingdoms. In despight of these palpable truths, the opposition have falsely represented, that the cry of “no popery" burst into open riot at Bristol and Liverpool. No such thing. The scandalous and cowardly attack made npon Mr. Bathurst, at the time when that respectable gentleman was chaired at Bristol, originated in a very different cause. Religious prejudices formed no part of the insults offered to himn. The violence with which he was assailed by a wicked and seriséless mob; arose not at all from the cry of no popery ;"" but from a gang of drunken wretches, who took offense at his useful exertions in the promotion of the nåvigable canal which is carrying forward in that city, and at a villain. ous misrepresentation of his conduct in relation to taxes. I defy any man living to dispute the fact, for I had it from the first authority; from a friend of mine who was present during the whole of the affray, and who was himself exposed to considerable danger from his well-known, attachment to Mr. Bathurst. Not less felse is the assertion respecting the riotous conduct of the people of faiverpool.
5 Their dislike to the biographical plagiarist, and bombast writer of the life of Lorengo, originated solely from his conduct relative to the abolition of the stavè trade, which every one knows, tormed an important tranch of the commerce of Liverpool. : la what other quarter of the kingdom has there appeared the slightest symptom of a riotous behaviour? The opposition, at least the Foxite part of them, who have been struggling for years to impress upon the government the necessity of making Concessions to the importunate demands of their enlightened fellow.citizens, have shewn but little prudence, and less respect to public opinions, in thus proclaiming that the people of this age are so easily to be led away. That a few individuals may have raised a cry against poprry is probable ; but we may as well suppose that lord Howick, and the modern whigs, excited the cry of “ Burdett for ever, no king, down with the Bastille," which produced a marvellous effect at the first elect) tion of that personage for Middlesex, us to suppose that the present ministers exçiri ted the cry of “ no popery." It is equally false, that Mr. Burke would have sup, posted the catholic bill in the shape in which it was presented to the house of commons. The reasonings employed by that eloquent statesman, upon the condition of the catholics, applied to their
case under very different circumstances from those in which they are now placed. In his " letter io a peer of Ireland, on the penal laws against Irish catholics," and his “ letter to sir Hercules Langrishe, on the subject of the Roman catholics of Ireland, and the propriety of admitting them to the elective franchise, consistently with the principles of the constitution, as esta: blished at the revolution," he inculcates in no part, the necessity of their unquat lified admission to situations of the highest, trust in the state. On the contrary; every
act of tolerance which he proposed, has since been realized, and become a part of the laws of the land.
Another ground of argument which the opposition assumed, was founded upon a contrast between the motive for the dissolution of parliament after the failure of their detestable negociation with France, and the motive for the late dissolution. By thus reasoning, they seem to be resolved on convincing the world of their im, becility. What had the people to do with their negociation ? The attempt was deplored by every honest patriot; and their heads and hearts were despised for en. gaging in it. When the yearle came home, and the rupture of the negociation was announced, every bosom beat high with joy and triumph : they had a strong majority in their favour; they continued to delude the people with ten thousand lies, concerning their wonderful plans of economy, reform, and military improvement, and the lies they told by wholesale were swallowed by wholesale. Why then dissolve the parliament} No difference was publicly known to exist between any of the branches of the legislature. Public affairs went on as smoothly as could be expected froin a disgusted people whose interests were managed by such venal and contemptible statesmen; and the nation was gradually becoming perfectly indifferent to any of their ineasures, every one comforting hiinself with the hope that such greedy adventurers would not suck the last drop of his hlood out of his veins. They had it all their own way: in parliament, they experienced no rancorous op position; out of doors, their measures were assailed by two or three public writers only, among whom it will be ever my pride and boast, to my latest bour, that I was one. What reasonable ground, therefore, had they for dissolving the parliament? Not one.
They pretend, indeed, that as, " after an ineffectual atteinpt to negociate a peace, it was essential to make preparations for carrying on the war with increased vigour, it was a proper moment to recur to the sense of the constis tuent body." Could they not have made these preparations without a dissolu. tion, especially as they must have known that there was not a man in the empire, excepting their Gallican supporters, who did not deprecate, and tremble at, the idea of peace with France ?" And, if this truth bę not sufficiently evident, I should be glad to know, what preparations they made, after the elections, for carrying on the war with increased vigour? Let the effect explain the cause. In fact, their increased vigour has proved more calamitous and-disgraceful to the British arms, than if they had all fallen asleep, or died of a surfeit from their turtle, dinners. The subterfuges to which they resort are proofs of their imbecility they condem, in others a line of conduct warranted by the most urgent necessity and the big
et considerations; and they attempt to justify, a similar policy of their own, which, when they had effected, rendered then the scorn of Europe, and the disgrace of their country.
There was another very serious objection raised against the late dissolution, in the course of the debate, and of which the opposition candidates made a very im. proper use during the elections.--I mean the assertion, that parliament was dissolved for the purpose of suppressing most serious, deliberate, and inportant inquiries. This insinuation, artfully and wickedly thrown out, to answer election purposes, and to court popularity, has been since falsitied by the revival of that committee of inquiry: That this committee may render essential service to their country, I shall be the last inan to deny;, but it is to be hoped, that in all their inquiries they will keep in view, that the detection of frauds and public peculators will produce no good to the state, unless rigorous restrictive measures be adopted to keep the hands of evil-disposed persons, in future, from picking and stealing.--It is to be hoped that they will not tread in the steps of the late ministers, who threw out a tub to the whale; who had economy perpetually on their lips, and wasteful expenditure in their hearts; who, while they pretended to encourage the exposure of public malversations, for the self-evident purpose of deluding the people with a shew of public virtue, actually screened a delinquent, Mr. Alexander Davison, and retained himn in an bigh official situation, until they were driven from power themselves. l-entertain so favourable an opinion of the ters as to feel assured that their practice will be agreeable to their preaching; and that though a revision of past abuses and corruptions be expedient, yet that they will look before them also, meet our public distempers with a manly firmness, und strive to correct them with judgment and integrity. By so doing, popularity need not be sued; it will follow thein in their career. Dr. Davenant, who wrote above an hundred years ago, has laid down the mode of conduct which I have recommended above, with so much truth, justice, and patriotism, that I cannot forbear from making an extract out of his chapter, entitled " That mismunagement is as well redressed by looking into things, as by accusing persons."
* " Private men,” says he, “ in the attacks inade upon them, would scarco be able to raise factions, and to interest a nation in their quarrel, if they who set themselves to correct abuses in the state, would show a disposition to mend things rather than to meddle with persons ; and the attempt is stronger, and surer to fake effect the one than the other way. For though persons have been sometimes brought in aid in things, by the greatness of their names, power, and interest, to obstruct inquiries, and though they have been held up as shields for inferior criminals to
fight under, yet the assembly must be very corrupt where this succeeds;---it is an artifice that can hardly be made use of more than once; and they who let their party thus set them in the fore-front of the battle, instead of protecting others,
find it difficult to save themselves. Besides, this craft is easily defeated by over- looking the person, and steadily pursuing to correct the fault, which is always the "safest course: for inen grow ashamed of defending what is in itself a real crime, nor can it have perpetual advocales; but friendship, acquaintance, kindred, hold
ing the same opinion, with several other reasons and excuses, are pretended for making a vigorous stand to bring offenders off, when persons are aimed at and in danger; and often such a stand is made, that misgovernment, instead of being checked, comes to receive a sanction. Plowever, when you strike not so much at things as persons, though you happen to prevail, the contest begets such rancour as keeps the state for a long time after divided and in dissention. This way of re
forming a state disturbs the public peace, and the events of it are uncertain ; for 1 many great men thus questioned, have, by the strength of their friends and adhe: rents, escaped popular anger, which instead of shaking has confirmed their
power; but the instances are very rare of ministers that have been able to support
themselves for any time, whose actions (without naming them) have received a : thorough condemnation. Perhaps nothing can more contribute to restore peace
and order in a gover.. nent, than to overlook the persons of men, ejther in contempt or in compassion, and to fall to work in earnest upon mending things. A man may without imputation of blame profess a friendship, and adhere to this or that great
man, pretending to believe him innocent when accused, and consequently join with faose who sort together in his defence. But can any party be formed, and can any be so insolent to go along with them who shall openly declare for such crimes, and for such and such corruption and mismanagement i Nor, indeed, can any thing more disappoint the ambitious and wicked designs of corrupt men, than to take away their pretences and false colours, and to leave them without excuse; which you do, when, without expressing anger or prejudice to the persons of men, you make it manifest, that your only aim is to put it out of their power, or out of the power of such as will tread in their steps hercafter, to bring any further mischiefs upon the commonwealth. And, when thesc mcasures are taken, it is difficult, if not impossible, to form or keep up parties tout shall combine to protect and countenance the vices of the age: for it being the interest of much the major part to be well governed, where the people plainly see all affairs carried on calmly, and without piques, and personal enmities, they let faction drop, and the good join to suppress the bad, which union produces what may be called right and perfect government."
But to return. We have now seen the injustice of the insinuations cast upon the present ministry by their opponents, for a purpose too evident to be mistaken; and the cruel and ungenerous allack upon lord Melville is a branch of that factious spirit which has broken out with such unwarrantable virulence in our times. It is, reported in the newspapers that lord Milton commenced his parliamentary apprenticeship for the county of York, with declaring, that "he could not help adverting to that part of his majesty's speech which recommended the renewal of the economical inquiries of the late parliament. With what confidence could the nation look for the execution of this pledge to a ministry whose first act was to recal to the councils of his majesty, the man who was declared by a resolution of that house to be a violator of the law, and a betrayer of the public trust reposed in him. It was true that individual was afterwards acquitted; but this was not an acquittal from the resolution, but from the iinpeachment that followed; and it was an acquittal not very glurious in its nature or circumstances." It is with unfeigned regret that I observe a spirit of persecution (if this report be true) displayed at so early a period of life; and though his lordship may glory in serving an apprenticeship in parliament to the commercial interests of the county of York, this declaration proves that he has not served an apprenticeship to the laws of his country. Will his lordship pretend, that when a grand jury finds a true bill against an individual upon er parte evidence, and that individual is in consequence consigned to a trial before a jury of his country, and is afterwards fully acquitted, that the previous finding of the bill is to be considered as a lasting evidence of his guilt, if 50, there can be no distinction between impeachment and trial, and a bare impeachment of any individual by the house of commons should supersede the necessity of any trial; the house would thus become accusers and judges. No trial was ever conducted with greater impartiality and deliberation than that of lord Melville; and the acquittal ought to have led inmediately to the rescinding of the resolutions of the house, if a due respect had been paid to the principles of our jurisprudence, and to the universal rules of equity.
The law of England declares that a man who has been tried for any offence from the guilt of which he has been subsequently acquitted, is deemed innocent in the contemplation of justice; and the doctrine is so well established, that a person is liable to an action for accusing any one so acquitted of the crime of which he was acquitted. It would be a perversion of all the maxims of equity, it would level to the ground our justly boasted system of jurisprudence, if it were to be en-, tertained for a moment, that imputation of guilt, and guilt itself are synonimous : terms. We should thus open the door for the establishment of a Turkish jurisprudence in a land of liberty and equal laws. I repeat again, that the resolutions of the house of commons ought, in justice to lord Melville, from respect to the high tribunal by which he was acquitted, and out of regard to their own honour, to have been rescinded on the very day of his acquittal. In fact, they were abrogated by the verdict of the peers of the realm, though, as a matter of form in an assembly which is extremely tenacious, and justly so, of forms, it would have been more cc*