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history of the revolutionary spirit in this country, it appeared to have gradually descended from the higher and better informed ranks in which it formerly betrayed itself, to those lower orders in which it was now principally to be found.
After some severe animadversion upon those superior classes of reformists, who appeared to his lordship to have excited the lower ranks to mischief, he went on to give the House a fair and not exaggerated description of the dangers which now menaced the country, and to direct its attention to the remedies to be proposed by the ministers." He observed, that although the conspirators had not been joined to the extent that they expected, yet that the general means they had provided, were sufficient to enable them to make the attempt with a rational prospect of success. would be confining the extent of the peril within too narrow limits to consider it as sprung from the meeting of December 2d alone. Others were at that very moment going on under the pretence of seeking parliamentary reform. He would not deny that many individuals throughout the country had such a reform actually in view; but most of them looked at it merely as a half measure, or a veil to the prosecuting of their designs. It had been clearly made out, that a wicked conspiracy existed in the country for the subversion of the constitution and state; and it appeared that the individuals who were deeply implicated in the crime of treason had been the most active to procure meetings for the apparent
purpose of parliamentary reform. Such being the dangers against which parliament had to contend, they were now to be informed of the measures which the King's ministers had thought proper to propose to them for meeting that danger. These, after having been commented on by his lords.hip seriatim, were summed up in a general statement.
The measures, he said, which he should propose as the wisest which parliament could adopt, were, 1. The temporary suspension of the Habeas Corpus. The extending the act of 1795, for the security of his Majesty's person, to his Royal Highness the Prince Regent, as the person exercising the functions of royalty. 3. To embody into one act the provisions of the act of 1795, relative to tumultuous meetings and debating societies, and the provisions of the act of the 39th of the King, which declared the illegality of all societies bound together by secret oaths, or if not by secret oaths, which extended themselves by fraternized branches over the kingdom; and to make it enact, that the nominating delegates or commissioners, under any pretext, to any other societies of the kind, should be considered as sufficient proof of the illegality of such societies or associations. 4. To make such enactments as should be thought most effectual to punish with the utmost rigour, any attempt to gain over soldiers or sailors to act with any association or set of men, and withdraw them from their allegiance.
Lord Castlereagh concluded with moving, "That leave be given to bring in a bill for the more effec
tually preventing Seditious Meetings and Assemblies."
A considerable number of speakers rose to give their opinions on the subject; but this being little more than a prelude to a closer engagement, we shall only mention at present, that on a division of the House, the leave requested was granted by 190 votes against 14.
Lord Castlereagh then obtained leave to bring in a bill to revive and make perpetual an act for the better prevention and punishment of attempts to educe persons serving in his Majesty's forces by sea or land from their alleg ance; and also a bill to make perpetual certain parts of an act for the safety and preservation of his Majesty's person and government, including that of the Prince Regent. These three bills were then brought in and read a first time.
Petitions were in the meantime preparing in the capital, and else where, against the suspension of the Habes Corpus act. They were presented to the House of Commons on February 26th, the day when Lord Castlereagh moved the order for the first reading of the bill for suspending the Habeas Corpus.
Mr. Bennet said he would oppose in every stage this arbitrary, impolitic, and uncalled-for measure After some severe remarks upen the noble lord's public conduct, he entered into a brief examination of some parts of the committee's report, and the alarm it was calculated to spread. The first thing that he would remark upon was that part which stated, that the most blasphemous ex
pressions and doctrines were openly advanced in the denounced meetings. Blasphemy, he said, was what he abhorred as much as any man; but he thought our present laws were sufficient for the purpose of restraining it. The next thing to which he would advert was that part of the report which stated, that the disaffected looked out for those people among whom the greatest distress prevailed, in order to excite discontent. If they looked for distress, he was sorry to say they might too easily find it; but from what himself had seen. and many hon. members had described, there was no other food for discontent necessary, nor any occasion for haranguing the disaffected to heighten complaints, or to point out the means of relief.
After various other observations, partly serious and partly ludicrous, the hon. member was unwarily led to speak of ministers who had already embrued their hands in the blood of their country, and who had been guilty of the most criminal cruelties" This charge called up Lord Castlereagh, who desired Mr. B. to state which individual member of the present government he meant to accuse. The result was, that after an awkward apology, he declared that he did not mean to pursue the subject.
The Lord Advocate of Scotland thought it his duty to communicate to the House a circumstance which had lately come within his knowledge. A secret conspiracy had been organized in Glasgow, which had communications with societies in the country. The conspiracy was held together by
means of a secret oath which he would read to the House It ran as follows." In the awful presence of God, I, A. B. do voluntarily swear, that I will persevere in my endeavours to form a brotherhood of affection amongst Britons of every description who are considered worthy of confidence; and that I will persevere in my endeavours to obtain for all the people of Great Britain and Ireland, not disqualified by crimes or insanity, the elective franchise at the age of twenty-one, with free and equal representation and annual Parliaments; and that I will support the same to the utmost of my power, either by moral or physical strength as the case may require: and I do further swear, that neither hopes, fears, rewards, or punishments shall induce me to inform, or give evidence, against any member or members, collectively or individually, for any act or expression done or made, in or out of this or similar societies, under the punishment of death, to be inflicted on me by any member or members of such society. So help me God, and keep me stedfast."
This oath (said the learned member) was administered to many hundred individuals in the city of Glasgow and its neighbourhood. Some persons to whom it was about to be given felt scrupulous about that part which related to the using of physical strength. A meeting was immediately called, and a motion was made to leave out those words, but it was rejected unanimously. The result, however, had been that a variety of persons were now apprehended; and he pledged
his character as a public officer, that when these individuals were taken, it was known to government that there were others moving in a very different sphere of life connected with the conspiracy, some of whom, he trusted, would yet be apprehended.
Sir Samuel Romilly spoke with considerable severity of the negligence of the ministers, who had suffered all these libellous and blasphemous publications to be industriously circulated among the lower orders without instituting a single prosecution against the authors. Speaking of the information communicated by the lord advocate of Scotland, he said, were ministers aware that the most severe punishment known to the law might be inflicted upon individuals subs ribing that oath? Did they not know that it was felony without benefit of clergy, unless the person taking the oath, within fourteen days afterwards, abandoned his associates, and betrayed their purposes. He concluded a vigorous speech by saying, that in every point of view he thought the suspension objectionable the dangers might be great, but the existing laws had not yet been tried; and if tried, he was convinced that they would be found sufficient for every purpose of national protection.
It is unnecessary to carry further the debates on this subject, since they were little more than repetitions of the arguments on both sides of the question, which have already been detailed in the sketch given from the House of Lords. After repeated calls for the question, the House divided, when there appeared for the first read
ing of the bill, Yeas 273, Noes 98: irons, &c. which was negatived Majority 175. without a division.
The order of the day for the third reading of the bill took place on the 28th of February. In the speeches on the occasion, Mr. Lamb, as a member of the secret committee, among other arguments said, that the ordinary course of the law might be sufficient, if the law were suffered to take its course; but he believed it to be stopped and arrested by the system of threats and menaces which intimidated jurors and wit
Sir Arthur Pigott expressed himself much surprised that the hon. gentleman should defend the suspension of the Habeas Corpus on the ground that the country was at present in such a state that the existing laws could not be carried into execution. Were this the real state of things, a point of so much importance ought to be established on evidence very different from that which was laid before the committee of secrecy. How had the hon. gentleman been satisfied, that the situation of the country was such as he had described it to be? Had it appeared to the committee that such was the fact, they would not have closed their report without directly mentioning it.
The whole of the question being at length disposed of, the House divided on the third reading, which was carried by 265 to 103: majority 162.
Sir Francis Burdett then proposed a clause, that no person detained under this act shall be shut up in a dungeon, or other unwholesome place, or deprived of air and exercise, or loaded with
Mr. William Smith next moved a clause, securing the right of action against the persons who should issue warrants of commitment under the act, if the persons committed should be dismissed without trial, provided the action were brought within a month after the expiration of the act; which was also negatived without a division.
Mr. Ponsonby then proposed a clause, fixing the 20th of May for the expiration of the bill, instead of the 1st of July, on which the House divided: for the clause 97, against it 239.
Sir Sam. Romilly brought in an amendment to the bill, the purpose of which was to limit its operation in Scotland, as well as in England, to persons committed to prison for treason, or suspicion of treason, upon a warrant signed by six privy counsellors, or one of the principal secretaries of state; whereas, as the bill now stood, it extended in Scotland to persons committed by any subordinate magistrate.
The House of Lords was moved by Lord Sidmouth on March 3d, to take into its consideration the amendments which the House of Commons had introduced into the Habeas Corpus bill. The Earl of Darnley, as a final effort for setting the bill aside, made a motion for referring it to that day three months, which was negatived without a division. Some further discussion occurred respecting the rapidity with which it had passed the House of Lords, after which the amendments in the Commons were agreed to.
On March 3d, the second reading of the bill, to prevent seditious meetings, was moved in the House of Commons by the Solicitor General. Before he made his motion, he said he would briefly explain the reasons of its passing, and the different enactments which it contained. Of the various means employed by the formentors of discontent, one of the most efficacious was to call together a number of persons, to inflame them by harangues, and to persuade them that the evils of the times would be remedied by their application to parliament, which they had a right to force to comply with their demands. Those meetings the bill was intended to control by some regulations precisely of the same kind as those adopted at other critical periods. In the committee, however, it was his intention to propose a clause, which he would now mention, as it partly involved new matter, though by no means contrary to the avowed spirit and purpose of the bill. The object of the clause was to prevent such meetings, convened by seven householders, from being adjourned to any other time or place than what should be at first specified; for if that evil were not guarded against, it might be contended that the original meeting having been declared legal, an adjourned meeting would become equally so. Another object of the bill would be to prevent the existence of debating societies, lecture rooms, reading rooms, &c. for admission to which money was received. A similar measure was enacted in 1796 and 1799; but neither of these touched the evil as it existed in the societies now formed. A further object would
be to suppress a particular society calling themselves the Spenceans, or Spencean philanthropists, which, whether it employed delegates or not, was condemned by the very doctrines which it promulgated.
After some severe remarks upon parts of the proposed bill, it was read a second time, and ordered to be committed.
On March 10th, on the motion of the Solicitor General, this bill was recommitted. When the clause was read, inflicting the punishment of death on such persons as shall not disperse after being required so to do; Mr. Gurney rose and declared it as his decided conviction, that these clauses, being abhorrent to the common sense and feeling of mankind, so far from having any tendency to secure the public tranquillity, would tend to bring the legislature into that hatred with the people which the act alluded to.
Sir James Mackintosh, following up this idea, said that unless he received a satisfactory answer, he would move to substitute transportation to the punishment of death.
The Solicitor General saw no reason for the amendment suggested by the hon. gentleman. As the object of the bill was to prevent riot, it must be regarded as wise and proper to put the offence contemplated in the clause on the same footing as resistance to a proclamation under the riot act.
Mr. W. Smith said, that there was no comparison between the offence against which the riot act was directed, and that which is now before the committee. The first supposed that those against whom