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history of the revolutionary spirit purpose of parliamentary reform. in this country, it appeared to Such being the dangers against have gradually descended from which parliament had to contend, the higher and better informed they were now to be informed of ranks in which it formerly be the measures which the King's trayed itself, to those lower orders ministers had thought proper to in which it was now principally to propose to them for meeting that be found.
danger. These, after having been After some severe animadver- commented on by his lordship sion upon those superior classes seriatim, were summed up in a of reformists, who appeared to general statement. his lordship to have excited the The measures, he said, which lower ranks to mischief, he went he should propose as the 'wisest on to give the House “ a fair and which parliament could adopt, not exaggerated description of the were, 1. The temporary suspendangers which now menaced the sion of the Habeas Corpus. 2. country, and to direct its atten- The extending the act of 1795, tion to the remedies to be pro. for the security of his Majesty's posed by the ministers." He ob- person, to his Royal Highness the served, that although the conspi- Prince Regent, as the person exrators had not been joined to the ercising the functions of royalty. extent that they expected, yet that 3. To embody into one act the the general means they had pro- provisions of the act of 1795, revided, were sufficient to enable lative to tumultuous meetings and them to make the attempt with a debating societies, and the proratiopal prospect of success. It visions of the act of the 39th of would be confining the extent of the King, which declared the the peril within too narrow limits illegality of all societies bound to consider it as sprung from the together by secret oaths, or if not meeting of December 2d alone. by secret oaths, which extended Others were at that very moment themselves by fraternized branches going on under the pretence of over the kingdom ; and to make seeking parliamentary reform. it enact, that the nominating deHe would not deny that many in- legates or commissioners, under dividuals throughout the country any pretext, to any other societies had such a reform actually in of the kind, should be considered view ; but most of them looked at as sufficient proof of the illegality it merely as a half measure, or a of such societies or associations. veil to the prosecuting of their 4. To make such enactments as designs. It had been clearly made should be thought most effectual out, that a wicked conspiracy ex- to punish with the utmost rigour, isted in the country for the sub- any attempt to gain over soldiers version of the constitution and or sailors to act with any assostate ; and it appeared that the ciation or set of men, and withindividuals who were deeply im- draw them from their allegiance. plicated in the crime of treason Lord Castlereagh concluded with had been the most active to pro- moving, “That leave be given to cure meetings for the apparent bring in a bill for the more effec
tually preventing Seditious Meet- pressions and doctrines were ings and Assemblies."
openly advanced in the denounced A considerable number of speak- meetings. Blasphemy, he said, ers rose to give their opinions on was what he abhorred as inuch the subject ; but this being little as any man; but he thought our more thaj a prelude to a closer present laws were sufficient for engagement, we shall only men- the purpose of restraining it. tion at present, that on a divi- The next thing to which he would sion of the House, the leave re- advert was that part of the report quested was granted by 190 votes which stated, that the disaffected against 14.
looked out for those people among Lord Castlereagh then obtained whom the greatest distress preleave to bring in a bill to revive vailed, in order to excite disconand make perpetual an act for tent. If they looked for distress, the better prevention and punish- he was sorry to say they might ment of attempts to educe per- too easily find it; but from what sons serving in bis Majesty's forces himself had seen, and many hon. by sea or land from their alleg - members had described, there was ance; and also a bill to make no other food for discontent neperpetual certain parts of an act cessary, nor any occasion for hafor the safety and preservation of ranguing the disaffected to heighten his Majesty's person and govern- complaints, or to point out the ment, including that of the Prince means of relief. Regent. These three bills were After various other observathen brought in and read a first tions, partly serious and partly time.
ludicrous, the hon. member was Petitions were in the meantime unwarily led to speak of ministers preparing me the capital, and else who had “ already embrued their where, against the suspension of hands in the blood of their counthe Habe's Corpus act. They try, and who had been guilty of were presented to the House of the most criminal cruelties” Commons on February 26th, the This charge called up Lord Castleday when Lord Castlereagh moved reagh, ho desired Mr. B. to state the order for the first reading of which individual member of the the bill for suspending the Habeas, present government he meant to Corpus.
accuse. The result was, that Mr. Bennet said he would oppose after an awkward apology, he dein every stage this arbitrary, inte clared that he did not mean to politic, and uncalled-for measure pursue the subject. After some severe remarks upon The Lord Advocate of Scotland the noble lord's public conduct, thought it his duty to communi. he entered into a brief examina- cate to the House a circumstance tion of some parts of the com- which had lately come within his mittee's report, and the aları it knowledge. A secret conspiracy was calculated to spread. The had been organized in Glasgow, first thing that he would remark which had communications with upon was that part which stated, societies in the country. The that the most blasphemous ex- conspiracy was held together by
Djeans of a secret oath which he his character as a public officer, would read to the House It ran that when these individuals were as follows. “ In the awful pre- taken, it was known to governsence of God, I, A. B. do volun- ment that there were others movtarily swear, that I will persevere ing in a very different sphere of in my endeavours to form a bro- life connected with the conspitherhoud of affection amongst racy, some of whom, he trusted, Britons of every description who would yet be apprehended. are considered worthy of confi- Sir Samuel Romilly spoke with dence; and that I will persevere corsiderable severity of the negliin my endeavours to obtain for all gence of the ministers, who had the people of Great Britain and suffered all these libellous and Ireland, not disqualified by crimes blasphemous publications to be or insanity, the elective franchise industriously circulated among the at the age of twenty-one, with lower orders without instituting free and equal representation and a single prosecution against the annual Parliaments; and that I authors. Speaking of the inforwill support the same to the ut- mation communicated by the lord most of my power, either by mo- advocate of Scotland, he said, ral or physical strength as the were ministers aware that the case may require : and I do fur- most severe punishment known to ther swear, that neither hopes, the law might be inflicted upon fears, rewards, or punishments individuals subs ribing that oath? shall induce me to inform, or give Did they not know that it was evidence, against any member or felony without benefit of clergy, members, collectively or indivi- unless the person taking the oath, dually, for any act or expression within fourteen days afterwards, done or made, in or out of this or abandoned his associates, and besimilar societies, under the punish- trayed their purposes. He conment of death, to be inflicted on cluded a vigorous speech by sayme by any member or members ing, that in every point of view of such society. So help me God, he thought the suspension objecand keep me stedfast."
tionable : the dangers might be This oath (said the learned great, but the existing laws had member) was administered to not yet been tried ; and if tried, many hundred individuals in the he was convinced that they would city of Glasgow and its neigh- be found sufficient for every purbourhood. Some persons to whom pose of national protection. it was about to be given felt scru. It is unnecessary to carry furpulous about that part which re- ther the debates on this subject, lated to the using of physical since they were little more than strength. A meeting was imme- repetitions of the arguments on diately called, and a motion was both sides of the question, which made to leave out those words, have already been detailed in the but it was rejected unanimously. sketch given from the House of The result, however, had been Lorils. After repeated calls for the that a variety of persons were question, the House divided, when now apprehended; and he pledged there appeared for the first read
ing 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 Mr. William Smith next moved third reading of the bill took place a clause, securing the right of on the 28th of February. In the action against the persons who speeches on the occasion, Mr. should issue warrants of commitLamb, as a member of the secret ment under the act, if the persons committee, among other argu committed should be dismissed mients said, that the ordinary without trial, provided the action course of the law might be suffi- were brought within a month cient, if the law were suffered to after the expiration of the act; take its course; but he believed which was also negatived without a it to be stopped and arrested by division. the system of threats and menaces Mr. Ponsonby then proposed a which intimidated jurors and wit- clause, fixing the 20th of May for nesses.
the expiration of the bill, instead Sir Arthur Pigott expressed him- of the 1st of July, on which the self much surprised that the House divided : for the clause 97. hon. gentleman should defend the against it 239. suspension of the Habeas Corpus Sir Sam. Romilly brought in an on the ground that the country amendment to the bill, the purwas at present in such a state that pose of which was to limit its the existing laws could not be operation in Scotland, as well as carried into execution. Were this in England, to persons committed the real state of things, a point of to prison for treason, or suspicion so much importance ought to be of treason, upon a warrant signed established on evidence very dif- by six privy counsellors, or one of ferent from that which was laid the principal secretaries of state; before the committee of secrecy, whereas, as the bill now stood, it How had the hon. gentleman been extended in Scotland to persons satisfied, that the situation of the committed by any subordinate country was such as he had de- magistrate. scribed it to be? Had it appeared The House of Lords was moved to the committee that such was by Lord Sidmouth on March 3d, the fact, they would not have to take into its consideration the closed their report without di- amendments which the House of rectly mentioning it.
Commons had introduced into the The whole of the question being Habeas Corpus bill. The Earl of at length disposed of, the House Darnley, as a final effort for setdivided on the third reading, ting the bill aside, made a motion which was carried by 265 to 103: for referring it to that day three majority 162.
months, which was negatived Sir Francis Burdett then pro- without a division. Some further posed a clause, that no person discussion occurred respecting the detained under this act shall be rapidity with which it had passed shut up in a dungeon, or other the House of Lords, after which unwholesome place, or deprived the amendments in the Commons of air and exercise, or loaded with were agreed to.
On March 3d, the second read. be to suppress a particular soing of the bill, to prevent sedi- ciety calling themselves the Spentious meetings, was moved in the ceans, or Spencean philanthropists, House of Commons by the Solici- which, whether it employed detor General. Before he made his legates or not, was condemned by motion, he said he would briefly the very doctrines which it proexplain the reasons of its passing, mulgated. and the different enactments which After some severe remarks upon it contained. Of the various parts of the proposed bill, it was means employed by the fonentors read a second time, and ordered of discontent, one of the most to be committed. efficacious was to call together a On March 10th, on the motion number of persons, to inflame of the Solicitor General, this bill them by harangues, and to per- was recommitted. When the suade them that the evils of the clause was read, inflicting the times would be remedied by their punishment of death on such perapplication to parliament, which sons as shall not disperse after they had a right to force to com- being required so to do ; Mr. ply with their demands. Those Guiney rose and declared it as his meetings the bill was intended decided conviction, that these to control by some regulations clauses, being abhorrent to the precisely of the same kind as those co:nmon sense and feeling of manadopted at other critical periods. kind, so far from having any tenIn the committee, however, it was dency to secure the public tranhis intention to propose a clause, quillity, would tend to bring the which he would now mention, as legislature into that hatred with it partly involved new matter, the people which the act alluded to. though by no means contrary to Sir James Mackintosh, following the avowed spirit and purpose of up this idea, said that unless he the bill. The object of the clause received a satisfactory answer, he was to prevent such meetings, would move to substitute transconvened by seven householders, portation to the punishment of from being adjourned to any other death. time or place than what should be The Solicitor General saw no at first specified; for if that evil reason for the amendment sug. were not guarded against, it might gested by the hon. gentleman. be contended that the original As the object of the bill was to meeting having been declared le- prevent riot, it must be regarded gal, an adjourned meeting would as wise and proper to put the become equally so. Another ob- offence contemplated in the clause ject of the bill would be to prevent on the same footing as resistthe existence of debating societies, ance to a proclamation under the lecture rooms, reading rooms, &c. riot act. for admission to which money was Mr. W. Smith said, that there received. A similar measure was was no comparison between the enacted in 1796 and 1799; but offence against which the riot act neither of these touched the evil was directed, and that which is now as it existed in the societies now before the committee. The first formed. A further object would supposed that those against whom