Mr. Asheton Smith
rose pursuant to notice, to submit a motion to the house on the subject of the Petition, which he had the honour to present on a former day (see p. 684). But before he should proceed further, he thought it regu- 748 lar that the Petition, and also the Resolution of that house of the 10th of December, 1779, should be read. The Petition was then read, as likewise the Resolution of 1779, which declared. That it is highly criminal in any minister or ministers, or other servants under the crown of Great Britain, directly or indirectly, to use the powers of office in the election of representatives to serve in parliament; and an attempt at such influence will at all times be resented by this house, as aimed at its own honour, dignity, and independency, as an infringement of the dearest rights of every subject throughout the Empire, and tending to sap the basis of this free and happy constitution.—The hon. gent. then proceeded to state, that in bringing this question under the consideration of the house, he was actuated solely by a sense of public duty. So far from entertaining any hostile disposition towards the hon. member who was particularly alluded to in the petition, he felt the highest respect for him, and considered him only as having acted under the directions of the government. The petition, it would be recollected, charged that hon. gent. with having written to the Barrack-Master-General, directing him to use the whole extensive influence of the Barrack Department, in order to promote the election of the candidates recommended by the ministers for the representation of the county of Southampton. This interference was the more extraordinary and unprecedented, because the influence of the government was otherwise very extensive in that county. The consequence of this letter from the Secretary of the treasury to the Barrack Master General, and of the activity of that department, was, that an hon. gent. who had represented that county for 16 years, with fidelity and credit, had been unsuccessful at the last election. If the freeholders of the county had been left to the free, unbiassed, and independent exercise of their suffrages, he was confident that that gentleman would now be seated as their representative in that house. It was for this invasion of their rights, that the petitioners laid their case before parliament, and were anxiously wishing for an opportunity of proving the allegations in their petition to that house, They had an anxious hope and wish that the house would take such steps, as in its wisdom would seem meet, in order to prevent in future the occurrence of such un- 749 constitutional practices. Otherwise the representation of that great county would be under the controul of the government, and the most valuable rights of the people would be annihilated. He trusted that the house of commons would ever be ready to resist such unjustifiable attempts to infringe the franchises of the electors, and thereby to undermine the independence and integrity of the representative body of the nation. He therefore moved, that the Petition be referred to the Committee of Privileges to examine the matter thereof, and to report the same, together with their opinion thereon, to the house
Sir Henry Mildmay
rose to second the motion of his hon. friend. The allegations of that petition had been ably brought under the view of the house by the manliness, the moderation, and the talents of his hon. friend. In touching upon the subject of this petition, he confessed he felt considerable difficulty, because of the prominent share he had borne on the occasion to which it refered; because any observations he should make upon it, might perhaps be considered as the result of his feelings of disappointment. But under all the circumstances of the case, he considered it not only a duty he owed to the individuals, whose rights had been invaded, but a still greater duty to the house, to the public, and to himself, to trace, to detect, and to expose such unconstitutional interference on the part of his majesty's ministers. This interference had been exerted in a most unjustifiable and open manner on that occasion, not only in defiance of the principles of the constitution, but in the teeth of a resolution of that house. His hon. friend had not, by his motion, called upon the house to come to any hasty or premature decision; he had only proposed to them to adopt a proceeding analogous to what had been pursued on a former occasion, of nearly a similar nature. On searching for precedents, however, he admitted that there were none to be found precisely analogous to the present case. But the unconstitutional interference with the freedom of election was no less a subject worthy of the attention of that house. When this petition had been presented, a noble lord opposite (lord Temple) had stated, that the petition had for a long time occupied the public attention, and that much pains had been taken to poison the public mind upon the subject of it. From 750 the gestures of the hon. gents. on the treasury bench, he supposed they conceived that to have been the case; but the statement was utterly unsupported by any proof, and, as far as the petitioners were concerned, was wholly unfounded in fact. He was glad that the petition was at length submitted to the consideration of the house, and he agreed entirely with the noble lord, that if they should fail in substantiating the charge contained in it, on them the whole blame and censure should fall. But, if they should succeed in proving the allegations of the petition: if they should make out a stronger case even than the charges in the petition amounted to, he trusted the noble lord would agree with him that the house was bound to adopt some proceedings with a view to do justice between the parties, with a view to redeem the solemn pledge, which it had given in the resolution of 1779, in which it declared it highly criminal in a minister of the crown to use the power of his office for the purpose of influencing an election. He trusted too, that the noble lord would not employ the weight of his commanding eloquence, nor the government extend the protecting shield of its power, in order to arrest the measures which might appear to the house necessary on such an occasion. And here he wished to advert to certain particularities in the situation of the county of Southampton, which rendered the transaction still more culpable. There was no county of equal extent, population, and wealth, in which the government, independent of the interference complained of in the petition, had so much influence as in Hampshire. There was more of church, collegiate, and copyhold property, which gave no right to the elective franchise in that county, than in any other of equal extent, consequently there was less of freehold property and fewer electors. The interference of government, therefore, struck more effectually at the independance of the representation. There was also in that county one of the principal naval arsenals of the kingdom, the number of persons employed in which, that had freeholds, exceeded 400. These were persons, constantly, regularly, and exclusively employed by government in the docks, and subject to its controul. There was also in the neighbourhood of Portsmouth, an infinite variety of persons, who were frequently employed by the navy board, the whole of whom could be con- 751 trouled by the executive government. This he stated only by way of explanation, as it did not form any part of the matter of the petition. If no addition were to be made to this influence, which had increased, was increasing, and must continue to increase, as long as the extent of the British navy should be augmenting, it would give the government a powerful interest in that county. But not content with that, the administration had enlisted the whole barrack department into its service, and employed the persons engaged in that department, as its agents to promote the election of its favourite candidates. So that it was impossible for any private individual to grapple with the power of government in that county, and the executive possessed the means of reducing it to the condition of a close borough, for which they could nominate the representatives. But in order to come nearer to the subject, he should beg leave to read the documents upon which this proceeding rested; and first, the paper, which was the foundation of the whole business. Here the hon. baronet read an extract from the first letter of sir Wm. Heathcote to the Hampshire club, stating the application of lord Temple, authorised by lord Grenville, to himself, intimating to him, that government would not oppose his re-election, in the event of a dissolution, if he did not coalesce with Mr. Chute, against whom government proposed to set up a candidate, Mr. Chute having put himself in systematic opposition to government. By this it would appear, that the interference of the executive in that county had not originated with the secretary to the treasury, nor with the comptroller of the navy, but was a preconcerted, premeditated, and predigested plan of the government, to dictate representatives to the county of Southampton, and to exclude a respectable gentleman who had represented that county for 16 years. It was, however, in candour, necessary for him to state, that the noble lord had given a subsequent explanation of that transaction, and without at all imputing any wilful misrepresentation to either of these persons, there appeared to him a contradiction in their statements. It would be for the house to decide which was most likely to be correct, sir Wm. Heathcote, who retired to his closet after the interview to make a memorandum of what passed, with a view to its publication, or the noble lord, who, without the aid of 752 any memorandum whatever, three weeks after, gave an explanation of it. The next letter he had to notice was one dated Sept. 22, from William Fremantle, esq. one of the secretaries of the treasury, to the barrack-master-general. This letter had been sent by the barrack-master-general, general Hewitt, inclosed in one from himself to major Davies, deputy barrack-master-general. General Hewitt, in his letter, stated that he could not better carry into effect the recommendation of Mr. Fremantle, than by inclosing this letter to major Davies. The hon. baronet here read the letter from the secretary of the treasury to the barrack-master-general, recommending the government candidates, the hon. Mr. Herbert and Mr. Thistlethwaite, to his favourable influence, and requesting him to mention the same to the other gentlemen of the department. This letter had been marked on his majesty's service," and the copy which he had of it had been taken from the letter which had been in the possession of major Davies. In consequence of it, every exertion had been made, and with success. To this major Davies had replied, that the committee were of opinion that his canvass would be more effectual at Lymington and the Isle of Wight. The next letter was from general Hewitt, to major Davies, informing him that he might go to Lymington if he could obtain the permission of the commander of the district, but at the same time that he could not be allowed any thing to defray the expences of his journey, this being a species of service which could not be inserted in the public account. The impression on his mind from this letter was, that there were two accounts kept in the barrack department, one public and the other private [a cry of no? no?]. Well! this showed more than my thing else the necessity of going into the committee, in order to ascertain whether or no there was any private account. The next letter was from major Davies to the barrack-master-general, stating that his destination had been fixed for Lymington and the Isle of Wight, and that his route had been sketched by lord Carnarvon, to that point, as not very far from the residence of Mr. Rose. Now, he could not see how this noble personage should appear in such a transaction. He knew there was such a person as earl Carnarvon, who had been formerly a distinguished member of that house, and who was a near connexion of one of the candi 753 dates, but he could not suppose that the noble personage would make himself a party to any such unconstitutional proceeding. But he could tell him that he might hereafter spare himself the trouble of sending to canvass that neighbourhood, because the experience and weight of his right hon. friend's character and public conduct insured to him and to his connections the support of his neighbours. The next letter he had to notice, was one in which major Davies stated, that the duke of Cumberland would not suffer him to depart for Lymington, till he should himself set out for Wales, which he imputed to a fear, on the part of his royal highness, lest his efforts should produce an effect inimical to his political connections. This, no doubt, was matter of conjecture only; but if he understood any thing of the character of that illustrious personage, with whom he had had the honour of being a considerable time acquainted, he was convinced he could not be influenced by any such feelings. The last letter which he had to notice, was one dated January the 1st, 1806, which ought evidently to be 1807, in which it was stated, that Major Davies was prosecuted by Mr. Deverell, on the opposite side, and thus he had an offer made to him by Colonel St. John, on the part of one of the most respectable men in the county, of relieving him from all his embarrassments, if he would give up the treasury letters in his possession, which proposal he had rejected. He was as curious as any man, to find out who this most respectable" man, of the county was; for though he had been 40 years resident in Hampshire, if he were asked to point such a person out, he should find it difficult. However, as this person who could so bully and bribe with the same breath, who was so ready to discharge major Davies from his embarrasments, might also have means of injuring him, he was bound to state that he had obtained copies of the letters from a person who had them in his possession, previous to the election. From this written evidence they could shew, that the government had issued its mandates to the barrack department, and that its directions had been faithfully executed, "Ex uno disce omnes." The same course had been adopted in all the other departments, and particularly by the comptroller of the navy. If they could prove the fact in one instance, that would be sufficient to prove their case. He felt, that in this instance the principles of the constitu- 754 tion were involved, and that there was no borough, so hermetically sealed, to which this influence, if countenanced, might not extend. This was a case that involved the honour, the dignity, and the independence of parliament. If the house were to suffer such practices to pass uncensured; if it were to forfeit the solemn pledge contained in its former resolutions, it would forfeit its own character, honour and authority. Here he begged leave to read the letter of the duke of Chandos, which had given rise to the resolution of 1779, and which only recommended to some friend, to attend the county meeting at Southampton, in order to add to the respectability of the assembly. Yet the duke of Chandos was a person who had considerable property in the county, and wrote only to a private individual, whilst the secretary of the treasury, who had written in this case, had no property in the county, and had set a whole public department in motion. He had done his duty, in promoting the application by petition to that house, and in tracing the case through its whole progress, and should therefore in this instance, follow up that duty by voting, that the petition be referred to the committee of privileges.—On the question being put,
said, that in rising to vindicate himself from the charges that had been brought against him, he felt considerable fears, not from any consciousness of guilt, but from the difficulty which unavoidably arose from his not having been accustomed to parliamentary speaking. But how much greater must his difficulty be, when he reflected that his own character and conduct, and the character and even the very existence of the government under which he acted, was committed in the present charge? He had only therefore to throw himself upon the indulgence of the house, whilst he repelled the charges to the best of his ability. From the moment of the dissolution of parliament, rumours had been in circulation upon the subject of the interference of government in the county of Southampton. He trusted that he should be able to shew that these rumours had been magnified and exaggerated beyond what the case would warrant. No wonder, therefore, that the public mind should have been affected by such statements. He was confident, however, that he should be able to shew that he had not committed either the government or himself upon this 755 occasion. When the charge was brought forward against him personally, he should have thought he was entitled to the same attention as any other individual who might happen to be accused. He could not account, therefore, for the conduct of those who had signed and brought forward the petition against him. He was satisfied with the explanation that had been given by the hon. gent. who presented it. He had been long known to that hon. gent. and was not sensible of having incurred either his displeasure or animosity. As to the other gentlemen who signed the petition, he had been known to many of them, and was equally ignorant of his having, in any one shape, deserved their hostility. One of the hon. members who had signed the petition, whom he did not then see in his place (Mr. Dent), had within a very few days given him, as a pledge of the continuance of his former feeling towards him, a splendid and hospitable entertainment at his house. If he could trifle either with the subject or with the house, he should say that he had been invited to be fattened and pampered for a public spectacle. However, he might acquit that hon. member of such intention, because he believed he had signed the petition ignorant and unconscious of what it contained, and he begged him, if in the house, to be persuaded that he felt no resentment against him.—This was not the petition that had been sanctioned by the freeholders of the county, but a perfectly new one, that had been framed within a few days. The hon. member to whom he had alluded, had only lent his name to what he conceived a general charge against the government. The rumours that had been circulated respecting the unconstitutional interference of the government had been kept up with such industry, though not founded in fact, and he should add, resting only upon falsehood, that it was no Wonder if they had made some impression upon the public mind. But he was ready to answer for the fact, and he should be ashamed ever to put pen to paper, if he could shrink from a responsibility, for every syllable he had written. It was unnecessary for the hon. baronet to have taken so much pains, respecting the letter he had written, of which however, he had obtained but a copy. It would be for him to state that no charge could be substantiated against any person, on the bare ground of an unauthenticated copy. He did not by any means intend to take 756 that course, though if he were so inclined, he appealed to the House, whether he might not object to such a foundation of a charge against him; but he did not deny the letter, on the contrary, he had taken some pains to procure the original, for which he could appeal to his friends, in order to enable the house to form a judgment of the merits of the case. As the hon. baronet had read that letter, he trusted the house would permit him to read it also. The hon. gent here read the letter, which had been read before by the hon. baronet. The letter was dated Treasury Chambers, Sept. 22, some time previous to the dissolution, and was marked "private.' He should not say that many letters on official business might not be sometimes marked in this manner, but certainly the gentlemen opposite, who had so much more experience in the business of office than he had, must know that letters so marked were never preserved by official copies in the office. He only recommended the candidates whom he wished to succeed, to the favourable influence of the barrack-master-general, and requested of him to recommend them to the other gentlemen in that department. These were the expressions he made use of, and he was ready both to claim and to justify them. Now, as to the charge "that William Fremantle, esq. one of the secretaries, who had no property in the county, had employed the power of his office to influence the election," he could easily dispose of that. It was one of the unfortunate consequences of the petition having been brought forward without any communication being made to him on the subject, that such a statement as that had found its way into the petition. If the honourable members who brought forward the petition, had informed him of its contents, he could have saved them the trouble of presenting it at all; he would have saved them the disgrace they must feel from the indignation of the house, or he would have saved the house the trouble of listening to his justification. The answer that he had to make to that charge was, that he was a freeholder of the county of Southampton, that he had a property in that county, and that he had as good a right as any of the gentlemen who had thought proper to sign the petition, to employ all the means which his property, influence, or connections afforded, to promote the election of those candidates whom he wished to succeed. He had for many years posses- 757 sed a property in that county; and his nearest and dearest connections lived there, who were in the habit of consulting him, and who would be influenced by his advice, had properties in that county equal to any, and larger than the properties of most of those whose names were to the petition. Though he had been settled at the Treasury, it did not follow that he was to be denied that which was the birthright of every Englishman, the right of giving his support and influence to the candidate whom he preferred. If he were to be deprived of that right by his office, he would not hold the office for five minutes.—So far he had considered the question on the ground of private feelings. He should next ask the hon. baronet, by what law it was that he was deprived of this right, merely because he held the situation of secretary to the treasury? The resolution of the house in 1779, extended only to persons who should use the power of their official situations to influence elections, but did not preclude persons holding offices from giving their votes and interest to whatever candidate they pleased. He was not aware of any law to that effect, and he begged the house to look at the situation it would be in, was every member of the government of this country, whatever might be their talents, their wealth, their consequence, or their other claims to be high in the estimation of their countrymen, deprived of all the influence natural to such qualifications, solely because they happened to fill an office in the government. Was that a doctrine that could be supported in that house or tolerated in this country? Having thus stated that he was not restricted by any law from pursuing the course he had followed, that his property gave him the right, and that that right was strengthened by the consideration of the property possessed in the county by his nearest and dearest connections, he had next to state another motive, Which had induced him to take an interest in the election for Hampshire. Mr Thistlethwaite, one of the candidates, was his cousin by marriage, and their families were connected by all the ties of affinity and friendship. Under such circumstances, he should have been wanting in the proper feelings of attachment if he had not exerted himself to promote the success of a candidate in whom his nearest and dearest connections had such an interest, provided, that in so doing, he did not employ the power 758 of his official situation. He begged here to bring back the attention of gentlemen to the letter, and, he would then ask whether there was a single expression in it which could be construed to convey the command of office. He had written in precisely the same terms that any gentleman not holding an official situation, would, to the head of a department with whom he was acquainted. He had known general Hewitt, and had understood that major Davies was a freeholder in the county of Southampton, and had applied to general Hewitt for the purpose of obtaining that vote. Whether he had been rightly informed as to major Davies having a vote, he could not tell, but he had reason to believe that he had not voted either for Mr. Herbert. or Mr. Thistlethwaite. The hon. baronet had stated, that the whole barrack department had been put in motion, and that considerable influence had been thereby created in the decision of the election. But he challenged the hon. baronet or any of the gentlemen by him, to prove the influence thus charged. If he was well informed, not a single individual connected with the barrack department, had given a vote at the election, and even major Davies had not voted, either for Mr. Herbert, or Mr. Thistlethwaite. The hon. baronet had likewise brought forward several letters which had been written on the subject of the one originally written by him. But he trusted the house would not think him responsible for any letter but that of which he had himself been the author, and which, he trusted he had shewn, could neither implicate him nor the government under which he acted. The hon. baronet had also read a letter of the duke of Chandos which had given rise to the resolution of parliament in the year 1779. It would be recollected that the duke of Chandos had been a peer of parliament, and consequently disqualified by a resolution of that house from interfering with elections. He was a freeholder of the county, and possessed as good a right as any of the petitioners to canvass his tenants or his friends, in favour of the candidates he preferred. So far he trusted the house would feel that he was justified in going. Having said thus much of the charge contained in the petition, he should now begin to state the only two grounds of crimination against ministers, for an exercise of undue influence. The first was, when they abused their patronage either by holding out mena 759 ces or rewards to persons employed in the public departments, with a view to influence their voices at an election. On this head he could only say, that neither a menace of punishment nor a promise of reward had been held out by the treasury, at the last election, to any person in any department of the state; and if any such proceedings had taken place, they must have passed through his hands. There had been no abuse of the patronage of government in any department in the kingdom. But the allegations of this petition were not expressive of the sense of the county of Southampton. The petition had been obtained surreptitiously, privately and clandestinely, and was signed only by 112 persons, who could not be said to express the sense of a county in which there were 6000 electors; the petition therefore did not contain the sense of the county. Was there a fact brought forward to prove its allegations, or was it supported by any charge from any other part of the kingdom? It rested solely upon the credit of the 112 gentlemen who had signed it, and who had signed it on a belief that he had not been a freeholder of the county, and had consequently no right to interfere. The second ground, upon which charges of undue interference could be made against government, was the profligate use of their power in the abuse of the disposal of the public money. As far as his knowledge went, no such practise had, or could have taken place, though he had heard that other governments had resorted to such means of influence. He could with the greatest confidence assert, that no money, not a single shilling, had been issued from the treasury, directly or indirectly, for the purposes of the late election. He wished this to be well understood by the house, and to go forth to the public and to the world, and he would not pledge his credit and character upon the assertion; if he had not the most positive certainty of its truth. There had not been a single shilling issued, neither of secret service money, nor of any other fund, levied upon the public, for such a unworthy purpose. These were the only two points upon which charges could be brought for undue interference against government. He had answered the charges that had been brought against him to the best of his judgment, and he took that opportunity of protesting against the doctrine, that the individuals who may compose an administration, had not the same right as 760 others to give their individual influence and support to such candidates as they may prefer. The hon. gent here briefly recapitulated his former statements, and declared that the exercise of any unconstitutional influence was as repugnant to his own feelings as it would be hostile to the wishes of those with whom he was connected, and by whom he had been placed in the situation he then held. If he had been guilty of such conduct it would have deprived him of the good opinion of those whose approbation he most coveted, and the apprehension of what he most valued was, next to his own. principles, the best security against such unconstitutional conduct. He might have had an opportunity of recriminating by charges of a much more dangerous tendency than those preferred against him, but he would have been ashamed of himself, if he could descend to such a course. As he trusted he was incapable of acting in the manner imputed, he should with confidence throw himself upon the justice of the house.
Sir Renry Mildmay
in explanation said, that he had not asserted that the petition had the sanction of a county meeting
expressed his surprise at the speech of the hon. secretary of the treasury, and had never heard sentiments avowed in parliament so directly in the teeth of the resolution of the house. He said that he had property in the county, arid he believed that the fact was so, but his situation in the treasury would be more attended to by barrack masters and others, over whom the treasury might be supposed to have some influence. The hon. secretary had said, that this was not the petition of the county. Certainly not. It had never been presented as such. But it was not his business to say how the voters, who wished to petition, were to assemble. He (Mr. B.) was not in the habit of attending clubs, and knew nothing about their mode of proceeding. But the hon. secretary's friends on the bench near him, might give him any information on that head he might require. As to the right of government to interfere in elections, the hon. secretary had said, that no threat, no improper influence, could have been used by the government without his knowledge; so extensive was his connection with all its members. This circumstance would prevail much more with the barrack-masters than any consideration of the hon. secretary's property in the county. It had been said by a right hon. gent. the other night, that this petition ought to have 761 been presented sooner. He hoped that upon reflection he would take a longer view of parliamentary duties. When any one had a matter of great and serious moment to the interests of the house and of the country to propose, he ought to have credit for his motives, and to be allowed to bring it forward at the time which, in the exercise of his own discretion, he might think proper.
§ Mr. W. Herbert
expressed his satisfaction that the stream of calumny which had been so industriously spread all over the country, which had been swelled by every possible means abroad, and nourished by insinuations even in that house, had been at last brought to the test of public investigation. But, however much he felt satisfied at this, he must say something respecting the conduct of those who presented this petition. They ought to have presented it at an earlier period. But an hon. gent. had said, that they had been desirious of presenting it at the opening of the session, but that they had thought proper to delay the matter till a full attendance of county members might be expected. But what could he say to justify himself, if it should appear to be true that the petition did not exist at the opening of the session, nor had been even in contemplation; but that another petition, different from this, and containing no distinct charge against his hon. friend, was then intended to be presented, but was afterwards abandoned from want of grounds? He did not say this lightly; and he took the liberty of adverting to it in order to enable the house to judge whether this petition was presented from party motives, or with a view to the interests of justice. He then adverted to the assertions that had been made respecting the interference of government in the dock-yards, and denied that any improper interference had taken place there. For this he had the authority of the commissioners, and other officers of the dock-yards, who declared that they had exercised no improper influence over the artificers, nor had endeavoured to detach such of them as were connected with the other party from their friends and connections. This affair of the dock-yards was the subject of the other petition, which had been abandoned. But having ascertained that there were no substantial grounds for this, they had resorted to this unfounded charge against his hon. friend. Threats and calumnies had been used on the other side, however, even by some invested with magisterial authority. Such threats had been used, not only to procure votes, but to force voters to violate their pledges. After 762 the able and manly defence of his hon. friend, little remained for him to say on the merits of the charge; but he would ask the hon. baronet (sir H Mildmay) how he could produce papers there that had been disavowed by another hon. baronet, who had first made the statements contained in them. That hon. baronet had confessed that he could not pledge himself as to their accuracy, as he was dull of hearing. He insisted on the right of the individuals composing the government, to interfere in elections like any other individuals. and expressed his hope that the house would join with him in censuring the conduct of those who had presented this frivolous and unfounded petition.
§ Mr. Jeffery
said, that after the bold assertions made by the secretary of the treasury that no influence had been used by government, either in Hampshire or any other place, he could not rest satisfied with giving a silent vote on the question, for fear it might be taken as a sympton that he assented to the truth of those assertions. He would therefore request the attention of the house till he gave a few reasons, which came within his own knowledge, and which in fact related to himself, to shew the house why he, for one, could not place confidence in those assertions. That very hon. gent. the secretary of the treasury, had openly and plainly told him, that if he again offered himself as a candidate for Poole, he must not expect the influence of government in his favour, which he had formerly experienced, because he had in the last parliament opposed and voted against the government: that they were therefore determined to oppose him. Here some murmurs taking place, Mr. Jeffery said, "Nay, hear me out, I have not half done yet." He then proceeded to say, that the secretary of the Treasury went on to inform him, that if he persisted in standing as a candidate, government would endeavour to open the borough, and try the right of the commonalty, which had once before been done without effect. He stated further, that after the first government candidate had tried a canvass, and afterwards declined the contest, it had been publicly notified that the patronage of government was to be given to Michael Angelo Taylor, esq. Places which were before promised to certain persons, were actually given to others, in order to obtain their support of the candidate who opposed him in his native place. These and many other instances of a similar kind, shewed, beyond contradiction, that the undue influence of government had been exerted; and therefore that the secretary to 763 the treasury should deny there was any such thing, he should have thought impossible.
§ Mr. Biddulph .
—Sir, the hon. gent. who spoke last but one, has, in an ardent and energetic manner, called upon the house to express its disapprobation of the principle and allegations of the petition, on which the motion of the hon. gent. near me is founded. Really sir, with the feelings which I entertain on this subject, and without the least party bias, for, in this house, or out of it, I am attached to no political party, I can by no means subscribe to the hopes and wishes of the hon. gent. nor conceal my opinion that the petition is a proper one, introduced on proper grounds, and for the introduction of which, whatever delay may have been occasioned, the persons who have taken it up, deserve the warmest gratitude of parliament. There have fallen sentiments from the hon. gent. whose name is particularly alluded to in this petition, which I do confess have struck me with no small share of astonishment; indeed, when I heard him this night asserting the positive right of government to interfere, as a government, in the exercise of the elective franchise, I felt not only astonished, but actually dismayed. This, sir, is a principle against which it is the duty of this house to make a stand, and which should not be suffered to escape, without the individual reprobation of every member of this house, together with the expressed and recorded disavowal of the legislature. That hon. gent. has also declared, that no kind of undue influence was exerted, during the late election, by any department or individual of his majesty's government; that if such influence had been exerted, froth the situation which he held as Secretary of the Treasury, it could not have escaped his notice and observation; in fact, he has told us, that it must have actually gone through him, as the official channel. With this voluntary statement from the hon. gent. upon this plain and perspicuous acknowledgment, I put it to himself and to the house to decide, whether a considerable suspicion does not naturally attach to the interference of a person so connected with his majesty's government, in the elective rights of the people, and whether it did not become a peremptory point of duty with the hon. gent. to exercise the most scrupulous caution and delicacy, in any step, either personal or official, which he might have been induced to take, with reference to the election of members of parliament? It has this night come out, that he, a public character, did write to the head of the Barrack Department of the county of 764 Southampton, a letter, dated from the official Chamber of the Treasury, the purport of which was, to desire his influence with all those connected with that department, to obtain their votes for the gentlemen who had started on the ministerial interest. In what way, I ask, was such a communication to be received by the officers of that department? or what impression must such a request, on the part of a gentleman who held a high official situation in a branch of the government with which the Barrack Department had frequent intercourse, have made on the persons thus addressed? I do seriously contend, that such a communication must be considered as one of those suite of orders they were in the habit of receiving from the Treasury. Arguing from my own view of the case, I conceive, that such was the natural impression of that request, and that the officers or persons to whom the application was made, did consider such application directly official. But the house has been told, that not one of the officers employed in that department, did actually vote for either of the candidates, who were supposed to possess the influence of government. Such a circumstance, in no degree changes the view of the case, nor in any manner lessens the charge of undue influence, if that charge be otherwise well-founded. The influence was not to operate on the officers of the Barrack Department alone; but it was to be exercised by those officers over the numerous persons they may be fairly supposed to be connected with, and under the direct controul of, the Barrack department. For instance, the owners of barns hired out for barracks; the dealers in hay, oats and those various other articles, which that branch of our establishment so particularly demands. With the merits of this petition, I was totally unacquainted, until this night. My opinion I have formed from what has fallen from the hon. gent. who have preceded me in this discussion. From the acknowledgment of the hon. gent. the Secretary of the Treasury, I do feel, that the privileges of this house, and the liberties of the people, have received, by his influence, in the county of Southampton, a constitutional stab, and that it becomes a paramount duty with the representatives of the people, to immediately interfere. With such a conviction, I shall certainly support the motion for referring this petition to a committee of privileges.
Mr. Fremantle ,
in explanation, said that he meant that the individuals in the government had as good a right to interfere as those of a corporate body. As to the other posi- 765 tion, he only said that unconstitutional interference could not have come through the Treasury without his knowledge; for other departments he had distinctly stated others would be responsible.
Mr. Charles Jenkinson
rose, and in a maiden speech, addressed the house as follows:—I rise, Sir, with feelings of pride and satisfaction, to acknowledge myself as one of those who have lent their names to the petition which at present engages the attention of the house. I subscribed it from the strong conviction I felt of the truth of its allegations, and with an ardent hope that the house of commons would interpose its constitutional protection between the privileges of the elective body, and the destructive strides of ministerial encroachment. These feelings originated in my mind, not from the solitary case of the county of Southampton; they were justified by the conduct and hostility which I myself experienced, as one of those individuals against whom the shafts of ministerial influence were strongly, but unsuccessfully directed. At Dover, for which port I have the honour of being a representative, there are two parties; the one immediately under the influence of the Victualling Board, the other controuled by the Ordnance Department. From such causes, a number of the electors had determined to give one vote at the request of the principals in these respective branches, reserving to themselves the right of supporting me with the second. This determination was not in unison with the inclinations of his majesty's government, and a communication was absolutely made to all persons in the various gradations of employment under the boards I have mentioned, that whoever voted for my return, would be dispossessed of the situation he held and be actually deprived of his livelihood. To the honour of some of my constituents, they waited on me, and apprised me of their intention to adhere to their promises, even at the hazard of their personal interests. The house will do me the justice to believe, that, under such circumstances, I immediately released them from their previous engagements to me; whilst the fear of ministerial persecution operated so much with others, as to force them, at the altar of their God, to disregard the sacred pledge they had given; the place of election being there held in the Church, by a peculiar custom. From this plain statement, the house and the country will be able to decide 766 on the merits of his majesty's ministers, and on the general principle which governed them during the late election.
§ Mr. Tierney
observed, that the opener and seconder of the motion had, at least, the merit of having been candid and explicit in their statement of facts, and these being completely in the possession of the house, there was no occasion to go into a committee for the purpose of further investigation. What further had the house to learn? The hon. baronet had read the papers once, and some of them even twice, and had made his observations upon them. What, then, could be gained by going into a committee? And he would ask, whether such a breach of privilege had been proved, as rendered the matter worthy of investigation by a committee of privileges? It had been stated, that he had said that the petition had been too long delayed. He had said so, and avowed it. It was signed, he observed, by several members of parliament, and these might have brought forward the business without any petition, and ought to have done it the first moment it was possible. Such was the anxiety of the house to consider questions of privilege, that they had the pecedence of every other business, and this question might have been discussed even before his majesty's speech. The inference he drew from this was, that they did not think this breach of privilege as one of much consequence, and had accordingly allowed it to sleep for a time for some purpose or other. It had been said, he did not know with what truth, that it was in order to find the right petition; which an hon. member had signed, supposing it to be another petition, and he was sorry he was not present, for if he had been in the house, he thought it possible he would have confessed that he did not know what he had signed. His hon. friend (Mr. Fremantle) had observed, that he had no previous notice of the charge which it was meant to bring against him. But what could be said of an hon. gent. (Mr. Jeffery,) who had brought a most serious charge against an hon. member, not only without notice, but even in his absence? A more indecorous, a more unprecedented proceeding, and a conduct more improper from one gentleman to another never was witnessed.—(A loud cry of order, order.)
Mr. Spencer Stanhope
rose and said, that during the long time that he had sat in parliament, he never heard more improper 767 and more unparliamentary language from one gentleman to another. He called upon the Chair to say whether that was proper language to use in that house.
§ The Speaker
said, that certainly in the sense in which the hon. gent. understood them, the words might as well have been spared.
§ Mr. Tierney
in continuation asked, whether it could be thought that it was his object to make two gentlemen quarrel? If his words could be supposed to have that tendency, the hon. gent. had to be sure very much mended the matter. He would not, however, be led away by the broad hint Which the hon. gent. had thrown out. A right hon. gent. over the way (Mr. Rose) had said on a former night, that this was unprecedented conduct on the part of government. Such a petition as this might, indeed, be called unprecedented, and yet after all the search of the right hon. gent. he could find nothing but this charge, which in truth amounted to nothing. If it had been brought in as an illustration of something else, as other illustrations had been made use of, then it might have been good for something, but as it stood now it was nothing. What was the letter? It was one by which his hon. friend begged a favour of another person. To be sure; if he had been an older practitioner he might have dated his letter from Stanhope-street, where he lived, and sent it by his servant. That was the whole of the argument with respect to the date from the Treasury Chambers. But the gentlemen on the other side were all aghast at the Treasury Chambers. But general Hewitt would know very well who Mr. Fremantle was, without the mention of the Treasury Chambers, and could no doubt tell, at any rate, what part government would wish him to take. If the letter had been sent to general Hewitt to be handed about, to be sure that would have been another matter. But it was a private letter entirely. Then, what effects had it been attended with? What advantage had it produced? It was not pretended that it had produced any. The fact was known. His hon. friend had sent a letter to general Hewitt, general Hewitt applied to major Davies, and major Davies refused to comply with the request, except he had permission to go from his commander in chief. Did this look like a deep laid plan? The resolution of the house against interference meant the exercise of improper influence; it supposed an order. But here 768 there was no order, but merely a request that general Hewitt should assist one who was the writer's particular friend. He would ask whether the house ought to waste one moment by going into such a committee as was proposed? If general Hewitt was here, and if the question should be put to him, whether he had received the letter, he would answer that he had; that he had sent it to major Davies, and that major Davies wrote that he would not go without the consent of his commanding officer; and that he, general Hewitt, had told major Davies, that if he went it would not be at the public expence. All this was perfectly well known, and there was therefore no occasion for going into a committee. The hon. baronet knew the voters, and yet he could specify none that had been procured by corrupt practices. None were given or withheld in consequence of threats. He could collect no precedents, because no opposition ever presented such a petition. He defied them to shew one instance in which a threat had been employed by government to influence a vote. If any such instance could be shewn, it certainly should not have his countenance. To ask a man for his vote was no offence whatever, but to threaten to turn him out of office unless he voted for a particular person was certainly a breach of privilege. But nothing of this sort was charged. Gentlemen might say what they pleased in their speeches, but all that they proved was, that a letter had been sent from the treasury chambers, which an old practitioner would have dated from a different place. This was the whole of the proof, and, he would ask whether, after all the abuse which had been heaped upon government, they did not rise in credit when it was perceived on what frivolous grounds all this abuse was founded? The hon. baronet might wish to go into a committee; and if there was any thing new to be proved, then, when it was known what it was, it would be proper to consider whether the motion should be agreed to. But really this petition was the most extraordinary, and on the part of the members of parliament who had signed it, one of the most foolish that he had ever witnessed. Out of 112 votes, there were 6 or 7 members of parliament who thus presented a petition to themselves. No county meeting had been called. A certain number of gentlemen in opposition had, after 9 weeks consideration, at last framed this petition, and got some of their 769 tenants and dependants to sign it. He knew none of these voters except the members of parliament. However, said the right hon. gent. you view this measure, or in whatever way the house may please to consider it, it will be found a mere party thing, manufactured for party purposes, and which certainly reflects no credit on the manufacturer. But, sir, the hon. gentlemen are young in opposition, and as all trades must have a beginning, we may fairly infer, that that great reformer, the right hon. gent. on the other side (Mr. Rose), may, in the course of some few years, arrive at considerable eminence on the opposite bench—(a laugh) Again, I do insist that no case has been made out to warrant a proceeding, never instituted but against an actual infringement of the privileges of this house, or a violation of the liberties of the people. For the extravagant length to which party views may drive hon. gentlemen, I can make some allowance; but there are limits to party feelings, which should not be overleaped; and, indeed, I must declare my conviction, that a question of this kind and description, coming from such a quarter, can provoke no other sensation than that of disgust (Hear! hear!) That a Secretary of the Treasury, for the last 16 years, under all the well known and admitted circumstances of those 16 years, should accuse a present Secretary of unjust interference in the rights of election, and of an unconstitutional system of menace, in promoting that influence, is one of those extreme examples of human audacity, which the history of an irritated faction can only display.
Sir H. Mildmay
in explanation said, he had stated only the written evidence. There was much other evidence ready to be produced before the committee, not only with respect to the interference of the treasury, but also of other departments of government, and particularly involving the conduct of the comptroller of the navy.
hoped that the right hon. gent. who spoke last on the other side, would permit him to qualify his observation, that nothing was so extraordinary as a motion of this kind proceeding from the quarter in which it originated, by telling him, that it was equally extraordinary that such a motion should meet with such a reception in the quarter in which it was opposed. In the earlier part of his parliamentary life, he remembered motions of parliamentary reform, strongly urged by the right hon. 770 gent. and those about him. It was fortunate for the country that those gentlemen were now placed in a situation in which their influence upon the councils of the sovereign, and the share they had in directing the measures of parliament, gave them an opportunity of carrying into effect their ideas upon this subject. The public would now know what were the hon. gent.'s improved and correct ideas with respect to the object for which they clamoured so loudly before. The whole of the parliamentary reform they meant to carry into effect was, the unlimited and barefaced interposition of that government influence, the exertion of which, they, without foundation, imputed to other governments as the worst of crimes. It was argued by the hon. gent. that because he and his friends had thought proper on former occasions to prefer groundless complaints of this nature, they might now in reality retort the evil, tenfold, and this was the way the hon. gent. and his friends redeemed their pledges of parliamentary reform. The hon. gent. told the house, that it ought to see no ground of suspicion in a letter written by the secretary of the treasury to the head of a principal department of the public service, a department having greater influence in Hampshire than in any other county, to use his influence in favour of a particular candidate. He would not himself say, that such a letter was a ground for pronouncing the writer and his principals guilty. But he thought the house would hardly be of opinion that there was not in it strong ground for suspicion, and for inquiry. He professed the highest respect for the hon. gent. whose name was coupled with the charge preferred to the petition. He had never heard the hen. gent.'s name mentioned otherwise than with respect, except in the petition. He had never witnessed a more honourable, a more candid, or a more affecting appeal to the sense of the house, than the hon. gent. had made. There was no part of that appeal which was not creditable to the hon. gent. as an individual. Any complaint that his interposition in the election might be liable to, could attach only to his official capacity. Nothing was more true than that the persons composing a government were not disqualified. from exerting their rights as individuals, in common with every other subject; but they should exert them with caution, so that it should always appear to be the individual right they exerted, and not 771 the power and influence of the government. The hon. gent. might have written to his private connections and dependants, with all possible zeal and ardour to exert themselves to promote the election of his friends. But the ground of complaint was, that the letter was addressed, not by Mr. Fremantle, a gentleman of property and a freeholder of Hampshire, to general Hewitt, a person of private connection in that county, but from Mr. Fremantle, secretary of the treasury, to general Hewitt, head of the barrack department, claiming the exertions of his influence through all the ramifications, connections, and dependancies of that department. It could not justly be assumed, that this was the only instance of the undue interposition of government in this election. The expression of his hon. friend "Ex uno disce omnes," was in itself an assurance that there were many similar instances; and the petition stated this one, only as a specimen of a multitude of other facts which were to be brought forward, and which the petitioners were ready to prove. It was not for him to say, how far the allegations of the petition would be made out; but as a member of parliament, he would say, that the petitioners having stated such facts, and having declared themselves ready to prove them, it would require much stronger reasons than he had heard, to justify the dismissal of the petition without proper attention and respect. The hon. gent. towards the close of his speech, cited a former instance of a friend of his (Mr. Jervoise), who had been turned out of the representation of the county of Hants, by the interposition of the power of government; and the hon. gent. argued from this, that the interposition of government to turn out the old representative in the present instance, was but a fair reprisal. But what excuse was it to the freeholders of the county of Hants, that their independence was to be continually invaded, because the reprisal was allowable on the part of those who might happen to be at the time in power, and whose friend might have formerly received a wrong, which they thought proper to retaliate? But, was it to be argued or suffered, that from this assumed right of party reprisal, the county of Hants should be eternally disfranchised? If such reprisals were suffered, it could be only on the principle, that as Hampshire was accustomed to such invasions of its rights, it could suffer no pain from any fresh instance of it; 772 a principle more unjust and more outrageous than any he had ever heard maintained. The petition which had been alluded to by the hon. gent. and in which the mover and seconder of the present motion were complainants, was exactly similar to the present; the only difference was, that some of those who then complained of the invasion, argued now, that it would be foolish to listen to a complaint of similar invasion. The complaint was then backed by lord Carnarvon, and now lord Carnarvon was on the other side. That was the only difference between the cases. The general principle of the hon. gent. was, that because Hampshire was used to being wronged, its wrongs should never be redressed; for when injuries of the highest magnitude were stated, it was thought quite sufficient in bar of redress to turn round short, and state, that others had been guilty of similar invasions. There was another peculiarity with respect to Hampshire, that the case on which the house came to the resolution, condemning the duke of Chandos, arose in that county. The resolution of the house upon that case declared it to be highly criminal, and a breach of the privileges of the house, to be visited by severe animadversions, that an officer of the government should interfere directly or indirectly in the election of members to serve in the commons house of parliament. If the interference in that instance were compared with the interference in the present instance, no man would hesitate to say, that the interference in the present instance was more direct and immediate. It was argued, that the duke of Chandos was as a peer prohibited from interfering, by law; but it was his interference as an officer of government that the resolution stigmatized. Another complaint was, that the facts contained in the complaints of the petitioners had not been brought forward as soon as the hon. gent. opposite wished, that they were not prepared as the hon. gent. wished, that they were not the same facts he wished; other modes of bringing the matter forward ought to have been resorted to, according to the opinions of the hon. gent. and individuals ought not to have been feasted and pampered up for the purpose of sacrificing them on the occasion (a laugh). It was very likely that the entertainment, as it was served up at present, was not to the taste of the hon. gent.; but was it to be argued, that when government had invaded the rights and indepen- 773 dence of a county, and pleaded custom as a ground for denying redress, the house of commons should refuse to inquire into the grounds of a petition complaining of the injury, and invade another right of the subject, merely because the form of the petition in question might be disagreeable to those whose crime was its substance? Was the house to call for and compare all rough drafts, and amendments of the several petitions that had been sketched previous to the one finally presented? Was the house, in assuming a right which it did not possess, to lose sight of the due exercise of a duty which was incumbent upon it? He had heard it was maintained in another place, that the influence of government was a sort of paternal influence, which might as properly be exercised over the people as that of a landlord over the tenant. He had not heard that sentiment uttered here so broadly. But when so important a person as the secretary of the treasury stated any thing bordering upon it, it became the house to guard against it in the outset, particularly when that secretary of the treasury stated that he had come into office at a critical period, and that the whole business of the elections was in his hands. He was glad to find the hon. gent. had estates in Hampshire; but he could not have estates in every county, or houses in every borough. He must think, upon the whole of the circumstances, that the letter to general Hewitt was written, not as a letter from one private freeholder to another, but in the character of Mr. Fremantle, secretary to the treasury, having the charge of managing the general election, to the person at the head of the barrack department, claiming the exertion of his extensive influence. But it was argued the house ought to have no jealousy of a petition complaining of this Interference, and an hon. gent. who represented the county of Hants, recommended that the petition should be dismissed, and thrown back with disgrace upon the heads of those who had preferred it. This would hardly be of service to the hon gent. in another similar crisis of difficulty, whether he might or might not happen to have a friend in the situation of secretary to the treasury, and having a freehold in Hampshire. He had trusted that it would not have been necessary for him to speak upon this question; and though he had a high respect for some of the petitioners, he would have remained 774 silent, had not the arguments offered on the opposite called for these observations. He had hoped that such a petition, moved and seconded by such persons, would have met with universal concurrence. He was ready to allow, that if the petitioners could not prove their allegations, the strength of the language in which they expressed their complaints ought to subject them to some censure. But that the strength of the language should be made a ground for rejecting the petition, when those who signed it professed themselves ready to prove their allegations, was what appeared to him most extraordinary and most unjustifiable, and therefore he would give one vote at least to preserve the house from the censure that must fall upon it, if the petition should be dismissed without proper consideration.
§ Mr. William Adam
considered this as a question of general parliamentary law, which ought to be discussed upon general principles. He thought the concluding doctrines of the right hon. gent.'s speech were not fit to be delivered in that house. He thought, besides, that it was not candid or fair for those gentlemen who were long in the habit of speaking in that house, who had learned the perfect management of their ideas in the delivery of them, and who, in the midst of their speech, could exercise their judgment and deliberation on every sentence they uttered, to lay hold so eagerly of an expression that fell from a member who was utterly inexperienced in public speaking, and who immediately explained that expression which at first sight appeared so objectionable. He did not think it was fair or candid to take such an advantage of a mere slip of the tongue—a lapsus linguæ of a member inexperienced in debate. This was a question which certainly was not to be determined by the peculiar circumstances of Hampshire, but upon the general constitutional law. In the first place, it could not be said that there was any act of parliament which prevented a Secretary of the Treasury from canvassing, as well as any other man, for those persons whose interest he espoused. There was a positive law which disfranchised certain revenue officers, but that did not at all apply to the case of the secretary of the treasury. If there was no act which bore upon the present case, neither was there any resolution of that house. The resolution of 1779 was on very different grounds. It had been resolved, tha 775 it was a breach of the privileges of that house, for a[...] peer, or a lord lieutenant of a county, to interfere in the election of members to serve in that house. The duke of Chandos, on whose letter the resolution of 1779 was founded, was both a peer and a lord lieutenant of the county; and he was at the same time a lord of the bed-chamber. Those circumstances which made it a breach of privilege for the noble duke to interfere, did not at all apply to the present case. The right hon. gent. had allowed that it would be perfectly fair for the hon. gent. to canvass his friends, tenants, and connections. Where then, was the line to be drawn? Would it be said that he might canvass his friend A. but not canvass his friend B. because he had a place? As it was not stated that any thing new would come forth before a commit tee, which had not already been stated to the house, he thought it would be contrary to their dignity to refer frivolous matters to a tribunal of such importance as their committee of privileges. He thought the issue of the examination must be an acquittal of the hon. secretary.
observed that the learned gent. need not have entered into an apology for the hon. secretary, as he was of opinion that the hon. secretary himself had already urged, with some effect, that this letter was not within the law of parliament. Yet he was still of opinion, that this letter, which was but a small part of the grievances stated in the petition, though it could not by itself substantiate a direct charge against the hon. secretary, might, in conjunction with the other accusations stated in the petition, be a very fit subject to be laid before a committee, should the house think fit to adopt the motion. He allowed that the members of government had a right to interfere in elections as private individuals; but he could consider the letter from the secretary of the treasury to the barrack-master-general, in this case, only as an official letter. It was understood as such by those whose conduct it was to influence. He was surprised that the gentlemen on the other side should not assent to the motion, inconsideration of their own honour, of the honour of the county of Hants, and of the house of commons. He understood that much further grounds of crimination were to be brought forward; and particularly a letter from one of the other public boards, signed by the secretary. On this ground he wished to go into the committee.
§ Mr. Johnstone
thought that there could not be a more serious question submitted to the house, as touching its own privileges, than whether a secretary of the treasury should be allowed in his office, perhaps using the seal of office, and sending his dispatch by official messengers, to write to all those under the influence of government, and direct them how they were to give their votes in the election of members of that house. He would readily agree with the hon. and learned member, that the hon. secretary, as well as every other member of government, might lawfully exert themselves for the success of their friends in their individual capacity. But there was not, he thought, a man in the house, nor in the country, who could really believe, that it was merely in his individual capacity that the secretary of the treasury acted, upon the late election for Hampshire. A letter to the barrack-master, to use his influence in his department, could be hardly understood as the mere canvass of an individual. The letter had also in its direction, "On his majesty's service." This added, if any thing could be added, to the official character of the letter written by the secretary of the treasury. He was surprised that this should be mentioned as a single case, for he believed that almost every member in that house knew that this was no detached case. but that letters nearly similar were written, by the same secretary of the Treasury to almost every corner of the kingdom. He could himself have produced a letter which he had seen (if he had been prepared for this debate), which the same secretary of the treasury sent to a poor voter in Yorkshire, whose name he even did not know, and that was in his public capacity. It never could be said, that all these letters were written merely in his individual capacity as Mr. Fremantle. The right hon. gent. (Mr. Tierney), once belonged to an administration that did not exercise that sort of influence, and who did not direct their secretaries of the treasury to write such letters. Under that administration, a parliament was chosen about four years ago, by the free choice of the voters; and it was, probably, because it was so chosen, that the present ministers could not suffer it to exist any longer. He called upon those who wished to prevent the undue influence of government from extending to every county, city, and borough in the county, to vote for going into the committee.
saw no reason to go into a 777 committee of privileges, when there were no facts touching privilege to be authenticated. The facts in this case were clear, and the construction was obvious. If any gentleman thought there was foundation for a motion of censure, he might bring it forward. The house of commons would hardly go into a committee of privileges to fish out grievances now unknown. The fact stated in the petition was all the house could attend to. It was extremely improper to introduce the name of the comptroller of the navy, or of any other person, without a specific foundation. Mr. Fremantle had declared that he had written the letter merely in his individual capacity, and there was no reason to presume the contrary. The petition stated, that the petitioners believed Mr. Fremantle had no property in the county of Hants, but it now appeared he had; and thus far the petition proceeded on grounds. It was an unfair exaggeration to state that it had been argued by his hon. friend (Mr. Tierney), that because the county of Hants had been often violated, it was not entitled to redress. His right hon. friend, while remarking upon the extraordinary zeal shewn on this occasion by some hon. gentlemen on the other side, had contended that there was no violation in the present case. The right hon. gent. (Mr. Canning) had declared, he did not mean to impute any guilt, but merely inferred ground for suspicion. Some persons were always disposed to put the worst construction. He hoped the house would not do so. He thought it no disgrace to the petition not to go into a committee upon it. No two cases could be more distinct than the present and that of the duke of Chandos, who was lord lieutenant of the county, and a peer of parliament. The facts, and the construction in this case were clear, and, therefore, there was nothing for which to go into the committee.
§ Mr. Perceval
began by observing, that he had heard in the course of the debate a general expression of surprise: one set of gentlemen were surprised at the manner in which this charge had been brought forward: another at the charge itself. A noble lord, who had just sat down, had freely expressed his surprise at the strange reception this petition had met with from his majesty's ministers in that house; and the noble lord was surprised at such a reception, because the noble lord thought such a line of conduct inconsistent with those professions in favour of free and liberal inquiry into all alledged abuses of a 778 public nature, which were ever in the mouths of the men comprising the present government of the country. He, for his part, could not be brought to think that the reason assigned was at all a satisfactory one, for to be told that the present administration were in every instance acting in direct inconsistency with their professions when out of power, would have produced in his mind sensations very opposite to those of surprise. No; of all other emotions, surprise was that from which he was at that moment most free. What had been the conduct of ministers upon that night he had long since learned to anticipate from what had been their conduct upon all occasions that involved the sincerity of their former professions, in the bold and unblushing contradiction of their practice. He therefore was prepared to receive that fresh instance of their good faith and consistency, as completely of a piece with all their other proceedings; for however they might, night after night, uniformly pursue that conduct which when out of office they as uniformly decried, they had been, since they came into office, at least consistent in their systematic perseverance in contradicting, both in their language and their measures, all the mighty professions and highflying theories which in so great a measure characterized that deceased body of reformers. What, for instance, had been the language upon the former night when that petition was presented? No less than mutual congratulation was given and exchanged by the gentlemen upon the opposite side; they were rejoiced, forsooth! that the period of triumph and inquiry had at length arrived; that investigation the most strict would end in acquittal the most honourable; that the poison of calumny which had been so generally and insiduously circulated would be checked in its dissemination, and that its propagators would be justly exposed to the vengeance due from injured innocence and honour, to the latent promoters of malevolent aspersions, and wanton acccusations. Such was the language of the other side a few nights since, and what had it been then? No longer courting inquiry; no longer vaunting their anticipated triumphs of tried and approved innocence over groundless calumny, but evading past protestations, shrinking from the investigation called for, and to which they had pledged themselves; one night congratulating the country upon the prospect of immediate inquiry, and the next generously threatening to punish and to disgrace the very man who had given 779 them this so much desired opportunity of inquiry by presenting that petition, and praying that that house would admit them to prove upon incontrovertible evidence the truth of the alledged charges upon which that petition rested. He confidently put it to ministers, if they could have the courage to ask a house of commons to pass a vote of censure on the man who had been instrumental in bringing about an inquiry upon a great question involving the privileges of that house? He put it boldly to those gentlemen, whether they would be tempted to proceed to such a length, as not only to resist inquiry, but to punish the promoters of that investigation which the gentlemen themselves a few nights since thought so necessary to the great ends of general justice, to the assertion of the rights of the country, to this vindication of the impeached and questioned character of the government, and to the due maintenance of the dignity of the house of commons? Was it, he asked, treating the country, or the privileges of that house, or their own involved character, with common decency, to meet a grave and solemn charge with such a ludicrous mixture of levity and fear, flying from all the most serious arguments and a statement of the most weighty facts, to the miserable refuge of a joke, or to the as frivolous attempt of justifying criminality by affected recrimination? When he heard gentlemen say that they did not wish to recriminate (because for the very best reasons that they could not), and yet do so by insinuation, he could not think highly either of their candour or their logic. As to the gentlemen concerned, he was glad to see that it had not been taken up in any personal way by gentlemen on either side. He did not think it at all went to affect the hon. gentleman's personal character; he did the best he could to recommend himself to the government under which he acted; and there was no doubt that he had, in that instance particularly, recommended himself to the noble lord at the head of the treasury; and he was sure that that noble lord would not in the least degree think the hon. gent. a worse secretary on account of his zeal and activity in that instance. As to the objection of there being but a single fact upon which the motion for going into a committee rested, he thought it a sufficient answer to refer to the allegations in the petition itself, and particularly the form of words, from which it was impos- 780 sible not to infer a generality of charges, as in the terms with which the charge against the honourable gentleman was introduced "among other instances," and also that the same undue influence had been resorted to "in various departments": did these words warrant the strange assertion that the committee was to go into inquiry upon one fact only? But even of this fact the document was attempted to be questioned. What was this document?—A letter from the secretary of the treasury to lieutenant-general Hewitt, at the head of the barrack department. It had been said that the hon. secretary was a freeholder, but did it appear that the general was a freeholder? From the formal manner of the note too, it was evident that if the two gentlemen were at all acquainted, it must have been in the slightest degree; and yet the object of this letter was to solicit no less an obligation than the general's influence and support on an ensuing election. He begged the general to use his influence. and with whom?—not with his tenants; not with his friends, but with those immediately in his department—with major Davies and others in the barrack department. Would it not, then, be a mockery to contend any longer that such a letter was merely an innocent communication between two innocent freeholders? But, if the interpretation of this letter was still to be a question, he would have recourse to the usual mode of determining the interpretation in such cases—the manner in which the English was understood by the Englishman to to whom that English was addressed. And how did general Hewitt interpret this ambiguous enigma? In such a manner as prompted him to act up to its true spirit, by promoting the influence he had been officially commissioned to promote; and in his letter, how had the general spoken of the honourable secretary? Not as a freeholder—not as a private gentleman having certain weight and certain connections in the county; but merely as secretary of the treasury—as an officer of the government communicating the will of the government, in order thereby to influence the decision of an entire department, comprehending in itself no small proportion of the interests and feelings of the county in queston. If the house rejected this petition, notwithstanding the strong grounds upon which it was supported, what would be the consequence? What a proud precedent will ministers have to 781 boast of in this precious sample of their treasury correspondence! Then may they fix a treasurer in every county, in every town, in every borough, then may each member circulate through his respective barrack department, the decree of the government against the subject's birthright; provided only that they keep within the cautious limits of their precious precedent; provided only they do not pronounce actual menace; provided only they do not convey, through the medium of an innocent freeholder's letter, a bribe taken from the public money; provided they keep within such limits they were safe; the precedent of that night would bear them out, and they would again find a house of commons who would countenance them in the breach of that house's privileges, and in the violation of the subject's constitutional rights, provided only that in the act of such breach and violation, the forms of discreetness and decorum prescribed in the present precedent, be observed. The hon. and learned gent. concluded with an earnest advice to ministers to depart from that line of conduct which no talents could ultimately rescue from the indignant animadversion of the country; friends might be for the time partial, but rectitude of intention, integrity of principle, and consistency of conduct, were the best, perhaps the only means of permanently securing that power, which he hoped they would endeavour to maintain by better means than those by which they had succeeded in acquiring it.
remarked that the hon. and learned gent. with the most studious attention, and with the utmost exertion of his ingenuity, could not find any means of fairly censuring his majesty's government. If, however, he had not been able to bring their conduct collectively as an administration before the house, and before the public, he nevertheless had found some opportunity of attacking them in the person of a gentleman connected with his majesty's government, and in so doing, he had made one of the most declamatory speeches that had ever been heard within the walls of that house; he had outdone all his former outdoings, he might be said to have out-Heroded Herod himself. He had repeated what had been upwards of twenty times before repeated in that house—a charge than which, from the generality of its nature, none was more easily made, nor more difficult to be refuted; he had charged him and the persons with 782 whom he acted, with having deserted those principles which regulated their conduct when they sat on the other side of the house. In answer to this, he would beg to remind that hon. and learned gent., that in the course of the many years to which he referred, there never had been a single instance of such an individual and private personal opposition brought before the house. And would that hon. and learned gent. be so bold as to say, that during the course of those 20 years there was no interference of persons connected with administration in election affairs; or would the hon. and learned gent. contend that he (lord H.) and all the friends with whom he then acted, were so dull of intellect, and that matters were then so skilfully conducted, that they could not discover the influence that was at that time made use of? Whenever the authority of office was glaringly or imperatively exercised over any one in matters of election, it was the duty of every independent member of parliament to expose it, but they had uniformly abstained from calling the attention of the house to the conduct of any individual in such cases. Would gentlemen, however, say, that during that time there was never any interference of a minister, of a secretary of state, or of a secretary of the treasury? He did not mean to justify himself, or those connected with him, merely by a declaration that others did the like; but it was fit that the attention of the house should be called to the quarter from which these complaints proceeded. However, it was said that a person might not speak to a person who was not in office for his vote and interest. What, if a man had a particular friend, a near relation, or a person with whom he was acquainted by means of their both being in offices under the crown, he was not to be spoken to? a man was to apply for support, or the furtherance of his friend's interest to every man in England but those with whom he was acquainted; he was to be allowed to apply to every one that could not, or would not be of service to him, but if he came near the door of his friend or those who were likely to assist him he must cry, "Procul, O! procul este, profani!" He must not presume to use his influence, or ask for any friendship there. Now, he recollected that on a former occasion, a letter was written on the business of an election at Canterbury; he had a copy of it in his 783 pocket, signed George Rose. Here he read the letter. That letter called upon Mr. Smith, who was in the barrack department, to use his influence with Mr. Baldock, a contractor for the ordnance office, in favour of a particular candidate. We might adopt some forms of regulation, but it was impossible entirely to prevent people in office, any more than out of office, from soliciting a friend to support another friend of their own at an election. There was another instance in which the same gentleman was concerned—a Westminster election, where it was stated that two accounts were kept, one for the treasury, and another for lord Hood; but of these two instances no notice was taken in parliament. There was another instance, however, where the same gentleman was also concerned, concerning which a motion was made in that house, that was for a committee to inquire into abuses, as far as related to the mitigation of penalties or suspension of a prosecution under the excise laws, in consequence of what had been done at an election for Westminster; but this motion was lost, and those members of the present parliament who had then a seat in that house, and voted against the motion, could hardly think the present a censurable case. But here a gentleman, a member of that house, who was also in office, had not only a friend, but a near relation, who was a candidate for a seat in that house, and he wrote to another friend simply in a friendly way, with the word "private," written on the letter also, to endeavour to forward the interest of his relation. This was the very head and front of his offending. Great stress, however, had been laid on the expression, that the travelling expences could not be allowed, as it could not be introduced into any public account. Now, he would desire to know, how it was possible for the most conscientious and scrupulous servant of the public to make a more candid, or a more honest declaration? Perhaps this major Davies had thought that the letters did not go far enough, and the expences might have been hinted at with a view to entrap the gentleman who was spoken of. That gentleman had himself spoken more ably than he could upon the subject; but it was to be observed, that he had never interposed the weight of his official influence, and so powerful was the influence on the other side, that it was proved by the hon. baronet himself, that a person in an official situation had been sent out of the way, because he 784 was supposed to be friendly to government. The petition itself was another proof of the very little influence that was made use of by those who were friendly to his majesty's government, and of the very great exertions that were made on the opposite side; it was signed by two persons who, he was informed, were servants to the hon. baronet, by another who was secretary to the militia, where lord Bolton was lord lieutenant, another signature was that of a person who was clerk to the collectors of taxes, and who was now soliciting the situation of surveyor from that terrible government which bore down every thing with its authority. It was idle to talk of a committee to inquire, for the facts were clear before the house, and all that remained was, for the house to declare by its vote that night, whether they would pronounce their censure on the conduct which had been so proved, or whether they would dismiss the accusation as one that was unworthy of being entertained by that house. The learned gent. opposite (Mr. Perceval) had said that there were many other cases where the influence of government had been made use of; but it might fairly be said, "ab uno disce omnes," and, as no doubt, the gentlemen on the other side did not direct their organ to bring forward his weakest case first, the house might fairly infer that the others, if any, were not such as would be likely to be productiue of very dangerous consequences to the liberties of England. When a motion was made (that of Mr. Biddulph) for inquiry into the extent of salaries and emoluments in various public offices, a motion which was certainly, not of a nature that was likely to strengthen or be favourable to any administration, it was, however, thought to be one that might tend to the advantage of the public, and accordingly it was most cheerfully acceded to, and most zealously, as well as most ably supported by his noble friend (lord H. Petty). But neither his majesty's ministers nor the house, he trusted, would suffer themselves to be led away by any groundless accusations that might be brought before them.
said, that he had come down to the house with a determination not to say a word upon the question; but after the personal attack that had been made upon his conduct, it was impossible for him to remain altogether silent. As to the letter read by the noble lord, and addressed by him to a person who had offered his services in favour of the member he would recommend, there 785 was nothing in it similar to the case now before the house; nor was the disclosure of that letter a proof of much gratitude on the part of the gentleman in behalf of whom it had been written. Had he deserved the blame that was imputed to him, not only should he have deserved the censure of that house, but also the forfeiture of his employment. As to the libel against him, alluded to by the noble lord, it was not matter grave enough to be brought before that house: but it had got into a newspaper, and he had laid his hand upon the printer, and called upon him to make good his charge. He did not institute a criminal prosecution against the man: such was not his object; for his only wish was to clear his own character. Under that impression, he brought his civil action, and obtained a verdict and damages. This libel had lately been republished, and there was room to believe, under the direction of a distant relation of the noble lord opposite to him (lord Temple). He could see no ground of charge against him in it now; for if there was, he had given a fair opportunity to prove it, and the proof had failed. His motives for countenancing the present petition were very different from those imputed to him: it was not to support his popularity, or to wound the feelings of the hon. gent. against whom it was directed; no man could entertain more sincere regard for that hon. gent. than he did. But there were several facts that called for censure, and which might be proved if the house acceded to the present motion.—He should now chiefly refer to the conduct of an hon. gent. (Mr. Calcraft) in the town which he had the honour to represent, to which that hon. gent. came and used entreaties and threats, to influence the election of the municipal officers of that town; when afterwards parliament was dissolved, letters were brought down by the same gentleman, under the hand and seal of the secretary of the treasury, to instigate the custom house officers, who were disabled by law from taking any part in such matters, to exert themselves in support of the friends of government. In another instance, a military man had received the same instructions; and the burgesses were hunted from one end of the town to the other, when, after all, not more than one vote could possibly be obtained. He certainly, at more than one public meeting, had inveighed against such practices of government; and he was now ready to declare, that he never knew of any such practised by any administration in this country. For his part, he never had recourse to such means, either 786 to support himself or his near relation in another town. There were about 700 votes in Southampton; and out of that number he did not think that his son got more than two from the recollection of any kindness conferred upon the freemen by him or his connection. Indeed, some who had promised him their votes, were deterred from keeping their promise; for they were afraid that if they did, they might expect to lose their situations. Such was the system of terror acted on by ministers, of which he should adduce a variety of proofs, if the committee moved for was appointed. The right hon. gent. related an anecdote of one gentleman who promised him, and afterwards broke his word, alledging that he dared not vote otherwise. Mr. Garrett, the brewer, at Portsmouth, had, it was true, done great services in favour of the unsuccessful candidate, but he lost the supply of the Dock three days afterwards. He declared that he never had an action brought against him but by Smith, and he certainly should have acted the part of an ideot, had he withstood his demand on any other ground than justice. He defied the whole world to prove that he had ever wounded the feelings of individuals for the purpose of extorting their votes.
§ Mr. Calcraft
repelled the charge which the right hon. gent. had advanced against him. He declared that he never heard that the letter referred to was in the hands of any person, until about two months since, when he was informed by the secretary of the treasury that he had got such a letter, with his answer to it, which he had quite forgot to have ever written. That he had ever used any threat to the magistrates of Christ-church he most solemnly denied, and therefore the right hon. gent. ought not to rely on their information. Indeed, if such informers were to be trusted, they told some strange stories of the right hon. gent. himself. For the only time he saw those magistrates was at the house of a respectable inhabitant of Christ church who was present at the conversation; and they stated that the right hon. gent. told them that he was not in opposition to government, that he never thwarted the measures of ministers, but that on the contrary, he was on the most intimate footing with many of the principal members of the government, and that he was assisting the chancellor of the exchequer (a laugh.) Would the right hon. gent. then advise that credit should be given to such authority? But with reference to the question before the house, the right hon. gent. ought to have had the candour to state that these very magistrates voted, for 787 him, and yet they were never disturbed in the offices which they held under government, and yet that government was, according to the right hon. gent.'s sentiments, capable of abusing its power for the purposes of revenge and undue influence.
The Solicitor General
thought it very singular that the right hon. gent. (Mr. Rose) should, as he stated, have formed a resolution not to speak in the course of the debate, considering the important facts which he had alledged, and the written evidence which he had brought with him to support those facts. But really the right hon. gent. could not himself rely on the truth of such allegations, or he would not have neglected, with all the solicitude which he professed and felt to preserve the freedom of election, to bring them forward in the first instance; for they were surely much stronger than the case to which the motion referred. But, in point of fact, it was not to be supposed that the hon. gent. would have declined to put these strong cases in the front line of his attack on ministers, if he thought they could have been maintained, much less that he should have determined not to state them at all, if he had not been irritated by something which fell from his noble friend below him (lord Howick). Therefore this important communication from the right hon. gent. was not owing to an anxiety for public justice, or the maintenance of a free election, but to personal resentment.—After a few words from lord Howick, Mr. Rose, Mr. Asheton Smith, and Mr. Herbert, the house divided, when there appeared,
For the motion 57 Against it 184 Majority against the motion ——127
Baker, W. Huntley, lord, Barne, S. Jeffrey, J. Beach, H. Jenkinson, C. Biddulph, M. Joddrell, H. Bourne, W. Sturges Johnstone, G. Brodrick, hon. W. Knatchbull, sir E. Brook, lord Kynaston, P. Bruce, lord Lethbridge, T. B. Burrell, Sir C. M. Lascelles. hon. E. Canning, right hon. G. Leslie, C. P. Cartwright, W. R. Leigh, R. Holt Castlereagh, lord Long, right hon. C. Champernowne, A. Long, R. Cowper, hon. E. S. Magens, M. Dorien De Ponthieu, J. Osborn, J. Fane, J. Patteson, J. Fellowes, hon. N. Peale, sir R. Fuzhugh, W. Perceval, hon. S. Hill. hon. W. Robinson, hun. F.
Rose, right hon. G. Townshend, hon. W. Rose, G. H. Tremayne, J. H. Ryder, hon. R. Turton. sir T. Smith, J. Vyse, R. Somerset, lord A. Ward, R. Stanhope, S. Williams, R. Stewart, hon. E. R. Wright, J. Atkins Stopford, lord Wood, T. Sutton, C. M. Tellers. Strutt, J. H. Sir H. Mildmay Taylor, W. T. A. Smith.