§ Mr. Fazakerley
said, he rose in conformity to the notice which he had a few days since given, to make his promised motion for an instruction to the committee of secrecy now sitting, to inquire whether any and what measures had been taken to detect and bring to justice those persons who were described in the Report made by the Committee of Secrecy on the 20th of June, 1817, as individuals whose language and conduct might in some instances have had the effect of encouraging those designs which it was intended they should only be the instruments of detecting.—He was sensible how much he should require the indulgence of the House in the few preliminary observations which it would be necessary for him to make on a subject that had so strongly excited the interest of parliament and the country—a subject to which the public attention had been particularly directed by the circumstances which had transpired in the recent trials connected with it; in conjunction with the passage in the Report of the Committee of Secrecy of last year, to which he had just adverted. Not having precise local knowledge, he did not wish to be understood to refer to any particular individual, but to ground his motion on the general statement in the Report. There were some persons, whose names were mentioned as being the most conspicuous members in the honourable confederacy to which he alluded, but he had not had any precise information on that subject to enable him to investigate the particular cases. He trusted, indeed, that neither the name of Oliver, nor the names of any other persons, would be considered as in any way connected with what he had to lay before the House; for he merely grounded his motion upon the report of the House itself, and he only desired to know whether any measures had been taken to detect and bring to justice the persons to whom the report alluded. He wished the House to recollect the course of proceeding that had been adopt-* See Vol. 36, p. 1096.339 ed by his majesty's government. For several months, during which the suspension of the Habeas Corpus had existed, the powers with which it invested government were by no means sparingly used. The gaols were filled with suspected individuals, apprehended probably on the information of spies; and many persons were thus, in all probability, made the victims of the crimes of others. The various provinces witnessed the novel sight of stale prisoners, itinerant state prisoners, carried about from one place to another. Not that alone—they saw them loaded with irons, and placed in close confinement—The strongest and the weakest measures were contrasted with each other. There had been a most absurd demand for recognizances, and the most absurd conduct consequent on that demand. On the one side, the gaols were crowded with unfortunate persons, dragged from distant parts of the kingdom, and treated with the utmost severity; while, on the other, the most puerile steps were adopted, assuming at last the shape of an admonition to a parent to attend to the good government of his son. When so many persons were thus taken up and imprisoned, and it subsequently appeared that there was nothing of reality in the charges that had been brought against them, was it right and fair that no measures should be taken to detect and prosecute those spies and informers, whose conduct a committee of that House had pronounced suspicious? Was this a fair and impartial administration of the criminal justice of the country? Me wished, however, to guard himself against being supposed to express an opinion generally against the employment of spies. It was most unfortunate that such measures should ever be necessary; that public treason could sometimes be detected only by private treachery; that vice must occasionally be rendered subservient to the safety of the state; but it was most especially important, whenever such measures were resorted to, that they should be accompanied with the greatest caution and vigilance. Persons so engaged ought to be closely watched, lest they overstepped the bounds of their office, and instead of only discovering, encouraged the bad designs of others. It appeared, from the Report of the Committee of Secrecy of last session, that that committee did apprehend, that some of the persons employed to detect the designs of others, had done more than their duty, and had fomented 340 that which they were employed only to discover. If there were such persons, they ought to be detected and prosecuted. The hon. gentleman concluded by apologising to the House for the inadequate manner in which he had brought the subject under their consideration, and by moving, "That it be an instruction to the Committee of Secrecy now sitting, to inquire and report, whether any and what measures have been taken to detect and bring to justice those who were described, in the Report from the Committee of Secrecy presented to this House on the 20th day of June, 1817, as persons who may, by their language and conduct, in some instances have had the effect of encouraging those designs which it was intended they should be only the instruments of de-struments of detecting."
§ Mr. Bathurst
was sure that the House could require no apology from the hon. gentleman for the manner in which he had introduced his motion. Nothing could be more moderate, judicious, and correct. But he could not pay a similar compliment to. the motion itself. It was to instruct the committee to adopt a precise line of conduct, which the powers they already possessed would enable them to adopt, if necessary. They were already armed with powers to send for persons, papers, and records. The hon. gentleman, by merely quoting the earlier part of a passage in the Report of the Committee of Secrecy of last year, had given a bearing to it which it did not warrant. The motion of the hon. member assumed the truth of a proposition which he begged leave to deny as being at all founded in truth, and still more as being found in the Report of the Committee; for it, in fact, assumed that that committee had asserted, that a certain crime had been committed. If the whole of that passage of the Report to which the hon. gentleman alluded were read, it would be seen plainly that he was mistaken.
That passage ran thus:—"Your committee have not been insensible to the jealousy with which the testimony of persons originally implicated in the designs of the conspirators, or even of persons who, never having engaged in those designs, have attended their meetings, in order to discover and report their proceedings, ought to be received; but the facts stated by your committee rest not only upon confirmatory evidence, but on distinct, substantive, and satisfactory tes- 341 timony; and although your committee have seen reason to apprehend that the language and conduct of some persons from whom information has been derived, may, in some instances have had the effect of encouraging those designs, which it was intended they should only be the instruments of detecting; yet it is perfectly clear to your committee, that, before any such encouragement could have been given, the plan of a simultaneous insurrection in different parts of the country had been actually concerted, and its execution fully determined on." There was here no assertion that such a crime had been committed as the hon. gentleman's motion would intimate. The hon. gentleman asked, whether had any steps been taken to detect and prosecute the persons to whom he supposed this passage in the report was applied? To this he would answer, that no such steps had been taken; and for this plain reason, that no criminality was imputed to those persons, but that the simple meaning of the committee was, that individuals so communicating information must necessarily profess themselves to be the accomplices of those whose designs they were detecting, and might, in that sense, be said to encourage the designs themselves. The report of the committee, therefore, contained nothing which required any active measures of the nature alluded to by the hon. gentleman, nor had any farther grounds appeared for such measures. It was confessed that, in certain cases, it was the duty of government to avail themselves of the information that might come into their hands through the quarters to which the hon. member had alluded. What had occurred, then, was nothing but a necessary consequence of the conduct of such persons. He did not mean to say that the hon. member might not have been furnished with proofs of delinquency, in certain cases; and whenever those proofs were produced, or any questions asked respecting them, a satisfactory answer would be given to them; but no such had as yet been brought forward. If proofs could be adduced upon any forcible grounds, the case would certainly be altered; but at present nothing could be alleged from what had been stated by the committee. It was certain, and the hon. gentleman could not but know it, that the moment it was discovered that an individual was engaged in procuring information, a certain number of persons took 342 that course which, under all circumstances, it was natural for them to take. They said, "this is not the man with whom we have been contriving, this is the man who contrived the whole." The person to whom he alluded had held out that 70,000 men would assemble, or would join the persons amongst whom he was: and it was known, that he had so said by a right hon. gentleman now no more, who, however, never suggested that government should punish him. He had encouraged the designs in quest ion no farther than as the assertion that there were 70,000 men in London prepared to support them—an assertion which was necessary to the maintenance of his character as a deputy from the metropolis—might be said to encourage them. But whatever might be the amount of the encouragement thus afforded, nothing was better established than that the details of the conspiracy had been formed, and the particular insurrection postponed from time to time, long before the person alluded to had any concern with the business. Government, indeed, knew all that he had done: they knew all the man stated himself to have done, and they had an opportunity of knowing precisely the truth or falsehood of his account of the transactions that had occurred. There was nothing, however, but that he had described himself to be a delegate from London; and it was impossible that he could have done otherwise. If he said, that the people in London were well inclined to the cause, it was only what it was necessary for him to say in order that he might not destroy the confidence that was reposed in him. But government knew, from all that they had heard of him, that there had been no mischief in the manner of his conducting himself; and that he had taken no farther part in any of the proceedings, of the disaffected, than that he professed to be one holding the same sentiments with themselves, and that of course he must have shown himself to be as sanguine as they were in their expectations. That person's intentions were not to procure information for government alone, as such, but to communicate from time to time to the magistrates whatever of importance he might have learnt. He had not originally gone amongst the people for the purpose of giving information; it was accident entirely that brought him amongst them; but being amongst them he thought it his duty to see what 343 was doing; and having made communications to government, he (Mr. Bathurst) wished to ask, what would have been thought of government had they declined to avail themselves of such communications from a person whose character was unimpcached, except by those whose designs he had exposed? He repeated, that that person's character—his private character—was to that hour unimpeached by any man, and if any inculpatory evidence were to be brought against him, he hoped the House would well consider the characters of the individuals by whom it would be furnished. He trusted, if any such persons should be brought forward, that they would be men not at all connected with that horrible system of which they had heard so much; that none of them would be Luddites. Upon a complete examination of the subject, he was persuaded it would he found that no undue motive had influenced Oliver in any part of his conduct. The character that had been given of him, indeed, had originated from the people themselves; and it had been their plan, from that time to the present, to try to turn the tables upon him, and to say "we have detected you." This character bad been heard first from people who never told what the real fact was; who took care never to state what they had done. Something they had done certainly; though many hon. gentlemen, he supposed, would say they had done nothing at all, and that all that had happened was quite innocent talk. If the trials had taken a different turn from that which many of them had taken, the real state of things would have been manifested; but as it was, it appeared to be contended that nothing that had been alleged had really existed in the country. If it were at all seriously questioned whether or not there had been a conspiracy, he would say, that it could be proved by evidence through all its various ramifications, to which, however, he should not at present refer the House. They need indeed only look to the report of the committee, where it was stated that the plan of a simultaneous insurrection was concerted, and its execution fully determined on. He had a right, from particular circumstances, to assert, that the whole plan of the conspiracy was matured, long before the occurrence of the transactions which caused the motion of the hon. gentleman. What was the real nature of the encouragement 344 that the individual in question might be supposed to have given, supposing that it had been previously determined to undertake such a plan? Suppose the intention had been to rise on the 10th, and he had said, "the 10th; yes, rise on the 10th;" he asked the House whether that was the conduct that would be said to have caused such a conspiracy; though he denied even that to have taken place? The whole plan being concocted could it be asserted that any man by adopting the line of conduct which he had described, would have committed any such crime as had been insinuated? The hon. gentleman had not exhibited the candour which pervaded the other parts of his speech, when he talked of the crowded state of the gaols. If it was true, as had been proved, that there was an organized plan of insurrection, surely the imprisonment of thirty or forty persons, thus disarming the disaffected, and depriving them of their leaders, could not be charged on government as an abuse of power. And he could inform the hon. gentleman that not one man had ever been apprehended upon the information of Oliver. That was a statement which would come before the House in another shape; but it was a fact that not a single man had been apprehended upon information received from him. There had been no connexion, he wished to state, between certain persons who had been executed, and the individual to whose conduct it was said that their fate was attributable. He alluded to the declarations of one of the persons who had been executed at Derby. That declaration was utterly unfounded. But it was the great foundation on which the disaffected were obliged to rest. They had nothing else to argue, but "it is you who have done it," and by that and such like exclamations they endeavoured to make their case as plausible as possible. Contrary to all their declarations, contrary to the declaration of one individual in his dying moments, he would venture to assert, that the assertions contained in those declarations were totally unfounded, and were no doubt put into the unfortunate man's mouth by some designing individual—
§ Mr. Fazakerley
said, that he had made no allusion to the trials at Derby, and that his remarks related solely to what had taken place in the metropolis.
§ Mr. Bathurst
expressed his surprise at this declaration, and said, that if that was the case, the motion of the hon. gentle- 345 man was wholly unconnected with the observations by which he had introduced it. The report of the secret committee, on which the hon. gentleman founded his motion, had no relation to the trials in London, which had taken place long before that report. The information contained in that report related solely to the country. Oliver stated nothing that had occurred at Derby, or any thing relating to Brandreth, to government; for one very good reason, that he never saw that person. As he had already said, there was nothing in the transactions which had taken place in the country, that afforded the slightest reason for suspecting that any criminal encouragement had been given to the designs of the disaffected by the individual or individuals alluded to.
§ Lord Milton
observed, that if by any chance hereafter, which he did not at present anticipate, he should be engaged in the honourable employment of a spy, he hoped it would be in the service of the right hon. gentleman [a laugh]. He could not, however, refrain from stating, that he thought the right hon. gentleman's course of argument calculated materially to mislead the House in their view of this question.
§ Mr. Bathurst
spoke to order. Did the noble lord mean to say that he intended to mislead the House?
§ Lord Milton
said, that the speech of the right hon. gentleman was calculated to mislead the House with respect to certain parts of the transaction. The right hon. gentleman had stated, that the first connexion of Oliver with the disaffected was without the concurrence of government.
§ Mr. Bathurst
observed, that what he had stated, was, that Oliver was not sent by government, but that being found in connexion with the disaffected, he was desired to continue that connexion. He had not, then, received any instructions to ingratiate himself with those who might be suspected of evil designs, but to make himself acquainted with their proceedings,—a task in which he must necessarily appear sometimes as an accomplice.
§ Lord Milton
proceeded. He could not agree with the right hon. gentleman, that no injurious consequences had arisen from the employment of Oliver. On the contrary, he thought his mission calculated to produce the effects which had actually ensued. Its object was, to deter- 346 mine, by objectionable means, the real character of the evil upon which the propriety or necessity of the measures adopted by the legislature depended. The right hon. gentleman had said, that it was necessary that a person so employed should assume the character of an associate of those whose conduct he was investigating. But the character assumed by this Oliver was one of no ordinary nature. It was a character, on the appearance of which a great deal was likely to turn, and on which a great deal did turn; for Oliver appeared as the representative of the disaffected in the metropolis. It was not unparliamentary, he conceived, to refer to a paper which, though not regularly before the House, might be looked upon as a document of authority: he meant the report of the secret committee of the House of Lords, presented to their lordships on the 12th of June last. In a passage of that report it was unequivocally stated, that "the disaffected in the country appeared still to be looking to the metropolis with the hope of assistance and direction."* By whom was that hope held out? By whom was the connexion between the disaffected in London and in the country kept up, or in appearance kept up? By a person sent down to the country by his majesty's secretary of state!—By an individual, who assumed a character, on whose appearance the magistrates in the country knew that the disaffected in their neighbourhood rested for support! He could never review this transaction, without feeling convinced that much mischief had resulted from the interposition of the individual in question. That person's appearance, whenever it was made, was the immediate forerunner of disorder and confusion. He (lord Milton) had not had the advantage of investigating, personally, the disposition of that part of the country, at the period when the danger was supposed to be most imminent; but the abundant testimony which had since been laid before him coincided with his knowledge of the general feeling of the magistracy, whose predominating fear was, lest the presence of this person should, by supplying the fuel, nurse the exiting heat into a flame. And this, he said, without attaching the least truth to the declaration made by the unfortunate persons who suffered at Derby of their connexion with Oliver; for he* See Vol. 36, p. 950.347 knew how easy it was to induce persons to declare that which was false, for the purpose of lessening the imputation of their own guilt. Without stating any positive opinion, therefore, on the subject, he was inclined to believe that the assertion to which he had just alluded was destitute of foundation. He thought, however, that he had a right to complain, that in such a place as the House of Commons, the right hon. gentleman should venture to say, that the charge against Oliver was brought by those against whose practices his information had been directed. This was not the fact. In his conscience he believed, that the substance of the greatest part of the charges against Oliver was furnished by persons who were no more engaged in those transactions than he himself was. Another part of the speech of the right hon. gentleman was calculated to mislead the House. He had stated, that no men were taken up in consequence of the information of Oliver. It was true that no persons were taken up on the information of Oliver, strictly speaking, but it was going too far to say that the arrest and subsequent confinement of many persons did not take place in consequence of the information furnished by Oliver; for from his information government were able to avail themselves of the testimony of others, so that in common sense the arrest was in consequence of such information. He was not now complaining of any particular individuals having been so arrested and confined—a time would come when an inquiry into this subject must be made; but he wished much that the House should attend to one striking circumstance. It appeared that in some parts of the country—Nottingham for instance—the people were ready to assassinate Oliver. And what was the consequence? No rising ever occurred at Nottingham. But in those parts of the country where the people bonâ fide, believed in Oliver, there insurrections actually took place—for instance, in the west riding of Yorkshire, in Derbyshire—
§ Mr. Bathurst
observed, that there was no evidence of the person alluded to having been in those parts of Derbyshire where the insurrection took place.
§ Lord Milton
expressed his astonishment that the right hon. gentleman's recollection should not serve him from the hour of two to that of eight of the same day. To return to the course of his ob- 348 servations,—he felt himself bound to say, that the House would not discharge its duty to the country, if it did not enter into a substantial and efficient inquiry, not only into the conduct of the agents, but into that of their employers. It was no very flattering compliment to the English character, to hear the subject of espionage spoken of as it was in that House—it was a little too much that the character and conduct of that description of people should be mentioned in that House with so little disesteem—not to say detestation. Perhaps he was carding his candour beyond what, as an honest man, might fairly be required of him, but he really thought that in their proceedings on this subject, the ministers were principally chargeable with imprudence. They might have subsidiary motives for endeavouring to excite to the extent they did, alarm throughout the country; but he thought imprudence was the basis of their conduct. Whatever obloquy he might draw down on himself, he wished to state the precise point of view in which he saw the transactions. As a member of the committee, be it remembered, he was but a single individual. Nothing but an imperious sense of duty, and a wish to obey whatever commands the House imposed on him, could induce him to submit to be a member of a committee for such a purpose: having, however, placed their commands on him, it was his duty to obey; but if this duty was a burden in one respect, it would be grateful to him if they alleviated it, by adopting the motion of his hon. friend.
Mr. C. Grant, jun.
thought the noble lord had not answered the arguments of his right hon. friend. It was quite unnecessary to give such instructions to the committee as those proposed, because they were competent to recur to the subject without them. It would be a complete novelty, under such circumstances, to send such instructions to a secret committee of that House. But if they went so far, and took the ground of the noble lord, it became necessary to see whether the House could find a primâ facie case of delinquency on the part of government to authorize the proceeding. Never had public disturbances occurred in which parties had not charged government with being the authors of them. From 1793 to 1801 those charges were perpetually reiterated; yet it had never been proposed to make them a subject for the considera- 349 tion of a secret committee. Such a proceeding was wholly unprecedented, except in the case of some peculiar combination of circumstances. Had, then, any extraordinary case been made out, such as to warrant the adoption of a special proceeding of this nature? He begged leave to say, that there was no evidence of any instigation to mischievous purposes beyond mere words. Now, what he should contend was, that something more was necessary to establish such a case as that upon which the motion ought to be founded. To come to another point—the trials at Derby—it had always struck him as singular, if the learned counsel for the prisoners could have proved that the insurrection had been instigated by the emissaries of government, that they did not prove it. The person, Oliver, was present on the spot; he might have been subpoenaed; they could have introduced him to the court: this was, indeed, the only ground on which the case of their clients could have stood; and their experience and duty would have led them to bring him forward, if his evidence would have been of any service to them. If Oliver had been put into the box, and if, upon his examination, these facts had been established, would the jury have found the prisoners guilty? And if they had returned a verdict of guilty, he would ask any man whether a British jury under such circumstances would not have recommended them to mercy, and whether it was not more than probable that such a recommendation would not have been listened to? If that learned counsel who had so greatly distinguished himself on those trials (Mr. Denman), did not think proper to bring Oliver into court, it was a proof, that that person had not been concerned in exciting the disturbances for which the prisoners were then upon their trial. With respect to the present proposition his argument was this—that unless a case of delinquency was fast made out, the House was not called upon to accede to the motion of the hon. member; and he must, therefore, express his dissent from giving any instruction to the committee on the subject.
said, he was placed in a considerable dilemma by the present motion, to which he meant, however, to give his support. But the House must not think that the country could look to the secret committee with any expectation of an impartial investigation, when they 350 considered who the members of that committee were—who were the persons tried in that committee—who furnished the evidence. Ministers themselves named the committee—they were the persons on trial—and they furnished the evidence. Still, however, he should vote for the motion, because he wished that a test might again be proposed to the House—that if the House refused their assent to the motion of his hon. friend, the public might be completely satisfied, that this committee was neither more nor less than one of the grossest juggles ever attempted to be played off on any people. In the last session, his majesty's government had drawn up a bill of indictment against the people of England—two committees had been named by ministers, who, on evidence furnished by those ministers, pronounced the people of this country to be disaffected to the constitution. From those committees, however, the people had been shut out; before them the case of the Crown was heard; but, up to that moment, the case of the people had never been heard. All that he asked for was, that the cause of the people should be heard—and no cause was more entitled to be heard. The people of England had been visited by one of the greatest plagues with which a people could be afflicted-that government, which ought to have been their protector, had sent persons among them to stir them up to acts of violence.
A right hon. gentleman, who seemed to be the common voucher for the character of all the spies and informers in the employ of government, had told them that Oliver was a person of unsullied character. It appeared to him, however, that the right hon. gentleman had himself furnished the best argument against the employment of spies; for he had told them that the natural consequence of the employment of spies was, their doing things which furnished an accusation against them of fomenting the disturbances they were employed to prevent. He wished to remind the House of the terrible case which was produced by his hon. friend near him of the mischief caused by those wretched fiends in human shape, the spies employed in Manchester and its neighbourhood. He wished to give no general opinion as to the employment of spies. It was a nice point, and he would not then discuss it; but this he knew, that they were edge-tools which required a very cautious 351 handling. It was one of the mischiefs attendant on their employment, that they had to look for their reward in the continuance and not the termination of disturbances. He knew that that sort of persons who were employed as spies in this country, had done acts which he could not think of without shame, or mention without horror and indignation. Lancashire, and the district connected with it, ever since 1812, had been traversed by whole hosts of spies. The magistrates had, by their system of espionage, thrown the whole of that country into the greatest alarm. While the poor people engaged in the manufactories there, after working fifteen hours a day, could only obtain for the support of themselves and families six or seven shillings a week, these spies were earning, by the more profitable employment of selling the blood of the people, 10s. 12s. and 15s. a week. A person, whose name was Raines, who was a captain in the militia, and had served under a gallant officer now no more, whose name it would not be proper to mention, had published a book giving an account of the transactions in which he was engaged; of the instructions under which he acted; and of the claims which he conceived himself to have on government in consequence. He would appeal to the hon. member for Bramber, whose opinion he wished to have on this subject. Instructions, it seemed, were given to procure persons to be "twisted in," as it was technically called, members of certain societies. This was to take oaths imprecating the destruction of body and soul in case of disclosure of any of the proceedings of these societies, oaths conceived in the most horrible and offensive terms; and this officer, agreeably to his instructions, actually persuaded persons to take this oath, and to enter into every engagement with these societies, for the purpose of betraying them. He did not wish to set up for a great moralist, or to make professions of superior sanctity; but he should think himself the basest of human beings if he were to lend his countenance to such infamous transactions. And, to support what? The law—by the breach of every law, human and divine.
But to come particularly to the point. The right hon. gentleman had challenged any person to bring forward any charge against the character of Oliver. He was prepared to meet that challenge. The House should be judge between them. 352 He had accidently become acquainted with certain particulars of the history of that person, which he should state to the House; and when they heard the case they would not dare refuse giving instructions to the committee. He said they would not dare refuse, because he knew that they felt the importance of upholding their character, and supporting their reputation in the minds of the people. He had no doubt that the right hon. gentleman who now bestowed this panegyric on Oliver would last year have been ready to bestow the same panegyric on Castles. Castles was believed by the right hon. gentleman and by the attorney and solicitor-general—but thank God he was not believed by an English jury. This favourite witness of the government was paid and clothed by them. This was enough to mark their system. This Castles, this bully of a brothel, this wretch who had been tried for uttering forged notes, this worthless scoundrel, who had been a spy before under the transport office, the police magistrates thought fit to clothe at a considerable expense that he might come into court like a gentleman, and give evidence against persons who, though not guilty of high treason, had certainly committed some acts for which they might have been punished, if tried for a minor offence. Now with respect to this Oliver, this man of exemplary morals, this man for whose character the right hon. gentleman had so stoutly vouched, without gratifying him with the particulars of his history, he could tell the right hon. gentleman, that so far from his character being unsullied, he had begun his career by an act which not unfrequently marked the outset of persons who rose by degrees to the summit of crime—he began by commiting that fraud on women which Mr. Castles had also committed—like Mr. Castles, he had been guilty of bigamy. There were other parts of his character, which, whenever the right hon. gentleman put this witness into the box, he was ready to take up. He could produce sufficient evidence to show, that so far from Oliver being a man of unsullied moral character, he owed to the mercy of others, to the mercy of a benefactor whom he had basely and wickedly injured—the miserable and infamous life which he then held. He should say no more on that subject at present, although he had taken great pains to ascertain the truth of the circumstances to which he had alluded,‡353 which came to him from a most respectable source. Oliver was, he believed, first introduced, to a small society in London by a person of the name of Pendrill. On the 24th of April, Oliver departed from London with a person of the name of Mitchell, to see Mr. Pendrill at Liverpool, who was on his way to America. On their reaching Birmingham, Oliver was introduced to a Mr. Jones, of that town, by Mitchell, with whom Mr. Jones had been acquainted many years, and of whom he had a very high opinion. He invited a few of his friends, who were also friends of parliamentary reform, to spend the evening at his house with the London delegate. Four persons answered the invitation. He would tell the right hon. gentleman, that witnesses could be produced to all the particulars which he might state, who were ready to come forward to be examined, if the House should consent to the appointment of a committee of inquiry. The conversation at the house of Mr. Jones turned generally on politics. Oliver stated, that after he had seen his friend Pendrill safe on board he should immediately enter on the business for which he was delegated from London—that he was going to set out on a sort of tour through Derby, Leeds, Sheffield, Wakefield, Manchester, and other manufacturing places in the north—that the great object of his tour was to get petitions for reform by tens throughout England. He said he should endeavour to get persons from the different towns through which he passed to meet him at Wakefield to take the subject into consideration. He very much urged the individuals present to send a person to meet him there, as a delegate from Birmingham. At this proposal the persons present only laughed. The}' told him of the absurdity of five individuals taking upon themselves to delegate a person from so large a town as Birmingham. He smiled at the objection, and observed to them, "You are very green in the country yet." A few days after Oliver's departure, he sent a letter to Mr. Jones at Birmingham, informing him, that a meeting was fixed on at Wakefield for the 5th of May; that there had already been one meeting there, and requesting some person to be sent from Birmingham to attend. Oliver then went to Leeds, Manchester, Sheffield, and other places in that part of the country, and they had evidence that at all those places he had called on the most respect- 354 able persons, whom he had stimulated to attend the meetings. He represented himself as a man who had been long actively employed in important transactions—as concerned in the business of 1792, as connected with Despard, as having facilitated the escape of Thistlewood and young Watson, and as having collected money for them. He stimulated them to enter into engagements to send delegates. To Wakefield he went first, by himself—his companion had been arrested at Huddersfield. The hon. gentleman said, he had in his possession a narrative, drawn up by two persons, of what had taken place there; and he had opportunities of authenticating the most minute circumstances of this narrative. On the arrival of the delegate from Birmingham, he called on Oliver at his inn, and found him in the parlour alone. He expressed great grief at the arrest of Mitchell, and after deploring for some time the loss the cause would sustain through it, he looked at his watch, and observed that it was time to attend the meeting. As they were walking towards the place appointed, Oliver said it was his firm conviction that, "their new plan of petitioning would have no effect on their oppressors, and that nothing short of physical force would do any good." The person to whom he said this, observed, "I come here for no such purpose." Oliver afterwards asked this person, "should there be any necessity, do you think all who attended a meeting at Birmingham would be ready to fight for their liberties?" The Birmingham delegate was astonished at the question, and observed, it was a subject on which he had never entertained a thought, nor did he know of any person in Birmingham who had any such ideas. Oliver told him, it was highly necessary, he should give as good an account as he possibly could from Birmingham, to strengthen and keep up the spirits of those who should attend the meeting. The delegate answered, he could but state facts; he should be sorry to deceive any one. On their entering the place of meeting, he was surprised to see only a few poor creatures who appeared to be in want of the common necessaries of life.—At this meeting of delegates on the 5th of May, ten were present; one from Birmingham, one from Liverpool, two from Huddersfield, one from Halifax, one from Sheffield, one from Leeds, two from Wakefield, and one front: Manchester. Oliver was called to the chair, but de- 355 clined. The delegate from Birmingham was then selected, and he took the chair. Oliver opened the proceedings of the day, by observing, that the distressed condition of the people was unparalleled at any former period—that the voice of the people was entirely disregarded by the parliament:—he said that it was useless to petition any more—that London was looking to the country—that they must now recur to physical force—that for that purpose it was necessary to ascertain what men and what number of arms they could obtain. He then pulled out a number of cards from his pocket, and proposed that each person there present should write on a card the greatest number that each town could raise, if called upon; and that each person should sign such card with his own name. This proposal gave general dissatisfaction; upon which Oliver said, it was highly necessary that the body in London from which he was delegated, should have as correct a report as possible of the force which could be collected in the country; but as they still objected, he said, "O, never mind, I will do it myself." He then asked what each place could raise if called upon, and he wrote it down on a piece of paper. This he (Mr. B.) in his conscience believed was the foundation for what was stated in the report, with respect to the arrangement of the quotas to be furnished by the several places. This could be proved on the oath of credible witnesses. After this they had a statement from Oliver himself of his proceedings: he had written a letter to his friend Mitchell, coloured in the most base and infamous manner—base towards Pendrill, his benefactor, who had saved him from prison, and who was a high-minded and excellent character: and in that letter he said, we had a most excellent meeting—"we had that excellent fellow, Bacon, there." He knew that Oliver subsequently visited Mitchell three times in Coldbath-fields. He proposed to Mitchell in prison, that he should write to his friends in the north, entreating them to make an appeal to arms: Mitchell said, "I beg you will quit my presence." How long Oliver stayed in London he did not know; but he knew, notwithstanding what the right hon. gentleman had said, that he made his appearance at Derby and Nottingham—
§ Mr. Bathurst
observed, that he had never denied Oliver's being at Nottingham; and with respect to Derby, he only 356 said he was never in the place where the insurrection was.
continued. He said, he might not be in the particular barn; but he would show by-and-by, what the connexion of Oliver was with Derby. On the 26th of May he went to Derby. There a person, whose name he should not mention, from whom he had a statement, saw him. On that day the 26th of May 1817, one James Birkin came to him, and told him there was at the House of a person in Derby, a gentleman who was sent to the country by a committee of gentlemen in London, to ascertain the sentiments of the people respecting parliamentary reform. This person went to the Talbot inn, and saw the gentleman from London, who said his name was Oliver, and received him politely. Soon after, a person present observed, that the town was confused with the cavalry, and other soldiers, ordered out in consequence of some expected disturbance. Oliver said it would be another grand hoax on the government, and when the time arrived they would be asleep A conversation then ensued respecting parliamentary reform, and the distressed state of the country. Oliver said, that "all legal means had been tried to no purpose, and that the London people never meant to petition any more." Oliver asked for a person who had been talked of the night before. It was replied, that it was not certain that he would conic. He however came in. After some observations on sir Francis Burdett's motion for reform, Oliver said, that it was evident that petitioning parliament was of no use. He was then asked, if he considered reform to be altogether impracticable? To this Oliver said, No, not in London, as there were other means to be tried; and that in London they were more active than ever to obtain their rights. Oliver was then asked, what way they meant to proceed? and he said, "they meant to try those means they had left, which was physical force; and that they were only waiting the determination of their friends in the country." He was told that the country would not do any thing. "In that," said Oliver, "you are mistaken; half the country is in an organized state, particularly Birmingham, Sheffield, Leeds, and most of the manufacturing districts." He added, "that the people about Leeds were all armed, and with difficulty kept down until the appointed time." He¶357 was then told, that Derby was a very loyal place, and that he must not expect any thing of the kind there. Oliver said, "it was of little consequence, but it would be better if something could be done; but that if the country would come forward, and stand with knobbed sticks in their hands, the business would be done in London, where GO or 70,000 armed men would be raised in an hour or two's notice." He thus, it would be seen, repeated what he had before stated on the 5th of May at Wakefield. He then said, "I have been at several meetings in Yorkshire, and have there engaged a press for the printing of the proclamations, which are to be posted up in every conspicuous place in the kingdom. Mr. Wooler, the publisher of The Black Dwarf, has undertaken that part of the business, and I am now going round the country to strengthen the hands of the people in the cause. I am for Nottingham to-day, for Sheffield to-morrow, for Leeds on Wednesday, for Manchester on Thursday, and, if possible, I mean to go to Liverpool the day after, as they are not quite so forward there as I could wish." It was probable he went thither, as a letter was received from him, dated there, on that day. "But," he said, "I must be back to Birmingham on Sunday next. They are forward there, and have plenty of arms. But," said he, "you are not deficient in arms in Derby. You have a depot there." He was told yes; but that the arms were sent to Weed on. Oliver then said, the Wolverhampton men would knock Weedon over. One of the party said, "I have a brother there who is very ill." Oliver inquiring what he was, was told a bricklayer. Oliver asked if the man had ever been there? The man answered, No, sir, it is a place I should like to go to, and have wished it for some time, but poverty has prevented me. Oliver then asked him if he would go over, "as it would be serviceable to the Wolverhampton men? For," said he, "as you have a brother there, and are a bricklayer, you would not be suspected." The man answered, that he could not raise five shillings in the world, and that besides, his brother was averse to every thing of the kind, and he dared not introduce any thing of the sort to him. "Well," says he, "you need not say any thing to him about it; you can go, and get him to go round the place with you and make your own observations, unknown to your brother. If 358 you will go, you must go and come back by Birmingham; and I will give you a letter to a gentleman who will give you plenty of money." A letter to this purpose was written, which was destroyed by the person, who saw several of his neighbours taken up; but it would be sworn to by the person who had it, and others who saw it.
Could any one doubt, that if any man had gone to Weedon, in pursuance of the plan of Oliver, that he would have incurred the guilt of high treason? Yet this person, it was said, did not stimulate per-sons to illegal acts! This person did not stimulate the people at Derby, Nottingham, Liverpool, Leeds, and Birmingham! From this place Oliver goes to Nottingham; the same day, according to his own previous declaration; and there he appears as the London delegate. He tells them that Yorkshire, &c. were all in arms—and that day Oliver saw Brandreth—he had an affidavit in his possession as to that fact, ["What is the name?" From Mr. Bathurst.] He should not name him; but if the right hon. gentleman would consent to an inquiry, he would produce the witness. Besides, he held in his hand the statement of Brandreth himself, made in confidence to his solicitor before the trial. He had it in the solicitor's own writing. The meeting was at the House of a person of great consequence. Among the few persons who were active in these transactions, was a Mr. Stevens. He believed he (Mr. B.), from his information, knew more of these proceedings than the secret committee. The meeting took place at the Three Salmons public-house. The witness he spoke of there met Oliver with Brandreth, "who appeared to be the most concerned with Oliver of any one, put the most questions to him, and listened attentively to his answers." In the course of conversation, Oliver said, he had been to see Wooler in prison, the last thing before he left London, and that Wooler would be the man to write the proclamations. He said there would be 10,000 printed. He said, he wondered what the people of Nottingham were about. The people in Yorkshire and Lancashire were hardly to be kept down. Oliver said the people were ripe in London, and were now determined to carry their complaints to the foot of the throne, for petitioning (meaning to the House of Commons) was of no use. He requested some persons to explore 359 Weedon barracks, and observed what a large store of arms and ammunition was there. This was the statement which a man had delivered on his oath:—"Jeremiah Brandreth—He states, that he attended a meeting at Nottingham, at the sign of the Three Salmons, at which several persons attended, and, amongst the rest, Oliver. That this meeting was on Whitsun Monday, or Monday after. That he told the persons assembled, that he had been round the circuit, at Manchester and Yorkshire, and was then going to London by Birmingham. That he stated that every person was perfectly ready to rise, and that he could raise 70,000 men in London; that the people in London would not be satisfied unless Nottingham was perfectly secured; for it was the rallying point for Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire, and Leicestershire; and that if that was not secured, the passage over the Trent would be perfectly stopped for the Northern forces; that they must proceed forward to London as soon as they could raise sufficient men against the loyalists. Nottingham was to be continually supported by Northern forces in succession."
So far Brandreth's statement. Oliver was not satisfied with this. He returned to Nottingham on the 6th of June, and said he would raise the standard there himself; but, said he, "I am obliged to be absent to support our friends in Yorkshire, who are now in arms to support the cause which you are so slack in defending."—But to conclude the statement of Oliver's journies. On the authority of the same witness, he could state, that Oliver returned to Birmingham. There he put forth his usual assertions. He told them that he had paid several visits to Mr. Wooler, that he was a hearty good fellow; and that nothing could daunt his intrepid spirit; that it was a terrible misfortune he was in prison, for he would have assisted the cause wonderfully; that he would have printed some thousands of proclamations for distribution in every large town, to rouse the people into action. That the people in the North of England were already ripe for the onset against their oppressors, and that they could scarcely be kept down from rising before the appointed day; that vast bodies of men were ready to pour down from Scotland, that would overwhelm every thing before them; and that the day of retribution to their most 360 unfeeling tyrants was near at hand. That sir Francis Burdett, major Cartwright, and many others, whose names it. would not be proper to disclose, were well acquainted with the whole of these things. That several officers of distinction would take any post to which they might be appointed by the people; the disclosure of whose names, however, he told them, would be very improper, but that they might depend upon it, that all that he had told them was very true.
It was to be remembered, in the delegation at Thornhill Lees, how anxious Oliver was to get together delegates. To give a colour to this proceeding, he seemed to think it essential to procure a person who might call himself a delegate from Birmingham. The report of the secret committee, last session, spoke of persons acting with assumed or delegated authority. As if there was no difference between assumed and delegated! Whereas in truth, in the ascertaining of that fact, was all the importance of the question; for though these persons might be formidable if they had a delegated authority, yet, if they merely assumed their authority, they would be of no importance at all. Oliver could prevail on no person to pretend even an assumed authority from Birmingham. For as for delegates, the eight or ten paupers assembled at Thornhill Lees, were just as much delegates from the people as Oliver was a delegate from major Cartwright and sir F. Burdett. But he was very anxious to get a show of a delegation. Pressing letters were sent to Mr. Jones, and Oliver's agent and associate. George Crabtree was also sent to Birmingham, to induce some persons to attend; but the persons to whom he addressed himself knew he was a mischievous man, and told him he could expect no aid from Birmingham in such a cause. Yet Oliver had represented Birmingham to be in a state approaching insurrection, in order to excite the people in Nottingham and in Derby.
He had now laid before the House a small portion of the statements which he possessed. There was one remarkable fact, however, to which he requested their particular attention. From the day Oliver was detected and ceased his misionary tour, the public tranquillity was restored. That there had been disturbances was well known. There was much discontent in the country, because there 361 was much distress. It was easy for those who enjoyed in tranquillity every comfort and luxury that opulence could bestow, either out of their private fortunes, or out of the sums which for their services or their no-services they took from the public purse, to recommend patience, and to reprobate in strong terms that insubordination, the causes of which they very imperfectly understood. They had never heard the cries of wife or children clamouring for food which they could not give them. They were ignorant of the feelings of a man who found himself almost of necessity linked to any companions who could hold out a hope, however dangerous and precarious, of saving himself from the pit of perdition that yawned before him and his family. Nine-tenths of those who had been disaffected were in that condition—he did not deny that there were some mischievous men who wished to take advantage of that distress; but was the mischief so deep, so combined, so extensive, as to afford ground for rational alarm? It was loose, scattered, undefined, unregulated discontent. But with Oliver to stimulate and direct them, the business took quite another turn; and while he was setting one town and one county against another, proclaiming to one district that its neighbour was ready, and upbraiding all with timidity and delay, the consequence was almost unavoidable, that these miserable wretches would, if possible, have resorted to that physical force so strenuously recommended to them by the missionaries of government. He would put this question to the House. According to the random estimate of Mr. Colquhoun there were 30 or 40,000 people who lived by depredation in London; persons who rose every morning without hopes of obtaining any regular employment, or of securing a bed for the ensuing night, and who of course were always ready for any mischief that might offer. There were at any rate many thousands, and a proportionate number in other great towns. What would be said if government sent missionaries among these thieves—who would tell them it was now time to rifle the rich and plunder in union—at Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds, and Sheffield, and to make a combination of those plunderers whom it was the object of the law to keep disconnected? And why had the government acted towards the discontent which had arisen out of want in a manner 362 which would be deemed madness towards the spoilers of the public Before he sat down, he wished to say a word as to an argument he had been sorry to hear urged as a proof of Oliver's absence in these transactions; the argument urging the use he might have been of to the prisoners as a witness for them, if all these facts were true. "If Oliver had any such concern in these transactions, why," said the hon. gentleman opposite, "did he remain concealed? he was on the spot and might have been called." It was true he was on the spot ready to purchase the blood-money of Brandreth also; but the reason he was not called was, that he would have been too dangerous a witness for the prisoners; he would have proved, not that they were not guilty of treason, but that they had been seduced into it; and that would have furnished no defence, that would only have forfeited their blood with greater certainty to the avarice of government missionaries. The judge himself must have stopped such evidence, and have told the prisoners they only confessed their guilt by calling it. Just as, in the last century, it was held to be no excuse to the tenants of the earl of Derwentwater, that they had been led into rebellion in obedience to their lord. An argument thus urged against the prisoners was a disgrace—he would call it so again, a disgrace—to the justice of the country. It was on that account that the trials took the course they did. It was on that account that Bacon was not tried first. Oliver would have been an important witness against Bacon; but Bacon's trial would have had a most important effect on the trials of the other prisoners, it was for that reason that this master traitor was kept back, and suffered to escape with a milder punishment than less guilty persons. He was sorry to have detained the House so long on this subject, but he believed he had exaggerated nothing, and treated the matter with no more asperity than it called for. He was actuated by a strong wish to save the country from the farther progress of a system, the natural consequences of which the right hon. gentleman had shown—which he (Mr. Bonnet) had shown. He was prepared to substantiate every material fact he had stated on the oath of witnesses—aye, of credible witnesses; not such witnesses as Castles [Hear! hear!]. The hon. gentleman might well say hear, and then 363 refuse all inquiry. They might carry it by their majorities, but this would not do with the country. They stood before the country, and a verdict would be given, not only on the system, but on the House itself, such as the enormity of the case required.
§ Mr. Wilberforce
, notwithstanding the latter words of the hon. gentleman's speech, could not help protesting against the distrust he had expressed against the committee, and which tended to raise a prejudice against it before the result of its inquiry could be known; he should not, however, feel embarrassed while sitting in that committee; but the reason why, as a member of that House, he objected to the motion of the hon. gentleman was, that it was founded on a false assumption; it was founded on an idea that the late committee had attributed some specific part of the disturbances in question to Oliver; whereas, that was not the meaning of the committee. After stating that certain disturbances had existed prior to the employment of Oliver, it did not choose to throw out of view what effect the language of Oliver might have had towards continuing those disturbances, lest, by so doing, it might have incurred a charge of disingenuousness; not that the committee believed the influence of Oliver had had any particular effect, but only that general effect always consequent on the employment of such means for the detection of crime; if, therefore, he rejected the motion on that ground, it was because it proceeded upon a false hypothesis. If the hon. gentleman contended that some specification of Oliver's particular offences was intended to be conveyed by the language of the committee, he, for one, could assure him that he had no such meaning. He never meant to say, that nothing in these disturbances was attributable to Oliver; but what had just been stated by the hon. gentleman if considered as having some weight, was also to be received with some distrust as coming from a doubtful source. He remembered when an account was formerly given in that House of some diplomacy between lord Malmesbury and M. de la Croix, very much in favour of lord Malmesbury, that Mr. Fox had said he should like to hear M. de la Croix; so he (Mr. Wilberforce) should like to hear Oliver—he did not mean in the committee, but by some other means, to ascertain the truth of what had been alleged against 364 him. If those things were so, he conceived that if any man could be proved to have acted the part this man was represented to have done, he could be, and ought to be brought to justice. It would be a service to the public, to bring to justice a person who had acted so differently from what was expected from him. But as to the character of such persons, they were always indifferent; and it was necessary to entertain suspicions of a man, who would volunteer, by fraud and treachery, to discover the designs of other people—who could put on their language and habits for the express purpose of betraying them; and it was, therefore, very proper in the committee to say, that something of the disturbances might be attributable to the language and conduct of this man. But he was astonished that men of honourable feelings, who did not condemn the employment of spies, who admitted them to be necessary in certain cases, for surely the hon. mover had said "he would not decide whether spies should or should not be employed, or whether they should go about to tell lies—"he was astonished that they did not see that such a character could not go about with any prospect of obtaining information, unless he acted in that manner. If he forbore to do so, he must relinquish his views altogether. But he did think it unfair that, persons who did not disallow the employment of such persons, should vent their whole indignation on them if they exceeded their instructions by never so small a degree. It was not at the falsehood, but at the degree, that exception was taken. He was astonished that gentlemen did not sec that these were crooked paths; and he was convinced that he would do a most material service to his country, who could succeed in exploding the system altogether. But they were inconsistent who admitted it to be allowable, and then were indignant if spies happened a little to exceed their instructions. Certainly, the employment of such engines was not allowable in a religious view. The God of truth abhorred falsehood, and all the ways of deceit. It was equally repugnant to any notions of honour or morality, or to the feelings of a gentleman; and on the mere ground of political expediency, the objections to it were almost as strong. Though the employment of spies might, in some particular instances, be attended with short and temporary advantages, and 365 government might be able to detect some treasons which would otherwise escape punishment, yet he thought those advantages were much more than counterbalanced by the inconveniences that ensued. When he considered all the mistrust that such a system must occasion, even to the disturbance of domestic peace and confidence; when he considered the temptations to false information of every description; the misconstructions that might be put on the most innocent actions; and the suspicions and disaffection that must be excited against the government itself, he thought the general confusion that such a system would excite, must, in the long run, impede much more than further the cause of good order. He had no hesitation in saying, that he condemned the use of all such instruments. The country and the government would lose more than they would gain by them; the former, in that confidence which, in superintending the execution of the law, it should command; and the latter, in that abhorrence of all attempts to disturb the public tranquillity, for which the employment of such agents furnished something like an apology. One of the greatest evils they produced was, a distrust in the administration of justice, which they polluted, and a false sympathy with the violators of the law, and the disturbers of the public peace. Notwithstanding all that had been said by the disaffected or the discontented; notwithstanding the real sufferings which had been felt in the late season of distress, and the unequivocal breaches of the law which had taken place, he was proud to say, that there never was, in any age or country, a greater share of real liberty enjoyed; there never was a more prosperous, a more moral, or a happier nation; but by the use of such agents, the people, instead of being proud of their constitution, and clinging to the blessings which they possessed under it; instead of feeling an anxiety to preserve them, and a detestation of those crimes which tended to undermine them, would have their principles perverted, and their sympathies turned in favour of their worst enemies. This he regarded as most injurious to the country. And after all it was impossible to get at truth by such means. As an instance, he had never heard two stories more different than that which he had heard that night, and that which he had heard on the committee. Before the committee Oliver was described as being, 366 so far from one of those extraordinary villains who snatch a grace beyond the ready of art—much too little of a rascal for his profession; and that, on that account, he was always open to detection. Let the practice not be defended on the ground that it was necessary for the preservation of the public peace. No! no! the British empire did not stand in need of such assistance to maintain, its security; it claimed no protection from such allies. Our liberties, our rights, and our tranquillity, stood on the principles of law and the constitution, and despised the aid or the countenance of such base associates. He must say, however, that with those sentiments of the persons alluded to in the motion, he was against the motion itself. He was against the motion, because it involved an inquiry that could not well be carried on in the committee, and for which the committee was not the proper place; and he must say, that he, for one, would not take a seat in the committee to which such an inquiry should be referred.
observed, that he had not expressed himself at all in favour of the employment of such instruments. All he had observed was, that it was most difficult to distinguish between repentant sinners, and those who were actuated by hopes of lucre.
The Solicitor General
said, he felt himself called upon to answer some observations which had been made by the hon. gentleman on the conduct of his hon. and learned colleague; and but for this attack, he should not have been induced to trouble the House. With regard to the motion itself, he did not think that it required much reasoning to show that it ought not to be entertained. The motion was grounded solely and exclusively on a passage in the report of the secret committee, which could not bear the construction put upon it. It proceeded on the supposition, that the passage alluded to imputed criminal actions to those spies into whose conduct it was its object to recommend the institution of a criminal inquiry. The report, however, could bear no such construction: it imputed nothing that could be the foundation of a criminal indictment: yet the whole of the hon. opener's speech rested on such a construction. He would read the passage, and the House would be convinced of the erroneous use made of it. "Upon the whole," it said, "your Committee 367 have been anxious neither to extenuate nor exaggerate the nature and extent of the danger. They have not been insensible to the jealousy with which the testimony of persons originally implicated in the designs of the conspirators, or even of persons who never having engaged in those designs, have attended such meetings, in order to discover and report their proceedings, ought to be received; but the facts stated by your committee rest not only on confirmatory evidence, but on distinct, substantive, and satisfactory testimony; and although your committee have reason to apprehend, that the language and conduct of some persons from whom information has been derived may, in some instances, have had the effect of encouraging those designs, which it was intended they should only be the instruments of detecting, yet it is perfectly clear to your Committee, that before any such encouragement could have been given, the plan of a simultaneous insurrection in different parts of the country had been actually concerted, and its execution fully determined on." This passage attached no criminality to the persons alluded to, which could be made the subject of a criminal prosecution. If a design had previously been formed, which it was determined to carry into execution, and if persons who were sent to detect it had only taken the means of ascertaining its existence by seeming to join in its conduct, such a proceeding could not be made the subject of a criminal charge. If these persons had themselves formed the plan, and endeavoured to procure persons to sanction and to execute it, the case would have been altered, and the present motion for their prosecution would have been just and proper. No such criminality was here imputed; and the hon. member, as if aware of the fact, had filled his speech with other topics, and introduced many statements both extraneous and unauthorized. The hon. member had not given the names of the individuals from whom he derived that information on which he seemed so implicitly to rely; but he (the solicitor general) suspected the sources, and one name, that of Mitchell, introduced inadvertently into his statement, gave him almost a certain clue to the rest. This person had been suspected of high treason, and had been taken up and imprisoned on the charge; and was he therefore to be thought a proper witness in implicating the character 368 of those who might be employed to detect his designs, or in making charges against the government who prevented him from earning them into execution? Then there was Pendrill who had fled to America. And Stephen who was likewise in America, who might have furnished the facts of the statement which the House had heard. Mitchell had been charged with high treason [Hear, hear!]. He would ask the hon. gentleman opposite, who cheered this statement, if a charge of treason increased the credibility of the person who furnished the narrative against his prosecutors. He knew that now-a-days persons who had been brought before the courts of law on the gravest charges, had been considered as persecuted individuals; that they had been held up as proper objects for public bounty; that they had been looked upon as martyrs in the cause of liberty, and that that odium which ought to have been directed against those who had violated the law, and were endeavouring to destroy the moral principles, or to disturb the general tranquillity of the country, had been attempted to be turned against those who had exerted themselves to preserve them, as if they, and not the country, had been the sufferers, and ought to receive redress. Individuals who by their conduct had made themselves amenable to the law, thought that by raising a cry against Oliver and the spies, they could shift the criminality from themselves, and impute the whole to a conspiracy of the government. They, poor innocent souls, never harboured a design to disturb the public peace, or to commit treason; they were merely deluded by the artifice of government spies, and had never hatched any plots themselves; the whole was the fabrication of their tempters; and yet this came from the very person, Mitchell, who, by his own admission, went with Oliver from London with the intention of agitating the country. But on the scene he did nothing—Oliver (by-the-by a total stranger in the place) was the sole agent—Oliver organized the plans—Oliver arranged all the movements of the disaffected—he inspired the disturbed districts with the design of overturning the government, and arming for the purpose of general confusion. The manner in which the hon. gentleman alluded to the administration of justice, and the conduct of his learned and hon. friend, the attar- 369 ney general, seemed calculated to countenance such representations, and to prejudice the minds of the public against the prosecution of the violaters of the law. He had mentioned the name of Castles—a witness that was called on the late trials for high treason in Westminster, as the attorney general's witness; whereas he must have known that be was the witness of the Crown and the country. Did not his hon. and learned friend mention to the jury the character of this person—did he not tell them not to believe one word of his testimony, unless it was confirmed by other witnesses? Castles had been called a spy: but the hon. gentleman must have known, if he had read the trial, that this person had never been employed in that capacity by government, and not one syllable of his testimony was known to his hon. and learned friend till long after the transactions to which it referred. It was never even hinted that he was a spy on the trial; he appeared there in the character of a witness, and was introduced as an accomplice who had turned evidence. He did not think, therefore, that those charges were fair; or, at least, they must have been known, upon the slightest consideration, to have been unfounded. Then the hon. gentleman went to the trials at Derby, and he (the solicitor-general) would beg of him to be more guarded in his statements, and not advance charges which might prejudice the public mind without a shadow of foundation. He had said, that his hon. and learned friend had brought Oliver to that place, and had him ready to produce on the trial to sell the blood of the prisoners. The hon. gentleman upon the slightest examination, might have learned that Oliver could not there have been Produced as a witness by his hon. and earned friend, as he was not in the list of witnesses given to the prisoners. Yet, with such a fact, so easily accessible to any person on inquiry, the hon. gentleman had said, that he was brought there to receive the blood money on the conviction of the traitors. Had his hon. and learned friend produced this person, the cry that would have been raised against him might easily have been anticipated. Those who now find fault with the crown-officers for not examining him, would have been the first to exclaim.—"You have sent a spy to organize rebellion; and now you convict the victims of his artifice on his polluted testimony." As he was not pro- 370 duced, it was said that if he had appeared a conviction would not have been obtained, so that in all cases censure must be thrown on government; and they must be wrong whatever course they pursued. The hon. gentleman, in speaking of the crimes for which one of the prisoners had been convicted and punished, had used the gentle term of illegal acts. Such were the words that he applied to the conduct of a man, who, in prosecution of treasonable purposes, had committed the crime of murder! The expressions, he would appeal to the House, were used, and he had himself taken them down at the time.
begged to explain. He had more than once, in the course of his observations, called the prisoners at Derby, traitors.
The Solicitor General
, in continuation, said, that whatever other expressions the hon. gentleman had used, and he did not mean to deny his use of the word traitors, he had likewise employed the terms which he had quoted. The hon. gentleman had said, that as the attorney-general had not produced Oliver, he could not have been called by the counsel for the prisoners, because his testimony, if received at all, must have gone to convict them. He allowed this, so far as regarded the effect of his testimony to acquit them; but if it could have established the fact that they had been deluded by him, might it not have operated favourably in their behalf, when, after conviction on competent evidence, they were called up to receive judgment? But so far were they from thinking they had any such evidence reserved for a mitigation of punishment, that it appeared on the trial they did not even know of the name of Oliver. Their guilt had been contracted even before that person went among them. According to the statement given to-night, Oliver and Brandreth did not meet, it was said, till the 26th of May; but meetings of the conspirators had taken place before that date, and the plan was arranged which afterwards ended in the insurrection of the 9th of June. Nothing appeared in the hon. gentleman's narrative that tended to show that Oliver had arranged the conspiracy. The reason given by the hon. gentleman for not trying Bacon first—namely, that if that trial had been first proceeded in, Oliver must have been produced—was wholly groundless; and was a representation which should not go forth 371 to the country uncontradicted, notwithstanding the strong asseveration with which it was adduced. Oliver, the hon. gentleman should have known, was not on the list of witnesses served upon the prisoners, and could not, therefore, have been produced. He (the solicitor-general) had now vindicated the proceedings of the law-officers, and shown that the motion was grounded on a mistake of the report. He therefore saw no reason for complying with the motion.
§ Sir S. Romilly
said, he was surprised at the course pursued by the two last speakers, in addressing themselves more to the mode of inquiry than the substance of the charges. His hon. friend, the member for Bramber, had objected to a reference of the inquiry to the committee of secrecy; and his hon. and learned friend, the solicitor-general, had contented himself with showing that the passage in the report to which the motion alluded did not bear the construction put upon it so as to render a reference to the committee necessary. He himself had no particular desire that the examination proposed should be referred to the committee of secrecy; but he would vote for his hon. friend's motion, because he thought some course should be adopted to sift the alleged charges, and this was the one that had been suggested. He wished for a committee of inquiry, but it did not matter with him whether this committee or another should be instrusted with the inquiry. Indeed, after what had been said by the noble member for Yorkshire, that he stood alone in the secret committee, and that he merely attended it because he wished to fulfil a duty imposed upon him by the House, and not with any hopes of doing any good in it, he would have preferred another mode of inquiry. Some inquiry was, however, absolutely necessary; and after the charges which had been heard from his hon. friend that night, with the pledge which he had given that he could substantiate them by witnesses upon oath, if a proper opportunity were allowed, he would repeat the words which his hon. friend had used, and say, that he thought the House would not dare to resist inquiry into the truth. This parliament was drawing near to a dissolution; and how could the members who composed it meet their constituents at a new election, if they heard such grave charges, and resisted an examination into them? His hon. and learned friend thought he 372 had got quit of the charges, because he said the statements came from a polluted source; and he must say that, since he had a seat in parliament, he never heard a man treated more unfairly than his hon. friend had been by the solicitor-general. He (the solicitor-general) had suspected that the narrative came from Mitchell, and because Mitchell had been arrested by government on suspicion of treason, therefore his evidence was said by his hon. and learned friend to come from a polluted source. He was arrested on the 21st of June, and because he was arrested, no matter on what evidence, therefore his evidence was to be inadmissible, and his oath to be discredited. His hon. and learned friend had found out a new expedient for the use of government, and promulgated it on the high authority of one of the first law officers of the Crown, to disqualify a witness who might be brought against his majesty's ministers. According to this new plan, government had only to throw the obnoxious individual into prison, and then his testimony would cease any longer to be credible. The moment he was taken up, he not only would lose his liberty but his character, and could never afterwards be believed. Once adopt such a principle, and every minister would find it his interest to take the widest possible range of accusation, as the most effectual step to his own security, by disqualifying all the witnesses that might be brought against him. His hon. and learned friend had said the whole of the evidence came from a polluted source, and he had not used the phrase inadvertently, as his hon. friend used the words illegal acts, as applied to treason, but had frequently repeated it. But then there were another or two contributors to the narrative, according to his suspicion, who were not imprisoned, but who had gone to America. They had, however, gone thither before the events mentioned in the narrative took place. The charges were not, however, to be destroyed upon such reasoning; the country would not acquit government upon the mere allegation that they proceeded from a polluted source. When his hon. friend, with his high character for honour and integrity, came forward and said that he could support them upon oath—that he had inquired, into the testimony on which they were founded, and believed it entitled to credit—he would again use the phrase, that the House would not dare in the face of the 373 public to resist inquiry. Adverting to the trials at Derby, he (sir S. Romilly) said that his hon. and learned friend had dealt unfairly with the House, in what he had stated regarding them. He had said, that it appeared on the trial of Brandreth, that meetings and plots had taken place or been formed before the 26th of May, and he wished this statement to go forth to the public as a satisfactory answer to the charge that Oliver had arranged the plan of the insurrection which took place on the 9th of June. Now not one word came out in evidence that any plots had been formed previous to the former date. The testimony of the witnesses there examined did not relate to any proceeding anterior to the 8th of June. The hon. and learned solicitor-general had turned the speech of an hon. friend (Mr. Ben-net) rather invidiously against him. It was not pretended by him, and no man could so have understood, that the traitors at Derby had not been guilty of crimes for which they merited death by law. Brandreth had committed murder, and others had not less deservedly suffered. No man of common candour could have so mistaken and misrepresented his hon. friend. It looked like an intention on the part of the learned solicitor-general, to throw a stain upon an honourable and unblemished individual—an attempt to prove that he was a suborner of improper evidence, [the solicitor-general said that he had not used the word suborner.] Unquestionably not, but his language implied as much; that the hon. member had examined witnesses and taken evidence from polluted sources, and that he had as it were made common cause with traitors and murderers by justifying their crimes. [The solicitor-general denied having said, this.] Perhaps the expression of the hon. and learned gentleman had not been quite so strong, and perhaps he would have the goodness to explain presently, what it was he did say, to which might certainly be applied the mitigated phrase, that it seemed dictated by some degree of malignity. The hon. gentleman who spoke last but one had censured, with the utmost warmth, the employment of spies and informers under any circumstances. He (sir S. Romilly) was not casuist enough to be able at this moment to decide whether their assistance ought never to be required—whether private treachery might ever be encouraged for the sake of discovering public delinquency; but at 374 the same time he was still farther from agreeing with the noble lord, who, on a former occasion, had not only justified but applauded their employment. It was singular, however, thinking as the hon. member did that they were pests to society; that they betrayed the confidence of friendship, and broke the ties of blood; that they took advantage of the wants of their fellow citizens, and led them on under colour of co-operation, from discontent to sedition, and from sedition to treason—that he should object to the motion, and upon a matter so imperiously demanding investigation, resist all inquiry. Would not this reference to the committee at least tend to diminish the use of spies, and to remove this plague from the bosoms of the peaceful and well disposed inhabitants of the country? It was a subject of vital importance, yet the hon. gentleman refused to take a step that would accomplish an object so desirable. Still the hon. member had expressed a wish to hear Oliver tell his own story; and why could not this be done before the committee? Did he think that the unhappy man would be unequally matched, and that he would not meet with due support from the noble lord and his other friends upon that committee! When the hon. member spoke of prosecuting Oliver, did he mean that the prosecution should be undertaken by private individuals, and that government, the public prosecutor in all other cases, should defend instead of accuse? Some members of the committee it seemed entertained a good opinion of Oliver; they thought that he was not wicked enough for a spy—that he was a bungler in his business—that he had not "snatched that grace beyond the reach of art," which accomplished villains had attained: but he who was so well able to deceive his enemies, might perhaps have imposed upon his friends. Recollecting the thinness of the House at the time the hon. member for Ilchester made his important statement, and observing the crowded state of the benches now, he put it to gentlemen, whether they could reconcile to themselves the refusal of an investigation without having heard the facts on which the demand for inquiry was rested and justified? Would they venture to risk the impression that might be made by the rejection of this motion upon the public and their constituents? He would not now occupy more of the time of the House: but if the proposition of that 375 night were negatived by a majority, which he shrewdly suspected, he hoped that the hon. member for Bramber (and no man could do it with more weight) on an early day would come forward with a motion consistent with his speech, to inquire into the recent encouragement of spies, whose employment was destructive of the happiness, morality and religion of the community.
rose, but sir Samuel Romilly called upon the solicitor-general to explain the supposed misrepresentation: Mr. Canning, however, persevered.—If he had recognised, he said, in the hon. and learned gentleman a right to regulate the order of debate, he should not have persisted in claiming the attention of the House before the explanation, so extraordinarily called for, had been given [Hear, hear!]: he used the term, "so extraordinarily called for," not with reference to the hon. and learned member's speech, but to the colloquial and irregular mode in which he had demanded a reply. The hon. and learned gentleman's practice, both here and elsewhere, might have taught him, that there might be two reasons for not giving an explanation—the one, where what had been stated was so clear as to make explanation unnecessary; the other, where a statement had been—he would not say so wilfully, but certainly so grossly misrepresented, that it might safely be left to the audience to do the speaker justice.
He agreed, that it was most expedient to recall the attention of the House, both to the state of the question, and to the question itself, as there might he those present who, not having enjoyed the benefit of hearing the statement of the hon. member opposite (Mr. Bennet), or of listening to the question from the chair, would be left, by all that had passed very recently in the debate, in total ignorance of the point under discussion. From the speech of the hon. and learned gentleman who last addressed the House, they would be led to conclude that the proposition was, that an inquiry should be instituted, not only into the alleged, but the proved misconduct of spies employed by government. The hon. and learned gentleman had not even stopped here; for, whether distrusting the facts detailed by his hon. friend behind him, or the force of his own reasoning upon them, or invited by a hoped-for, attempted, but unachieved triumph over his hon. and learned friend (the solicitor-general), he had thought fit to 376 put in a plea in bar, and to call upon the House to consider whether it dared to put a negative upon a question before it. Happily the time for that topic was not arrived: to whatever millennium some persons might look forward when parliament should be overawed and intimidated from without, that time was not yet come: the House and the country, thank God! were not yet ripe for the discussion of a topic, launched heretofore from the tribune of Robespierre. Hon. gentlemen opposite might smile; they might thus attempt to give him the only answer he could receive; but he hoped, before he sat down, to show beyond contradiction, that he was not the single person, that the members of the government were not the only set of men, nor the majority of the House the only body, monopolizing the sentiment, that not long since there was in this country a real tendency to revolution. He flattered him-self that the House was not to be intimidated, in any sense that the word "dare" might convey, whether of force from without, or of argument from within, from looking the question fairly in the face, and deciding it upon its merits. The members of the British parliament had neither lost their reason nor their coolness, but would proceed in the path of their duty, unbiassed by clamour, and unawed by menaces. All this was surplusage; but the introduction of the topic into the debate called for this reply. If gentlemen on the other side, either by their organized shouts or their unorganized speeches, by their exaggerations and misstatements, expected to interrupt the quiet march of just argument and solid reasoning, they would be as grievously mistaken as the hon. and learned gentleman had been when he hoped to repress or extinguish the growing ability and power of the hon. and learned member who preceded him in debate [Hear, hear!]. All this, however (as he had said), was but surplusage to the real matter in discussion—the motion of the hon. member for Lincoln.
He knew not whether that motion had been framed by the hon. gentleman himself, or whether he had been assisted by others. If he had framed it himself, he had been imprudent not to consult his friends: if he had taken the advice of others, and this motion was the result, God help him with, and deliver him from, such friends! Personally, he entertained for the hon. gentleman the highest respect, and he was happy to see him gradually 377 rising to that station in the House to which his talents entitled him: but he must speak of his motion as it appeared to him. If the hon. member had acted by himself, he alone was responsible for its absurdity; but if he had taken the opinions of those around him, never was unlucky individual so deceived, betrayed, and deserted! If he had not acted alone, at least he now stood in melancholy solitude; for not one speech had been delivered, not one argument had been offered, under pretence of supporting the motion, which, properly viewed, must not have the effect of chasing it from the table. The motion was not, as some supposed, that a committee should be appointed to inquire into facts—it was not that a prosecution should be instituted against those who had sinned against morality and religion;—but merely that the committee of secrecy should be directed to inquire, whether any, and what, proceedings had been instituted to bring to justice those persons whose conduct the committee had censured in a former report. And who were those persons? The hon. mover had interrupted one speaker, to state, that he did not refer to Oliver and the trials at Derby, but to Castles and the trials in London. Yet his friends, if such they might be called, had all directed their attacks against Oliver, while the hon. gentleman protested that he meant Castles. Yet that was impossible: Castles could not be alluded to in the second report, because the trials in London were at an end, before the second report was made: the shouts on the enlargement of Mr. Thistlewood were heard under the very windows of the room where the committee, which was framing the second report, was sitting. What, then, could this report have to do with Castles and his associates? His functions were finished, and it was notorious that the report related only to Oliver. This was a plain and convincing proof that the motion meant nothing, if it did not apply to Oliver. It might, however, be said, that it was intended to have a retrospective as well as a prospective application. But how would its condition be at all improved by the assertion? Castles was a man taken with other persons supposed to be guilty of high treason, and admitted an evidence against them. And was a motion made for an inquiry by a committee of the House of Commons into what had been done against a king's evidence—what steps had been taken to prosecute him? 378 Did any man upon earth ever hear of such a motion? Was it not the notorious practice of all courts of justice to admit accomplices as witnesses? And why, in this sanctioned, hallowed, and dignified crime of treason, was a different rule to prevail to that which governed the vulgar offences of murder or robbery? But why had the name of Castles been thrust in at all? The reason was obvious—because the learned solicitor-general having given a complete answer to the case of Oliver, the hon. mover in his distress, had resorted to the subterfuge of applying his proposition to Castles [Cries of No, no!]. To whom, then, did it apply; or had it indeed no application at all? If Castles was not the man, as he clearly was not, would the other side revert to Oliver? ["Oliver & Co." from the opposition benches]. Then be it Oliver & Co. [Hear, and a laugh]. They should have it either, or both ways.
The motion, then, before the House was, not for the purpose of directing the committee to inquire what ought to be done;—but it was for the purpose of directing them to inquire what had been done,—though his majesty's ministers had stated that nothing had been done [Hear! and a laugh]. That nothing had been done might be blameable; that nothing had been done might be a ground for impeachment; if so,—habetis confitentem reum;—let the impeachment be brought forward, and it would be fairly met; but, in the name of common sense—in the name of consistency—let not the House direct a committee to inquire whether any proceedings had been instituted in a case in which it was notorious that there could be none—the case of a man who had turned evidence for the purpose of saving himself; or in a case in which it was avowed that nothing had been done, and in which therefore if you only want the fact for a ground of an accusation, it is furnished to you by free and voluntary admission.
To such a proposition it was an insult to the understanding of the House to call upon it to give its assent. The present was the first instance that he recollected of a motion, the success of which would be equally inconvenient to its supporters and opponents. What would the other side gain by its adoption? They said that the inquiry was of vital importance—that the peace of society was at stake—that the morals of mankind were invaded, and 379 religion outraged. It might be so. It was impossible to tell what transcendental interests might be involved in the issue of the question of this evening: but granting all the importance of the proposed inquiry, to what body would wise men confide such an inquiry, and to what body did the other side of the House propose to confide it?—To those whom they had uniformly represented as utterly incompetent to the functions already delegated to them—who, in their opinion, possessed neither common talents nor common honesty—to a committee consisting of the friends of ministers, who were themselves culprits—of ministers themselves, who were to be their own judges; of persons, in short, who were assembled merely for the purpose of cheating and deluding the nation [Continued cheers]. He thanked the hon. gentlemen on the other side for their applauses, since he collected from them that he was correctly expressing their sentiments. This, then, was the committee to which it was now proposed to intrust these mighty matters—men, whose labours were injurious rather than beneficial, and whose report would be a tissue of false facts and erroneous opinions. An inquiry on which morality, religion, happiness, tranquillity, and all sorts of blessings depended, was to be placed in the hands of this proscribed committee: utterly incompetent to discharge the functions already assigned to them, they were to be burtherted with fresh tasks, and matters of still greater solemnity. And supposing that this expected report, like that relating to Oliver, should be unsatisfactory to them—as it most likely would be—the consolation of the hon. gentlemen opposite was to be that they might still tell their constituents, that they had put this stupendous subject in the best possible train of investigation, and that it was not their fault if the issue did not bring to light all they hoped to discover [Hear, hear!].
It was a waste of time to say more on such a subject. If the hon. gentlemen were ripe for assuming the character of accusers, why not bring forward some motion of A more daring and original cast? Most assuredly this would not be difficult; for the present motion was, in truth, a humble and servile following up of that vote of the House which had been so loudly denounced—the vote which constituted the committee of secrecy; it showed the most implicit and abject 380 deference to persons who had been declared unworthy; it went to intrust the highest matters to those who would betray; to commit inquiry to those who were the instruments of delusion, and elucidation to professors in obscurity. Surely the ingenuous mind of the hon. mover, when made sensible of the absurdity into which he had been led, would be the first to laugh at the awkwardness of his own predicament; he would discover before the end of the debate, on comparing his motion with the speeches of his friends, that, instead of appearing in his own true colours, as an independent and enlightened man, he had been put forward, not indeed as an Oliver, but as the paw of a certain humble domestic animal, for the purpose of feeling the pulse of the House preparatorily to some more effectual and decisive attack.
Turning, then, from the hon. mover's proposition, which was the small end of the wedge, he would now advert to those who followed him, and whose projects of more vigorous hostility the present motion was calculated to introduce. Of the noble lord (Milton) who spoke early in the debate, he meant not to utter one disrespectful word; yet it was with the utmost surprise he heard the statement he had made. To the committee the noble lord professed to impute no sinister motive;—yet he (Mr. Canning) did conceive that some such had been faintly adumbrated rather than described. It had been alleged, that, last year, alarm had been not only propagated through the country, but industriously exaggerated by the agents of government; that ministers had procured the suspension of the Habeas Corpus for purposes of their own, by exhibiting the country in a state of danger and disaffection. But it could be satisfactorily shown, that government, instead of out-stripping the informations they had received, rather lagged behind them. It was clear, that governments could not go on if they refused to receive information of plots formed against the security of the state. It was equally clear that they must build their belief and shape their conduct, on such information as they receive. He agreed that that information was the best which came under the sanction of established authority, or from an unsuspected channel; and if the noble lord or his friends could prove that ministers had, by option and preference, accepted the communications of obscure agents, in lieu 381 of regular reports from established authorities, then they would make a real case against them. But this had not happened. He presumed that none would differ from him in thinking, that of all the sources of information, local information was best entitled to credit. He should be glad to know, then, what accusation that government would be liable to, who should receive information of the following description, and yet should obstinately refuse to give credit to it. Suppose a justice of the peace should, in the month of December 1817, have written to the secretary of state to this effect:—"I cannot conclude without calling to your recollection, that all this (the tumultuous assembling, rioting, and so forth) is not the consequence of distress, want of employment, scarcity, or dearness of provision, but is the offspring of a revolutionary spirit; and nothing short of a complete change in the established institutions of the country is in contemplation of their leaders and agitators." If this information had come from some petty authority of an obscure district—. had it come, as Johnson expressed it, from "the wisest justice on the banks of Trent," from one who had heard only of changes and revolutions by report, while he himself sat securely beneath his own fig-tree and his vine, if the country produced any such—would government, even in such a case, be warranted in passing it over? But coming as it did from agitated districts, and not only from a justice, but from a master of justices, from the lord lieutenant of the West Riding of York, could government refuse it credit? would they not deserve impeachment if they had done so? Nothing was more common than, when threatened danger was once past, to look back upon it with contempt. When the alarm was once over, fear subsides, and cavil and distrust return with the means of safety. He challenged the historical knowledge of the gentlemen opposite—he challenged the learned research of the hon. and learned gentleman who spoke last, and the more discursive reading of the right hon. gentleman whom they were to have the pleasure of hearing as soon as he (Mr. C.) should sit down (Mr. Tierney)—he challenged them to produce one single instance of a conspiracy not successful, where, when the danger was over, doubts had not been entertained of its existence. When he had made this challenge, he barred all disputed successions to the 382 Crown. He alluded to internal conspiracies conducted by obscure individuals; obscure, he meant, in comparison of princes, statesmen, and peers. He knew that it would be said that earl Fitzwilliam, the lord lieutenant of the West Riding of Yorkshire, had since retracted his opinion; but at the time when it was delivered, the government were bound to take immediate measures upon it. Such measures had been taken, and had received the approbation of the House. To be sure it was the approbation of a majority, and it might have been wiser originally to have settled that a minority should carry the point. But that was a prejudice—a mere arithmetical prejudice, he would allow—which we had inherited from our forefathers, and by which it therefore would be perhaps better at present to abide [A laugh!].
The measures which had been adopted with reference to the documents received, were such as were judged necessary to meet a partial, indeed, but a spreading contagion; and if government were blame-able, it was in acting rather below than beyond the necessity of the time. It was not just to say, as had been stated by an hon. gentleman whom he did not then see in his place, as well as by other gentlemen, though in different words, that the government had been employed in drawing up an indictment against the people of England. The people of England, they believed to be sound in their allegiance, and relied on their spirit and their good sense. This appeared evidently from the sentiments expressed in the Speech from the throne; wherein the great body of the people were warmly and justly represented as sober, loyal, attached to the constitution, and ready to uphold it by any necessary sacrifices. But as disaffection did exist, it was right to probe the ex-tent of the danger; and, in the imperfection of human means to dive into human actions, it was necessary to avail themselves of such means as were within their reach to ascertain the designs of the disaffected. According to the doctrine of gentlemen opposite, a simple traitor was a person entitled to much forbearance, and perhaps respect; but if once he repented of his treason,—if once he turned his back on his fellow traitors, he became altogether execrable. No individual, having the feelings of humanity, or the principles of moral correctness, could set a man on to seduce persons into courses of sedition. 383 But what else could government do to detect conspiracies, than receive information from whatever characters were able to give it? Were they to make it a rule to accept no intelligence but from persons of the purest virtue? From the husband of one wife, the truest of friends, the most independent of men, who was not even bound by the duties of a profession, but could give all his time to the detection of conspiracies for the good of his country? In this degenerate age so faultless a monster could hardly be found. And if conspiracies were to have head until such a character should detect them, the poor I country would not be far from that refined state in which the bloody philosophers of the eighteenth century had wished to place her [Hear, hear.!].
If the hon. gentlemen on the other side were those who had occasion to employ spies, and they were informed that the Bank or the Tower were about to be attacked, they would of course laugh at the intimation; but if their informant Stated that he could bring proofs of what he said, their first question would be "Have you a family?" If their informant answered, "I have six children;" the next question would be, "How many wives have you" To this, perhaps, he might answer, "Gentlemen, I am not certain as to their number; my first poor woman eloped from me, and not having inquired after her, I married another, and I really cannot tell whether the former is living or dead." No doubt, if such were the answer, the moral feeling of the gentlemen would dictate this remark: "Be off, you infamous scoundrel; how dare you, a bigamist, presume to give information as to any treasons or plots. You are not worthy of becoming an informer."[A laugh.] Such gentlemen might do a great deal for the cause of morality, but they could never be entrusted with the care of a nation. Their plan might be the best barrier possible against polygamy; but it would do little to save the state. He agreed that government should not act on the information given by an indifferent character, unless it was corroborated. But, was information to be received or rejected on the score of character merely? Was it necessary that a man should never have been in drink, or in debt, or in love, in order that his intelligence should be received, investigated, and acted upon, if found to be correct? With respect to Castles, he observed, 384 that he was quite out of the reach of any inquiry which might be made, he having only become an evidence to save his own life. With regard to Oliver, government having received voluntary information from him had found it necessary to employ him afterwards, for the purpose of discovering the intentions of the conspirators, for which object he was obliged to become one of their society. Government would not have had recourse to such means if any other could be employed by which the necessary information might be procured. Oliver had not in any degree fomented those disturbances he merely gave information of what he saw and heard in the committees of the conspirators. It was the measures which the House after deliberation had taken that had prevented all the mischief which might otherwise have ensued from a too blind security. The motion must be defeated from its very essence, if it was what its object professed to be, namely, the punishment of Oliver. What grounds were there for such punishment, except those which were attempted to be founded upon the authority of the report of the secret committee? That report assigned no crime whatever. If the report had said, that the conduct of Oliver had had the effect of occasioning the insurrection, still it would be no crime, for the effect might have followed without any criminal intention. It imputed no crime to Oliver for which he was amenable to the laws. But in the performance of that odious and disgusting duty which he had undertaken for the safety of the country, it was certainly possible that, not his words and representations, but his very existence amongst the disaffected, might have operated to a certain degree as encouragement. The accession of a single new face was an accession of strength, and therefore tended to encourage. Neither could it be expected that a man who ventured amongst conspirators in disguise, should not he obliged to tell them falsehoods to support his character. If ministers had their option to detect conspiracies by unexceptionable means, or by the employment of betrayers, they would not hesitate to prefer the first. But the question was, whether they would employ the only means which offered themselves, or suffer the state to go to wreck. He had, however, to state, that not one single individual had for one hour been deprived of his liberty on the testimony of Oliver. Oliver's testimony led to the obtaining other testi- 385 mony less exceptionable than his own, and with respect to which he had acted only as an index. There had been a question much agitated, why Oliver had not been called as a witness on the trials at Derby, some saying that the one party should have called him, and some the other. It had been replied for the prisoners, that they could not have produced him, for that would have been to admit the guilt with which they were charged. But could they not have called him, and disclosed the whole truth, when they were brought up for judgment? As to the trials at Derby, they did not indeed prove that extraordinary measures had been necessary; but they proved that the general statement on which those measures were founded, was correct.
On the whole, he thought that the House could have no hesitation in disposing of the motion of the hon. gentleman. If his object was the condemnation of ministers, he had a shorter method, as it had been avowed that as to the adoption of which inquiry was proposed to be made, the measures had not been adopted. Let him make that his ground of impeachment. If he only wished to punish Oliver, the authority to which his motion referred—the report of the secret committee—assigned no crime whatever to that individual. The hon. gentlemen professed to build their proceedings upon the report. Let them take it, then, for what it was worth—but in its own sense and meaning. How often had it been said, in the warmth of debate, that the effect of language made use of in that House would be to make the people disaffected; but did that cast any imputation of evil design on the person who made use of such language? All that it went to impute was the effect and not the intention; and in like manner, all that the report brought home to Oliver in the present instance was, an unintentional effect, not a deliberate and criminal design.—He thought, therefore, that there was no occasion to push the House to a division on a motion which, if carried, must disappoint the object for which it appeared to be framed, leading to no useful information, and tending to no practicable end.—The right honourable gentleman sat down amidst the loud cheering of the House, which lasted for a considerable time.
§ Sir S. Romilly
was sure the House would excuse him for saying one word strictly in explanation. He might, in- 386 deed, be satisfied with saying, that some misrepresentations were so gross as to require no refutation; but as several members, who had come in while the right hon. gentleman was speaking, might really give credit to the expressions he had ascribed to him, he felt it incumbent upon him to correct the misrepresentation. He never did say—the House must be aware that he never did say—he was astonished how the right hon. gentleman could have understood him to have said—that the House would not dare to reject the motion. He had used the word dare, but it was in this way: An hon. gentleman, in opposing the motion, had said, that the House would not dare, for the sake of their consistency and character, to contradict their own former acts by agreeing to this motion. In allusion to this expression, and as a general election was soon expected, he had said that he could not conceive how gentlemen could resist this motion, and dare to meet their constituents. Sir Samuel concluded with observing, that the right hon. gentleman did not appear to be aware of the difference between spies and informers, because, though it might be right to attend to the latter, it might be utterly unjustifiable to employ the former.
§ Mr. Tierney
observed, that among the advantages which the right hon. gentleman had over him was this, that he had had full two hours' start of him. Of this, however, he would not complain, nor of the length of his speech, although three quarters of it consisted of epigrams, spangles, and fantastical embroidery. He would pass over the right hon. gentleman's allusion to the Millenium, to Robespierre, and the organized shouts; but he could not overlook the right hon. gentleman's angry remark upon the words of his learned friend, that the House dare not do so and so, without adverting to the language of the right hon. gentleman's threat upon a former occasion, that if the House acted in the manner which he then deprecated, an appeal would be made to the people. He meant in 1807, when the right hon. gentleman menaced the House with dissolution if it opposed his opinion, and when his words were ordered to be taken down.* The right hon. gentleman had said, that he would chase away the motion before the House, which he thought proper to characterize as quite preposterous; but if* See Vol. 9, p. 346.387 the right hon. gentleman had not succeeded in his effort, he would call upon the clerk to read it. Now, what was the motion? Why simply this, to refer a reference to the Secret Committee, which would ascertain whether that Committee was good for any thing? This, indeed, he and his friends were willing to try; and it was strange that the right hon. gentleman should object to the experiment. The right hon gentleman had asked, what would gentlemen have, but the fact, that no proceedings had taken place? He would, however, answer, that it was his wish to have that fact formally avowed as a ground for farther measures. But it seems, according to the right hon. gentleman, that nothing had been done by government against the fomenters of disturbance alluded to in the Report of the Committee, because, as he said, nothing could be done. But it appeared extraordinary to his mind, that it would be impossible to maintain an indictment against a man, who being employed for a good purpose, had, on the contrary, directed his exertions to a bad purpose. But he now understood why no proceedings were taken against Oliver; for he apprehended that that person's retort upon his employers was such as they could not conveniently withstand. The government, he was persuaded, durst not touch a hair of Oliver's head. Oliver was not, however, he supposed, the only person alluded to in the report of the Secret Committee of the last session, or such strong vouchers would not that night have been adduced to his morality. The right hon. gentleman had stated, that if ministers could find a moral man to become an informer, they would not of course resort to men of such infamous character as had been deprecated in the course of the debate: but it would seem, from the testimony of some gentlemen on the other side, that ministers had found precisely such a man in the person of Mr. Oliver. Such, however, was not the information received and communicated to the House by his hon. friend (Mr. Bennet), whose statement of that night was of such a nature, that it was impossible it should not become the subject of consideration before a distinct committee—that was, If the House regarded its own character, and desired to be regarded by the country, as in any degree solicitous for the cause of morality and freedom. Great praise was, in his opinion, due to his hon. friend, for 388 his industry and infinite trouble in collecting the materials which he had communicated to the House. But his hon. friend was always on the alert in the cause of humanity. He had no hesitation in pronouncing his hon. friend one of the most humane, useful, and honourable members that had ever adorned the annals of parliament. For without ever resorting to any expedient to entrap popularity, his hon. friend was always active in the cause of benevolence. With the spirit of the philanthropic Howard, he entered into the dungeon of the prisoner, the cell of the maniac, and the asylum of the destitute; and sought, by every means in his power, to diminish the sum of human suffering [loud cries of Hear, hear!]. It was in perfect consistency with his character, that his hon. friend had been induced to make inquiries into the proceedings of Oliver; and after the statement which they had enabled him that night to submit to the House, it was clear that the whole matter must undergo investigation.—Against the interesting statement of his hon. friend, the right hon. gentleman had not, amidst all his gay and gaudy eloquence, ventured to say one word. And here he must pause for a moment to declare, that he had that night heard the hon. and learned solicitor-general within-finite pain. He was himself, perhaps, the very first man who had noticed the rising talents of the hon. and learned gentleman, and had foretold, on an occasion which he could not have forgotten, that he would one day make a figure in public life. He had subsequently inquired of a lamented and common friend, the late Mr. Horner, what was his character, not only as a lawyer but as a man; and the information which he received, made it a melancholy spectacle to him to sec him treading in his present, might he not say, bad courses. If, as he might presume, it was the pan-city of legal talents which the minister found he could enlist in his service that had raised the hon. and learned gentleman to his present eminence, and had enabled him to make such an extraordinary stride, the same reason might cause him to be elevated to the bench. Was it not then alarming to find the lawyer, who might hereafter be a judge, holding in that House the monstrous doctrine, that an individual, who had been accused, was thereby disqualified from being a witness? Look at the case of Mitchell. Mitchell was discharged, instead of being prosecuted; and¶389 were they to be told by a solicitor-general, that because he had been arrested on the suspicion of some person, his testimony was not to be believed? Was he to be debarred the right of proving his innocence? This was strange doctrine at all times; but what epithet did it deserve, proceeding from those very persons, who denied to these accused men that trial by which they could prove their innocence [Hear, hear!]. He defied them, even in the annals of Turkey, or of those of old France, pregnant as it was with these oppressions, which led to the bloody revolution that convulsed the world, to produce any thing more monstrous than this. But mark the turn which the gentlemen opposite take between the case of this night, and that which was brought before the House yesterday. You must not, said the noble lord (Castlereagh) last night, listen to the charge against the law officers of Scotland, because it proceeds from a polluted source. What was the pollution there? It was, that the unfortunate man Campbell refused to forswear himself. If you do not take that little step which we want, namely, commit an act, which is nothing less than perjury, any other statement you may make, must be discredited, because it proceeds from a polluted source! But there were other witnesses to his hon. friend's statement besides Mitchell, as he himself assured the House. Then came cries of "Name, name!" In the candour of his hon. friend's nature, he was about to name, but his cooler judgment arrested him, because he knew that some one would immediately go to rake up some charge of pollution against these witnesses also. The House must not disguise from themselves that it was impossible, after that statement, to get rid of it without a full investigation; it must be set at rest. There was a load of guilt, which would be affixed to the highest quarters, unless it was placed upon the shoulders of the real criminal.—In one part of the right hon. gentleman's speech, by much the most solemn as well as the most dull, he had endeavoured to answer the observations of a noble friend behind him (lord Milton), professing that here he meant to deal in nothing but argument. He had, however, soon found it necessary to resort to a little stage effect, and had produced a paper from the bag [No, from Mr. Canning]. Then why was it not in the bag if it contained important information? [Mr. Canning said some- 390 thing across the table.] It would appear, then, that it had been taken from old bags, [a laugh] and was, in point of fact, a letter of earl Fitzwilliam, dated December, 1816. It contained the judgment which at that time the noble earl's intelligent mind, had formed; and which his candour induced him to communicate to his majesty's ministers, respecting the internal state of the country. His impression then was, that very serious agitations were in existence, and that there was ground for entertaining considerable alarm. What, said the right hon. gentleman, and will you contend after this, that strong measures were not necessary? But let it be recollected, that these strong measure were not proposed till the February following, nor till an unfortunate pebble was thrown in the park [Murmurs from the ministerial benches]. He had a right to assume so, as no mention of their necessity was made in the speech from the throne. Now he wished the House to advert a little to the practice of this dealing, on the part of his majesty's ministers, with papers to which nobody but themselves had access. Let it be supposed that the very production of this letter was of all their attempts at delusion, the grossest and most palpable. [Hear, hear! from lord Milton]. What, if there had been subsequent letters from earl Fitzwilliam? [Hear, hear!]. If such letters had been received, was not the right hon. gentleman, when he read the one, bound in fairness to read the other? When he read the previous, ought he not to have communicated the subsequent? It was impossible that he should not know of their existence, for he presumed his colleagues were at length disposed to trust him [a laugh, and cries of hear!]. Indeed, the right hon. gentleman himself felt that he ought to have done so, from his endeavour to explain the motives of earl Fitzwilliam's subsequent change. "It is easy," said he, "to change one's opinion when the danger is over." Here again the facts contradicted the right hon. gentleman's assertion. It was not when the danger was over, but when ministers themselves declared it to be raging, that earl Fitzwilliam communicated his change of opinion. It was at the time that he was sent down to Yorkshire as lord lieutenant, to examine into the alleged outrages on the spot—when ministers were hurrying the Suspension bill through parliament, that such a change was expres- 391 sed. Was that subsequent letter in the present bag? He could not say, as they took special care to exclude him. But this he begged to tell them, that if it was not in the present bag, the ministers of the Crown were wilfully deceiving the country, and the report of their committee would be another attempt at delusion. But the right hon. gentleman affected to feel sore at the insinuation of the government wishing to take advantage of alarm. He, for his part, believed it was their aim to excite it. The firm belief of his mind was, that ministers did wish and intend to excite alarm: and his reason for so believing was, that instead of giving the evidence on both sides, they had submitted only a mutilated account of what information was before themselves to the committee. He believed moreover, that these poor innocent and unsuspecting ministers, whose utter simplicity was so well pourtrayed by the right hon. gentleman, according to whose representation they had no political object in view, but acted altogether from the impulse of kindred sympathy, would have continued the alarm, if it had been found possible to do so. As he had already once observed, alarm was their daily bread; and, if they could have succeeded this time in dividing the opposition, he doubted not that the continuance of the Suspension act would have been proposed. Such would one day, when dispassionately viewed and examined upon its true merits, appear to be the conduct and character of the present government. However firm and durable at present, it would soon crumble into nothing. The lord advocate had last night made it a matter of boast, that no man had been arrested in Scotland, without being brought to trial in the regular course of law. This, then, satisfactorily showed, that the Suspension act was not required in Scotland. Every man had not the frankness of the hon. member for Hertfordshire, although he might have a similar conviction, and could not persuade himself to make a voluntary and immediate confession that he had been deceived. But tens and hundreds in that House would, in no long space of time, admit, that the disaffection which had been proved to exist, fell far short of what they dreaded when they gave their consent to the Suspension act. He did not himself deny the existence of a disaffected spirit to a certain extent; but he considered it as springing from a distress which 392 he hoped was now removed, and that it had been inflamed by the acts of the agents employed by government. Not one man among the disaffected was of a higher rank in society than that of a weaver, and the far greater part of them were paupers, excepting always the moral Mr. Oliver and Co. If there had been evil machinations before Oliver arrived, it was clear to his mind, that his arrival caused them to terminate in an explosion. If he had not excited the disaffection, he had turned it into the only course in which it was likely to prove mischievous. Strange, that agents of this description should be employed by a government which boasted of its preventive policy? The attorney-general had asked, what could be thought of Brandreth, a man who had fought his way through murder to treason? He agreed that Brandreth was better out of society than in it; but the question now was, whether the explosion in Derbyshire was not the work of Oliver; for if it was, Oliver was guilty of the murder which the hand of Brandreth committed. On the question of treason he would say nothing, for he thought that was a matter of doubt. Why did the vigilance of the magistrates sleep on the 9th of June, when Brandreth might have been arrested? The worst that could, in that case have happened would be, that four more persons would have probably been alive, than were now living. For his own part, he could easily conceive what an impression must be made upon a discontented populace in the country, en being informed, by a person calling himself a London delegate, that 70,000 men were prepared to rise and join them in establishing their rights. But even these arts, calculated as they were to inflame and mislead, had gone no farther than to cause an insurrection of a hundred men here and a hundred there, armed with a few pitchforks, and about twenty muskets. Was this a sufficient ground for depriving the people of England of their liberties? His persuasion was, that there had existed no necessity for vesting such formidable power in the government, and that they had been exercised in many places, more particularly at a distance from the metropolis, with harsh and needless severity. Did the House believe, that by the vote of a majority that night this question would be set at rest? He wished to speak in measured terms; but he must warn the House not to trespass too far on the temper and pa- 393 tience of the people. They would not I bear to have their liberties scouted at in the tone of the right hon. gentleman [Hear, hear!]. Every unhappy victim of the Suspension act would have to relate in his little circle the tale of his sufferings, his innocence, and his wrongs; and would have to close all by adding, that a majority of the House of Commons refused to listen to him, or inquire into the truth of his story, because the minister declared that it was better as it was. If his majesty's ministers refused to face the inquiry, the universal impression would be, that they dared not face it. The right hon. gentleman might shake his head, but he would advise him and the noble lord to beware how their conduct provoked future and more serious disturbances. The statement of his hon. friend, until met by a full and intelligible investigation, must remain a deep stain upon the history of this country. A majority might appear a very triumphant thing, but it did not always excite very triumphant or satisfactory feelings; and he was persuaded that there was not one of that night's majority, who would not say to himself as he went home, "the ministers certainly made but a poor figure." As for the learned lord, he perhaps consoled himself by the reflection, that like the charge against M'Kinley, it was "not proved," and that he was the more innocent of the two [A laugh]. The noble lord (Castlereagh), indeed, well knew the difference between a real triumph, and the act of a majority, which might not choose to desert him in the hour of his distress. But he could assure him that the question would be revived; that an inquiry, though now refused, was only postponed; and that the result must exhibit what was the real nature of his triumph.
said, that with respect to the letter of earl Fitzwiiliam, he would appeal to the recollection of the House whether, in the debates last session on the second suspension of the Habeas Corpus act, one of the strongest arguments against that suspension was not the change of opinion in earl Fitzwilliam.
§ Mr. Tierney
said, the fact was, that one letter had been received which was thought convenient to be communicated, and another had been received subsequently which was kept back, as it was thought not convenient to communicate it.
disavowed any the slightest intention of wilfully keeping back 394 any thing that might tend to throw any light on the state of the country.
§ Lord Milton
trusted that, from the argumentum ad hominem, or rather the argumentum ad filium of the right hon. gentleman, he should be allowed to say a few words. It was really his opinion that one letter had been produced, while another had been withheld. The right hon. gentleman had stated, that the danger being over, earl Fitzwiiliam had been glad to get back to those whom before he had felt himself bound to abandon, or something to that effect; but that was by no means the real statement of earl Fitzwilliam's change of opinion. He had moved for a paper in the committee, which did not appear to be forthcoming. There had certainly been another letter which had not been produced, and in the letter which had been brought forward, there had been enclosed a document which was not now found in it, and on which his change of opinion had been considerably founded. He was a member of the Secret Committee, and as such he felt that it would not be becoming in him to disclose any of the information laid before it. But he thought he owed a duty to that House, to state to them the conduct of the government in one particular. Many letters had been laid before the committee from lords-lieutenant of different counties, but there were no letters from the lords lieutenant of the West Riding of Yorkshire. He did not know what the reason of that could be, but he trusted that the letter to which he had alluded, as well as the other document, would be laid before the House, for them to form their own judgment thereon, without any communication.
thought, that the situation of the noble lord, as a member of the Secret Committee, ought to have precluded him from making a most odious, and in his opinion, a most unfair statement. It was a thing that he could not help complaining of. The noble lord had given notice in the committee of a motion, for the production of a paper, on which he (lord C.) had stated, that he did not suppose there would be any difficulty in granting the production of any papers; but he thought it proper, as he did not belong to the department from which that paper was to be received, that the question should be reserved for a future day. The noble lord, therefore, had given a very unfair colouring to the circumstances relative 395 to that letter. As to the general question before the House, after the very able and unanswerable speeches which had been made from his side of the House, it would be unnecessary for him to trouble the House with any argument upon it. He should therefore content himself with protesting against the system of general inquiry, which seemed now to be proposed from the other side of the House.
§ After a short reply from Mr. Fazakerley, the House divided: Ayes, 52; Noes, 111.
|List of the Minority.|
|Abercromby, hon. J.||Mildmay, sir H. St. J.|
|Althorp, visct.||Milton, visct.|
|Atherley, Arthur||Monck, sir C.|
|Birch, Jos.||Morpeth, visct.|
|Brougham, Henry||Neville, hon. R.|
|Burdett, sir F.||Nugent, lord|
|Burrell, hon. P. D.||Ord, Wm.|
|Byng, Geo.||Ossulston, lord|
|Calcraft, J.||Philips, George|
|Calvert, Chas.||Pym, F.|
|Carter, John||Ridley, sir M. W.|
|Duncannon, visct.||Romilly, sir S.|
|Douglas, hon. F. S.||Smith, John|
|Fergusson, sir R. C.||Smith, W.|
|Fitzroy, lord J.||Smyth, J. H.|
|Folkestone, visct.||Sharp, Richard|
|Gordon, Rob.||Symonds, T. P.|
|Grant, J. P.||Tavistock, marquis|
|Hamilton, lord A.||Tierney, right hon. G.|
|Heron, sir Robt.||Waldegrave, hon. W.|
|Hurst, Rob.||Warre, J. A.|
|Lemon, sir W.||Webb, Edward|
|Latouche, Rob. jun.||Wilkins, Walter|
|Lyttelton, hon. W. H.||Wood, alderman|
|Macdonald, Jas.||Bennet, hon. H. G.|
|Markham, adm.||Fazakerley, N.|