§ The Speech of the Prince Regent having been read by the Speaker,
§ Mr. Wodehouse
said, that in moving the Address which the House usually voted to the throne at the opening of the session, he should ill discharge his duty, if he did not avail himself of the earliest opportunity of calling their attention to the deep distress in which a recent calamitous event had plunged his Royal Highness. We had lived so many years in a state of war, and our attention had been so much occupied by the succession of wonderful events to which that state had given rise, that our minds seemed, in some sort, diverted from the consideration of our own domestic affairs. The first event after the return of peace, in our domestic history, which was viewed with deep interest by the whole nation, was the virtuous al- 20 liance from which so many advantages were anticipated. From the gradual expansion of a mind of such strong native excellence as that of the illustrious princess, the nation were well warranted in entertaining the most sanguine hopes and expectations. The premature death of that Princess had suspended the hopes of the nation, and closed the bright prospects, the extinction of which was so feelingly lamented by all classes of this country. It would he wasting the time of the House, or even worse in him to attempt to describe to them a life so much entitled to their admiration—to attempt to paint the bright lustre which opened to their view. This would be a mockery of real feeling—it suited neither with the nature of the subject, nor the dignity of she House. Without intruding on the sacred sorrows of the illustrious father, they might assure him that parliament sympathized with him in his misfortune—that as they were associated with him in his hopes, they were associated with him in his grief. Nothing was more congenial to the British character than such a sympathy with the sufferings of the illustrious Person to whom they had plighted their allegiance. Their anxiety on such an occasion must be regarded as an indubitable proof of their attachment to the family on the throne of these realms.—In the Speech a variety of topics were introduced, all of which, from their importance, would become the subject of future deliberation, and therefore he should not trespass on their attention by entering into details. They had heard of our amity with foreign states—our prosperity and tranquillity at home—the stability of our credit, the improvement of our revenue. The picture was certainly flattering, but it was not coloured beyond what our national resources would warrant. Daily intercourse furnished to every man abundant proofs of the improvement which had taken place in the circumstances of our fellow-subjects. He should be grieved to think that he was either the victim of credulity, or that he spoke the language of delusion. Whether we looked to our agriculture, or to any other branch of our industry or commerce, there was no longer seen that stagnant langour and dejection—that feeling among men that they were struggling for existence with no hope of advancement. Now, instead of the former depression, there were every where seen that vigor and that elasticity which was the most satis-‡21 factory evidence of a real and substantial prosperity. The restoration of internal tranquillity was a subject on which the imagination loved to dwell. There was now a perfect restoration of content, and the hateful seeds of disaffection were banished from the land. The diffusion of religious instruction was also most properly under the royal eye, and an increased number of places of divine worship was recommended to our particular attention. There remained one or two material points in the Speech which ought not to be passed over in complete silence.—He alluded more particularly to the communication on the subject of the treaties entered into with Spain and Portugal for the abolition of the slave trade. If any thing could add to the importance of these arrangements, it was the consolation derived from the consideration of the narrow limits within which that traffic was now confined, affording a reasonable hope that it will soon cease to exist. It was a proud triumph to this country that an end to this most detestable traffic—the existence of which was condemned by the unanimous feeling of Christendom—was accomplished through the mediation of Great Britain. Of all the glorious achievements, of which she had so much reason to be proud, none would throw more lustre on her than the accomplishment of the universal abolition of this abominable and iniquitous traffic.—The hon. gentleman concluded with moving,
"That an humble Address be presented to his Royal Hghness the Prince Regent, to thank his Royal Highness for the most gracious speech delivered by his command to both Houses of parliament:
"To assure his Royal Highness that we fully share the great concern expressed by his Royal Highness at the continuance of his majesty's lamented indisposition:
"To offer to his Royal Highness the expression of our sincere condolence on that awful dispensation of Providence which, by the untimely death of her Royal Highness the Princess Charlotte, has visited his Royal Highness with an affliction so deeply distressing to his feelings both as a parent and a prince:
"That we should ill discharge our duty as affectionate subjects of his majesty, and as representatives of the people of the united kingdom, if we did not eagerly embrace this first occasion of testifying our participation in the general sense of this irreparable national loss, a loss which 22 has come home like a private calamity to the hearts and affections of all descriptions of his majesty's subjects:
"That, reflecting on the hopes which we had fondly cherished, that the virtues displayed by this excellent princess in all the relations of private life, would hereafter adorn the throne, and would be transmitted through a continued succession of princes in his Royal Highness's august line, we find ourselves unable to express in adequate terms the profound impression of our regret and disappointment; and that while we trust that the Almighty will still continue to watch over the prosperity of a nation hitherto so signally favoured by his gracious Providence, we are duly thankful for the consideration which amidst his own sufferings, his Royal Highness has not failed to bestow on the effect which this sad event must have on the interest and future prospect of the kingdom:
"To congratulate his Royal Highness on the assurances which he continues to receive from foreign powers, of their friendly disposition towards this country, and of their desire to maintain the general tranquillity:
"To assure his Royal Highness, that it is in the highest degree satisfactory to us, to find that the confidence which he has invariably felt in the stability of the great sources of our national prosperity has not been disappointed:
"That the improvement which has taken place, in the course of the last year, in almost every branch of our domestic industry, and the present state of public credit, appears to us, as well as to his Royal Highness, to afford abundant proof that the difficulties under which the country was labouring were chiefly to be ascribed to temporary causes:
"That we rejoice the more in this important change, as it has withdrawn from the disaffected the principal means of which they had availed themselves for the purpose of fomenting a spirit of discontent, which unhappily led to acts of insurrection and treason; and that we indulge a confident expectation that the state of peace and tranquillity to which the country is now restored, will be maintained against all attempts to disturb it, by the persevering vigilance of the magistracy, and by the loyalty and good sense of the people:
"To return our humble thanks to his Royal Highness, for having directed the 23 estimates for the current year to be laid before us:
"To express our satisfaction at the information which his Royal Highness has been pleased to communicate to us, that the revenue has been in a state of progressive improvement in its most important branches since we were last assembled in parliament; and to assure his Royal Highness that we shall not fail to direct our continued attention to the state of the public income and expenditure:
"To offer our acknowledgments to his Royal Highness for the attention which he has shown to the recommendations of the two Houses of parliament, in his endeavours to promote the abolition of the slave trade, and for his having directed copies of the treaties, which we are most happy to learn his Royal Highness has concluded for that purpose with the courts of Spain and Portugal, to be laid before us, the former immediately, the latter as soon as ratified: and to assure his Royal Highness that we shall proceed to examine these treaties, with every disposition to adopt such measures as may be found necessary to enable his Royal Highness to give full effect to the arrangements into which he has entered, for the accomplishment of this great object of our solicitude:
"To express our due sense of the deficiency which has so long existed in the number of places of public worship belonging to the established church, when compared with the increased and increasing population of the country; to thank his Royal Highness for having directed our attention to this important matter; and to assure his Royal Highness that we shall readily take it into our early consideration, deeply impressed as we are with a just sense of the many blessings which tin's country by the favour of Divine Providence has enjoyed, and with the conviction that the religious and moral habits of the people are the most sure and firm foundations of national prosperity."
§ Mr. Wyndham Quin
addressed the House to the following purport: —
I am, Sir, so fully conscious of my own inability adequately to discharge the task I have undertaken, that I am anxious to seize the earliest opportunity of putting in a claim (I fear rather a large one) for your considerate and partial indulgence. But it is matter of great satisfaction to me to think, that there is nothing in this 24 address calculated to provoke much discussion, and far less to occasion any substantial difference of opinion.
In the first topic, which laments the continued indisposition of his majesty, all must concur. Yet, Sir, even from that event, we may, I hope, draw this consolation, that it has, I trust, rendered it impossible his majesty should have been made acquainted with the deadly loss he has sustained.
It is now, Sir, nearly two years since an event took place which gladdened the hearts and brightened the prospects of every individual in this country. The heir presumptive of the British crown became the consort to a prince of an ancient and illustrious house; himself illustrious by being eminently good—distinguished and ennobled by the possession of those qualities which nature bestows with a rare and sparing hand. Such, Sir, is the brief and feeble sketch of a character which has obtained legitimate popularity without seeking for it, and acquired glory without ostentation. The sufferings of this excellent prince have been great; but let it be recollected, that if never calamity was more severe, or affliction more poignant, so never was sympathy more genuine, or feeling more universal and sincere, than that which has attended him. Whatever shall he the destiny of this amiable individual, let him at heart reflect upon this consolation, that he carries with him the blessing of every being who has a head to think, or a heart to feel.
But how shall I now deal with a topic that cannot be approached without emotion, or handled without pain? There are some subjects that wither under the hand of an unskilful artist, and therefore into the details of panegyric I will not and I cannot enter. Suffice it to say, it has pleased God to callher away who was the pride and hope of the country. If you would see how deeply she is lamented, you may read it in the characters of grief that darken every countenance you meet: if you would estimate how widely, how universally her loss is deplored, go where you will through the country, traverse it to the east, west, north, and south, and you will perceive in every quarter how that loss is felt and bewailed by all ranks as a domestic calamity. God has been pleased to take away the Princess Charlotte from us in the bloom and promise of her youth, but her name and her memory shall remain for ever, enshrined in the hearts and affections of the people.
25 But, in this universal tide of sorrow, whose grief can equal his, a father, who has lost his only and beloved child! I protest this subject presents calamity in so many and such various points of view, that I am unable to continue it; and I am sure there is not a gentleman whom I have the honour to address whose own feelings will not suggest to him all that can be said, and with much more eloquence than I can command.
I now come to touch, in a very general manner, upon the other topics contained in the address; and at a period like the present, that part of the Prince Regent's speech which directs particular attention to the deficiency which has long existed in the number of places of worship of the established church, is well worthy of his Royal Highness and of the parliament to which it is addressed; for the history of the last 30 years, and of those events which have convulsed and shaken Europe, has plainly shown how intimate the connexion is between the stability of empires, and the moral and religious habits of the people.
The House will, I am sure, receive with unmixed satisfaction the communication the Prince Regent has been graciously pleased to make of the friendly disposition of foreign powers, and the prospect of continued peace; for though I trust the day will never arrive in which Great Britain shall be either unable or unwilling to vindicate her cause in war, yet let it never be forgotten that the wisest object of legitimate war is, to obtain solid, honourable, and lasting pacification.
I do not wish, on the present occasion, to detain the House with figures or any details of finance, and I will merely say generally, that the improvement of the revenue, particularly in the last six months, when compared with the corresponding quarters of last year, has been considerable; and I must observe that that increase having been progressive, holds out a reasonable hope that it will be permanent.—The improvement in the internal state of the country, in its manufactures, its import and export trade, in that most important branch, the internal commerce, by means of its various livers and canals, in the rate of the funds, the value of landed property, increase of the revenue, in short, in resources of all kinds, is evident to the most casual observer, and far greater than the most sanguine could have ventured to hope for. Last year 26 strong men were to be seen in distress for want of work; now wages have advanced; industry, which is the staple foundation of national wealth, has a fair field spread for its exertion. The country, if I may so express myself, feels an increased circulation in every artery, in every channel of its commerce.—Last year the fires were extinguished in most of the iron works, now they are in full activity, and the price of iron has risen from 8 or 9 to about 14l. a ton. The demand for linen, the staple of the north of Ireland, is unprecedented both as to quantity and price. The funds are now eighty, last year about 63. Money is most abundant, and when lent at mortgage to good security, lowering in rate of interest, and to be had at 4½ per cent, at the same time that sales of land are effected at better prices than last year. Gold too has re-appeared, and the little request in which it is held, seems to declare, that a belief in the stability of our financial system is universal. Let me notice the return of confidence among all classes and descriptions of men;—the farmer, the manufacturer, the merchant, all seem to feel its vivifying influence. A confidence that the worst is past, and that every thing will still continue to improve, cannot perhaps be shown as wealth in a tangible shape, yet it is nevertheless very important, and has material influence on national prosperity; and now (thanks to the wise, precautionary measures that were taken) I may add to this picture the return of internal tranquillity and peace.
When we consider the blessings we have ourselves enjoyed, it is natural we should be desirous of transmitting them unimpaired to posterity; and all men will rejoice to find that the interests and forlorn prospects of the country, as connected with the succession to the Crown, now, even in the midst of his own deep affliction, occupies the serious attention of the Regent. The House knows that the connexion of the reigning family with this country is closely linked with British freedom, and that under the auspices of the house of Brunswick, we have advanced in arts, in arms, in civilization and commerce, and in the blessings of liberty; and the country looks, with anxious solicitude, and loyal affection to its permanent continuance on the throne, and though perhaps there is no immediate fear of the crown departing from the many descendants of the princess Sophia, yet it is of 27 the highest importance that the inheritance should remain in our own British branch, and that the members of the royal family, who may be called to rule over these realms, should continue to be Englishmen in birth, in principles, and in feelings.
I have now endeavoured to give a short, and I know it has been a most imperfect sketch, of the improved situation and prospect of the country;—that improvement has been greater than ever took place within the short space of one year, within the memory of man.
But I must not forget to point the attention of the House to the treaties with Spain and Portugal for the abolition of the slave trade. They will be laid upon the table, and it will hereafter be remembered, to the honour of this country, that even in the midst of its own difficulties, distresses, and struggles, when fighting not only for the preservation of liberty, but of existence, that in such times, England was not deaf to the wrongs of other nations; that afterwards, when she had vindicated her own rights, and secured her own freedom, she shared with them part of her days of triumph; and not unmindful of the larger sphere of benefit she was enabled to convey, she attended to the interests of humanity, and the rights of human nature.
But let the House please to consider what our situation would and must have been at the present moment if we had pursued a different line, and consented, under any circumstances, to submit to peace with Buonaparte; hollow, insecure, and treacherous peace!—never did policy receive so trimphant a justification as that which rejected all compromise, which flung away the scabbard in contending with an enemy whose ambition was without moderation, and whose conduct had never yet been guided by good faith.
The country is now beginning to reap the fruits of that unrelaxing firmness in our councils, seconded by those magnanimous efforts in the country, that achieved not only our own security, but the total downfal and annihilation of the most tremendous tyranny that ever loured over the liberties of mankind. Now the greatest sceptic must cease to doubt that feeling, and the most timid to despond.
I beseech you to look where the country would now have been, stripped of its high attributes, and endeavouring to preserve, what at best could only have been an 28 armed peace, with war establishments, and war taxes, instead of being where Great Britain is, upon the pinnacle of glory, a model and example to nations, placed, as your firmness has placed you, on the topmost round of your ambition, attracting at once the admiration, and perhaps the envy of the world.
§ Lord Althorp
said:—Mr. Speaker; Extremely sorry should I be, when we are called upon to offer our condolence to the throne on the melancholy event which has lately afflicted the country, that any observation should escape from my lips, which might be in the least degree calculated to produce a difference of opinion as to the propriety of the Address moved, or disturb the unanimity which so happily pervades the House; nor shall I follow in detail the speeches of the hon. mover and seconder of that Address, farther than to protest against the inference they have attempted to draw, that the present improved condition of commerce, and the tranquil state of the country, are to be attributed to the measures pursued in the last session by his majesty's ministers. This is an opinion in which I, and probably many others, can by no means coincide; but as there will be many other opportunities for discussing this subject, I shall refrain from entering on it at present. I am, however, anxious to draw the attention of the House to a subject not forming any part of the topics embraced by the preceding speakers, yet necessarily connected with them, upon which I must premise it is not my intention to ground any specific motion. In fact, this is the only occasion when we are privileged to allude to particular grievances on the part of individuals, or make a complaint on behalf of our constituents generally, without intending to move a resolution or motion in form upon the subject of such grievance or complaint. Such has been heretofore the practice upon the reading of his majesty's speech at the commencement of the session, and I shall avail myself of it to make a few observations upon the late prosecutions instituted against a person named Hone, for libels. It is a subject of great delicacy, because the professed cause of those prosecutions, the parodies on sacred subjects, no man can justify. Let none suppose that in calling the attention of the House to the subject, I do not feel the extreme impropriety and danger of such publications. I strongly 29 disapprove of them, yet in common with the bulk of the nation, I rejoice that an unsupported individual has triumphed over the extraordinary and uncalled-for severity of his assailants. Of the party prosecuted I know nothing, but as the editor of those reprehensible parodies on the forms of the established church, and as the very able and successful defender of what in themselves I cannot help thinking highly culpable productions.— By that defence he certainly prevailed upon the jury to acquit him, and with their conviction of his culpability or innocence I have nothing to do; but much may be urged as to the policy or propriety of the motives which actuated the attorney-general in bringing the publisher before the public by three several prosecutions ex officio. Perhaps had the matter been subjected to a grand jury, bills would have been found which would equally well have answered his purpose. Unquestionably, however, the hon. and learned gentleman had a right to prose cute in that form if he thought proper so to do. But what appears highly objectionable upon the part of the hon. and learned gentleman is, that after the acquittal of Mr. Hone upon the first trial he proceeded to try him upon a similar libel, as though he was desirous of appealing from the verdict of one jury to that of another.—Thus endeavouring to bring that which is the only competent authority to decide upon the subject, a verdict of a jury, into discredit and odium. The jury, notwithstanding that dubious cheer, I must always consider the judges of the law as well as the fact of publication in all cases of libel I will not impeach the capacity of the hon. and learned gentleman, for whom I entertain great respect; yet I cannot help seeking some explanation for the motives which induced him to press the question in this case—and hand the accused, after an acquittal, over to another jury. The result proved its impolicy. He was again acquitted. A third attempt to gain a verdict was then tried with equal ill success, and the sanction of three verdicts was thus given to a practice condemnable by all well-disposed persons, all through the injudicious zeal of the hon. and learned gentleman.—Had the case been otherwise, and the defendant been convicted upon the third trial, there can belittle doubt his punishment would have nearly equalled those resulting from a 30 conviction upon the three several informations; and yet in that case, he would have been acquitted by the majority of the juries. This mode of proceeding cannot he considered candid or liberal. An unfair advantage appears to have been taken of the accused, by subjecting him to reiterated trials, and reiterated and painful exertions.—Thus, although disposed to concede the magnitude of the evil likely to result from permitting the dissemination of such reprehensible publications, I cannot but think the hon. and learned gentleman's indiscretion has exposed the country to the chance of an evil of a much more alarming nature, had, during those trials, any circumstance occurred through his pertinacity which might have tended to lower and depreciate in the public mind and estimation the opinion hitherto entertained- of the trial by jury.—Although I have felt it my duty thus early to express my sentiments upon this transaction, in conformity with the practice of the House, and the indulgence attending the opening of the session of parliament, by reading the speech delivered by the royal commission, I have been induced to do so merely with a view to perform a paramount duty, without feeling the least disposed to find fault with the substance of that Speech or the Address now moved for. In both these I heartily concur, and hope there will be an unanimous sentiment respecting their propriety.
The Attorney General
said, he had not intended to trouble the House on the question before them, but he might be excused if he made some observations on that part of the noble lord's speech which referred to the prosecutions that had recently taken place. He was not sure that he had rightly understood the objection made by the noble lord to the proceedings against Mr. Hone; he was not sure whether he objected to the prosecution of the parodies altogether, or whether his objection was founded on the circumstance of Mr. Hone having been tried three times. Those who thought the parodies were altogether innoxious, and such things as were proper to be circulated, must of course disapprove of the publisher of them being put three times on his trial; but in his humble opinion, if any one of them was a fit subject for prosecution, unless a marked distinction could be made between that and the others, he should have failed in his duty 31 to the public if he had not prosecuted the whole. He denied that there was any thing litigious in the course that had been pursued, any thing of resentment towards the individual other than that which his supposed delinquency might be expected to inspire in the mind of a public officer, who held himself bound to Proceed against the party so offending, In his humble judgment, if any single in dividual publication of the three proceeded against was a fit subject for prosecution, it was the duty of the attorney-general to proceed against the whole. Was it because three separate and distinct libels,—three publications charged as libels at least,—had been sent forth by the same person, that two out of the three, on a verdict of acquittal being pronounced on the first trial, ought not to be prosecuted? This was a position which could not be maintained. If it were contended that some of them ought to have been prosecuted, and some not, then the question would arise as to which ought to have been proceeded against; but if all of them appeared to the prosecutor to be of the same nature, he would ask what inference would be drawn, if the public should see one or two selected from the number to be proceeded against, while those which remained passed unnoticed? The inference would be, that there were three parodies on the Church of England service: that the parody prosecuted was considered to be an improper one; but that the others, which it was not attempted to punish, were innocent, justifiable, and might be circulated at pleasure. He would appeal to the House if such would not be the inference that must be drawn from conduct like that which he had supposed. He admitted that because the man had been prosecuted for one libel of an injurious and mischievous tendency, and acquitted—he ought not on that account to be punished for a publication that was innocent in its nature; but in the case of Mr. Hone, it had certainly appeared to him, that the character of all the publications charged as libels was the same. He bad understood the noble lord to complain of three prosecutions having been carried on against the same individual; if this were held to be be a matter of complaint, the noble lord must be of opinion that the publications were harmless.
§ Lord Althorp
said, what he objected to was the conduct of the attorney-general 32 in persevering in the prosecutions after the first verdict of acquittal.
The Attorney General
stated it to have been the subject of serious consideration with him, whether, after the first verdict, it would be proper to go on, or to abandon the prosecutions, and the result was, a conviction in his own mind, that by giving them up he should be guilty of a gross dereliction of his duty to the public. Unless he had felt satisfied, from what came out on the first trial, that the publications were not what he had previously conceived them to be, and that he was mistaken in the informations which he had put upon the record, it was his bounden duty to proceed with the other two. And he now begged to say, that notwithstanding the verdict given by the jury—(he was always sorry to say any thing of verdicts given in a court of justice)—he had not been convinced, but far from it, that Mr. Hone was not guilty of a libel in the second publication, though he had been acquitted on the first. Though all the libels were of the same character, they were on different parts of the service of the Church of England, and were therefore fit subjects of distinct prosecutions. His mind had not been at all convinced, though by the law of England the jury had the right,—and God forbid they should not have it,—of deciding on the guilt or innocence of the party accused;—yet still he had not been convinced that the publications in question were not what they had been charged to be. On such matters every man was entitled to exercise his own judgment. Had he felt that he had been in error when he first proceeded against them—had the first trial produced this conviction on his mind, he should have felt it his bounden duty to stay the proceedings; but in the absence of such conviction, ought he to have abstained from proceeding with the second prosecution, because the first had failed? Was such the principle on which the administration of the justice of the country ought to rest? If it could be shown by the noble lord that he had persevered in the prosecution from malice, or from a spirit of revenge, then he might make out a charge against him; but if this were not made out or stated, he would say that his conduct had not been improper, and that to have withdrawn from the prosecution of two of the parodies after a verdict of acquittal had been pronounced on the first, would have been taken for a 33 confession on his part, that the first proceeding had been wrong. Would it have been right for him to have made such a confession, when he had no reason to believe or to imagine that such was indeed the fact? Whether or not such was the opinion of other persons, was quite another question; but with the impression he had had on his mind, it was his bounden duty, after the result of the first trial was known, to bring the second publication under the consideration of a jury. To have acted otherwise, he conceived then —he conceived now, and he thought he should ever remain in the same mind, would on his part have amounted to a dereliction of duty, and he might in such a case have been justly charged with weakness, and unbecoming apprehension for the issue, if he had not taken a verdict on each of the publications.
§ Sir Samuel Romilly
said, he agreed with every syllable of the address as far as he could understand it from hearing it read, and declared that he should be extremely sorry to say any thing that would interrupt the harmony of the House. There was one subject which should cause harmony to prevail on the present occasion, if any cause could have that effect. If ever there was an event of distress and calamity, it was that on which they had now to offer their condolence to the throne, the loss of the illustrious Princess who had engrossed the affections and engaged the hopes of the nation. But it was the privilege of members to introduce on that occasion matters which had happened during the recess, and especially if they proceeded from measures sanctioned by themselves; therefore the noble lord was perfectly in order, when he animadverted on the late trials, not so much as insulated events, but because they might be considered as part of the system of government now exercised. They threw great light on the extraordinary act which deprived us of the more valuable part of our constitution. Parliament was now called together under a public calamity; for what else was it to be called together under the suspension of the best parts of the constitution? He would not now say any thing of the promise of the immediate repeal of that measure. He only adverted to occurrences which threw light on the grounds on which the suspension was passed. These was no irregularity at this time in referring to that important transaction of the last session, the suspension of the 34 Habeas Corpus. On that measure they had proceeded in some measure in the dark. The committees of that House, and of the other House (for the Lords' report had been communicated to them) had given their reason why they could not then disclose all the facts on which they had founded their judgment.—Some of the facts, they had said, would compromise the safety of individuals who had communicated them, and others might have an undue influence on judicial proceedings which were in progress. But events had since occurred which had thrown light upon the general assertions of those reports. He alluded to the proceedings at Manchester, at Derby, and in Scotland. All the evidence in all the transactions which had been made the subject of judicial inquiry, had tended to destroy the foundations on which they had in the last session proceeded. Not knowing whether any of the papers connected with those transactions would be laid before the House, he would now make a few observations on them. The proceedings at Manchester, it would be remembered, occupied a large portion of the last report of the secret committees. It was stated in both the reports, that a treasonable conspiracy of the most atrocious kind had existed at Manchester—that it had been in agitation by the idle and disaffected to attack the barracks and to burn the manufactories, solely for the purpose of destroying the means of work, and adding by general distress to the numbers of those who would engage in desperate plans. In the Lords' report the phrase was, "to make Manchester a Moscow." It was stated in those reports, that some of the conspirators were in custody, and he had then suggested that these persons should be immediately brought to trial. How had they been proceeded against? The causes were removed by certiorari to the court of King's-bench, to prevent a disclosure of the real nature of the charge against them, and at the next assizes in Lancaster, then his learned friend (Mr. Topping, who acted for the attorney-general, stated that no evidence was to be produced against them. Government knew from the beginning that no evidence could be brought against them by which they could be convicted, and therefore, turning the advantage they had gained against the people, for it was so, to their own account, they took credit for clemency, because they did not produce 35 evidence which had never existed. It was declared that the prosecutions were discontinued, because every thing was tranquil, and the ministers were willing to show their clemency. But was it not sufficiently obvious, that this clemency was shown because there was not sufficient evidence to convict any one of them? If there was any truth in the statements of the report as to the atrocious measures of destruction which these men meditated, were they persons to whom clemency ought to have been shown? What! were persons guilty of conspiring to burn factories, attack barracks, and create a revolution to be discharged without trial, and without punishment? But though the country was so tranquil at that time (it was in September last), that it was deemed unnecessary to resort to the ordinary modes of legal trial, and the alleged offenders were discharged, yet those against whom there never had been supposed to be evidence sufficient to put them on their trials—those who had been arrested under the suspension of the Habeas Corpus, were kept in prison. So that those against whom there was the strongest case were discharged—those against whom there was the weakest case, were kept in confinement. The proceedings in Scotland he should not now enter into, as they would be made the subject of a separate motion by a noble lord behind him; but he should beg the House to bear in mind how much of the effect which had been produced on the House, had been occasioned by an oath which the lord advocate had read in his place. The person who had been said to have administered it, had been proceeded against on three several indictments, that he might not escape; yet at last he had been acquitted. He would say nothing at present of the extraordinary, unprecedented—unprecedented he was confident in England, and he believed even in Scotland—the unprecedented attempts to prevail upon another prisoner to give evidence against the accused. The next transactions to which he would request their attention were those at Derby. The result of the proceedings there he should not call in question, neither should he decide that the argument maintained with such extraordinary ability by the counsel for the prisoner, to give a large construction to the Riot Act of Geo. 1, was erroneous. There could be no doubt that the persons 36 who suffered, whether guilty of treason or not, were guilty of a capital crime; Brandreth had committed a murder, and those who aided and abetted it, were in law equally guilty.—But the proceedings on that trial, more than any other, pronounced a full condemnation on the suspension of the Habeas Corpus.—In the first place, the Habeas Corpus bad been suspended five months, yet it did not prevent those crimes. It was evident, too, how much care was taken on those trials to conceal the truth. No evidence of any proceeding prior to the 8th of June was suffered to transpire; although the attorney-general, in his opening speech on those trials, had said, that he could prove that Brandreth had meetings with the conspirators previous to the 8th of June, and it was his duty to have given evidence respecting them. It was not merely the guilt or innocence of the individuals accused that was at stake, but the character of the House, and the credit due to the government. Yet no evidence respecting those previous meetings was given. There was from this circumstance a strong presumption; and in his conscience he believed, from the information he had received, that the whole of that insurrection was the work of the persons sent by the government—not indeed for the specific purpose of fomenting disaffection—but as emissaries of sedition from clubs that had never existed. The crown lawyers, in making out their case, took care that it should not be ascertained how far this information was correct. The attorney-general having promised, in opening the trial against Brandreth, that he would prove his having been present at several meetings anterior to the 8th of June, was called on by the counsel for the prisoners to produce that evidence, on the first, on the second, and on the third trials, yet he persevered in the course which he had first adopted, of leaving all the previous proceedings in obscurity. Here too, they had a specimen of the exercise of the power given under the Habeas Corpus suspension act. It had been urged by those who opposed the suspension, that it could be of no use in cases in which powerful or distinguished men were not engaged in treasonable plots. To this it was said, that the leaders might be seized on the point of the breaking out of insurrections, and that the plans might be thus broken up. Now the ministers had previous informs- 37 tion of Brandreth's designs, yet they did not seize him. He was suffered to go on till he had effected all the mischief in his power. Thus, upon the only occasion of the kind, the only use proposed to be made of the suspension was not made of it. The next subject to which he would advert, regarding the general conduct of administration since the last session, was, the prosecutions carried on against Mr. Hone, to which his noble friend had alluded. He did this the more willingly, as they made part of a connected system, and as the publications which they were instituted to suppress, composed part of the evidence on which the liberties of the country were suspended. The House would remember the use which had been made of those publications; the House would remember, that the late attorney-general (sir William Garrow), had stated in that House, that he had received a copy of one of these terrible parodies. He declared that it was monstrously blasphemous; and when some one begged him to read it, he replied that he would never consent to any thing so horrible, as to read in the House of Commons such a production, but that he would seal it up and lay it on the table, that any member who had a doubt on its tendency, or might desire to satisfy himself, might open the seal and read it. Yet, notwithstanding this delicacy and regard to public morals, his hon. and learned friend the attorney-general had proceeded in his endeavours to protect religion and morality, by multiplying copies of these parodies by thousands, and scattering them in profusion over all parts of the country. Before he commenced his prosecution, the parodies complained of had entirely disappeared— they had been suppressed by their author, and withdrawn altogether from circulation. It was stated by a witness on the trial of Mr. Hone, that he could not procure a copy by the most diligent search; and that a guinea was offered in vain for a work that had originally been published at twopence. These parodies, therefore, had been completely withdrawn, and had disappeared from public notice, when his hon. and learned friend thought proper to publish a new edition of them; and what was stranger still, on the pretence of preventing their publication. He had given them a permanent place in the history of the country, he had made them a part of its judicial annals, he had given occasion to collect all the parodies that 38 had been published in former ages, to print them in one convenient little volume, and to hand them down to posterity. And why was this done?—Why were the prosecutions of Mr. Hone persisted in, if, according to the language held regarding the prisoners at Lancaster, the evil was stopped in November, and the state of the country had become so tranquil, and so satisfactory, as to enable administration to exercise with safety the royal clemency? His hon. and learned friend, it would appear from this proceeding, took credit for clemency when he could not get a conviction, and when he could get a conviction was willing to show no clemency. He (sir S. Romilly) did not mean to defend the publications in question; they were most offensive and reprehensible, though they did not amount to blasphemy, as they had been said to do elsewhere, though not in the prosecution. They were composed for a political object, and not for the purpose of attacking religion; but whatever was their object, their composition was most offensive and indefensible. To treat with levity the religion of the country, to hold up sacred subjects to ridicule by employing their language to promote political objects, and to inspire the minds of the people with a disrespect or contempt for those doctrines which should be respected for their importance to public morals by those even who did not believe them, was conduct that deserved the highest reprehension. His hon. and learned friend could not feel greater disapprobation of such publications than he himself, but he still could not see that his proceedings were justifiable. He (sir Samuel) was willing to believe that he (the attorney general) was not stimulated to such prosecutions by vindictive motives, but he could scarcely otherwise explain his conduct. If the prosecutions were not vindictive, why were they undertaken? The publications themselves were stopped before he attempted to suppress them. This injudicious attempt brought them again into public notice, and gave them infinitely greater currency than they could have obtained in their original state, with a great mass of concealed, forgotten, and unknown parodies attached to them. He could not believe that his hon. and learned friend could have contemplated this consequence, and yet how could it have escaped him? Should he not have known, that on the trial, those parodies which 39 had been before little known, or altogether forgotten, would be brought forward and circulated to an infinitely greater extent than if they had never been mixed with the proceedings of a court of justice? But, notwithstanding this natural anticipation, his hon. and learned friend had proceeded as if he could not give them currency enough; and after having seen the effect of one prosecution in bringing forward long-forgotten parodies, went on with the other two, as if with the intention of procuring an accession or others. Why was the second prosecution persisted in by his hon. and learned friend, after he had failed in obtaining a verdict on the first? Because, said he, the second parody was as much a libel as the first, and his relinquishing would thus have been a dereliction of his public duty. But was it the duty of an attorney-general to prosecute every thing that was prosecutable? If this was the case, he was imposing upon himself more extensive obligations than he was probably aware of, and might be led to carry his prosecutions to other quarters. If this was the case, it became his hon. and learned friend to look about him. But, instead of three prosecutions, would not one have been sufficient; and should not at least the verdicts given in the two former have taught him what was to be expected on the third? In the third, however, he proceeded, although the court of King's—bench, in a trial connected with the same publication, had considered it as less offensive than the two former publications, because the Athanasian creed was not held in such high respect as the Litany, and had been induced to award a less severe penalty, because the defendant had shown himself sensible of his error, and thrown himself on the tender mercies of the attorney-general. The least criminal of the parodies was the last prosecuted, and the prosecution was persevered in after a double failing, according to the explanation. of his hon. and learned friend himself, because he thought it would have manifested weakness in him to have relinquished it. He meant nothing persona] to the attorney-general. He was an agent of government, and doubtless acted on their views and by their instigation in bringing on the third trial. He was unwilling to believe that government themselves acted on any vindictive principles, but they must have had some reason for such extraordinary conduct. 40 In searching after this reason, he was led to the discovery of an object, in which he hoped they were for ever defeated. He believed in his conscience that ministers, by urging these prosecutions in the face of repeated failures, wished to bring the trial by jury, that great safeguard of our rights, into discredit and contempt, that they might, by the assistance of a religious cry, be enabled, with less opposition, to lay restraints upon the press. He could not forget that in those vehicles of public opinion under the control of government, such a project was broached, and he was convinced that the destruction of that confidence generally reposed in juries was a preparatory part of the plan. If this was their object it was happily defeated by the firmness of the juries, combined with the good sense, public spirit, and active vigilance of the country. The trial by jury was one of the great bulwarks of our rights, and he could scarcely have believed it possible that any ministers could have entertained the idea or the wish to bring it into discredit with the nation, unless he had remembered other transactions and attempts which seemed consistent with such an object. He could not have attributed to them such a design, if he did not know that the ministers composed the same government that issued directions to the magistrates how they were to act in the discharge of the duty which the constitution assigned them, and promulgated laws never before understood, on the authority of the legal advisers of the crown; if he did not know that they were the same administration that suspended the Habeas Corpus in time of peace; if he did not know that they were the same administration that presumed to say that the names of those imprisoned under it were not to be revealed, and that the royal prerogative should be interposed, contrary to law, between them and the visiting magistrates, thus defeating an act of parliament; if he did not know that they were the same government who, after confining men for several months in prison without a charge, dismissed them without a trial, requiring them first to give security for their conduct, and when they refused such security, allowing them to depart without it; trusting to a bill of indemnity to cover their conduct, which bill of indemnity he would oppose, whatever hopes they had of obtaining it, He could not, in fine, forget that they 41 were the same government who, conscious that they had exposed themselves to be called to a severe account by the country, had endeavoured to excuse their own acts by requiring these prisoners to confess that they had done wrong, by giving security for the peace. If their object, in the repeated prosecutions of Mr. Hone, was what he had stated, and what the whole tenour of their conduct justified him in believing, he was happy to see that they were defeated by the good sense and public principles of the people. If such plans had been over formed, they had now proved abortive, and the religious cry by which they had got into office had not, on this occasion, turned to their advantage. He had thought it incumbent upon him to take the earliest opportunity of calling the attention of the House to the subjects to which he had shortly adverted, and he would have reckoned silence on the present occasion, the greatest dereliction of his public duty.
The Solicitor General,
on an occasion when, according to the noble lord and the hon. and learned gentleman, unanimity was so very desirable as it was on this, he was surprised that such speeches should be made as had just been heard, and that this should be stated to be the only opportunity that would offer for discussing those topics which they had touched upon, when already a notice was on their table which would bring them regularly before the House, and when neither the Speech of the Prince Regent nor the speeches of the mover and seconder of the Address could have led any one to anticipate such a debate. The hon. and learned gentleman had asserted facts to have transpired since the separation of parliament, which had proved that there were not good grounds for the suspension of the Habeas Corpus act. His statement of the proceedings which had taken place at Manchester (his hon. and learned friend must excuse him) was not fair. He had assumed that the persons lately discharged on their recognizances, were the identical persons whom the reports of the Houses of Parliament last session charged with being engaged in a conspiracy to burn Manchester. He had thought proper to confound those persons who had been brought up to be tried for misdemeanors with those who were accused of high treason. He must know that those who had been arraigned, and against whom no evidence had been 42 offered, were only those who had been called "the Blanketeers." They, though a bill had been found against them by the grand jury, had been dismissed, as the restored tranquillity of the country made it unnecessary to punish them, as it was believed that they were weak instruments in the hands of others, and as the imprisonment they had already suffered, and the contrition they manifested for their past conduct, made it probable that enough had been done, and that they might be safely restored to society. The next point to which his hon. and learned friend adverted, was, the trials at Derby. It was with surprise he had listened to any attempt to cavil at those proceedings. From the part that he had taken in those prosecutions, it was with reluctance that he alluded to them; but thus far he would assert with confidence, that no man who had attended to those prosecutions,—to the manner in which in every part they were conducted, but was convinced that a more satisfactory judicial investigation never took place. He denied that the attorney-general had Stated in the first trial that he was in possession of proof's of meetings having taken place, at which Brandreth was present, anterior to the 8th of June. The attorney-general had argued in his opening, as he (the solicitor-general) had done in the reply, that from the situation in which Brandreth was found on the 8th of June, it was evident that prior meetings must have taken place. It was contended that the conspiracy could not have originated on that day in the public-house at Pentridge, but that previous arrangements must have been made to farther a treasonable plan, long before concerted, and laboured towards maturity, till at length the conspirators believed themselves capable of carrying it into effect. If previous meetings could be shown to have taken place, at which the agents of government were present, exciting the conspirators to rebellion, why had not this been shown by the prisoners and their learned counsel? Was it to be contended, because sufficient evidence was procured to satisfy a jury that high treason had been committed, that the prosecutor was bound to prove in evidence all that had passed among the parties before the crime was committed? If this were admitted, to this extent must the argument go, that conviction should not take place on satisfactory evidence of 43 treason committed, because other evidence which the prosecutor might be able, or might not be able to produce, was not given to show what the conspirators had intended before—He next came to the prosecutions for libel, to which his hon. and learned friend had so pointedly adverted. The noble lord and his hon. and learned friend had both admitted that these publications were improper, but that they ought not to have been prosecuted because, forsooth, the very prosecution had the effect of giving them greater publicity. If that objection was to be allowed any force, the more atrocious a libel was, the more pernicious to the public morals, the more dangerous to the public peace, the more reason there would be not to prosecute inasmuch as the prosecution of the offence was certain to extend the circulation. "But then," said the noble lord, "inasmuch as you persevered in the successive trials against Mr. Hone, you evidenced an intention to appeal from the verdict of one jury to that of another." There might be some foundation for that charge, if the successive trials had reference to identical libels, but that was not the case. They constituted different offences. If a man committed three different murders on the same night in the same house, would the acquittal on one murder constitute an argument against future prosecutions on the other indictments? That difference existed in the case of Mr. Hone: the offences were to be proved by distinct evidence. He was prepared to assert, that if a man sold three libels in the same shop, he might be prosecuted on an indictment which comprehended all the libellous publications. Yet if such a course had been pursued by the attorney-general, it would no doubt have been considered as extremely severe, and calculated to embarrass and confuse the defence of the accused. But what said his hon. and learned friend? He met the objection of the noble lord; he asserted that the second libel for which Mr. Hone was arraigned was much more improper than the first; he said that if he had to prosecute he would have selected the second publication as the one on which he would have proceeded. This view of the case might attach want of management to the attorney-general—It might impute to him the error of selecting his weakest case for his first effort, but it decidedly disproved the assertion of the 44 noble lord, that the same offence was, after one acquittal, again pertinaciously subjected to the decision of another jury. The third publication had been admitted by the gentlemen opposite to be also improper: it constituted, in the opinion of his hon. and learned friend, only a lesser offence; that, however, was only his opinion.
The Solicitor General
observed, that still it was an offence, and the court had visited it with punishment in the person of the printer. Ex concessis he had a right to assume that his hon. and learned friend would have tried Mr. Hone on the second publication. The objection therefore of their being identical publications altogether failed, and the prosecutors of the crown were bound in duty to submit each of the indictments to the verdict of a jury On those verdicts it did not become him to offer any observations—they were not called for by the present discussion. It had been stated that the accused himself had suppressed these publications before the prosecutions were instituted against him; and thence it was contended, that the attorney general should not have proceeded. This would be a weak argument for abstaining from prosecution, even on the supposion that the suppression was complete; but here there was no such thing. Did not his hon. and learned friend know that the libels had been circulated through the whole country, that they were republished in many places, and that almost immediately before Carlisle had been punished for having printed what this defendant composed. Various prosecutions had been instituted. The libels were spreading in every direction, and therefore he (the solicitor-general) could not allow to go out to the public uncontradicted, that they had been completely suppressed by the voluntary exertion of their author. He really could not discover on what ground the noble lord and his hon. and learned friend could condemn the libels without approving of their prosecution. They were admitted on all hands to be wicked, reprehensible, and dangerous publications; and the officers of the crown would have abandoned their duty, if they had not endeavoured to stop their circulation, and to prevent the repetition of similar offences, by bringing their author to justice, and although it might not 45 be practicable to administer the remedy without giving to the libels themselves a greater publicity, it was by no means to be contended that on that account the remedy ought not to be applied. No just ground of censure had been alleged against the conduct of his hon. and learned friend, the attorney-general, and he therefore could not see the necessity of the observations in which his hon. and learned friend, preceded by the noble lord, had indulged.
The Lord Advocate
of Scotland said:—I beg leave, one the present occasion, to make a few observations, having been Particularly alluded to by my hon. and earned friend opposite. I do not now mean to go into a review of the circumstances connected with the subject which he has introduced to the House; but, when the motion of which a noble lord has given notice is brought forward, I shall be prepared to show, that the charges insinuated by my hon. and learned friend are wholly unfounded. I will show, that the imputation of ignorance, in drawing up the indictment, is completely fallacious; and, from the issue of the trial—from the address of the judge to the prisoner, on his being dismissed from the bar, when the jury had returned a verdict, well known in the law of Scotland, as distinguished from a verdict of "not guilty"— I mean a verdict of "not proven"—I will substantiate the fact, that the oath to which I referred was taken by certain persons engaged in a traitorous conspiracy at Glasgow. With respect to another allegation, of far more importance, namely, that I acted corruptly, or that I suffered corrupt practices to be resorted to, for the purpose of influencing evidence, instead of the statement of my hon. and learned friend being correct, I shall be able to prove, that, so far from any thing corrupt laving been done by me, or any other servant of the crown, on the occasion adverted to, we, in fact, did nothing, but what we could not have omitted doing, without being guilty of a gross dereliction of duty.
§ Lord Archibald Hamilton
said, that notwithstanding the confident tone in which the learned lord had spoken, he was prepared to bring before the House such a case as would justify the strong epithets which had been applied to the transactions in Scotland. The learned lord said, he would be able to substantiate what he had last year stated to the House respecting the conspiracies and the oath. He 46 well remembered that the statement of the learned lord was, that many hundred individuals in the city of Glasgow and its neighbourhood were involved in those criminal proceedings.* If this were true, how did it happen that the learned lord and all his colleagues bad only brought forward one trial; a trial indeed in which two persons were involved, but still only one trial? On the present occasion, he would not anticipate the discussion in detail of those proceedings, for the examination of which a particular day was now fixed; but he would just tell the learned lord, that he was not the only person who was deeply implicated in those proceedings. The system on which they bad been carried on was most disgraceful to the country; for it was a system of unjust accusation, of absurdity, and of inconsistency with the professions of the very men who acted upon it. As to the Address itself, he did not see any particular reason to oppose it.
said:—Unwilling as I am, at all times, to offer myself to the notice of the House, and feeling that unwillingness, in a peculiar degree at present, when symptoms of weariness begin to be manifested at the protraction of the debate; yet I think it my duty, reprobating, as I do, the conduct of his majesty's ministers during the recess, not to be perfectly silent on this occasion. With respect to the trials, noticed by those who preceded me, I shall say very little. Of those which took place in Scotland I shall say nothing whatever. But, with reference to the other trials, I shall merely say, that if any person who heard the statement of my hon. and learned friend, and the answer attempted to be given to it, did not feel convinced that the facts adduced by him stood uncontradicted, I think he must either not have attended to that statement, or his mind must be wilfully opposed to conviction. The hon. and learned gentleman opposite met the statement of my hon. and learned friend, with respect to the trials at Manchester, by saying, that the persons set at liberty were not those who had been taken up on the charge of conspiring to burn that town. My hon. and learned friend believes, and I also believe, that they were the identical persons. On what authority have we come to that conclusion? On the authority of the Report of the Select* See Vol. 35, p. 729.47 Committee, which was laid on the table of this House; which report stated, that some of the persons implicated in the plot there adverted to, had been apprehended —and these, I believe, were the persons finally liberated. With respect to the trials at Derby, I deny the justice of the doctrine laid down by the hon. and learned gentleman. He says—"We conceive we did enough, when we brought evidence forward to convict these conspirators—we had no right to do more—we were not called on to adduce any thing that might lay open the real system, which, on that occasion, had been acted on—with reference to that, the public ought to be left in the dark." Now, Sir, I verily believe, that the crime for which those unfortunnate men suffered was as much the production of Mr. Oliver—was as much the effect of the measures taken by his majesty's ministers—as any other transaction in which Mr. Oliver had taken a part. I believe it; was the work of Mr. Oliver —the agent of lord Sidmouth, the instrument of ministers; and, if it was so, I do not envy them the triumph which seems to fill them with so much pride, of having convicted and executed those three miserable individuals.
With respect to the trials of Mr. Hone, no man could read them without clearly seeing, that either the government were influenced by that spirit of persecution, the existence of which his majesty's attorney-general denied, or else that they were quite incapable of properly carrying on proceedings of that nature. But what I most object to in these trials is, the degradation to which they tended to bring our courts of justice, and those to whom the administration of our laws is confided. Could any man, who wished to uphold the dignity of our courts of justice—who was desirous of supporting the honour and respectability of the expounders of the law —read those trials, and not feel, that the whole proceeding was calculated infinitely more to lower and degrade the dignity of our courts, and to hold up to contempt those who presided and those who practised, than the obnoxious publications were suited to throw ridicule on religion, or to produce impiety? I believe ministers, in following the business up, had two distinct objects in view; first, the persecution of Mr. Hone, whose conviction would, in some degree, bear out the assertion made during the last session, that the country teemed with blasphemous publications; and next, to ground some mea- 48 sure on the proceedings, for the purpose of impairing the trial by jury. This is my conscientious opinion; and I am sure I am not singular in maintaining it. But this was not the only step taken by ministers during the recess, that went to lower, in the eyes of the people, that which should always be viewed with respect and veneration and confidence—the administration of the law. The scene which occurred in the court of King's-bench, two or three days ago, sufficiently shows this. But of that I shall say nothing; because it will, perhaps, come regularly under the consideration of the House.—
I shall now allude to another transaction, in which I am more immediately concerned. I mean the case of the persons confined under the law for the suspension of the Habeas Corpus act—persons placed in solitary confinement, by order of his majesty's government, in direct opposition to the opinion of a court of justice. Ministers may say, that that court of justice is mistaken. But still it is a court of law, and ought to be held up to the respect, not to the contempt, of the people. I speak of the court of quarter sessions.
Now, Sir, to come to the Address. I cannot entirely agree to the sentiments contained in it. There is one part of it, which contains an expression of the approbation of the House of the measures of his majesty's government, and attributes the present improved state of the public feeling to their conduct. [Cries of "No, no!"] It so struck me, when it was read; and most indubitably, I do not agree in such a sentiment. [Cries of "No, no!"] I understand there is no such thing in the address, and therefore 1. shall pursue that subject no farther. There is, however, a promise in the Address, to agree in all that has been done with respect to Spain and Portugal; which I am by no means prepared to do. But, at a future day, I probably shall have an opportunity of stating my opinion on that subject, and I shall now say nothing respecting it. But, Sir, what I decidedly find fault with in this address is, the absence of a suitable expression of feeling—of such feeling as best becomes an English House of Commons, at a time when all our liberties are lying prostrate at the feet of ministers, when our freedom may be assailed by a secretary of state in a manner unprecedented at any former period of our history! Another thing which I object to in the address is its flatness—its 49 want of point—its not bearing on specific objects, but dealing entirely on generalities. The hon. gentleman who seconded it says, "there is nothing in the address that can be objected to, and therefore I recommend it to the House." This is not the way in which addresses were formerly voted. The Speech from the throne ought to be a sort of exposition of the state of the country, with reference to its foreign and domestic relations. But lately a practice has prevailed, of making those speeches of a very flimsy texture. To use a common phrase, they are drawn up in a very "wishy washy" manner. This is done, in order to leave the House as little matter for discussion as possible. I complain of this system, and refer to the practice which prevailed in the time of king William, which has always been placed amongst the best periods of our constitutional history. If we look at the Journals we shall find, that when a speech was delivered from the throne, an answer was not returned on that day, but two or three days were suffered to elapse, during which the Speech was considered, and then an answer was given. There was a great deal of sense in this. For, as a speech from the throne contained a statement of the situation of the country, gentlemen could not be expected to make up their minds in a moment, on so comprehensive a subject; and, therefore, time for consideration was required and was conceded. It is curious or the House to observe, how, by degrees, this useful practice has been eaten out by the ministers of the crown; so that we are at this day called on to give our assent to an address, the echo of a speech which we have only heard read once. Before this practice was adopted, it was usual within his recollection for the Lords to meet at the treasury, and the Commons to assemble at the Cock-pit, where they heard the Speech read, which was intended to be delivered from the throne; and thus they came to the discussion, in some degree prepared to offer their opinions. I recollect before I came into parliament, it was the practice to have the Speech intended to be delivered from the throne, printed and distributed the day before it was to be pronounced; by which means gentlemen had some opportunity given them of analyzing its contents. But now we are called on to decide, without having any opportunity of considering the Speech or Address; and the apology always is, 50 "O! it contains nothing; it pledges you to nothing; and, therefore, you may agree to it."
With respect to the lamentable event, which the whole country deplores, I cannot avoid expressing my surprise, that the same course was not adopted, as was pursued on the death of the late duke of Gloucester. On that occasion, a separate address of condolence was voted—it was not introduced amongst other matters—it stood alone, as it ought to stand—which, I think, was a much more respectful mode of proceeding than that which had now been proposed. I complain of the Address, Sir, because, as I said before, it contains nothing specific with reference to the state of the country—because it does not notice the situation in which we are placed, with our liberties lying prostrate before his majesty's ministers. There are many points wholly overlooked, which appear to me to be of the greatest importance. The expiration of the Bank Restriction act—if indeed it be allowed to take place —is by no means a light matter. The war in India, which is not mentioned, cannot surely be considered as a matter of trifling importance. There is also another act, which is almost as disgraceful, though certainly not so oppressive as the Habeas Corpus Suspension act, which will expire this session, and which I hope will never be renewed. I advert to the Alien act. This also was unnoticed. Now, Sir, with respect to the late princess Charlotte, I could wish that a more specific mention should be made. I could wish our grief for the irreparable loss which the country has sustained to be more decidedly marked. I am the more anxious to state my feelings on this subject, because I was, in some degree, the means of laying before parliament, matters connected with a branch of the House of Brunswick — which occasioned a right hon. gentleman, whom I did not see before, but who has just now taken his seat, (Mr. Canning,) to declare, that I was an enemy to the House of Brunswick.* I never was an enemy to that House—and, therefore, I wish to state my unfeigned feelings of regret at the deplorable event which has filled the country with grief—which has fallen with dreadful violence on the House of Brunswick—which has deprived it of its greatest ornament. I am the more desirous to call the attention of* See Vol. 13, p.625.51 the House to this point, because the sorrow which has been manifested by all classes of the community, does away with the idea of that disaffection, which was said to exist in every part of the country. I am sure, Sir, if the last and greatest plague of Egypt had fallen on this country—if, on the breaking of the morning, we found one dead in every house—the sorrow of the people could not have been more poignant, or more generally expressed. The grief occasioned by this sad event has been universal: and the people, in their addresses to the throne, have stated their reason for feeling so acutely on the occasion. They lamented the loss of that bright promise of a virtuous and beneficent sovereign, which they had so long contemplated with feelings of delight. Every one of their addresses mentioned the private and public virtues of this amiable Princess. Every one of them eulogized the exemplary manner in which she filled each station, to discharge the duties of which she had been called, during her short but honourable life. If any persons believe that there are enemies to the House of Brunswick—if any persons think that disaffection towards it exists—they must be taught by the uniform conduct of the people on this melancholy occasion, that it is not directed against that part of it which is dignified by virtue. If there be hostility to any part of that House—and I do not believe that there is—let those who are the objects of it attribute it to themselves, and not to any base feeling of the popular mind.
said, that if this was the only occasion on which many of the subjects touched upon during the present discussion could be debated, he might feel himself called upon to say something in answer to what had fallen from the noble lord and the hon. and learned gentleman opposite. But as numerous occasions would arise when those topics would come naturally before the House, and the examination of them be fully entered upon, it was not his intention to take up the time of the House in the discussion of any of the questions at this time. In saying this, nothing was farther from his thoughts than to complain of any hon. gentleman who had so far taken a part in the present debate as to express their deep feeling of that awful calamity which the whole nation deplored. He would be sorry to think there was any member in the House who 52 could say any thing on this occasion without giving way to his feelings on that most afflicting subject. But other topics of a very different nature had been introduced; and one noble lord had, in the course of his speech, said what he could wish had been spared, but as the subject had been entered upon, he must protest against what had been said, as being likely to create an injurious feeling as to the administration of public justice; namely, that the condemnation and execution of the persons at Derby were brought about by the tampering of agents employed by government. This was not the proper time to enter into a full refutation of this calumny. But such a time would come, and he would undertake then to disprove the assertion as strongly and as completely, as that which was not the truth could be disproved. In the mean time, he would assert, that there was not a scintilla of evidence produced during the trials to implicate Oliver in the transactions of the criminals; nor was there any one circumstance connected with the whole proceedings, which in any way implicated Oliver, excepting the last words of one of the unfortunate men, and these were uttered under circumstances which must strip them of all title to notice. With regard to the matter immediately under the consideration of the House, his majesty's ministers were in no degree disposed to imagine that the view which hon. members on the opposite side took of their conduct was at all altered. They were persuaded that those hon. members would again assert that the state of the country was not such as to require those precautionary measures which had been adopted. An hon. and learned gentleman had insinuated that there was a conspiracy among his majesty's ministers, and that they intended to propose some measures to parliament totally repugnant to the principles of the constitution. He trusted, however, that there was no one in the House who would go along with that hon. and learned member in what he had said upon this occasion; for it savoured much of a disposition to misrepresent what was in itself sufficiently plain. He had already stated to the House the intention of his majesty's government with respect to the repeal of the bill which suspended the Habeas Corpus act. Upon that question when the proper time came, he would be fully prepared to enter into a discussion of the propriety of the course of policy 53 which had been adopted. It was the intention of his majesty's government not to withhold from parliament the knowledge of what had been the state of the country since the last inquiry that was made into it. It was probable that on an early day he should have a communication to make to the House on this subject; and he trusted, when the inquiry he mentioned was made, it would be seen, that the measures adopted were not merely salutary, as being prudential and cautionary, but also that the state of internal tranquillity which enabled government to propose to parliament that an end should be put to that law, was owing to the timely adoption of those very measures.—In passing over the various topics which had been brought into the debate, relative to the exercise of the powers conferred by that law, he wished it to be understood, that he did so only because a more proper time would occur for entering upon the discussion of them; and he assured the noble lord, that ministers were not disposed to shrink from that discussion; on the contrary, they felt convinced it would be in their power to satisfy parliament and the country that those powers had been exercised with a proper discretion; that if the powers so entrusted were unusualty great, they had been used in mercy and in justice; that in the exercise of these powers, the government had not shrunk from the performance of a faithful duty; and that having so happily carried the country through dangers certainly very considerable, they could now congratulate it on having escaped such danger. In saying this, he did not wish to lull the country into a feeling that there was now absolutely no danger, and that the peril was quite gone by. The happiness was, that it was so much diminished, that extraordinary powers were no longer necessary to overcome it. Upon the other parts of the Speech, he had only to remark, that the picture they afforded of the state of the country was most gratifying and consolatory, beyond what could be given of any country under similar circumstances. Perhaps no instance could be produced in the history of nations of a revival so rapid from a state of extreme distress. On these grounds he trusted that whatever difference might prevail as to the policy of the measures pursued by his majesty's government on a general view of the state of the nation and the topics treated of in the Speech, no such difference of opinion would pre- 54 vail as to the Address, as would disturb the unanimity of the House.
expressed his entire concurrence with the noble lord behind him, as to the conduct of his majesty's ministers; for he could assure the House, he was prepared to prove, upon the proper occasion, that notwithstanding those confident assertions by which ministers contrived to persuade some gentlemen to agree to their measures of restriction upon the liberty of the subject, the greater part, if not the whole, of the disaffection which formed the ground work of their proposition, was created by emissaries employed and paid by ministers themselves. [Hear, hear!]
§ Mr. Brougham
did not wish to protract the debate, but he could not refrain from saying a few words, though without any view to disturb the unanimity of the House. That part of the Address which stated the sorrow of the House for the great and irreparable calamity which the nation had sustained, met with his most hearty concurrence. The very mention of such a subject was a sufficient reason for excluding any other topics which might tend to disturb that unanimity which was so desirable on such an occasion; but if any thing were wanting to confirm that unanimity, it might safely be presumed the speech of the noble lord who had but just sat down, must have had that effect. For it appeared that the points on which it was most likely that a difference of opinion would arise—namely, the transactions which had taken place since the last report of the secret committee, were, at a very early period, to come under discussion. And he gathered from the speech of the noble lord this most gratifying conclusion—that it was at length the intention of his majesty's government to produce evidence as to the state of the nation before a committee of the House, before which also witnesses might be called and examined; so that in the course of the examinations which would then take place, they would hear, on the one hand the evidence on which ministers had acted, and, on the other hand, they would hear that evidence on which his hon. friend who spoke last, undertook to prove that the representations of government were incorrect. Until this inquiry took place, it would be premature to enter into any farther discussion of the subject. As to the state of the country, and the measures which had been adopted, his opinions remained un- 55 altered. Nothing had come out to shake his opinion, that the evidence and want of evidence showed that those measures were quite uncalled for by the state of the country. As to the other topics in the Address, he remarked that it said nothing as to the causes to which the improvement in the state of the country was to be attributed; nor did it say any thing implying a pledge that the House would approve the treaty with Spain. If it did, there would be cause enough to disturb the unanimity of the House; but in his present view of it there was no such cause.
rose to explain, and observed, that the hon. and learned gentleman was mistaken if he supposed that it was intended by ministers to propose the constitution of any committee, different in character from those which had taken place last session upon the subject alluded to.
§ Mr. Brougham
could not but express his regret at having been mistaken as to the intention of the noble lord with respect to the mode of the promised inquiry. He still anxiously hoped he had not so far mistaken the noble lord, as that the inquiry would turn out to be merely an examination of documents prepared by government and sent down to the House in a green bag. If that was to be all, it would be a mere mockery.
thought the Address extremely unsatisfactory, inasmuch as it held out no promise of economy or retrenchment. How different was this composition from the Speech of the American president, which had lately appeared in the public Journals. In that speech, from the chief ruler of a nation which our ministers threatened and sought to destroy in the late war, there was a distinct recital of evidence to prove its general improvement. In the Speech before the House there was no doubt a confident assertion of national prosperity, but no specific instance of that prosperity was alluded to. The reason was obvious; for no specific instance could be cited. That, indeed, was impossible amidst the misery that universally prevailed, while the revenue was notoriously deficient, while the work-houses were crowded with paupers, while the streets were thronged with Starving seamen, and the poor-rates advanced beyond any former precedent. If any evidence were adduced to establish the fact, that the country was in that state of prosperity which this Speech 56 alleged, ministers might have something to offer in their defence, or rather in proof of the energy and industry of that people whom their misconduct and extravagance had been unable to break down. But what had those ministers presented in atonement for their delinquency? Why, truly, a recommendation to build churches. This, however was not a new expedient; for it was the practice of sinners in all ages to build churches. If, indeed, ministers had proposed to enlarge the jails or the alms-houses, where at least the inmates might be saved from starving, or to do any thing for the solid benefit of the public, they might lay some claim to praise. But their allegation of prosperity, and their proposition of improvement was really a mockery of the public understanding. It was obviously impossible that any country could go on in the state in which England was at present, with a falling revenue and a starving people—with a greater degree of misery among the population, than was to be found under any arbitrary government which the British ministers might desire to imitate. For in no nation in Europe, not even in Spain, Italy, or Portugal, could such mendicity and wretchedness be found as were at present daily witnessed in the public streets of this vast metropolis. For the reasons he had mentioned, he could not hesitate to pronounce this Address a direct insult to the feelings and to the understanding of the country.
§ The Address was agreed to nem. con.