§ Sir Samuel Romilly
rose. He said that as the objections which he had to the bill, were objections to the principle of it, or rather to the different principles upon which the different parts of it proceeded, he ought properly to have stated them upon the second reading, and it was his intention to have done so. It was through deference to the opinion of others, and not from his own judgment; that he had, thin as the attendance was, when the bill was read a second time, deferred his object to the present stage of it. He should, however, now resist the bill proceeding any farther. Whether considered by itself, or as a precedent which would be acted on in future times, it appeared to him to be a measure most objectionable and most dangerous. It was improperly called a mere bill of Indemnity. The object of Indemnity was only to protect individuals from public prosecutions to which they might have exposed themselves, but without interfering with the rights of private individuals; but the object of this bill was to annihilate such rights. Its true description was a bill to take away all legal remedies, from those who had suffered from an illegal and arbitrary exercise of authority, and to punish those who pre- 966 sumed to have recourse to such remedies by subjecting them to the payment of double costs. Upon the importance of such a proceeding, it would not be necessary for him to enlarge. If in nothing else, yet in this, even the supporters of the bill, he presumed, would agree with him, yet nothing but unjust necessity, nothing but a clear demonstration that the safety of the people, which was the supreme law, required it, could justify parliament withholding the protection of the law, and closing the tribunals against those who were demanding justice: and the only question would be, whether the public safety really called for such a measure? The rendering justice to the injured was the first object of all governments. It was peculiarly that of the British constitution. Ours was pre-eminently a government of law and justice. In the Great Charter of our liberties, one of its most sacred provisions was, that justice should be denied to no man. When any sovereigns enter on the discharge of those sacred duties to which they are called, the solemn oath they take is, to administer law and justice with mercy in all their judgments; and it had hitherto been the proud boast of this country, that there was no man so poor and abject as to be below the protection, nor so powerful as to be above the reach of the law. When, therefore, parliament was about to declare, in violation of principles hitherto so religiously adhered to, that for a certain class of British subjects there should be no law and no justice, it behoved it at least to proceed with great caution and deliberation. The duty the House was about to discharge was no less solemn than a judicial duty. It was, in truth, sitting in judgment, not upon one, but upon a great number of individual cases, and with this strange disadvantage, that it was deciding in total ignorance of all the circumstances of the cases upon which it decided. It was declaring, that the injured should have no redress, without knowing the number, the nature, or the extent of the wrongs of which they complained. Upon a proceeding so extraordinary and so hazardous, it was impossible to enter with too much care and anxiety.
There were only three objects which the bill had in view; first, to protect the ministers in the acts of authority they had exercised: secondly, to indemnify magistrates in the acts they had done for suppressing insurrections, or guarding against imminent danger to the state: and, thirdly, to 967 protect private individuals who have given information to government, from the danger which is supposed may attend the disclosure of their names and of their evidence. As far as the bill related to the first of these objects, it had been considered by many persons in a very erroneous point of view. Several gentlemen, particularly the member for Bristol (Mr. Protheroe) and an hon. member who was at this moment advancing to his place (Mr. Marryat), had said, that parliament having given extraordinary powers to his majesty's ministers, were bound to bear them harmless in the exercise of these powers, unless it should appear that they had been abused. A more mistaken notion than this could hardly be entertained. For the exercise of the powers given by parliament, however they might have been exercised, the ministers wanted no indemnity. The act that gave the powers indemnified ministers in the exercise of them. Whether the bill passed or not the conduct of ministers could never be called in question in any court of justice, for having done what parliament had declared that it should be legal for them to do. An indemnity had been thought necessary when ministers, in times of scarcity, had taken upon themselves to lay an embargo on the shipping which there was no law to authorize but when an act of parliament had previously passed to sanction such an embargo, who ever heard of an indemnity for the ministers who had commanded it? And yet so little is this bill understood, in such ignorance of its true nature is it disposed of, that gentlemen have voted for it as a necessary consequence of the Suspension act, though the Suspension act could not possibly make any indemnity requisite. If ministers are to be indemnified, it must be for conduct which the Suspension act did not authorize—it must be, not for detaining men in custody under that law, but for committing them to prison against all law. It has been said, indeed, by the attorney-general, and it was said before by the noble lord (Castlereagh), that the ministers have not in a single instance committed any man but upon informations taken upon oath. If this be so, what occasion have they for an indemnity? What authority, however, beyond that of the ministers themselves, communicated to the Secret Committee, had the House for this fact? It should be observed, too, that these informations upon oath of which ministers talk so much, if the persons who gave 968 them were previously assured that their names should not be disclosed, and their depositions should not be used, afforded no security whatever against the most unjust and cruel imprisonment. An oath derives its sanction in courts of justice, from the knowledge of the party who takes it, that if he swears what is false, he may be prosecuted and punished for the evidence he gives; but a man whose testimony is to remain for ever in secrecy, swears under no such check; upon his evidence there is no restraint but that which religion imposes, and to a man wicked enough to bring forward a false accusation to gratify his resentment or his malice, religion can have little influence. The secret informations thus given being only to lead to commitment, but not to be made the ground of any farther proceeding, ought not, though given upon oath to have been considered as affording any ground for depriving men of their liberties. The evidence upon which magistrates are authorized to commit men, is that evidence upon which they are afterwards to be brought to trial. It is to answer that charge that they are committed, and not upon the chance that some other charge may be brought against them.
Ministers, it was said, had not in any instance abused any of the extraordinary powers they had exercised. This might be so; but the House had no reason to say that it was so, they had no information on the subject, but what ministers had themselves thought proper to afford. The only inquiry that had taken place was one conducted in secrecy, by the ministers themselves? All other inquiry the House had rejected, though their table was loaded with petitions and complaints. It had pleased, indeed, an hon. gentleman, the member for some place which he did not recollect, and whom he knew not how to describe otherwise than that he was the gentleman who professed to speak only that he might prove his own consistency, and that he might vindicate the character of parliament (Mr. Fremantle) had said, that all the petitions that had been preferred were disproved. In this statement, the hon. gentleman must surely have confounded proof with assertion. Some of the facts contained in some of the petitions had been denied, but none had been, or ever would be disproved, for the House had resolved that all opportunity of proof should be refused. It was not true, however, even that the petitions had been met 969 with a denial. Of cloven petitions which had been the subject of one night's discussion, there were only three of which any of the facts were denied; all the facts of all the others remained undisputed. The House had refused all examination—it had rejected all proof—and it was now about peremptorily to decide. It was was about to declare that there should be no investigation even in the ordinary course of justice, and to exercise the powers of the legislature by closing up the avenues to our tribunals.
But there had been an inquiry, it was pretended, by the committee—committee named by the ministers, and upon which they had not blushed to nominate themselves. It had been declared by a right hon. gentleman (Mr. Canning) in the first reading of the bill, that his majesty's ministers had taken no part in the debate, because it was a subject on which it became them rather to submit to the opinion of others, than to take any prominent part themselves; and yet those ministers who pretended to be so modest in public, had no objection to name their own committee, to be come themselves the most active members of it, to Supply all the evidence, to bring forward, and to keep back what they thought proper, and thereupon to draw up their exculpatory report. He thought, he confessed, that their conduct ought to have been just the reverse of this; that they should have left it to others to prefer complaints, and endeavour to substantiate them by proof, and that they should themselves have stood forward in that House openly to make their public defence. It was alleged, indeed, that the secret committee was of the choice of the House, and not of the nomination of ministers; and it had been gravely said, that a nomination by ballot excluded the influence of ministers, and gave the fair result of the opinion of the House. Such might be the effect of a fair ballot, but not of a ballot where the minister sent round to his adherents lists of the persons who it was his intention should compose the committee. Such a proceeding must defeat the object of a ballot, the principle of which was, that no man should know how another voted. It was to substitute for a ballot a secret cabal. It was not true that ministers obtained the committee they wished, because they had the confidence of a majority of the House which would have named the same committee by open vote. When questions were decided by 970 open vote, ministers were sometimes left in a minority, but when they proceeded by ballot this never could be the case. The House was divided into different parties; the ministerial party, which was the largest, or they would not continue ministers; the opposition, which was necessarily a smaller party, but when assisted by other parties which existed in the House sometimes, became the majority, a considerable party were those who professed to be of no party, but to be neutral or independent. Other gentlemen did not object to party altogether, but were retiring from one party and approximating to another, they might be said to be, in the legal phrase, in transitu, votes of the members of these different descriptions were rendered inefficient when ministerial lists were circulated If, indeed, ministerial and opposition lists were made out and sent to all the members they might choose between them; but this was not the case. No lists had, ever since he had been is parliament been made out by the opposition; nor did the ministers send their lists to all the members, but only to their firm adherents, on whom they could securely rely. To the gentlemen who highly professed independence and to the gentlemen who might be said to be on their passage, it would probably be thought an insult to send these prepared lists: and it was quite unnecessary; for where lists were made out by one party and all the rest were acting without concert, a considerable minority of the House must necessarily produce a majority of concurring votes. Accordingly, when the committee was named it was by 103 votes and 97 of the lists (as was declared by one of the scrutineers) were all in the same hand-writing. The time would probably soon arrive, when through economy, the members would vote with printed lists. It was a committee thus named, it was themselves and their nominees, that the ministers had satisfied that their conduct had been free from all reproach.
But suspensions of the Habeas Corpus had always, it was said, been followed by acts of indemnity; and in proof of this precedents had been resorted to. Of those precedents there was not one, except those of 1801, which could be said to be in point. It was true that at the Revolution, and at the two rebellions of 1715 and of 1745, the Habeas Corpus had been suspended, and there had been acts of indemnity; but those measures had no connexion with each other, and the indemnity 971 was, in no one of those instances, a consequence of the suspension. The dangerous state of the country at those periods had produced both proceedings, but the indemnity was necessary, not because the Habeas Corpus had been suspended, but because the country had been in a state of war, and it had been necessary to seize on property, and to do many illegal acts for the national defence. If the Habeas Corpus on those occasions had not been suspended, yet the acts of indemnity would have been necessary. When the suspension took place upon bishop Atterbury's conspiracy, there was no indemnity. When in the American war there was a partial suspension of the Habeas Corpus, no indemnity followed. And, on the other hand, when in 1780 a successful insurrection had for a time triumphed over the government, and the exertions of a power beyond the law had become necessary, though the Habeas Corpus was never suspended, an act of indemnity was passed. The precedent of 1801, however, was certainly in point; but it was a precedent to be avoided rather than followed. So great was the injustice done by it, that taking away all remedies by a sweeping provision for wrongs that might have been done in the course of the eight preceding years, it reversed judgments recovered, and punished the injured party by making them pay double costs for having brought actions when it was perfectly legal to bring them, which had been brought months, or even years, before any such retrospective measure was in contemplation.
It was, indeed, with a view to the second object of the bill—the protection of the magistrates for illegal acts of power committed by them—that those precedents could alone be resorted to. It would not, however, with any semblance of truth, be pretended that the country had in the course of the last year been in any such state as could call for the exercise by the magistrates of any thing more than the legal power with which they were invested. There had been no rebellion, no civil war, no successful insurrection. The acts of indemnity relied upon had been justified by the state of the country which had been matter of public notoriety. It was not, then, necessary to have secret committees, and sealed bags, and a mysterious concealment of evidence to apprize the House that it had been necessary for the public safety, that ministers should act with promptitude and decision, 972 and without regard to strict rules of law. The attorney-general, indeed, seemed to have admitted that Manchester was the only place where the exercise of such powers had been necessary, and yet the circumstances of this Manchester conspiracy had been designedly concealed from the public. The persons who had been taken into custody were not permitted to be tried at the assizes which followed their commitment. Government had removed the indictment by Certiorari into the King's-bench, for the express purpose of preventing the trials, and when at the summer assizes the trials were to have taken place, the gentleman who appeared for the attorney-general, making a show of clemency, and alleging that there was no necessity to make examples when perfect tranquillity had been restored, declined calling any witnesses, and all the prisoners were acquitted. Could there, then, have been any occasion to go beyond the authority of the law in their commitments, unless government, knowing that they had no evidence whatever against the prisoners, and that they ought to have been discharged at the first assizes, had kept them in custody without any pretext, and then pretended to gloss over their injustice with a show of generosity and mercy.
What he complained of principally was, that the House was kept in the dark; they knew nothing of the nature of the acts for which an indemnity was to be given. The operation of the bill was carried back to the 26th of January; but why it was so carried back, the House had never been told; in none of the Reports of either of the committees, in those of the last session or in those of the present, was any fact mentioned which led to that particular date. Some dark and mysterious purpose must be in view which was kept profoundly secret. Surely the House—merely that part of it which professed to be independent, and not to be under the influence of government—would not vote with so blind a confidence in ministers as to extend this total denial of justice to a period beyond that which was mentioned in any of the reports on which this proceeding was founded, merely because ministers had chosen so to frame this bill. If they would, it was plain that ministers might have carried back this abolition of law and justice to any period that they had thought proper, and that a confiding parliament would have voted it. It was of most dangerous consequence by such a bill to in- 973 form magistrates that whenever the Habeas Corpus was suspended, they might exercise what acts of authority they thought would be most agreeable to the ministers, and that every thing would be covered by an indemnity. The magistracy of the country were a most respectable body of men, and were entitled to the gratitude of the public for their most important and gratuitous services; but among so many individuals it was impossible that none should be found disposed to recommend themselves to government by the violence of their proceedings. The petitions upon the table furnished evidence how grossly the law might be violated where there seemed some invitation to it by ministers. He alluded to the petitions of the two booksellers at Warrington,* who being charged with no higher offence than the publishing of a libel, had had their houses searched, their books and papers seized, and had been themselves loaded with irons like felons, and committed to the House of Correction, and kept to hard labour, before any trial had taken place. This complicated violence of all law, in seizing papers, which by a solemn judgment in the case of Entick v. Carrington,† had been declared to be illegal, in punishing before any guilt was established, in treating suspected libellers like convicted felons—all this was to be traced to lord Sidmouth's Circular Letter,‡and a stronger instance could hardly exist of the mischief of government interfering with magistrates, and prompting them as to the mode in which they were desirous that their judicial functions should be exercised. There was another case of the same kind, but of still greater cruelty, for which, indeed, he had no better authority than the newspapers, but it had been repeatedly stated without contradiction. It was the case of a man of the name of Swindells,§ whose house had been broken open in the dead of night, and his books and papers seized. His wife was at the time far advanced in her pregnancy; the terror produced a premature labour, which caused the death of* See pp. 742, 744.† See the Case of Seizure of Papers. Howell's State Trials, Vol. 19, p. 5.‡ See Vol. 36, p. 447.§ On the 13th of March a petition was presented from Robert Swindells. It will be found in the proceedings of that day.974 herself and of the child; and another infant, the only remains of the unhappy man's family, was, when he was dragged to gaol, conveyed to the parish workhouse, and from thence, in a short time, to the parish burying ground. The man, however, had been guilty of no crime. His family was destroyed—he was himself discharged from prison, impoverished, ruined, a widower, and childless, because some unfounded charge had been brought against him. Such wrongs it seems were to remain unredressed; but though the parliament might pass suspensions of the laws of the nation, it could not suspend the operation of the laws of God and of nature. It might exempt the authors of such injustice from actions and from prosecutions, but it could not protect them from the reproaches and the tortures of their own consciences.
An hon. friend of his (Mr. Lamb ton) had called this bill the winding up of that system of injustice which the ministers had been acting on: he wished that it could be so considered. To himself, however, it appeared rather as a prelude to farther exertions of power, and to future denials of justice. The reports of the committees of both Houses declared, that it would be necessary for the magistrates to persevere in the same exertions as they had hitherto made. "It appears)" say the Lords committee, "that the continued vigilance of government, and of the magistrates in the several districts which have been most disturbed, will be necessary."* The committee of the Commons state this still more strongly: "Your committee," they say, "would deceive the House, if they were not to state it as their opinion that it will require all the vigilance of government, and of the magistracy to maintain the tranquillity which has been restored."† It has been necessary, therefore, to violate the law; fresh violations of it by the magistrates will be necessary, and a better ground is thus laid for a bill of Indemnity in the next session for those illegal acts of authority which the magistrates seem thus encouraged to commit, than any which at the present moment exists. To what scenes of horror this contempt of law, this familiarizing men to tyranny on the one hand, and to a refusal of justice on the other, may ultimately lead, the events which passed some years ago* See p. 573.† See p. 681.975 in Ireland too clearly show. He had no desire to embitter their debates with personal charges against any individual, but the transactions of that time were too important, and too instructive to be passed over in silence on the present occasion. It had been said by a noble lord (Castlereagh), that it was desirable that those events should be buried in oblivion. He could not agree to this. It would have been happy indeed if they had never existed, but having existed, they held out so awful and so instructive a lesson to us, that they ought never to be forgotten. They formed a most important part of our history, and an impartial posterity would do justice to all who were concerned, to those who were actors as well as to those who were sufferers in those dreadful scenes. He had no intention of disgusting the House by entering into those horrible details, they must have been read of by all who heard him, and no man who had read could forget them. In the violence of party, cruelties which could not be heard without shuddering, had been treated in a British House of Commons with such levity, that it had been facetiously said, that the outcry which had been raised, was only for a Catholic's having got a sore-back. To such a want of feeling—to such excesses of cruelty—had men been insensibly led when once they had departed from the paths of law and of justice, and had familiarized themselves with acts of violence, and of arbitrary power; and all this, let it be recollected, had taken place under the mild government of king George 3rd, exercised by a viceroy, in his name and by his authority.
It remained for him to speak of the third object of the bill—the protecting those who had given information to government, from the supposed danger that would attend the discovery of their names, and the disclosure of their evidence. In England this was a policy quite new and unheard of. It is true, that in the act of 1801 (that precedent which, for the reasons already given by him, was so little worthy of being followed)—it was true that in that act a similar recital was to be found as in this, namely, that "it was necessary, for the safety and protection of the persons by whose information and means traitorous designs had been discovered, and for the future prevention of similar practices, that such information and means should remain secret;" but the 976 circumstances of those times were quite different from the present, and the danger then to be guarded against was one that could not now exist. That act was passed in time of war. The traitorous designs then spoken of were an alleged correspondence with a foreign enemy, and the information received, was said to be from persons then in the power of that enemy. The danger to such persons from disclosing their names was palpable and imminent. But the danger which it is pretended now exists, is from popular outrage or private revenge, against those who may have dared to give evidence against offenders. But what symptom has ever yet discovered itself of any such feeling in this country? In Ireland, indeed, such a disposition has sometimes been seen, but in England it is altogether unheard of. No complaint of the kind has ever been made. No alarm at it has ever been expressed. None of the reports of the Secret Committees make any mention, or has any allusion to it. At Derby, in London, at York, there appeared no unwillingness in any witness to give his evidence—no fear had been entertained, no threat had been used, no violence had been attempted—the most perfect security prevailed among the witnesses, and nothing had happened to impede, in any way, the due administration of justice. It was plain, then, that this was an unfounded pretext. It was not that the government supposed there was any danger, but. they were desirous of concealing the unworthy means which had been used to obtain information, and of sanctioning the future recourse to this new system of employing spies and informers which they had adopted and avowed. That system, however it might be defended or applauded in that House, he should always reprobate. The most odious and most decried expedients of the worst and most arbitrary governments were, it seems, justified by his majesty's ministers as the legitimate and constitutional mode of administering the free government of this country. One of his majesty's ministers (Mr. Canning) had endeavoured to turn into ridicule those who condemned the immoral artifices by which such a system was carried on, and in doing this he had represented morality itself as ridiculous. Confounding together the employment of spies, and the receiving information from any who might be disposed to give it, though 977 no person who condemned the former had made any objection to the latter conduct in government. Confounding these things, or rather, to make his ridicule more powerful, representing them as the same, he had imagined a humorous dialogue between the informer and the magistrate, in the course of which polygamy, and a neglect of every moral duty had been represented in so facetious a light, that the House had forgot in its merriment what had really been complained of, and seemed not to know that it was sanctioning the base frauds and duplicity with which the employment of spies must be attended.
Another of his majesty's ministers, a graver person, and one who seems not to think it very becoming to treat such subjects with levity (Mr. Bragge Bathurst), came forward with high authorities to countenance the practice. Lord chief justice Holt, it seems, and lord chief justice Byre had approved of the employment of spies. When, however, lord chief justice Holt was allowed to speak for himself, and the right honourable gentleman came to read his speech, it turned out, that though that learned judge justified the receiving the testimony of informers, he had not uttered a syllable about the employment of spies. If lord chief justice Eyre had approved such employment, it would indeed have been matter of surprise. He was an excellent judge and an excellent man. He had the merit of raising himself by his learning, his talents, and his admirable qualities as a judge, to preside first in the Exchequer, and afterwards in the Common pleas; and it Certainly was not by rendering himself, while a puisne judge, agreeable to those in power, or subservient to their will, that he had owed his promotion. All, however, that chief justice Eyre had defended, was the sending witnesses to be present at an unlawful meeting to observe what passed there, and to give evidence of what they had seen. He had never attempted to justify the employing men to act the part of active conspirators, that they might be able to bring to justice the men they had excited by their example, and encouraged by their doctrines.—Offence had been taken at the expression of there having been spies fitted out by government. The expression was surely not too strong for what had really taken place. Upon the examination of Castles, it appeared that he had been dressed at the expense of the prosecution to give him 978 an appearance that he was not entitled to and that his wife had been by Mr. Stafford of the Bow-street office sent out of the way that she might not appear upon the trial. Oliver had been sent into the country with the knowledge of government, as a delegate from a London society. He was not sent expressly to excite disaffection, but his bearing the character of a London delegate must of itself have had that effect. The unhappy misguided men who had been betrayed into the crimes which they had committed, were seduced by a belief that great numbers were ready to rise in the metropolis and in other parts. Upon the trials at Derby, this belief appeared to be the immediate cause of the insurrection. Nothing could give such credit to this rumour, as the appearance among them of an accredited agent from the London conspirators. Oliver was himself the living proof of the strength and the boldness of the men on whose co-operation they were taught to look for support. But the ministers by whom Oliver was employed did not intend that he should take the active part which he was found to have done; and yet what must be the sagacity which could have failed to foresee that, employed as he was, it was impossible that he should not excite and inflame the crimes he was sent to detect. He had no interest, the right hon. gentleman (Mr. Bathurst) had said, to increase the discontents of the people; as if the magnitude of his services did not depend upon the greatness of the evil, and as if the reward he might aspire to, would not be commensurate to the dangers from which he might seem to have rescued the state.—But it had been said, that at least Oliver must have found the persons he mixed with disaffected, or, whatever might have been his inclination, he could have made no impression on them;—if he held such seditious language to them as is represented, their own criminality is made evident by their not having denounced him to the magistrates. That the people who were unemployed, and who were in want of bread, were impatient of their sufferings, and ready to listen to any instigator of mischief, has never been denied: but did that lessen the guilt of those who, instead of endeavouring to calm and instruct them, sent amongst them pretended missionaries still farther to irritate and to inflame them? The defence thus set up for the ministers was not unlike that which Vaughan and his associates 979 had offered for themselves. He did not speak of Brock, and Power, and Pelham; theirs was a case of such enormous guilt as rarely appeared, even amongst the most depraved and profligate of mankind—that of entrapping men who were perfectly innocent, and giving them the appearance of committing crimes, that they might share amongst themselves the reward which was to be gained by shedding their blood; but Vaughan and his accomplices had made the same defence as was set up for the ministers. The men whom they had seduced to commit the crimes of which they had afterwards accused them, had long quitted the paths of virtue and innocence; they were of profligate habits, were reputed thieves, and ready to commit any crime which opportunity afforded. When coming from the lips of those wretches, this defence was rejected with disgust; though when offered for his majesty's ministers it seemed to be listened to with some degree of favour.
It was this detestable system of employing spies, the instigators of crimes, that the bill was adapted to sanction. A system which, it seems, was to be acted upon in future times; and it was the danger of weakening it which made it necessary that an impenetrable veil should be thrown over all the information which government had received. Great as the evils were which belonged to this measure, when considered by itself, they shrunk into comparative insignificance when it was considered what a precedent the House was about to establish, and what was to be the future government of England. In time of profound peace, on any appearance of discontent, or any alarm of insurrection, the Habeas Corpus might be suspended; and the suspension having once taken place, magistrates were at liberty to disregard all law, to exercise what arbitrary acts of power they thought proper, spies and informers were to be busily employed to betray the rash and inconsiderate, who were labouring under the pressure of penury and distress, to their destruction, and under colour of an indemnity, a total denial of justice was to prevail, for those who d suffered the most grievous wrongs.
That this example may appear in the greater force to future times, our Journals will preserve that long detail of multiplied sufferings which are enumerated in the various petitions that have been presented to us, and with them the record of 980 our having twice refused to institute any inquiry into the truth of them. When those who are to come after us shall suffer under the evils we are now inflicting on them,—when their liberties shall be violated after the example which we are establishing, and they shall reflect with bitterness on the memories of those who have been the authors of all their wrongs, it is at least some consolation to us to reflect that it will be remembered that there was a small number of members of this House who endeavoured to avert this evil, who, though overpowered by numbers, and discouraged by the triumph of a confident majority, yet made the best stand they could in defence of the constitution, the laws, and the liberties, which had been transmitted to them by their ancestors, and who feel more satisfaction in having thus discharged their duty, though without success, than their opponents can derive from the victory they have gained. That victory is, in truth, one which will sully all the trophies that, in the course of the present reign, have been obtained; and since it is a victory over liberty, and law and justice, it may now be truly said, in the language of the immortal bard,That England that was wont to conquer others,Has made a shameful conquest of herself.
The Solicitor General
hoped, that in considering the question before them, the House would fully consider the circumstances which led to those acts, which the bill was required to protect, and which had been ingeniously kept out of sight by the hon. and learned gentleman, who had in the whole of his argument confined himself to the abstract consideration of a bill of Indemnity, without at all taking into account the peculiar circumstance under which the present bill was called for. It had never been said by his hon. and learned friend (the attorney-general), nor by any other hon. member, that a bill of Indemnity was a necessary consequence of a suspension of the Habeas Corpus act. That was not the argument intended to be used in support of the present measure. The principal question for consideration was, whether the circumstances which took place under the late Suspension were such as to warrant ministers in calling for a bill of Indemnity. He would call upon the House to consider seriously what had taken place in the last year, and after such consideration, he would say that it would 981 be dealing unfairly, both by ministers and magistrates, to refuse them the protection required. If they recollected what happened last year they would remember that the state of the country was such as to induce parliament to suspend a part of the liberties of the people. The papers laid before the committee last year clearly proved that a treasonable conspiracy existed in the country, and the report of that committee recommended to parliament to arm ministers with a power sufficient for the preservation of the public tranquillity. Ministers applied for such power and obtained it. When the power thus vested in ministers was about to expire, another committee was appointed, to whom the state of the country was referred, and in consequence of the report made by that committee ministers were allowed to retain the power vested in them for a farther period. The disturbed state of the country was the cause of ministers having been armed with that power, and as soon as the disturbances were quelled, and that such power was no longer necessary, ministers voluntarily resigned it, although the period for which it had been entrusted to them had not expired.
But another question now presented itself, and it was, whether an indemnity ought to be granted as an act of justice to those to whom the execution of the trust contemplated by the acts of suspension had been confided. And here he must at the outset, deny the proposition of the hon. and learned gentleman, that no indemnity could be desired, except for the purpose of guarding his majesty's ministers against the consequences of their unjust or illegal acts. He distinctly denied that the present measure had ever been introduced, or supported, on the presumption that ministers had been guilty of the least irregularity. The reports of committees appointed by the House had led to the two acts of Suspension, and, together with the report recently received from a third secret committee, could never be laid aside in the consideration of this measure. Although the bill of indemnity was not their necessary consequence, its merits could not be fairly understood without a constant reference to them. Those merits depended on the statements of the two earlier reports, and the degree to which they had been substantiated and verified by events that occurred subsequently. It was likewise an important part of them, that the autho- 982 rity of the last committee directly sanctioned the belief, that although a traitorous conspiracy no longer existed, yet that the disposition out of which it had before grown remained unaltered and unabated, as far as could be judged from the conduct and declarations of those who had been already the principal objects of suspicion. It was not he repeated because ministers had out stepped the law, or had exceeded the powers vested in them, that the bill was called for; on that ground there was no occasion for such a measure. That however, had been the ground of the hon. and learned gentleman's objections to the bill. But he would show, when he came to that part of the hon. and learned gentleman's speech, that the bill was called for on very different grounds, although he did not mean to go into the detail of the subject at that moment, as a proper time would come for such discussion.
The hon. and learned gentleman had divided the objects of the bill into three distinct heads: first, the protection of ministers; secondly, the protection of magistrates; and thirdly, the protection of all persons from whom any information had been received. The hon. and learned gentleman had asked, why, if the law had not been exceeded by ministers, was a bill of Indemnity called for? To this he would answer, that ministers were not anxious to have a bill of Indemnity passed on their own account, as they could easily justify themselves for what they had done. But they were desirous that the sources from which they had obtained information should not be at present disclosed. Such information had in a great part, been received under the seal of secrecy, and the persons from whom it was received, could not fairly be pointed out to the public. Those were the grounds on which ministers called for a bill of Indemnity. Besides, it was found, that though there no longer existed a necessity for the suspension of the Habeas Corpus act, yet such was the state of the country, that the utmost vigilance was necessary, as there still existed in the minds of many persons a disposition to disturb the public peace—there existed, in fact, a spirit of disaffection, which, though not equally dangerous as at former periods, required a strict watch to be kept over it. This being the case, it would be highly improper to point out those persons whose information enabled government to check in time those 983 evils which threatened to overrun the country. If that were to be done, and it must inevitably be the case, unless a bill of Indemnity be passed, it would point out those persons to the malice of the disaffected; and would, at the same time, induce them to keep their machinations more secret in future.
The hon. and learned gentleman had dwelt with particular emphasis on the enormity of authorizing, by virtue of this bill, the proceedings of those magistrates who had searched the houses of individuals for papers, under the authority of lord Sidmouth's circular letter on the subject of libels. Surely the hon. and learned gentleman had not read the recital of this bill, when he ascribed such an interpretation or meaning to it, and dwelt with so much pathos and effect upon the evil of such a construction. The hon. and learned gentleman, had, however, presumed that such was the nature of the bill, and consequently diverged into much matter not at all connected with it; for he maintained that it could not possibly be construed to apply to the apprehension or seizing of papers of any, except persons suspected of treasonable practices. If, in such cases, magistrates had overstepped the strict legal limit of their authority, in search of evidence so material to the discovery of the treason, would the House say that their meritorious exertions did not entitle them to legislative protection?
§ Sir S. Romilly
said, across the table, that in such cases the magistrates would have acted according to law.
The Solicitor General
in continuation remarked, that all then which could be alleged against the bill was, that it was unnecessary. He must repeat, with reference to the case of Swindells, upon which so much had been said, that no man who calmly considered the present bill, could believe that it would embrace that case, and all allusion to it was therefore inapplicable to the question. Swindells, if he had suffered as had been described, would not be shut out from his legal remedy by the operation of the present bill of Indemnity. All arguments founded on the case of that person must therefore fall to the ground. Magistrates were entitled to protection, as they were obliged to act from the spur of the occasion, and ought not to be liable for their efforts to preserve the public peace.
Another objection which had been urged, not against the measure so much 984 as the conduct of administration, was, the number of persons discharged after bills of indictment found against them, without being brought to trial. But the hon. and learned gentleman must be aware that many had also been discharged before indictments found; and was not the only point for consideration, therefore, whether the magistracy in the districts where the disturbance had prevailed ought to be indemnified or not? Might they not, under a general impression of alarm, and in their anxious endeavour to preserve tranquillity, have been sometimes induced to do what they could not entirely justify in a court of law? The precedent of the year 1780 was immediately in point, and strictly justificatory, in all the leading circumstances on which it was founded, of the measure now under consideration. Such measures had always had their rise in a real or imaginary necessity; and although that necessity must always be a question of degree and matter of opinion, yet, if once admitted, the inference was undeniable that the magistrates ought to be protected. Some hon. members might view the subject in a different light from him; but in whatever light it was viewed, it would appear that danger had existed, and that strong measures were necessary, and on that ground the House was called upon to sanction the proposed measure. As to the hon. and learned gentleman's argument on the subject of witnesses, and of each succeeding precedent of this nature out stepping the limits of former ones, he had admitted in another part of his speech that in this respect the present measure did not go quite so far as the act of 1801. The ground upon which all the provisions now submitted on this subject were brought forward, was, not for the purpose of screening particular individuals, but because it was deemed unsafe and inconvenient for the public service, by disclosing their names, to take from government the advantage of employing them in future. The next subject to which the hon. and learned gentleman had adverted, was the employment of Oliver, the spy, as he called him. He stated, that he found it impossible to distinguish between him and Vaughan: although really it was impossible to conceive two cases more dissimilar. But the hon. and learned gentleman said, that Oliver was sent into the country, for the purpose of encouraging and fomenting the disturbances, that he might betray the parties with whom he pretended to act. 985 How did this statement correspond with the first Report of the committee last hear? At that time Oliver had not been heard of, and yet it appeared from that report, that there did exist an extended conspiracy in the country. A right hon. member, now no more (Mr. Ponsonby) had stated such to be his opinion; yet, with this fact, proved to conviction, it was argued, that all the treasons and plots, and conspiracies, which existed in the country last year, were caused by Oliver. It was argued also, that Oliver having gone to the country in the character of a delegate, was the means of increasing rather than allaying the disturbances. Did the hon. and learned gentleman mean to say, that ministers sent Oliver in such a character and for such a purpose? He hoped he had too much candour to form such an opinion. When Oliver had given information to government of what he had discovered, it was found necessary that he should continue his observations, and for that purpose it was necessary that he should mix with the disaffected parties in some manner. Whatever character he assumed then was solely for that purpose, and not, as was insinuated, for the purpose of creating any additional disturbance. He did not mean to go into the detail of what happened at Derby, but it had been formerly said from the other side of the House, that ministers had been vested with power, but did not use it; that they knew of Brandreth's conspiracy, and had not arrested him when they might have done so, and thereby prevented the explosion which subsequently took place. It was proved on the trial of Brandreth, however, that the witnesses who knew of that conspiracy were afraid to disclose it sooner; that threats of the most violent nature had been made against any one who should disclose it. It was also proved, that not only government, but the magistrates residing in the neighbourhood were ignorant of it until it broke out, so secretly were the proceedings of the conspirators conducted. But what would have been said if government having received information of that conspiracy, had arrested Brandreth, and thereby prevented the conspirators from taking arms? Would it not then have been said to ministers, "there was no plot; you have arrested an innocent man without even a shadow of cause; you were wrong to depend upon the information of those persons who told you of there being any disturbance in the 986 country; it is the interest of such persons to mislead you if they can, and no set of men but yourselves would depend upon the assertions of such a worthless set of persons as informers?" Such was the language used with respect to those persons who had been arrested without being brought to trial; but whose being taken into custody prevented explosions taking place in other parts of the country similar to that at Derby.—If, then, such arguments were false in one case, was it not fair to suppose they were so in the other? Or did the hon. members of the other side mean to say, that because ministers did not prevent those disturbances of which they had no previous information, therefore they ought not to have taken measures to suppress those of which they had been timely informed? Knowing, as the House did, that such a plot had been brought to light; and knowing, from the characters of the petitioners, and particularly of Francis Ward, who had been placed at their head, that they had hearts to contrive, and hands to execute, similar mischief; it was not fair, on the one hand, to accuse his majesty's ministers of apprehending persons improperly, and on the other, to charge them with having neglected their duty in not arresting traitors before the perpetration of their crimes. Every fact which came out in evidence at Derby, showed the strong probability that similar insurrections would have taken place in other parts of the country, had not very strenuous exertions been made by the magistrates to prevent them. It was on this ground that indemnity was now asked for that valuable class of the community, who might in some instances have exceeded their legal powers in their anxiety to secure the public welfare. The House also should recollect, that it had been repeatedly assured of the circumstance, that no one person had been confined on the information of Oliver.
It was asked if those persons who had suffered by imprisonment on suspicion of treason were to be denied all redress for the privations and hardships which they suffered? To this he would reply, that private interest must in extraordinary cases give way to the public welfare, and that it were better some private injury should be sustained, than that the constitution should be endangered, which would be the case, if those persons were allowed to act with impunity. At the same time he should repeat what he before stated. 987 It was not the intention of ministers, that any persons who bad been treated with wanton cruelty, or who had been confined for any other than treasonable acts or practices, should be prevented from seeking legal redress for such treatment. The bill before the House would not afford any shelter of the kind, either to magistrates or others who had so acted. The hon. and learned gentleman had also found fault with the bill, because it was not merely co-extensive with the Suspension, but went back as far as January. To this he should observe, that if ministers or magistrates found it necessary to arrest disaffected persons before the suspension of the Habeas Corpus act, they were as much entitled to protection for having so done, as they were for their acts during the Suspension, the danger in both cases being allowed to have existed. The principle of the bill was grounded on ministers not having exceeded the powers vested in them by parliament; but that, on the contrary, they exerted those powers for the safety of the country, which, had it not been for their vigour and promptitude, was in the greatest danger of being seriously disturbed. In justice, then, to ministers, in justice to magistrates, in justice to the country, and in justice to themselves, the House were, in his opinion, bound to give their consent to the present measure.
Sir Francis Burdett
declared, that he was by no means surprised at the course pursued by the hon. and learned gentleman who had just sat down, who had told the House that such and such were the circumstances of the case, taking all his assertions for granted, and had thence inferred, that ministers were justified in requiring this bill; but who had cautiously abstained from specifying one distinct fact, or describing one distinct ground, on which the measure could with propriety be founded. The hon. and learned gentleman had, as he conceived, entirely misunderstood the argument of the hon. and learned gentleman by whom he had been preceded, particularly where he represented that hon. and learned gentleman as having brought forward the particular case of Swindells, with a view to show, that the acts to which that case referred, and which were committed during the suspension of the Habeas Corpus, were to be covered by the proposed bill of indemnity, which was in fact only to cover acts of another kind. Such had not 988 been his hon. and learned friend's argument. He had merely adverted to the case of Swindells, as affording a proof of the danger of granting extraordinary powers to the magistrates. The hon. and learned gentleman talked of that case as, having been gathered from newspaper reports. He (sir F. Burdett) believed the case to be perfectly well-founded, and had obtained his knowledge of it, not from a newspaper, but from a gentleman who was well acquainted with the individual himself.
Almost the only argument that had been advanced by the hon. and learned gentleman was, that the bill of Indemnity was necessary to cover all the acts committed under the suspension of the Habeas Corpus, and to prevent the persons who had been injured by those acts from seeking legal redress, because it was not expedient that ministers should bring forward in their justification, and thereby betray, those sources of information which now, for the first time in our history, were to be considered as legitimate and sacred, and were never to be made known to those whose property, and health, and liberty, had been sacrificed to them. That was an argument which, in his opinion, was unfit to be used in any assembly of fair, upright, and just men. What! was a man to be dragged from his home and deprived of his freedom on secret information, and never to know what that information was? Never to know who his accusers were? Was that the system to be now defended; and hereafter, no doubt, to be established and practised? He recollected that it was described in history, to be one of the most odious circumstances of a most dreadful aristocratical government, that of Venice, that they fixed the statue of a lion in the place of St. Mark, into whose mouth were received secret accusations against any individual; on which accusations that atrociously-despotic government afterwards proceeded. But what difference was there between that government and the government of this country, as recently administered; when a secretary of state was ready at all times to receive accusations against individuals, who were never to know their accusers, who were to be imprisoned without ever being brought to trial, and to whose petitions for an investigation of the circumstances of their respective cases, parliament refused to listen? Against a system like this there was no protection. No innocence was a 989 sufficient shield. Many parts of the question before the House were important; but none was more so than this—namely, the supposed necessity of keeping secret, not for a time, but for ever, the private accusations of unknown individuals. Nor was this secret system to be confined to magistrates. It was to be extended to all who had participated in these transactions; to all who might have been influenced by motives of private malice. Many persons had had their arms taken out of their houses, because they were suspected of treason—a suspicion easily raised, but against which those accused were never to have an opportunity of defending themselves before a jury.
But there was another part of the subject not less important. It was the system of constantly employing and embodying a set of spies, who were always ready to accuse some person or other for the sake of occupation, and who were always to be screened from detection. It appeared, as far as the House could judge, that whatever acts of violence had been committed, there was great reason to believe had been instigated by these spies. An hon. gentleman had made a statement, the other evening, the truth of which he declared he was ready at any time to prove at the bar, that Mr. Oliver, on the first day of the last session of parliament, was at the Horse-guards, haranguing the populace, and exciting them to acts of violence against the Prince Regent. Although there was no evidence, that at that period Oliver was connected with government, yet, as he subsequently was so, and as ministers had an interest in creating the alarm necessary for the attainment of the object they had in view, which was no other than to counteract the spirit at that time rising in the nation, importuning the House of Commons to reform itself, he believed that the disturbances which had occurred, had been instigated by ministers themselves, for the purpose of defeating the wishes of the friends of reform. The reformers had no interest in those disturbances. It was absurd to suppose, that the reformers could have sanctioned or encouraged any breach of the peace. It was important to them that the public tranquillity should be preserved; but if gentlemen should say, that the reformers had actually disturbed the peace of the country, then he would ask, for what purpose? Cui bono? Who was to have the benefit of such conduct? It Appeared to 990 him, that no person could derive any advantage but the ministers themselves, by the alarm which such disturbances were calculated to occasion. And this conviction of his, received additional strength from the recollection, that the present administration was the remnant of that which, for similar purposes, and when circumstances gave a greater countenance to its efforts, pursued a similar course of delusion at the period of the French revolution, by exciting throughout this country the most wild and unfounded alarms.
He owned himself to be totally at a loss to conceive, why a bill of indemnity should be passed to prevent actions from being brought, lest those actions should cause the discovery of the sources whence government had derived their information. But if, as the hon. and learned gentleman had contended, it was inexpedient to exhibit those sources, still the injured individuals ought not to be prevented from obtaining redress; and it would be much better, as the hon. member for Hertfordshire had said, the other evening, that those individuals should be paid their damages out of the public purse, than that they should be denied all redress on such a flimsy pretext, as that the sources of information, or as he (sir F. B.) believed, of false accusation, ought not to be disclosed. His hon. and learned friend had well said, that it was a part of the king's coronation oath, that justice should not be delayed, still less denied, to any man. Ministers had violated the coronation oath—they had violated the constitution: it was absurd, therefore, to say that for them no indemnity was required, but only for their underlings. They had transgressed the laws; they had infringed the liberties of the people. This was a matter of heavy charge against them. When they asked for the powers which they had so scandalously abused, they asked for them on the ground that they might be safely trusted with those powers, as they would exercise them under a serious responsibility, and as the time must arrive when their conduct would be subjected to a minute investigation. It had been argued very strangely by some honourable gentlemen, that, because ministers had been entrusted with extraordinary powers, they ought therefore to be indemnified for the way in which they had used those powers. The reason of the case was exactly the reverse of this. In proportion as the grant of power was great, should the account of its exercise be strict.
991 There was another part of the subject which was not less important than those that he had already mentioned. Indeed, the whole of these transactions appeared to him to be of a piece. They were altogether illegal and unconstitutional. The abuses of the power which had been placed in the hands of ministers appeared, from the instances stated in that House, to have been of such a nature, that it was in his opinion impossible even for those hon. members who were of opinion that such powers were fit to be granted, and that if moderately exercised, they should have been followed by a bill of indemnity, to agree to the bill on the table. Those abuses had not even been denied. No contradiction had been attempted of the allegation that men who had not been found guilty of any offence—who were merely accused, and it was to be presumed wrongfully, as they were subsequently discharged—were confined in solitary cells, and loaded with irons. In one instance two of these unfortunate individuals were chained together, compelled mutually to bear all the infirmities of human nature; a most inhuman practice, and one to which a tyrant of old was said to have resorted as to a refinement of cruelty. These tortures were in fact beyond human endurance. The very contemplation of such cruel indignities was enough to drive a generous mind to despair. A case had been mentioned in the louse the other night of a man of the name of Riley, who after sustaining solitary confinement for a long time, and looking anxiously to his trial, on finding that it was put off, lost all hope, and committed an act of desperate suicide. No person who knew how dreadful was a long protracted solitary confinement would be surprised at such an occurrence. These cruelties were as contrary to the old law of England, as they were to the mild precepts of the Christian religion. Lord Coke had said that "a man shut up in a close prison was in a very hard case, for that a close prison was a kind of hell." Yet some of the individuals arrested had been imprisoned for eleven months; and at the expiration of that period had been discharged in a manner as illegal as that in which they had been apprehended; and after these transactions, ministers came to that House and asked indemnity for themselves and for the magistrates, and for, all persons concerned! In the case of Swindells, to which he had before 992 alluded, it was true, that the magistrates might say they were not searching for libellous, but for treasonable papers, although they did not find any. It appeared that arms or treasonable papers were never found.
Adverting to the trials at Derby (which proved that there had been no necessity for suspending the Habeas Corpus, as they proved that the ordinary powers of the law would have been amply sufficient for the punishment of the existing offences), he observed, that when persons were accused of high treason, there ought always to be some proportion perceived between the means and the end. Could any thing be more ridiculous than to suppose that such a man as Brandreth, armed with a stick and a pistol, and having a dozen or two followers, could hope to overturn the government of this country, with such an army at its beck? But it might be said, that however hopeless the attempt, it was still treasonable. He had somewhere read an argument, that if as the king went along the street, a man blew a feather at him out of a window, and said "that's to kill the king," that would be a treasonable act. To the justice of this position he could never assent; for, he repeated, there ought always to appear some proportion between the means and the end. But whether or not there was any rational ground for imputing treason, nothing could be more evident, than that the ordinary law would have sufficed for its punishment. There was no pretence, therefore, for the suspension of the Habeas Corpus; there was no reason to believe that there was any just ground for the arrest and detention of the persons who had been apprehended under that suspension; and he, for one, would therefore vote against a bill which was to indemnify ministers, and those connected with them, for acts that in his opinion were utterly indefensible.
said, that while he admitted that the argument of the hon. and learned gentleman who opened the debate was full of ingenuity and ability, he must express his regret that he could see nothing of that kind in the speech made by the hon. baronet. In that speech he could discover only that extraordinary and peculiar zeal which appeared uniformly to animate the hon. baronet's effusions in that House. He begged, however, to observe to the hon. baronet, when he accused ministers of wishing, by the introduction of the Suspension act, to 993 stifle the voice of reform, that it was not in the agitated state of the country which that Suspension act was intended to tranquillize, and which it had in a great measure tranquillized, that the cause of reform could be successfully prosecuted. It was only in a period of quiet that the hon. baronet could hope that that question would receive the unbiassed judgment of parliament. There had occurred no occasion within his experience in which the truth of the old proverb, that "Saints are cheated when the danger's past," was more strikingly exemplified than in the discussions on the measure under consideration. For all the hon. gentlemen who had opposed it had kept out of view the danger in which the country had been involved for the last twelve months, and which was the justification of the bill; that danger was as great as the distress—not in which it originated, but by which it was accompanied. It originated in some of the institutions to which we clung with pertinacious fondness; it originated in the demoralization of a large part of the population; it originated in the monstrous union of Luddism and politics—a union of which reform was the pretended, and revolution the real object—a union which, beginning by organized plunder, threatened to terminate in organized assassination. On a statement of that danger ministers asked the House for that proof of their confidence which had been given them by a great majority—a majority which shared the responsibility of the proceedings they had warranted. It had not been argued by his hon. and learned friend, the solicitor-general, that the present bill was a necessary consequence of the suspension of the Habeas Corpus, but only that it was intimately connected with it. Every hon. gentleman who had last session entertained the opinion, that the danger of the country was such as to call for measures of extraordinary vigour, must now admit that the executive authority, as well as the magistrates, and others acting under it, ought to be borne harmless for the acts they had performed, unless a case of flagrant abuse were made out against them.—That the act for suspending the Habeas Corpus, had been administered with discretion and moderation, one or two facts appeared to him sufficiently to establish. In the first place, it was well known, that the number of persons who had been apprehended under it was small, 994 which was some proof of moderation; and in the second place, no person had been apprehended under it but upon deposition on oath, and with the advice of the law officers of the Crown, which was some proof of discretion. For these two facts, there was the authority of the two committees. A doubt had been thrown on the opinion of those committees, to the validity of which doubt he could not bow. The House had been told to receive that opinion with distrust, because the committees had been appointed by ministers, and had a cause to support. Although those committees were certainly not composed (in the only way in which one hon. gentleman seemed to think they could have been fairly composed) of a majority of opposition members, yet he would venture to say, that as many men of equal credit, of as high offices in the state, of as zealous servants of the country, could not be found on the benches of that House. Let the gentlemen opposite name man for man; let them appoint their committee; and let it be seen if the public would repose more confidence in it than in that which had actually been constituted. If the House were to look with suspicion at their committees, on the ground that they had a cause to support, were they not to look with suspicion at the petitions on the table, which had a cause to support? If they disbelieved the one, were they not to disbelieve the other? He was certainly not disposed to put the authority of Francis Ward and Benjamin Scholes on precisely the same footing as the authority of a committee of the House of Commons; but if that were to be done, still this Indemnity bill ought to pass, for the conflicting authorities would neutralize one another; there would be no case against it; and parliament were bound to protect those who had exerted themselves for the preservation of the public peace, unless some case of misconduct were established against them. The hon. and learned gentleman had made one observation on which he wished to offer a single remark: it was, that those depositions on oath, on which so much stress had been laid, were on the part of persons who might have received from ministers a promise that their names should not be divulged, and who might have been influenced by private motives of malignity; and that if so their declarations on oath were worthless. The hon. and learned gentleman might, with at least equal cha- 995 rity and justice, have supposed that the persons who thus deposed on oath were urged, not by any vindictive feelings, but by a religious sense of duty. When the hon. and learned gentleman denied that those persons could fairly be believed on their oaths (without knowing who they were), he could not help recollecting the opinion given some time ago by the same hon. and learned gentleman, that the dying declaration of one of the traitors at Derby was to be believed because he was a religious man—[Here sir Samuel Romilly observed across the table, "I never said so; I never said any thing like it"]. He was happy to be corrected, but that observation had unquestionably fallen from some hon. gentleman. The hon. and learned gentleman had admitted, in the course of his speech, that he would not assert that the power granted to ministers had been abused. If that hon. and learned gentleman could not lay his hand on his heart and say, that he believed one of the important allegations contained in the petitions on the table was true, he should be surprised, consistently with his (Mr. Law's) view of the duty of a member of that House, if he did not feel obliged to vote for the Indemnity bill.—The second point touched on by the hon. and learned gentleman was, the indemnity to be given by the bill to the magistrates. On a former occasion the hon. and learned gentleman had accused ministers of libelling a whole people [sir S. Romilly said across the table "never"].—He was extremely sorry to have twice unintentionally misrepresented the hon. and learned gentleman. If the expression did not proceed from him, he was sure it proceeded from the hon. and learned gentleman behind him [Mr. Brougham. "I have not spoken yet"]. Without insisting on particular expressions, however, he would not hesitate to say, that the hon. and learned gentleman had insinuated charges of a dark nature against persons whom he (Mr. Law) must always respect, and whom the hon. and learned gentleman supposed capable of being induced by private motives to commit acts inconsistent with their duty, and in violation of the laws. Such was his veneration for the magistracy of the country, so grateful was he to that excellent body of men for their eminent services, that he had heard with the deepest regret the insinuations or the charges of the hon. and learned gentleman. But, notwithstanding those 996 insinuations and those charges, he trusted the magistrates would continue to deserve the approbation of the country, by persevering in their efforts to put down the spirit of insubordination, which, to a certain degree, was still in existence.—He would not follow the hon. and learned gentleman into that subject, on which so much had been said—Oliver and spies. He would not contend against the assertion, that they had been the cause of all the commotion that had taken place. Neither would he defend government from the charge brought against them by an hon. baronet, of wishing to establish a lion, like that of old, in the place of St. Mark, at Venice. He thought that that lion (if any lion there was) must be as harmless as the one in the Midsummer Night's Dream. All he would say was, that if ministers had exercised the powers which had been vested in them with discretion and moderation, they ought not to be exposed to the violence of such men as Francis Ward; for, unless the sympathies of the House were to be exclusively reserved for those who were in hostility to the state, they were bound to guard the well-disposed from the dagger of the assassin, and not to serve the purposes of disaffection by exposing those sources of information of which government had already so effectually availed themselves, and which might again enable them at some future period to anticipate and thwart the designs of conspiracy. The simple question, indeed, for the House to determine, and on which it seemed to him there could be little doubt, was—whether they should protect those who prevented, or those who committed offences?
§ Sir W. Burroughs,
adverting to the speech of the solicitor general, said it was the first time he had ever heard from an English lawyer a doctrine so much in violation of our constitution, that, on a warrant issued on oath, the information should remain a secret. By the law of the land, the magistrate was bound to-commit the party, next to return the informations to the proper court, and then to bind the prosecutor over to prosecute. Those were the duties pointed out by the common law, and confirmed by the statute of Philip and Mary. A magistrate had no right to discharge any man from custody: he was to remain in custody till discharged by due course of law. The secretary of state was subject to the same rule. In no ease had either party a right 997 to discharge a prisoner, until he was regularly discharged by a court of law. With respect to the immediate question before the House, what had ministers done? They claimed extraordinary powers—they obtained them; and the first thing they did was to exceed them. The pretence of guarding those who had given information was absurd. Had any body heard of any attack on the witnesses or jurors at the trials at Derby, or in London? Such cases had occurred in Ireland, but thank God not in this country. But it had been said that ministers did not require this bill to indemnify themselves, because they had done nothing wrong. Why then did they require it? But he denied that they had exercised with propriety the powers that had been vested in them. He charged them with gross abuse. The hon. member for Bramber had told them, that it was useless to enter into any inquiry, as those who considered themselves aggrieved had their remedy at law. But by this bill of indemnity, they were deprived for ever of that remedy. If such proceedings did not add insult to injury, he was much mistaken in his view of the subject. With respect to the seizure of papers and the searching for arms, the hon. and learned gentleman had said that the bill was not for the purpose to which it had been said to apply, but that impunity was secured by the bill for the seizing of papers, and the ransacking of houses for arms, only when the persons from whom such papers were taken, and whose houses had been so searched were accused of high treason. He wished to know whether such a proceeding could be considered at all necessary? Surely it required no law to render such a practice proper; it was the mode which was pursued in all cases of high treason. There required no indemnity for that. But this bill extended indemnity to magistrates, and all other persons who violated the law in this manner, merely on the ground, that the persons whose houses they searched had attended tumultuous assemblies. The magistrates had no need of indemnity for taking up persons concerned in a tumultuous assembly. The being engaged in one was a misdemeanour at common law. There was no indemnity necessary either for having dispersed such an assembly, or for having assisted in so doing. But they certainly did want an indemnity for searching for arms and papers—acts which were a violation of the Jaw. For such acts no 998 indemnity ought, in his opinion, to be granted, especially without an inquiry should take place. His majesty's ministers, however, had not only refused an inquiry, but had refused to postpone the farther consideration of the bill till an important return should be made. He could not help designating the bill as a most odious, and, indeed, audacious proceeding. He was unwilling to detain the House longer, though he had several other observations to submit to them; and therefore he should sit down, declaring his decided opinion against the bill.
§ Sir F. Flood
said, he owed it to himself and his country to make a few observations. He rose, not as belonging to either side of the House, but because he felt it his duty to say what he thought on the measure. The ranks of the other (the opposition) side of the House were broken and the arguments of a great part of that side of the House, militating one against the other, showed most clearly that the party whence they came was nearly dissolved. He did not agree with the arguments of two hon. and learned gentlemen, one, the member for Arundel, for whom he had a very great respect, and another, of whom he likewise had a very good opinion. It was not from obligation or ostentation that he spoke, for he stood where he was unplaced and unpensioned. He wished the House would observe of what nature the bill was before them. It was a bill that had already been twice approved of by large majorities of 190 to 64, and 89 to 24; and yet, though the virtues of this bill were thus approved of, it still met with opposition. If the bill had any defects, they were curable in a committee. It was to be remembered that the bill did not originate in that House—it came to them from the House of Lords; having first been sanctioned by the Lords Spiritual and Temporal of this realm, it came here recommended by immense majorities of the Lords, by the highest authorities of the country. He approved of the conduct of administration, at the head of which was the noble viscount, whom he was proud to call his countryman, who had reconciled all the jarring powers of the continent, and who had been received with cheers by the House when he returned from the continent—he was his countryman, and he was persuaded that the noble lord was the fittest person to have been upon the committee that was the founda- 999 tion of that bill. The country owed every thing to his majesty's ministers; it was they who appointed the duke of Wellington; and the duke of Wellington saved the country. The arguments of the hon. hart were unfounded; if he would look to Blackstone, he would find that great lawyer said, that whenever the state was apprehended to be in danger, a suspension act was proper, which, instead of injuring the constitution, would preserve it for ever. Though he was one of the majority who had voted the Speaker into the chair, he should with great pleasure vote him out of it on that occasion.
§ Mr. Lamb
said:—It would, Sir, far better accord with my own inclination, if I could fall in with that which appears to be the prevailing inclination of the House; it would undoubtedly be more agreeable to my own feelings, if I could reconcile it to my sense of duty to pass over in silence this question also, as I have already passed over all the questions which have been brought forward in the course of the present session, connected with the transactions of last year, and with those measures upon which I have the misfortune materially to differ with so many of those, whose persons I esteem and whose opinions I respect. But as upon my part I feel it to be utterly impossible, that my hon. friends should suppress their sentiments, or restrain the expression of the indignation which they must naturally and necessarily feel,—indignation in which I should participate with them, if I agreed in the opinion, which is the spring and source of it,—so they, upon their parts, must admit, that it is in some measure due to my own character, and to the humble part which I took in the recommendation and support of those measures, to seize at least one opportunity of declaring the view which, upon deliberate consideration, I still continue to take of those proceedings, as well as my opinion upon the present bill, which is so closely connected with them.
It is supposed, and has been very generally stated in this House in the course of the present session, that the sentiments, which we then entertained, and the statements which we then made, that the case in short upon which we grounded ourselves, has been materially weakened and invalidated by events which have happened during the recess of parliament, and particularly by the result of certain trials at law, which have been had during 1000 that period; by the result of the trials at Westminster, which, by the way, had taken place before the second suspension of the Habeas Corpus; even by the issue of the trials at Derby, and, what astonishes me more than all the rest, by three verdicts of acquittals pronounced upon three informations for seditious and blasphemous libels, preferred by the attorney-general, against a printer of the name of Hone—Sir, I beg leave to say for myself, and in saying this, I conceive I am asserting a great and important principle, that I voted for those measures upon general views, upon a persuasion of the disposition which then prevailed in a certain portion of the community, upon the language which was then held, upon the opinions then professed, upon the designs and intentions then manifested;—I voted for those measures upon legislative reasons, upon such reasons as are fit in their nature to sway the judgment and direct the conduct of a member of this House; and allow me to say, that a judgment so formed is not necessarily invalidated or corroborated, is not necessarily affected, by any thing that passes in courts of justice, by the result of any judicial examinations or investigations, by any inquiries before tribunals, formed for entirely different purposes, acting by entirely different means, and proceeding towards another purpose and end, by another course.—Sir, I respect the verdict of a jury; no man more; and amongst the various abuses of the liberty of writing, thinking, and speaking, which prevail in the present day, there is no abuse more pernicious than the disposition which exists to call in question those decisions, which, whether they be guilty or not guilty, ought, except under very peculiar circumstances, to be held final and decisive. Into this error I think the worthy baronet (sir F. Burdett) has fallen to-night, in questioning the propriety of the verdicts given at Derby, and introducing here that doctrine of adequate or inadequate means as affecting a charge of high treason-—a doctrine which, however it may be fair in the mouth of an advocate, who is found to urge almost any argument that may possibly work in favour of the accused, ought not to be maintained in any other circumstances, because I am sure it is untenable in law, and not more untenable in law, than it is contrary to reason and common sense.—Sir, I respect entirely the verdict of a jury. I hold that it should not be 1001 rashly and wantonly intermeddled with; but then I hold, that it should be confined in its effect to its own proper object, the determining the guilt or innocence of the prisoner, to which it is limited and held close by all the rigorous accuracy of the law, and that it should not be extended and applied to the maintenance of general political propositions, which it is peculiarly ill qualified to inquire into and decide.
In the measures of last year we legislated perhaps somewhat in the dark; we possibly exaggerated the danger. Perhaps we apprehended that the contagion had spread wider than really was the case; perhaps we overrated the zeal and courage, the perseverance and sincerity, of those who threatened so loudly; but I still maintain that there were such appearances of danger as justified the course which was then pursued. I will not go into much detail upon this subject, because J am unwilling to revive former differences and to renew former discussions; but since the disturbances in Derbyshire have been mentioned, I will ask, whether it is possible to assert, whether human credulity can go the length of believing, that that tumult was an accidental, solitary, insulated proceeding; that it was unconnected with any more extensive arrangement, or more general understanding? I ask whether that is, upon the face of the affair, a reasonable conclusion, and I believe I may safely appeal to those who have had the best means of information upon the subject, whether they do not know the contrary to be the fact?—But we are not permitted to argue beyond what has actually taken place; we are not permitted to say that our measures had any preventive effect; if we do, if we urge that such events as those which happened in Derbyshire, would, without the precautions of government, have been more frequent and their consequences more formidable, we are asked, why do you draw any such inferences? why do you make assertions upon mere fancy and conjecture?—Every thing is to be taken for proved and granted against us; every thing that is doubtful, uncertain, ambiguous, and contingent: the veil of futurity is to be raised, the secrets of time are to be looked into; the evil effects of this precedent a hundred years hence are to be set down as certain and undoubted; but we, if we attempt to draw, as we conceive, fair conclusions from the events which 1002 have taken place, are to be tied strictly to the record of facts, and circumscribed within the limits of an almost metaphysical accuracy. But this is, and ever has been, the case of all civil services; it is the lot and condition of ministers in all ages; it is the difficulty with which they have to struggle, the mortification which they have to undergo. It forms the great distinction between civil and military service. The exploits of the soldier are performed in the light of the sun, and in the face of day; they are performed before his own army, before the enemy; they are seen, they are known; for the most part they cannot be denied or disputed; they are told instantly to the whole world, and receive at once the meed of praise, which is so justly due to the valour and conduct that achieves them. Not so the services of the minister; they lie not so much in acting in great crisises, as in preventing those crisises from arising; therefore they are often obscure and unknown; and not only obscure and unknown, but subject to every species of misrepresentation, and often effected amidst obloquy, attack, and condemnation, when, in fact, entitled to the approbation and gratitude of the country;—they are lost in the tranquillity which they are the means of preserving, and amidst the prosperity, which they themselves create.
But, Sir, if we have prevented any evil, I must again repeat an opinion which I held in the former session of parliament, that it is better to have prevented it by this act for the suspension of the Habeas Corpus, than by any new measures applicable to the peculiar case or to the particular districts of the country, in which disturbances have prevailed—Because this is a precedented course, a course that has been taken before, a measure of which we know the duration and the extent, the principles upon which it goes and the manner in which it acts (with new measures the case would have been otherwise), and we now return to the constitution unimpaired, except by the precedent; for I am ready to admit, that every fresh precedent of this description does impair the constitution; but, at the same time, that admission brings us back to the original question of the necessity of the measure; because if the measure was necessary, it is not we who have adopted it, who are responsible for the injury done to the constitution,—but those who by their conduct have forced its adoption 1003 upon us. We trusted that our measures might be temporary, because we trusted that the causes of them would be temporary. We trusted that the distress would pass away, which furnished the matter for disaffection to rest upon, for that distress was not the original source of the evil. I always will maintain—it is my serious opinion—that there exists in the country, and particularly in the manufacturing districts, a discontented spirit—to what amount, or to what extent I will not pretend accurately to define—but a spirit always active, inveterate, and implacable, not exasperated by suffering, not soothed by prosperity, not allayed by time; a spirit ever laying in wait and in ambush to take advantage of the calamities and disasters of the country. We trusted that the pressure of penury and want, which disposed many to listen to the suggestions and promises of turbulence and sedition, would become less severe and bur then some. This was a large and a strong part of our care. We could not bring it very forward at the time; we could not very openly rely upon it, because it might have failed us; we might have been disappointed; an unfavourable harvest might have deepened the gloom, and augmented the despondency; and then, in addition to the misfortunes of the country, we should have had to bear the weight of our own predictions. But, Sir, we have not been entirely deceived in this respect. The affairs of the country are improved; trade is increased; agriculture is reviving; the spirits of men generally are less depressed. I do not wish to state these circumstances in any respect beyond the truth. When the times are evil, when the country is beset with difficulties, I consider as most unwise and impolitic the language which tends to extinguish hope and to discourage exertion. So when the horizon begins to brighten, and a better day appears to be dawning upon us, in the same manner do I condemn the language of too confident security and of premature exultation; and, Sir, it is impossible to consider the situation of this country, of Europe, and of the world,—it is impossible to survey the continent of Europe with its jarring and conflicting interests, with its vast military establishments, which have been engendered and produced by the great war in which the world has been engaged, and by the ambition of the enemy,—it is impossible to contemplate the inter- 1004 nal situation of this country with her vast load of debt, her great financial embarrassments, and the state of society,—in some respects unnatural and distorted, which has grown up within her,—it is impossible to reflect upon her vast colonial territories and dependencies, scattered as they are in every quarter of the globe, and containing within them every species of the human race, every form of human government and every condition of human nature, it is impossible to consider them with their neighbourhoods and vicinages, new nations growing up into a magnitude beyond conception with a velocity exceeding thought,—I say, Sir, it is impossible to look upon this spectacle without feelings of awe, of alarm and apprehension. We cannot but be a ware that at every moment embarrassments mayarise, that difficulties may meet us at every turn, and that the mighty workings of so stupendous a machine demand in those, to whom its guidance is committed, the utmost fortitude, the utmost care, the utmost circumspection, above all, the utmost prudence, temper, and moderation.
Sir, there is a subject closely connected with the execution of the measures of last year, upon which, though, as has been observed by an hon. gentleman (Mr. Law), it has been already debated even to nausea, I must, however, at the risk even of fatiguing the House, make some observations, in consequence of the stress which has been laid upon the circumstance, and the impression it has made upon the public mind. It will be anticipated that I allude to the receiving of evidence from accomplices, to the employment of spies, and particularly of one individual, whose name has been so often mentioned with reprobation, perhaps not undeserved. We must consider this subject with a fair view of both sides of the question. On the one hand, we must fairly allow the encouragement which this man's presence and assumed character was calculated to give to designs and schemes which might otherwise not have been entertained or undertaken; on the other hand, we must not suffer ourselves to be made the dupes of those whose evident interest it is to heap all their own doings upon the head of Oliver, to put in his mouth all violent language and criminal propositions by whomsoever held or made, and by so charging him entirely to liberate and absolve themselves. It is said, that the conduct of the discontented in 1005 the country depended on their expectations of support and assistance in London; that he supplied this link of connexion, that he represented the metropolis, and encouraged the undertaking and persevering in the most extravagant designs by representations of the countenance and aid which they were certain to receive. This is probably true; such was his character, and such probably his conduct. But it was a character which he assumed, not at the suggestion of the government, but at the instigation of the conspirators in London; and this conduct, wicked and nefarious as it certainly was, was pursued upon their plan and in furtherance of their designs; it was the conduct, which they were pursuing throughout the country; it was the conduct which rendered the suspension of the act of Habeas Corpus so wise and advisable a measure, It was their habit and practice to go from town to town, and from county to county, representing and exaggerating in one place the disposition which existed to rise in the other, and thus attempting to seduce and mislead the needy, the distressed, the unwary and unthinking into a participation in their wild objects and criminal undertakings.—When I consider this whole matter, as it is stated by my honourable friends, I own the fair conclusion appears to me so irresistibly strong, and to lean so much one way, that in the present tranquil state of the country I know not whether it is perfectly prudent to draw that conclusion in all its full force. For how does the matter stand upon the statement of my hon. friends? Oliver always used the most violent language, and recommended the most outrageous conduct. Parliamentary reform, which, as we are told, is the real object of those who sign petitions and attend meetings, he always ridiculed and despised. Petitioning, he said, was utterly useless; to physical force he almost uniformly exhorted them to have recourse.—Now, what is the other part of the statement? Using this language, and professing these principles, he was received amongst them, caressed, relied upon, trusted and confided in; he became their leader and their guide, the principal man amongst them, the chief to whom they all looked up and were all ready to follow. Now, I ask, Sir, what is the fair inference with respect to the temper, feelings, spirit, and disposition of those by whom, under such circumstances, he was so admitted and accepted? The same observation ap- 1006 plies to the spies who have been mentioned before, in the course of the session, by another hon. friend of mine (Mr. Philips). According to his statement, whilst they proposed the most horrible and abominable schemes, such as the burning of Manchester, they were protected, their secret was kept, and not a word was heard respecting them;—but as soon as it was suspected that they were informers, out comes the whole of that which had been before concealed, and the table is loaded with accusations of the deepest dye and the most atrocious nature. Something of the same remark may also be made upon a story mentioned in a former debate by an hon. gentleman (Mr. Lambton), upon the authority of a newspaper, and of a "most respectable" person, who was an eye-witness of the fact which he relates. This respectable person says, that Oliver was very active in inflaming and instigating the mob which insulted the Prince Regent as he came down to parliament at the beginning of the last session. Why, Sir, this may possibly be true; I am not one of those who place much reliance upon the good character and conduct of Oliver. I cannot but think that in order to obtain the influence which he appears to have possessed in the counsels of these men, he must have used the same language, and professed the same opinions; but I must say, that it is much to be lamented that this "respectable person" should have suffered a year to elapse before he gave this information; information which would have been very important at the time; which we stood much in need of, and should have been very desirous to have received. If this information had been given, much useful light would probably have been thrown upon the whole transaction. If a government spy at that time he was, such he would have been discovered to have been, and we probably should have made a more compleat inquiry, and come to a more satisfactory conclusion upon that part at least of these events than, as it was, we were enabled to do.
Sir, in the course of these debates many general propositions have been laid down with respect to the employment of spies at all; this night, by my hon. and learned friend who opened this debate, and upon former occasions still more broadly and decidedly by the hon. gentleman the member for Bramber (Mr. Wilberforce). Sir, everything that is honourable and vir- 1007 tuous in our nature, every good feeling of the heart, and every lofty conception of the mind, would induce us eagerly to adopt and embrace these doctrines in their fullest extent; but, Sir, we are imperiously called upon to pause and hesitate, whilst we consider whether this course can be actually persevered in; for nothing is more dangerous than to lay down in theory maxims, from which you immediately find yourselves compelled to depart in practice; nothing exposes you so much to the charge of hypocrisy and to the accusation of scourging in others that sin, which you leave unpunished in yourselves. We must also well consider whether these principles will not lead us farther than we at present intend. A great difference is drawn in argument between spies and accomplices; between those who are commissioned to associate with the criminal in order to detect them, and those who come forward to disclose the crimes in which they have been engaged. Why, Sir, with respect to those who employ them, there may be some difference, but for the persons themselves, if we are to consider their conduct upon the strict principles of religion and morality, I do not perceive a very broad distinction. Accomplices in some instances may be smitten with remorse, and may wish to make amends to society for the injury they have done it; though such motives when professed appear to me very questionable. Interest and impunity for the most part prompt their conduct. Remorse and repentance should certainly induce a man to offend no more himself, and to withdraw himself from the company of those with whom he has offended; but I do not exactly see that they should lead him to betray them into the hands of justice. We should also be upon our guard against another partiality in ourselves. It is only in cases of this description that the means by which evidence is obtained, are so nicely scanned and scrutinised. When the general indignation is excited against the offence, when every one is anxious to see the offence brought to punishment, then we are apt not to look very nicely to the means by which that object is attained; but when the public sympathy and commiseration is, as it is very apt to be in state prosecutions, excited in favour of the accused—and the public feeling, allow me to say, may very possibly run in a current directly opposed to the public interest—then we examine every step with the utmost rigour, and lay 1008 down strict rules from which in other cases we depart in silence and without observation.
Now, Sir, upon the bill which is the immediate subject of our consideration, I certainly am of opinion that we ought to go into the committee. I will not now enter into its details, nor into a consideration of the observations which have been made with respect to the extent of its provisions. Those are matters fitter for our consideration hereafter. But, generally, I support the bill upon both the grounds which have been urged by the hon. and learned gentlemen, who have moved and argued it. In the first place, I continue to approve of the measures of the last year. In the execution of those measures can easily conceive that acts may have been done, meritorious in themselves and necessary, not illegal, and upon which, if brought before a court of justice, a judge would be compelled to direct the jury to bring in a verdict of guilty;—acts also may have been done, legal in themselves, but of which you cannot show the legality, because you cannot bring forward the defence. It is said, that there is a great difference between this case and that of the former bill of indemnity in 1801, because it was fairly argued then that the persons who had given ministers the information upon which they had acted, could not be safely brought forward, because they might be in the power of the enemy.—Sir, I do not wish to enlarge upon this topic, but I do think that that argument applies as strongly to the present as to the former bill. Those who have now given information, may be in the power of those whose malice is as inveterate, and whose vengeance would be as ruthless as that of any foreign government upon those whom it might discover to have betrayed it ssecrets. I did not vote for the measures of last year blindfold, nor in the dark; I did not vote without being aware of the consequences which might arise from them. I was aware that they might possibly produce great injustice and iniquity from their very nature; because they were secret powers that were granted; powers to be exercised upon ex-parte information, which might be erroneous or malicious, and not only so, but upon the judgment of those to whom that information was submitted, which judgment might very likely be mistaken, and was more likely to be so than if exercised upon testimony born openly and examined adroitly 1009 by advocates charged with and responsible for the safety of those who employ them. I see as clearly and feel as deeply, as my honourable friends, the objections to the law, but I thought they were overruled by the necessity of the case. I voted for it as a great conservative measure of state; and as I do not believe that the powers granted have been exercised tyrannically, oppressively, or maliciously, I cannot hesitate in extending to ministers the protection of a fair indemnity.
Sir, for myself, I could here wish to take my leave of these measures. I know I shall be told by my honourable friends that that is impossible,—that such votes are more easily given, than got rid of; that their effects will cleave to us and to the country for ever. I trust, however, that the impression in the country will be different; that the result of these proceedings will be to induce those who have been led into turbulence and sedition, to reconsider their conduct, to mistrust those who give them violent counsels, to reject wild projects of annual parliaments and universal suffrage, which I am sorry to see are still demanded in petitions which are laid upon our table, projects, which we oppose, as I can sincerely assert, not because we are envious of any liberty that would be gained to the people by them, but because we detest despotism; for there is no prediction, I would venture to make with so much confidence, no assertion upon which I would so willingly pledge fame, character, reputation, all that is dear to me, as that these schemes, if adopted, will terminate in a government far more arbitrary than that which they will succeed and displace.
§ Mr. Brougham
observed, that he was not altogether unprepared to expect the course which his hon. friend had just pursued. He was afraid that his hon. friend would differ as widely from him, and coincide as completely with the gentlemen opposite upon the whole of those measures, as his frank and candid avowal had now rendered indisputable. Having gone so much the whole way with ministers, his hon. friend might be said to have richly earned that tribute of applause, with which he was so justly greeted by them and by their adherents. It was, however, a matter of much regret to him, and to those with whom his hon. friend was generally in the habit of acting, that a person of his great respectability, that a person of so much weight in that House and in the 1010 country, from his accomplishments, his talents, and his character, should have lent himself to the support of such a measure as that which was now under consideration. But it was to his arguments and not to his authority, they were bound to address themselves; it was not the adventitious circumstances derived from his just reputation or political connexions, that they were to regard, but the mere influence of his arguments balanced on their own merits. He should now be obliged to address himself to his hon. friend in some degree personally, and to the three or four last sentences of his speech exclusively; for, rich as his hon. friend's speech had been in general observations, powerful as it had been in eloquence, beautiful in its illustrations, various in its topics, and animated in delivery, those observations and that eloquence, were no more than so-many vague generalities, applicable, if not to any subject, at least to any period, any government, or any danger to such government, and entirely unconnected with the measure of indemnity now before the House. Rich, then, as his hon. friend's-speech had been in this general matter, there was no one even of those who approved the measure, and were ready to-adopt it on no better authority than that which had been thus afforded them, who could point out one single word (with the exception of three or four last sentences, on which he should presently make some observations) that had any reference to-the present bill of indemnity; and his hon. friend had been aware of tin's; for he stated, that he thought any observations on the measure itself would be made more properly on going into a committee on the bill. In the last few sentences to which he had before alluded, what said his hon. friend? "That in the late situation of the country, persons had been called on to do acts which were not in them selves-strictly legal; that if actions were commenced against them on those grounds, a verdict must be given for the plaintiff; though the defendant, who had incurred the risk of an illegal act for the general good of the public, was entitled to the fullest protection for the part he had so meritoriously taken: that the same persons might have done many other acts strictly legal, but the legality of which they could not establish, from the difficulty of bringing forward witnesses, for whose safety fears were entertained, if they gave evidence on such an occasion." Did he rightly understand 1011 the ground on which his hon. friend's argument rested? With one part of it he fully coincided. He agreed that, when in a crisis of real difficulty and danger (not such a crisis as his hon. friend had described), a magistrate who had been armed with extraordinary powers, for the preservation of public tranquillity, did step beyond the bounds of what was strictly legal, without exceeding the limits necessary for effecting his purpose, such a magistrate deserved protection, if the measures he pursued were proved or admitted to be essential to the public safety It was possible that such conduct might be at once illegal, and meritorious; its illegality might be extenuated by the necessity that called for it, and the magistrate might have acted meritoriously, in venturing on such an occasion to overstep bounds at his own risk. An indemnity granted to such a magistrate, and under such circumstances, would be no more than he would have a right to demand.
But that was not the indemnity now sought for: the present bill, or rather the bill which ministers hoped to introduce, held out an indemnity to all who had been concerned in any of the late transactions—to those who had overstepped the law with the best of motives, and those who had transgressed it with the worst. It confounded the magistrate, the man of honesty and character, who had taken every precaution and faithfully discharged his duty in maintaining the public tranquillity, with a person whom he should describe without periphrasis, without any of those respectful circumlocutions with which he had been generally ushered into the notice of the House by the gentlemen opposite, the person who had been called by the various names of "that loyal and upright subject." "that much injured individual," "that meritorious agent of the police,"—he meant that Oliver: it confounded such a magistrate as he had described with this man, or with any other such miscreant, if any other such there could be—that is, it placed those persons in the same attitude as the magistrates, by holding out the same indemnity to them. His hon. friend had said, that the magistrates could not defend actions brought against them, without producing the names of those on whose evidence they had relied: and where was the difficulty of producing such witnesses, in the face of the country, in open court, 1012 in public and honourable trial? This had been done at all former periods; not by bringing forward one witness, or upon one occasion, but witness after witness, and time after time. It had been done even in this time, of which his hon. friend seemed so much afraid. In 1812, the report of the committee was as strong as to the disturbed districts as the present. The same report mentioned the dangers that had been incurred by persons who were called on as evidence, and the danger of magistrates themselves, if any of the disaffected were brought to trial. But how did the government act on that occasion? In a manner for which he gave them credit. They brought to trial all those against whom they could procure any information. Numbers were tried, and numbers of witnesses were examined; and he would ask, what person was ever injured on this account? what person was ever exposed to the slightest risk? "Oh! no," it would be replied; "but the evidence of these persons did no harm to the conspirators; they were all friends and accomplices." So far from this, that those witnesses were the means of convicting upwards of twenty of the prisoners, of whom many suffered the sentence of the law. And what was the danger? Was one person among them hurt? Was one person so much as threatened? Yes, there was one; and the parties were immediately brought to trial for the offence, when the trial failed only because the wrong person had been selected for prosecution. He called on the House to determine if this was not a complete answer to the argument on which his hon. friend had rested. He had himself been of counsel on that trial, and he hoped he might give evidence of what passed there, without being affected by the stigma which it was attempted to attach on every one who stated facts contrary to the wishes of the other side of the House. The House would recollect, that at that time a sort of Luddism prevailed in Yorkshire, such as had given rise to the trials at Derby. On that occasion a person was tried for menacing the life of another in the dead of the night. A person was called to prove evidence, who stated that the party calling had found the prosecutor at home, had fired a pistol, and destroyed one of his eyes. He (Mr. Brougham) saw a person tried for this offence. He saw the man who had been shot; he gave his evidence publicly, as did many others, and among them the accom- 1013 plices of the party who had fired the pistol; all were brought forward in the face of the court. But, notwithstanding this, notwithstanding the disturbed state of the country, and the circumstance of their having all been brought forward in the box to swear away the life of an individual, one of the favoured conspirators, and the most active of those who were then called rebels, not the slightest evil had accrued to any of them.
And now he would ask if there was any greater tie to connect the disaffected of the present day, and so bind them together in wickedness and secrecy, as to endanger the person of any witness who might be brought forward on the present occasion? Where was the variance between the circumstances of the present day and those of 1812, to affect the safety of witnesses, or exclude a mode of proceeding which was then adopted without hesitation? But without recurring to 1812, he had another instance in view, in which the same course was adopted; in which more than a hundred witnesses, after discharging their consciences by swearing to facts of conspiracy and treason—after leaving the prisoners to execution—went peaceably home the next day without threat or molestation. He need only remind the House of the trials at Derby: not one of the hundred witnesses called on that occasion had experienced the slightest inconvenience. It was too much, then, to assert that witnesses could not be called, lest they should be exposed to danger. When he had shown that in periods much worse than the present no danger had been incurred by witnesses, it was in vain to refer to vague generalities such as his hon. friend had advanced; it was in vain to say what might happen, and therefore call upon the House to pass a bill which set aside all the ordinary course of law. Now when on the authority of the report itself, on the evidence of their own senses, on the admission of his hon. friend, it was plain that perfect tranquillity prevailed over all the country, that the suspension was no longer necessary, and the ordinary course of law was restored in every thing else, it rested with the supporters of this bill to show (and he wished his hon. friend would show) why persons against whom actions were brought were unable to avail themselves of a just defence; what there was in our law inefficient; what rendered it so powerless now, that for the first time it was impos- 1014 sible for an honest man to produce his witnesses for fear of the dangers they might incur.
His hon. friend had made some remarks on the last statement that had come forth, respecting the conduct of Oliver; and he had enjoyed a sort of triumph in asking why the relation of all that passed on the first day of last session had been postponed till now. He would give his hon. friend an answer, with which any candid mind would be satisfied, and which, but for the heat of party contention, must have offered itself to his hon. friend's own reflection. It was only within these last three or four weeks that it had become safe to make such a communication. His hon. friend seemed to sneer or smile at this, but till within the three or four last weeks the Habeas Corpus act had been suspended, and persons who gave any such information might have been imprisoned; at least all who had made themselves enemies of Oliver had been committed. He cared not that this imprisonment might not have been caused by Oliver's immediate oath; that might or might not have been the case. If they were committed on the oath of others, it was through the information of Oliver. He was in close communication with government; he was the familiar of the home office, and it was of no importance whether the oath was made by him or others. Besides, this denial of Oliver's oath was not known, and it might have been his for aught any one could dream to the contrary; till the report of the last committee nobody could be satisfied that Oliver's oath had not been the cause of all the detentions. Why was the individual possessed of this information to make an enemy of Oliver, a person whose whole hope of advancement, of existence, depended on the fatal effects of his poisonous breath passing over the unhappy victim. This was no imaginary case, no vague generality, like those delivered by his hon. friend: it was the case of the unfortunate Scholes,* who had suffered merely because he had disregarded the invitation of Oliver: for this he had suffered a long and painful imprisonment—for tin's his health was ruined, as attested by his physician—for this his fortune and character had been destroyed, as appeared by the evidence of most respectable neigh-* For a copy of Scholes's Petition, see p. 458.1015 bours. And why? because he threatened Oliver (such was the uncontradicted statement, backed by the testimony of a most respectable magistrate) to lay his discourse before a justice, when he proposed the adoption of physical force as a means of promoting parliamentary reform. In forty-eight hours after this threat, he was conveyed to prison. Whatever might be said, the arts of that man were not to be despised by persons in humble life: they might pass innocently by those in a higher sphere; not innocently, indeed, for they had poisoned the ear of a noble lord in another House; but they might not deter them from the execution of their duty. But this was not the case with those in a lower sphere; they knew that if they gave information and did their duty, this man had power to cause their imprisonment during the suspension of the Habeas Corpus. The triumph, therefore, of his hon. friend was groundless, and his question was completely answered.
This led him to make some observations on the petitions that had been presented, and the stigma that had been cast on all of them indiscriminately. One had been presented by Ward, who was represented as a most disreputable character; but he would just ask how they came to know all this? Two persons convicted and condemned to death had made a dying declaration respecting him; and this had been read by the noble lord opposite as conclusive evidence, though there was now no possibility of ascertaining its truth. He did not say that this evidence was false; some credit was always due to persons in such circumstances; but if they were to be credited, with a halter round their necks, and making a declaration which they knew to be agreeable to the magistrate who received it, and which in fact offered their only hope of escape from execution; how much less should the noble lord refuse the dying declarations of individuals, who made those declarations to persons, and in a manner that precluded every hope of escape from the fate that awaited them. Whatever was said by the former, the noble lord received without hesitation, and wished to pass for indisputable testimony, because it was agreeable to the case he had to support. Whatever was said by the latter, though under circumstances affording much less probability of falsehood, the noble lord rejected as wholly unworthy of credit. It was not necessary to make 1016 any farther remark on this inconsistency. If the persons to whom he had last alluded were to be believed, they traced to Oliver the plot for which they suffered death; but these were not the only things that could be stated, nor did their connexion with Oliver rest on the dying declaration of one of the condemned. He could not but remember the coincidence between some things stated in the petition of Scholes which he had presented, and some facts which, from a different source, came to the knowledge of his hon. friend the member for Shrewsbury, respecting Brandreth. His hon. friend had then invited his attention to the fact, that Brandreth had said Scholes ought not to be trusted, which agreed exactly with one of the allegations of the petition, which states that Scholes, seeing the character of Oliver, and suspecting his designs, had refused to allow any more reform meetings at his house. Oliver was the person against whom this refusal was directed, and Brandreth had shown his connexion with Oliver, by taking his impression of the character of this individual. These petitions were, however, disregarded, and no inquiry had been made into the circumstances which either tended to confirm or contradict their statements. He however rested more upon them than his hon. friend, than another hon. and learned gentleman who opposed all petitions, or than the right hon. president of the board of trade, who, in a debate on a former night, had got up and invoked truth and justice against listening to or regarding any statement of grievances, or any prayer, for redress from any of the petitioners. He had often heard of truth and justice having been invoked on trifling occasions, and for unworthy causes, but he had never before heard their names so profaned as on that occasion. He had never before heard them invoked to prevent inquiry, by which alone truth could be ascertained, or to stop the disclosure of evidence, by which alone justice could be done. It was such conduct that destroyed the confidence of the country in the measures of government: it was such conduct that stigmatized the secret committees of the House, and made their reports no justification of the administration in the eyes of impartial men. The reasoning by which the House had been brought to resist all inquiry seemed to him very far from being strong, or convincing. He had yet to learn by what legitimate process of argu- 1017 ment it was decided, that because one petitioner had presented exaggerated statements,—that because another had addressed to the House what was false,—that because a third had magnified his sufferings beyond the strict line of truth,—that because a fourth was a man of abandoned character, therefore the House was to lend no ear to any petitions, however different in their nature, and however differently they came recommended by the character of those who framed them The House had now got to this—that it reckoned complaint sufficient to excite suspicion against the person who preferred it, and thought it enough to throw discredit on a man's word or oath, if he was found coming forward to state his grievances. "You are a petitioner," was the language of the gentlemen opposite, "therefore you cannot be believed; you complain of oppression and hardship, therefore you must be an impostor." If the House was thus to turn a deaf ear to the petitions of the people, how could it support its own consistency, or show any regard to its professions? As often as it was approached with petitions for reform, as often as the petitioners presumed to say to it," You do not represent the people; you neither attend to their wants, nor allow them to enjoy their rights:" it answered pharisaically, (he could not use another phrase)—"we are the real representatives of the people: we deliberate for their advantage, we consult their wishes, we throw the door wide open to petitions." But what was the use of admitting this bare abstract right of petitioning—what did it signify whether the doors of the House were thrown wide open to applications or not, if the petitions of the people produced no effect; if they were merely received and neglected; and if the petitioners, when they complained of grievances, were to be told, "your statements are false, they cannot be listened to; they do not even deserve inquiry into their allegations?" This was not the manner in which the House of Commons should perform its duty to the people; this was not the way in which it should fulfil its office of standing between them and the government, hearing the representations and the prayers of the former with a willing and indulgent ear, and the defence of the latter with the most scrupulous jealousy; supporting the former and leaning against the latter, proving a shield of defence to the one, 1018 and resisting the encroachments and arbitrary designs of the other.
If the fears which had been excited last year had not now ceased, and if the House had not been told that there was now no necessity for those arbitrary measures which were last year called for, he should have heard a part of his hon. friend's speech with great alarm, as a prelude to the demand of more extraordinary powers. His hon. friend had said, that the spirit of disaffection and sedition, in the manufacturing districts, was not yet quite subdued; that whatever might be the change in the state of the country, and however much the designs of conspirators might for a time be restrained; whether we possessed plenty, or suffered from want—whether we had a good harvest or a bad one—whether employment could be found or not—whether wages were high or low, there was a seditious spirit in the country, that maintained itself independent of circumstances, and that would be always ready to break out into acts of insurrection and rebellion. Fortunately, however, his hon. friend bad fixed one limit, a geographical one, to the operation of this rebellious principle, he confined it to the manufacturing districts. But this spirit was declared by his hon. friend to extend to all the manufacturing districts, to be spread over nearly three million of men. What would gentlemen from the manufacturing counties say to this? What would the members from Yorkshire, from Lancashire, from Norwich, say to this sweeping charge against all the manufacturers? An hon. and learned gentleman who sat on what was called the neutral bench, had accused him, though he had not opened his mouth on the present subject this session, of saying, that government had libelled the whole people of England. He had said no such thing; but he surely might say now, not that ministers had libelled the people, but that expressions had proceeded from a quarter where it was less to be expected, which in their nature, though not in the motive from which they sprung, amounted to a foul charge against no less a body than all the manufacturers of England. This class was held up by his hon. friend as a class of the people in whom the government could place no reliance. He spoke of them as utterly unworthy of confidence. He gave them up into the hands of government; not only a government acting on the large views which he attributed to 1019 the present administration, but into the hands of any government. All his hon. friend's confidence was reserved for ministers, and so boundless was its reliance on that quarter, that it could only be compared to his own description of the treasonable propensities of the manufacturers, never to be controlled by circumstances. His hon. friend's confidence in the government was such, that he could not imagine they could abuse their power; that confidence was not limited to any set of men, but extended to all who filled the places which the present ministers occupied. He required from them no other qualification than that they should be in office, that they should carry on the administration of the country, and execute civil measures; and then, because they were not military men, and did not perform their duties so publicly in the face of the world. they were to enjoy his unlimited confidence, and the country was not to doubt that their measures were the cause of any prosperity which it might enjoy. The charge against the manufacturing population was this—that three millions of people deserved to be objects of suspicion with government; that although they did not break out into open rebellion, they were disaffected and seditious at heart; and that, as far as regarded their allegiance, their principles were rotten at the core. If this allegation proved any thing, it proved frightfully too much. It proved that we dared not maintain our freedom consistently with our security; that we could not have the benefit of a free constitution without exposing ourselves to rebellion and insurrection; and that, instead of demanding art Indemnity bill, the government ought now to come to parliament for a renewal of the Habeas Corpus Suspension act. If any part of the allegation were true, we should be taught to suspect the excellence of a constitution of which these manufacturers who were so much dreaded, were the legitimate produce.
Adverting to the bill before the House, he implored the House to reflect what kind of persons they were proceeding to indemnify. It was not merely the fair magistrate, but the spy and the informer. He denied that it would be found necessary to protect respectable individuals. It was intended for the benefit of an informer and a spy, who, by obtaining the ear of the noble secretary of state, had made him his dupe, destroying the cha- 1020 racter, and endangering the lives of innocent men. Even his hon. friend, who had supported the bill, like its other defenders, on the plea of the necessity of concealing information, he had not spoken with so much respect of Oliver as gentlemen on the other side of the House: he had not called him "that much-injured individual," or used other epithets expressive of kindness or indulgence, On the contrary, his hon. friend admitted, that no name could be too bad for him, and that all he could say in his favour was, that he was not the cause of the insurrections. An hon. gentleman (Mr. Fremantle), whom he did not know how to describe unless by saying, that he usually sat on this side of the House, and voted with the other; that he had lately changed his place from the first bench, where he was usually next his lamented friend, to one behind (a change which, however it might displease his friends, would, he had no doubt, be satisfactory to himself), had stood up on a former debate on this bill to defend his consistency, and in doing so, accused the side of the House to which he (Mr. Brougham) belonged, of inconsistency. He had assumed that Mr. Ponsonby was for the Suspension act, and that his friends, in opposing it, had been guilty of inconsistency. Nothing could be more unfounded than such an assertion and such an inference. Mr. Ponsonby, it was true, agreed in the reports of the secret committees, but he would appeal to the recollection of the House, whether Mr. Ponsonby had not himself distinctly stated, that he disapproved altogether of the measures that were adopted in consequence. The charge against Mr. Ponsonby was unfounded, for while the hon. gentleman to whom he had already alluded, by his vote, by his silence, and by his intelligible absence showed that he was about to leave those with whom he usually acted, with Mr. Ponsonby they had but one difference of opinion, viz. as to the report. On all other subjects they were agreed. His lamented friend was on all occasions the firm defender of the constitution, equally against any threatened turbulence of the people as against the encroachments of power. He was a man of too sound mind, and too firm principles, to be led away by vague generalities, unsupported by facts, or to surrender the liberties of the people, when ministers found it for their interest to sound a false alarm, and pack committees to find matter of 1021 accusation against the country. He kept to the sheet anchor of the constitution, and the more the storm raged, he held by it the faster as the only means of weathering it out. He was a true constitutional lawyer of the old school. His wisdom enlightened, and his eloquence roused, the House, whenever any question of constitutional right came before it; and he held this maxim, that it was the grossest delusion, and the height of impolicy and inconsistency, for those who had Whiggism on their lips, to say that at the first moment of disturbance they should deprive themselves of that constitution which, as it was the best security against the power of the monarch, was the best safeguard against the turbulence of the multitude; and had he now been present his warning voice would have wrung in the ears of his hon. friend to recall him to his forgotten Whig principles. His language always was, let us preserve the constitution entire in all its parts, and in perfect vigour, then we can defy turbulence from without, the engines of corruption within, and the most dangerous enemy of all, the influence of the Crown. If the alarm last year had been really felt by the ministers, and if in consequence of that alarm they had committed conscientiously some illegal acts to prevent apprehended mischief, he (Mr. Brougham) should not have felt such a repugnance to the present measure; but the Suspension act, and the other measures themselves, to which they resorted, proceeded from a sense of their own unpopularity, and a desire to preserve their places, rather than from any danger which they believed to threaten the tranquillity of the country. They saw that from their conduct in maintaining a large standing army, and opposing every recommendation for retrenchment, their places were in jeopardy, and hence originated their plots and conspiracies, and cries of alarm. Had they been before the beginning of last session as secure in their seats as they found themselves in a short time to be, or as they thought themselves now—could they have anticipated the large majorities which excited so much cheering in the late stages of this bill, he might be wrong, but he believed in his conscience, that the country would not have suffered the infliction of the Suspension act. They thought a plot necessary for their power; they made a plot, and they resolved to maintain their places, though they destroyed the liberties 1022 of their country. It was now reckoned childish or romantic to profess any veneration for the constitution of the country, or respect for popular rights. His hon. and learned friend (sir S. Romilly), who had so ably opposed the present measure, had been taunted with romance for defending its genuine principles. He would say, that if it was a romance it was a romance that had given us all the advantages which those who knew not their origin could not overlook; it had made us the admiration and envy of our neighbours; and by frequent derelictions of it, like the present, we should soon cease to be the only free and happy country in Europe, or in the world. If the House thought to do its duty to the country, by agreeing to every unconstitutional measure at the bare suggestion of the minister—if they thought they should do their duty to their constituents by refusing to investigate their complaints, and by rushing headlong without inquiry, into every measure which was recommended against them—if the new doctrine of confidence in ministers, whoever they might be, obtained, he should then say that it was a matter of little consequence in what forms the constitution existed—the substance of the thing was gone—it was plainly avowed that it was fit only for fair weather, to be got rid of as soon as a storm arose, and that the rights of the people of England were not to be held even during their good behaviour, but at the good-will and pleasure of the ministers of the Crown.
§ Mr. Lamb
said, there had been one misrepresentation of his hon. and learned friend, so totally unfounded, that it was impossible for him to suffer it to pass. He had said that he (Mr. L.) had made a charge of foul disloyalty against two millions of people. He was sure he had not meant to say any such thing. He had said, that a certain number of agitators still existed in the manufacturing districts; but he believed, with the reports, that those two millions of persons whore-sided in them wore sound and loyally disposed.
said, that, had he adhered to the doctrine which he had advanced on a former night, that it was unnecessary for ministers to take part in a discussion in which, without any arguments of theirs, the balance turned decidedly in their favour, he might well have abstained from troubling the House or himself on the present occasion; but as the question under 1023 consideration, in some degree personally involved the members of administration, it might be proper to obviate the inference which might be drawn from their silence, that they shrunk from a debate in which the propriety of their conduct was implicated. It had been truly stated, by an hon. gentleman (Mr. Lamb), that an Indemnity bill did not necessarily and inevitably grow out of a bill for the suspension of the Habeas Corpus; but it grew out of the same circumstances of the country which occasioned the Suspension bill itself. Under these circumstances, there might be some persons who, exerting themselves strenuously and faithfully for the public safety, had, in some instances before the suspension, perhaps overstepped the strict limits of the law. Were not they to be protected and indemnified by those who had reaped the benefit of their exertions? There were others who, having, after the suspension, acted conformably to the law, would, nevertheless, be unable to make their defence, or to offer their justification, without a disclosure of evidence that might be attended not only with inconvenience, but with positive danger. He would not say, therefore, that the Indemnity bill was the necessary consequence of the suspension of the Habeas Corpus; though, of all men living, the hon. and learned gentleman who spoke last was the last person who ought to avail himself of this point; for that hon. and learned gentleman, when defeated last year in two efforts to prevent the suspension, had consoled himself with the prospect of the opposition that he should make to the bill of Indemnity. In his mind therefore, such a bill was intimately, if not inseparably, connected with the suspension of the Habeas Corpus act. The necessity, however, of a bill of indemnity grew out of the circumstances of the country, in which necessity the suspension act originated. This state of the country rendered it necessary for those who acted under the government, if they meant to do their duty, to outstrip the limits of the law. The same state of things induced the House to make a temporary sacrifice of that portion of their liberties which consisted in a right to trial after committal. To indemnify for acts beyond the law, in the first case; and to dispense with the necessity of justifying acts in themselves legal, but not legally proveable, except by evidence that could not be disclosed, in the second case; was the purpose of the In- 1024 demnity bill, which, so far as the second case was concerned, and so far only, was a consequence of the suspension of the Habeas Corpus act.
It had been most justly remarked, by one hon. gentleman, that the fair issue before the Mouse was no more nor less than this; not merely whether this bill should be passed; whether the suggestions of the House of Lords should be attended to by adopting this bill of indemnity; but whether the House should retort upon the lords, instead of indemnity, impeachment. If a case for indemnity were not made out, the reason must arise not from the use, but from the abuse of the powers confided to ministers; and if abuse were established, no man could dispute that fair ground was laid for impeachment [Hear, hear!] The uniform cry on the other side was, "Give us an inquiry: let us prove our case; let us call witnesses to the bar to establish the abuse and the necessity of an impeachment;" forgetting that this was completely begging the question. This objection if taken at all, ought to have been taken last year, when the bill for authorizing ministers to detain persons without the necessity of bringing them to trial, was first brought before the House; it now came too late. The bill now before parliament was to prevent inquiry, as tending to dangerous disclosures; and those who opposed it, were arguing in a vicious circle. "Let us have inquiry, let us complete the trial of those who were by parliament directed to be detained without trial, and then we will show you, that the powers given to you have been abused." The House, however, had too much good sense to be thus misled, and would not now undo what, last year, it had so deliberately determined to do.
Without either accepting or declining the challenge to argue this measure on the ground of precedent, he might admit, that precedents, precisely and accurately according in all particulars, it was neither easy nor necessary to find. The infinite variety of modifications, of which human concerns were susceptible, forbad the expectation of so strict a coincidence of circumstances. But, as to one main point; as to the real meaning and intent of a suspension of the Habeas Corpus; as to the fact, that the very essence of that measure is not proof of guilt, by process of law, but detention without trial; one precedent, being that of the first suspension act after the revolution, was conclu- 1025 sive. The other side of the House (however intensely whig) would, no doubt, call good times the first year of William 3rd. In that session, a message was presented to the House of Commons, by Mr. Hampden (a name which, if possible, would render the proceeding more whiggish), to this effect: "That his majesty hath had credible information, that there are several persons, in and about this town, that keep private meetings and cabals, to conspire against the government, and for the assistance of the late king James: that his majesty has caused some of those persons to be already apprehended and secured, upon suspicion of high treason; and that he thinks he may see cause to do so by others, within a little time: but that his majesty is between two great difficulties in this case; for that, if he should set those persons at liberty that are apprehended, he would be wanting to his own safety and the safety of his government and people: on the other hand, if he should detain them, he is unwilling to do any thing but what shall be fully warranted by law; and that, therefore, if those persons should deliver themselves by act of Habeas Corpus, there would be another difficulty; and that, therefore, his majesty thought fit to ask the advice of this House therein."* The immediate result of this application was a bill to empower his majesty to arrest and detain persons whom he might suspect of conspiring against his person and government; in short, what is popularly called a suspension of the Habeas Corpus; expressly recognising the propriety of not bringing to trial those who might be so arrested and detained. Such was the first proceeding on this subject, of a whig ministry and a whig king. To call for inquiry, therefore, or, in other words, for trial, in the instances of those persons who had been detained under the Suspension act, was plainly and simply to argue, retrospectively, against the act itself; to call upon parliament to retrace its steps; or, more unjustifiably still, to try the conduct of ministers by a rule, the very reverse of that which parliament had laid down for them. He repeated, if ministers had abused the powers which this act furnished them with, far be it from him to say that they ought not to be called to account; but it was for the abuse only, not for the use, of the power confided to them,—the power of detention* New Parl. Hist. Vol. 5, p. 153.1026 without trial,—that they were responsible.
It was complained, that the House had neglected the remonstrances of the people; that the injured and oppressed were driven from the bar unheard, and that men, who had grievously suffered, were not permitted to obtain redress. No doubt, every man who had been arrested under the Suspension act would come to the bar and swear—no, not swear, but say—that he had been most cruelly and unjustly treated; that he was the most innocent and most injured of mankind, and that his merits only had pointed him out as an object for persecution; that he had been exposed to the most cruel tortures, and that all his calamities were to be attributed to Oliver, the spy. In the head and front of this phalanx of petitioners (and it was to be supposed, that hon. members on the other side had not been so far wanting in parliamentary tactics as not to select the best case to make the first impression) stood that renowned gentleman and instigator of murder, Mr. Francis Ward*—[Hear, hear!]. True it was, that he had now been abandoned, deserted in his utmost need, because the supporters of his petition found it convenient for their argument;—not, however, before his crimes had been detected and his character blasted; then, and not till then, he was expelled from their company; and, instead of calling, as they had done, for the sympathy of the House, for its compassion, for its tears over the sufferings of this admirable and amiable being, the other side dropped his name entirely, or merely insisted that the merits or demerits, of this Luddite, this hirer of assassins, this instigator of murder and rebellion, had nothing to do with the other petitioners. Assuredly, the case of Mr. Ward was not precisely that on which the House of Commons would think fit to found an impeachment of government.
Ward and all his patient sufferings being abandoned, next, with all the pomp of eloquence and all the flexibility of pathos, was introduced the ever-to-be-revered and unhappy Ogden: his name was pronounced with all the veneration belonging to virtuous age and silver hairs; and yet, on inquiry, what did his case turn out to be, but that he had been cured of a rupture at the public expense!—[Hear, hear!] The greater part of the petition of this ill-used personage consisted of a nice and* For Ward's petition, see p. 104.1027 particular description of the manner in which his extruded bowels writhed round the knife of the surgeon;* and it was impossible to forget the general shudder felt by the House when that part of the petition was read; yet the plain truth was, that this man had laboured under this affliction (asserted in the petition to have been produced by the severity of his confinement) many years, and that he took advantage of his imprisonment to have it* Ogden's petition will be found at p. 412. The following is the passage referred to by Mr. Canning:—"The ponderous irons the petitioner was loaded with broke his belly, and caused an hernia to ensue about eight o'clock in the evening, when going to bed, and it was impossible to alarm the gaoler; the petitioner remained in that dreadful state for more than sixteen hours in the most excruciating torture; on the turnkey appearing in the morning, two surgeons were sent for, who, after using such means as seemed to them necessary, found nothing would do but the knife, and apprehended, from the petitioner's age he should die under the severe operation; the pain he endured was so great, that he insisted on that means being resorted to; they unwillingly commenced the operation, which continued for one hour and forty minutes; and, praised be God, and the skill of the surgeons, the petitioner survived it, contrary to the surgeons expectation, but much debilitated in his constitution, and he is fearful he shall never be able to follow his employ as a printer; Mr. Dixon the surgeon, and his partner, performed the operation in Horsemonger gaol, and can witness to the truth of this statement; the wound in the groin of the petitioner was above seven inches in length, and Mr. Dixon had his entrails out of his belly in his fingers, like a link of sausages."—The fact turned out to be, that the man had been afflicted with this disease for many years, and that the attack of it" at eight o'clock in the evening" so far from being caused by the irons placed upon his arms at the time of his apprehension, did not come on for several months after he had been in prison without irons. A letter from Ogden to his wife, bearing testimony to the kindness and humanity with which he had been uniformly treated in prison, and rejoicing in the cure of his old complaint, was published in the Manchester papers. 1028 cured gratis, expressing afterwards, to his relatives and friends, the comfort and delight he experienced on being thus made a new man again—[Continued cheers.] This might be a very lit case to be brought before the Rupture Society, but to require upon it the decision of parliament, was such a daring attempt upon its credulity, as would probably be never again attempted. What had parliament to do with such a case, except it had arisen out of parliamentary enactment?—a suggestion, in this instance, grossly and notoriously untrue. [Cheers.]
It might be said, that he had not gone through the whole of the petitions; but he had followed those on the other side in their selection. Ward's case was relied on so long as it was maintainable; and it was afterwards bolstered up with this case of gratuitous surgery—[Much laughter.] But these petitions, when they failed, were supported by a cart load; till the tricks, and frauds, and impostures tried upon the House became obvious to all mankind, except those who were selected to bring them forward. But if the House had been duped by these gross misrepresentations; if the House had unluckily suffered itself to be imposed upon by impudence of assertion, it would not have had the consolation of being pitied for its weakness, without the bitter aggravation of being despised for its simplicity [Hear!]
Having thus happily established a case of persecuted innocence in the case of the immaculate Ward, and of refined cruelty in that of the healed and grateful Ogden; the third class of grievances (he would give one instance out of each class) was directed to the connecting government with spies. The case selected for this purpose was singularly felicitous. It was stated, that a man, named Dewhurst, a supposed spy, was seen in a gig belonging to sir J. Byng. This was maintained as a grave fact: true, it was retracted a week afterwards. Mr. Ward's positions had all been retracted; and give a week more, and there was nothing that would not be retracted, as far as related to the petitions.—The legislature, however, could not wait their pleasure, and must judge for itself on the probabilities as they appeared. Half of the charges which they had made in their petitions, had gone off by their own confessions; and it did. seem a little whimsical, that parliament was to take the other half for, granted., The proposition regarding Dewhurst had two tangible 1029 parts; first, Dewhurst; secondly, gig. Now, shortly after this statement, there came from sir J. Byng, not a verbosa et grandis epistola, but a very pithy note; stating, first, that there was no such man as Dewhurst; secondly, that he had no gig—[Hear, hear!] The law maxim, referred to by the learned opener of the debate, was here quite in point," de non apparentibus et non existentibus cadem est ratio;" unless it could be shown, that the rule was different where, as in this instance, there were two nonentities, the man and the gig: as two negatives make a positive, so two nonentities might, in the understanding of some hon. gentlemen, make an entity. He remembered a story told by Mr. Fox, which was illustrative of the same position. It referred to a period when persons on the continent were not so well-informed as at present upon matters of geography. At that time, some foreigners had a notion, that there was a road to England without crossing the sea; that, though it was a long way about, yet that it was possible, by going far enough north, to reach England by land. A gentleman of Naples once asked an English traveller, whether it was not practicable to travel to England from Sicily by land. "Certainly not," said the Englishman; "you know that you cannot go to England, even from Naples, without crossing the sea." "That is very true," replied the Italian, "but Sicily is an island too!" [Continued laughter.] So, with regard to this story, if Dewhurst had existed without the gig, or the gig without Dewhurst, the impossibility of the story would have been admitted; but, as there was no Dewhurst and no gig, both being in the same predicament, nothing was more easy than to establish a connexion between them.
After the experience of Ward, Ogden, and Dewhurst, it was certainly dangerous for the accusers of government to mention names; and accordingly, for the last week, the House had had nothing but offers of anonymous testimony. An hon. gentleman, now unfortunately not present in the House (to whom therefore he would not allude farther than to quote the fact of his assertion), stated that he would prove, that Oliver had early declared, to a respectable gentleman, his intention of producing a general insurrection, for the purpose of reforming the state by physical force. Now, what would the House think of a "respectable gentleman" who, know- 1030 ing of the existence of a conspiracy against the government, never disclosed the plot until the conspirator became an informer? [Hear!] This concealment, perhaps, was not treason; he (Mr. C.) was not lawyer enough to decide whether it was strictly and technically misprision of treason. But, morally speaking, and according to the ordinary dictates of common sense, was it too much to attribute to him, that he wished to see the government overturned, and was only prevented by dastardly cowardice from joining in the plot?—[Continued cheers.] The hon. member for Durham had arrived from a distant part of the country to cast new light upon the subject; and he brought forward another respectable gentleman, who would swear that he saw Oliver rioting in the park on the day that the Prince Regent was assailed; and who, though he thought it exceedingly wrong, had also held his peace upon the subject. He had, indeed (this respectable gentleman), confided it to his friends; and since that time the most respectable gentleman had confided it to a most respectable morning paper. Here again, however, we have a tolerably correct measure of this most respectable witness's motives of action. Why conceal the outrage at the time? Why bring it forward now? After this outrage, had not an anxious inquiry been instituted; had not magistrates taken examinations upon the subject; had not the public journals been filled with particulars, which, for want of evidence, ended in nothing? It was impossible that any man could be ignorant of the fact, that a public investigation was on foot; yet this respectable gentleman, whose loyalty was bursting his bosom, who adored his king and his country, never thought of going before a magistrate to give his important testimony. Why? because it was false; or, if it were true, it only proved, that he had not given evidence, because he loved Oliver while he was a traitor, and hates him only now he is an informer—[Cheers.] It was impossible, however, not to feel assured, that the whole story was a recent invention, and no man, but a dolt or an idiot, could believe a word of it;—of course, he did not mean to apply the epithets, dolt and idiot, to the hon. gentleman (Mr. Lambton); all he (Mr. Canning) meant to say was, that he should consider himself a dolt and an idiot if he gave the statement one moment's belief—[Hear, hear!]
It was said, that the House would de- 1031 sert its duty, if it did not hear the evidence of all these respectable anonymi."If this were done, it would presently be found, that all the imputations against Oliver were true; that he was, in fact, the sole insurgent throughout the country, the contriver of all plots, and the instigator of all violence." Now, how would this be proved? One nameless gentleman would assert, and Oliver would contradict it;—and we should be then just where we were now, balanced between two contradictory asseverations. For instance; the hon. gentleman asserted, that Oliver had been sent from London as a delegate. What was the fact? Why, that Mitchell was the London delegate, and had taken Oliver with him. Oliver, being once introduced as a delegate, was obliged to pass for one; for it would have cost him his life to disavow it. Again, the speech ascribed to Oliver by Mitchell, was true as it related to Mitchell, but false as to Oliver. The story of the 70,000 men came from Mitchell, and not from Oliver. What was the evidence upon this subject? Why, a third person, who fell in company with Mitchell and Oliver together, relates the conversation that passed between them, only ascribing to the one speaker what was, in fact, said by the other. This might be from mis-recollection; but it was not uncharitable to suppose, that it might be also from design; for the moment that Oliver's employment was known, all the sayings and all the actions, the plans and the outrages, were, by the common consent of the disaffected, heaped one and all upon Oliver. Many, who had never seen him, quoted his words, and commented on his bearing; and how was the truth to be gotten at, among so many irritated feelings and alarmed interests, by any course of unsworn investigation? It was not, therefore, indifference to truth that deterred the House from such an investigation; it was the uselessness, the hopelessness, and the endlessness of the process that deterred them. The hon. member for Bramber (Mr. Wilberforce), had justly remarked, that an inquiry, once gone into on these matters, must be interminable. Could a better illustration of this truth be desired than the proposal of the hon. member for Norwich (Mr. W. Smith), that all the private transactions of Oliver's life should be ripped up; that an inquiry should be set on foot to ascertain whether he had regularly paid his tailor's bill, and of how many chips and 1032 shavings he had cheated his master, the carpenter? A chip and shaving committee was to be appointed, with power, instead of persons, papers, and records, of sending for surveyors, builders, hatchets, planes, and carpenter's rules; with a special appointment to inquire into the merits of three indictments, two suits in the court of King's-bench, and a disputed award [a laugh]. These were the matters to be referred to a select committee [Hear, hear!]. The private character of Oliver was, doubtless, a point of some importance; but no man disputed that intelligence, respecting plots against the State, in nine cases out of ten, often must arrive through polluted channels; it could only be obtained from repentant traitors, from accomplices, or from informers; and, though there might be those whose minds were so philosophically turned, that they would wish all discoveries to be providential, rather than employ such agents; still he was one of those who held, that it was prudent to employ human means to maintain human institutions.
An honourable gentleman had attempt-ed to draw a distinction between an informer and a spy; but it was a distinction that would not bear examination. For what was the state of the case? Simply this; that if a man brought information to government, it might be credited the first time; then, it seemed, he was only an informer: but if the informer, at the recommendation of government, should proceed to gain fresh information, the second fact would be good for nothing, because he would then be a spy: twice an informer was once a spy. Or, perhaps, the honourable gentleman had in his mind some analogy to the nature of the bee; the bee, it was said, could sting but once, animamque in vulnere ponit. So the informer, it was inferred, could make but one information, and all his power of observation, all his faculty of seeing and hearing, became immediately extinguished. The honourable and learned gentleman, (sir S. Romilly), had been pleased to refer to the "immortal bard" (Shakspeare) for authority. Certainly, he could not go to a better source: if he had carried his researches into that author a little farther, he might have found a description of an informer, which seemed to tally exactly with his own beau idéal of such a character. He alluded to that informer who, 1033Sodull, so dead in look, so we-begone,Drew Priam's curtain in the dead of night,And would have told him half his Troy was burned,But Priam found the fire, ere he his tongue." [A loud laugh.]This, he presumed, was just such inforformation as the hon. and learned gentleman would allow government to receive. He did not know whether it might be imputed to his own obtuseness of intellect or hardness of heart, but he must say, that if Priam, thus rouzed from his slumbers, had, instead of inquiring about the fire, detained that pale, we-begone man, to question him about his birth, parentage, and education, he, for one, however the hon. and learned gentleman might applaud the conscientiousness of such an examination, should have felt much less commiseration for the fate of that venerable monarch than he did at present [Much laughter].
His hon. friend, the member for Bramber, whom he saw just returning to his place, might, perhaps, think he was treating this part of the question with too much levity; but he would beg his hon. friend to consider again, whether the mere fastidious and theoretical notions on the subject of spies and informers, which his hon. friend had maintained in a former debate, were in fact reducible to practice. Among the many virtues which distinguished and adorned his character, his hon. friend had enequality which might be considered a defect; he was apt to think ever)' man as good and as honest as himself: still, he was sure that his hon. friend had lived long enough to have found, by experience, that the world cannot be governed on any theoretical notions of purity. He must have felt, too, that as it was the sweetest reward of virtue, to have a perfect confidence in all around it; so it was the greatest curse of crime, that it could not trust even its dearest associates: to take away, therefore, from crime its penal terror of being betrayed by its intimates, and to communicate to it the best privilege of virtue, what was it but making virtue the prey of crime? [Hear, hear!] His hon. friend (Mr. Canning was sure) would not give into the foolish and vulgar notion, that the treating with merited ridicule whatever was absurd and contemptible in the arguments by which a grave subject was supported, implied any want of due estimation of the subject itself. No, he (Mr. Wilberforce) had too much 1034 good sense as well as good taste, not to feel that, in brushing away the cloud of follies, of frauds, of artifices, and impostures, with which this most important matter had been disfigured and overlaid, he (Mr. C.) had only made his way more effectually to the substance of the question, and qualified himself to treat it with becoming seriousness, when divested of the accessories which covered it with ridicule and contempt.
The hon. and learned gentleman who opened the debate had, indeed, endeavoured to throw a gloomier colouring over this worn-out topic of spies and informers, by contending, that the proceedings of Vaughan and others, the miscreants who had excited and nurtured offenders against the law, for the sake of bringing them to punishment and earning blood-money at their expense, were to be defended on exactly the same principle as that on which the government justified their employment of Oliver to detect the workings of treason. His hon. and learned friend, the solicitor general, had completely disproved the alleged similarity of the two cases, and established the difference between them. But, perhaps, in this only instance, he might presume to say his hon. and learned friend had left his admirable argument somewhat short. The cases were not only different but opposite to each other. Not only was the principle of the two cases not the same, but a directly contrary principle to that which constituted the defence of Vaughan, was pleaded in excuse for the employment of Oliver. It was the principle of prevention, instead of that of punishment. It had been argued the other night, that the genius of a free constitution did not admit of the exercise of this preventive principle; that it was, indeed, the moving principle of despotic governments; but that, in free states, crimes could only be dealt with by law, and law could operate only by penal application after the fact. This might be generally true. It was true, that, in all human institutions, peculiar good was frequently compensated by peculiar evil; and by how much greater was the latitude in which civil and political freedom were enjoyed, by so much greater must be the severity of the laws and the rigour in the execution of them. Where punishment was the only sanction, it could apply only to things done; and to incur punishment, the guilty intent must be matured into 1035 the act. The principle of the Suspension bill, however, was not in consonance to this general maxim, but in exception and deviation from it. The power which it conferred was a power to prevent: not a power to punish (farther than the law already warranted, or farther than restraint might be considered as punishment), but to arrest the progress of disaffection, and to intercept the rebellious purpose before it had ripened into rebellion. To say that this power is not conformable to the ordinary spirit of the laws, was to say only what was not only admitted but contended for, that the Suspension act was an exception such as he had described it to be; and that those who were arraigned for their conduct under that act, were to be judged, not by the rules of the ordinary laws, but by the special rules of that extraordinary statute. So far, therefore, from adopting the excuse of Vaughan and the blood-hunters to whom they had most indecently been compared, and pleading that they pounced upon none but full-blown criminals; the plea of ministers was, that, to the best of their endeavour and to the best of their information, they had attempted to nip crimes in the bud, and to prevent what, if accomplished, the laws would visit with punishment. And in exact proportion as they had obtained the information necessary for fulfilling this duty, had they enabled themselves to perform the task which the legislature had assigned to them, with fidelity and effect.
An hon. and learned gentleman, indeed (Mr. Brougham), had animadverted severely on an hon. friend (Mr. Lamb) below him, for not keeping strictly to the bare question of indemnity; and yet the learned gentleman himself, like all who preceded him, had launched into a full discussion of all that had occurred, during the last and present year, that could bear upon the subject; and the hon. and learned gentleman had done right in so arguing; for it was the circumstances of the times which had called for the Suspension, and which called for the Indemnity bill also. Those who voted for the suspension might fairly be expected to vote for the indemnity: indeed, some hon. gentlemen had most fairly and reasonably admitted, that, though they had opposed the Suspension bill, yet, as that had been passed, and, therefore become the law, the only question now was, whe- 1036 ther ministers had exercised moderately the powers confided to them by that measure.
A vast deal had been said about the suspension of the Habeas Corpus, as if a blow had been struck at the liberties of the whole people. This was not the case. He was as much disposed as any man to think that crisis of affairs most lamentable, which required such an extension of power. Nay, he would go farther; he not only lamented the suspension as a misfortune, but he charged it as a crime: but upon whom did he so charge it? Not on the government, who had fairly come forward, and laid before parliament the real state of the country; not on parliament, who deliberately acted upon the report of a committee of the first respectability; not upon the people of England, as had been most unjustly insinuated, to whose steady loyalty the utmost homage was paid; but upon those designing and malignant wretches, who attempted, out of the distresses of a day, to effect the desolation of the work of ages; who looked upon the famished peasant and ruined artisan, not as objects of compassion, but as instruments of crime [Hear, hear!]. How often had they heard, in that House, heart-rending declamations about the cruelty of despotism and the selfishness of warriors, which sacrificed myriads at the altar of ambition? Nay, sometimes, even, though rarely, gentlemen on the other side of the House had expressed their indignation at Buonaparté himself, who considered the inhabitants of a great empire as mere raw materials for working out his own false glory. All this was certainly bad enough; but what could be said of those who, even without the apology of this motive, which, pernicious as it was, had yet its dazzling charms for weak human nature,—what shall be said of those who, with cold calculation, enter the cottage of poverty, and, instead of sympathising with the condition of the wretched inhabitant and his starving family, calmly guage and span his misery, not for the purpose of relief, but to ascertain his capacity for mischief: not to rescue him from ruin, but to see how far he is fitted to be an agent to assist in the ruin of his country?—[Hear, hear!] These were the men against whom the crime of violating the constitution was chargeable; these were the men against whom the suspension of the Habeas Corpus was 1037 aimed; yet these were the men who were now to be put in the judgment-seat, while ministers were to be tried on their accusation and condemned by their evidence—[Loud cries of Hear!]. And this was recommended to the House as the due course of retributive justice!
But the hon. baronet (sir F. Burdett) had made, it seems, a most ingenious discovery; he had found out, that as the whole nation were determined on parliamentary reform, ministers had no other means of saving themselves from the consequences of that mighty change, than by inventing plots and fomenting conspiracies. Did the hon. baronet imagine that he could persuade any one that this was the real state of the case? Did he imagine that, by any mode of division or multiplication which he might adopt for his reform petitions, whether he presented them in tens and signed by thousands, or in thousands and signed by tens; did he really flatter himself, that he could persuade the House or himself, that parliamentary reform was a favourite measure with the people of England? Did he suppose that the great body of the nation cared one jot about his wild plans of annual parliaments and universal suffrage Nay, could he reconcile to himself the justice or consistency of his plan of universal suffrage, as it was called? How could he excuse the omission of females and of the insane, from the classes of electors and representatives? Oh! calumniated females! Oh! calumniated insane!—was it from dread of the power of the female sex, or from jealousy of the wisdom of insanity? [A laugh]. For his part, he felt assured, that, whatever measure of exclusion might be dealt to the women, the insane portion of the community were excluded from the petitions hitherto presented, only that they might come forward, hereafter, with the more weight and effect, in a petition subscribed exclusively by themselves; and that the day was not far distant, when the hon. baronet would present to the House a petition for reform, from the inhabitants of the receptacle near Kennington, vouching for the respectful tenor of its language, and pledging himself for the constitutional temperance of its argument [A laugh].
But, if this were consistent in the honourable baronet, what could be said of the hon. and learned gentleman who had just sat down; of him who in his heart laughed at all these schemes of reform, 1038 and looked with the profoundest scorn on all who entertained them; of him who knew that every petition on the subject came either from deluders or deluded; yet, under a pretence that he was a friend to something like a reform, would, every now and then, present such petitions, for the mere purpose of popularity? [Hear, hear!]. That hon. and learned gentleman had apologised for pronouncing an eloquent panegyric on the constitution: there was no need of any apology; he should be glad to join in it, if he saw that the constitution was in danger; but, he trusted, the danger was past; sure, very sure, he was, that it was a danger of a very different sort from any which could be cured by inflaming and maddening the people. Who were the best friends of the people? Those who were always ringing in their ears the extent and imprescriptibility of their rights; or those who, while they told them of their rights, told them they had duties also? He would say to the real friends of the people, instruct, enlighten them, and there would be no danger. But do not teach them to nourish an envious jealousy of wealth, hatred of rank, and a general malignity at all superiority. It was, indeed, the proud boast of our glorious constitution, that the poorest peasant might emerge from the meanest hut, and himself, or in his descendants, rise to the highest rank in the state [Hear!]. But let there, at least, remain high ranks for them to rise to. To level ranks, would not be to equalize, but to destroy [Hear]! to confound the elements of society, and to produce universal degradation. But he asked whether every man who heard him did not know, that either in his own immediate neighbourhood, or in districts of which he had knowledge, a sedulous and wicked activity had been employed in disseminating the doctrines of discontent, and exasperating suffering into malignity? He asked whether hatred to government as government; not merely to particular individuals (a tax which those who fill ostensible situations in the state must make up their minds to bear as they may), but to government by whomsoever administered; to eminence as eminence; to rank as rank, had not been industriously inculcated? Whether the Crown and its ministers had not been proscribed as the natural enemies of the people? and this House held up to peculiar hatred and horror, as the tyrants of the Commons, whom they were especially bound to protect? The 1039 starving artisan was told by his mischievous seducer, that all his distress arose from an imperfect representation in parliament. If this assertion meant any thing, it must be this: that parliament, as at present constituted, encouraged unnecessary wars; that unnecessary wars produced extravagant expenditure; that extravagant expenditure produced exorbitant taxation; and that exorbitant taxation produced overwhelming misery. Now, what was the inference of the parliamentary reformers? Was it that parliament, more popularized, more democratically constituted, would be less inclined to war? He would appeal to all history, ancient of modern, whether democratic states were not always the fondest of war. Look at Athens, look at Rome, look at the petty republics of more modern times. Was not the appetite for war in all those governments perpetually excited and perpetually indulged? Would the case be different among ourselves? Was it not notorious, that the humblest peasants in this country had been used to sympathize with the victories of its warriors, and to feel themselves partakers in their honour? True it was, that, of late, a chill philosophy had been busy in numbing even this, the natural enthusiasm of a brave people, in sophisticating their feelings and bewildering their reason; in rendering them dead to the glories of Waterloo, but tremblingly alive to the imperfections of Old Sarum—But it would not do; and he must say, that he distrusted the sense of any man who could build a hope of discomfiture to ministers on the popularity of parliamentary reform.
It was not against parliamentary reform, but against the frantic follies circulated under its pretext, and the mischief attempted to be perpetrated in its name, that government had appealed to parliament, and that parliament had had recourse to the Suspension act. That act was, happily at an end. He was not disposed to undervalue the evil of its enactment, whether in itself, or whether considered as a precedent for other times. But they, surely, read but ill the signs of the present times who thought, that, in or out of parliament, there was a leaning against the people. It was not more idle for the rhetoricians of imperial Rome to declaim about Brutus and Tarquin; than it was now to talk about servile parliaments or an usurping crown. The dangers which now threatened society were of a different kind, and came in a*1040 different direction; audit was the duty of parliament to guard, with equal watchfulness and courage, not only against the blast of the lightning from above, but against the destructive explosion from below. But, once more, let him hope, that the danger was for the present, passed away. If, in the hour of peril, the statue of Liberty had been veiled for a moment, let it be confessed, in justice, that the hands whose painful duty it was to spread that veil, had not been the least prompt to remove it. If the palladium of the constitution had, for a moment, trembled in its shrine, let it be acknowledged that, through the vigilance and constancy of those whose duty it was to see that the fabric took no harm, the shrine itself had been preserved from profanation, and the temple stood firm and unimpaired.—[Loud and long cheering].
§ Mr. Lambton
rose to ask an explanation as to the terms dolt and idiot, so liberally applied by the right hon. gentleman.
said, that the words had dropped from him unintentionally in the heat of the debate, and that he had no design of applying them in their common acceptation.
§ Mr. Lambton
supposed so: indeed, it was not of any consequence, except in one sense—and that was, a sort of fear that as the right hon. gentleman had applied the same terms to the dear friends now united with him in office, the use of them might be a prelude to an intimate union between him and the right lion, gentleman [a laugh]. But he rose chiefly to say, that he would pledge himself for the respectability of the person who had given him the information respecting Oliver. He was a person not connected with any plot or conspiracy, but a mercantile gentleman of consideration. If the House would let him, he would pledge his honour to prove all he had asserted, unless the right hon. gentleman should be disposed wantonly to depreciate his (Mr. Lambton's) honour and character, as he had already that night cruelly sported with the disease and agony of an unfortunate petitioner [Hear, hear!]. The right hon. gentleman had made many severe and unfair allusions to the conduct of that individual, in suppressing, as he (Mr. Canning) asserted, the information he could have given with regard to Oliver's; conduct on the 28th of January, and had stigmatized him as a traitor for not having 1041 communicated with government on the subject. Neither of those charges had the slightest foundation. That person communicated, on the same evening, to several respectable witnesses, whom he (Mr. L.) could produce, what had occurred in the park. The facts were the subject of general conversation amongst his acquaintance, and continued to be so for several months. With regard to the gentleman's motives for not acquainting lord Sidmouth with those facts, he could say nothing; but he thought a sufficient justification might be found in the notoriety which existed of Oliver's being employed and patronized by that noble lord. That those were the motives of the person in question he would not assert; but to his (Mr. L.'s) mind, they would have appeared of sufficient weight to induce him to adopt the same course. The right hon. gentleman had asserted, that the whole story was destitute of foundation. He (Mr. L.) remained of a directly contrary opinion. He challenged inquiry into the case—he demanded to be allowed to prove his allegations at the bar of the House. If that inquiry was not instituted, the country would be enabled to see clearly enough, that the facts asserted by him were such as could not be disproved.
§ Mr. Croker
said, that in order in any degree to justify the silence of the anonymous individual, it was necessary to believe that he knew Oliver to be in the employment of lord Sidmouth at the time when the transaction alleged was said to have taken place—a fact which it was manifest was impossible. If this anonymous person was a man of respectability, how was it to be accounted for that he had not communicated his information at a time when the House was engaged in an inquiry upon the subject—when addresses were presented on the subject? It was said, he was deterred by fear of the Suspension act. Now he begged it to be observed, that the outrage on the Prince Regent was perpetrated on the 28th January—the Suspension act passed on the 4th of March. During that interval, proclamations were issued, offering large rewards to any person who could give information as to the persons concerned in the outrage. An investigation was going on for six weeks at the public office at Bow-street. Why, then, was information not given when it was so loudly called for? If Oliver, since that time, had done any mischief to his fellow-citizens, the man 1042 who knew his conduct, and concealed it, was answerable for such subsequent mischief; for he, by doing that which the proclamation called for, which the law enjoined, which the feeling of every good man would dictate, might have stopped Oliver in his career. Upon his head, therefore, must be charged all that had been subsequently done by Oliver.
§ Sir John Newport
rose amidst such vehement cries of question! that not a word could be heard for some time. The right hon. baronet animadverted on those who were so anxious to pass to the vote and decide without hearing. He expressed some displeasure at the right hon. gentleman for presuming to anticipate his line of argument, and observed, that that right hon. gentleman, in his zeal to prove the truth of one of his assertions, that a very absurd argument might be made on a very grave subject, had himself kindly illustrated it in his own speech. The right hon. baronet strenuously opposed the commitment of the bill.
§ Mr. Barnett
said, he could not suffer this bill to go into a committee without entering his protest against the justice of it. He trusted that the House would have honesty and firmness enough to reject so iniquitous a measure.
§ The question being put, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair," the House divided:
§ Ayes, 238—Noes, 65.
|List of the Minority.|
|Abercromby, hon. J.||Howorth, H.|
|Althorp, viscount||Hughes, W. L.|
|Aubrey, sir John||Hornby, E.|
|Baillie, J. E.||Hurst, R.|
|Baker, John||Latouche, Robt. jun.|
|Birch, Jos.||Lamblon, J. G.|
|Brand, hon. T.||Lloyd, sir Ed.|
|Brougham, Henry||Macdonald, Jas.|
|Burdett, sir F.||Madocks, W. A.|
|Burrell, hon. P. D.||Markham, admiral|
|Burroughs, sir W.||Martin, John|
|Byng, George||Monk, sir C.|
|Calcraft, John||Mostyn, sir T.|
|Calvert, C.||Neville, hon. R.|
|Campbell, hon. J.||Newport, sir John|
|Carter, John||Ord, W.|
|Duncannon, visc.||Piggot, sir A.|
|Fergusson, sir R. C.||Pym, Francis|
|Fitzroy, lord J.||Ramsbottom, John|
|Fitzgerald, lord W.||Ridley, sir M. W.|
|Guise, sir W.||Robarts, W. T.|
|Gaskell, Benjamin||Romilly, sir S.|
|Hamilton, lord A.||Scudamore, Robt.|
|Heron, sir. Rob.||Sharp, Richard|
|Howard, hon. W.||Shelley, sir John|
|Smith, W.||Barnett James|
|Smyth, J. H.||Douglas hon. F. S.|
|Symonds, T. P.||PAIRED OFF.|
|Stanley, lord||Cavendish, hon. H.|
|Tavistock, marq. of||Fazakerley, N.|
|Tierney, rt. hon. G.||Latouche, J.|
|Walpole, hon. G.||Lefevre, C. S.|
|Waldegrave, hon. W.||Martin, Henry|
|Warre, J. A.||North, Dudley|
|Webb, Ed.||Newman, R. W.|
|Wilkins, Walter||Plumer, W.|
|Wood, Matthew||Ramsden, R. C.|
|Webster, sir Godfrey||Russell, R. G.|