§ Lord Castlereagh moved the order of the day for the House resolving itself into a committee on this bill. On the question being put, that the Speaker do now leave the chair, Mr. Macdonald was about to address the House, when
rose, and said, he had understood from what had been said on a former occasion by an hon. and learned gentleman, that no discussion was to take place on the motion that the Speaker do leave the chair, but that the principle of the bill was to be debated in the subsequent stage.
§ Mr. Brougham
said he had been misunderstood. His meaning was, that they should debate the principle of the bill on the motion for the Speaker's leaving the chair, and afterwards go into its details in the committee; for it was clear that he never meant that both its principle and its details should be discussed in the committee.
concurred with his hon. and learned friend in thinking this the proper stage for discussing the principle of the measure before, the House; although the noble lord, after having taken credit to himself for granting a delay of three days, now wished them to go into the committee without saying one word on the principle of the measure. A more 1320 important measure, in his opinion, had been seldom submitted to the consideration of parliament. Its importance, indeed, was evident, from the nature of the petitions which had been presented to the House upon the subject, as well as from the character of the petitioners. Ample time ought indeed to be allowed for examining and deciding upon such a question as involved the liberty of the pressߞa privilege of such importance to the freedom of our constitution, as to deserve to be guarded with no less jealousy than the sacred right of meeting for the purpose of petitioning. This measure, however, with the other restrictive bills, was, it was said, brought forward in consequence of the supposed exigency of the case, and the alleged inefficiency of the law to meet that exigency. But in reply to this statement, he would ask where was the demonstration of any adequate attempt to try the efficacy of the laws to meet or repel the exigency said to exist, and such a demonstration or proof should be adduced, before the ministers of the Crown were warranted in calling for new restrictive laws? To the principle of both the bills before the House upon the subject of the Press, he entertained the strongest objection, as well to that which stood for a future day, as to that which was immediately under consideration. There were some parts of these bills which appeared to him totally unintelligible; but every part that was intelligible was objectionable. The principle of those bills went indeed far beyond any thing that had ever been attempted in the legislature of this country against the freedom of the subject, and the stability of the constitution. Nothing like it had ever been proposed, even during the existence of rebellion, or the prevalence of revolutionary doctrines. The measures, indeed, of the 38th of the king, involved a suspension of constitutional privileges; but then that suspension, which was deemed very strong at the time, fell very far short of the bills upon which he was animadverting. Yet the measures of the 38th of the king, which were only of temporary enactment, were found sufficient to carry the country through all the dangers belonging to commotion in our own dominions, and to the apprehensions created by that great modern convulsion, the revolution in France. With such evidence then, of the efficacy of comparatively moderate measures, at a period of great and unexampled peril, upon what ground 1321 could ministers justify the introduction of such very strong measures as the present, under existing circumstances, when the whole world was in the enjoyment of profound peace, and when this country was, according to the language of ministers themselves, comparatively prosperous and happy? Yet, in such circumstances, ministers pressed the enactment of new laws to suppress irreligion and sedition, without showing that the present laws were inadequate. So that, after twenty-five years of war, during which the people had evinced the most exemplary patience and perseveranceߞduring which they had contributed, by their industry, their wealth and their valour, to prevent defeat and disaster, and to enable the duke of Wellington, by his unprecedented victories, to bring the contest to a triumphant conclusion, they were to be told that the result of all the national glories must be to lead to an abridgment of their liberties! The people were told, forsooth, that within the last twenty years, during which they had been struggling to endure the calamities and to over come the dangers of war, such an intensity of light (he believed it was so called), or so much knowledge, had been diffused among them, that it was necessary to deprive them of those constitutional rights, for the maintenance of which they had been induced so long to contend. By the advocates, however, for this deprivation, it was said that the object was only to take from the people a portion of their rights, in order to secure the remainder. But he would ask those advocates, when the bills before the House should be passed into law, what was the liberty that remained to Englishmen? Let these bills passߞlet such measures be allowed to follow the warߞand he had no hesitation in saying, that the people would look with loathing at the victories which had led to such results. Nay, the defeat of the very extraordinary individual, against whom this country had been contending for twenty years, after the policy of our government had created his power, could not be expected to afford much triumph to the people, if that defeat were to be followed by the abrogation of their liberties. For himself, indeed, he had no hesitation in saying, that which he firmly believed to be the sentiment of the great body of the people, that twenty such victories as that of Waterloo, glorious as that victory most assuredly was, could not compensate for the loss of one atom of our 1322 constitutional liberty [Hear, hear, hear!]. Victory was, indeed, only valuable as it served to consolidate our freedom. But the victories which signalized the war were only to be attained through the spirit which the love of freedom inspired. And what mainly promoted that noble feeling? The public press. What excited and enabled the country so much to go through the war, as the influence of those publications which the press sent forth, often perhaps exaggerated, with regard to the ambitious views and arbitrary proceedings of the ruler of France? What inspirited the people so much for active exertion, or filled them so much with heroic enthusiasm, as the contrast which the public press was almost daily making between the military despotism and warlike disposition of France, and the constitutional freedom and commercial habits of England? The services, indeed, rendered by the public press to the cause of the country throughout the late war, were scarcely calculable; and yet upon this press it was now proposed to impose a most galling chain. The nature of this imposition might easily be understood, upon a review of the two bills to which he referred. The first bill proposed a new Stamp duty, which, although so objectionable as to be deprecated by many respectable individuals connected with printing and bookselling, as appeared from the petitions on the table, was still less important than the propositions in the second bill. But with regard to the duty proposed in the first bill, this was, he apprehended, the first instance in the history of the country, that a tax was to be imposed for any other purpose than that of revenue. Here, however the object was, to levy a tax upon any publication within the limit, as he understood of three feet by two. But the proposition in the second bill, which was not their immediately under consideration, but to which he felt relevant on this occasion to refer, that recognizances should be entered into by certain publishers, was, in his opinion, peculiarly objectionable. For in this case men were to be called upon to enter into sureties to keep the peace, without having committed or manifested a disposition to commit any crime; and this was a principle quite new to the constitution and laws of England. The demand, indeed, to enter into sureties was itself a penalty, and a penalty never required by the practice of our law, unless a man were convicted of having 1323 actually violated the law, or were charged upon evidence with a disposition to commit such violation. That an Englishman should not be bound to enter into recognizances without having transgressed the law, or shown any intention to commit such transgression, was a primary elementary principle of the British constitution, which so long as any regard for that constitution remained, must be held sacred. He held it to be a primary principle of the English constitution, that an Englishman might publish whatever he pleased on his own responsibility; but now, for the first time, it was required of him to find others to share in this responsibility. While one spark of the spirit of liberty remained in the country, such a measure could not be tolerated. But unfortunately for the cause of liberty, an ultra Tory doctrine had of late obtained, of rather looking for principles of government to Rome, and that too during the sway of its emperors, than to the constitution of England. The lovers of this new doctrine must be prepared to make many more sacrifices of liberty, if they determined to take their rule of civil government from Rome and the Justinian code, rather than from the history of their own country. But to return to the question of suretiesߞit was peculiarly hard to call upon writers or publishers to enter into sureties not to write or publish any seditious libel, considering how vague and indefinite a thing was a libel. How could any man ask his friends to become bail for him upon such an occasion? Would not every gentleman who heard him, feel very reluctant to enter into security for any friend in such a case? And that reluctance which these gentlemen would feel themselves, they must think likely to be felt by others, especially as the character of a seditious libel always depended so much upon the times in which, or the tribunal before which it might happen to be tried. That publication, indeed, which at one time would be deemed laudable, might at another be denounced, and punished as a seditious libel, and with such uncertainty and fluctuation as to the nature of this offence, would it not be a great grievance to require from any writer or publisher the previous, security alluded to? Great as might be the inconvenience and evil of this provision to printers and publishers, the greatest hardship would fall on authors; and among those who would be affected by it, he would take 1324 leave to say, were some of the most eminent writers of the ageߞmen who, by their labours, had rendered important services to the constitution and the country. But independently of the hardship to individuals, the measure would be attended with important consequences to the community; for it was not to be supposed that any man would, after this, record the transactions of the day, unless he could afford to lock up 1,200l.. By the proposition to which he objected, even a diurnal writer, before he could commence the printing of his work, must have sureties forthcoming to the amount of no less than 1,200l.namely, 300l.. for himself, with sureties from friends to the same amount, and also 300l. for his printer, with sureties of friends for him also to the extent of 300l. This arrangement involved so gross an invasion of the freedom of the press, that whatever might be the disposition of the noble lord, who had been so industrious in framing restrictions for popular freedom, both at home and abroad, he could not believe that a measure calculated to check the labours of literary men, would have the sanction of the right hon. gentleman who sat beside the noble lord, of whose literary talents there could be no doubt, whatever might be said of his politics, until he heard that right hon. gentleman actually declare in its favour. But these bills were altogether of such an odious character, he did not think it possible that the people, would ever be reconciled to their existence, if their representatives in that House should be so indifferent to their interests and feeling, as to accede to their enactment. The House had heard that a censorship was once in contemplation. How far the question had been entertained, and why that measure had been rejected, he could not say; but this he would say, that these bills comprehended little less than an absolute censorship, and the worst and most contemptible species of censorshipߞthat of money; which did not measure a man's intellect or his intentions, but his purse. According to them, it mattered nothing what, were the principles, views, or talents of a writer. If he could not procure sureties to the amount of 1,200l. this censorship would say "go about thy business, thou friendless pauper, thou art not qualified to become an instructor of the public," while to the rich author, however unprincipled in views or stupid in talent, this species of censorship would give every facility he desired for 1325 the publication of his crudities or the propagation of his errors, and would say to him "you are qualified to instruct the public, go you to the press." Thus the rich, writer might mislead or impose upon the public judgment, while the poor would be precluded from contributing to its instruction or edification. The noble lord might hear from his right hon. friend beside him that there was such a thing as "the Republic of Letters," and his right hon. friend might also explain to him that this republic implied an arena in which all men were at liberty to display their talents upon a footing of perfect equality, at a tribunal of public taste and judgment, before which the qualities of the human mind were impartially tried and duly distinguished; and before which the meanest being on earth, if he was gifted with genius, might dissipate the halo of obscurity that enveloped his birth. But this republic, this impartial tribunal, for ascertaining and advancing merit, the noble lord by his measures proposed to overturn. Those measures would indeed serve in a great degree to establish an imprimatur on the press. What would Locke and Bacon, and other ornaments of English literature have said of this species of money censorship, which would preclude the poor from displaying their talents? Since the abolition of an actual censor upon the press in this country, the boast was that any man was at liberty to publish what he pleased, subject to subsequent responsibility; but in consequence of the provisions of this measure, the poor writer was excluded at once from publishing by his inability to procure sureties. So that with regard to such a writer, this bill was to all intents and purposes worse than an imprimatur. Nothing then could be more baneful to the independence of literature and to the claims of genius than this obnoxious measure. But the proposition of such a measure was peculiarly objectionable at this period, when it was so much and so laudably the general object of the country to promote the education of the poor: for how absurd was it to take away from the poor the fair opportunity of displaying their talents or contributing to the information of their country, after they had been enabled and encouraged to exercise their minds? Such a proceeding was indeed like furnishing men with the material and forbidding them to use it. But he would ask what was likely to have become of Dr. Johnson and many other 1326 essayists, who might be named, it a measure of this nature had been the law of the land in their day? For how many of these useful writers were notoriously without money or friends; and, to use a vulgar expression, merely lived from hand to mouth. But in our own days, how numerous as well as how useful were the tracts which would have been lost to the world if these bills had formed a part of the law of the land. He alluded especially to those tracts which had so materially contributed to promote the abolition of the slave trade. But we had also had various publications of great utility with respect to the poor laws, and to several interesting points of political economy, particularly upon the subject of the orders in council, some time ago, the appearance of which measures of this nature would have been calculated to prevent. There were also several publications upon the catholic question, which he knew had served very much to enlighten men's minds, that a law of this character would have operated to suppress. He might extend this remark to the question of the corn laws, and every other topic that came under discussion in that house; and he might ask the hon. members who heard him, if they had not had very valuable pamphlets on all these subjects put into their hands? It now only remained for him to make a few observations on that branch of the libel bill which inflicted a new and peculiar punishment for a second offence. To show what use might be made of this provision, it was only necessary to refer to the prosecution of Hone; but for a different purpose from that which induced other gentlemen to quote that ease He referred to the case of Mr. Hone, in order to illustrate the injustice of the proposed punishment; for as that gentleman had three indictments preferred against him at the same time, would it not have been cruel had he been subjected to the aggravated punishment upon a second conviction, merely because it pleased the Crown prosecutor to split the charges against him into different indictments? He also objected to the punishment, because it was novel in the history of this country. There was, he was aware, a law adopted in this country about 20 years ago, for subjecting a seditious libeller to transportation upon a second conviction; but then it was to be recollected, that that law, which was only of short duration, was never acted 1327 upon in any one instance. But he objected particularly to the penalty of banishment, because it was a punishment so very unequal in its nature. To those who had connexions, which rendered native home dear to man, it might prove a punishment almost as bad, if not worse than death; while to others differently circumstanced it might operate as no punishment whatever. Another country might indeed serve rather as an asylum to some persons. But, on the other hand, it should be remembered, that to banish a man for a political offence, while a certain understanding was known to exist among foreign nations, might tend to expose him to the cruel persecution of being hunted through the several countries of Europe. On these grounds, then, he strongly objected to the penalty of banishment. But why should it be supposed that it was necessary to impose any more severe punishment upon libellers than the law already authorized? For it was competent to the judges to inflict fine and indefinite imprisonment; and two years imprisonment' was generally deemed a punishment severe enough for any offence of this nature. But he had no objection to distinguish between the punishment of a blasphemous and a seditious libel, and for this obvious reason, that the former was definite, that indeed it defined itself, while the latter was quite vague, being only defined as an offence "tending to," not intending "a breach of the peace." That was deemed sedition, too, which tended to bring either House of Parliament into contempt. But on this point he would ask whether it would be fair to punish that man for sedition who should repeat what had been uttered in that House itself a few nights ago upon the discussion of a partial plan of reform, and yet what was said on that occasion by his two noble friends as to the corrupt practices in returning members, certainly tended to bring the House into contempt. No one could, however, in fact, reason in support of that reform which was now generally desired by the country without some statement tending to bring that House into contempt. Would the House then consent to visit such reasoners with the proposed punishment? As to blasphemous libellers, he would again say, that their case was very different. But this was a crime so odious to the country,*1328 that no additional punishment was necessary for its suppression. Two or three examples, indeed, of such punishment as the law authorized, had, upon the appearance of blasphemous libelling, been always found sufficient to put it down. If the Crown lawyers, then, would do their duty, no apprehensions could be entertained that blasphemy would ever be able to raise its head in this country. But with respect to sedition, as that was indefinite, it never could be supposed that if a very aggravated punishment, hitherto unknown to our laws, were to follow conviction for such an offence, juries would be found very ready to convict. In such a case, indeed, unless the publication were obviously malignant and rancorous, he rather thought that such persons as generally composed English juries, would be very slow to concur with the views of Crown prosecutors, or even with those of the parliament or the government, where the object was, to subject the accused to a punishment of severity unprecedented in the history of the country, and inconsistent with the general principles of popular liberty. He would not deny that the low and grovelling part of the press had lately disgraced itself; but till the natural remedy had been put to the test of experiment, and had been proved ineffectual to check the evil, such laws as the present should not be proposed. He appealed with confidence to the feelings and judgment of the House, with regard to the services and value of the liberty of the press; he exhorted it to consider what good that great privilege of freemen had done, and what it was capable of doing, and not to allow its opinion to be influenced by the degrading conduct of the base part of the press; but to cling to that which was truly respectable, and cherish it with a scrupulous and religious care.
§ Mr. W. Dickinson
denied that the law of libel was of that vague nature asserted by the hon. gentleman. If gentlemen considered the nature of a seditious libel, they would find that it had its origin in inveterate malice; and therefore, in such times as the present, it was necessary to apply an effectual check to the mischief. He thought that ministers would have been guilty of a dereliction of duty, if they had not brought forward such measures as those which had formed the subject of the hon. gentleman's animadversion; for the publications which had of 1329 late deluged the country called loudly for correction and punishment. If, indeed, such publications were tolerated, there could be no security for the establishments of the country, either in church or state. But as to the punishment which the last speaker had so particularly deprecated, such punishment was not, he contended, inconsonant to the principles of the constitution, or unknown in the history of the country; and in support of that proposition he referred to the cases of bishop Atterbury and lord Clarendon. The punishment itself, however; it was to be recollected, it was discretionary in the judge to inflict, while it was competent to the clemency of the Crown to remit or mitigate that punishment in particular cases, or to the authority of parliament to interpose and solicit such remission or mitigation. He quoted the authority of lord Coke to show what had been the practice at common law with respect to the power of magistrates to search for libels, and to support the position, that the clause in one of the bills alluded to by the hon. gentleman, respecting the power of magistrates on this subject, was not unknown in the history of our constitution. He was aware that some of the precedents to which reference might be had on this topic, took place during the existence of the Star Chamber. But then, after the abolition of that court, some precedents had occurred of a similar nature. He had the authority of that great lawyer, statesman, and philosopher, chief justice Hales, that it was the spirit of the British constitution to accommodate itself to times and circumstancesߞit resembled, as it were, the skin of the human body, possessing a flexibility applicable to any state, whether of sound health or of alarming disease. The present measures he supported, because he considered them not as an infringement of the just rights and liberties of the subject, but as calculated to stem the current of anarchy and rebellion which had set with such great violence against the institutions of the country, and he trusted that that House would furnish an example of firmness by giving the peaceable and well-disposed that protection which they had a right to require.
§ Mr. Sergeant Onslow
said, he was happy the hon, member who had just sat down had risen before him, and he begged leave to say that he entirely agreed in every word he had uttered. With respect to 1330 his hon. friend who had spoken previously with so much eloquence and ability, he thought he had taken a most erroneous view, not only of the principle, but of the enactments of this bill. His hon. friend had commented with great spirit upon the situation in which authors would be placed by this measure. For his own part he had not imagined that authors would be in the slightest degree affected by its enactments; but he would not trust to his memory, and had referred to the bill itself; and he could now say, that there was not one word which could bring an author under its operation. Was the author a printer or a publisher? Certainly not; and it was to printers and publishers alone that the act applied; and he desired to state, too, that those to whom the bill was principally applicable were obscure publishers, and not respectable booksellers. It was to men who, being urged on by the desire of gain, had no fear of imprisonment, and would publish any libel, however infamous. In another point to which his hon. friend had alluded, he was also incorrect; it was that in which he referred to the clause for imposing an additional punishment for the second offence. His hon. friend had adverted to the case of Mr. Hone, and had drawn an illustration from that trial to prove the hardship of the increased penalty on a second conviction. With respect to that trial, he never would, after the decision of a British jury, make any invidious comment, but he must be allowed to say, that the difficulties which had been thrown by it in the way of obtaining a verdict of guilty against blasphemous libels were much increased. His hon. friend had however argued as if this increased severity were to be applied in the event of two convictions immediately succeeding each other. That was not the case. The construction which he put on this part of the bill was, that it applied not to trials on separate indictments, progressively going on, but only to cases where a second conviction followed the punishment of an antecedent offence. If that were not the case, he would willingly subscribe to the observations of his hon. friend; but he believed, on looking to the clause, he would be found to be right. The punishment of banishment had also formed a conspicuous feature in his hon. friend's speech. It was for the purpose of suppressing the libellous publications of those who, in defiance of the law, were inve- 1331 terately determined on the continuance of the offence, that the penalty of banishment was introduced. The principle of such a punishment was not new as had been argued; it was to be found in the ancient, practice of the abjuration of the realm. But even if it were new, he should be disposed to prefer it far beyond transportation, because the latter punishment had hitherto been only applied to felonies; and he should have great difficulty in sending to the other side of the world, if not to slavery, to a certain degree of compulsory labour, an individual guilty of a comparatively venial offence. There were many offences to which transportation was now affixed, and to which banishment as a milder punishment would, in his judgment be beneficially applied. Banishment inflicted no stain on the connexionsߞit did not send a man to the other extremity of the globe to pass his life, not indeed as a slave, but deprived certainly of all free agency. In all legislative deliberations, the question turned upon the toleration of the greater or the lesser evil; and it was better that some individuals should be prevented from the prosecution of an employment, than that the country should continue longer exposed to the deliberate attempts made during the last 26 or 27 years to poison, by the most flagitious libels, the majority of the people, and thereby to occasion the most incalculable mischief. He was as warm a friend to the liberty of the press as any person, but he confessed he did not think these bills went in the slightest degree to infringe those liberties. These bills had been compared to a censorship; but he thought there was a wide difference between them and the measures described by Locke, and by Algernon Sydney. There was a wide difference between an imprimatur which went to prevent publication, and a decent check upon those works which might be published. He firmly believed that the great majority of the people were still sound; but at the same time, if effectual means were not taken to check the continuation of the existing abuses, it was impossible to anticipate the ill consequences which might result from them.
explained. He had not made the assumption ascribed to him by the hon. and learned sergeant as to the authors; he had merely put a case in illustration of his argument.
Mr. J. R. S. Graham
said, that at a 1332 season like the present, every thing should be done which was calculated to increase the public confidence in the House; but so far from this having been the case, in his humble opinion, they had either altogether lost that confidence or it was greatly on the decline. It was not for him to say that the present measures were inapplicable to the state of things which existed; it was enough that he should remind the House of the irritation which prevailed, and ask them whether there ever was a period in which they were called upon to exercise a more calm, deliberate, and sober judgment. What else could make the measures which were proposed effectual; or what else could justify the House in making a permanent alteration in the law of England, affecting, one of the noblest institutions and best safeguards of the constitution? No man could detest more heartily than he did the blasphemous and seditious libels which of late had issued from the press; they were loathsome and nauseous, and he regretted the fatal effects which they were calculated to have upon the public mind. He detested them first for the wickedness of the purpose, and he detested them the more, because he well knew that a flagrant abuse of a right on the part of the people, was too frequently the first cause of tyranny in rulers, and the best pretext for the introduction of coercive measures. Those friends were the worst friends of the people, who for the sake of base lucre would rob them of the consolations of religion, who would subvert all order and wade through bloodshed to the enjoyment of precarious power; and who at the same time furnished the enemies of a free constitution with an excuse for its violation. But on the other hand it was the paramount duty of that House, as the constituted guardians of the public weal, not to permit itself to be hurried away by the influence of alarm or temporary irritation, to the adoption of permanent measures of coercion, hostile to the spirit and practice of the constitution which it professed to uphold. He confessed he could not help revolting at the practice which he had so repeatedly observed on the part of the Crown, to exaggerate alarm and to enhance the character of difficulties, merely for the purpose of creating a pretext for pulling down those institutions which our ancestors had raised, and for abridging those liberties which were due to the labours of the people in early times 1333 He was not disposed to attribute bad motives to the ministers of the Crown, but he could not help observing, what the circumstances fully justified, that it looked as if it were the object of those ministers to produce, by its impunity towards flagitious libellers, an ill feeling towards the freedom of the press, in order to secure its permanent abridgmentߞpermanent he would say, for privileges taken from the people were neither easily nor peaceably recovered. He had ever been taught to consider, in times of domestic irritation, that moderation in the deliberations of the legislature was its true duty, and safest course. He had the sanction of Mr. Hume for that opinion, when he stated, that nothing but its own zeal could overturn established authority, as its overacted zeal was certain to produce a similar feeling on its opponent. Though he deeply deplored the recent violence of the people in different parts of England; yet, on the other hand, he was not exclusively jealous of the danger proceeding from that source. He viewed with equal suspicion the conduct of government and the steps which they were taking, by the adoption of coercive measures, to suppress those liberties to the enjoyment of which the people were justly entitled. Upon these general grounds he was led to express his alarm at the system which was pursuing, and to state how unwilling he was to consent to any alteration in the law of the land which tended to abridge the liberty of the subject. He would now explain the particular reasons which induced him to be hostile to the bills immediately before the House. He thought it unnecessary to make any observations as to the known advantages of the liberty of the press, or as to its being the palladium of freedom, and a tower of strength to resist military force or despotic ambition. The force of these truths time had, it might be supposed, already impressed conviction on the mind of every man. But it was not when the enemy was before the gate, and ready to possess himself of the strong hold, that such a general declamation ought to be applied. He most solemnly believed, that the present measures went directly to violate that hitherto sacred privilege, the freedom of the press. By that privilege every man possessed the right to publish what he pleased, without any restraint previous to publication. After publication, he possessed the right, if charged with a libel, of having that 1334 question, both as to the law and the fact, ascertained by a jury. These might be considered the abstract rights of a publisher; and, in the best times of our history a disposition prevailed to interpose strong preventatives against the abuse, without an infringement of the principle of the privilege. At various times, no small degree of ingenuity had been exercised for the purpose of making that abuse the ground of depriving the people of the right altogether. The law of England was on this head sufficiently severe; for it not only imposed, in cases of conviction, fine and imprisonment without limitation, but it also left in the discretion of the judges the power of calling for recognizances, even, as had been seen in a recent case, during the life of the offender. A criminal prosecution was not held as a justification, nor admitted as evidence in extenuation; and until of late the attorney-general had the power of holding a prosecution over the head of a publisher, in terrorem, for an indefinite period. These powers he really thought quite adequate to the suppression of every offence which might be committed. Various new powers had, however, been required. The first of these was an increase of punishment after the second conviction; the second, that after convictions, a power should exist for searching for libels; then there was a stamp-duty upon all small publications; and above all it was required, prior to publication that persons intending to publish should enter into personal recognizances, and find sureties for the payment of any fine which might be imposed upon them. With regard to the first point, he should only repeat the observation, that the law as it existed was sufficiently severe in itself, without any addition whatever. In fact, it never had been exercised to the extent of which it was capable. It appeared to him that the additional punishment for the second offence would only tend to create a difficulty in obtaining a verdict for the first; and though banishment might have been very good in the time of the Star-chamber and the Stuarts, he did not think it applicable to the present times, and he trusted they would never-live to see its re-establishment. It was a punishment which in Scotland had been called into action; and during an unhappy period, it had also been known in Ireland; out, since the Revolution, it had been unknown to the law of England. The hon. and learned gentleman had spoken of 1335 banishment as being more than transportation. To rich offenders it might be so, but to a poor man, he thought it would be the reverse; because, if transported, his expenses would be paid to the place of his destination by government, and when he arrived there he would be sustained by the same means; whereas, if he were banished to a foreign shore, he must either continue to libel his country to obtain bread, or die a disgrace to his country for the want of bread. The experiment of enacting transportation for three years for such offences, he believed, had been tried; but not a single individual had been condemned to that penalty. With regard to the right of searching for libels, he thought this involved a power pregnant with the greatest hardship. The search was not to be confined to the libeller alone, but by an order of the court, it might be extended to any other person, whoso drawers and papers might be ransacked in search of a squib, or a newspaper, or a pamphlet, which might have been pronounced a libel: that was to say, every printer and publisher in England was liable to an arbitrary order of a court of justice, and to an inquisitorial power to search his premises and papers upon the most trifling grounds. It was impossible to view this clause without feelings of the strongest disgust. Upon the subject of the third point, he saw nothing against the principle of imposing a stamp-duty upon the sort of publications which had been described; but he did think such a measure would be found to have a disadvantageous effect; for while, as he admitted, it would lessen the circulation of pernicious works, it would also suppress many publications of the most beneficial character. The most obnoxious of all these powers, however, and that to which he had the strongest objection, was that which called upon the publisher to enter into recognizances, and to find sureties for his ability to pay any fine to which he might become liable. He did conceive that this power was subversive of every principle of the constitution, because it amounted to nothing less than a restriction before the printing took place. It was, in fact, a species of censorship, which, if adopted, must tend to destroy that liberty of the press, the preservation of which had hitherto been considered the great bulwark of our liberties. It was a dangerous precedent, against which it was impossible too forci- 1336 bly to contend. The principal defence which had been set up in favour of these measures was their necessity. Necessity, he thought, was a very doubtful plea, which ought not to be allowed, at least without the most serious deliberation. Why, he would ask, had not the existing laws been acted upon? Why were not the powers which those laws gave applied to the evils which had been stated to prevail to an alarming extent? Before any new powers were granted, he thought it was the duty of the House to see that the old ones were insufficient for the purposes of public justice. In 1818 not a single prosecution had been instituted by his majesty's attorney-general; and in 1819 only one person had been brought to trial, and that individual who had been so brought to trial had been severely punished. During the whole of this period, blasphemous libels upon blasphemous libels, seditious libels upon, seditious libels, had been published in rapid succession, and yet no step had been taken to suppress them. To what was this apparent want of energy to be ascribed? It was not difficult to trace it to its true source. It was thought convenient to bring the liberty of the press into disrepute, in order that by its frequent abuse it might be put down altogether. He had heard also of improper prejudices being excited against these measures. He denied that any such improper prejudice had influenced his mind; he was decidedly against any permanent alteration in the law of England in the most trivial particular, and above all against an alteration in one of the most essential parts of our constitution. For these reasons, so imperfectly stated, he should feel it his duty to vote against the further progress of these bills.
observed, that the arguments urged in favour of the bill sent down from the House of Lords (which was so connected with their own bill that it was difficult to keep them separate in the present discussion), were of a very curious and extraordinary nature. The hon. member for Somersetshire supported it, because it did not affect the trial by jury; and by a parody of reasoning, if a bill was brought in affecting the trial by jury, he might support that, because it did not touch the liberty of the press. He considered the trial by jury, and the liberty of the press, as the great bulwarks of British liberty, and therefore would 1337 maintain both. An hon. and learned gentleman below him, had commended the bill, because it imposed what he called "decent shackles" on the liberty of the press. Those who imposed shackles might perhaps consider them decent; but what do those think who are to wear them? The question was answered by the numerous petitions against the bill which lay on the table of the House. The learned sergeant further approved of the bill, because it did not touch the author of a libel. Now, this was, in his opinion, the strongest objection to it, because it thus inflicted pains and penalties on the wrong party; it subjected the printer and publisher to the vengeance of the law, while it permitted the author, who sat down wilfully and deliberately to the composition of the libel, to escape with impunity. It punished the unconscious and innocent instrument, while the guilty principal was unnoticed. Such a law appeared to him not only repugnant to reason and justice, but contrary to the established usage and custom of the House. No longer ago than last week, complaint being made of a libel as a breach of privilege, the printer was summoned to the bar, and on giving up the name of the author, was immediately suffered to go free, and the author incarcerated under the Speaker's warrant, issued in conformity to the order of the House. The clauses in the same bill which subject printers and publishers of libels to transportation for a second offence, and if they return before the time is expired, to death itself, make no distinction between an unintentional error and a wilful crime; and were framed in so revolting a spirit of severity and injustice, that he could not give them his support. He was far from saying that this bill contained no provisions of which he approved. The clauses which authorize the seizure of libels after the conviction of the publisher, appeared to him extremely proper, and might, with great propriety, be introduced into the bill for restraining the abuses arising from the publication of blasphemous and seditious libels, which originated in their own House, and which, to use the words of the learned sergeant, to whom he had before alluded, imposed much more "decent shackles" upon the liberty of the press. In his view of the subject, the House ought to adopt this mode of proceeding, and show their reprehension of the outrageous clauses contained in the bill on 1338 which he was animadverting, by throwing it out on the second reading.
§ Mr. Denman
said, he could not suffer this bill, which formed a branch of that system of coercion which had been adopted by his majesty's ministers, to pass, without calling upon those who had already done much towards the promotion of the system to which he alluded, not now to do that which would have a tendency to change the whole system of the law of the press of England. If any thing could increase his repugnance to the proposed bills, and to the pretexts under which they had been introduced by their authors, it was to find them defended by such men as the hon. member for Somersetshire, and his hon. and learned friend, gentlemen who were considered under the denomination of impartial, and as holding the balance between the two great parties who divided that House. If that was the course such men intended to pursue, and on such grounds as they professed, it were better that the popular branch of the government should abdicate its functions, and leave the interests of the constituency at once to the mercy of the ministers of the Crown. In all the former measures that were discussed, it was both degrading and mortifying, when so much stress was laid upon shadows, and such a disregard of principle, to see that body, which was called the House of Commons, holding no one principle in common with the great mass of the people of this country. It appeared to him that the two bills before the House, although different in their object, were yet the same in spirit. He should however consider them separately; and at present should confine himself as much as possible to that before the House. The present subject for their consideration was the Stamp Duty bill. The principle of this bill, he contended, was altogether new, and had the direct tendency of an imprimatur. He entreated gentlemen not to allow themselves to be persuaded that this enactment would do but little. He saw throughout the whole course of the measure, while it would be ineffectual in its operation, it would be mischievous and oppressive to individuals. He alluded particularly to those shackles which it would impose upon respectable booksellers (shackles which could never have entered their contemplation when they engaged in that profession) by calling upon them to enter into recognizances of 300l. in London, and 200l. in the country, be-†1339 fore they could commence business. This principle, if once recognized by parliament, would only be the prelude to harsher and more severe measures—extended from time to time, until the right became altogether extinguished. The more respectable and wealthy part of the booksellers might not feel them; but they were decidedly injurious to the industrious and less wealthy. Another clause to which he thought there was also infinite objection, and from which there was every reason to apprehend danger from its abuse, was that which gave to a single justice of the peace the power of determining what were the offences proscribed by the act; as well as the violent, arbitrary, and unprecedented power of levying a fine at his discretion, and searching the House for copies of libellous publications. Why, the magistracy of the country were already encumbered with the duties imposed upon them by specific provisions in this new series of legislation. If, in addition to these they were called upon to search for arms by night, upon informations which might be laid before them, to attend public meetings with an armed levy by day, and not alone to impose fines which might be incurred under the Stamp act, but also to search for and secure copies of those works which might be characterised as libels, he would only ask, whether for the performance of these multifarious duties they would not require a salary? What would then become of the panegyrics upon the unpaid magistracy of England? Was there any man or order of men who would gratuitously give up their time, and submit to the shackles which these duties would impose? It was true that they might receive additional power; but would this compensate for the odium which they would incur in carrying these acts into effect? But if it were alone because these bills extended the power of magistrates, he thought they ought not to pass. Let the House, and particularly those gentlemen, who from a strong feeling of the extent of the public irritation, had supported ministers in passing these alarming restrictions on the liberties of the people, consider whether they had not already approached the limits of confidence—let them reflect on what they had already surrendered to the Crown. They had already given up the right of search into houses in words so large, vague, and indefinite, that any man could construe them as he wished. This 1340 alarming infringement was to be acted upon in seventeen counties on the oath of a single informer. They had abridged the right of petition, so as to leave but the shadow of that right. They were now, in terms at least, a svague as those in which the former measures were couched, increasing the penalties of the law in cases of libel, though the existing law, when acted upon by the law officers of the Crown, was found fully adequate to its objects. In 1819, Mr. Carlile, after the continued publication of blasphemous libels, was at length brought to trial, and the verdict of his jury vindicated the efficiency of the law. How, then, could it be said, that after the acquittal of Mr. Hone no jury could be found to execute it? But upon what grounds was the assertion made? What man of common sense who did not see the distinction between the two cases? What man of common feeling would argue that, taking the nature of the offences imputed to each because Mr. Hone was acquitted Mr. Carlile would not be convicted? If, however, there existed heretofore any doubt, they had now the authority of juries that the publication of blasphemy was against the law, and would, when prosecuted, be put down by their verdicts. The court of King's-bench had conducted itself as was befitting the first court of jurisdiction in the country.—If, indeed, in these times the sinking liberties of the country had any stay, it was in the dignified sense of duty which characterised its superior courts of law. He regretted he could not speak thus of the magistrates. If ever there was one time in which the judges of the land deserved its highest approbation, it was from their conduct within the last two months while within the interval of the last three months the magistrates did every thing but their duty. He had no doubt that they lent themselves to the views of the government, and acted upon its orders. Was not this violation of duty to be seen in the first step of their inverted career, when they dispersed a peaceable meeting by military execution? Was it not to be traced in the thanks, on the part of ministers, which followed the violation of duty on that painful day? It was a mockery to desire the aggrieved to apply to grand juries or to legal process, when the constitution had to be vindicated. If the magistrates of Manchester acted, as he thought was undeniable, under the 1341 orders of the ministers, they ought to be removed, and the head of the home department ought to be impeached, setting aside altogether the legality or illegality of the conduct of the meeting at Manchester. But, adverting to the present bill, would any man say that there ever was an instance in the legal History of England where previous security was demanded in a case of that description? An hon. member had referred to cases of excise, where security had been given for the payment of duties and fines that might be incurred. Could such examples bear the remotest analogy to the exercise of the right of free discussion? The hon. member had referred also to the period of the Star Chamber, and the reign of Charles 2nd. It was right in those who supported such measures to look to such precedents, for they were measures that led directly to the return of such times. But it should be recollected that the Licensing act expired in the 5th William 3rd, and except a short revival shortly after, had never been renewed until the present day. The shape it now assumed was an anomaly in our law; it could not be called imprimatur; but as directed against the person, and not the work, it was an imprimat If it was not enough to excite the jealousy of the House of Commons, to say the principle was entirely new in our law, he was ready to admit he had no other topic on which to address them—he had no precedents to which he could apply. He should not enter into the other act of parliament for the present, except to negative the assertion in the preamble. In the preamble it was stated, that the laws were insufficient to suppress blasphemous and seditious libels. This he totally denied, for he believed the law was perfectly sufficient. The case of Carlile was demonstrative of this assertion. Had those laws been put in force, he had no doubt all necessity for applying to parliament on this subject would have been obviated; but in 1818 not a single information was filed; while, in 1819, when a great variety of charges were exhibited against Carlile, he was convicted, and was now imprisoned in Dorchester-gaol, where, at least during the term of his imprisonment, he would have no opportunity of repeating his offence. The whole of the new class of measures proceeded on the erroneous principle of meeting the public mischief. That was the great mistake. They were 1342 of sovereign efficacy in alienating the minds of the sound and the enlightened, but with respect to the suppression of the abuse, more inefficient means could not be devised by the most absurd dabbler in legislation. Again he conjured the House, and particularly those who gave confidence to the ministers, under the influence of the public alarm, to pause, and to reflect on what they had already gained at the expense of the constitution. They might, it was true, bring to the decision the same overwhelming majorities; but let them recollect, that their numbers did not change the character of events—they might push that confidence to the extremity of alienating from the government the respectable, the neutral, and even the timid, who, awakened from their alarm, could not approve of this great permanent change of the law. But severe as it was, it would not have the effect of effecting that which its proposers contemplated, unless they put a dagger to the throat and wrested the pen from the hand of those who could write. Did the infliction of the punishment of banishment in France, from whence the principle had been taken, stop the publication of the pamphlets against which the punishment was devised? They were smuggled into France in defiance of the law, and contributed more than any other publications to the successful progress of the revolution. Did those who supported the present bill imagine that these libels would not be published at some neighbouring part of the continent, from whence, at a less expense of printing and paper, they would be introduced into this country with all the additional merit of the martyrdom incurred, and with all that demand from curiosity, which was certain to procure it a market? He again conjured those hon. members who had hitherto voted for the measures which had been introduced, to consider whether they had not done enough, and whether every step they were taking, they were not plunging deeper into difficulties, and separating the great mass of the people from that community of interest which ought at all times to subsist between them and their representatives.
§ Mr. Dickinson
in explanation, denied having made any allusion to the proceedings of the Star Chamber in the observations which he had felt it his duty to submit to the House.
was most anxious to ex- 1343 press his opinion upon the subject under consideration. An hon. and learned gentleman had called upon those who were not particularly or more immediately attached to administration and their measures, to say whether that House had not done enough? He would, for one, answer him: he would say, that the measures which they had already passed were such as were calculated to secure the tranquillity and peace of the country. But he thought also, that their work would be incomplete and insufficient, if they stopped here. In his opinion, much remained to be done. The measures which had been already passed were indeed, in his opinion, essential to the maintenance of our liberties, and to the salvation of the state. But he declared, that the mischiefs against which they had been before guarding, appeared to him comparatively unimportant; and that they were now dealing with that which was the main spring of all the evil; which, if they neglected to regulate, they left a mine which was working gradually and surely, and which would in time blow up both the government and the constitution of the country. They could not stop where they were. It appeared to him that the abuses of the press had grown up so as to create a monstrous degree of mischief, and such a state of danger and alarm, as to call for the instant interference of the House. Those who spoke of the freedom of the press, as now conducted, as being so necessary to the conservation of the public spirit, the happiness, and prosperity of this country, seemed to him to take an erroneous view of the subject. They argued from the effects of the press at former periods; but the press of former times was not like the press of the present day. Those hon. gentlemen who talked of a free constitution, and referred to those elmentary writers upon the constitution, who had been quoted as affirming the necessity of upholding it in the same form as it had existed before them, forgot that there was no sort of parallel between the times when those elementary and accredited writers had delivered their opinions, and the present. Mr. Justice Blackstone, among other authors, had spoken of a free press with a warmth and energy which became a constitutional lawyer; but he would venture to state that Mr. Justice Blackstone never could have contemplated the increase of the tracts and publications of that nature 1344 which they were now called upon principally to consider. Those who had lived previous to the French revolution, must recollect how very limited were the number of newspapers compared with the present day. At no very distant period there was only one daily paper, and as to tracts of that mischievous tendency with which the country had been deluged, nothing of the kind was known. The facility with which news-papers were circulated through the medium of the post, was also of modern introduction. When all these things were considered, the House would perceive that the state of the press as regarded the increase and spread of every kind of tracts could never have been imagined 50 or 60 years ago—the time at which such opinions upon the constitution as the hon. and learned gentleman had alluded to had been promulgated. Among the other excellencies of that constitution, it had ever been considered one of the foremost, that as political offences or evils arose, it provided a remedy for each of them, without investing the executive with new powers, but by the adoption of a prescribed and regular course. But had this not been the case, and had the present evil required some new method of legislation, he really thought the danger so extreme at the present moment, that he would have voted for it. He would proceed to show by historical references, that the press had at former periods, for a considerable series of years, been under far more arbitrary restrictions than those suggested by the present measure. He totally denied the doctrine that the press of this country had ever been wholly free and unquestioned. It first issued, as he might say, under the authority of the Crown; it existed as from the Crown; it was the creature and engine of the Crown. Till the time of Charles 1st the press was regulated by the Star Chamber. The odious judicature of the Star Chamber was abolished, together with the other public grievances, previous to the Commonwealth; but a very slight alleviation of the rigours which it exercised was allowed the subject, and that was done afterwards which is usually done by usurping governments—the republicans re-established the regulations with regard to the press, and in 1637, placed it on exactly the same footing on which it had stood four years before, and according to the Star Chamber decree. On the Re- 1345 storation, it was found necessary to adopt some measures to prevent the dissemination of seditious and irreligious works, to the production of which such excitement had been given by the recent violent changes in church and state; and not long after the return of Charles 2nd a statute was passed, founded on the parliamentary ordinances, and ultimately the decree of the Star Chamber before referred to. It was revived once more, and all this which was supposed to be so fundamental an article in our rights, without which our liberties could not exist, and which was said to be the most precious part of our freedom, was placed under the ancient restraints. The 1st of James 2nd, established very much the same as the former ordinances of parliament, which, as he had already said, were founded upon the regulations of the Star Chamber. Now, how stood the matter in the bill of rights? One would naturally have expected, that if the unrestrained freedom of the press formed so essential a part of those liberties which were confirmed by the bill of rights, we should find the freedom of the press recognized in the very front of them. But there was not one word to be found about it in that bill. In the thirteen articles of which it consisted, every grievance, as it was well known, was mentioned in an open and explicit manner, in order to its redress; but the freedom of the press was not noticed as being aggrieved by the existing law. He should take the liberty of telling the hon. and learned gentleman how the matter stood. Four or five years before the end of the reign of Charles 2nd it did so happen that the act for the regulation of the press expired, and was not re-enacted.—James 2nd found it very necessary for the support of the power he aimed at establishing, and accordingly it was revived for a term of seven years; consequently the Revolution, when it took place, found this act in existence, and in a very flourishing state.—He prayed the indulgence of the House—he was endeavouring to point out that at the time of the Revolution a censorship over the press was a grievance in existence, and that of the strictest kind, so that he believed a stricter never was established even under the inquisition, and it was left in existence. But it might be said, that as it was to expire in a few years, the repeal of it then was a matter of no great concern. However, how stood the fact? When the 1346 period fixed for its continuance elapsed, the statesmen of that day did not think it quite safe to suffer it to expire, and accordingly renewed it in the 3rd and 4th William 3rd and Mary, and in its full integrity, for one full year, and from thence to the end of the next session of parliament. It finally expired in the year 1694, and from that time till now the press of England had continued unrestricted. But if the hon. and learned gentleman would look, he would find that the Crown made three or four attempts to re-enact it in the same reign. He would see that in 1698 a bill for the purpose was actually brought down to this House from the House of Lords, where it had passed; that it was read a first time, but on the motion for a second reading, negatived without a division. He wished to show that at the era of the Revolution, an event which had been so greatly and justly admired, as improving and perfecting our constitution, and which had been productive of the greatest possible benefits to posterity, the House of Commons had not been so much alive to the necessity or prudence of establishing the liberty of this instrument of literature and science—and that the government did not willingly suffer it to expire at the time it had. And who were the persons composing that administration? those who, he supposed, were the natural admiration of the Whigs of the present day. He presumed, that if he were to ask those hon. gentlemen who most strenuously opposed the present measure, they could not give a better definition of a genuine Whig than by referring to those Whigs who brought about the glorious revolution as the examples. It might well be asked, then, what were the restrictions tolerated by the Whigs of that day? The first of their bills prohibited the printing or publication of any thing whatever which might tend to bring into scandal the government of the church or state, or any other individual or corporation whatever. Now, the House would see how much farther these expressions would tend to carry the offence than any thing which the present measure went to do; because, by the word government, clearly those might be intended to be meant who in any way were a part of it. [The hon. gentleman then recapitulated a variety of clauses, the principal of which enacted, that every print, engraving, and ballad, should have the printer's and engraver's 1347 name affixed, on pain of every such print, engraving, ballad, &c. so engraved and printed, being seized, and the presses, &c. broken up and destroyed; that there should none enter into the trade of a printer, until the number of master printers then in business should have become limited to twenty, and that of letter-founders to four; that the trade should be supported by all future nominations or permissions to enter it being in the name either of the archbishop of Canterbury or the bishop of London; and that the number of apprentices which a master printer might be permitted to engage should be three, and those that a master founder might employ two, and no more.] So much for the freedom of the press in king William's days. The House had heard much about a search for arms by day and night as being not only an odious, but a new and unheard of proposition. Shortly, however, after the bill which he had just described, another was introduced by which power was granted to search for books, printed secretly at any time, by warrant under the sign manual, or signed by the secretaries of state, or by the wardens of the Stationers' Company. There was an exemption, that the houses of Peers of the realm should not be searched except by special warrant under the sign manual, or by two secretaries of state; and as the bill referred to all books printed after 1662, the subjects of the realm were to be subject to that law for the space of four years. As to the rigour of punishment, for the first offence the defendant was sentenced to a suspension from exercising his trade for three years; for the second, he was not sentenced to banishment; no, but he was for ever disabled from pursuing his trade, subject to fine, imprisonment, and other corporeal punishment at the discretion of the court. He had referred to these historical facts with the view of showing what were the principles by which our ancestors had been governed. Yet gentlemen talked of there being no precedent for a measure like the proposed one. He was convinced that the root of the evil would not be arrived at by fining the author or printer with the penalties, so well as if the penalties were attached to the publisher, because the mischief was done by the publications being permitted. The mischief was done, inasmuch as it was not possible, after the publication, to put the country in the situation 1348 in which it was before. He would appeal to those around him, whether they thought society could be benefit by the cheap tracts, which spread among the lower classes, especially those employed in manufactures and agriculture, discontent and sedition. He saw gentlemen who were agriculturists; would they consider it desirable that their labourers should be assembled together in the field to hear Paine's Age of Reason read to them, or other publications, which he had seen with much disgust, such as The Black Dwarf, and tracts of a similar nature and tendency? Would gentlemen engaged in manufactures, wish to see their workmen, after the labour of the day, convened for such purposes? Surely not. If, then, it was admitted that such practices were pernicious in individual cases, it could not be contended, that they would be beneficial for the community at large; and was it not desirable to repress the circulation of those doctrines which threatened to destroy the public morals, and to endanger the public security? He begged to remind the House that it behaved them to watch narrowly the progress of an evil which threatened the destruction of property, the demoralization of every class of men, and consequences altogether dreadful; he conceived it their duty, as had been said, not to pause inactively, but to provide against that which, if not checked in time, would, ere long, overwhelm them all. Could that be good which tended to destroy the present comforts of all, and which led to consequences the most deeply to be lamented of any that could befall the human race? It was the duty of parliament—a pressing and imperative duty—to lay the axe to the root of the evil; to suppress the press—he meant the abuse of the press—an abuse which if not suppressed, would, ere long overturn every establishment in the country. No institution, however wise or valuable; no constitution, however venerable or sacred, could bear to be constantly brought into contempt, and loaded with slander by every base and desperate scribbler, who, without compunction, scattered abroad his virulent and destructive poison. One great source of the evil—and in saying so, he was aware that he differed from many persons for whose opinion he entertained the highest respect, and above all, from an hon. and dear friend near him—but to him it appeared that one great source of 1349 the evil was the extent to which the general education of the lower classes bad been carried, and which certainly tended to the establishment of a state of society not contemplated in former times. To enlarge the understanding of the people —to give them capacities for the reception of knowledge, was worse than useless, unless especial care was taken what kind of knowledge was communicated to them. Those who had a capacity for good, had also a capacity for evil. The mischief of erroneous knowledge was, that it set those men by whom it was obtained above control; and that it made them conceive themselves wiser than those around them, either because they knew more, or believed less. This was the mischief; and it behaved the legislature to take great care what issued from the press at a period when the people at large were so capable of comprehending the information—salutary or pernicious—that was imparted to them. The existing situation of things, had never before been known in any age or country. To a new case, new remedies must be applied. Parliament were adopting the best measures that were suggested to their minds. If he had any doubt on the subject, it was whether those measures would be effectual—whether they went far enough. He confessed that he was inclined to go much farther; for he always considered that it was much better to endeavour to prevent crime than to punish it when committed.
§ Mr. Abercromby
observed, that the early part of the speech of the hon. gentleman who had just sat down, was not at all applicable to the question. It might have, with propriety, been urged to a radical meeting, but not to that House, that the present age had rights and advantages which were not enjoyed by our ancestors. He was quite willing to allow that no argument in favour of the liberty of the press was to be deduced from a reference to the ancient periods to which the hon. gentleman had adverted. He had listened to the hon. gentleman with great attention; but really he had been at a loss to discover what were the hon. gentleman's intentions, till the last part of his speech, when some new lights broke in upon him, and did seem to discover something like them. After observing upon the extensive influence of the press, the hon. gentleman had proceeded to regret what the country had, 1350 with so much honour and credit to itself, done for education. But whatever were the hon. gentleman's regrets upon that head, he could assure him, and the friends of the cause might rest satisfied, that the system of general education had made far too great a progress to be ever affected by any thing the hon. gentleman could say. And as to what had been the case in former times upon which the hon. gentleman had dwelt so much in his speech, as regarded the freedom and the penalties of the press, if it proved any thing, it proved a great deal too much for the hon. gentleman's argument. If he were asked with reference to the dearest and most precious right of the people of England, he would not be so rash as to say, that he could not find out instances in our history in which it might have been violated; but neither could he help remarking, with respect to the precedents cited by the hon. gentleman that the Habeas Corpus act was not then in existence. If the practice of former years were to justify violations of liberty; if the hon. gentleman's notion of the British constitution was accurate, then all that he (Mr. Abercromby) had been taught on the subject was erroneous. He had always been taught that it was the peculiar virtue and excellence of the British constitution, that it was—not the fabric of a moment, but the result of the aggregate experience of ages. And what kind of argument was that, which, after the people had freely enjoyed a right for 100 years, turned suddenly round upon them with a reference to a period of their history when that right was subject to more restraint than at present? The hon. gentleman had for a moment talked of suppressing the press; and although he immediately corrected that phrase as an unintentional error; yet, remembering as he did, that when the noble lord opposite introduced the succession of measures which had been submitted to the consideration of parliament, he said that he was not going to deprive the country of the benefit of trial by jury, he could not help paying some attention to such successive lapses of expression, and especially as shortly after the hon. gentleman expressed his regret that ministers had not gone far enough. This, indeed, he himself had heard with regret, especially when he looked to the state of the press at this moment. He must, indeed, admit the very alarming extent and increase of publications intended 1351 to disseminate abuse of religion, and to instil principles of sedition and rebellion, and doctrines which could only end in confusion and destruction. But while he admitted this, was he bound to come to the noble lord, and the hon. gentleman's conclusion? Was it necessary to amend the laws? Before he could allow this last position, he must ask those who maintained it to prove to him that the old laws were inefficient. He wished to know what could be alleged in excuse for the supineness of the law officers of the Crown, in, not trying the old laws before they called for new enactments? Would they excuse themselves on the plea that juries, who had taken a solemn oath to administer justice, would so forget their oath and their duty as to refuse to convict, although convinced of the transgression of the law? This had not been stated, and he could not admit for a moment such a calumny on the character of juries. Would it then be maintained, that juries were so far imbued with the principles and opinions of those who libelled the government and the religion of the country, that they could not perceive or acknowledge the wicked tendency of the libels on which they were called to decide, and were disposed to take part with the libellers rather than to give verdicts against them? This likewise he entirely disbelieved. Such charges must receive some countenance from experience, before he could admit them as an excuse for legislative interference. Before he could agree to any abridgment of the freedom of discussion through the press, he would require evidence to show that juries allowed persons to escape with impunity, in refusing to convict on substantiated charges of blaspheming religion, and of libelling the king, the government, and the legislature of the country. Till he saw this done, he would not agree to take a step in framing new enactments, and would complain of the present measures of ministers as an attempt not to supply defects in the law, but in the administration of the law. Without having the most clear and satisfactory evidence that the existing laws were insufficient, he would not consent to exercise further the power of legislation. Such was the ground which he occupied in his opposition to the present bill; and to the argument which he had now used, no answer had been made on a former occasion by his hon. and learned friend 1352 the solicitor general. He would conjure the House, therefore, to pause before they gave their sanction to an arbitrary and severe enactment, supported by no necessity, and justified by no plea of sound policy. Let them consider that the law, if not strong enough before, had received additional force by bills now in progress through the House. He alluded to the Traverse-bill, by which the administration of justice, in cases of misdemeanor, would be expedited, and new terror struck into offenders by seeing punishment follow more quickly on the heels of transgression. As a part, likewise, of the same system, he might allude to the libel bill, which would be discussed to-morrow, by which a heavier penalty was to follow a second conviction for libel. If the reasons on which the ministers rested the justification of a claim for new powers had any foundation, namely, that juries would not convict, of what use was it to enact a punishment of greater severity? If ministers could not obtain a first conviction under the law as it stood, how were they to obtain a second for the application of their new penalties? He admitted that the evil complained of existed to a certain extent, but the cause of it was, as he had before stated, a want of a due enforcement of the law. It was curious to observe how publications of an objectionable nature had increased lately. If he were asked the cause of this, he should at once answer—impunity. No attempt had been made to punish the authors of these publications, and they naturally increased. There were always to be found men who were ready to put forth such publications, as well as persons who were equally ready to purchase them. But if the law had been properly enforced, the evil would at once have been put an end to. Under these considerations he felt it his duty to oppose the bill altogether.
§ Mr. Bennet
said, he could not refrain from offering a few observations on the measure now before the House, and the extraordinary manner in which it had been supported. The bill itself though objectionable in every point of view, did not appear to him nearly so alarming as the speech of the hon. member for Corfecastle. There never, he believed, had been a speech delivered within the walls of parliament of so unconstitutional a nature since the enactment of the arbitrary statutes which it described. The hon. member had collected the severe and 1353 tyrannical acts of former times, as a justification for similar measures now; but his inference, if good for any thing, would go too far. There never, he believed, had been wanting precedents for tyranny, and if precedent was to be all-sufficient, without reference to its quality, why did not the hon. member instead of merely going back to the reign of Charles the first go a little farther back, and quote the statute of Henry 8th, which arrogated to one branch of the legislature the powers of the whole, and made the king's proclamation equivalent to an act of parliament? If the hon. member wished to establish a principle of despotism at present, that period would serve him as a precedent. He confessed that he thought he saw this principle lurking behind the hon. member's speech. But the approbation of tyrannical enactments was not the only thing that surprised him, in the speech of the hon. member for Corfecastle. The hon. gentleman by his language seemed to regret the progress of education among the poor, and to consider them deteriorated as subjects, the more they were improved as men. In regretting the progress of education the hon. gentleman must likewise regret the progress of religion and morals, for without education the blessings of religion could not be understood or appreciated, and the duties of morality could not be taught or practised. The hon. gentleman himself, if he ever took a view of the state and character of the poor in his own vicinity, must have observed that the amelioration of their hearts and conduct kept pace with the improvement of their minds; and he would appeal to those gentlemen who were connected with the manufacturing districts, whether that part of the population that was best educated was not likewise the most moral and religious, and whether there had not been an evident improvement in their character since they had more generally obtained the means of instruction? It seemed to be one of the ordinations of Providence, that knowledge and moral improvement should go hand in hand; that men by becoming more extensively acquainted with their duties to God and man should be inspired with a stronger desire to perform them; that a capacity for seeing the obligations of virtue and religion should lead to their practice; and that the power of reading and understanding the scriptures should lead to 1354 greater regularity and purity of life. It had sometimes been made a matter of dispute out of doors, whether education should be given generally to the poor; and some by insidiously opposing the best schemes for propagating it, had practically decided the question in the negative; but this was the first time that he ever heard it insinuated in the House, that the education of the people was an evil, and that ignorance was the remedy to be applied. He could not hear such extraordinary and dangerous doctrines advanced in parliament without entering his protest against them. He could not believe that a qualification which rendered the poor capable of understanding their duties, and of partaking of the blessings which the Gospel offered, was a thing to be deprecated; and he little expected that a member of parliament would in his place have stated an opinion so opposite to that of our excellent and afflicted monarch, who said, "he hoped to see the day when every child in his dominions would be able to read his Bible." It would appear that the hon. member did not participate in this wish; that he was against the education of the poorer classes of society; and therefore, that he would shut them from those inlets to knowledge and to happiness which that holy book afforded. With respect to the bill the before the House, he would never agree in its policy or necessity till the existing laws had been tried. He allowed that there were both in the metropolis and in several towns in the country shops for the sale of libellous works but he contended, that the evil to be apprehended from them had been greatly exaggerated. Such offensive publications had not so extensive a sale as had been stated. It had been mentioned, that the blasphemous works published by Carlile had been extensively circulated in two of the northern counties (Lancashire and Yorkshire) where the doctrines of radical reform were prevalent, but he had heard from the very best authority that a few hundreds only had been sold in these quarters before the prosecution, and that about 1,50O copies which were purchased after the prosecution had commenced had been purchased more from curiosity than any leaning to the infidel tenets that they promulgated. He had it likewise from the best authority, that as soon as the blasphemous nature of these works was known; it inspired such disgust as to stop the sale long be- 1355 fore the law interfered. An hon. and learned gentleman opposite had on a former night maintained that the present change in the law was necessary, as the old law could not check the evil. But had the law been attempted to be executed? Where was the evidence of it? In 1818, there had not been one ex officio information. Blasphemous and seditious libels, so far from having increased after Mr. Hone's prosecution had actually diminished. They were fewer in 1818 than in the preceding year, and only increased in 1819.by the impunity allowed them. Where then was the evidence for the assertion, that the acquittal of Mr. Hone had extended the mischief, and proved that no conviction could be obtained from a jury against blasphemous libels? The acquittal of Mr. Hone proved nothing against the success of a prosecution for blasphemy, sincerely undertaken and wisely pursued. It only proved, that in that case a charge of blasphemy was brought against one who had no intention to blaspheme; that his object was merely political, and not religious; and the jury did not see why he should be adjudged guilty of a crime which nothing proved he had committed, while statesmen and divines had used the same weapons before him, without ever exposing themselves to the same accusation. In his defence it had been proved, that men of the most religious character, during the period of the reformation and of the civil war, when religion was almost a mania, had written parodies on scripture without incurring the charge of blasphemy. After animadverting on the conduct of the jury, the hon. and learned gentleman allowed himself to throw out insinuations against those who extended their protection to Mr. Hone after his acquittal. In answer to such insinuation, he would say, that there never was a fouler slander uttered against men than this—that those individuals, who aided Mr. Hone's subscription, had any intention of injuring religion by extending their protection Mr. Hone. They entered into a subscription for that individual, not because they conceived him guilty of blasphemy, but because, believing him innocent of that charge, the, detested the base and hypocritical attempt to punish political hostility under the pretext of an offence against religion, and because they conceived him to be a persecuted man, who did not merit the treatment he received. Let not, therefore, 1356 insinuations of this sort be thrown out against men who were distinguished both for the purity and integrity of their private life, and the consistency of their political character. The hon. and learned gentleman should consider well before he cast such a slur on the conduct of honourable persons whose characters he could not hear slandered without endeavouring to repel the charge. With respect to the present bill, he felt himself constrained to oppose it. He opposed the stamp duty on the publications that would be affected by it, as it would raise the price of knowledge to the poor, and those whose improvement was derived from the readings of small tracts. The great mass of the people, thanks to the system of extravagance that had been followed by their rulers, could not purchase the useful writings that now circulated among them, if subject to the duty. If the bill passed, it would be saying to the poorer classes of the community, "you ought not to possess the means of moral and religious instruction." While the stamp would thus press heavy on the poorer portion of society who read cheap, religious and moral tracts, it would be insufficient to stop publications against which it was directed, Cobbett's Register had formerly been stamped, and he believed sold triple the number with a stamp when sold for a shilling than now without one when sold for twopence. The two-penny publications besides did not circulate so quickly without a stamp as with one, when they could be transmitted through the post office. How absurd was it to stop the circulation of good tracts, merely that bad ones might not circulate along with them. It appeared to him to be as preposterous to interrupt the sale of all small publications that the sale of bad small publications might be checked, as it would be for a person to pull out his eyes, because while they admitted images of beauty and sights of pleasure, they were likewise the inlets to appearances of deformity and sights of vice. The proposed stamp-duties would equally stop the circulation of good small tracts as bad. With regard to the clause inflicting penalties before publication it was a perfect novelty in legislation. A man was called upon to enter into securities before he was even accused of any crime. A security of no less than 600l. must be entered into before a man could send his opinions to the public. He said 600l. be- 1357 cause though government required only 300l. yet the party giving collateral security must be also secured against the risk he underwent. It would ruin entirely that useful body of men who supplied cheap publications to the poor, it would throw the whole trade into the hands of the rich, and affect a privilege higher than that of trade—the privilege of every Englishman to publish what he pleased, subject only to a punishment for the abuse of the privilege to the injury of others. All the members on the other side of the House who supported this and the other restrictive measures, professed to do so from a desire to preserve the constitution. But what was the constitution? It was not the forms of the constitution that composed the constitution, but the blessings which those forms protected; in the same manner as the forms of law were not the law, or the forms of a court of justice were not the administration of justice. The constitution was only the body of rights and privileges which we enjoyed under our political establishments, and among these was pre-eminent the freedom of speech and writing. Gentlemen who professed to support the constitution, while they allowed the destruction of its most essential advantages, might live to repent the day when they drew such a distinction, and forgetting the substance adhered only to the form. This bill was the greatest invasion of the constitution, as it made it to depend upon a man's fortune whether or not he should have the right of publishing his thoughts to his countrymen.
§ Mr. Wilmot
contended, that it was unfair to regard one measure separately, for they ought to be considered collectively as measures which were made necessary by the peculiar situation of the country. —He agreed with the hon. member who had spoken last, upon the subject of education in answer to observations upon that point which had been made by the hon. member for Corfe Castle.—He never could bring himself to believe that the lower classes could receive too much education,—or that any bounds could be justifiably prescribed to the extension of knowledge and the improvement of the human understanding; he thought that they might be too little educated, and that the present period was one in which advantage had been taken of their limited means of information; he thought that as in twilight objects were sometimes seen in distorted proportions, which upon the 1358 introduction of more light, assumed their true appearance, so in what he might call "the disastrous twilight'' of education, false impressions might be received, which would fade away before the light of universal education.—It was to no purpose that the hon. member cited precedents of tyrannical usurpation; he challenged him to refer to the history of his country and to point out a period when equal necessity existed for these enactments. The tone and temper of the times in favour of the freedom of the press had become much more decided. It was only in the year 1795 that a printer had been brought and placed on his knees at the bar of the House for having infringed on its liberties by publishing the debates.—He thought that the analogy and spirit of those arguments which were employed half a century ago in recommending an excise on spirituous liquors, were peculiarly applicable to the present measure.—It was then said, "We will not so far infringe upon the personal freedom of the poor as to forbid their drinking spirituous liquors, but we will so far increase their price as to make it more difficult for the poor to injure themselves by so pernicious a practice." —Such was the object of those who voted for a stamp-duty upon those infamous publications of the cheap press, which tended to disorganize the very frame of society, and to make the poor doubly miserable by raising their expectations with no chance of sustaining them. The cheap press taught the poor to feel jealous of the authority of the House of Commons, to forsake and distrust their natural protectors, and to rebel against the dispensations of Providence. The agitators of the present day, if they do not actually bribe the populous with gold (which is not so certain), they at least cajole them with promises of a golden age consequent upon measures of Radical. Reform, they inflame their passions and awaken their selfishness, contrasting their present with what they contend is to be their future condition,—a condition incompatible with human nature, and with those immutable laws which Providence has established for the regulation of, civil society.—The friends of the people in 1794 or 5 laid it down as a principle, that those who had no property should not have the privilege of the elective franchise, because they would evidently have no common interest in the preservation of property, why not then extend the spirit 1359 of this principle to the present question? Why should a seditious pauper be allowed to circulate, at the cheapest rate, his suggestions for a change and division of property? Let his qualification be the additional price which the reader is to pay for his treasonable absurdities. With respect to the clause of banishment, it would never take place except in very flagitious cases, and what better punishment could be substituted than to expatriate the individual who was waging eternal war against the institutions of his own country. An hon. and learned gentleman had intimated a suspicion that the magistrates would no longer be disposed to give their gratuitous assistance under the complex operation of this series of measures. He begged leave totally to dissent from him. Could he suppose that the magistrates of England would require the stimulus of a fee to prompt them to their arduous and honourable duties, If such had been their temper of mind, they would have shrunk long since from their exercise, but he felt no doubt but that their temperate firmness and unyielding exertions, their devotedness to the due execution of the laws, accompanied as it was frequently not only with the abandonment of private recreations but of private duties, would characterize their future conduct as they had ennobled their past conduct. The honourable gentleman, after other observations, concluded by saying, that it was the duty of the House to interfere, to protect the poor from delusion and falsehood.—He was a friend to the liberty of the press, and in that character he thought it would be best preserved by passing this bill to stem the torrent of sedition and blasphemy which deluged the country. He remembered some lines of Cowper, which well described the balance advantages and dangers of a free press.—Addressing the press, he says:By thee, Religion, Liberty, and Laws,Exert their influence and advance their cause;By thee worse plagues than Pharaoh's land hefel,Diffus'd make Earth the vestibule of Hell.Thou fountain at which drink the good and wise;Thou ever bubbling source of endless lies;Like Eden's dread probationary tree,Knowledge of good and evil is from thee.It was to give full force to the cause of religion, liberty and law,—it was to prevent this once happy and virtuous country from†1360 fulfilling the denunciation of the poet,—it was to check that source of sedition and blasphemy whose contaminating waters were spreading around their pollution, that he gave his vote in support of the measure.
§ Mr. Alderman Waithman
considered the present bills as destructive of the liberty of the press, and consequently dangerous to the other liberties of the country. The hon. member for Corfe-Castle had shown what sort of system this bill formed part of, by going back to tyrannical times for his precedents. An hon. and learned gentleman had accused those who aided the subscription to Mr. Hone as supporters of blasphemy. He was not in the House at the time when this charge was made, otherwise he would have defended himself and his friends against it. Imputations were not only thrown out against Mr. Hone and his friends, but against the jury by whom he was acquitted. Now Mr. Hone was acquitted, not because the jury wished to sanction blasphemy, but because they conceived that the political squib which was charged with blasphemy was not published for the purpose of reviling religion. He (Mr. Waithman) was in court during the trial, and having witnessed the ability, the fortitude, and the eloquence, with which Mr. Hone defended himself, and conceiving him persecuted unjustly, for an offence against religion, while he had only a political object in view, he was among the foremost to promote a subscription for him and his family. The present measures were subversive of the Bill of Rights, and by them the right of petition was also destroyed. The liberty of speech being taken from the subject, the present bill was an attempt to deprive him of the liberty of the press. But he would ask why government had suffered all those obnoxious publications to go on without interruption for so long a time, if it was not to form an excuse for passing these measures? It had been said, he could not tell whether truly, that some of the individuals who issued those publications actually had the sanction of the government in publishing them. He could not say he knew the fact; but some of these publications were of a nature so abominable, that several respectable individuals came to him and expressed their confidence that they must have the sanction of government, or the publishers would never have dared to proceed such lengths; and it had actually 1361 occurred that the printers and publishers of them had been suffered to pass with impunity, while the unwary persons who retailed them were severely punished. The exemplary punishment inflicted on Carlile, one of the printers of those daring publications, in consequence of the verdict of a Middlesex jury, was a proof that the law, as it at present stood, was sufficiently powerful for the chastisement of persons convicted of similar crimes, without the necessity of enacting such extra-ordinary measures, which so far from con-fining their effects to the guilty, would involve the innocent, the honest and industrious, and prove actually ruinous to the trade of printing and bookselling. He had seen the strong and reasonable statement made in the resolutions of a most respectable community of printers and booksellers, at the head of which was the name of Mr. Butterworth, formerly a member of that House; and from those resolutions it was clearly shown, that if this bill should pass without very considerable modification, that trade must be absolutely ruined. The most innocent member of that community with the purest intentions, and with all the caution he could exert, would be constantly liable to fall under the severities of this bill, and be banished to another country, where he could not exert his professional talents for the maintenance of his family. The House had been told, that even the whigs, who effected the revolution, had sactioned the adoption of similar measures in that day. But to this he would answer, that however necessary such a measure might have been then, it was by no means so at this time. He would ask, why were laws passing year after year, infringing on the principles of the constitution, but none passed to strengthen it and secure the lights of the people? To talk of the bill of rights was a subject of jocularity and clamorous ridicule to the gentlemen on the treasury side of the House. Such a bill as the present was even in direct opposition to the principles laid down by Blackstone himself, who was notoriously a court lawyer, but who declared that no one ought to be called upon to answer for the publication of any work until it had been declared criminal by a jury. Every rational man would be led to conclude, that the more enlightened the country became, the more extensive should be the freedom of discussion on political subjects, and the rights of the people to 1362 canvass their grievances; but according to the argument of an honourable gentleman who sat before him, the direct contrary principle ought to obtain. But it was quite too much to say a measure of this kind was called for by any thing in the circumstances of the times. It would operate not only as a restraint on all political discussion, but it would deter men of genius from exerting their talents for the extension of knowledge, for fear of uttering some sentiments or principles which might be construed into sedition, a term which it did not define, and which, like the narrow limits between day and night, could not be accurately designated. A man might be convicted of sedition by one jury, and acquitted by another upon the same publication. Was it to be supposed the people of this once free country could bear such a bill?—or was such a measure the proper return to those who had fought the battles of their country, and effected the security of those who now sought to deprive them of those rights, for the defence and security of which they had so valiantly and successfully contended? Were they to be put down by this system of severities—while, as the noble lord said, it was not in contemplation to propose any measure whatever for their relief? But he was perfectly confident that such acts, calculated to suppress public opinion could not succeed, and he should strenuously oppose this bill in every stage, because he believed the existing laws of the country amply sufficient for every legitimate purpose this bill could be intended to effect.
§ Dr. Phillimore
observed, that the speeches of several hon. friends of his had left little further to be urged in support of the measures before the House. The speech of his right hon. friend, the member for the university of Dublin, especially, had shed such intensity of light upon the subject, that he could not conceive how the wisdom of the measures could be questioned, or how their necessity could be denied. He was anxious, however, to explain his reasons for the votes he gave upon all those measures. He was impelled to speak of them all, because it had been repeatedly stated in the course of the night, that those measures annihilated the liberty of petitioning, and subverted the liberties of the country. But those measures, in his opinion, were so far from annihilating the liberty of petitioning, and subverting the liberties of the 1363 country, that they were required and calculated to protect our liberties, and to hand them down unimpaired to posterity. The measures now passing through parliament were of a two-fold nature. One part went to divest the disturbed part of the community of arms. The other part included this measure and the bill which regulated the right of petitioning. The first was founded in necessity, and ought to be limited in duration. But this measure was of a different nature. It grew out of an inveterate evil. He did not undervalue the right of petitioning, and the liberty of the press. He knew the right of the people to petition was one upon which the civil liberties of the country depended. He thought the liberty of the press a privilege still more sacred, and that no free state could exist without it. He admitted also the advantages of educating the lower orders of the people, and that the more the people were educated, the greater would be the benefits derived by the country. But in supporting those rights, gentlemen seemed to have forgotten that there were other principles to be maintained indispensable to the conservation of those rights, and of the peace and security of the country. The exercise of those rights had been used as a means of attack on the constitution itself, calculated to subvert its principles, and excite against it the most destructive warfare. His hon. friend, the member for Shrewsbury, had asserted, that the circulation of blasphemous libels was not extensive, and merely confined to local districts; but he (Dr. P.) would say, that at this very moment the most industrious exertions were on foot to circulate such publications so destructive to the happiness of mankind in this life and hereafter. The fact came home to every man's observation. He did not refer to the documents laid on the table to show the necessity for adopting those measures as his sole authority upon this subject, but he referred to them merely in aid of the notoriety of those evils which existed. He would particularly refer, however, to the last letter which closed the correspondence with his majesty's government upon those subjects, which stated, that fifteen of the most populous towns in a northern district were prepared for a simultaneous rising on a particular day; and that exertions were made to put seditious and blasphemous publications into the hands of servants in large families, in 1364 order to seduce them to become accomplices in the guilt of those who used such contrivances; and the House would recollect, that this statement was corroborated by the report of the grand jury for the county of Chester. And when he put the House in mind of the circulation of those mischievous pamphlets, he hoped they would see the indispensable necessity of adopting the present bill. But he did not found his conviction solely upon those papers. He considered them only as auxiliary to the experience and observation of every member of that House. In almost every part of the country attempts were made to sap the principles of religion: to ridicule and revile those sacred principles of faith and morality on which virtue and happiness were founded; to perplex and destroy the sound sentiments and salutary habits of worshipping God and obeying the king. Were they to look upon transactions like those with stoical apathy? They were told that the measures before them were encroachments upon the constitution. He would yield to none in admiration of our constitution, or in zeal for its preservation in purity and vigour. It was a constitution, transmitted to us by our ancestors. It was the result of wisdom and experience; it was adapted to the various circumstances of society, and the various emergencies of time. Whilst it guaranteed our rights it protected our property and our persons. The constitution of this country was not formed in a day, nor was it the work of any particular period; it was the result of long practical experience: it enabled the parliament to resist any attempts of the people, or any encroachments of the Crown for its destruction: because it contained in itself the remedy for those evils: arising from the changes of manners which in course of time take place in every country. He could by no means agree to the description of it given by his hon. friend the member for Shrewsbury. When gentlemen talked of liberty, they must speak of it under some rational limitations. If men under the pretence of the liberty of the press, published blasphemies, or libelled their neighbours—if under the pretence of discussing grievances, or promoting petitions, they excited seditious tumults, they must be restrained within proper bounds. Civil liberty would cease to exist without such restraints; in civilised life such restraints must be established as times and circumstances required. In 1365 fact, restraints were necessary to the protection of liberty in its most desirable state. These measures were not designed to put down the reasonable liberty of the people, but to put down those proceedings which would go to destroy liberty; and in voting for them he felt that he was not injuring, but protecting liberty. He should not detain the House longer on this point, but he could not sit down without adverting to another assertion that had been made by several gentlemen on the subject of banishment in this case, as a novelty unknown to our laws. He would contend that the whole history of our laws abounded with instances of this mode of punishment. He would ask, whether, from our Saxon ancestors down to the present day, there was any punishment more familiar to our history than banishment? The hon. member for Durham might laugh, but he could prove that it was so. Magna Charta contained a clause, that none should be outlawed or banished without the judgment of his peers. Here then, in the great charter of our liberties, was the punishment of banishment recognized. Bracton, than whom there was no higher authority, had a distinct chapter upon the subject of outlawry or banishment, in the 39th of Elizabeth, there was a law passed which enacted, that "such rogues as were dangerous to the inferior people should be banished." Here was the punishment pointed out, and the description of persons to whom it was to be applied. Who were to be banished? Such rogues as were dangerous to the inferior people. What was the punishment for rogues that were dangerous to the inferior people?—Banishment. It was a punishment peculiarly applicable to those persons who blasphemed God and libelled the King.—Would they transport such persons to our colonies, to inoculate them with blasphemy and sedition! These observations he had felt himself called upon to make in order to repel the assertion that there was nothing in our history and nothing in our law to sanction such a punishment. Upon the whole he considered the measures now in progress to be calculated for the security of our most invaluable rights, for the maintenance of those institutions which made us a great and glorious people, and for the preservation of our social state, and all the comforts and happiness we enjoyed.
§ Mr. J. Wharton
said, he wished to put a question to the noble lord. If a bookselling house, consisting of six partners, 1366 were to be convicted a second time of publishing a seditious libel, would the whole firm be banished, or would the senior partner be selected, or any other partner?
§ The House divided on the question, "That the Speaker do now leave the chair:"—Ayes, 222; Noes, 76.
|List of the Minority|
|Abercrombie, hon. J.||Maberly, John|
|Althorp, viscount||Maberly, W. L.|
|Burton, R. C.||Macleod, R.|
|Burdett, sir F.||Macdonald, James|
|Benett, John||Martin, John|
|Barnett, James||Moore, Peter|
|Bernal, Ralph||Ord, W.|
|Birch, Joseph||Pringle, J.|
|Brougham, Henry||Palmer, C. F.|
|Burrell, hon. P. D.||Pares, Thos.|
|Byng, George,||Parnell, sir H.|
|Calcraft, John||Philips, G.|
|Calvert, C.||Philips, G. Jun.|
|Cavendish, lord G.||Primrose, hon. F.|
|Clifton, viscount||Price, Robt.|
|De Crespigny, sir W.||Ricardo, David|
|Duncannon, viscount||Robarts, A.|
|Ebrington, viscount||Russell, lord G. W.|
|Ellice, E.||Russell, lord John|
|Fleming, John||Rumbold C.|
|Farrand, R.||Scarlett, James|
|Fazakerly, N.||Scudamore, R.|
|Fitzgerald, lord w.||Sefton, earl of|
|Fitzroy, lord C.||Smith, hon. R.|
|Gaskell, Benjamin||Smith, John|
|Grant, J. P.||Smith, W.|
|Graham Sandford||Stewart, W.|
|Griffiths, J. W.||Stanley, lord|
|Hamilton, lord A.||Tavistock, marquis|
|Harvey, D. W.||Taylor, M. A.|
|Hill, lord A.||Thorp, alderman|
|Howorth, H.||Tierney, rt. hon. G.|
|Hume, J.||Waithman, alderman|
|Kennedy, T. F.||Whitbread, W. H.|
|Kinnaird, hon. D.||Wilkins Walter.|
|Lamb, hon. G.||Wilson, sir Robert|
|Lambton, John G.||TELLERS|
|Lemon, sir W.||Bennet, hon. H. G.|
|Longman, G.||Graham, J. R. G.|
§ The House then resolved itself into a committee. On the clause requiring sureties from persons printing small political publications,
rose to object to the extreme unreasonableness and hardship of obliging every printer of a paper containing less than two sheets, or that should be sold for less than sixpence, not only to enter into a recognizance himself in the sum of three hundred pounds, but also to find two or three sufficient sureties to enter into a recognizance for the like sum, that he should not publish a libel. He had no objection to the clause as far as 1367 related to the printer himself, but he must I strongly object to his being obliged to find two or three sufficient sureties, because it imposed a condition upon printers with which many of them would, be unable to comply, and with which, unless they did comply, their ruin must be the inevitable consequence, because they would be incapacitated to continue that calling by which they maintained themselves and their families. By far the most numerous class of printers commenced business on a very small scale. They were journeymen, whose savings enabled them to purchase a few types, and set up for themselves. They added to those types from time to time out of the profits of their industry, and at length perhaps succeeded in acquiring a competence. All those who were in the earlier stages of this progress, would be incapable of giving the securities required, for this obvious reason; that though a man might be disposed to become security for another, as far as related to his probity and integrity, yet who would take up on him-self the responsibility that a printer should never commit an error in judgment, but constantly exercise a sound discretion, on so ticklish a point as what is and what is not libel,—a point upon which gentlemen learned in the law are not always agreed, and on which juries frequently differ,,—a London jury having decided a publication to be no libel, and an Exeter jury having afterwards found by their verdict the same publication to be a libel. The effect therefore of this clause would be, to throw all the printing business into the hands of a few opulent men, who were well known to possess the means of paying any fine that might be imposed upon them, and consequently would have no difficulty in finding the sureties required. Thus the bill would operate most unequally and unjustly; for it would be no hardship whatever on the wealthy class of printers, while it would subject their poorer brethren to ruinous disabilities, incapacitate them from continuing their business, and leave them no alternative, after they had exhausted the money arising from the sale of their press and types, but a gaol or the workhouse. This clause is an infringement of the acknowledged right of every subject in a free state, to employ his industry and talents in such manner as he considers most beneficial to his own interests. It is also inconsistent with the great principle of British legislation, that every man is considered innocent, till he has been proved 1368 to be guilty; for by this clause a man who has committed no crime, and who probably never would have committed any crime, is subjected to a most severe as well as unmerited punishment, that of being deprived of his means of livelihood, on the presumption that, he may by possibility commit some crime hereafter. The consequence of this measure, as affecting the general interests of literature and the arts, are by no means inconsiderable. It is owing to the competition arising from the number of printers, that the price of printing is kept down to as low a rate as can be possibly afforded. Diminish that competition, and the price will soon be raised.—Even now, books are printed in foreign countries, the duty of four guineas per hundred weight paid upon them on importation, and sold here to advantage. Many gentlemen know the great number of the Delphin edition of the classics, printed at Paris in Baskerville's types, that were circulated in this country. An English Common Prayer book was printed by Didot at Paris, for the express purpose of being sold here; and lord Byron's works have lately been printed there, and late sold here, cheaper than they can be purchased at the original publishers. If this clause passes, this evil will be aggravated, and the art of printing be transferred from this country to foreigners. Literature also will be discouraged; for booksellers will no longer venture to give that liberal remuneration to writers of talent for the copy-right of their works which they have hitherto done; and men of genius must look to other countries for that remuneration which they will be unable to find here Mr. Hume, a writer by no means unfavourable to arbitrary power, commenting upon some despotic proclamations issued, and monopolies granted, in the early part of the reign of queen Elizabeth, observes, that had she continued to pursue the same system, wealth, commerce, and the arts, which have now made this country their favourite abode, would have been as much strangers here, as they are in the dominions of the emperor of Morocco; and if this House legislates in the same spirit of restriction and monopoly, their measures will soon produce the same effects. He concluded by moving as an amendment, that the words "together with two or three sufficient sureties," be left out of the clause.
§ Mr. Alderman Waithman
supported the amendment, and said, that nine out§1369 of ten of the printers would not have got into business under such restrictions. How, for instance, could Dr. Franklin have got into business?
§ Mr. W. Smith
said, that under the bill as it stood, all accounts of proceedings affecting the arts and sciences, agriculture, &c. would be prohibited, except under all the burthens and restrictions it imposed.
§ Mr. R. Wharton
said, it had been assumed that the bill was to affect all printers: this was not the fact. That it would affect those who with small means, and no character to lose, and no stake in the common-weal, was true. This he deemed to be a good. All public questions would still be discussed, but in a more temperate and decent manner.
§ Mr. W. Smith
wished to know whether it was really intended to suppress all publications containing accounts of events? For instance, there was a publication on a sheet or half sheet, containing an account of the distress of the Scilly Isles, widely circulated for the purposes of charity.
The Attorney General
said, that no publications would be affected that were not exposed for sale; and the words describing papers containing news, intelligence, and occurrences, being borrowed from the newspaper act, all those papers described by the hon. gentleman had in reality been always newspapers. The only additional hardship persons printing such papers were now subjected to was, that they must apply to a printer who had entered into recognizances. It had been said by an hon, member, that it was a new principle of our law to call on persons for securities against crimes with which they had been charged. Now, not only were there in the excise laws many instances similar to the present bill, but persons possessing boats or cutters of a certain description, which were supposed to give facilities for smuggling, were required to find bondsmen that they should not be employed in smuggling transactions. But there was a statute of Edward 6th, which had continued till George 2nd, when it was sanctioned and extended, which required all persons keeping alehouses to give surety for the keeping of order in their houses. The statute of Edward 6th required them to give their recognizances—the statute of Geo. 2nd required them to find two other sureties. He might mention the cases in the revenue laws, but this, which had so long formed a part of 1370 our law, was a stronger instance. The amendment would entirely neutralize the clause. It was not too much to say, when so much was trusted to the discretion of a printer, that he should be able to find two or three friends who had some confidence in his prudence.
§ Mr. J. Smith
said, that a very large class of publications, entirely innoxious, would be affected by the law. Play-bills contained occurrences, and fell under the bill. Thousands of works, published at a few pence, would be loaded with this 4d. duty.
Mr. A. Wright
was afraid the bill would affect some works published in the nature of Encyclopædias, in which articles on matters of church and state, merely historical, were inserted in some numbers.
asked, whether the apprehension was, that the first or the second part of the bill would apply to these works? If to the second, there could be no difficulty in the printers of such works finding securities as to the penalties applying to them. If the first was supposed to apply, viz. the stamp, the remedy was to bring them out monthly, or in numbers of a price above 6d. When so many modes were open to printers of such works to conform to the law, it was not too much to expect that they should make some effort so to regulate their business, that the law should not be inoperative against that immoral part of the press, against which none had spoken out more plainly than the booksellers themselves. The House was obliged to do something, though perhaps their measure would not be effectual; for instance, a monthly publication might be carried on so blasphemous and treasonable as to be a very serious evil, but yet the government did not wish to cramp the legitimate press too much. As to the notion that in this country of capital, and especially in London, a monopoly could be created by requiring sureties from the printers to the amount of 3001, it was extravagant. It had been shown too, that the enactment was consistent with the very spirit of our laws [a laugh]; he meant in cases where the morals of the country were endangered by any abuses.
said, he was in hope, when the attorney-general rose, that he would have satisfied the hon. members for Nor-which and Oxford, by stating his intentions to introduce certain exemptions into the bill, which would have removed their objections to it. He was the more confident 1371 in this expectation, having received an assurance to that effect from the solicitor-general, to whom he had represented, that the bill, as at present worded, would materially check, if not entirely stop, all the sources of commercial intelligence; for that every price current, every account of the state of the funds, of the course of foreign exchanges, every shipping list, every packet list, in short, every paper not containing two sheets, or printed oftener than once a month, would be subject to a stamp duty of four-pence. The hon. and learned gentleman, the attorney-general, had stated that this bill would tax nothing that was not before taxed; and this assertion made it necessary for him to repeat to the committee, what he had before mentioned to the solicitor-general, that the words of this bill were copied from the act passed three years ago, for regulating the stamp duties in Ireland, and that, under that act, a Mr. Hammer-ton of the Custom-house at Dublin, who had for some years published a list of vessels that arrived at, and sailed from the different ports of Ireland, was called upon to pay the newspaper stamp duty, and in consequence had been obliged to discontinue the publication altogether. He believed this was not the intention of his majesty's ministers; but tax-gatherers and informers would enforce the law according to its strict letter, and therefore the hon. and learned gentleman, the solicitor-general, had promised him to introduce such a clause of exemption as should prevent the law from being wrested to purposes which were not contemplated by his majesty's ministers.—The hon. member then proceeded to state, that the principal object for which he rose was, to recall the attention of the committee to the amendment he had proposed, and which he regretted to find was to be resisted. He believed that those who framed this bill, had their minds so intent upon the great object of repressing seditious and blasphemous libels, that they had not sufficiently adverted to the operation of their own measure in other respects. He was ready to concur in all just and necessary regulations for putting down those publications, although he thought the evil arising from them had been much exaggerated, and that the great mass of our fellow-subjects were firmly attached to the government under which they were born, and the religion in which they were bred; but he could not go the length of 1372 punishing the innocent, in order to impose enactments, which, in his opinion, were no additional guards against the machinations of the guilty. He wished to know why the same security which was thought sufficient in the case of all other crimes, those on which the safety of the state, and the peace, property, and lives of individuals depended, the responsibility of the party himself, and his being amenable to the injured laws of his country, was not sufficient in the case of libel? He could not consent to super add the condition required by the clause now under consideration, with which, in many cases, individuals would find it impossible to comply, and their non-compliance with which would expose them to utter ruin, by incapacitating them from continuing to exercise their calling for the maintenance of themselves and their families. He should therefore persist in taking the sense of the committee on his amendment.
The Solicitor General
said, the suggestion of the hon. member respecting the exchange and shipping lists had been attended to, as an amendment was to be introduced to exempt them. The present bill was, however, in that part copied from the newspaper act, and included no papers of that kind which were not before subject to duty. As to the practice of requiring sureties, it was necessary to inquire what was the old law of the country, which had been eulogized by all constitutional writers, from sir E. Coke to sir W. Blackstone, and which had been recognized in Magna Charta, both as granted by king John, and as confirmed by Henry 3rd. No person was allowed to be in this country out of prison, who could not find a certain number of persons to be responsible for his good behaviour. This was a law enacted by a monarch who had never been mentioned but with eulogy,—Alfred. This law having been recognized in the charter, and in the confirmation of the charter, had only become obsolete through the change of circumstances in the country. He did not mention it as a law now generally applicable; but he deduced from it this,—that when a general law to such an extent had been eulogised by our best constitutional writers,—when the principle had been sanctioned in the case of the keepers of ale-houses, though with respect to the people at large the necessity which dictated the general law had ceased —that in a case in which the morals of the country were much more seriously affected 1373 than by ale-houses, such an enactment as that now proposed was not hostile to the principles of the constitution. Again, as to smuggling, persons gave securities not because they had been guilty of, but because they had facilities for committing breaches of the law. Could any one doubt that the evil which the House now proposed to check, the growth of blasphemy and sedition, was of infinitely greater importance than disturbances in ale-houses? Or was it too much that printers should be called upon to give a small security when the seditious writers were boasting, that by the press, as at present conducted, they could overthrow the laws, religion, and institutions of the country?
§ Sir W. De Crespigny
said, that if this clause stood, and the noble lord should come to any unfortunate termination of his career, this bill would go to exclude the public from the benefit of his last dying speech and confession.
§ Mr. T. Wilson
said, that he agreed with much of what had fallen from Mr. Marryat, and that in a future stage, he should move an amendment, for the purpose of exempting the class of publications alluded to by that hon. gentleman.
§ The committee then divided on Mr. Marryat's amendment: Ayes, 82; Noes, 202; Majority, 120. On the motion that the clause itself stand part of the bill,
§ Mr. Denman
said, that the case at Manchester, which had been referred to as sufficient reason for this clause, only proved that the magistrates had endeavoured to establish such a right as was now to be given to them, but had failed. Was the House, then, prepared to alter the law of the land merely to meet the view of those magistrates? The term "good behaviour" was extremely vague and indefinite, and the recognizance to that effect was the more unjust because it was unnecessary, as the persons who would be called to give it had already in the first instance given security of a pecuniary nature sufficient to answer all reasonable purposes.
§ Lord A. Hamilton
remarked, that the clause was the more cruel, as it required the recognizance, not of a person convicted, but of one charged with a libel, though it might turn out that the charge was malicious or groundless.
§ The committee then divided: Aves, 129; Noes, 9; Majority, 120. In the clause respecting persons suing, "in the 1374 name" of the attorney-general, Mr. Denman, to prevent the abuse of the power thereby given, moved the insertion of the words, "and by the authority." After a short discussion, in which the attorney and solicitor-general, Mr. Primrose, and Mr. V. Blake joined, the amendment was negatived without a division. The bill having been gone through, two new clauses were added on the motion of the attorney-general; the one to enable sureties to withdraw their recognizances on giving 20 days notice to the commissioners; the other to provide that nothing in the act should extend to the publication of the votes of the House, of state papers, of books for education, of invoices, &c. The House then resumed.