having moved the reading of the order of the day for the going into a comtee on the Seizure of Arms bill,
§ Mr. Lambton
observed, that adhering to the declaration which he had made on a former occasion, of the tranquillity of the county of Durham, and of the absence of all necessity, in that county at least, for the measures in the progress of enactment by the legislature—having already stated that the report of arms being found in the possession of the persons who attended the meeting at Newcastle was wholly groundless—having since received from the clerk of the peace of the county of Durham a direct contradiction of an extraordinary statement respecting that county, contained in an article in a ministerial news-§1125 paper under the head of "State of the Country"—he felt anxious, although the conviction that he could have no chance with the noble lord would prevent him from taking the sense of the House on the question, to record his opinion of the bill on the Journals of Parliament; and he should therefore move that it be an instruction to the committee that the provisions of the said bill should not extend to the county of Durham.
§ Mr. W. Powlett
could not concur in the view of the state of the county of Durham taken by his hon. colleague. At a meeting of 38 magistrates and other principal inhabitants of the county of Durham, 36 expressed their opinion of the necessity of placing the yeomanry in that county on permanent duty. A great portion of the population of that county, although suffering great distress, certainly bore it with exemplary temper and forbearance; but from all the means of information of which he had been able to avail himself, he was persuaded that there nevertheless did exist in that county considerable disaffection.
§ The motion was negatived.
§ Mr. Birch
rose to make a similar proposition with respect to Nottingham. He contended that there had been no disturbances in the county of Nottingham sufficient to warrant the extension to that county of the operation of the bill. Unquestionably much distress existed in Nottingham. Of 10,854 frames, no fewer than 3,751 were unemployed; so that a great portion of the population were almost starving. Had the harsh measures now before parliament any tendency to ameliorate the condition of the poor people thus left destitute? He was persuaded that had the noble lord acceded to the motion of his honourable friend, for an inquiry into the existing distresses of the country—had he even gone so far as to show his feeling and the feeling of parliament for those distresses, more good Would have been effected, than by all the gagging bills that could be devised. Instead of which, however, the present bill was urged, with the denunciation which its title expressed against all the "disturbed counties." Now as Nottingham was not disturbed, he should move, that it be an instruction to the committee, that the provisions of the bill should not extend to the town and county of the town of Nottingham.
felt it unnecessary to 1126 trouble the House at any length after what had fallen from his worthy colleague; but in justice to his constituents, he was bound to say, that Nottingham was in a state of perfect tranquillity; for which the noble lord and the country ought to be thankful to the population, considering all the irritating circumstances to which they had been subjected. In one parish, no less than a thousand persons were unemployed. Nevertheless they bore their sufferings with the utmost fortitude. He supported his honourable colleague's motion, not only because he did not conceive that the people of Nottingham deserved any such legal visitation; but also because he thought the bill under consideration one of the most arbitrary and unjust measures that ever emanated from a legislature. What had been the consequence of similar bills in Ireland, that misguided country, blest by Providence, but curst by man, but to open the door to the greatest oppression, and to rouse the most fiery passions of hatred and revenge. The atrocities perpetrated in that country under such an act as this, had been well described by an hon. member last night;—they were such as no man could contemplate without horror. He protested against the measure in toto; and he would say in the words of a gallant general, that if ever his house was attacked in consequence of this act, he should think it only consistent with his duty and his right, feeling as an Englishman, to resist the assailants.
§ Mr. Denman
concurred in the assertion, that there was not the slightest manifestation of disaffection or disloyalty at Nottingham. He begged leave to state for the information of ministers, with respect to the town of Nottingham, that although the lord lieutenant of the county did at one period propose the adoption of measures indicative of a suspicion of disaffection, he believed that noble duke was now perfectly satisfied that his apprehensions were unfounded. The more reports of disturbance and disaffection were inquired into, the more they were proved to be groundless.
§ Mr. R. Martin
, on perusing the bill, felt convinced that it contained nothing which could affect the poor man's rights, or property, except he possessed fire-arms, for which he could have no use. Had the bill been one for the protection of game, the gentlemen opposite would not have objected to it.
§ The motion was negatived.1127
§ Mr. Protheroe
apologized for taking that opportunity of addressing the House on the state of the country and the new measures, as he had been prevented by family indisposition from attending to deliver his sentiments earlier in these discussions. That the country was in an alarming state no one had ventured to deny, from whatever cause its danger originated He was convinced, not only by the papers on the table, but by information, obtained from other quarters, that there did exist a widely spread conspiracy for changing the constitution of the country. He believed that many of those persons who had recently been actively engaged in the proceedings to which he alluded, thought that that at which they aimed would be an improvement of the constitution; but he also believed that they were misled, and goaded on by leaders who hoped to raise themselves in the confusion of a revolution. For this purpose, those leaders endeavoured to eradicate every religious principle from their minds, to draw closer the ties that united the infidel to the enemy of order, and direct the combined powers of blasphemy and sedition against the government and the institutions of the country. A great change to the worse had taken place in the morals and opinions of the people over the manufacturing districts; so great indeed as to render it doubtful, whether the diffusion of education, by which their minds had been opened to the introduction of mischievous as well as good principles, had been more a blessing or otherwise. Disaffection prevailed not only among those who were suffering from want, but those who enjoyed a competence; and that disaffection had been nourished by speeches at public meetings, by seditious publications and itinerant orators. It was consolatory, however, to reflect, that the operation of these machinations was confined to particular districts, and that even in those districts the moral and decent feeling of the majority of the people revolted against them. Nevertheless no man acquainted with the state of the manufacturing districts, but must allow that it was a state of great danger.—With respect, however, to the enactment in the bill which authorized the search for arms, by night, he considered it as utterly inconsistent with freedom, and with the existence of civilized society.
The Hon. T. W. Anson
, after apologizing for the length at which he must trespass on the attention of the House, trusted he need not say, that it was with feelings of the deepest regret he had seen the necessity which existed for calling parliament together, arising from the distresses which prevailed in many parts of the country, and the discontents which they had unfortunately produced. He might, perhaps, add to these causes, the efforts of a few evil-disposed persons, who were ever to be found ready to take advantage of such a state of things, for the furtherance of their own views. There was one subject connected with these considerations, but which he did not wish at present again to introduce into that House—the Manchester meeting—of which he would observe, that his votes had already expressed his own opinion. He could not, however, but regret, that into the nature and consequences of a transaction, unprecedented in the history of this country, and unparalleled in the annals of such meetings, the House had determined not to inquire; nor could he at the same time refrain from declaring, that hitherto he had heard no reason whatever assigned for the denial of an investigation into the occurrences of a day which would for ever be recorded in history as one on which the blood of his majesty's subjects had been wantonly and uselessly shed. Although he allowed that there was cause for alarm, he expressed his conviction that that cause had been greatly exaggerated, for the purpose of obtaining the concurrence of parliament in measures hostile to the freedom, and repugnant to the feelings of Englishmen, If there could be one of those measures more repugnant than another to a free and high-spirited people, such as the English were, it was this. The principles upon which it was founded, and the temper in which it was framed, appeared to him to be so much at variance with the free spirit of their venerated constitution, and so contrary to that undoubted right which the subjects of this country had ever possessed—the right of retaining arms for the defence of themselves, their families, and property—that he could not look upon it without loudly expressing his disapprobation and regret. The more he did look at it, the more he was amazed at the extraordinary powers given to one man, to authorize the entry of others into the house of any individual in the dead of 1129 night, for the avowed purpose of seizing his arms. The oath of a single man before a magistrate, of his belief as to the possession of arms by a third party, and as to the intentions of that party in keeping them, was to be the ground of this arbitrary proceeding! He, for his own part, did not hesitate to declare his firm opinion that, referring to the papers before the House, out of which this bill was said to have arisen, the evidence there given was by no means sufficient to justify its enactment; and certainly, if it passed into a law, it would be one of the most severe measures ever determined upon. With regard to the names of the counties to be inserted in the bill, there were many which there was no pretence for including in its provisions. The House had that night heard an hon. member for the county of Durham, and the hon. members for Nottinghamshire, disclaim, on the part of their constituents, any necessity for such a measure. On a former day the hon. member for Northumberland had said, that he did not think it was necessary that the bill should be extended to that district; and as for his own county, it was well known never to have entertained even a wish for the presence of those meetings which were contemplated by another of those measures. Was it just, then, that such counties should be branded with the same stigma of sedition? Was it proper that the punishment should be inflicted upon them also? Was it fitting that, because this or that particular district was considered to require the application of a coercive system, that system should be applied to the whole country? Because there might be a single manufacturing town in a county; and that town might happen to be in distress, was it fitting that the whole county should be subjected to the operation of such a law? It was a law founded on a principle which no man had ever before dared to assert—a principle from which every lover of freedom turned with horror and disgust. It was not, he would here remark, this measure only which he felt it his duty to oppose; he had viewed with sentiments of deep indignation the whole series of the proposed measures. He had seen with abhorrence the liberties of the people so entirely disregarded. One party of the friends of the measures, appeared to think, that to pass these coercive bills was to do that which was essentially necessary for the safety of the country; the other allowed, that to 1130 adopt them, was to give up privileges which they had long enjoyed. Here certainly was an immense discrepancy of opinion. Most of those who supported the measures were also the supporters of the government of the country—that is, of his majesty's ministers. To render that support effective, they had themselves created the alarm which they were now so anxious to allay. He really believed, that it was the wish of those persons to make his majesty's ministers as independent of the people, as in his opinion they already were of that House. While he declared this, he must assure hon. gentleman, on the other side, that in what he had said, party feeling had been entirely laid aside; out he would wish to ask them, whether the taking away of the right of petition and the seizure of arms, were not more daring attacks on the constitution than were ever before attempted against it? Had the government consulted the interests of the state, by restoring confidence to the minds of the people, by arming them against the bugbear called radical reform, by measures of conciliation and protection; and had such measures been sooner adopted, the country would not now have been in that situation in which they found it.— Had that been the case, the people would have borne their distresses with that patient fortitude for which they were formerly remarkable. The measures now recommended to the legislature were, in his opinion, calculated to exacerbate instead of to abate the evil. If, in these observations he differed from a great majority, at least on the other side of the House, he hoped they would give him credit for having done so upon principle. Should the course now pursued be found to answer, no man in that House would be more ready to acknowledge his error.
§ The House then resolved itself into the committee.
§ Mr. Bennet
strongly objected to the bill. It would be in the recollection of the committee that on the subject of depriving the people of arms, a measure had been proposed in the year 1817, which he had opposed. He did so upon this principle—because he held that the distinctive difference between a freeman and a slave was a right to possess arms; not so much, as had been stated, for the purpose of defending his property as his liberty Neither could do, if deprived of those arms, in the hour of danger. It was a violation of the principles of a free 1131 government, and utterly repugnant to our constitution. Let the committee consider the process by which the object of the bill was to be effected. One of the provisions was, that upon an information on oath before any justice of the peace, such justice should be empowered to grant a warrant for the search. Now, he most strongly objected to any one justice having that power; and that objection was founded upon a conviction, that even in the best and most moderate times, it would be one both dangerous and improper. He was by no means sure, that when men's minds were thrown off the balance, in which they ought to be sustained, and particularly when the manufacturing districts were in that state in which the noble lord had described them to be, there was not the greatest danger in placing such a power in the hands of any one individual whatever. In the year 1812, many instances might be found in which persons had exercised a similar power in the most arbitrary manner; and when he recollected what had occurred at Manchester, he was very certain that there were persons, who might sign these warrants, in whose hands, he, for one, would be the last individual to trust it. He should, indeed, be extremely sorry to confide to them such a power as the enactment of this measure went to confer. Such, then, was the first step of the proceeding—the information upon oath, on which the magistrate was to be empowered to issue his warrant; the next question was, how was that warrant to be executed? They were to have a power to enter houses by day or by night for the purpose of seizing arms. To this power he must most strenuously object. He had no hesitation in saying, as a free-born Englishman—born so indeed, but how long he might continue free he really now could not say—that the people of this country never would submit to so gross a violation of their liberties. He did not think that they were yet base enough to allow it to be carried into execution by armed force, violence, or the sword. He did not wish to use inflammatory language, but he would say, that he thought nothing could be more horrible, more despotic, than this power to enter houses in the dead of night. Had hon. gentlemen ever seen the execution of a simple warrant of distress? Had they ever witnessed the agony occasioned to the sufferers, by putting in force, in open day, one of the most ordinary processes 1132 of the law? If so, would they thus subject females, in the dead of night, and in bed, to necessary insults? Necessary, he said, because, however gently the warrant, under the bill, might be put in execution, the mere inspection alone was horrible. He would ask, was there one circumstance at the period of the French revolution which excited more horror and disgust throughout this country, than the domiciliary visits of the magistrates and the soldiery? But where was the difference between the domiciliary visits in France, and those which would be authorized under the enactments of this bill? What, however, would be its effect, after all? The only effect which the measure would have would be that of irritating the public mind. Was it expected that arms would be found? No. Nothing was more easy than to conceal them, and no doubt that those who had arms would take care to secure them? What else, then, would the magistrates do? Would they proceed to practices that had taken place in other countries? Would they inflict tortures to extort confession? He protested against the first step to which he had alluded; and as to this other one, he did not at all mean to impute to hon. gentlemen opposite, an intention that it should ever be taken; but, if the magistrates got no arms, the bill was nugatory; how would they then proceed? The failure therefore of this bill might be considered as certain, except as for the purposes of disgust and irritation; and he should move, as art amendment, that the words "two justices" be inserted instead of "any justice;" and that the words "or by night" be omitted, and the words "by day only" be substituted in their stead. Surely "by night," were words, the effect of which was only to add insult to irritation, and in some cases to occasion the commission of necessary outrages in the execution of the warrant. Under these circumstances, he submitted to the committee his amendment.
said, that with the exception of a subsequent clause, the whole object of the bill was to give the magistrates a concurrent jurisdiction, enabling them to seize arms, in particular cases, in a neighbouring county. The honourable gentleman who had just sat down had stated, that when a bill of the same nature was formerly before the House he had given it his strong opposition. He had always thought, he said, 1133 that the right to have arms could never be called in question; and that no circumstances of public danger could ever induce him to vote for an infraction of that right. He appeared to have pushed his assertions to that extent. Now, he (lord Castlereagh) did not think that since the last century, particularly since the two rebellions which marked the beginning of it, any measures of public safety had been framed less calculated to trench upon the rights and liberties of the subject. The hon. member had, however, argued this question as he generally did other public questions. He felt alarm lest the liberties of the subject should be infringed upon by government, without allowing himself to look to the measures necessary for the protection of society generally from dangers of more serious nature. He seemed always to fear a blow from the hand which was stretched out to protect him. What he meant to say was, that the hon. gentleman never seemed to look at this or any other question in any other way, than as if he were invariably jealous of the magistracy, and of the operation of the laws of his country. An idea also appeared to prevail, that measures of this nature were quite new—altogether unheard of—entirely without a precedent in the history of the country. The hon. gentleman, however, appeared to admit, that there might be, by possibility, something in the state of the country to authorize some measure of a severe character, but he objected to the power of granting the warrant being given to a single magistrate. It was extremely odd that this should be supposed to be a provision entirely new, and now for the first time promulgated. In the year 1812, a measure of much more extraordinary rigour and harshness had been enacted, on which he had the assistance of several members on the opposite side of the House; among them of the late Mr. Whitbread [a cry of "No, no"]. He did not mean to say that it had received that gentleman's explicit approbation; but certain it was that that bill passed through the House with as little opposition as perhaps any one of its important nature had ever experienced. But the present measure was more calculated to guard against any abuse on the part of the magistrates than that of 1812. By the bill of 1812, the magistrate was empowered to search for and seize arms, by day or by night, not only upon information upon oath, but upon a bare sus- 1134 picion that arms were concealed in any House. Was this deemed a better security for the country than the securities of the present bill? By another clause of the bill in 1812, the magistrate was not only entitled to search, but had the power of calling upon the whole district to deliver up their arms of defence for safe custody, and lest they should be used by the banditti at that time infesting the country. He would now state his conviction, that if the power of which the hon. gentleman complained were not given to a single magistrate, the bill would be entirely ineffectual. Suppose a magistrate were to receive information that arms for illegal purposes were lodged in a particular quarter, was it to be supposed that he must take no steps to seize them until he sent, perhaps a considerable distance, for a brother magistrate? The delay in such a case would afford an opportunity for removing the arms, and thus, as he said before, the bill would be rendered useless. The value of the information in such cases depended upon the rapidity with which it was acted upon; a moment's delay would in many instances render it wholly useless. Then, as to searching by night, he knew nothing more likely to fail than a search by day; and nothing more likely to succeed, if their information was correct, than a search by night. The means of communication were so organized and complete among the disaffected, that the magistrates could not move by day, without their knowing it; and so of course the whole object would be lost. He did not mean to say that this was not a very strong measure; God forbid he should! He did not mean to say this was not an enormous power. But then it was a choice of evils—a question, whether they would give a strong power to the legislature to protect peaceable people, or leave them a prey to another power, tyrannical and destructive. It had been said, that these measures were neither known nor practised in England before; but they were, in fact, to be found in what the hon. gentleman would consider the very best authority; in those times of Whig principles, in which the Whigs were in the government of the country. It had been asserted, that no such measures had been resorted to, after the rebellion either of 1715 or of 1745; that even then there had been no such thing. Instead of all this, however, it happened in reality, that two bills passed between the years 1715 and 1745, 1135 and three, after 1745, all founded upon the same principle as the one before the House, but carrying them to a much greater extent. And one thing particularly to be noted was, that they were passed at a period very little subsequent to the date of the Bill of Rights; they were passed in the first year of the reign of George 1st, and only twenty-seven years after the Bill of Rights had been established; so that the Whigs of that day did not consider themselves bound not to desert, in these instances, the provisions enacted by that bill. What was thought of the disarming of the Highlanders? Was not that a measure introduced by a Whig administration? And yet surely the hon. member opposite would not persuade hon. gentlemen behind him, that there was no distinction between the cases of those rebellions in the Highlands and these seditions; surely it was a much more generous spirit of resistance to the laws which actuated the persons engaged in those rebellions, than any thing which had influenced any proceedings out of which the necessity for the present measure might have arisen. The hon. gentleman opposite deprecated any measure that was to be permanent. Yet the act of George 1st, though a local act, was not a temporary one. It was entitled "An act for disarming the Highlands," and, in point of fact, remained in operation, and was virtually the law of the country, during the whole of the reigns of George 1st, and George 2nd. In the interval which elapsed between the years 1715 and 1745 they brought in an act (11th George 1,) to re-enact the former one. They, the Whig government of that day, even went so far as to make it penal for any persons to retain arms in their hands, after being summoned to give them up; and a person convicted of so retaining arms was compelled to serve as a soldier in North America. The act of 11th George 1st, was passed for seven years. The rebellion of 1745 broke out during the 19th of George 2nd, when they re-passed the former act of George 1st, but in much stronger terms; for the act contained a provision making the second offence of retaining arms punishable by seven years transportation. This act was successively continued for periods of seven years and seven years each; and during the whole of the reign of George 2nd, there was no repeal of it. But now, hon. gentlemen, professing the same political principles as the authors of the measures 1136 which he had just described, denounced his majesty's ministers, and held them up to the execration of the country, for introducing the comparatively mild bill before the committee. It was generally admitted that some restrictive measures were necessary to preserve the tranquillity of the country. If so, was it not humanity to the people to make those measures effectual? If this were not done, the country would undergo the painful feeling of having their liberties restricted, without enjoying the protection which the measures were intended to afford. The bills introduced after 1745 vested the power in a single magistrate, in the same manner that that now on the table did. He was not arguing this question on the principle of the seditious meetings bill. He was aware that the principle of the bill was not congenial with the constitution, that it was an infringement upon the rights and liberties of the people, and that it could only be defended upon the necessity of the case. But that necessity now existed; the security and general interests of the subject demanded the sacrifice, and therefore he could not feel justified to himself if he did not press the original clause.
§ Mr. Brougham
observed, that thus much had been conceded—the noble lord did not present the bill upon the table as constitutional in its principle or in its spirit, for he had frankly avowed that it was an infraction of the one and a violation of the other. It did not follow that the same opinion would be felt by all who ranged themselves on the side of government; from an ultra portion of the House the country might still be doomed to hear sentiments of an ultra description, in which it would be represented that, in truth, this measure, like the restriction upon the right of meeting and the trammels upon the liberty of the press, was an improvement, a notable improvement, upon the system which our ancestors had thought so perfect, but which their wiser descendants had discovered to be defective. However, it was something to gain the admission of the noble lord that this bill was to be dealt with as an infringement of the acknowledged and ancient rights of the people. In what way had the noble lord argued against it? He had adopted his usual and favourite mode of reasoning; for no sooner was an objection started to the nature of the bill, than he turned round and inquired, what objec- 1137 tion could now be fairly urged against so mild and conciliating a measure, when only seven years ago the House had adopted a law of ten times its severity; and he followed it up by this special interrogatory—"What, do you think there is no necessity for the interposition of parliament in this way, when I have brought down six bills, where only two were formerly introduced? Shall not we now require the seizure of arms on the oath of the belief of a person before a single magistrate, when in the bill of 1812 you omitted all oaths and only rested on the bare surmise of a justice of the peace?" The reply to all this was obvious. How could those be bound by what parliament had formerly done, who had resisted its proceedings to the utmost? Such as had supported the bill of 1812 might, indeed, be called upon to lend their aid in making a new attack upon the constitution; but to those who had formerly maintained the rights of the people as they now maintained them, the appeal of the noble lord was inapplicable. The noble lord had insisted that the measure would be crippled, if not defeated, by abstracting the clause authorizing a search for arms at night; that it would give the disaffected warning; that when they heard that a magistrate was heading a troop of horse to seize their weapons by day, they would straitway take especial care to conceal them. But what answer could be given by the noble lord to this statutory warning, the bill upon the table? It must be granted (or the whole foundation sunk under the noble lord's new structure), that there were numbers in the various districts now actually in arms against the state, and the moment notice was given them by this bill, that a magistrate might come and search, would they be so weak, so childish, as not instantly to place their weapons beyond the reach of the civil or military power? Every man knew that he was liable to be informed upon by his neighbour. What was easier than to put his arms out of the way? The noble lord had frequently said much of the artifice and subtilty of the disaffected, and would he now desert his former story, and for the sake of his present argument, insist, that while all the magistrates in all the districts were to be on the alert, peeping into every hole and corner for a pike or a pistol, the disaffected would ostentatiously pile their arms in the open fields, or display them as in armories, in stars, circles, and triangles, for 1138 the exterior ornament of their habitations. It was ridiculous to suppose, that they would thus lay themselves open to the malice of their neighbours, and to the domiciliary visits of the magistrates. Thus far then the bill afforded no protection, unless it was intended that it should go farther than had been yet stated; if not, he would venture to say, that not a single stand of arms could be seized under it. Besides, as now presented to the House, it was most essentially defective. True, it had had its birth in another place; and not withstanding all the wisdom, and sagacity, and acuteness, and perspicacity and accuracy of the allies of the noble lord in that place, and particularly of the most wise, sagacious, acute, perspicacious, and accurate secretary for the home department, notwithstanding the enlightened abilities of those who were represented as giving the tone of opinion, and taking the lead in the cabinet, notwithstanding, the labours of those who had sent their sage directions through the country, in such perfect grammar and such classic English, notwithstanding the bill had passed through the ordeal of the protesters, whom the noble lord had so struggled to confute in an elaborate speech, he was obliged to take it under his protection, and to vindicate the defects by which it was disfigured. The noble lord had mainly relied upon precedents, but he (Mr. Brougham) denied that that on which he had principally depended had the slightest application to the case before the House. The noble lord had quoted what he had been pleased to call the good old Whig times of 1715, when the Scots were disarmed with far greater severity than the present bill recommended. It must be admitted that however severe the old law was more effectual, because one part of the argument of the opponents of the new law was, that it would by no means accomplish its object, for, though it enabled a magistrate to search, it was destitute of any power by which he could get at the arms he discovered. Did our Whig ancestors pursue this course? No; they said, "Summon those who have arms, and require them to give them up; and if afterwards it turns out that they have concealed them, then they may be fairly subjected to the severe penalties of the law." That measure was only to be justified by necessity, but it had a recommendation which the noble lord's bill did not possess—it was effectual for its pur- 1139 pose. And why, at that period, was it necessary? Was not open rebellion then stalking through the land? Was there not then a disputed succession to the Crown? Did not a foreign enemy aid the efforts of the domestic rebel, and threaten an invasion? War was then menacing without, and his ally, insurrection, was at work within; yet the noble lord with the utmost assurance asserted, that the precedent of 1715 should now govern the deliberations of parliament. Where was now the foreign foe, where the domestic levies? where the central commission? where the organized insurrection? Had we at this moment the first peer of the realm in open hostility, and sent to the Tower for his crime? Had we now a disputed succession, an open rebellion, or even an appearance of rebellion? Rebellion! Good God! was it to be asserted, even after all the evidence that had been so industriously collected and so ostentatiously displayed, that there was any thing in the country bearing even the semblance of rebellion? Where was the general rising that had been threatened by ministers and their agents from day to day? First it was said, that it was undoubtedly to take place on Wednesday; and after all the fears of all the old women had been excited to the utmost, they were respited until the Monday following: now it appeared that it had been postponed, positively for the last time, until yesterday; fortunately for the country, and unfortunately for the prognostications of the noble lord, no rising had yet taken place. Several of the warm adherents of ministers had been terribly alarmed a few days ago by seeing chalked upon the walls of the metropolis the ominous words "Remember the 9th of December;" and just as they had concluded that on that fatal day a bloody civil war was to commence, they were agreeably surprised by hearing that it was only a lottery puff of "the richest wheel ever known with 8 prizes of 20,000l." which like some of the other promises of the chancellor of the exchequer, turned out in the end to be only four. To revert to the precedent of the noble lord, the history of Scotland proved, that the rebellion which the act against arms was meant to suppress, was hastened by it. The people were exasperated, their feelings were aroused rather than softened by those measures of the Whigs, which, though honestly meant, were highly erroneous. 1140 The Whigs of that day had not the experience which the country now had, that disarming was not the way of pacifying a kingdom. While the noble lord, with that example before him, had adopted its mistakes, and persisted in the error. It was not the rigour of that or of any other measures that at length subdued and pacified that part of the united kingdom; it was reduced to submission and obedience by a series of conciliatory measures, the first foundation of which was laid in the statute abolishing the remnant of the feudal system, which was followed up by other measures, as consistent as they were prudent. It was the wisdom of lord Chatham in placing confidence in those who had not been trusted by his predecessors, that finally completed the harmony that had now so long continued. He had thrown himself upon the people—he had gone, as he afterwards proudly and justly boasted, to the north, to seek for merit, and he found it where his predecessors had only sought for and found rebellion. The precedents of George 1st and George 2nd were therefore to be employed rather for the wise lesson to be gathered from them, than for the mere dry and naked support of a case, supposed to be analogous. He gave his hearty concurrence to the opposition made to the principle of the bill. That the subject had at all times a right to keep arms in his possession, of which the government could not, under given circumstances, deprive him, was a proposition that he would not maintain; but before the subject was deprived of them, a case of necessity must be fully established. Another point most material to be considered was, that in dealing with so sacred a matter as the rights of the people, any one of them must be suspended in the mode, under all the circumstances, least likely to affect the rest, or to abridge the other privileges or comforts to which he was entitled. When the noble lord maintained that the subject had only a right to arms for the protection of his property, or for self defence against the midnight plunderer, or an unauthorized police officer, he (Mr. Brougham) could only state, that he had not so read the constitution. He even believed that the noble lord would be ready to agree with him, that he had two narrowly stated the right. Not only was an Englishman's house his castle against the unwarranted intrusion of the police, or against the attack of thieves, 1141 but it was so in another and a higher sense of the word, as giving him a prerogative to have arms for his defence. He maintained that he had a right to arms for his defence, not merely because he would preach it up to him that he might use them against the lawless measures of bad rulers, but to remind those rulers that the weapons of defence might be turned against them if they broke the laws, or violated the constitution. If this were dangerous doctrine, he addressed it not to the country, but to its rulers; and he begged them to recollect that, in broaching it, he was only following a venerable authority, not to be disputed even by the other side—Judge Blackstone—who twice over had laid it down in his book, that such was the use of arms, and such the privilege of English subjects. These were not times for any man to assert opinions that might be misapprehended or perverted; and he would therefore follow up what he had advanced by adding, that no act of the rulers of the country, in which they were supported by the constituted authorities, could warrant any part of the community to talk of, nay, to dream of resistance. If the law of the land were to be altered, it could only be altered by parliament; and he would as vehemently and stedfastly, to the last drop of his blood, resist any encroachment by the people upon the legislative right, as he would oppose strenuously and. firmly any invasion by the crown or the parliament of the known privileges of the community. These were the doctrines of the British constitution—doctrines as serviceable to good rulers as they were dangerous to evil rulers—calculated to promote and secure the peace and good order of society, and calculated too, as a warning to those who would violate that liberty they ought to preserve. The hon. and learned gentleman sat down amidst loud cheers.
allowed that, as he should be sorry to push any expressions beyond their fair and obvious meaning, he was perfectly ready to admit the right of the subject to hold arms according to the principle laid down by the hon. and learned gentleman, especially when accompanied with the qualification which the hon. and learned gentleman had thought proper to annex to the right, after having stated it on the authority of Mr. Justice Blackstone. The doctrine so laid down, he was willing to| |1142 admit was no other than the doctrine of the British constitution. If he was at all disposed to quarrel with the doctrine, it was not in consequence of the principle upon which it was founded, but in consequence of the occasion upon which it was stated: for if it were to go abroad at this particular moment, and under the present circumstances of the country, that the hon. and learned gentleman had contended for the propriety of an armed resistance, he would ask any man of common understanding whether more danger was not likely to arise from mooting the possible case, than security from the qualification the hon. and learned gentleman had made when he asserted it? Without, however, pressing this further, he would only state, with reference to what had fallen from the other side, that there was no general and abstract right belonging to the community, which was not subject to the control of the governing power of the state, on the showing of an adequate necessity. If in the instance before the House any proof were wanted of this qualification, he would refer those who doubted to that immortal statute so often quoted within doors and without, in regular debates and at public meetings, but, he knew not by what fatality, never quoted accurately—the Bill of Rights. It was most true, as had been laid down, that all subjects were entitled by the Bill of Rights to have arms, but with one small qualification, which he mentioned not in praise of, or with a view to establish the qualification, but as showing that at the very time when our ancestors laid down the principle they contemplated the exception. Those who had cited the Bill of Rights had uniformly omitted the important words—"All subjects being Protestants have a right so to be armed." How had it happened that in all the discussions for the last three weeks, in all the public addresses for the last three months, that clause had been carefully excluded? What was to be inferred from those words?—That the Papists ought now to be disarmed? Certainly not: he only brought them forward to illustrate the position, that this general right, like every other, was subject to qualification; and nothing could more satisfactorily prove its subjectness to qualification than the fact, that at the very moment the right was conferred it was actually qualified. Though the current of opinion was at present against such an exception of the Catholics 1143 he was not sure whether, by any subsequent law, it had been repealed; bat supposing it remained on the Statutebook, that clause would exclude from the possession of arms no small portion of the inhabitants in some of the disturbed districts. Would he then exempt the professors of the Catholic religion from the right of having arms for self defence? No; he had always argued in a contrary direction; but the Bill of Rights, correctly quoted and properly construed, brought him to the provision of the bill on the table, which, in fact, recognized the general right of the subject to have arms, but qualified that right in such a manner as the necessity of the case required. As the Papists at the Revolution, were armed against the existing government, and were excepted in the Bill of Rights, so the act before the House excepted the disaffected in the disturbed districts who were in arms against the law and authorities of the land. He appealed, therefore, to the Bill of Rights in defence of the step he now called upon the House to take; and he contended that it would only be to carry into effect the very doctrines our forefathers had shown that they admitted. In the spirit of the Bill of Rights, he called upon the legislature to interpose to suspend a right, and take away arms that could not be held without danger to the tranquillity of the state. He admitted that a case must be made out justify this interposition; but he had imagined till to-night, from the general course of the discussions in parliament from the unanimity with which the training bill had been passed, that danger, and the species of danger, was not denied. Whether it were or were not conceded that large meetings ought to be restrained that some limitation ought to be put upon the abuses of the press, or that a permanent measure might be required to prevent the possibility of a military rising, and a disciplined array, he had supposed that it was not denied, that those who were marching and counter-marching, and accustoming themselves to obedience to the word "fire'' without arms, had at least a distant design at some time or other to practice it with arms. He had also concluded that when the Speaker left the chair, and the House went into a committee, it was not intended to dispute the principle of the bill, though differences might arise out of particular clauses. It was evident that, on this occasion, it was intended to make two distinct 1144 attacks—one on the whole of these measures, the other on his majesty's government. "The bill is unconstitutional," said one; and exclaimed another, "it is without precedent." Those, however, who declared that it was unconstitutional, appeared to have forgotten themselves a little. From the situation in which the House was placed at that moment, it seemed that the objection was never thought of before. Here they were in committee—not to consider the principle of the bill which had been conceded, but to inquire into the best mode of applying and adopting its provisions. With respect to the other charge, that there was no precedent for the measure, his noble friend bad fully answered the objection. He had shown that there was precedent of a recent date. He had gone farther; and if gentlemen wished him to cite times and persons intimately connected with the Whig influence in this country, he had cited those times and those persons as perfectly applicable to his argument. But when this was done, and done so that it could scarcely be mistaken, the learned gentleman turned round and asked, "Well, where is the precedent?" His noble friend had quoted precedent; but as the measure to which he applied it did not partake of such bold aspiration, did not favour of such harsh severity, as those which the Whigs had supported, then he was told that it was no precedent. But the use made of this sort of management was very clear. When one objection was really answered and the other ostensibly remained—though, in effect, it was also answered—then those who opposed the bill said, "See, we have done away with all your logic, your whole course of ratiocination is destroyed." It was true the hon. and learned gentleman did not push his logic quite so far, but he did not fall much short of it. To the charge of its being unprecedented, his hon. and learned friends had answered, by stating that it was copied in its very terms, and he might say, with a servility of imitation from former acts. But then the hon. and learned gentleman turned round and said, "what signifies whether you can plead precedent in favour of it or not, it is objectionable in itself, and upon that ground ought to be resisted." For his own part, he did not mean to contend, that because there were precedents in favour of it, there could be no objection; but when he 1145 was asked, what use was precedent, he would answer, that precedent was one argument, and that when the others were answered, if that too could be overturned, the triumph of the question was complete. The hon. and learned gentleman had also expressed his surprise that this bill should be so defective, after having been subjected to that species of animadversion which was denominated "protest," and which, if it were not founded in sound reason, ought to be answered by a "counter protest." Now he had never heard of a proceeding by counter-protest, in the venerable assembly where the measure originated; but perhaps the hon. and learned gentleman thought it ought to be invented to meet the exigencies of the present occasion; and that, having engaged in a war of words in the first instance, they ought next to be engaged in a war of quills. But without dwelling upon that topic, or confessing himself a convert to the opinion of the hon. and learned gentleman, he would allude to an extraordinary publication, containing an unfounded assertion, to which, however, some highly respectable names were attached, he knew not how. The publication to which he referred, denounced the bill before the House upon various grounds, and among the rest, upon the following: Because, in former periods of much greater danger to the Crown and constitution of these realms, when conspiracies by the adherents of the House of Stuart were known to be directed against both, when preparations were making for rebellion with the assistance of France, when men of the highest rank, station, and influence in both kingdoms, were deeply engaged in these designs; nay, during two formidable rebellions in 1715 and 1745, no such power was granted to the Crown; yet the new line of succession was defended, and our free constitution successfully maintained, against all these dangers. The principles of the revolution had been too firmly imprinted in the hearts and minds of our ancestors to allow them, on the spur of any emergency, however alarming, to hazard the existence of a right which they had so recently asserted. To this extraordinary publication the signatures of "Grey, Thanet, Erskine," and many other eminent and distinguished individuals, were attached. But any man, even the most ignorant of the English history, would see that the position laid down in the passage he had quoted was incorrect. 1146 So much so, that when he read it, he imagined it was one of those libels on the names and characters of great men which were so extremely current at the present moment—a libel on persons whose stations, whose habits, the tenour of whose whole lives acquitted them of the suspicion of not having read, "Smollett's Continuation of Hume's History of England." Names of the first celebrity were, however, affixed to this statement, which was so completely erroneous, that the making use of those names became in his opinion a species of scandalum magnatum. This circumstance occasioned persons a little more curious, a little more anxious to know what had really taken place at a former period of our history—to examine what the proceedings had been during the periods alluded to. The result of their investigation was this: they found, that in the year 1715, one of the periods selected, the Whigs had passed an act as nearly as possible, similar in principle to the measure of the present day, but infinitely more severe in its enactments. It was worth while to mark how the Whigs, with the bill of rights so fresh in their memory, expounded the right of carrying arms, which had been so much adverted to. He begged those individuals, in whose ears the exposition of the hon. and learned gentleman must still be ringing— that exposition by which the right of carrying arms against the government was admitted—he begged of them to listen to what the Whigs had enacted on the subject. The preamble of the act said, "Whereas the custom that has long prevailed amongst the Highlanders, of carrying arms and using them abroad, has been productive of great inconvenience." Penalties were enacted to prevent the wearing of arms by the class of persons noticed in the bill, which set forth that a conviction might be had on information being laid before one justice of the peace. The first offence was visited with a fine of 40l. and imprisonment; the second offence with a fine of 80l. and more imprisonment; and ultimately, in default of payment, the party convicted was subjected to transportation for seven years. Not content with this, in the year 1726, being the 11th of George 1st, and ten years after the passing of the bill, which he had just quoted, a new act was brought into parliament, enforcing that which had been previously enacted. By that bill persons not giving in their arms, or 1147 not paying the penalty inflicted on them, were liable to service as soldiers. Besides this, the owners of those houses on whose premises arms were found, were to be deemed concealers of arms, and were in consequence subject to the same penalties of fine, imprisonment, and transportation, to which persons regularly convicted were liable. He was sure what he was now about to state would shock the feelings of the hon. gentleman who had opened this debate, who had dwelt with so much energy, on the situation in which females would be placed in consequence of the operation of the present bill. The act to which he was referring treated females with as little ceremony as it did males. By its provisions, two years imprisonment, and a fine of 100l. were inflicted on any female who was convicted of concealing arms. So much for the mitigated severity which distinguished the measures of the Whigs. In the 19th of George 2nd, another act was passed to enforce that which he had recently quoted. It provided still greater penalties, the whole of which he would not then read. By that act, those who did not bring in their arms, or refused to pay the penalty, were liable to serve as soldiers. Here again women were not forgotten. A breach of the act committed by them was visited by a fine of 100l. and by imprisonment. This act was passed for seven years, and before it expired it was renewed for seven years longer, with this remarkable preamble— "That the act not being sufficient to answer the purposes intended, it was found necessary to enforce the same with new provisions." This was passed in 1746 for seven additional years, and continued till 1753, when it was again renewed. In 1753 the act as he had observed, was renewed, though he knew not any particular reason that called for it since the renewal took place in a period between two wars. In 1759, the last year of the reign of George 2nd, he found it still in force. Men were subject to fine, imprisonment, and transportation, if they did not give up their arms, and women were also fined and imprisoned for assisting them in concealing them. The hon. and learned gentleman had said, that there was no precedent for the present measure; but till long after the rebellions of 17l5 and 1745 had subsided, it would be found that bills far more severe than that now before the House were renewed. He also wished the House to recollect what the hon. and 1148 learned gentleman appeared to have forgotten, namely, that these bills were enacted after lord Chatham had made use of the highlanders as soldiers. While on the one hand lord Chatham was calling on the highlanders to fight the battles of their country, he was on the other enacting a measure, with what the hon. and learned gentleman would term an odious preamble. That act which kept in force the measures of which he had been speaking, set forth in the preamble, "Whereas, the acts for preventing the carrying and using of arms have been found useful and beneficial to the country." On this recital, two years after the highlanders had fought their country's battles, those acts to which he had alluded continued, and they had not since that period been repealed. He thought it was too bad, after this statement, for any gentleman to say that there was no precedent for the proceeding now before the House. It was quite clear, that the acts which he had quoted, acts of extreme severity, had been continued in force long after the rebellion of 1715 and 1745 had wholly subsided. It was a most extraordinary circumstance to see it proclaimed to the country, under the sanction of the great names he had mentioned, that no precedent could be found in our history; when the truth was, that from 1715 to 1745, and from 1745 till it pleased God to put an end to the Whig administration, acts more severe than those which were now in contemplation were constantly operating; they were not mere dead letters in the Statute book; they were not suffered to lie undiscovered, but were carefully renewed from seven years to seven years, as if it were intended, when the Whigs had given to parliament a septennial duration, they were determined that every thing connected with the government should be septennial also. He knew that with the hon. and learned gentleman this would not be considered any reason for passing the bill; but he never would suffer any statement against precedent, to be made by those gentlemen on the other side of the House, who were in the habit of using all manner of precedents themselves, without taking a proper notice of it. If precedent could be advanced to the purpose, unprecedentedness ought not to be introduced as an argument against any measure. Let gentlemen consider the temper of the present administration with the temper of some 1149 of those which had passed; let them consider the tone of this measure as compared with the legislation to which he had alluded, and then declare whether the bill upon the table demanded or authorized any of the observations which had been made upon it by the hon. and learned gentleman. It might be said, with respect to the act of the 1st of George the 1st, that it was of a local nature, as it extended only to the Highlands; but it should also be observed that it had no limit to its duration. The reason why he inferred that it had no limit was, because the act of the 19th George 2nd, which renewed the act of the 11th of George 1st, which expressly recited both the acts of the 1st, and the 11th, contained a clause which appeared to him to bear out his proposition, that no limit was affixed to it. Let the House, then, look at the difference between the present bill, and the acts to which he had referred. The latter embraced a great portion of time, while the former was limited to two years—a period beyond which it was not expected that the evil would extend. By all those acts, warrants to search for arms, by day and night, might be granted by one magistrate, without information on oath. By the present bill, one magistrate might, indeed, grant a warrant, by day or by night; but the information must be given on oath. In those acts of Whig legislation no right of appeal was allowed, but in this bill the right of appeal to the quarter-sessions was admitted, which he considered an important provision for the protection of the public. By those acts to which he had called the attention of that House, it was provided, that in cases of obstruction by 15 persons or more, the peace-officers might call in the military force to their assistance, and would be indemnified if the death of any individual ensued; in the present bill there was no such provision. By those acts, an individual refusing to give up his arms might be sent for a soldier, or he might be transported for life; by this measure he could only suffer imprisonment for a misdemeanor. By those acts, a woman was subjected to a fine of 100l. or might be transported to the plantations; in the present bill there was no such provision. When, therefore, ministers were told that they introduced acts of unprecedented severity, those who made the assertion were manifestly in error. They might taunt 1150 ministers by adverting to what they called the wise provisions of their ancestors; but they could no longer reproach them with the want of constitutional precedents; they could no longer say that ministers had acted with more severity than their ancestors adopted, when they saw a just occasion for it. The bill might be charged with insufficiency, with the fault of not being severe enough; but to accuse its framers and supporters of forgetting the rights which our ancestors held sacred, was an imputation which the enactments of the bill and the evidence of history concurred in repelling as untenable.
§ Mr. Brougham
in explanation, declared that the right hon. gentleman had quoted expressions and arguments which he had never used. When did he ever say that this measure was unprecedented? When did he ever argue on what the right hon. gentleman was pleased, in a fine word, to call it unprecedentedness? When did he ever turn round and say, "O what is the use of precedents?" These were at few of the points that the right hon. gentleman had grappled with but they were points of his own making. It was easy for the right hon. gentleman to answer arguments which he was pleased to attribute, not to collect, from others. There was another point of more importance, to which he wished to advert. He was stated to have said that the people had a right to arm, notwithstanding any interdict of the legislature? Good God! when did he assert that they had such a right? He had all along admitted that the legislature had clearly aright to disarm the whole people; but then it was necessary that a case of the most decided necessity should be made out.
observed, that he might have made use of the hon. and learned gentleman's argument, as he himself must have felt with greater effect than he even had done.
§ Mr. Brougham
replied, that it would have been very unfair in the right hon. gentleman to have done so, since he had stated his qualification in very strong terms, and had not pushed his argument so far as some people thought. He knew from experience the powers of misrepresentation possessed by the right hon. gentleman, and he thanked him for his courtesy in not making use of them to the greatest possible extent on the present occasion. He very sensibly felt that he 1151 should not now have had an opportunity of making this explanation had the right hon. gentleman not been so civil. All the neighbourhood of St. John's and St. Margaret's would have been echoing to the praises rung in his ears from the hon. gentlemen around him, if the right hon. gentleman had made that exhibition from which he had so obligingly abstained.
§ Mr. Tierney
expressed his surprise that the impression of gentlemen opposite always should be to treat this and other important subjects as mere party questions. The whole wrath of the right hon. gentleman—Well, he did not wish to use the same word that he had used on a former occasion, and he would therefore say that the whole speech of the right hon. gentleman had been one continued attempt to devise some mode by which he could throw a slur on gentlemen who sat on that (the Opposition) side of the House. Having no ground on which he could support an accusation with reference to their present actions, the right hon. gentleman went back to the old topic, and began to revile them as Whigs— Whig, Whig, Whig," were the first and the last words in the right hon. gentleman's speech. Night after night this epithet was introduced in order to annoy them. The right hon. gentleman never made a speech in the course of which he did not declare that the Whigs were the persons whom the country ought most particularly to guard against as having done a great deal of harm. The Whigs had, however, done the country some good, which the right hon. gentleman overlooked; but if they were the authors of any mischief, that was exactly the precedent the right hon. gentleman and his colleagues quoted in order to justify the ill which they were willing to do to the constitution. It was a pity that they would not imitate some of the good works of the Whigs, as well as their bad ones. An hon. member under the gallery had said, how fortunate and how happy an event it would be if gentlemen coming to these discussions would throw aside the spirit of party, if they would endeavour to render those measures palatable instead of opposing them altogether. Now if ever an effort was made to do this, it had been attempted with respect to the bill now before the House. When that measure was brought forward, he stated his objection not to its peculiar principle, but with a reference to the situation of the times. He desired that a 1152 case might be made out which it was necessary to meet by such a law. He objected also to one magistrate being empowered to grant warrants, instead of two; and he stated his dislike to the power of searching by night. He had declared that if two magistrates were substituted in the place of one; and if the search by night was given up, he would not oppose the measure. He had, however, expressly reserved his right to discuss the measure in some future stage, and now, though the points to which he had objected were retained, he was charged with having conceded the principle, or at least forfeited his right to oppose it. He denied the assertion: he had not abandoned the principle: for he would maintain that the subject had a right to arm, in terms still more broad than those which had been used by his hon. and learned friend. The right hon. gentleman had noticed a qualification of the principle in the Bill of Rights which was the introduction of the word Protestant, but the House should bear in mind the circumstances under which the qualification was made —a Catholic king had been just expelled, and the legislature was called upon to provide against his return. Unless persons meant to use arms unlawfully, they had a right to procure them? God forbid that he should ever oppose that opinion. It was borne out by the Bill of Rights; and the paper which had been quoted, and which originated elsewhere, was in unison with that bill; and its reasoning was borne out also by facts. It was a fortunate paper for the other side of the House; for, having no argument that applied to the case, they looked for an argument in something that had occurred in another quarter. They were anxious to produce a debate, and they had no other means of effecting it than by adverting to that paper. His hon. friend said, "I object to the principle of the bill; but, notwithstanding that, I will not oppose its passing, if two points are conceded to me." "No," said the noble lord, "I must have a debate; I must have an opportunity of introducing a little party spirit into the proceeding." Not being able to conduct a business of that nature with so much delicacy as his right hon. friend, the noble lord, he handed to him the document, and it became his task to comment on it, with a view, no doubt, that his observations should go through all the newspapers. The document as- 1153 serted that the subject had a right to arm, and he (Mr. Tierney) said so too. If he correctly understood that paper (for he had no idea of defending the writings of others—it was sufficient for him to defend himself), it stated that the Bill of Rights gave to the people the privilege of possessing arms. And he would maintain that that privilege was not broken in upon by the acts which the right hon. gentleman had quoted. Those acts related to Scotland; and not, indeed, to the whole of Scotland, but merely to a part of it. That England was at the time in danger, no man could deny; but they could find no bill authorizing a search for arms, which applied to this country. Why, it might be asked, should such a power be granted at that period? He would answer the question. Because the great body of the Jacobites were concentrated at Manchester at that time. But, notwithstanding the dangers which existed in Scotland, notwithstanding the dangers which threatened England, Lancashire altogether escaped the visitation of such a measure as this, although unfortunately it could not now escape. He contended that this was not a precedent. Scotland was in a state of rebellion when the measure was enacted. Where was there any rebellion now? The measure to which the right hon. gentleman alluded proved nothing, unless it clearly bore on the question; and could he say that the same state of things existed now as was in existence then? His argument was of no use, unless he could show, that the dangers of the present day were similar to those of 1745. The right hon. gentleman said, "Can there be a doubt, when you pass a bill to prevent training, that the men who are thus exercised mean to have arms?" That was very true; but then a doubt might very naturally arise whether in fact they had them. It was by great good fortune that the right hon. gentleman had got hold of the protest ready cut and dried; for without it he could have furnished nothing of an argument. He (Mr. Tierney) was obliged to speak of it, after having heard it casually read [Here Mr. Canning threw the protest across the table to Mr. Tierney]. By good fortune he had now got the document, and he was convinced that nothing contained in the acts that had been cited, proved that the doctrines contained in it were fallacious. The preamble of those acts set forth, that in the highlands of Scotland men were in the 1154 habit of marching about in military array. This was a necessary consequence of their clanship. The male population of the highlands were all armed, not secretly but publicly and openly. There was no concealment about them: they practised those exercises and made use of those weapons with which their forefathers had been acquainted. Was not this a good deal like what passed at the present day? What information had they got on which they could fairly proceed? They had been favoured with a few assertions, that a good many pikes had been seen; and with certain other assertions, that there were a good many more pikes concealed. This was all the information they had got. Here then was a fine proof of a vast number of persons being armed! Now, with respect to the training-bill, no opposition had been given to it, and it passed in two days. Then said the right hon. gentleman, "Oh! if you pass that bill in two days, can you doubt that those against whom it is directed are arming?" Now, it seemed most extraordinary to him, that if the people were arming, our wise government should take three weeks to consider of this measure, which ought to have been passed in the very first instance. In no part of the kingdom did he believe there was a single hostile musket. He would say nothing about cannon, because there was a statement in which it was mentioned, that a number of cannon were "laying about." But this was the way in which ministers went on; they could not make out a good case, and then they talked of precedent; and those whose opinion did not coincide with their they immediately reproached with not having read Smollett's Continuation of Hume's History. But he would again repeat, that England was the country in question here; it was to it the protest referred; and acts passed with respect to Ireland or Scotland had nothing to do with it. He maintained that what the right hon. gentleman quoted as a precedent was no precedent of any kind or sort whatever; or, if it was a precedent, it was one, as he had before shown, which made in favour of his (Mr. Tierney's) argument; because, though in 1745 the Jacobites were in arms at Manchester, still no law was enacted empowering any person to search for arms in England. Notwithstanding the right hon. gentleman's comments on that paper, he conceived that its statement was correct. He was 6orry that the right hon. Gentle- 1155 man had read it, and he expected that he would have been interrupted by an hon. and learned friend below him. He conceived that the act would have been treated as a breach of privilege, because the right hon. gentleman had not only read the proceedings of another place, but had introduced a newspaper to read them from. He might be allowed, however, to say, that there was not a word in that paper which he would not willingly sign, because, in so doing, he expressed his assent to the opinions that were entertained by his ancestors, and because he felt that there was not a sentiment contained in it, to which any Englishman could with justice object. Having disposed of that, he had disposed of the right hon. gentleman's speech. All that the right hon. gentleman had shown was, that those desperate Whigs had from time to time determined to put down the enemies of that family whom they had sat upon the throne. Yes; those desperate Whigs took the necessary precautions for that purpose. But were they, because they had acted thus, to be dragged in on every occasion, whatever the subject of discussion might be? Had the right hon. gentleman imbibed such a hatred against them, that he would never act with them under any circumstances? He asked this, because he thought he could find a newspaper statement, if such a statement could be credited, which showed that, with all their demerits on their heads, the right hon. gentleman had no objection to accept of office with them. He might perhaps take the liberty of observing that the right hon. gentleman was not very nice in the selection of his company; and those who looked to the right hon. gentleman's right and left, would see the truth of the observation. He should now come to the bill itself; and here he could not help observing that, though he was willing to do every thing in reason to accommodate the right hon. gentleman opposite, and to show him how far he was from acting upon mere party motives in the opposition which he gave to the measures now before parliament, he could not accommodate him upon the present occasion, because he thought that the bill as now proposed to their consideration, was pregnant with danger of every description, and therefore was of such, a nature as ought to excite the jealousy of every man in the country. If, however, any necessity for enacting it could be proved, 1156 not indeed by such precedents as had been recently quoted, but by fair and legitimate evidence, he would consent to give such power to the executive government. His hon. and learned friend had never said, that even if a case were made out, such powers ought not to be entrusted to the magistracy; by no means: neither had he (Mr. Tierney) ever stood up for so absurd and so self-refuting a proposition. His hon. and learned friend had merely said that such a bill was not passed, when great danger existed in the country from numbers of its inhabitants being in open correspondence with a foreign enemy. He (Mr. Tierney) said so too; and would say, in addition, that in 1812, when the country was certainly in much greater danger than it was at present, no such bill had any existence. At that time there could not be any doubt of arms being in the hands of the disaffected, as large parties of them were perpetually scouring the country, in order to seize them; and yet no necessity for such measures as were now proposed was then asserted to exist. The real question, therefore, on which the House was called to decide was, whether a case of such imminent danger as to justify the passing of this bill had or had not been made out by ministers? For his own part, he must say, that he thought that it had not. There might be a few pikes in the possession of some individuals, and here and there a pistol; but no evidence of this was before the House, and therefore it was impossible to say decidedly that there was great danger in the country. All cases, however, were to be judged according to their circumstances. In former times arms were thrown away by persons in high stations, in order that they might be found by the disaffected; at present there was not among the disaffected a single name above that of a humble manufacturer. Arms therefore could not be given them, but evidently must be purchased by them. The right hon. gentlemen on the other side ought, among the other documents which he read for their amusement, to have read certain letters which were written about a 5l. note which was suddenly, missing oat of the radical treasury; and he would then have convinced every gentleman in the House of the extreme difficulty the government would find in contending against such an exchequer! He would go as far as he could to allay the Feelings, of alarm which 1157 were entertained by others, and so would his honourable friend the member for Shrewsbury. Change but the clause which authorized a single magistrate to issue a warrant, under which forcible entry might be made by night into any House where arms were suspected to be concealed—make it even requisite that such warrant should be signed by two magistrates, and no objection would be made to the present bill: he was willing, rigorous as it was, that it should pass into law, if its regulations were only made consonant to the feelings and habits of the country. This led him to the consideration of the real question now before them, whether the power of issuing a warrant to search for arms ought to be vested in a single magistrate, and whether that warrant ought to be granted upon the oath of a single witness. He maintained, that it ought not to be vested in a single magistrate; but the noble lord, on the contrary, asserted, that there was an end at once to the bill, if the warrant required the signature of more than one magistrate. The arguments which the noble lord had used to establish this position, had not convinced him of its stability; for he was well aware that magistrates (and he meant them no disrespect in what he now said) were not always selected for their wisdom and learning; they got into the commission -of the peace by a variety of ways; and it therefore was possible that some of them might act upon party motives; that some of them might be intemperate; and that some of them might even act under feelings of alarm. A magistrate of this latter description might write up to government, that 50,000 men were arming, and were intending to burst forth into open insurrection. Would such a man disbelieve the information of another, who applied for a warrant against a third individual, on the ground; that arms were concealed in his house? Certainly not and, therefore, under such circumstances, it would not be right that such authority should be intrusted to him alone. But a magistrate, he had before re marked, might also act for party purposes; and he did think, that if government wanted proof of any conspiracy, they might obtain it by application to some of these party magistrates? How far, then, was it expedient to allow the possibility of the power in question being vested in a magistrate of this description? But," said the gentlemen on the other side, "if 1158 it be requisite to wait till the signatures of two magistrates are obtained, the arms will be removed beyond the reach of discovery." He did not see that this would be the case quite so clearly as the opponents of the amendment: on the contrary, he was inclined to maintain that in the disturbed districts the signatures of two magistrates might always be obtained in half an hour; for if they were not to be obtained in that time, it would be owing to their absence from their posts, and their reluctance to do their duty, which he should be the last man in the world to impute to them. The noble lord had also stated, that great advantage would be derived to the country from giving the magistrates the power of seizing arms by night. For, said he, "if any attempts are made to seize them by day, those who possess them will see the approach of the civil power from a distance, and whilst they are approaching, will take good care to conceal them." If there was any force in this argument, it went to show how much better it would be to strike out of the clause the words "by day," as it evidently showed the intention of always executing the search by night. Now, could any measure be in itself more objectionable, or in its effects more calculated to exasperate the disturbed districts, already in too great a state of exasperation, than a measure which rendered the houses of their inhabitants liable to search at any hour of the night, and which subjected their wives and daughters, during that search, to all kinds of insult and indignity, merely because an informer chose to swear not that they had, but that he believed that, they had concealed arms on their premises? Could any thing be more dreadful than that an individual, upon such a belief, should have his house broken open by armed ruffians, his privacy invaded, and his whole family exposed to the gaze of overbearing men in authority? He would ask those members of the House who were connected with Ireland, what was the nature of the scenes which; they witnessed in that country whenever is was their: misfortune to go in search of arms; he would ask them whether they were not of the most painful and heart-rending description; and he would put it to them as men to say, whether it was not probable that, if this bill passed, similar scenes would be witnessed in England. Ready, therefore, as he should be to place additional power in 1159 the hands of government, whenever the necessity of granting such additional power was made out to his satisfaction, still he would always contend for the alteration of a clause like the present; for he never could agree to allow this search for arms by night, whilst he recollected how revolting it was to humanity, and how great an outrage upon decency or decorum. Besides, it would not facilitate in the slightest degree the discovery of concealed arms, especially when they were in any accumulated numbers, as those members for Ireland who were old enough to recollect the circumstances of the rebellion could inform the House. Those of the disaffected who now had arms, knowing the bills to be in agitation, would take good care to have them lodged in places of security long before they were passed into laws; and yet the House aware as it was of that circumstance, was going to pass a law, by which women might be taken out of their beds at any hour of the night, and have the very beds on which they were sleeping ripped open in this search for arms. For the House could not forget that it was about their beds that the people of Ireland had generally concealed their arms; and that when the magistrates went to their cabins with soldiers, in order to seize them, scenes of such brutal violence and cruelty occurred as humanity could not repeat, and as imagination could hardly conceive. He therefore entreated them to pause, before they gave their consent to so harsh, so severe, and so unprecedented a clause. An hon. gentleman in the course of the debate had said, that the great Whigs during the late disturbances had co-operated, as far as they could, with the leaders of the radicals. After all the protests into which they had entered since the commencement of the session against both the plans and the principles of the radicals, after the nightly repetitions which they had made of the disgust and abhorrence excited in their minds by the various artifices which they (the radicals) used to delude the people, was it not too much to say that the Whigs had co-operated with them? Could any men have gone farther than the Whigs had done in condemning both their conduct and the motive of their conduct? He had been inclined to grant through not without cause being shown for the grant, such additional powers to ministers as the exigencies of the times 1160 required; he had agreed to the training bill on the representations which had been made of the frequency of the practice; he would have agreed to this bill in all its clauses if any necessity for doing so had been made out to him. But no, that was not enough; it would not do for certain gentlemen in the House: they taunted him with observations like these—"You must consent to vote for the Seditious Meetings' Prevention bill; you must consent to vote for all the restrictions we intend to put upon the press; you must consent to vote for our Blasphemous and Seditious Libel bill; or else it must be considered that you are in league with the Radicals." If to defend the constitution under which he had lived in freedom from every attack, from every quarter—if to maintain those privileges which were the best inheritance of Englishmen, in their full vigour and purity, constituted the being in league with the Radicals, then he allowed that he was in league with the Radicals; then he allowed that he, much as he hated the term, was a Radical, and would continue a Radical as long as he lived. He never would consent to this bill in its present form; and he implored the House not to consent to it, if they had any respect to the feelings of men, either as fathers or as husbands. If the bill had only gone to meet the present danger, he possibly might have given his vote for it; but it did more than this, it contained clauses of wanton and unnecessary cruelty, and was so framed, that it would go farther than any measure which could possibly be devised to counteract the good effects which might be derived from other of the bills by which it was accompanied. Unless the amendments of his hon. friend were agreed to, he, for one, should vote against the bill.
§ Mr. T. Wilson
thought it would be advisable to get rid of as much of the rigour of the bill before the committee as possible. He was convinced that the people were generally loyal and obedient; he did not therefore see any necessity for the extraordinary coercion that the obnoxious clauses manifested, and unless the bill were stripped of them, he conceived it would tend much to aggravate those who were well affected to the government of the country.
§ Mr. Bootle Wilbraham
said, he had stated in 1812, that in the manufacturing districts the number of magistrates had at all times been small, from the absence of 1161 gentlemen; and be thought that it would defeat the object of the bill to render the sanction of another magistrate necessary. Recent circumstances were not calculated to add to the number of resident gentlemen. At that time there existed a necessity for empowering a single magistrate to act, and that necessity existed still.
observed, that he did not see any reason why his right hon. friend should have singled him out as the most likely person to have interrupted the right hon. gentleman on the other side during the time he was reading a certain paper to the House, as he was not in the habit of rising to vindicate its privileges, except when he thought that the violation of those privileges tended to produce some practical inconvenience. With regard to the objections which his right hon. friend had taken against the precedents which had been quoted to defend this bill, he must say that they were rather of a curious nature. His right hon. friend had said that they referred only to the Highlands of Scotland, and therefore were not proper precedents for extending a similar measure to England. Why, however, he would ask, was the precedent confined only to the Highlands? Because in those days they were the chief seat of disaffection against the government. The same reason was sufficient for the application of similar measures to those districts which were now disturbed. No reasonable objection had yet been urged against the execution of the warrant by night, and therefore he should give his warmest support to the bill.
§ Lord George Cavendish
declared his intention of voting against the bill, unless some alteration was made in the clause at present under discussion. Nobody could have a firmer reliance than he had upon the magistracy of the county which he represented: he was certain that they never would abuse any powers which might be entrusted to them; but there were other magistrates upon whom he could not place the same reliance, especially after the occurrences of the 16th of August. He felt himself warranted, from information which he had received from different parts of Derbyshire, in observing, that in that county, there had not been the slightest disturbance for some years, except that partial insurrection which took place a short time ago. Why, then, was Derbyshire to be included in the bill?
said, that satisfied 1162 as he was of the necessity of passing a bill of this nature, he was not satisfied of the necessity of giving to the magistrates the right of searching for arms by night.
§ Sir M. W. Ridley
believed the bill to be necessary, but argued against the clause empowering the search by night.
§ Mr. Lyttelton
would not have thought it necessary to have spoken at all on this question had he not concurred with his honourable friends in thinking that this bill was stretched farther than humanity required, in giving to magistrates the power of search by night. Though he was afraid of an insurrection, and even of a rebellion, bursting forth in the manufacturing districts, he could not see any advantage arising from the execution of this search-warrant for arms in the nighttime, which would not arise as well from its execution in the day time. Besides, the effect of the bill, if passed with this obnoxious clause in it, would be to excite disgust in the bosoms of the well-affected, who would be shocked by the horrors which would attend the execution of it. He did hot, however, see the expediency of having the signature of two magistrates to the warrant, which had been so warmly advocated by some hon. gentlemen.
§ Mr. Wilberforce
said, that he should vote for the original clause, and against the amendment. The publicity which was given to every transaction in this country would guard the powers which were entrusted to the magistracy under it from being abused. There was not a county under the operation, of the bill which did not possess more than one or two newspapers; and if any abuse was committed, they would take care to blazon it forth to the country. Besides, let the committee remember for what the search was to be made. It was for arms which persons kept for the injury of themselves, and for the destruction of others; it was for the seizure of arms from persons who had made up their minds to resist legal authority. There could be no doubt of the object for which those arms were kept. Upon the principle of humanity, therefore, he would support the original clause. Prevention was better than punishment. It was better to seize the arms of evil-disposed persons than to suffer them to go on from bad to worse, from disaffection to blood and murder.
§ Sir Joseph Yorke
said, he had voted for nine and twenty years on the ministerial side of the House, but, if the obnoxious 1163 clauses were insisted on, he should, for once, favour the gentlemen opposite with his vote.
§ The committee then divided: For the Original Clause, 215; for the Amendment, 107: Majority 108.
|List of the Minority.|
|Abercromby, hon. J.||Lamb, hon. G.|
|Allen, J. H.||Lambton, J. G.|
|Althorp, viscount||Lyttleton, hon. W. H.|
|Anson, hon. G.||Manning, W.|
|Aubrey, sir John||Macleod, R.|
|Baring, sir T.||Macdonald, Jas.|
|Beaumont, T. W.||Martin, John|
|Burton, R. C.||Maxwell; John|
|Benett, John||Mildmay, P. St. John|
|Barnett, James||Milton, visct.|
|Benyon, Ben.||Monck, sir C.|
|Bernal, Ralph||Moore, Peter|
|Birch, Jos.||Nugent, lord|
|Brougham, Henry||Ommaney, F. M.|
|Byng, George||O'Callaghan, J.|
|Calcraft, J.||Ord, W.|
|Calvert, C.||Osborne, lord F.|
|Carter, John||Protheroe, E.|
|Cavendish, lord G.||Portman, E. B.|
|Cavendish, Henry||Palmer, C. F.|
|Clifton, viscount||Parnell, sir H.|
|Colborne, N. Ridley||Parnell, W.|
|De Crespigny, sir W.||Philips, G.|
|Davies, J. H.||Philips, G. jun.|
|Denman, Thos.||Phillipps, C. M.|
|Denison, W. J.||Price, Robt.|
|Duncannon, visct.||Rickford, W.|
|Dundas, Thos.||Ricardo, David|
|Ellice, Ed.||Ridley, sir M. W.|
|Fazakerly, N.||Robarts, W. T.|
|Fergusson, sir R.G.||Robarts, A.|
|Fitzroy, lord C.||Russell, lord G. H.|
|Gaskell, Ben.||Russell, R. G.|
|Grosvenor, T.||Sebright sir John|
|Grant, J. P.||Scarlett, J.|
|Graham, Sandford||Sefton, earl of|
|Graham, J. R. C.||Smith, John|
|Grenfell, P.||Smith, Wm.|
|Griffiths, J. W.||Tavistock, marquis|
|Guise, sir W.||Taylor, M. A.|
|Gurney, R. H.||Tierney, rt. hon. G.|
|Heygate, ald.||Wilson, Thos.|
|Harcourt, John||Waithman, ald.|
|Hamilton, lord A.||Webb, E.|
|Harvey, D. W.||Wharton, John|
|Hill, lord A.||Whitbread, W. H.|
|Honywood, W. P.||Wilkins, Walter|
|Howorth, H.||Williams, W.|
|Hume, J.||Wilson, sir R.|
|Hurst, R.||Wood, alderman|
|Heron, sir R.||Yorke, sir J.|
|Kennedy, T. F.||Bennet, hon. H. G.|
§ On reading the clause which enumerated the counties to which the bill was to 1164 be limited, Mr. Brougham asked lord Lowther, whether he, as representative for Westmorland, had given any reasons for including that county?
replied, that he thought it right to include Westmorland, as it lay between the disaffected districts of Scotland and Lancashire.
§ Mr. Brougham
said, it appeared then that Westmorland was to be punished, not for any radical principles, of which it had none, but on account of its misfortune in being situated between radical districts. The noble lord happened, however, to be unfortunate in his geography, for Dumfriesshire was situated between the disaffected part of Scotland and Lancashire, and yet it was not included. Perhaps the noble lord might as well urge that Westmorland was included in order to prepare for another measure, to stop the radicals in transitu through that county.
§ Mr. Bennet
said, that the noble lord, had traduced the character of his county, and upon his authority the House was called upon to pass this most odious law respecting a peaceable and well disposed county, and in the most odious shape in which it could be passed; as it authorized persons to enter into houses during the repose of night. He wished to know, whether the county of Northumberland was to be included, and nine-tenths, who were loyal and well disposed, were to have this stigma upon them? Because the neighbourhood of Newcastle was infested by a few who were the object of contempt and indignation to the great body of the county, Westmorland was to have that stigma upon no evidence at all but the calumny of its own representative. No member so calumniated Northumberland.
said, the hon. member had been very ready in advising him, but he thought this bill no stigma, nor would his county think it a stigma. He knew nothing of Northumberland; but as to geography he begged to say, that Westmorland was connected by situation with Lancashire, Cumberland, in which Carlisle was disturbed, and the West Riding of Yorkshire.
§ Mr. Brougham
said, the noble lord had really let new light in upon them. Carlisle, then, was now considered disaffected and dangerous. The noble lord had thought otherwise before the 16th of August; for if he had not been misinformed, the noble lord had put down a loyal address proposed to be signed by 1165 the grand jury at Carlisle, and had urged that there was no cause for such an address.
said, that although that was so, yet the necessity of sending for the lord lieutenant, and other reasons for alarm, had afterwards changed his view of the state of that part.
§ Mr. Wallace
defended the loyal address which he had proposed to the grand jury. He had thought it incumbent on them to do as others had done, very properly and very beneficially. No place was in a more dangerous state than Carlisle.
§ Mr. P. Moore
proposed to have the city of Coventry excepted. The mayor and corporation, although as much at variance with the inhabitants as his majesty's ministers were with the whole of the people, represented the inhabitants to be loyal and submissive to the laws. This was part of a system of grinding and simple despotism, of encroachment on encroachment, plot on plot. This was the Pitt system long advancing in its desolating course, and now hastening to a consummation.
§ Sir M. W. Ridley
said, that by letters he had received that morning, he could state, that there was every appearance of tranquillity, even in the places in the neighbourhood of Newcastle, where disaffection had appeased. Individuals were fast giving up the classes into which they had formed themselves.
§ Mr. Bennet
said, that the noble lord who was one of the representatives of Derbyshire, had asked, why that county was included? The noble lord opposite had deigned to give no reply. The member for Coventry had asked, why the people of Coventry, reported by the constituted authorities to be in a state of perfect loyalty, should be included? Still no reply from the noble lord. The sole purpose of this extension of an unnecessary, irritating, and barbarous measure was to circulate the system of delusion and deception.
§ The report was ordered to be received to-morrow.