§ The adjourned debate on the Address having been resumed,
§ Mr. V. Blake
said, he rose to order, for the purpose of protesting against the vote of last night on the question of adjournment.
§ The Speaker
observed, that if in the impression he had taken of the hon. gentleman's object, he was incorrect, the hon. gentleman had risen on the point of order, with the view of altering and 137 rescinding the vote the House had passed last night. If so, that was a course in which, according to the rules of proceeding, the hon. member was not at liberty to take.
§ The Speaker
said, it was open to the hon. member to submit a resolution to the House, to prevent any repetition of such a proceeding; but it was requisite, either that a regular notice of such intention should be given, or, at all events, be made the subject of a separate consideration. But no question, save one of privilege, could precede the regular discussion fixed for the day.
§ Mr. Hume
then rose. He began by saying, that his object in pressing the motion of adjournment last night, was to afford many gentlemen the opportunity of meeting the statements and assertions of the noble lord opposite, with the information they possessed, and the conviction they entertained relative to the transactions which formed so prominent a part of his speech. He felt at the time the correctness of the course he pursued, and he was now convinced, that, when the papers presented that evening were read and distributed, the public would see the propriety of the proceeding. In the course of his speech, the noble lord had made statements, and had converted allegations into facts, upon which, from the information he had received, the noble lord would feel the necessity of affording the House further explanation. He was extremely sorry, that in the Speech from the throne, there were some points with which he could not agree; and he did consider it the duty of that House to pause before it gave to them its sanction. The Speech from the throne, stated, that a hostile spirit was abroad; he was sorry to acknowledge that such a spirit existed, but it was for the members of that House to reflect upon the causes which occasioned such discontent. What had they done during the last session to appease it? Had any effort been made to mitigate, much less remove, the accumulated sufferings which pressed so heavily upon the people? To what a situation had such a policy reduced the kingdom! Those hon. members who had so recently travelled through various parts, could bear evidence to the state of agitation that prevailed. The din of war was to be heard in every town!—military recruitings were to be seen every where, as if the 138 government were preparing for an arduous contest! And against whom? Against our fellow-subjects! In a period of profound peace with foreign nations, we were adding to our military force — with a declining revenue we were increasing our military expenditure. When that expenditure amounted to twelve millions, the ministers of the Crown were embodying an additional force of 10,000 men. To such a ruinous proposition he could never give his assent.—The next point in the Speech to which he objected, was one which he felt could not be substantiated; he alluded to the passage in which the distresses of the country were attributed to the embarrassment of foreign states. In what way could such alleged embarrassment affect the internal peace and welfare of this country? Did the noble lord in adverting to foreign embarrassments, allude to France? He could not. There was no country in Europe more embarrassed than Great Britain. The true source of our difficulties and distresses was to be traced to our overwhelming taxation, and to the denial of a proper reform in that House. The question was not that the proposed Address was objectionable; but should the amendment be added, in his judgment that amendment was consistent, proper, and moderate.— It was stated last night by the noble lord, that the magistrates had given no orders to the military to dismiss the meeting at Manchester. If that was the case, in what a situation was the country placed! It was that day placed under military authority. Where, then, was the constitutional security? What could have prevented the military, if they pleased, from turning round on the very magistrates themselves and attacking them? In two of the letters from the magistrates presented that night, it was stated that the warrant for the apprehension of the parties was executed without any difficulty. How did this statement correspond with the assertions of the noble lord? He would not rest satisfied with the assertions of the noble lord, or of any man; he must have proofs on which to form a satisfactory opinion; he must give credit to the statements of eye-witnesses of the facts, who had no interest in any misrepresentation. Where was the proof of the magistrate being trampled upon when in the act of reading the Riot act? Where was the proof of what the noble lord asserted, that it was read three times? Nothing 139 of the kind was to be found in these letters; they merely glanced at it in these words:—"in the mean time the Riot act was read, and the mob dispersed." A right hon. and learned gentleman, for whose character and talents he entertained the highest respect (Mr. Plunkett) had asserted last night that the meeting of the 16th of August was illegal. He had heard him with surprise state, that meetings might be illegal in four ways, namely, by numbers, by devices, by threats, and by language. What was the numerical criterion? Was a meeting of 30,000 legal; and did an additional fifty constitute its illegality. He denied the law which recognised such a principle, or the page of the statute book that constituted a precise number a proof of illegality. The whole population of the country were supposed, and might, if there was accommodation, be assembled in the court of King's-bench. Did the number there make the assemblage illegal? He acknowledged his ignorance of any such principle; he believed it was not law, at least on this side of the water. If the assembly of the 16th of August was illegal, ministers were highly culpable for not dispersing others equally large or larger, subsequently assembled with the same banners and ceremonies. From the papers, it was clear that, on the morning of the 16th of August, no notion was entertained that the projected meeting was illegal. What, then, had altered its nature before noon? and where were the overt acts that warranted the attack upon the defenceless multitude? He was bound to take the report of the magistrates as the most correct; and he regretted to observe the light and trifling manner in which the important subject was treated by many of them. He gave the noble lord credit for being sincere when he said, that he believed the information he had obtained; but he entreated ministers not to be too credulous. He begged to ask what confidence ought to be placed in Mr. Norris and men like him, who, on the 17th of August went to the Exchange, and had it and all the shops closed, because he was informed that 50,000 radicals were on their march to the place. Were men to be relied upon who talk of danger which they fear, and who are in such a state of terror themselves, as scarcely to know -whether they stand upon their heads or heals? The hon. member for Bramber had said last 140 night, that the plan of the Manchester radicals was to remain on the ground until midnight, and then to fire the town; but what authority did he adduce for his statement? Did not the absolute ridiculousness of the plan give it a sufficient contradiction? Was this spirit, which was so much complained of, to be put down by heaping injustice on injustice? There were thousands and tens of thousands of individuals in the country, who suffered the most poignant distress, and, afflicted as they were it was really surprising that they had not been goaded on to acts of violence before this time. There were, he believed, many individuals who wished to take advantage of their distresses to inflame and irritate them; but if their efforts had any success, it was to be attributed to the conduct of his majesty's ministers. They were itinerant quacks, or field orators, who stimulated the passions of the people; but they would have been banished from society—they would not have been listened to—if they had not derived a spurious importance from the conduct of his majesty's ministers. The hon. member for Bramber had viewed, with dreadful alarm, the occurrences which had recently taken place, and wished the House to look on them with a similar feeling. But he would ask, could any just comparison be drawn between the state of England at the present moment, and that of France at the period of the revolution? In his mind, there could not. If the government of France, in that momentous hour, had conciliated, instead of oppressing and insulting, the people, in all probability the serious consequences which followed would not have been produced. If ever there was a question which called for mature and serious consideration before gentlemen came to a decision, it was undoubtedly the present. By agreeing to the amendment, of which he heartily approved, they would not pledge themselves to any line of conduct in future. They must be well aware that, from one end of the country to the other, an anxious desire to obtain justice, whoever the offenders might be, had been decidedly expressed. He begged to caution those members who imagined that a contrary spirit prevailed, and who were opposed to an inquiry into the circumstances which happened at Manchester, against being influenced by such a delusion. Let them look to the way in which counter-addresses had been got up 141 in different parts of the kingdom. In most instances, the parties who were anxious to have them signed had not appeared openly and boldly. They had not declared, in the face of day, what they meant to do. No; they felt that injustice had been perpetrated, and they knew that it demanded inquiry, although they took measures which must defeat that object. He would not decide whether it was or was not proper to institute an inquiry at the bar of that House; but if it was not fitting that such a proceeding should be adopted, they could, as they had done on other occasions, order prosecutions to be instituted before a proper tribunal.
said, he wished to say a few words in explanation. He was sure the hon. member who had just spoken had misrepresented him, not intentionally, but in consequence of having misconceived what he had stated on the preceding evening. He wished to set the hon. member right, rather because his observations affected the interests of others, than from any feeling personal to himself. He had last night stated, and he had good authority for doing so, that the meeting was dispersed in a manner not originally contemplated by the magistrates. Their intention was, that the assembly should be dispersed in the ordinary legal manner, the riot act being read, and every necessary form gone through. It was, as he had stated last night, the conflict with the troops at the hustings, which produced that state of things not originally contemplated by the magistrates. The hon. member had inferred, what was not warranted by the facts, that the meeting was dispersed without the interposition of the magistrates. That was not the case. He thought, however, that when the troops were attacked, they had a right to repel force by force, even if there were no magistrate present. The hon. member had accused him of not having produced proof of every fact he had stated. This would not have been consonant with the course he conceived it right to adopt. He contended, that the House of Commons wais not the place where such proof ought to be adduced, and he merely undertook to repel assertion by assertion, in order to-clear the characters of a number of individuals from the unjust attacks that had been made on them—attacks that were not warranted by the circumstances. The' hon. member had argued, that because he 142 admitted the meeting to have been dispersed in a way not at first contemplated by the magistrates, he therefore conceded the point, that it was not dispersed in a legal manner. He had conceded no such point. He said, that the military, when assailed, were justified in repelling force by force; and he would now state, what he had forgotten to mention on the preceding night, that it was by the order of the magistrates that the meeting was dispersed. The facts were these:—A small force about forty of the Manchester yeomanry was appointed to accompany the peace-officer to the hustings. When they arrived there, a conflict took place between the people and the yeomanry. A magistrate who was in conversation with colonel 'Estrange and colonel Dalrymple, at a window which afforded a full view of the place, saw these forty yeomen, in the midst of 50,000 persons, assailed, and he might say, overpowered. He observed to the officers, "Don't you think those yeomen are placed in a most perilous situation?" They agreed with him that their situation was critical and dangerous, and, in consequence, an immediate order was given to support the yeomanry and disperse the assembly. The 15th dragoons and the Cheshire Cavalry advanced to the rescue of the Manchester yeomanry; and in so doing, acted distinctly under the authority of the magistrate, who, on a fair view of the case, felt himself bound to give the necessary order. The hon. member seemed to consider, that the documents now laid before the House contained the whole of the information on which government formed its judgment. What he had stated last night showed the contrary. Government proceeded in a considerable measure, on the statements of the two individuals who had been sent up to give necessary information, and who were enabled to state the facts. How was it possible that a magistrate, at 12 o'clock at night, after what had occurred in the course of the day, and while the town was still in a riotous and tumultuous state, could detail, in a hasty letter, all the circumstances connected with the case, and which operated in his mind in forming a judgment of what ought to be done? He entreated the House not to give way to the idea that the case was to rest on the documents now laid before them. He had always stated that it was not, and he further said, that the transaction was not to receive judgment in that House. Go- 143 vernment conceived, from the facts laid before them, that the conduct pursued at Manchester was right; but that opinion did not conclude the conduct of the magistrates, which was still open to investigation.
§ Earl Temple
apologized to the House for presuming to occupy any portion of its valuable time; but, under the peculiar circumstances in which the country was placed, he conceived it to be the duty of every member of parliament to state, and to state openly, his reason for the vote he meant to give. He had heard the speeches of different gentlemen who had addressed the House, but none of them had given him so much surprise as that delivered by the right hon. gentleman on his right hand. He had absolutely treated the situation of the country with levity. Were they, then, to look lightly upon those who went about the country preaching doctrines destructive of the constitution? Were not persons of that class to be considered dangerous to the state? He could not look upon the machinations of persons of that description as matters of indifference. The occasion was one which demanded the prompt aid and assistance of every member of that House to put down the spirit of insubordination which prevailed to an alarming extent; and unless the government of the country were firmly supported at this crisis, neither he nor any other man could foresee or answer for the consequences that might follow.
§ Mr. Bennet
said, that having procured much information on the subject now under discussion, he was anxious to set the hon. member for Dover (Mr. B. Wilbraham) right on several points, which he had stated incorrectly on the preceding evening. Although he would not go the length of declaring that all the statements which had been presented to the 'public, with respect to the sufferers at Manchester, were true in every part, yet this he would say, that a case was substantially made out, which demanded inquiry; that case was supported by the evidence given on oath at the coroner's inquest, the proceedings at which, taken in short-hand he had read; it appeared from that evidence that great cruelty had been exercised. The hon. member for Dover began by stating, what he thought, on cooler judgment, he would reject, namely, that the persons who assembled at the meeting had no other object but that of plunder: 144 such was the general and sweeping declaration of the hon. member. He (Mr. Bennet) would not assert that alarm might not be created by the meetings of large bodies of the people; but this he would: say, that nothing could be more degrading to the character of the country, or more injurious to individuals who were employed in administering justice in those parts of the kingdom where these meetings were held, than to declare that assemblies of persons, consisting of he knew not how many thousands, were formed merely for purposes of plunder and devastation. That, when great numbers of persons met together, there might be some bad and mischievous individuals amongst them, he meant not to deny; but he would confidently maintain, that the great majority of them assembled for the purpose of stating their political opinion. They held opinions which he certainly detested—opinions that were injurious to the best interests of the country; but he believed they adhered to them from honest and conscientious feelings; and he felt that he had no more right to put them down by force, than he had to. persecute a man who held religious opinions of a different nature from those which he acknowledged. He believed those people met together for the purpose of taking the best means of carrying into effect those political sentiments which they supposed to be correct. The hon. member, who had thus accused between 30,000 and 40,000 persons, proceeded to give an account of the meeting. He stated, that the advance of the cavalry from the front of the house to the hustings, was attended by no attack on any person. This was not correct. It was proved by one of the witnesses who appeared for the magistrates, that not only great personal alarm was excited, but that violence was committed. James Hall, who gave his evidence before the coroner, who had been placed in a situation where he could watch the meeting, for he was but fifty yards from it, distinctly stated that he saw Meagher, the trumpeter, knock down a man, with, as he thought, the flat of his sword. That was before the cavalry arrived at the hustings. But this was not all. It was stated in evidence that three individuals were cut down by the yeomanry as they advanced. A woman with a child in her arms was also wounded; and, although the grand jury had thrown out the bills preferred on her behalf, still 145 he had a right to state it as a substantial matter that called for inquiry; when persons filling the situation of magistrates, and individuals who held the rank of ministers, offered statements to the House that were contradicted on oath, no doubt could be entertained that there was substantial reason for inquiry and investigation. If ever there was a case that demanded a severe scrutiny, it was that which now occupied the attention of the country, connected as it was with the loss of so many lives. The hon. member had stated, that there were but twenty-six persons hurt, who were taken to the infirmary. He believed that not less than fifty eight persons were admitted, in consequence of wounds and bruises. It was a fact, that eight persons had lost their lives, and he was sure he spoke within compass when he said, that between 3 and 400 individuals were rode over, wounded by sabres, or otherwise maimed. A committee had been formed at Manchester, to ascertain the number of the sufferers. The list prepared by them had not yet been sent to London, but it would be transmitted in the course of a few days, and then it would be seen whether his statement, or that of the hon. member who said that very few accidents had occurred, was the correct one. It would be found that a great deal of unnecessary cruelty had been resorted to. The people who attempted to escape by a passage not more than forty feet wide, were driven together in one mass, to the imminent danger of their lives. This was the only real outlet; the others, were difficult of egress, in consequence of the situation of different houses. But one effect could be produced by a body of cavalry pursuing a great concourse of people into such a narrow pass; and it was in evidence that the poor creatures were forced down, and were seen lying in heaps, one on the top of the other, black in the face, and with all the appearance of suffocation. So great was the pressure, that the railings were broken down, and numbers of the people were dragged, wounded, and bloody, through the panels of doors, which had been forced in by their efforts. Two individuals were, on oath, accused of having cut at every person who passed. This was all stated before the coroner's jury, and no attempt was made to controvert it. Respectable persons living within eighteen or twenty yards of the hustings, were unjustifiably assailed. Gentlemen 146 turned round on those who condemned such proceedings, and, because the facts he now adduced were not stated in the course of the debate; because individuals had not an opportunity of critically reading the evidence, they thought proper to taunt them, affected to believe that not the shadow of a case could be made out, and declared the whole of the statement that had been laid before the public to be false. The hon. member had stated, that a yeoman of the name of Hulme, had been struck from his horse by the blow of a stone, before the cavalry made any attack. The hon. member's information was incorrect. It was proved, on oath, that Mr. Holme was one of the persons who was actively employed in dispersing the meeting, and that he rode into the yard of the Quakers meeting house, cutting and hacking the people, whose blood now lay on the stones and rails. It was in a street near the yard that he received his wound, long after the military had advanced, and Hunt and Moorhouse were in custody.— He would not now go into a detail of the evidence, which at a future period must of necessity be fully considered. He agreed in the statement of those who held that a meeting, by reason of the language and conduct of the person who attended it, might become illegal; but he was not prepared to say that there was any part of the proceedings at Manchester, that stamped the meeting there with an illegal character. It had been observed, that the meeting of large bodies of men was attended with inconvenience, if not danger. There was no person but would allow that the assemblies of great numbers of people, in a manufacturing district was exceedingly inconvenient; but inconvenience did not constitute criminality. It was also observed, that those people came to the ground with flags and banners. He admitted that they did, and that same of those banners had very improper inscriptions on them. But such a parade never could justify the severe measures that had been adopted. Again they were told that the people advanced to the place of meeting in military array? But how was it possible for 5,000, or 6,000 persons to move, except in an irregular and tumultuous manner, without they were put into something like military array? He did not, therefore, think, that the mere circumstance of their being attended by music, or their marching eight or ten a-breast, with their arms linked together 147 was a sufficient reason for calling the meeting at Manchester an illegal assembly. The noble lord had told them, that the magistrates did not originally intend to disperse the meeting; but were compelled to do so, when it assumed a character similar to that stated by certain individuals who had given their information, all of whom, except Mr. Owen were concealed. Now, the meeting began to assemble at half past eleven o'clock, and continued till one. Had not, then, the magistrates, long before one o'clock, an opportunity of satisfying themselves whether the meeting was legal or illegal? If they conceived it to be the latter, why did they not stop the people as they were advancing to it? Or why not order the Riot act to be read, and prevent the meeting altogether? There was no necessity to apprehend Hunt at the meeting. He might have been arrested on the charge now preferred against him, without any difficulty. In his opinion, if the magistrates conceived that such a meeting was illegal from the first, they had acted most indiscreetly in not preventing it. It was now distinctly known, that the Riot act was never read till the charge of the soldiers took place. Three persons were wounded by the advance of the cavalry before it was read. Mr. Hay's statement put it beyond a doubt that it was not read till after the charge. One of the magistrates, a clergyman, Mr. Ethelstone declared that he read it; but he had' not said, when or where—nor had he ventured to swear to the fact. He did not mean to say that the Riot act was not read at all; but he believed that the reading did not take place until after the yeomanry had begun their attack on the people. The noble lord bad spoken of the attack on the military, and the hon. member for Dover also stated, that such an attack was made. He (Mr. Bennet) did not believe it. Nadin, in his evidence, deposed, that he only knew of one stone being flung. Another witness, Mr. Entwisle, spoke of stones, brick-bats, and sticks being made use of; but he was not borne out by the testimony of any other person, and he was contradicted by the testimony of most respectable merchants, who, out of curiosity, proceeded to the field where the meeting took place. He believed the real facts of the case were these—that after the persons on the hustings had been seized, the multitude was attacked, and the word was given by some person 148 or other whom he knew not, "have at their flags." The constables then seized the flags, and the yeomanry made an irruption into the crowd, and committed the evil which was now so universally deplored. That proceeding lamentable as it undoubtedly was, originated, he had no doubt, from a loss of temper on their parts, and an ignorance of the kind of enemy with whom they had to contend. This view of the subject received great illustration from a statement made by Nadin, in the evidence which he gave on the inquest at Oldham: he had there stated, that it never was in contemplation to allow the yeomanry to advance without the support of the dragoons; that no order was ever issued by their commandant, captain Birley, enjoining them to march; that owing to some impetuosity, which he pretended not to explain, they made a simultaneous rush forward; that immediately afterwards, they lost their head, and became ungovernable; and that they became so from that want of command over them, which regular troops never experienced.—The hon. member then observed, that after having made these remarks on this subject, he felt it necessary to say a few words more upon another, which had been mentioned by the right hon. gentleman opposite, and his hon. friend who had preceded him—he meant the seditious and blasphemous publications which had been so much complained of. There was not a man in that House who felt greater abhorrence than he did of such publications; still he begged leave to say, that he had, while in Lancashire, been informed, that irreligious doctrines were not prevalent among the lower orders of the community in that county; and that this information had been derived from many individuals who had taken a philanthropic interest in the union schools established there, and who had particularly inquired into the nature of the religious works circulated among them. It was difficult, he allowed, to disprove the existence of irreligious principles; but if he might be allowed to judge of what the principles of the people were from the primers which were used by them in the education of their children, and which were now in his possession, he would say, that there were no books in the English language better calculated than they were to instruct youth in their moral and religious duties. There was no union school in which, the lessons did not commence 149 with a hymn, a religious hymn, in which the gospel was not regularly read, and in which a sermon was not regularly preached. Perhaps it would be interesting to the House to know something of the origin of these union schools. Most of them would be aware of the difficulty which had once existed in getting the children of the poor to the Sunday-schools; that difficulty had, however, soon abated, and the poor were made sensible of the benefits which accrued to them from education. Out of that conviction the union schools had arisen; they owed not their origin to the charitable endowments of the rich, but to the con-joint exertions and subscriptions of the poor; and if the right hon. gentleman would either communicate to him in private, or would favour him in public with the name of the school in which this blasphemous primer was said to be taught, he would undertake to show him that his information was incorrect, on the testimony of the patrons and inspectors of the school, who, he had no doubt, would be able to satisfy both the House and the country that no such work had ever been taught, either by their direction or with their knowledge. To the poor, indeed, religion was their best consolation; as it taught them that there was another world beyond the present, in which they might expect to enjoy those benefits and blessings which were denied them here. He could show, that in no part of England was this consolation more strongly enjoyed than in the county palatine of Lancaster; and that in no part of it was a religious feeling either more general or more warm than in the manufacturing districts. He did not know whether what he had now stated would carry conviction to the mind of the right hon. gentleman; but he would undertake to convince him in private, if he had not already convinced him on the subject; and therefore he trusted the House would give him credit for the assertion when he declared, that whatever mischief certain designing men might have intended to propagate by the dissemination of irreligious and blasphemous publications, the inhabitants of no county stood more clear than the inhabitants of Lancashire on the question of irreligion. It was requisite to state this fact thus publicly, because nothing had inflicted so severe a wound upon the minds of the persons of whom he was then speaking, as the slanders which had been uttered on this subject. 150 Indeed, the public press had long teemed with the foulest calumnies on this head; and, what was still more worthy of reprobation, the authors of those calumnies knew them to be destitute of all foundation, even at the very moment that they were committing them to paper.— There was likewise another subject on which he was desirous of speaking, shortly. He felt it his duty to state, that it was his decided opinion that it was impossible. to govern England in 1819 by the same means as it had been governed in 1719; neither was it any reason that the county should suffer bad government now, because our ancestors had at that time, or formerly, suffered a worse. There was a degree of intellect now in the country which rendered it necessary that the. House should look into the state of the representation, and should examine whether it was not expedient, from the more general diffusion of wealth and property, to give to wealth and property more weight in the representative system. From a contrast which had lately fallen under his view he had learned, that the county of Lancaster, with a population amounting to little short of a million inhabitants, sent fewer members to parliament than those which were returned by five great families in Cornwall. This system could not be what it ought to be; and some alteration in it was absolutely necessary, if the government wished either to retain or recover the affections of the people. That alteration, however, ought not to be annual parliaments or universal suffrage; as such innovations would lead to anarchy one day, and to military despotism the next. Still, though such was his opinion, he felt himself bound to recommend to the House, if it wished to avoid civil dissention, if it wished to avoid that greatest of all evils, the shedding of English blood by English hands, to examine fairly and freely into the state of the representation, and to show the people that, though it would oppose all such innovations as would tend to subvert the constitution, it was quite alive to that greatest of all great questions—the propriety of giving to the people a better, a greater, and a more general control than they now possessed over parliament, by extending, to a certain degree, the power of suffrage [Hear!]—He could not conclude the remarks which he had to offer to their notice, without earnestly imploring them to pause before they de- 151 cided. No man could look at the present state of the country without alarm, and therefore it became doubly necessary that they should adhere to safe counsels. Nothing that looked like an empty display of power, nothing that resembled a wanton abuse of patronage, ought to be exhibited: above all should be avoided such measures as the dismissal of earl Fitzwilliam from the lieutenancy of the West Riding of the county of York; because that situation was not bestowed on that illustrious nobleman as a mere honour or civic decoration, but as a pledge that, though he was employed by the Crown, he was still to remain the servant, the faithful servant of the people. Indeed, by adding great virtues to his great possessions, he was also calculated, in more ways than one, to be their natural leader—The hon. member then went on to say, that he cordially supported the amendment which had been proposed, though he hardly understood now to tack it on to the address, since he disputed the facts, protested against the conclusions, and abhorred the remedies which were proposed in that document. Indeed, he did not understand how he could support any thing which he detested so cordially. What he wished to obtain at present was, union among all ranks and classes of the people; and therefore he could not support the address, as he considered it more calculated than any thing else which could be devised to spread disunion and contention among them [Hear, hear!].
§ Mr. Bootle Wilbraham
said, he would not again have intruded on the notice of the House, had it not been for certain statements which had just fallen from the hon. gentleman who had preceded him; and expressed a hope that the House would pardon him, if he transgressed a little beyond the limits of a mere explanation. He allowed that the hon. gentleman had one advantage over him: he (Mr. B. Wilbraham) had not been at Manchester at all this year, whereas the hon. gentleman had been there for some weeks.
§ Mr. Bootle Wilbraham.
—He knew, however, that the solicitor who had conducted the prosecution at Oldharn had been frequently with the hon. member, and therefore that he was well acquainted with the evidence which had been given there. The hon. gentleman had applied 152 to him regarding some facts which were stated to have occurred before the grand jury: those facts he did not feel himself at liberty to communicate, from having been upon it. He would, however, read to them one instance of falsehood, out of many, which had been communicated to him by a noble friend. The House would recollect the indictment which had been presented against Edward Tebbutt, by Elizabeth Farren, who had been hurt in consequence of having fallen into a cellar. After Pearson's fishing advertisement for indictments, this woman had said she was cut by a man in large whiskers; whereas, Tebbutt never had large whiskers in the course of his life.
§ Mr. Egerton
said, that he should not be doing his duty to the magistrates of the county which he had the honour to represent, if he did not declare, that they were as anxious as the House could be to have an inquiry instituted into their conduct; at the same time he thought it right to say, that this was not the proper court in which to institute such an inquiry. If their conduct was investigated in the proper court, and evidence regularly heard regarding it, he had no doubt but that they would come out of such investigation with the purest and most unsullied characters. The worthy member then detailed the proceedings of the magistracy of the two counties of Lancaster and Chester, previous to the 16th of August, as also the military array and tumultuous march of the reformers on that day; and argued, that if the magistrates had not dispersed them in the manner they did, they would have incurred a most dreadful responsibility. He also urged, that all the injuries sustained on that day ought not to be attributed to the magistracy, because, whenever a panic was created among a large multitude, the rush to escape was always attended by dangerous consequences.
§ Sir W. De Crespigny
said, that the best way in which he could characterise the dispersion of the meeting at Manchester by the magistrates and yeomanry, was by calling it an illegal attack upon an unarmed multitude [Coughing.] He trusted that the House, upon so momentous a question as the present, would support him, whilst he mentioned certain facts, which he pledged himself to be able to prove at the bar of the House. A venerable gentleman, a clergyman, had gone to the meeting out of curiosity and 153 a desire to see Hunt. He had waded through the crowd till he arrived at the hustings, and just as he got there, Hunt ascended them. Having satisfied his curiosity, he was departing, when he was induced to turn round, by hearing a body of cavalry advancing with great velocity. The yeomanry halted; a short address was made to them; and then a voice called on them to advance. Shortly afterwards he saw Hunt taken, the flags struck down, and the yeomanry turning their havoc upon their own countrymen and townsmen. He then endeavoured to make his escape as fast as his feeble limbs could carry him, by the street opposite to the hustings. When he got there, he found the soldiers posted across the street; he asked them to let him pass; they refused, and forced him back to the field from which he had just escaped; he went back in the expectation that he should immediately be cut down. When he got there, he recollected that he had a friend who lived on the spot; to his house he directed his steps, and was fortunately seen by his friend whilst on the road. The door was opened to receive him, when a yeoman pursued him so eagerly, that he forced his horse up to the steps. From all this, lie was of opinion, that inquiry was necessary; and he could not think that any gentleman in that House could bring himself to vote against the amendment. Was there one man in that House, was there one man without that House, who did not demand an investigation of matters so deeply affecting the dearest interests of the nation? He would conclude by seconding the amendment, which was essential to the defence of the rights of the Crown, of the people, and of the constitution.
§ Lord Nugent
observed, that his majesty's ministers had asserted that the meeting on the 16th of August was illegal. But, not satisfied with asserting the illegality of the meeting, they had asserted that the illegality had been admitted by his hon. and learned friend who had spoken last night. He most unequivocally denied this assertion. No such admission had been made. He allowed that if the noble lord opposite established his statements, then the meeting was illegal; but the proof of those statements depended upon the re-result of an inquiry. If on inquiry the noble lord's statements should be made out, all would be satisfied. But inquiry was indispensable for this purpose. The 154 noble lord's evidence was not admissible on the subject. It was not admissible in the first place, because it was not evidence in chief, but the remote testimony of consequential circumstances. It was not admissible in the second place, because the noble lord had made himself a party to the transaction in question, by giving his approbation, when that approbation could not be the result of investigation and inquiry. Stress had been laid on the grand jury of Lancaster having thrown out the bills of indictment against the magistrates, as if the grand jury had been trying the legality or illegality of the meeting. But no such thing had come under the consideration of the grand jury. They were called upon to inquire only into the grounds for putting certain individuals on their trial for a capital offence, he believed, under lord Ellenborough's act. Could the noble lord suppose that the grand jury could, on such an occasion, have gone into all the circumstances of the meeting? But, granting that they had, and that they were of opinion that the meeting had been illegal, he begged to be allowed to say, that the unanimous declaration of another jury, upon evidence on both sides of the question before them— he meant the coroner's jury—had pronounced the meeting to have been legal. The opinion of the latter jury was at least equal to that of the former on this question, admitting the former to have declared the meeting illegal. But supposing it demonstrable that the meeting had not been legal, even then, granting that, and granting that the Riot act had been read, audibly and sensibly to the audience, and granting further that one hour had elapsed after it was so read before the dispersion, still not one step was taken to- wards exculpating ministers for their hasty approval of those proceedings. The case before them was of the greatest importance. A meeting had been put down by the sword—a meeting assembled to discuss objects which every enlightened and honest man must endeavour to prevent, but legally assembled to discuss those objects; such a meeting was dispersed by the sword. He would not state it as a case of rumour of bloodshed, of the ignorant, the unwary, and the helpless—men, women, and children mix- ed in indiscriminate carnage. It was not necessary to state it so as to excite feelings perhaps already too prevalent. But it was a case which called imperiously for 155 the explanation of one thing—why military force had been at all employed. And if military force was to be employed, why the Manchester yeomanry, the most improper of any, were employed? Useful as yeomanry corps might be, attached as he was to such means of defence, he must say that the yeomanry were the most improper that could be employed on this occasion. Many of them were under the influence and direction of prejudiced men; many were themselves masters, offended and irritated by their workmen; all had feelings of affection or hatred to gratify. Here he would state a fact which he had from the most respectable authority—an authority which he pledged himself to produce at the bar of that House, if inquiry was granted; upon that authority he stated that rations of wine and brandy had been issued to these men before they were called upon to perform this business. Such, indeed, had been the treatment received by the constables from the soldiery, that several of them assembled next day and broke their staves, declaring that they would no longer act under the magistrates. He did not mean to say that they, in doing so, were right, but he mentioned the circumstance to show the feelings entertained of the conduct of the magistrates. He pledged himself to produce to the House his authority for this fact also, if an opportunity should be given for doing so. Upon the fact, then, that many lives were lost by the sword, his Royal Highness was advised to give thanks to those whose swords those lives had been taken away. The House had been told that these circumstances were not a fit matter of inquiry by parliament—that the courts of law were open to the sufferers; but let the House recollect the quarter from which this statement came. Who was the great authority who now pointed to this resource? Who was this ultima ratio Juris? Why, it was the very authority who two years ago had introduced indemnity bills for the purpose of preventing all legal redress! Let it be also recollected the it when actions were brought against lord Sidmouth and other magistrates, this high authority told them that juries were not the fit tribunal for such questions. Then they were to come to parliament with their complaints. The language of ministers then was—" these are not matters to be decided in a court of law, that is not the proper tribunal, come to parlia- 156 ment, there it is that you are to look for redress." But what was their language now? "You have no right to discuss these matters in parliament, the courts of law are the proper tribunals to which to appeal!!" Thus, as it suited their convenience, ministers drew directly opposite conclusions from the same premises. But was this to be tolerated? Was there to be one law for the magistrates and another for the people? What did the address recommend? Was the liberty of the press to be limited? Were bills to be introduced to give magistrates indemnity for the past and security for the future? Was the Habeas Corpus Act again to be suspended? He sincerely hoped that no attempt would be made to resort to any of those measures. Again, it had been urged that there was a spirit of blasphemy and irreligion widely disseminated through the country. Was this a fact? That there was a feeling of dissatisfaction in the country he admitted; but from what did it arise? Let them not mistake causes for effects. This spirit was created by misgovernment. The people of this country were naturally of a religious, peaceable, and loyal disposition, and generally desirous to obey the laws. This had ever been their character. What was it that had changed their character? He was sorry to hear the hon. member for Bramber, on a former night, support with that eloquence which was so peculiar to him, the opinion that blasphemy and irreligion so generally prevailed. The hon. member's religious horror seemed to have overcome the conviction of fact and evidence. But he hoped that, upon more deliberate consideration, the hon. member would suffer himself to be convinced of the propriety and justice of inquiring into the circumstances of the transactions in question. Let him look at the trial of that poor wretch who had stood charged with publishing blasphemy; let him look at the effect of blasphemies on the crowd assembled in the court; let him recollect the thrill of horror which was excited among them; let him recollect the instant verdict of guilty found against him, while no sympathy or regret was expressed by the spectators. Let the hon. member look at these things, and he would find in them no proof of the prevalence of sedition and blasphemy. He admitted that in a few of the manufacturing districts there were some feelings of this kind entertained; he also knew that there were 157 persons who for certain purposes pretended to do honour to the rotten bones of the infamous Paine. But how were these opinions to be met? Alas! not by chains, and dungeons, and bayonets. The remedy was, employment for the laborious poor. Let ministers take measures to revive our manufactures; let them open commercial treaties with South America in the one hemisphere, or oblige our faithful ally on the other to open her ports to our trade. He congratulated the House on having assembled so early; but in order to be of use, they must meet the difficulties fairly which pressed upon them. They must look the situation of the country in the face, and induce ministers to do the same. Let ministers look fairly at the situation which they had themselves occasioned. Their measures had given rise to principles, and called forth characters, previously unknown in this country. Let them now look at those principles and characters which their misgovernment had brought into action. Let them look at the poor meeting to petition for objects which, if granted, would soon present the image of ruin to the country and to themselves. But they must also look to the causes of these evils. Let them find confidence to say, and let them find an audience to believe, that these things were owing to the sedition and turbulence of such men as lord Fitzwilliam. They had been told that this subject did not belong to that House. It did, however, most evidently belong to the very question now before them; for that noble earl had been dismissed for petitioning for the very same inquiry, the expediency of which was now under discussion. To say one word upon the character of that illustrious person was indeed unnecessary. But when they saw a nobleman dismissed whose whole life formed the basis of his popularity, and dismissed for an act deserving thanks from his sovereign and his country, it was impossible not to view the occurrence as an indication of the character of the transactions at Manchester, and of the intentions of ministers. When ministers attempted to degrade lord Fitzwilliam for expressing old English jealousy of military attacks on the people, they degraded only themselves. Let the House consider the purpose for which they met. If they separated without inquiry, they might give rise to violence and bloodshed, which every member of that House must depre- 158 cate. Let it not go forth to the public, that a number of persons were killed, that his majesty's ministers issued thanks to those who had killed them, and came to that House and desired the House to make itself a party to screening them; and that the House consented to suppress inquiry for that purpose.
§ Mr. Warren
remarked, that the hon. members on the other side had set out by admitting the illegality of the meeting on the 16th of August, but having slept upon the matter, they now came down with a retraction of that admission. Notwithstanding this, however, he had no doubt but he should satisfy the House of the illegality of that meeting. Indeed, if any doubt were entertained on that point, the speech of the right hon. and learned member was calculated to remove it, notwithstanding that that speech was spoken of by another hon. and learned gentleman as special pleading. The hon. gentleman who had opened the debate tonight said, Where is the law? Where is the statute by which a meeting of the description of the 16th is declared illegal?—There was certainly no statute, if that was any satisfaction to the hon. gentleman; but his right hon. and learned friend had argued, that the meeting was illegal on the principles of the common law. But he wished to call to the recollection on the hon. gentleman, that letter which was written by Mr. Hunt, the head of the radicals—that itinerant orator, that mountebank, as the right hon. gentleman opposite had properly called him, before the meeting of the 16th. At Coventry, in his way to Lancashire, he wrote a letter, in which he asserted that it was necessary to make a demonstration of physical force. If the hon. gentleman knew that on the 9th it was intended to add a representative to the House from a borough, which now sent none—was that legal? Even the persons intending to assemble, themselves shrunk from that attempt; and on the 16th, the professed object for which the meeting was called, was conceived in different terms. But would any man say, that the subject discussed on the 16th was different from that proposed to be taken on the 9th? Was any man blind enough to say, that the same object which was proposed to be discussed on the 9th, was not in reality discussed on the 16th? With respect to the meeting on the 16th, it could not be denied but that on that day several thousand 159 persons were assembled—some said 70,000 in all—in Manchester, with Mr. Hunt at the head of them, and that they marched in a sort of military array—that some of the persons who assembled at that meeting had been trained before. Let them consider next what the banners were. One of them had a female figure on it with a bloody dagger in her hand—that was necessarily connected with an alteration of the law. Another had on it an inscription of "Equal Representation or Death." Now he would ask any hon. member, if Mr. Hunt had said to the meeting, we will endeavour by every means in our power to obtain an equal representation, even if we should be put to death in making the attempt, would not that have been a seditious speech? But what was the difference between a sentiment of this kind in the mouth of a speaker or on a banner? What was the difference between words uttered in a speech at a meeting, and words emblemed on the banner under which the people met? The meeting was clearly an illegal meeting. Then were the magistrates justified in the course which they pursued? On the statement of circumstances calculated to excite alarm made to them on oath, they issued a warrant to arrest Mr. Hunt. So far, at least, the magistrates had conducted themselves with prudence and propriety. The next question was, as the meeting was illegal, in what manner it was to be dispersed? If the meeting was illegal, as he conceived it was, it became the duty of the magistrates to disperse it. The magistrates had two different steps to take—one was, to arrest Mr. Hunt; another, to disperse the meeting. Then came the question, whether the manner of the dispersion was such as to be justified by the circumstances which then occurred, or not? And here he contended, that the House was not the proper place for an inquiry into this part of the subject, as the courts of law were open. This was a matter to be determined by judges and juries, and not to be inquired into at the bar of the House. An hon. and learned gentleman had said, that the magistrates might have acted in such a way as to call for an inquiry into their conduct at the bar of the House, though the wrong done by them might not be such as could be taken cognizance of by courts of law. But would any member say, that any thing could be an offence here which 160 was not an offence at common law? If inquiry was entered on, and it should appear that criminality attached to the magistrates, what would be the result? The House must order them to be prosecuted. And thus, after all the evidence taken at the bar of the House, they must be sent back to the tribunal, out of the hands of which the inquiry was taken. The decision of the grand jury on the bills sent up to them was, so far, a proof that the magistrates were innocent. It had been asked, how it happened that the attorney-general had been able to have a variety of bills found against a variety of persons, while Mr. Hunt was not able to succeed in the same object? It had been suggested, that it was because this individual had not property sufficient to enable him to prosecute, now, the very attempt already made by Mr. Hunt showed that that there was money somewhere to enable him to carry on the prosecution if necessary. One attorney, or more had been employed; so that it would not appear that there was any want of money to carry proceedings on, if they had been thought likely to succeed. The inference was, as no steps had been taken, that the magistrates were innocent. This was a prima facie case in favour of the magistrates. Was it to be laid down as a rule, that whenever, by any accident, a loss of life or limb took place, the House were called on to interfere? A right hon. gentleman, who spoke very early in the debate, had said, that the House was in such a situation from the state of the representation, that it had lost the confidence of the country, and that very little regard was paid to its decisions; and yet, in the very same breath in which he said the country reposed no confidence in the House, did he propose to bring forward this inquiry. Such was the consistency of the right hon. gentleman.
said, that if he comprehended correctly the purport of the speech of the hon. and learned gentleman who had just sat down, that hon. and learned gentleman had certainly misunderstood his hon. friend. It did not follow, from the hon. and learned gentleman's own showing even, that the conduct of the magistrates of Manchester was justifiable; because, admitting that the meeting of the 16th of August was an illegal meeting, it did not necessarily result that it was a riotous one; for although in his own view of the law, a riotous meeting was therefore an 161 illegal one, yet it was not thence to be inferred, as matter of course, that if illegal, it must be riotous. Admitting even that the meeting was illegal, did the magistrates exercise a sound discretion in proceeding as they did with that meeting; he felt a great delicacy in delivering any opinion on the conduct of the magistrates of Manchester, because he was aware, that the conduct of the people at Manchester and its vicinity, some time previous to the meeting of the 16th was such as to excite a very general, and, as he thought, a very well-founded alarm. The moment he was informed of the drillings, and other transactions carrying on in Lancashire, he was convinced that they were of a character incompatible with good order and tranquillity; and he had no hesitation in now declaring his belief, that never was there a time at which it was more important to the real welfare of the country, that the civil authorities should be protected, supported, and upheld; and that under the difficult circumstances in which they were placed, the magistrates should proceed in such a manner as to command the approbation of all respectable men. He had up to this time cautiously avoided doing or saying any thing respecting the proceedings of the 16th, least they might be considered to pledge him to do or say any thing on the subject; for he conceived that he had an important duty to discharge in that House, and that he ought not to do any thing which might have a tendency to bias him on the subject, or which might operate as an obstacle in the way of his obtaining from individuals a communication of such facts as they might be able to give him. In comparing the information which he had received upon the subject—with the papers before the House— he did not mean to state the thing more positively—but there did appear to him to be such differences as authorized inquiry. He had his views of the facts; but without stating what they were, he might be allowed to observe, that it appeared to him, the noble lord who had spoken in an early part of the evening must have been very much misinformed. In what the noble lord had said he seemed to have detracted very much from the value of the thanks which had been given to the magistrates. Now, he found it stated on the one hand, that the warrants could not be executed without the assistance of the military power; and on the 162 other, that an avenue was preserved from the House where the magistrates assembled, up to, or very nearly up to, the hustings upon which the parties were stationed. This appeared from Mr. Hay's letter. It had never been clearly explained what was the motive upon which the magistrates had acted in that case. It would have been surely advisable, before the military aid was called in, to have tried whether, by means of this avenue, the warrants, as had been stated to be the fact, could not have been executed by the civil power alone. It had never been asserted, that in the first instance an attempt was made to execute the warrants, without the military, and that such attempt failed. It had been asserted, that the persons who were near the hustings were locked arm in arm, and that it was on that account impossible to approach the hustings. On the other hand it had been said, that the persons in question were locked arm in arm to preserve a space open to the hustings. But whatever was the fact, it would at least have been adviseable to see whether the warrant could not be executed by the civil power alone, before calling in the military. Another assertion which had been made was, that the yeomanry, in their attempt to seize Mr. Hunt, were assaulted and resisted. It was asserted on the other side, that no resistance was made by any part of the meeting, at least until after the advance of the yeomanry to the hustings. Persons who went there merely to make their own observations, not one of whom approved of the meeting, but even disapproved of it as much as he himself did, and were friendly to ministers, did assure him that not a single stone was thrown in the advance of the yeomanry to the hustings. This was a fact of infinite importance. What, he would ask, was to have prevented the civil power, when there was no opposition to the advance of the yeomanry to the hustings? The noble lord had said, that the magistrates read the proclamation in the Riot act three times over, in order that the persons on the ground might be aware that the meeting was illegal. It was really most unfortunate, however, that the poor people assembled at the meeting were not at all aware of any such proclamation having been made. One poor man who went there for the protection of his own property which happened to be situated in a place immediately adjoining the house in 163 which the magistrates were, had told him that he was on the ground from eleven o'clock till the meeting was over, and yet he had never heard the Riot act read— that no one near him had ever heard it read—and he had never seen any one who heard it read. The noble lord had said the magistrates had no intention to disperse the meeting in the manner it was dispersed. Was it not, then, most unfortunate, if the Riot act was read to give notice that the meeting was illegal, and that it would be dispersed unless the people retired quietly from the ground without delay, that the notice was given in such a manner as to prevent the possibility of its being heard? Mr. Hay's letter made it extremely doubtful when the Riot act was read, whether it was read before the advance of the military, or during that advance, or after it. It contained no correct information as to the time when the Riot act was actually read. He really could apply no particular meaning to the letter —it was impossible for him to judge, either what time the Riot act was read, or what time the resistance on the part of the people began. On this subject, therefore, it was impossible for him to form a judgment without farther facts— and he therefore conceived that an inquiry into the case became necessary. It did appear to him that an inquiry by the House of Commons was the only manner in which the popular irritation which now existed could be allayed; or justice done in the matter. The situation in which the magistrates had been placed was certainly extremely arduous, and he should be extremely rejoiced to find from the result of such an inquiry, that they had exercised that sound discretion which every one would wish they might prove to have done. He considered that the House would not perform the duty they owed to themselves and to the country, if they did not direct such an investigation to be instituted; and he called upon them to remember what had been said upon that point by a well-known, able, and luminous writer, the power of whose oratory had often been felt within those walls: "A vigilant and jealous eye over executory and judicial magistracy; an anxious care of public money, an openness approaching towards facility to public complaint: these seem to be the true, characteristics of a House of Commons. But an addressing House of Commons and 164 a petitioning nation; A House of Commons full of confidence, when the nation is plunged in despair who, in all disputes between the people and administration, presume against the people; who punish their disorders, but refuse even to inquire into the provocations to them— this is an unnatural, a monstrous state of things in such a constitution." He really could see no danger from an inquiry. At all events an inquiry could not throw the public mind into a more alarming state than that in which it was. The working people had been taught to believe that their condition would be benefitted by that species of reform which they supported, and they were, therefore, disposed to do all they could to promote it. They were zealous, he granted, in furthering the object they had in view. There were indeed, some who might endeavour to increase the exciting discontent, for the purpose of pushing the poor people on to objects which they did not contemplate; but though there might be individuals who had such mischievous intentions, he could not believe that the many thousands who advocated parliamentary reform, were not sincere in their objects. In the manufacturing districts, a great and most lamentable change had taken place. The people, from receiving high wages had come to receive low wages. If their condition was the same as it formerly was, the House would have heard nothing of this discontent. But they must not deceive themselves—the real difficulty they had to contend with was the severity of taxation, operating on all classes, but most on the lower classes. Low as wages were in England, they were still lower on the continent; but then on the continent provisions were cheaper. This was the difficulty. But what was the remedy? It was not easy, he confessed, to find one. But at all events every retrenchment which was practicable ought to be made. Even when the retrenchment was comparatively of a trifling amount, yet for the sake of principle, it ought to be made. But he was sorry to say, that even the most trifling savings, were always opposed, however frivolous the grounds on which such opposition was made. Nothing tended more to spread discontent among the people than this disposition on the part of government. He did really believe, that in the manufacturing districts it was almost universally supposed, that nothing but plunder and the grossest pe- 165 culation were going forward. This was a gross infatuation, he was ready to allow, but still it was believed; and he thought that the Mouse of Commons were called upon to show by their conduct that they were entitled to the confidence of the country. The House of Commons, by their conduct on one important subject, might regain that confidence, he meant, by agreeing to that reform which was now so generally desired. He knew he was delivering a very unpopular doctrine. But if it was not popular in the House, it was very popular out of it, not merely with the lower classes, but he believed with an infinite majority of the middling classes throughout the country; and in all our difficulties we must rely on the exertions of the middling classes. He believed an infinite majority of the middling classes were for a moderate and temperate constitutional reform. And why should parliament be unwilling to consent to such a reform? Why should not the representation be suited to the varying circumstances of the country? It would certainly be a most wonderful circumstance if they had had the good luck to hit upon that representation which would not admit a possibility of advantageous change. We ourselves had witnessed a very important change in the representation of Ireland, which had become more popular, without any bad effect having resulted from it. What great mischief could arise if Scotland were gratified—if an attempt were made to improve its representation—if that could be called representation which was not representation? What great harm could happen if the representation of some of the notoriously corrupt and trading boroughs were transferred to Manchester, Birmingham, and some other places? He believed, if a serious attempt at this sort of constitutional amendment were made, it would do more to put down the evil disposition which he was sorry to say did exist in some districts, than any other course which could be adopted. It had been wisely said, that the bulk of mankind were little curious about any theories when they were happy, and that it was a sure proof of a misconduct on the part of those who governed them, when a whole people were discontented. The advice which the noble marquis who spoke last night, gave the House, and which was worthy of the noble family to which he belonged, was most judicious, and every way deserving of their attention.
The Solicitor General
confessed, that the course of observations which had been pursued by the hon. member for Shrewsbury, appeared to him to afford a practical illustration of the mischief of indulging in comments on the proceedings at Manchester. There was a judicial proceeding at this moment depending before the coroner, which might affect the lives of the individuals, against whom it was directed. That proceeding had been adjourned at a certain stage, evidence having been heard on the one side, and partially only on the other, in consequence of most unjustifiable conduct on the part of some persons, tending to pervert the due course of justice. It was a proceeding which had been for a time deferred. While, however, it was yet pending, possessing as it did so grave a character, an hon. member had thought himself justified in bringing before that House, and through the House before the public, a part only of such evidence, coupled with inflammatory statements, tending to defeat the ends of justice in a manner almost unprecedented. The whole system of proceeding adopted by honourable gentlemen on this occasion was most extraordinary. He felt a great satisfaction at the tone and temper adopted by the gentlemen on the other side of the House, with respect to the character of the meeting of the 16th, in the course of the debate of last night. For three long months the country had been told, in every form in which it could be told, that that was a peaceful and legal meeting; and that the magistrates were not justified in interfering with it. He felt, therefore, grateful for the observations of yesterday, by the gentlemen on the other side, beginning with the right hon. gentleman who opened the debate, in which it was implied at least that the meeting was illegal [Mr. Tierney here said across the table, "I never said any thing of the kind.'']—He had not said that the right hon. gentleman stated the meeting was illegal; but, from the course of observations pursued, it was quite clear, as he thought, what was passing in his mind on the subject. The hon. gentleman who succeeded him had not stated that it possessed a legal character. Of how much consequence would it have been to their argument, if they had stated it was a legal meeting. When, therefore, they did not lake that course, it was a fair presumption, they considered the meeting illegal. But an hon. and learned friend 167 of his had not been so guarded—he had admitted, in the most distinct and unqualified manner, that the meeting was not of an illegal character—he had not only allowed, in the outset of his speech, but afterwards, in the most unqualified terms, in the course of it, that it was an illegal meeting.
§ Mr. Scarlett
rose to order. He appealed to the chair whether, after the explanation which he had given last night in consequence of what he supposed an involuntary misunderstanding of what he said, an}' hon. member was justified in repeating the misrepresentation.
said, that the interruption was irregular on the part of the hon. and learned gentleman. It certainly was not competent to any member to interrupt another member while speaking (though it was sometimes done by permission of the member speaking), in order to explain any misrepresentation, but it was competent afterwards to rise and give the explanation.
§ The Speaker
concurred in his opinion. If for convenience, or by courtesy, an opportunity was allowed a member to correct any misunderstanding of a member addressing the House, this was to be thankfully received; but though it was an ordinary courtesy of the House to allow a misstatement or misapprehension to be instantly corrected, as often saving time and further misapprehension, this could not be demanded as a right by any member.
continued, if his hon. and learned friend had waited for the sequence of his assertion, he would have endeavoured to show that his hon. and learned friend was not warranted in the premises he had assumed. He had assumed that the meeting was not illegal on the statement of the noble lord. He would recall to the memory of his hon. and learned friend what that statement referred to. The facts mentioned by the noble lord all related to the events which had occurred after the meeting had assembled. His hon. and learned friend had thrown out an argument of an extraordinary character, viz. that an impression had gone abroad that the ministers were determined to put down meetings for redress of grievances by force of arms, and he had hinted that the legal advisers of the Crown might have been the cause of this determination. What did his hon. and learned friend find in the character of 168 the legal advisers of the Crown to countenance such an idea? He felt himself bound not to let such an insinuation pass without repelling it. It had hitherto been the policy of the gentlemen on the other side to pass lightly over the question of the legality of the meeting of the 16th, to create an erroneous impression, that the magistrates without sufficient warrant "let loose," as the phrase was, the military on the people. It was impossible to judge the magistrates fairly without examining the character of that meeting. That it was an illegal meeting alone might not be deemed sufficient by the House to warrant the proceedings which had taken place; but to him it was completely evident that the character of the meeting was almost treasonable, and that the magistrates were not only justified, but that they would have been guilty of a complete dereliction of their duty if they had taken a course different from that which they had. As other parts of the argument had been exhausted, he should refer briefly to the facts on which his inference was founded that the meeting was illegal. He should go back to the time of the prorogation of parliament. The moment the parliament was prorogued, the reformers commenced their operations. This he asserted, not from private information, but from the acts and documents of the reformers themselves. No sooner had that event taken place, but meetings were held, most alarming in their numbers and the nature of their proceedings. The avowed object of them was reform, on the principle of annual parliaments, universal suffrage and vote by ballot; in other words, the overthrow of the constitution. The meetings were conducted by persons who made a trade of attending them; by persons holding the most inflammatory and seditious language— "The parliament had forfeited its claim to obedience—the prince had forfeited his claim to allegiance—Charles and James had been, one beheaded, the other exiled, and the present sovereign must meet with the fate of one orother;"—this was the language used, not on one, but on every occasion, and it was promulgated and enforced in publications, in a cheap form, circulated with an activity, of which the House could have no conception. The overthrow of the government by physical force was over and over avowed as a legitimate object. Another formidable engine was found in the union societies, 169 who corresponded with one another, and acted in concert, than which nothing could be imagined more dangerous to a state. This was the state of affairs at the beginning of August, and it was then that a meeting was planned in order to use their own language, to make a display of their force, and to overawe their adversaries. In judging of the character of a transaction, it was of use to look to that of the actors. An individual was sent for, who had no connexion with the county of Lancaster, Mr. Hunt. To show that the meeting had not merely an illegal, but a traitorous character, they should look to the conduct of this person. Hunt was the person who had presided at a meeting held in July, in Smithfield, in which resolutions were passed, that the parliament was not entitled to the obedience of the country, that after a certain time the laws should not be obeyed, and that the national debt "impudently so called," was not binding on the nation. It had been argued that the law officers had not been mindful of their duty, in allowing such resolutions to pass unnoticed. The law officers had not been negligent, they had endeavoured to obtain evidence, to connect the resolutions with the principal actors, in order to proceed by criminal information; but it was only on the eve of the 16th of August, that they had obtained that evidence, and it was only on account of the events of that day, which seemed to be on a greater scale, that the prosecution was given up. This was the person who was selected to preside at that meeting. Another person of the name of Harrison was present at that meeting, of whom the public had heard much. It had been thrown out, that this person had been allowed to retire from Stockport, that the warrant against him might be executed at the meeting in London. This was not correct. He absconded, and the officers who followed him first found him on the hustings at the Smithfield meeting. This Mr. Harrison, the day before the 16th August, was haranguing the people at Stockport, who intended to be present at the meeting, and insisted that parliament ought not to be obeyed. Another individual was present whom they had heard of, Mr. Johnson; he was not present at Smithfield, but he had sent a letter to that meeting, in which he declared, that he would be satisfied with nothing less than annual parliaments, universal suffrage, and vote 170 by ballot, and that the reformers in the North were in ecstasy at being joined by their brethren in the South. Another individual was Mr. Carlile, to whom he would not allude merely on account of the offences of which he had been found guilty. This individual had a shop in the metropolis, on which had been inscribed Office for the Sale of Republican and Deistical Works. He conducted also a paper called the Republican. He knew not whether it had met the observation of gentlemen in that House; for it was the peculiar evil of these cheap publications, that while they found a circulation among the classes most exposed to their noxious influence, they had no circulation among those whose information might enable them to expose and counteract them. In this publication he had poured forth his sentiments profusely—"We had a mock king, and a mock parliament—it was now time to take up arms to play the man."— These were no unfavourable samples, they were rather tame and insipid compared with the general character of the work. There was a letter addressed particularly to the soldiery, in which he told them they were bound to obey the king, "but not a borough mongering faction," for that was the name which this writer gave to a faction which was supposed to rule over this House, but under that name he included all legal authorities. Such were the persons who were invited to attend a meeting called under these circumstances. Another fact to show the character of the meeting, was, that persons for weeks previously, had assembled in the night, and in retired places, 5 or 6,000 at a time, to learn the military exercise. This fact was at first doubted, and it was asserted to be only a fiction of government for their own purposes; but the matter was placed beyond controversy by the evidence of persons who had witnessed, and who were severely ill-used for having come to view those drillings. The assertion of Hunt with respect to those meetings was, that the men were only "playing at soldiers;" that they had nothing else to do, and resorted to this practice for amusement; but it was most important to consider, that a great many of the persons so engaged were men who had served in the line or in the local or general militia, and that they went through their exercises as well as the most disciplined troops. From the papers on the table, however, it would appear that mere 171 amusement was not the object they had in view, for it was proved that they intended to resist the soldiers on the 16th of August. On the morning of that day most of the shops in Manchester were shut, and at an early hour large columns of men were seen with music and flags (of which he would speak presently), marching to the town in different directions—not arm in arm, for the sake of order, as had been asserted, but in regular military array, commanded by officers, and obeying their orders with all the regularity of disciplined soldiers. They did not proceed immediately to the hustings; that would not have answered their object; but marched through various parts of the town, taking their station at particular points, and waiting the arrival of more troops. Now, he would assert, that if any number of men assembled, so as to excite terror in the minds of peaceable subjects, such an assembly was in point of law illegal, and in fact a riot. There were many authorities which he might cite for this opinion, but he would only mention one. It was that of a great lawyer and distinguished judge: he meant lord Holt—a man who had been pre-eminently distinguished as a friend to the liberties of the people. He trusted the House would bear this opinion in mind, and referring it to the meeting which took place on the 16th, they would find it exactly applicable to the character of that meeting. The meeting assembled as he had described, was arrayed under banners; one was inscribed "Universal Suffrage and Annual Parliaments and Election by Ballot;" that is to say, an overthrow of the constitution. This was the object; the means were explained by other banners:—"Let us die like men, and not be sold like slaves;" "Equal Representation or Death." The evident meaning of the whole united was, that they would have no compromise; that they would have equal representation at the hazard of their lives. Could any one doubt that such inscriptions, sanctioned as they must have been, by the immense assemblage before whom they were carried, were calculated to strike terror into all peaceable subjects? The magistrates, then, had no discretion on the subject; they were bound both by common and by statute law to disperse such a meeting. The civil power was called out, and a military force stationed to aid them if necessary: for as lord Holt said, in the 172 opinion on this subject to which he had alluded, "Who can moderate the event? who can foresee the result?" Yet the magistrates acted with a caution approaching to timidity. They had on that day received communications as to the nature and object of the meeting, from several of the most respectable inhabitants of the town; and on these they had granted the warrant to apprehend the parties. He had heard it said, "Why arrest them then? Why not wait till the meeting was over? To this he would say, Why should they have waited? Were they to have waited till the speeches of the several orators had produced their effect on the surrounding crowds? Why wait until the mischief had broken out? If they had done so, and violent disorders had ensued, what would have been said on the other side? Why, that there had been a neglect of duty, and we should have heard of the expediency of filing criminal informations for that neglect. What had been the consequence in the riots in 1780, when the magistrates had been so neglectful of their duty? What was the case three years ago in Spa-fields. The orators were allowed to assemble; they did so, and one of them jumped from the hustings, called upon the multitude to follow him, and the result was that the metropolis was thrown into alarm and confusion for four or five hours. But it was said, why not try the civil power? He answered, that there were many things which it was not necessary to try, because it was evident they could not succeed. Nadin the officer declared that it was impossible to execute the warrant without the assistance of the military. The men were united six deep about the hustings. The hustings had originally been placed in a different part of the field, and a double line of special constables was opened to it, but this did not suit the purpose of the directors of the meeting; the hustings were removed, and this cordon was formed round it to cut off communication.— The yeomanry troops, before they had attempted to strike a blow, were attacked by the crowd with stones and brickbats, some of them unhorsed and their horses thrown. At this time the 15th hussars came on the ground, and colonel Dalrymple was requested to send some assistance to rescue the yeomanry. Here was a riot created in resistance to a warrant. It had been said, that excess had been committed. Why, if it had, were the 173 magistrates to be blamed? They had not ordered such excess; and if it was said to have been committed by the soldiers, was there not a coroner's inquest sitting, to inquire into the charges against these soldiers? The grand jury had, it was said, thrown out some bills preferred against those soldiers; was not that a prima facie case in their favour? Whatever the events of the 16th of August were, no inference could be drawn from it, as to the inclination of the ministers to suppress meetings by force, for except that a meeting was to take place, they had no previous knowledge of the arrangements of that day. Whatever the magistrates did, was done by their own authority, with a view to guard against the mischiefs which were apprehended from the meeting.
§ Mr. Scarlett, in explanation, denied having ever said, or meant to say, that his hon. and learned friend, the solicitor-general, or his hon. and learned colleague, had advised his majesty's ministers to resort to military force against the people. From all he had known of his hon. and learned friend, he believed him incapable of such conduct, unless, indeed, his opinions had lately undergone a very material alteration.
Sir Francis Burdett
said, it was not his intention to trespass long on the indulgence of the House; at the same time, he should feel himself guilty of a dereliction of his duty as a member of that House, if he did not accept the invitation which had been thrown out, and speak his mind freely and plainly on the very critical circumstances in which, it was admitted on all hands, the country was at present placed. With respect to the causes of the difficulties and the dangers of the country, he differed in opinion from many of the hon. gentlemen who had preceded him. The causes were now too obvious to escape the observation of any enlightened person not interested in that system of wasteful expenditure which had brought upon the country an amount of taxation which it was not able to bear, and to which some gentlemen ascribed that disaffection which was said to prevail in the country—a disaffection which, if it really existed (and he denied its existence to the extent alleged), must be remedied by measures very different from those which were likely to be now proposed. In cases of rooted evil like this, wise men would looked to the cause, while ignorant men 174 would resort, not to a correction of the cause, but to palliatives which were ultimately productive of a greater evil than that which they were intended to diminish. A great many strange assertions had been made in the course of the debate, some which would formerly have been deemed inconsistent with constitutional doctrines; some which even, when he was first a member of that House, would not have been hazarded, or if hazarded, would have been received with a disapprobation, that would have prevented repetition. There had been so many contradictory statements of facts, so many contradictory modes of argument, on the question before the House, that the necessity of inquiry was sufficiently proved by those who opposed it. Among the reasoners upon the subject, there had been two, whose arguments might be classed together, the hon. and learned gentleman who last spoke and his hon. and learned friend, if he would now permit him to call him so, the chief justice of Chester. He had been long enough a member of that House not to be surprised at any thing, but nothing could be more calculated to surprise him than to witness his hon. and learned friend rising to make that speech which it had been his good fortune or bad fortune to hear: for from what he had formerly known of that hon. and learned gentleman, he should have expected very different sentiments from him. The speeches of those two hon. and learned gentlemen were in direct contradiction to the speech of the noble lord. The right hon. gentlemen on the other side might perhaps congratulate themselves on the accession of legal aid which they had acquired, and, indeed, it was evident that that accession to their strength was increasing every year; but upon great constitutional questions, he might be permitted to say without offence, that there were no members of that House to whom he listened with less deference, than to gentlemen of the long robe, however willingly he might bow to their authority on legal questions. He certainly did not think, that on the present occasion these learned gentlemen had aided the line of defence pursued by the noble lord. By the course which the noble lord had adopted, all proceedings antecedent to the arrest of Mr. Hunt were to be put out of the question entirely: and it was admitted that till that time the magistrates had no right to interfere. 175 But what said the hon. and learned gentleman who had just sat down? He said that all the meetings previous to that of Manchester on the 16th August had been not only riotous and tumultuous, but treasonable; he said that treason had been concocted before the meeting at Manchester took place. But where were the proofs of this treason? "Those were cruel times when men were traitors without knowing it." The unfortunate persons at Manchester were not aware of their treason. On the contrary, they proved by their conduct that they meant to act consistently with the laws. It was true, indeed, that they meant to act in such a manner as should give effect to the purpose of their meeting. But let the House look at the situation of the people. Perhaps for fifty years, but in a more marked manner for ten or twelve, the opinion of the people had been declared in favour of a reform in parliament. It was not his intention to enter at present into the nature of the reform which they required; but it would be admitted that those opinions did not furnish a sufficient ground for putting them to death by the sword, and that admission was sufficient for his argument. The hon. and learned gentleman had said, that on former occasions magistrates had not acted with sufficient promptitude and effect; but surely it was no argument to say, that because the people had not formerly been published with sufficient severity, they ought in this case to be visited with a punishment greater than they deserved. There might be, on the part of the executive government, sins of omission as well as of commission; and he believed they had to answer for many of the former description; but their having neglected to discharge their duty on one occasion, could never authorize them to exceed it on another. The hon. and learned gentleman had talked of the banners displayed on this occasion as indicative of the feeling by which the people were actuated; as if the people had never before assembled under banners, expressing their sentiments. Why, one of the most obnoxious of these banners bore the inscription "Death or Liberty;" and that, surely, was a sentiment inscribed on the heart of every Briton. Whether it was desirable that such meeting should take place was quite a different question: what he said was, that they did not afford a sufficient cause for subjecting the people to 176 military execution. They might be made the ground for enacting now laws, but not for violating the existing laws. The argument of the hon. and learned gentleman was a strange prelude to the proposal for increased legal power. Far from showing that the power of the law was deficient, he showed quite the contrary. The law, according to him, was surely strong and severe enough. On a great constitutional point like the present, he was ready to meet any gentleman in that House or elsewhere, for such a question required no legal knowledge; all that was necessary was honesty, joined to a common understanding. The conduct of the chief justice of Chester had greatly surprised him on this occasion, and he was afraid that the learned gentleman had been rather unfortunate m his debut. When he considered the great judgment which the hon. and learned gentleman had displayed on other occasions, and his former opinions upon constitutional questions (which he could never cease to remember), he thought it wonderful, since the hon. and learned gentleman might at a future period have to decide as judge upon the question of the Manchester proceedings, that he should have thought the present a proper occasion for declaring his opinions on the subject. The hon. and learned gentleman had declared that he had no doubt that the meeting was illegal: and this point ministers had imagined they might obtain as it were surreptitiously, supposing that no hon. gentleman would rise to deny the illegality of the meeting. The hon. and learned gentleman had argued as if the meeting at Manchester were admitted to be illegal by their opponents on that side of the House; but the fact was not so; for the argument on that side had been, that whether the Manchester meeting were legal or illegal, a parliamentary inquiry should be instituted under all the circumstances of the case. If that meeting were legal a fortiori such an inquiry should take place in consequence of the extraordinary means adopted to disperse it. But was it not matter calling for inquiry, how it happened that ministers should have advised the Prince Regent to return such an extraordinary answer to the address of the city of London, or that his Royal Highness should have been persuaded to express his satisfaction at the conduct of the magistrates and yeomanry of Manchester. For what was his Royal 177 Highness thus persuaded to applaud? Not the discretion, moderation, or forbearance of the persons alluded to, but their promptness in shedding the blood of their countrymen. Yes, this was the conduct, which, as it was held forth to the country, gave satisfaction to the royal breast. What responsibility was not incurred on the part of ministers by whose advice the Regent had been induced to put forth such an extraordinary publication? The House had been told, that the Riot act was read before the yeomanry were ordered to make a charge upon the people. But the reading of the Riot act did not authorize the shedding of the blood of men, women and children. Such a proposition could not be seriously maintained for a moment. But how could the reading of the Riot act warrant the cutting down of even the peace-officers employed by the magistrates themselves, for some of these officers were among the sufferers at the Manchester meeting. Yet, where was the evidence that the meeting was such as called for the reading of the Riot act at all? The mere assemblage of people could not be said to imply a riot, unless such meeting appeared to be collected for a riotous or illegal purpose; or, otherwise, if a parcel of old women assembled, it might be maintained, that the Riot act should be read to them, lest they should set fire to the town. The Riot act, that disgrace to the Statute book, was never, with all its faults, intended for the purpose of authorizing military execution. What did it say? Did it say that if the people did not instantly disperse, they were to be cut, maimed, and killed indiscriminately; and if so, that no inquiry was to be demanded? No; it said that you were to give them warning, to read the act, and to allow them time to disperse. If they did not disperse, what then was to be done? Put them to death? No: they were to be taken into custody; and all violence necessary for that purpose might be used, but they were not to be wantonly sabred, trodden down, and shot. As to the military, the Riot act did not notice them even, for, at the time it was passed, it was never contemplated that the military were to interfere on such occasions. Nothing of the kind appears in the act itself. It was a lawyer (Lord Mansfield), whose authority was often quoted for maxims by no means congenial with the British constitution, who first laid it down, 178 that as soldiers did not, as such, forfeit their privileges as citizens, they might be legally employed in aid of the civil power. But, as soldiers were now transferred from the pale of the constitution, and placed under an arbitrary jurisdiction, which could enforce obedience, and impose punishment, by means unknown to our established laws, they ought not to be employed in the manner in which lord Mansfield and the hon. and learned gentleman on the other side recommended. He by no means entertained the apprehension of the conduct of British soldiers which the Roman poet's description of the language of a mercenary soldier would induce—Pectore si fratris gladium juguloque ParentisCondere me jubeas, gravidaque in viscera Patri,Conjugis, invita peragam tamen omnia dextra.He was satisfied that the feeling and principle of his military countrymen were quite of a different description. He hoped that no minister would ever dare to employ them for the purpose of oppressing the people; and, if ever a minister of this country should dare to make the attempt, he was persuaded the soldiers would not allow themselves to be made the instruments of subverting the constitution. Such was his firm impression.—But to return to the Riot act, severe as that law was, and inconsistent as it had always been deemed with the benevolent principles of the British constitution, it was now it seemed regarded as too lenient by the ministers and agents of our government. For the Riot act did not warrant military execution, but merely provided, that if the people did not disperse within an hour after that act was read, they should be taken into custody, not to be sabred, but to be brought to trial. Such, however, was not the view taken of the subject by the magistrates of Manchester, when they let loose the yeomanry upon the meeting of the 16th of August—But it was said that the force employed on that occasion had in view the dispersion of a dangerous—nay, treasonable meeting. Now, if it were the object to prevent this meeting (and prevention would have been much more easy than dispersion), how came it that Mr. Hunt, who was deemed the principal of the meeting, was not taken into custody before the meeting took place? If the head had been arrested, the natural probability was that the body would not have moved. The noble secretary for foreign affairs had made rather a skilful defence upon the occasion; 179 but his hon. and learned friends beside him had in the course of their observations, betrayed that the noble lord's main positions were untenable. It was known that Mr. Hunt acted in this instance with much more discretion than the magistrates. He went to the magistrates of Manchester previously to the meeting, and told them that if they had a warrant against him to serve it then, because if it should be done at the meeting, he could not answer for the consequences. His hon. and learned friend (the chief justice of Chester), and the solicitor-general, had, with others, maintained that the meeting at Manchester was quite illegal; if so, then why was not that made known to the magistrates before the meeting, and then Mr. Hunt might have been prevented from attending it? His majesty's ministers had no doubt frequent communication with the Manchester magistrates, and why then was not the opinion of the Crown lawyers made known to those magistrates in due time?—Had this been done, what mischief might not have been prevented? The Solicitor-general had observed, that it would have been very wrong to postpone measures until mischief was actually done, and this observation the hon. and learned gentleman made with a view to justify the sudden and forcible execution of the warrant against Mr. Hunt in the midst of the meeting. But he would ask that hon. and learned gentleman, whether according to the principle of his observation it would not have been better to execute the warrant alluded to before the meeting was convened, than to order its execution when the assemblage of the people were so dense that the yeomanry could not advance without force, and as their defenders had said, without sabring the people. Why, he would again ask, had not ministers instructed the magistrates of Manchester that the whole proceedings were illegal? Why had Mr. Hunt been allowed by the magistrates to go on in those treasonable practices till the very point of time when the warrant could not be served without shedding blood? The discharge of this duty was delayed till the people were wedged close around the hustings, and then it was executed by dashing in among them, sabring them, and trampling them to the ground. Military execution, it seemed, was the method adopted of serving a legal warrant. It was said that the military would not have interfered, if 180 the people had not placed themselves so close together as to prevent the officers from reaching the hustings; and all he should say on that was, that such a position was not a very strong indication of their intention to use force. As to the line of troops drawn round the meeting, to prevent the people from dispersing, it could be called nothing but a plan to shed blood. The House had the authority of an hon. baronet on the floor, that the people were not allowed to disperse, the only outlets from the place where the meeting was held being actually blocked up by the soldiery.—According to the hon. baronet's statement, indeed, a body of people endeavouring to find their way by a particular outlet were actually sabred. His hon. and learned friend and the solicitor general had specially rested their opposition to the proposed inquiry on this ground, that any persons aggrieved might obtain redress through an appeal to a court of law, but it held out no great encouragement for such an appeal, to find the meeting at which so many suffered, denounced as illegal, by those through whom alone redress could be obtained. Those who called for parliamentary inquiry considered that many of the parties who had suffered on this occasion were unable to obtain justice at the expense which attended proceedings in the courts of law. It was true the men whom Meagher, the trumpeter, had shot from his window, if they could afford to prosecute him, might get a verdict against him; and the women who bad been sabred by the yeomanry, if they could identify the persons who cut them down, might obtain redress from the laws. But what was all this to the House of Commons? What had this to do with the complaint of the people of England? What had this to do with the breach of the constitution involved in the whole of the transaction alluded to? What had it to do with the conduct of ministers, who, he firmly believed, were at the bottom of this transaction? The attainment of redress by individuals could not acquit the ministers and magistrates, or vindicate the constitution, and therefore the House was in his opinion bound to institute the proposed inquiry. To satisfy the country this inquiry ought to be gone into. The lieutenant of police, lord Sidmouth, who exercised a sort of authority hitherto unknown in this country, whose whole system appeared to be borrowed from France, 181 should be called upon to account for his conduct, and by what means could that be done, unless the House of Commons institute an inquiry. The solicitor-general in dilating upon the means through which redress might be had for the sufferers at Manchester by the ordinary course of law, had particularly dwelt upon the inquest, in the conduct of which a London attorney (Mr. Harmer) had acquitted himself in a manner so creditable to his talents and zeal. But how could the conduct or result of that inquest serve to satisfy the injured constitution of the country? Was it possible that any man with a drop of English blood in his veins can deem such proceedings sufficient to satisfy the claims of justice for the outrageous conduct at Manchester? As to the argument derived from a supposed prejudging of the question, he conceived that when he said a murder, or any other criminal act had been committed, he did not prejudge the person accused. All he said in such a case was, that he accused that person who had about him all the circumstances that subjected him to a suspicion of guilt; he only brought the accused person before the proper tribunal to be judged. In the same terms here, he said that blood had been wantonly spilled at Manchester; but he did not, therefore, prejudge the matter. If that House would not listen to the subject, the public would sit in judgment upon them. If they heard only the ex-parte statements of the magistrates, let them not think that even an unanimous vote (which, thank God, it was not in the power of ministers to obtain, would have any effect in satisfying the public. The whole matter formed a great constitutional question; and neither the verdict of the coroner's inquest, nor the verdict of any other jury could adequately answer the object involved in such a question. But with respect to the inquest, he could not help referring to what had been urged by his hon. and learned friend, as well as by a right hon. and learned gentleman, one of the representatives of the sister country, and who spoke with ability on every subject. Those hon. and learned gentlemen had admitted that there would be some ground for the proposed inquiry, if it appeared that justice was delayed or denied. Now he would ask, whether justice had not been delayed in the conduct of that inquest? It had, indeed, been most unaccountably delayed; and therefore, upon the ground stated by those hon. 182 and learned gentlemen themselves, he felt it necessary to call for parliamentary inquiry. His hon. and learned friend had observed, that it ill became his quondam reforming friends to press so anxiously for the preference of an investigation by that House.—There might be those who maintained, that little confidence was to be reposed in that House; but he believed there were none who thought that nothing at all for the good of the country, or the cause of justice, was to be expected from it; and, notwithstanding the very exceptionable manner in which that House was constituted, he cannot suppose that any body of British gentlemen, influenced by common sense and common shame, could enter into an investigation of that nature, without coming to a result satisfactory to their countrymen. By engaging in the inquiry, the House could not suppose that it would become fairly liable to the charge of prejudging any question. If, indeed, such a notion of prejudgment were just, no accusation whatever could be presented for any description of crime. But it was mockery to say, that accusation was in any degree tantamount to prejudgment; and the idea was only held out with a view to delude good feeling into the adoption of an exceptionable proposition. Some one must accuse before the House could be called upon to inquire. The accusation was matter of notoriety; and, in answer, various statements were made to the House, upon the whole of which it was their duty to inquire, with a view to satisfy the public mind.—The eyes of the people were now in a peculiar degree fixed upon them; and it behoved them as they valued their character, cautiously to consider the vote they were about to pronounce. The opponents of reform were in the habit of saying, that although the House might perhaps be constituted in a manner not to be justified in theory, its conduct was practically good. Let the House then answer the advocates of reform by practical acts. A right hon. gentleman on the other side, who had too much good sense to attempt the defence of the present extraordinary system of borough representation was in the habit of maintaining, that whatever might be its theoretical defects, it worked well for the country, and he therefore deprecated any change. Now he would call upon that right hon. gentleman to urge the House to show to the country on this important occasion, that notwithstanding its imper- 183 fect constitution, it could work well for the country and for public justice. With respect to the verdict of the grand jury at Lancaster upon which so many gentlemen seemed to think that they could ride over all the complaints from Manchester, he must express his decided dissent from the opinions of those gentlemen. But while he expressed that dissent, he hoped not to be understood as in any degree to malign the character or question the motives of that grand jury. The gentlemen who composed that jury might have decided very conscientiously, as no doubt they did, and yet those whose cases were submitted to their consideration might have very strong grounds of complaint. For those complainants might not have made out their case to the satisfaction of the jury, from the want of sufficient evidence. But were such sufferers to be precluded from any opportunity of obtaining redress? He could not for a moment believe that the grand jury acted under the influence of any prejudice, or that the gentlemen of which it was composed could possibly be reconciled to violate their oaths; but the difficulties connected with the construction and character of lord Ellenborough's act were such, that a bill presented by a woman who was sabred had been thrown out, although the injury sustained by the woman was quite obvious. It did appear, that throughout the whole of the proceedings, every impediment had been thrown in the way of a legal investigation. A right hon. and learned gentleman had stated, that he was not aware of any delay of justice having taken place with reference to the proceedings at Manchester. Was it, then, no delay, no deviation from the ordinary course, first to use every means for rendering the coroner's court private, and then to adjourn the proceedings under the inquest for several weeks? Who wished for secrecy? They who had sinister designs. Who courted publicity? They whose objects were fair and legitimate. In this case a direct attempt had been made to conceal evidence, and even a power exerted of committing men simply for taking notes of what was passing. He was at a loss to understand what good reason could be assigned for such unusual and arbitrary measures. Here, then, was an instance of positive extraordinary delay; an absolute refusal, nobody could tell why, to proceed with the subject matter of a judicial inquiry. Whether this delay would be prejudicial 184 or not, was not now the question; but it had an appearance of mystery; it created suspicion in the public mind. It only served to render the demands for inquiry louder and more imperative. The court of King's-bench had, however, been applied to, and had directed the subject to be brought before it, and he should therefore dwell no longer upon it at the present moment. It appeared to him, upon a review of all the accounts and arguments which he had heard respecting this melancholy occasion, that on the one side persons charged with violating the laws had not been convicted; and on the other, that an object professedly legal had been effected by military force. An hon. gentleman opposite said no; why then not ascertain the fact by evidence at the bar? He was glad to hear the right hon. and learned gentleman admit that to meet for the purpose of expressing their complaints, and to petition for redress, was one of the great constitutional birthrights of Englishmen. But then, according to the right hon. and learned gentlemen, that liberty was attended with so many restrictions and provisos, that although it was admitted in the abstract, in practice it was impossible. He had heard of the danger of numbers assembling together— the precise amount which came up to the point of danger was not stated, but as far as he could understand the notion, it was when they became too strong to be controlled by the civil power. It the people met in parishes, or in small bodies, then their assemblies were described as contemptible. The House had seen its tables—aye, its floor, covered with petitions, each signed by only 20 individuals. How were those petitions received? Was it not said that they did not proceed from the people, that their signatures were obtained by management, and that no interest was taken in the subject by any great portion of the community? The people at large, it was loudly maintained, did not want any reform, because they petitioned only in small numbers; but they no sooner assembled in multitudes, for the same purpose, than they were charged with treasonable intentions. It was then considered that they might meet in vestries, and that this proud privilege and mighty birth-right would be most conveniently exercised by joining a couple of constables to every party of three persons! The people were accused of a disposition to subvert the constitution. But this 185 charge was totally unfounded, for the fact was, that the people did not desire to make any change in the constitution, seeking only to acquire their due influence in that House by improving the system of the representation. He was convinced, indeed, that the people were never more loyal than at the present moment. There might be what was called training, he believed not to any material extent, but this did not alter his opinion of the general feeling of the people. For how many years had the people been petitioning in vain for a reform in parliament! An hon. gentleman had complained that the reformers spoke harshly of a borough interest; but that interest with all the corruptions attending it, was as well understood by them as it was notorious within the House. The noble lord had also censured the irreverent manner in which the composition of that House was sometimes alluded to—that same noble lord who had been detected in bartering the patronage of government for parliamentary support. He did not mention this topic for the purpose of intimating that the noble lord had escaped a punishment which he deserved. He did not wish to see him punished for doing what was done by every other minister of the Crown. But there sat the noble lord "with all his blushing honours thick upon him," whilst sir Manasseh Lopez was condemned to pay a fine of 10,000l. and to be imprisoned for three years—for doing what? Why, compared to the noble lord, Sir M. Lopez was pure as snow. In such a light, he was all innocence; he had endeavoured to bribe a few electors; the noble lord to corrupt the representative body itself. The only defence of the noble lord against impeachment was, the notorious and acknowledged rottenness of the system. This, in his opinion, was a sufficient defence; and if it were proposed to bring the noble lord to punishment, a question that might arise were he to change sides, such a proposal should not have his support. He was not the man who would cast the first stone, but he had a right to complain that a system of such gross hypocrisy and scandalous injustice continued to be upheld. The rational part of the public would sooner or later be satisfied, and to turn a deaf ear to their remonstrances was not the way to silence them. Englishmen were not to be suppressed; they would not cease from complaining because their complaints were 186 unheeded, nor could any thing be gained by rendering them hostile to the government. Was it not doubtful whether the taxes could continue to be paid, if fresh expenses were incurred by the augmentation of our establishments? If new and severe laws were passed, he feared that they might lead to retaliatory acts on the part of the people, which would be made the pretence of still further oppressions; and we should find ourselves at length engaged in the same bloody course which had been run in Ireland, and which terminated in rendering the Irish parliament so disgustful to the country, that it was induced to abdicate its functions and commit political suicide. His earnest hope was, however, that the English people would not be reduced to the same state of suffering, of despair. There was one certain mode of alleviating their grievances. It was remarkable, he might here observe, that it had become a prevailing fashion amongst many, to mix up reform and irreligion, as two things necessarily connected. Some persons appeared to consider them like church and state—inseparable; but, for his own part, he could not imagine how the destruction, of Christianity should be favourable to the cause of reform. The result would, as he apprehended, be entirely the reverse. In point of fact, the same opinion was entertained in the time of Charles 2nd when it was the policy of the court to favour every species of irreligion with a view of extinguishing all zeal for a free government. Christianity was felt to be a religion of liberty: it taught a doctrine abhorred by many—the natural equality of mankind. But it likewise inculcated justice, it recommended charity, and forbad the imputation of evil motives to others without sufficient ground. It was scarcely consistent with its spirit to throw out charges of disaffection and disloyalty against all who were not loyal par excellence, which he understood to mean supporters of his majesty's ministers. His own conviction was, that the people throughout the country were strictly loyal, and firmly attached to the constitution. But then they wanted that constitution; they desired to see King, Lords, and Commons. They were as unwilling that the Commons should be excluded, as that the King should be excluded. There was no nation on the earth that looked with more regard to those above them, when any sympathy was manifested with their con- 187 dition, or when either virtue or talent was displayed. This was, indeed, only a further proof of their good sense; and he verily believed that his majesty's ministers were much perplexed to find them so loyal and tranquil as they had been. The Treasury prints, when Mr. Harrison was arrested at Smithfield (an arrest that might have been more properly made after the meeting), upbraided the people with cowardice for not resisting it. The noble lord was at his wit's end because they had not justified his epithets of seditious, treasonable, and so forth. With regard, too, to the doctrines which were objected to them, was it not matter of historical fact, that parliaments were once held annually in this country? This assertion would not, he apprehended, now be denied. Was it not also known, that no less a person than the celebrated Selden had maintained the principle of universal suffrage? He did not say that such measures were in his opinion advisable; but those who applied hard names to them proved nothing but their own ignorance. Although these doctrines were professed, he had little doubt that the bulk of the people, with their known good sense, would be satisfied with any reform that should establish an effectual control over the government, in the Commons' House of Parliament. It was natural that much should be claimed when every thing was refused; but there was a broad line of debateable ground between abstract principles and practical good. When the latter was sincerely aimed at, compromises between opposite interests and opinions necessarily followed. That it would not be difficult to satisfy the country, he was persuaded; and he believed such an effect would be beneficial to all parties, not even excepting the government. The tendency and spirit of the Christian religion were to spread general liberty throughout the civilized world; there was no ground for supposing that the people were insensible to its influence, no ground for those unqualified accusations which almost seemed to describe that House as the only part of the country that was uncontaminated. But even if that were the case, it might require consideration to decide upon the most effectual remedy. Was it possible to refute opinions or convince men of their errors by physical punishments? Actions and not opinions were the proper objects of legislation. The country was 188 now threatened by the noble lord with all sorts of new restrictions, and this was supposed to be the true way of raising the character of parliament in public estimation. Parliament had, unfortunately, never assembled of late years without some new infringement on the rights of the subject, though on every such occasion it had likewise added with an unsparing hand to the amount of the public burdens. He could hardly conceive how the minister had screwed himself during the last session, up to the point of enforcing 4,000,000l. of fresh taxes, in the actual situation of the country. He said 4,000,000l., because, including the charges of collection, that was the sum taken or attempted to be taken from the people's pockets. A noble lord who never uttered sentiments unworthy of his name and family, had invited his majesty's ministers to propose a renewal of the income tax. He could not join in this invitation, which he doubted not his majesty's ministers would very willingly accept, and exchange their late unproductive taxes for so certain a resource. But it was a complete mistake to suppose that the poorer classes did not feel the effects of a tax on income, and little better than a fallacious jargon to talk of a salt tax or any other tax as alone affecting them. The rich man's pocket was the fund out of which the poor must always derive the means of their subsistence. At present, however, the country had nothing before it, but fresh taxes of some description, and increased military establishments. It became matter of serious and important consideration to those who had the best sort of property, property in land, what ought to be done in justice and policy to satisfy the claims of the public. They saw lord Fitzwilliam dismissed from office, because he had expressed himself publicly in favour of inquiry; and they saw that although he had been no favourer of parliamentary reform, every public meeting had sympathized with his unmerited disgrace. The people knew how to honour and respect private virtue, although associated with political opinions different from their own. Persons in high stations might always exercise material influence over them. It was long in this country before different classes could be placed in hostility against each other. If gentlemen would act with the same independence as lord Fitzwilliam, the government would soon be compelled to adopt mea- 189 sures of amelioration. Upon the whole, he certainly entertained as strong objections to the address as those stated by his hon. friend, the member for Shrewsbury. He thought at least that some compunction or regret at what had occurred might have been expressed if it had been only from respect, or mere decency towards the public sentiment. He agreed with his hon. friend in disputing the facts on which the government were proceeding, and in abhorring the remedies which there was reason to apprehend. As to the particular nature of the remedies intended, he would not pretend to have a knowledge of them, but their general character there was too much reason to anticipate. "Quod alia scelera, his remedia, vocantur." Whether they were to go the length of not allowing Englishmen to meet, whether public meetings were to be reduced to that minimum which must destroy their very character as public meetings he did not know, but if such was the course intended to be pursued, he could see nothing but anarchy as likely to result from it. The only course which, in the present condition and feeling of the country, parliament is called upon to adopt, appeared to him to be, to satisfy the public mind upon the subject of the transactions at Manchester, by entering into a comprehensive inquiry into the nature and character of those transactions before they proceeded to the discussion of those financial and other questions which it was understood were about to be submitted to them; and which it was certainly high time to investigate.
rose, to reply to several observations and arguments of the hon. baronet who just sat down. It was unjust to say that that House had, for the last quarter of a century, met only to infringe the rights of the people, whereas it was well known, that during that period it had been principally occupied in preserving liberty at home, and vindicating the freedom of Europe. He was sorry to find the hon. baronet was so well disposed to join in those outcries, which were truly characterized in the address then under consideration. The meeting at Manchester, considering the circumstances by which it was preceded and attended, was illegal even by the common law, which said that numbers were force, and force intimidation; and he contended that they were treasonable to the king and the constitution. The hon. baronet had adduced 190 no arguments to show that the meeting was not illegal. It was the uniform doctrine in this country, that if a large body assembled in arms, with a view to carry any particular point, that body was guilty of treason.—To support this position, he cited the opinion of justice Foster, as quoted on a former occasion by Mr. Fox, upon whose assertion he was entitled to rank that learned judge among the brightest authorities on constitutional law. It was true that each circumstance of terror, if taken by itself, was not perhaps of a criminal character. But all the circumstances when combined, when viewed as all tending to accomplish the same treasonable object, could not be shown to have any other than a criminal colour. What, in fact, was the effect of that meeting; were not shops shut up? Did not several peaceable and respectable families quit Manchester in consequence of that meeting? Could it then be said, that that meeting produced no intimidation? The constitution of England was called, and very justly so called, a free constitution. Why? because it secured property. The right of the people to meet, was derived from that constitution; but if their meeting tended to endanger that property which the constitution declared should be secure, how could they be said to act under the sanction of British law? In this instance, the effect produced, proved, beyond question, that danger to property was generally felt in Manchester.—The inconvenience and terror which might be caused by such large and frequent assemblies, afforded sufficient proof that they could never have been contemplated by the constitution, and that the right of attending such meetings armed, was a still more glaring and audacious violation of the law of the land. The hon. baronet had asked why the magistrates, if they interfered at all, did not interfere sooner? The answer to that was plain—it was because those banners and circumstances of terror were not till then displayed, which could justify their interference. He would be one of the last men in the country to infringe the liberty of the subject; but if liberty was abused, it must be abridged for the moment. According to the new doctrine attempted to be established, if meetings were held every week, for the professed object of changing the order of succession to the Crown, such meetings would not be suppressed as illegal. If there was 191 a prima facie case of blame, he did not deny that it might afford a fit ground of inquiry in that House; but the general principle was, that the House ought not to interfere except where the person or the case was too great to be dealt with out of it. With respect to the question of reform, if any reform were really necessary to the safety of the state, the constitution would supply it. It contained within itself a perpetual source of improvement. True, the remedies which it sanctioned, did not come forth all prepared and formed, like Minerva from the head of Jupiter. It was devised to meet new mischiefs, and to apply new remedies, but not in a precipitate manner. The remedy grew out of the constitution gradually, but full of vigour, and formed for permanence. He was not disposed to make concessions at this moment, as they might open a door to incalculable mischief. If any injury was done, the courts of law were open to redress them; and where they were adequate, as in this case they were, he thought it would be a misapplication of the powers of the House to interfere with their jurisdiction. Objections were taken to the employment of the yeomanry. But when an addition to the military force of the country was called for, the argument was the other way, and it was then held by those who now urged this objection, that the yeomanry were the most constitutional force known in this country. He would conclude by expressing his acquiescence in the original motion.
Sir John Sebright
declared that he must vote against the amendment; not because he was averse to investigation, but because he thought it could be most effectually carried on in the courts of judicature, and because no assembly in the world appeared to him less fitted for conducting such an inquiry than the House of Commons, inasmuch as the examination was generally carried on in a desultory manner, and the evidence was not upon oath. He would refrain from giving any opinion on the legality of the conduct of the magistrates; but he would say that he conceived they behaved rashly in arresting Hunt at the time that they did, when they might have apprehended him either before or after the meeting, without creating any disturbance. He would go as far as any man in allowing the full right of the subject to meet and petition; but he thought that there could be no se- 192 curity for life or property, if such large masses of people were permitted to assemble from distant parts as on that occasion. To the radicals who composed such assemblies he would do justice—full and ample justice, but he would make no concessions. To satisfy, not them, but the rational and respectable part of the community, he thought the question of parliamentary reform should be entertained; as he was sure, from his own experience in life, that 19 out of 20 of those who reflected on the subject were convinced of the necessity of some reform. He had never been in any society, even of those who generally supported his majesty's ministers, without finding that a great majority was in favour of some change. He did not allude at all to the radicals; they ought to be treated justly, but resisted firmly. The reform that he proposed would not satisfy them, but would satisfy the country, and would draw a line of distinction between their mad adherents and the respectable body of the people. He had mixed with people of all ranks and classes, except radicals, and he found this to be the general conviction.
The Hon. Mr. Lyttelton
said, that he could not give a silent vote on the occasion, and he owed an explanation the more, as, however habituated he was to respect his right hon. friend, he could not support his amendment. He objected to the amendment, not because he was averse to inquiry, but because an opportunity would afterwards occur for discussing it. He was of opinion, that nothing short of a parliamentary investigation would satisfy the country; but he thought with his hon. friend who had just spoken that the revolutionary faction of the radicals ought to be opposed; and that, therefore, any qualification of the address might tend to weaken that opposition to their designs which was therein pledged. He entirely concurred in the language of the address, although he thought that ministers had exceedingly misconducted themselves, and in nothing more glaringly than in the dismissal of that virtuous and patriotic nobleman, lord Fitzwilliam.
* began by saying, that, unusual as was the course which had been pursued the preceding night in consenting to the adjournment of a debate on the* From the original Edition, printed for John Murray, Albemarle-street.193 Address, he could not help congratulating the House on that deviation from the ordinary rules of its proceeding; for, the technical parliamentary difficulty being once gotten over, he felt it to be of the utmost importance that the vote to which they were to come on this occasion, should not have been adopted without the fullest and most patient discussion. They had now before them all the different classes of opinion which prevailed in the House, with respect to the Address and the Amendment; and with respect to the general state of the country,—a state which, to most persons appeared alarming, and to all perplexing and difficult. Those gentlemen who held cheap the perils described in the Address, would act manfully if they either voted against it, or proposed an amendment expressive of their opinion; but he could not comprehend the reasoning or the policy of those who were prepared to vote for the Address, and yet to tack to it such an amendment as that now proposed.
He would ask of those who were for mixing together sentiments so incongruous,—whether the first necessity of the time were not to put down the revolutionary spirit which had spread throughout the country? If that were admitted, he would ask next, whether the decision of the House upon this night would not go forth with tenfold authority, if unaccompanied by the mitigating appendage proposed by the right hon. gentleman (Mr. Tierney)? Would not the original Address, if voted unanimously, without qualification or addition, carry to the minds of those whose designs it pledged the House to crush, more complete conviction of the serious determination of the House to effect that purpose, than if reinforced by all the denunciations conveyed in the first part of the amendment, to be afterwards weakened by the vague and unsatisfactory expressions with which the amendment concluded? It was true, that in the first part of the amendment, the turbulent and disaffected were rebuked in phrases of even more asperity perhaps than any contained in the original Address; but, in the concluding part, a certain sympathy was expressed, if not with the projects which the disaffected had in view, at least with the principles on which those projects were professed to be framed. Now, refinements were not readily understood by the multitude. Many of the disaffected or of the misled 194 might conceive, however erroneously, that persons who could in any degree approve or countenance their principles, would be ready, if not to lend their assistance towards the accomplishment of their objects, at least to see the accomplishment of them without regret. They might construe any expression, however guarded, of a common feeling, into encouragement if not into co-operation;— especially when they compared what was passing in that House with what had recently taken place elsewhere. For was it not a fact that the Radicals (as he was obliged to call them, though he hoped by some laborious periphrasis to avoid the term in future), could boast of having been associated in a public meeting with the first names in the land? that the possessors of those names, blessed with weath, distinguished by title, elevated by honours, the boast of the country, the ornament of mankind,—had stood side by side with them on the same stage, trembling for a hearing, and only obtaining that grace by their intercession? Did not the Radical Reformers recollect all this? and did they not recollect further, that these mighty Aristocrats, in entering upon a discussion in which two distinct topics were involved, on one of which they agreed with the Radical Reformers, while they widely differed from them on the other, had consented (oh! shame to rank, property, and aristocracy!) for the sake of a little paltry triumph over their political adversaries, to keep out of sight the topic on which they differed from their new allies, and to put forward exclusively that on which they agreed? They agreed that there ought to be an inquiry into the proceedings at Manchester;—a subject unquestionably of great importance (and regarding which it would be seen in what he should say presently, that he (Mr. C.) felt as deeply and acutely as any man,—but still a question of insulated importance, of comparatively narrow range and limited consequences:—they disagreed upon the wide subject of parliamentary reform. As to the importance of this last subject of difference, what was the sense of those who had moved the proposed Amendment? What were the words of the Amendment, regarding the schemes of the Radical Reformers? —"That the House express their reprobation of the attempts which have been made to persuade the suffering classes of the people to seek relief from their dis- 195 tress in schemes injurious to themselves, dangerous to the public quiet, and inconsistent with the security of the constitution" Thus, then, it appeared that those exalted individuals shared the honours of the hustings with men, whom they considered as entertaining projects "dangerous to the public quiet, and inconsistent with the security of the constitution;" and that with such men they combined their votes on another question, throwing entirely out of their view that by which the public quiet and the constitution were, in their opinion, endangered. This conduct was the more extraordinary if compared with the doctrines which had been preached in this debate, regarding the duties of the great towards the lower orders of the people. "Deal kindly and openly with them" (it had been said); "endeavour to convince them of their mistakes; argue with them calmly and temperately; and they will, no doubt, listen with patience, and acknowledge and retract their errors." How had these doctrines been reduced to practice? When was there a more golden, a more glorious, opportunity for acting upon them than that afforded by the Yorkshire meeting? and how had it been employed? Had any attempt been made at that meeting to argue with the Radical Reformers, and to convert them from their heretical tenets? If due advantage had been taken of that happy moment, what a signal service would the aristocracy of the York meeting have rendered to their contemporaries and to posterity! If they had sacrificed much in feeling, much in dignity, by the mortifying condition in which they had placed themselves; all these sacrifices, and more, if more could be, would have been wisely made and well recompensed, had they seized the opportunity of rendering new laws unnecessary, by the all-powerful effect of reason and eloquence, in converting or putting down the misleaders of the people. But they did no such thing. They rebuke, indeed, and lecture the Radical Reformers! No, no. they knew better than to risk such a liberty. They met under a contract (whether written or tacit he would not affirm), that the great question on which they fundamentally differed from the Radical Reformers should not be brought into discussion; and there being but two questions for deliberation,—the one parliamentary reform, and the other the calling of parliament together for the purpose 196 of inquiring into the proceedings at Manchester,—the first they consented entirely to slur over; and, with a most whimsical waste of time, proceeded to debate the second, although the newspapers of the day must have apprized them that parliament was already called. Surely many of those who supported the resolutions at York, must now in their consciences believe that the effect of that meeting had been to give encouragement to those very schemes which the Amendment under consideration now rebuked with so wholesome a severity.
§ Mr. Lyttelton
rose to order, and said, that the imputation of a motive, such as that stated by the right hon. gentleman, was disorderly.
§ The Speaker
observed, that to impute a motive was certainly disorderly; but, in his apprehension, the right hon. gentleman did not put his argument with that intention.
resumed.—Most certainly, Sir, you have taken the just view of the purport of my observation. I said distinctly, the effect of the York meeting, not the intention. I say further, or rather I repeat, that I equally believe, that the effect, not the intention, of qualifying the Address to the Throne with the proposed Amendment, would be to encourage the hopes of the Radical Reformers, not to damp them; notwithstanding the wholesome rebuke which I have admitted one passage of the Amendment to convey.
The great point of difference, between the Address and the Amendment, was, the notice bestowed by the Amendment upon the late transactions at Manchester. Mr. C. entreated the House, before they suffered themselves to be led away by all the declamation upon this question, to review the course which it had taken before it was brought under the consideration of parliament. Let every hon. member reflect on his own previous feelings on that question, even up to yesterday; and ask himself whether the legality of the meeting of the 16th of August were not the point on which he expected the discussion to turn; and by the decision of which was to be determined—whether or no there were any grounds, either for a parliamentary inquiry, or for any, and what further proceedings on the subject?
And what was now the state of that question of legality? Was it not settled in the mind of every impartial man, in the 197 way directly contrary to that which, before the meeting of parliament, had been so confidently presumed? As his hon. and learned friend (Mr. Scarlett) had this night qualified the opinion which he, in common with, he believed, a great majority of the House, understood him to declare in the preceding night's debate, he would not be so discourteous as to dwell on the impression which the first statement of that opinion had produced upon his mind. Undoubtedly, he had understood his hon. and learned friend to subscribe to the opinion that the meeting of the 16th of August was illegal; and he had congratulated himself on the accession of an authority which, if second, was only second, to that of the right hon. and learned gentleman over the way (Mr. Plunkett), who had with such clearness and force argued and established that opinion. But if his hon. and learned friend had not thought fit to give a positive opinion that the meeting was illegal, at least, he had not ventured to state an opinion to the contrary. His hon. and learned friend desired to withhold the expression of any opinion at all; and he (Mr. C.) had no right to disturb the tranquil state of neutrality in which his hon. and learned friend had placed himself. But what was to be thought of that neutrality,— what inference but one could be drawn from it,—when, after such an argument as that of the right hon. and learned gentleman, corroborated by the opinions of his (Mr. C. 's) hon. and learned friends who sat near him (the attorney and solicitor general), and not yet denied by any lawyer who had spoken, his hon. and learned friend was satisfied to be silent, and to leave the question without the benefit of his authority either way? The right hon. and learned gentleman, himself a host, had pledged his authority and his reputation as a lawyer (pledges of which the House and the United Kingdom know, and posterity will acknowledge, the value), that the meeting of the 16th of August was an illegal meeting. The hon. and learned gentlemen who sat near him (of whose talents he would not speak in the language which they deserved, only because sitting where they did, it might be considered as the language of partiality), they too had pledged their reputation as lawyers to the same opinion. On the opposite side, not one learned gentleman had staked his reputation on the opinion that the meeting was legal; not one learned gentleman 198 had hinted that he held such an opinion; no not one. If then there were value in authorities, that value, whether taken by weight or by tale, was on the side of the illegality of the meeting; while in the opposite scale would be found only a negative quantity, the unexplained hesitation of his hon. and learned friend (Mr. Scarlett). If there were any lawyer in the House who yet lingered, and would not, with the frankness of his learned friends, stake his reputation on his opinion, Mr. C. could only say that such learned gentlemen (whoever he might be) took as little advantage of the opportunity afforded by the meeting of parliament, for correcting erroneous doctrines, as the Whigs had taken of the meeting at York.
Such then was the state of the Manchester question, as it stood now, after two evenings' discussion, compared with that in which it stood ten, nay two, days ago.—But the necessity of a parliamentary inquiry into that matter had been rested on two grounds: first, on the violation of the constitution, by an illegal dispersion of a legal meeting; and secondly, on the demands of the country. The first ground the House would, perhaps, think pretty well disposed of; at least until some sage of the law should gather courage to dispute the doctrine, yet unquestioned in this debate, that the meeting was not a legal but an illegal meeting. And what if it should turn out upon examination, that the second ground was in fact identical with the first? Let the House take a view of the resolutions of some of the principal meetings which had been holden in different parts of the country; and let it be seen on what grounds they had rested this call for parliamentary inquiry. He would, with permission, mention a few of them briefly to the House.
First came the Westminster meeting, resolving, that "the late meeting at Manchester was a legal meeting," that "the people were lawfully assembled;" next, the common council of London — "a meeting legally assembled;" Halifax, "illegal dispersion of a meeting convened according to law;" Lewes, "the meeting at Manchester, on the 16th of August, was strictly legal and constitutional;" Southwark, St. John's parish, "perfectly legal and constitutional;" Richmond, "legal;" Carlisle, "our countrymen legally assembled at Manchester;'' Cumberland, the right of assembling "in a 199 legal manner "appears to have been violated; York, county, "a meeting legally assembled;" Reading, "a perfectly legal and constitutional meeting;'' London, St. Leonard's parish "legally assembled;" London, St. Clement's parish, "peaceably assembled for a legal and constitutional purpose;" Durham, county, "legally assembled;" Durham, city (more cautiously), "a meeting legally, as it seems, assembled;" Devon county club (more cautiously still) "we have not yet learnt by what act the people assembled at Manchester had placed themselves out of the pale of the law;" Sheffield (in the like strain) "as far as appears to us, conducted legally;" Norfolk (with similar reserve) "a meeting not proved to be illegal." There were abundance of other resolutions affirming the same opinion with more or less of confidence; but he had troubled the House with instances enough, to show the general prevalence of the notion, that the meeting at Manchester was a legal meeting.
Now, allowing all due weight to the authority of those resolutions, yet, as they turned out to have been founded in mistake, was it not to be fairly presumed that the meetings which passed them had been taken by surprise; and had, under an entire misconception, come to decisions which they themselves would now admit to be no longer maintainable?
But it was not in matters of law only, that the meetings in the country appeared to have been misled. It was impossible to overlook those flagrant misrepresentations of fact, by which the public mind had been worked up to a fearful state of irritation. It had happened to him (Mr. C.) to take the reports of a part of the daily press on these transactions in the gross; a course of reading which brought exaggerations and contradictions into view, much more clearly than a perusal from day to day. The first thing that had convinced him of the extreme caution with which the testimony of these records was to be received, was an allegation, that the magistrates of Manchester were necessarily actuated by hostile feelings towards the people, from the circumstance of their being generally "master-manufacturers." His connexion with Liverpool had given him acquaintance enough with the general state of things in Lancashire, to make him quite sure that, however true such a circumstance might have been in any other county, it could not be so in the county 200 of Lancaster; it being (as he had often heard, and had had some opportunities of knowing) an invariable rule in that county, not to put into the commission of the peace persons connected with the manufacturing establishments. No person, who had ever conversed with a Lancashire man, but might have informed himself of this rule; and surely no honest man would have hazarded such an allegation without inquiry. That care, at least every man was bound to take, before he asserted a fact to the injury of his neighbour; especially when the prejudice excited by the statement was to extend to the remotest verge of the kingdom, and to hold up those who were the objects of it to abhorrence and detestation. The allegation, however, passed current for some days; then, indeed, came an acknowledgment that it was incorrect; accompanied, however, with the observation, that though the master-manufacturers were not in the commission of the peace, the argument built on that assumption was not the less true. How many persons must have read the assertion, who, perhaps to that hour, were not aware of its untruth! How many persons in the country, remained even up to the meeting of parliament under the influence of that alarming but delusive impression! Was it not obvious that such an impression must materially have influenced the resolutions of any meeting where it was received as true? In that proportion, therefore, was a deduction to be made from the authority of all such resolutions. But was this the only misrepresentation? By no means. At the meeting of the city of York came forward an hon. gentleman (the member for that city), for whose general character and conduct he (Mr. C.) entertained the highest respect, and stated, that the sabres of the cavalry were sharpened, with a view to the conflict of the 16th of August. It was unnecessary to say that this information from such a man came with a weight absolutely overwhelming. Afterwards, the hon. gentleman was convinced that he had been led to assert what was not founded on fact; and, like an honourable and upright man as he was, he publicly retracted it. He could do no more. But, in the mean time, the resolutions at York had passed; and who could estimate the share which such an assertion, made when it was made, must have had in producing that temper in the meeting which 201 sanctioned those resolutions? Persons who had only read the statement might be subsequently disabused by the correction; and, so far as they were concerned, the mischief might therefore be cured: but could any man calculate the extent, to which such a statement, while it remained uncontradicted, must have acted on the public feeling at many other meetings than that at which it was first promulgated? Another hon. gentleman, the member for Norfolk, had been led into a like error, purely unintentional, no doubt, but calculated like the former to do extensive mischief, respecting a woman said to have been saved by an officer of dragoons from the barbarous rage of the yeomanry cavalry. The hon. gentleman had taken an opportunity, in this debate to disavow the authority on which he told this story. He had done rightly. But what might not have been the effect and operation of the story in the mean time?
Deduct, therefore, the amount of the impression made by these, and abundance of other similar fables; deduct the effect of the persuasion (the assumed, uncontroverted, and unquestioned persuasion), that the Manchester meeting was a legal meeting; and then judge, whether public meetings, proceeding to discussion under such influences, could have decided with equity and temper; whether we should not do those meetings the greatest possible injustice if we were to imagine that they would, under better information, persevere in decisions so unfairly and surreptitiously obtained? "No, Sir, it is not till all the meetings which assembled during the prevalence of these mistakes and delusions, shall have re-resolved all their resolutions, with the full knowledge that the Manchester meeting was illegal, —that the magistrates were not "master manufacturers,"—that the swords of the yeomanry were not sharpened with a view to the 16th of August,—and that the horrible stories, of which that related by the member for Norfolk is a specimen, were not true,—that we can have a pretence for granting a parliamentary inquiry, on the ground that the country demands it.
"Undoubtedly, Sir, the meeting at Manchester, was attended with great and grievous calamities. Much suffering was occasioned by it to all classes of the inhabitants of that place; and the loss of lives which occurred in the dispersion of the assembly must be deplored by every mind that has the smallest tincture of humanity. 202 In deploring those occurrences, I yield to no man living. But I know how cautiously I must deal with matters of this kind. I know well the nature of the artifices too successfully practised by those who endeavour to pervert the public judgment by the slander of individual character. Experto credite. The process is of this kind.—An incendiary narrator of what passed at Manchester affirms, perhaps, that "one hundred persons were slain." Suppose, indignant at this extravagant falsehood, I answer, "No, no, not a hundred, the number of sufferers was six only." "Six only!" is then the exclamation, "O barbarian! it is thus that you trifle with the sacrifice of human life!" This, Sir, is the common trick. It consists in first putting forth a monstrous exaggeration of calamity for the express purpose of inviting contradiction; and then holding up to public indignation the man who reduces the exaggeration to the reality, as if he were the unfeeling defender and approver of whatever part of the calamity he does not deny. The trick is at last found out; but it has unhappily too often done its work for the day, before detection. The agents who employ it know their lesson well. The school in which they learned it is that of the French Revolution. It is the old trick of 1794 and 1795; the too successful expedient of Marat and Robespierre. But, deplorable and extensive as the calamities of the 16th of August were, to whom are they to be attributed? Is it not to those, who actuated by selfish motives of ambition—(no, I will not say ambition; I will not squander a word often applied to nobler aspirations on such base designs)—is it not to those who seek mischief for mischief's sake; — who would let loose the whirlwind, though with the conscious incapacity to direct it;—who would lay the fabric of social order in ruin, not so much in the hope of rising upon that ruin, as for the satisfaction of contemplating the havoc and desolation which they had made;—who, outcasts of society, would revenge themselves upon society by scattering and dissolving the very elements of which it is composed;—Is it not to such persons,—to the assemblers of those alarming multitudes, under the preposterous pretence of petition or deliberation, but in fact for the purposes of intimidation and disorder,—that are to be justly attributed all the consequences which follow upon assemblages so wantonly con- 203 gregated, and upon passions so wickedly inflamed? To them the widowed mother and orphan child must trace their miseries. On their heads be for ever fixed the responsibility of all the blood that has been shed!"
He came now to the speech of his hon. and learned friend (sir J. Mackintosh). His hon. and learned friend was far too wise and too wary to pledge himself to an opinion in favour of the legality of the meeting of the 16th of August; he knew well moreover that if any excesses had been committed in the dispersion of even an illegal meeting, the tribunals of the law were open for redress; but being desirous at the same time of making out a case to show that the proceedings at Manchester ought to be made the subject of parliamentary inquiry, he had been driven to the most whimsical refinements in support of this proposition. Others had stated the magnitude of the question, as a cogent reason for the intervention of parliament; but his learned friend contended on the contrary, that the subject was of so subtle a nature, that the searching minuteness of parliamentary investigation could alone bear upon it with effect. The powers of the House, like the proboscis of an elephant, were now to be expanded to embrace the largest objects; and again to be contracted, that they might lay hold of the smallest. They were to tear up an oak or to pick up a pin. Others had charged upon the magistrates the most atrocious wickednesses,—falsehood, treachery, wilful breach of law, and deliberate murder;—and had contended, that the bar of the House of Commons was the only tribunal whose jurisdiction was sufficiently grand and awful to comprehend the enormity of such crimes. His hon. and learned friend, on the contrary, suggested that the guilt of the magistrates might possibly be no more than a small error in discretion; and it was therefore that he thought the bar of the House of Commons the fit tribunal, as being the only one whose touch was fine enough to handle an. offence so delicate and evanescent.
Others had contended that the courts of law were incompetent to try the magistrates; because—he knew not exactly why — the reason had never been very distinctly explained; but whatever it might be, the force of it had been within these few days considerably abated by some blundering fellow, who, not being let 204 into the secret — not being apprized how great an object it was to keep such matters exclusively for the cognizance of the House of Commons,—had actually moved for an information against the Coventry magistrates, for the dispersion of the meeting at Coventry; which motion the court of King's-bench had entertained. Now, it was quite obvious that what could be done in the case of Coventry, might be equally done in the case of Manchester; so of that argument—the incompetency of the courts of justice—there was happily an end. His hon. and learned friend, however, did not deny the competency of the court of King's-bench; but he doubted whether that court would condemn for any thing but misconduct; and he wanted a trial, where error in discretion (if it could be substantiated) might assume the colour, and be visited with the penalties, of guilt; and therefore was he for a trial in the House of Commons. Nay, his hon. and learned friend, and others who had followed him, went further. They thought that even if there were no guilt at all, real or imaginary, substantial or constructive, still a trial in the House of Commons could do the magistrates no harm. Why should an innocent man fear a trial? What more delightful, what more enviable, than the sensations of virtue under unmerited persecution? His hon. and learned friend had singular notions of happiness. A wise antient had said——"Dici beatus,Ante obitum, nemo supremaque funera debet.But his hon. and learned friend had found out, that even in this life a man may be blessed beyond the ordinary lot of humanity. This excess of sublunary enjoyment was to be found, it seems, in a public trial, with a consciousness of innocence. Happy, happy Mr. Hastings! who, for seven long years, continued in uninterrupted fruition of that which is now discovered to be the consummation of human felicity! "These, Sir, are refinements which I confess I do not comprehend. If the magistrates have sinned against the law, the courts of law are open to try them. If they are innocent, I, for my part, will never consent that an innocent man shall be dragged daily before our bar, amidst the taunts of enemies, and under the misconstruction of the public, with the consciousness of his innocence alone to support him.
205 It appeared to him (Mr. C.) that even justice ought to be dealt between man and man. In former times and in other countries (certainly never in this happy land), favour and affection had been shown to the higher, in preference to the lower, classes of society. At present, in consequence perhaps of one of those oscillations in the human mind which succeed each other with reference to every subject of human interest, there appeared to be a prevalent disposition to presume in favour of the lower, against the higher, classes. He by no means blamed this disposition. If any inequality were allowed to exist, the preponderance ought certainly to be on the side of the weak and unprotected. But equal justice was after all the wisest and honestest course. Now, what kind of equality would be administered between those who assembled the illegal meeting of the 16th of August, and those who dispersed it, if the amendment proposed by the right hon. gentleman were acceded to by the House? Those who had endeavoured to set the country in a flame, would be allowed to traverse their indictments, and to go to their trial at the period which might best please them;—the magistrates who had exerted themselves to defeat these machinations, would be allowed no choice, no challenge, but would be put on their trial without delay. The former, besides being permitted to go to trial when they liked, would have the further advantage that the witnesses against them would be examined upon oath; while the latter when brought at a moment's warning to the bar of the House of Commons, would be arraigned on evidence not given under that solemn sanction. And this was what his hon. and learned friend opposite, with the bandage over his eyes, and the balance in his hand, was prepared to mete out as the award of impartial justice!
That the House were fully aware of the difference between evidence on oath, and that taken without such sanction, was manifest from the fact, that in all cases in which the immediate right of their own members to their seats in that House was involved, the matter was referred to the consideration of a committee, before whom evidence was given on oath, under all the penalties for false-swearing.
But to put the injustice of the proceeding recommended to them in a still stronger point of view, let the House contemplate the result of a trial of the 206 magistrates in the House of Commons, under the alternative either of condemnation or acquittal. Suppose the House by a vote of the majority to find that no blame was imputable to the magistrates of Manchester; would that vote save them from a prosecution in a court of justice? No. The inquiry would merely furnish evidence against them, disclose their case, and send them prejudged to the legal tribunal. If, on the contrary, a majority of the House should find the magistrates guilty of the offence with which they were charged, and address the throne to remove them from the commission; would that save them from a prosecution in a court of justice? No. The decision of the House upon unsworn testimony, having inflicted a disgrace worse than the severest legal punishment, they would then be called to trial again in another court, where the previous decision could not but operate to their prejudice, and where even acquittal could not restore their station or their fame. And this was equal justice! Surely, it was impossible for any man, who duly considered the subject, and who wished to follow the great rule of dealing by others as he would wish others to deal by him, to agree to such an amendment.
There was still another view, however, of the proposed investigation,—its effect on the character of the House of Commons. He did not attribute to the right hon. gentleman who moved the amendment, the design of bringing the House into disgrace: but he must say that, if the amendment had been proposed by any of the—he was at a loss how to denominate them—the white-hatted gentry, he should suspect that they had a double game in view. For, if by such evidence as has been described, the House should be surprised into a decision against the magistrates, then the vengeance of the radical reformers would be fully gratified. If, on the contrary, the magistrates should be discharged of all blame by a vote of the House, there would then be afforded a new ground of clamour against the House of Commons. Either result would be delicious to those gentlemen. In the one event, they would crush the men whose firmness had defeated their machinations, in the other, they would gain a new power for undermining the constitution. But, as the House itself could not possibly have either of those objects in view, he trusted, that they would not hesitate to put an 207 end to the alternative by rejecting the amendment.
So great was the inconvenience of involving that House unnecessarily in judicial investigation, that he confessed he could conceive few cases, except those which required the exercise of the power of impeachment, in which the interposition- of the House of Commons was not attended with a risk of interrupting the course of justice, and of throwing discredit on the ordinary administration of the laws. What could be a stronger proof of this tendency than the sort of use which an hon. gentleman had thought himself warranted to make, in the debate of that day, of the short-hand report of an unfinished law proceeding,—the coroner's inquest at Old-ham? What business had the House of Commons with that proceeding,—which was now under revisal by the proper authority, the court of King's-bench?—or what advantage could be derived to the cause of law or liberty by the attempt to cast odium on judicial proceedings? The ill example that was sometimes set in that House, was followed but too closely elsewhere. The coroner's inquest was, to be sure, a tribunal, of secondary dignity; but when before was any magistrate, however inferior in dignity, braved and browbeaten, day after day, upon the bench? When before was the majesty of justice insulted in her own temple, as had been lately practised in courts of still higher— of the highest—authority?—He trusted that there was not in that House, or in the country, a warmer friend of rational liberty than himself; but amongst the first elements of liberty he had always understood to be the separation of administrative and judicial functions; and every attempt to unite them in the same hands must, in his opinion, be attended with danger to the constitution.
But it is not only the courts of law, (which may perhaps, heretofore have been reviled by those on whom it was their duty to inflict the penalties of justice,— though never before so openly and grossly insulted)—it is not the courts of law only that in these days are held up to suspicion and hatred:—but other, the most favourite institutions of British judicial administration; institutions which are peculiar to England, and which excite, beyond all others, the admiration and envy of foreign nations. Even the sacred name of juries has been tainted with insinuation; and the unpaid magistracy of the country are 208 attempted to be degraded in the public esteem. As if renouncing the high station which we maintain in Europe, as if anxious to deter those nations which have followed our steps in victory from imitating (as they are eagerly bent on doing) our example in civil life, we have persons among us who are busily employed in defaming those invaluable institutions; which are at once the pride and the safeguard of our civil polity. Depend upon it, Sir, if these attempts should be successful, the evil which they entail will be altogether irreparable. One of the most beautiful of our moral poets has said, of the lower classes of the agricultural part of the community—that,Princes and lords may flourish, or may fade; A breath can make them as a breath has made: But a bold peasantry, their country's pride, When once destroy'd, can never be supplied.So say I of the higher ranks of that same portion of the community—the unpaid magistracy of the country.—I do not dread the inroads attempted to be made on the constitution of parliament, with half the horror that I do the efforts to disparage the character of that magistracy, anew House of Commons might be elected. The monarch might create new peers. New statesmen would be found to conduct the affairs of government, if the present race of public men were swept from the earth. But once "destroy" that which "can never be supplied," the voluntary and gratuitous dispensation of justice: once sour the public mind against that, perhaps the sole remnant of natural authority; once thoroughly disgust and dishearten that thankless self-devotion, that unbought sacrifice of time and trouble, that benevolent homage of power and wealth to the interests of the humble and the poor, which characterize the country magistracy;—let that connecting link between the higher and lower orders of society be once broken,—and by that single blow more will be done to disjoint the state, than could be accomplished by the radical reformers, with all their outrageous declarations, and with all their pikes— when they shall use them."
He would now, with the permission of the House, turn to the main subject, of which the House appeared to have almost lost sight,—the speech from the throne. In that speech, the state of the country was painted in colours such as those who advised the Crown had seldom before been under the sad necessity of employing. 209 That the picture was not overcharged, however, he had a right to presume, as no imputation of that nature had been uttered from any quarter. With the exception of the hon. baronet opposite (sir Francis Burdett), no one who had touched on the meeting at Manchester, had spoken of the designs of the movers of that meeting, manifested not only by their own declarations, but by all their preparations, their emblems and their array, as other than most wicked and indefensible. The hon. baronet, indeed, had talked of the flags unfurled on that occasion, as mere matters of parade. But who did not know, that banners, ribbons and other such devices, might be as clear indications of purpose as words? When some years ago, an orange cockade was worn, on particular days, in Ireland (much more generally than he believed and hoped it was at present), would it have been an answer to the complaints against such a practice to say, "What signifies a yellow ribbon?"—Such things had great signification. Who but the hon. baronet could doubt, that the flags of the meeting at Manchester meant defiance? What could the inscription "Equal Representation or Death" intend, but that those displaying it were solicitous for that which was incompatible with the constitution, and that they were ready to purchase it with their blood? Could such a meeting be legal? Was it possible that any one of the contrivers or abettors' of it could seriously imagine it to be so? Could it be deemed so in common sense? The common law, as had been truly said by the right hon. and learned gentleman, (Mr. Plunket), was the perfection of common sense; but what law or what sense could consider as peaceable and legal meetings of forty or fifty thousand persons, convened by no known authority, and marching together in military array, at which doctrines subversive of the constitution were promulgated without disguise, and the determination to carry those doctrines into effect by physical force was audaciously avowed?
He would borrow, on this point, an illustration with which the speech of his hon. and learned friend (sir J. Mackintosh), had furnished him. His hon. and learned friend had told them, that Lancashire had, at different periods, been the seat of different kinds of disaffection; of Jacobitism in the last century, as of Jacobinism at present. Now, he would ask his hon. and learned friend; nay, he 210 would appeal to any one of the hon. gentlemen opposite,—to any whig amongst them,—for an answer to this question,— if in the year 1715, or in the year 1745, or in any year between those two periods, fifty or twenty or ten thousand Lancashire Jacobites had assembled by beat of drum, on the 10th of June, with white roses in their hats, and with the motto "Legitimate Monarchy" embroidered on their standards, would that have been a legal assembly? If any unfortunate Tory had, after such an occurrence, stood up in parliament, and protested that those symbols were perfectly innocent of any improper meaning;—that white was no colour—and that the words "Legitimate Monarchy" referred, beyond all question, to the royal family just established by law; —would he have been listened to with credulity and complacency by the Whig powers of that day? Would he not rather have been reviled as a driveller or traitor; and a new Whig law have been passed for the suppression of such innocent assemblages, at least as strong as the Riot act itself? And pray, what was the difference between the two proceedings, that of Manchester in August 1819, and that which he had imagined as taking place in the same county in 1715 or 1745? Why, hat the one would have indicated a design of changing the reigning dynasty; while the other was manifestly directed against the whole frame of the constitution. Any attempt to bring the multitude, and the menaces, and the symbols, and the array of the Manchester meeting within the pale of law, was as fond and as futile as would have been the attempt of a Tory opposition to assign to the Jacobite mob the character of loyalty to the Hanover succession.
The hon. baronet has adjured the House to consider the necessity of conciliation. If by conciliation be meant the expression of sympathy in the distresses of the people, I do most sincerely declare that that sympathy cannot be more deeply felt by any man or set of men in the House or in the country, than by my colleagues and myself. Indeed, can such a declaration be necessary? Even if we had not, like other men, the feelings of human kindness, is it possible that we should be so blind to our own interests, as well as insensible to our duties, as not to feel that the credit as well as the permanency of our administration depends upon the peace and tranquillity of the kingdom, and therewith on the 211 prosperity and comforts of the labouring classes of the community? But I apprehend, that what the hon. baronet means by conciliation is concession; and concession in the shape of a parliamentary reform. And this, Sir, brings me to the topic which was introduced into this debate by the right hon. gentleman who moved the amendment, and to which he did me the honour to challenge my particular attention. That challenge has been repeated by the hon. baronet. The House will, therefore, see that it is not in my option to decline adverting to this topic; although I could have been well contented to defer it to a more suitable opportunity.
The hon. baronet warns me to re-consider my opinions on the subject of parliamentary reform. The right hon. gentleman has been pleased to compliment me as the most strenuous opposer of a reform in parliament, and as one main obstacle to the success of that project. He tells me that I am as radical at one end of the question, as those who are termed "radicals," are at the other. The right hon. gentleman will pardon me for observing, as 1 pass, that his metaphor is none of the correctest. I never heard of any plant with a root at both its ends. The root usually tends down wards—radice in Tartara;—and I will not dispute that tendency with those who have pre-occupied the title.
But I have no reserve on the subject of parliamentary reform; and, called upon as I have been, I will without the smallest hesitation state my opinions now; declining however to argue them till the period of more particular discussion shall arrive. I am no bigoted supporter of the present order of things as faultless and perfect, or even as necessarily the best that it may be possible for human wisdom to devise; but what I have always maintained is, that the House of Commons, with all its imperfections on its head, discharges well the functions assigned to it by the constitution, and is to all practical purposes identified, with the people whom it represents. I have always contended, therefore, that any sweeping change— any change not very limited and very well considered,—must be attended with great hazard. To say that some heaven-born radical reformer might not by possibility imagine a scheme of a House of Commons, infinitely more beautiful in theory, is a presumption of which I am not 212 guilty. But until I see such a scheme before me in all its scope and in all its detail, I shall feel it my duty to resist any unexplained approaches to reform; because such approaches tend to weaken what exists, without substituting any thing better, or affording any pledge that a preferable substitute can be found.
The course of reasoning, which 1 think myself entitled—which I think it must be allowed, to be most expedient—to pursue on this subject, is as follows:
I claim no other privilege for the existing state of parliament, than that which is allowed to all existing institutions,— that the burthen of proof that a change in them is necessary shall rest with those who propose the change
Reformation (I speak not here of partial remedies applied—as this House is in the habit of applying them from time to time—to particular instances of detected corruption, but of a general systematic reformation) must be of one of two sorts. It may be a restoration, upon the original principles of the institution to be reformed, to the state in which it stood at some former time, and from which it is alleged to have degenerated; or, it may be a reconstruction of the institution on principles altogether new.
My first question to the proposer of such general reformation, therefore is, "Which of these two modes have you in view?" If the answer be, "restoration to what the House of Commons was in former times;" I then request that the period may be specified at which the House of Commons was, according to the reformer, in the perfection to which he wishes to restore it. If, on the other hand, the answer be, that it is intended to re-construct the House on new principles; then, I think, it is not too much to ask that those principles shall be clearly defined, before we are required to take a single practical step towards the abolition of the existing frame of the House of Commons.
Even after all these explanations had been given, I should think myself at liberty to compare the dangers of a change with the advantages of the change specifically proposed.' But, without these preliminary explanations, without knowing exactly what is the nature and extent of the change intended, I should think that to countenance any abstract declaration of the expediency of a change, would be madness.
213 I differ from some gentlemen who have spoken in this debate, in my behalf as to the degree in which the desire for parliamentary reform prevails throughout the nation. I very much doubt whether that desire prevails much beyond the class of determined reformers,—except, perhaps, among timid and indolent persons, who, untaught by experience, or fearful of exertion, imagine that concession to an invader is the way to peace. With the turbulent description of reformers, it is agreed on all hands, there can be no dallying or compromise. To attempt to conciliate them would be utterly hopeless. And I repeat, I do not believe the sound part of the community to be at all widely infected by the love of change. To use a figure of Mr. Burke's, I will not mistake the importunate chink of a Few grasshoppers chirping under a fern-bush, for the voice of the lordly oxen that stray in sober tranquillity over the surface of the field.
I must fairly say, however, that if I could once bring myself to admit the premises which the hon. baronet lays down, I should acknowledge his conclusion from them to be more logical than that of those who call themselves moderate reformers. The latter affirm the existence of a wide-spreading corruption as broadly as the hon. baronet. But the hon. baronet advises a new construction of the House; while the moderate reformers profess to be satisfied with some very trifling alteration. Now, if the disease be as great and as malignant as it is described, I could not be satisfied with so partial a remedy. But I do not admit such to be the extent and malignity of the disease. I do not admit, for instance, that the close boroughs, against which so much has been said, and which are the most obvious and striking anomalies in a plan of representation theoretically considered, are by any means a rotten and gangrened part of the constitution, to be cut off without mercy or remorse. I think them not only defensible, but serviceable. This opinion, Sir, I hold at least disinterestedly. I can have no fear that Liverpool should be involved in any plan of disfranchisement. And I protest, I believe, that the administration of which I am a member, would not lose, but would benefit, by the abolition of the close borough representation. No small proportion of those boroughs is in the hands of our opponents. If the boroughs of 214 Knaresborough, of Tavistock, of Horsham, of Winchelsea, of Peterborough, were disfranchised, and the right of election were transferred to more populous places —to Birmingham, to Manchester, to Sheffield, to Leeds—I really do not believe that his majesty's ministers would lose numbers in this House; on the contrary, I believe that they would receive more support than at present. But I should regret very much if, by such a measure, the House should be deprived of so many of the great lights* which I see in the opposite quarter of the horizon.
The House, and the right hon. gentleman, will do me the justice to acknowledge, that I have stated my opinions on this question without prejudice, without passion, Without any personal or party bias, I think now, as I always have thought, that the constitution of the House of Commons is practically beneficial, though I do not pretend that it is conformable to any uniform theory. If I am asked for instance, why 658 is a more proper number of members than 657 or 659?—I confess myself at a loss to answer the question. It is the collective character of the House which I regard; and I maintain that in its aggregate capacity, and in its general operation, it faithfully represents not only the general interests of the kingdom, but the particular interests of every assignable portion of it: and that it follows, not precipitately, but deliberately and considerately, the real wishes, opinions, and feelings, of the people.
The gentlemen who oppose the government, contend indeed on all occasions, that they are right, and that ministers are wrong; and that the House of Commons, agreeing with the ministers, are therefore wrong with them, and ought, like them, to be sent about their business. But this is mere assertion; and is, in truth, a very short way of disposing of a very complicated question. Do those gentlemen who are in a minority in this House, find themselves in a majority in the country? They will not say so; they cannot think so. Take, for example, the question of the late war. Have they any doubt that, through the whole course of that war (to* Mr. Tierney, sir James Mackintosh, Mr. J. P. Grant, Mr. Brougham, Mr. Scarlett, &c., are among the representatives for the boroughs enumerated by Mr. Canning.215 which they now, by the way, attribute all our distresses,) a majority—an immense majority—of the nation were of the same way of thinking with the majorities of the two Houses of Parliament? Do they doubt that, in that glorious war, in which England saved Europe, and with Europe saved herself, her government was enabled to effect these mighty purposes, not only by a confiding parliament, but by a concurring people? To say that such a war was, or could be, carried on in contradiction to the wishes of the country—that it was a war against the people,—is absurd. A war of twenty years! accompanied with privations and sacrifices never before heard of! and all cheerfully borne by a people, reluctant and unconsenting, insensible to the demands of their own security, and deaf to the shouts of triumphant valour!— borne, too, without murmur or remonstrance!—the statement refutes itself. Gentlemen know that it does so. They know that the war was undertaken for the destruction of tyranny, and for the vindication of the liberties of mankind. They know that, the glory acquired to England, and the interest felt in that glory by the people of England, were as great as the majorities in parliament were overwhelming; and they know that those parliamentary majorities were but the express image of the sentiments of the nation.
There is another consideration which induces me to distrust the hon. baronet's assumption of a general popularity for the doctrines of which he is the champion. It is, that this question of parliamentary reform is never eagerly agitated, unless when some poignant, though passing difficulties assail the country. This was notoriously the case at the first promulgation of the doctrines of reform, towards the end of the American war. It was the case in 1793, when the desolating principles of the French revolution and its tremendous military successes disquieted sober minds with an apprehension of ruin to the kingdom. It was the case in 1797, at the period of the mutiny at the Nore; and again in 1798, during the height of the disturbances in Ireland, In 1810 and 1812, the question of reform was indeed brought forward, but with out exciting much interest or receiving any material support either within doors or without; and from the latter period it slept until the year before last, when the hon. baronet burst upon us with the elaborate plan of major Cartwright. To that ad- 216 mirable system, and to the peculiar doctrines of that patriarch of reform, I consider the hon. baronet as inviolably pledged. He is the undoubted and sole heir of the venerable major. I hope, that when that system and those doctrines shall descend to him by right of inheritance, he will enjoy them to as full a maturity of age and intellect as his predecessor; and that he will finally hand them down unimpaired to some successor equally gifted with himself, but doomed to be, equally with himself, unsupported and hopeless in the prosecution, of them.
Beside this plan of the hon. baronet, I am not aware of any specific proposition for reform now before the public—except the threatened one, from the other side of the House, for shortening the duration of parliaments. It is now, Sir, about one hundred years since the Whigs made parliaments septennial from triennial. During the first half century after that change they monopolized the administration of the government. So far, all went well. But for nearly the whole of, the last fifty years, the Whigs have been out of office. Are they anxious to try whether they may better their chance by undoing the work of their own hands, and returning to, triennial parliaments?
Now, Sir, as to triennial parliaments, I confess I object to them—anti-reformer as I am:—but if I were a radical reformer, I should object to them infinitely more. On my, own part I object to them for all the reasons so often urged in debate against the repeal of the Septennial act, in the course of the twenty years that followed its enactment; reasons, I admit, of expediency rather than, of principle. But as a reformer, I should reject with indignation an attempt to delude me with a specious appearance of regeneration; calculated to aggravate in effect that very inequality of representation of which the reformers particularly complain. The objects of their strongest antipathy we know are the close boroughs, in defence of which I have ventured to say a few unpopular words: they hold it an abomination, that Tavistock should return by nomination as many members as York or Bristol or Liverpool by free election. But what could so much enhance the advantage of Tavistock over York, or Bristol, or Liverpool, as increasing the frequency of elections? The trouble, the anxiety, the expense—the lawful expense, I mean —of a contested election for a populous 217 place, are no light matter: while the quiet sitter for a close borough may be returned by the dash of a pen, without moving out of his easy chair. This takes place now, once in seven, or, as is the practice, once in about six years; make it to happen once in three years;—you double the disadvantage against the popular representative;—and then have the assurance to call this a reform!
But let not gentlemen deceive themselves with a fond expectation, that dexterous contrivances such as these, or that any palliatives, however specious, can amuse the real reformers. It is not with such sacrifices that you can gorge and satisfy the all-devouring monster of radical reform. No, no, no. The reformers mean, and they demand, a strict personal representation; they mean and they demand a direct express of the people's will.
I can only say, that if government be a matter of will (I thought it had been matter of reason and convention), and if the will of the whole nation be once fully represented—these two premises being assumed—the conclusion that follows from them is to my mind inevitable: it is shortly and plainly this, that the assembly so fully representing the national will, must be, and in sound logic ought to be, the whole government. There is no room, no pretence for any other power in the state. Kings and Lords are useless incumbrances; and such a House of Commons all in all.
Such, I say, is the logical, the necessary, the unavoidable inference from the premises, once admitted, of the hon. baronet and the radical reformers. I content myself for the present with merely stating them, not presuming to find fault with them, nor proceeding to argue them on this occasion. Opportunities will probably occur for that purpose. I should not even have touched upon the subject of parliamentary reform to-night, had it not been for the taunting invitation of the right hon. gentleman, and the solemn admonition of the hon. baronet. But, so called upon, I could not decline stating my opinions, without appearing to shrink from them. I do not shrink from them. I have stated them, I hope, intelligibly; I am sure without any reserve.
Other warnings are addressed, not to me only, but to the House, as to the lessons to be learned from the French revolution. Undoubtedly these two lessens are to be learned from the French reve- 218 lution: first, that proper changes ought not be delayed too long; secondly, that precipitate changes are subversive of the peace and order and happiness of nations. But can any man look to the history of the ill-fated Louis 16th, and say, that it was his obstinate adherence to the rights of the throne which he inherited, that imbittered the last years of his reign, and' finally led him to the scaffold? Can any man seriously contemplate the course of events which brought that monarchy to ruin, without trembling at the consequences of a too obsequious subservience to temporary popularity?—without perceiving how easy and how dangerous is the mistake of sacrificing the interests of a whole community to the clam ours of a discontented few? Let not then the les-sons of the French revolution be lost upon us! When out ears ate assailed by clam our for change, let us not be unmindful of the silent apprehensions, the confiding patience of that large portion of the community whom these clam ours distract and appal! Let us not mistake their silence for acquiescence, nor their confidence for carelessness! The feeling of alarm is deep, and general, and just. The persons, whose machinations are the subject of this debate, and the cause of our being called together at this season, are valueless as motes in the sun-beam, compared with the loyal, quiet, unmurmuring millions, who look up to Parliament for protection. Let them not look up to you in vain! Let not the claims, and the welfare of those millions,—of the loyal and the good, of the peaceful and the pious, —be disregarded by the House, in deliberating upon the measures which are necessary for the safety of the country.—Vos ne populo Romano deese videamini providete! Obsessa fascibus et telis impiœ conjurationis vobis supplex manus tendit patria comtnunis. Vobis se, vobis vitam omnium civium, vobis arcem et capitolium, vobis aras penatium, vobis mums atque vrbis tecta, vobis templa deorum atque delubra commendat."
§ Mr. Brougham
said, he was sure the House would, on this occasion, exercise towards him that candour and liberality which he had so often experienced, but of which he then stood so particularly in need. At that late hour of the evening, after the able and entertaining speech which they had just heard—considering the length, he would not say the excessive length of that speech—he felt that 219 he could not trespass upon the House for any considerable time; but he could not, consistently with his duty to the country, to his constituents, or to his own feelings, refrain from declaring his opinions on this question. He was fully aware of the truth of the right hon. gentleman's prediction, that the advocates of inquiry would be found in a minority: he was aware that he was, on that occasion, addressing an assembly, the majority of which entertained strong impressions against that side of the question which he conscientiously advocated. He trusted, however, that he would be allowed to follow the arguments used by the right hon. gentleman, and the other gentlemen who opposed the amendment. He fully concurred in the eloquent eulogium pronounced by the right hon. gentleman upon the incalculable, the hardly to be expressed, value of our magistracy, who not only acted gratuitously, with a few exceptions, in Manchester, but were frequently exposed to the discharge of disagreeable functions, and, in some instances, even to the risk of their lives in the public service. For this reason it was that the law had fenced them round with a threefold fence in the discharge of those duties. He therefore lamented, as sincerely as any man could do, that any transaction should take place which could throw a stigma on so respectable a body. He lamented it the more, as it was to the constitutional discharge of the duties of that magistracy that the people were to look up for the preservation of tranquillity. It was their only source of assistance, save the introduction of the military. He should lament deeply the result of the transactions under discussion, if the magistrates implicated were not in this instance separated from the general body. If the proposed inquiry were granted, it would have the effect of separating the wrong-doors, if so they should be proved to be, from that honourable body. If the inquiry were granted, the guilt, the indiscretion, the too great vigour, or the errors of the accused, would be made to appear: if it was refused, the House might rely upon it, it would fall on the whole body. If the impression remained, if it should be believed, that the course of justice was impeded, that undue powers were apt to be exercised, that undue stretches of official power were practised, that military force was applied at the pleasure of men in office, then the 220 catastrophe was consummated, and he must join in deploring, that the confidence of the country in the magistracy must be shaken.
He would now advert to the observations on the Yorkshire meeting. The right hon. gentleman and the noble lord had said that there had been a compromise between the Whigs, with earl Fitzwilliam at their head, and on the other, those whom the right hon. gentleman, (forgetting his promised and original abstinence), called White Hats. This agreement was said to be novel, unconstitutional, curious and inconsistent with the character of earl Fitzwilliam and with the amendment now proposed. They, indeed, were all anxious that a supposed encroachment on the constitution should be specially investigated, and that redress should be given, if that were required. At the meeting there was an agreement in referring the subject to parliament for inquiry and redress. Parliamentary reform, which had no more to do with the object of the meeting than tithes or the poor-rates, and on which they did not agree, was by consent excluded from consideration. The right hon. gentleman was naturally much offended that they had acted so wisely, and followed his own example, who, however, generally sailed much nearer the wind [a laugh.] Hence, all his jokes and gibes; because the points on which they differed had nothing to do with the purpose of the meeting, and those on which they agreed were its sole object, and contained in the requisition. This was the head and front of lord Fitzwilliam's offending. This was the conspiracy of which his lordship and his friends were accused—a conspiracy, he knew not for what—to resist government. The evidence of this charge was the inferences drawn in a newspaper from their speeches. Because Mr. Wooler inferred from lord Milton's speech that he was for reform, and from Mr. Dundas's that he recommended resistance, they all acted unconstitutionally in attending the meeting! He and the right hon. gentleman had been fellow candidates at an election, where the right hon. gentleman had conspired most unconstitutionally with great numbers, according to these principles. He entered into a compromise with notorious traffickers in slaves; with these men he stood, "from early dawn to dewy eve," as near as he (Mr. Brougham) was to his hon. friend. With those respect- 221 able persons, the right hon. gentleman had stood speaking with them, speaking for them, and acting with them, because they agreed as to his election [loud cheers]; but they were as different in their sentiments, at least on the abolition of the slave trade, as it was possible. If he were, therefore, to charge the right hon. gentleman with a conspiracy to revive the slave trade, he would be guilty of as great misrepresentation as Mr. Wooler. The right hon. gentleman, who had not been in the country at the time and had received his information, perhaps, through several gradations, supplied, as was usual, by ingenuity and fancy, his want of information. This accounted for his gross misrepresentation of what passed at the meeting. He alluded particularly to his statement, that the noble member for Yorkshire stood in trembling suspense; he hoped his noble friend was in the House to hear his faithful report of the expression used—"That lord Milton and earl Fitzwilliam stood in trembling suspense for a hearing, to be procured by the rabble radicals brought from Leeds.'' Persons of as acute observation as were in the country, and unconnected with the class alluded to, had described to him the veneration, the quiet and respectful attention, with which the noble lord and his venerable father were listened to, even by the humblest persons present.
Having disposed of this part, he had exhausted a considerable portion of the right hon. gentleman's speech. As to the legality or illegality of the meeting, no opinion was given upon his side of the House, because it depended upon facts to be established in evidence. The right hon. gentleman and the noble lord had brought forward no documents which supported their statements. He lamented that the hon. and learned member for Dublin had forgotten what he had so wisely and eloquently urged respecting Ireland—that coercion, if used at all, should be the last means used, and conciliation should be the first; and that he had made use of his convenient ifs, excited his regret, and would be heard with astonishment and grief in his own country, as well as in this. The right hon. gentleman had forgotten a "fundamental feature," according to the noble lord, namely, that there had been no stones on the field in the morning, and that two cart loads were, after the meeting, carried off the ground. Let this be inquired into, 222 and, if proved, it would go far to decide the character of the meeting. The right hon. gentleman had been absent, and had learnt the nature of the transactions from a file of newspapers put at once into his hands. This was unfortunate, for the right hon. member had made his extracts very incorrectly. For instance, the extract from the speech at York was incorrect. It omitted, not from design but very conveniently, the words respecting the legality of the Manchester meeting— "As far as hitherto appeared." The legality was spoken of with similar caution at Cumberland and Westmoreland. All that was said was, that it was prima facie legal, and that inquiry should be made whether it was legal or not. The right hon. gentleman had replied to the hon. baronet (sir F. Burdett) only by old worn-out and stale remarks on parliamentary reform, and had left untouched a speech which must live in their recollection as the most consoling, able, wise, and, for practical effect in preserving the peace and inducing the deluded portion of the people to return to the exercise of good sense, the most useful speech ever heard within those walls. It was more convenient to quit that speech than to answer it, and to bring forward statements which had not been found in any arguments in that House, and which might have perished with the columns in which they appeared, as far as he knew. But he would show the substantial correctness of the facts which had been triumphantly urged as misrepresentations. The hon. member for Norfolk (Mr. Coke) had said, that major Cochrane had interfered to prevent a woman and child from being sabred. Major Cochrane had pointed out some inaccuracy in this. Upon which much sarcasm was thrown out against the statement. But major Cochrane did not deny that a woman and a child had been sabred. This had never been denied and he pledged himself to prove it true if the House would give him leave. It was also true, that major Cochrane had interfered in another part of the field, to prevent the yeomen from attacking the mob who were attempting to escape. Next came the statement of the hon. member for York (Mr. Dundas), who had said, that the sabres had been sharpened with a view to the meeting, and had afterwards with excessive candour, on the safest side to err on, contradicted that observation. The inference drawn from this circumstance 223 was, that newspapers were not to be believed, and that public meetings were instruments of deception. But the sabres were, in fact, sharpened.
here begged to state, in order to prevent further misrepresentation from going forth to the public, that the swords had not been sharpened for the purpose of the meeting: the swords had been sent to the cutler, but it was in the usual course.
§ Mr. Brougham.
—If his hon. friend had allowed him to proceed, he would have saved him the trouble of making the observations he had made. He meant to say, that the statement in evidence before the coroner's inquest was, that the swords had been sharpened with a view to that particular day [a laugh from the ministerial side]. He hoped the House knew knew him too well to suppose that he would shelter himself under a quibble which was evidently imputed to him. The swords had been sent to be sharpened before the meeting, as appeared in evidence. They had been so sent some few days before the meeting was called, and after the intention of calling it was formed. The magistrates and yeomen were aware of this intention, and in consequence sent the swords to be sharpened. The conclusion was drawn from the knowledge of the intention with which the magistrates were fixed. Another ground of that inference was, that no such usage did in fact prevail; and that with respect to a corps which had existed so short a time, to talk of usage was an abuse of terms. He did not shrink, therefore, from the conclusion, that the swords were sharpened for the purpose. If he was in error, he desired to have his error corrected; but let that correction be the result of inquiry. But if errors ten thousand times more numerous could be detected, it was nothing to the purpose. Some errors and some falsehoods must always appear on questions always discussed, thank God, with so much interest by the people of this country. Granting, for a moment, that the Manchester meeting was illegal, there still remained that important question— were no illegal means used in its dispersion? We knew it was held by an hon. gentleman opposite, that an illegal meeting might be dispersed by means equally illegal. For this, no doubt, he would plead authorities; but was it meant to be contended, that the functions of that House, admitted, as it was, to be the 224 grand inquest of the country, were so widely different, so essentially distinct from its other privileges, that they would exist at all times without the one interfering with the other?
In regard to the important interests concerned in the decision of that question, he would ask, supposing it was represented that from many motives and feelings, there was a slowness in bringing these men to account; that one party had not pecuniary means, or having, misapplied them (and indeed the noble lord had in his speech almost supposed the second of these positions, and the fact of that position led him (Mr. Brougham) to assume the first);—the noble lord considering these as the two parties interested in this great and serious question, he would ask, whether there was not a third party who had received and sustained damage By the conduct of these magistrates—the public of this country [Hear, hear!]? As to the clamour which had been raised against extra-judicial proceedings, when that House directed any man to be prosecuted by the attorney-general, was it ever seriously debated whether his crime was one cognizable by law or not? Did they stop to ask such a question in the cases of Mr. Swan, of sir M. Lopez, of Mr. Reeves, or Mr. Stockdale, or of lord Melville? He could not but express his disappointment at the opinions expressed on this subject by several of his hon. friends, for whom he entertained the highest respect, and particularly at the opinion expressed by his hon. and learned friend the member for Montgomeryshire (Mr. Wynn,) a man learned beyond all others in the history of that assembly, whose privileges he (Mr. B.) was endeavouring to support—skilled beyond all men—deeper than all the children of men —in the knowledge of the voluminous. records of parliamentary precedents—a man who was even supposed by most people to know the whole of the journals of the House by heart; who devoted to their study the light of day and the midnight oil; whose accuracy in every thing connected with parliament was so rigid, that many persons imagined he really came down to the House every morning at ten o'clock, the hour at which the House ought to assemble, according to the strict letter of the adjournment [a laugh]—in short, a man whose devotion in this respect could only be equalled by that of a learned ancestor of his, who¶225 having fainted from excessive toil and fatigue, a smelling bottle was called for, but one who knew much better the remedy adapted to the case of that gentleman, exclaimed, "For God's sake bring him an act of parliament, and let him smell at that" [a laugh]. He could not help thinking in like manner, that in case his hon. and learned friend should ever be attacked in a similar way, the mere smelling of a volume of the journals could not fail instantly to revive him. He was astonished that his hon. and learned friend should contend that the inquiry now called for could not with propriety be entered on by parliament, and was unwarranted by the practice of parliament, when there were so many precedents on the journals proving directly the contrary of this. Here the hon. and learned gentleman alluded to several cases, and dwelt particularly on that of the duke of Buckingham, in which, after most elaborate arguments by the great lawyer of that day, the predecessor of his hon. and learned friend (Mr. Wynn), in antiquarian and constitutional knowledge, it was decided that even common fame might be a ground for a parliamentary impeachment.
Great stress had been laid on the injustice and cruelty of sending any one to trial, with the weight of the opinion of that House operating against him. But if he knew any thing of the people of this country, the opinion of that House would, so far from operating unfavourably against any individual on his trial, be productive of an effect directly the reverse, and would excite in his favour sentiments of pity and commiseration. And, what was the fact? It had happened, fortunately for his argument, that in almost every instance the individuals ordered for prosecution by that House had been acquitted; and in the very last case of the kind, that of Mr. Swan, he was acquitted on all the points on which he was ordered to be prosecuted by the House, though he was convicted on another point. But the inquiry became necessary for another important reason. Admitting, for the sake of argument, that the meeting was illegal—though he begged to be understood as having yet neither heard nor seen any thing to satisfy him that it was illegal—and supposing that the conduct of the magistrates was strictly warranted by law, still the manner in which they exercised the discretionary powers with which they were vested by 226 law, might be a fair subject for a parliamentary inquiry. We know that a serious and alarming affray took place, in which several of his majesty's subjects lost their lives, and great numbers were maimed and mutilated. An hon. magistrate (Mr. Wilbraham) had said, that the whole number of persons taken to the infirmary at Manchester, in consequence of injuries received by them on the 16th, amounted only to twenty-six. But with all deference to the hon. gentleman, he had received information from a magistrate who was possessed of a correct knowledge on this subject, and who could not possibly be mistaken, that the number of wounded persons taken to the infirmary amounted to fifty-six. But this formed a very small proportion of the persons injured on that day. It was well known that a great prejudice existed in the north against hospitals (a ridiculous prejudice, no doubt), and that people chose rather to resort to bone-setters and persons of a similar description, when in want of medical assistance. Comparatively few of the persons who suffered on the 16th, were taken to the infirmary. John Lees, for instance, on whom the inquest was held at Oldham, was not taken to the infirmary. He knew, from persons who from motives of charity, and totally uninfluenced by party motives had made it their business to visit the persons who suffered on the 16th, that the number of wounded persons amounted at least to 400. Some of these persons made the number amount to 500 and upwards, and the lowest amount was 400. Now it so happened, that at all the other meetings where a different course had been pursued, no accident whatever had taken place. The meeting at Birmingham, when a Legislatorial Attorney to that House was elected, had an illegal object in view, and was certainly much more calculated to excite alarm than the meeting at Manchester, but even there the people had been allowed to disperse peaceably. At Manchester only, where a different course had been pursued, the most disastrous and deplorable consequences had ensued.
The remedies now proposed to meet the disaffection which existed in the country would, he was convinced, be found altogether inadequate. The most extravagant notions, no doubt prevailed with respect to parliamentary reform; but if they wished to put a stop to the 227 spread of these doctrines, instead of enacting laws of severity, and imposing restrictions on the liberty of the subject, they would proceed to remedy those grievances of which the country had to complain, and particularly reform those glaring abuses in the representation of the House, which were so generally lamented. He had always advocated parliamentary reform, and it was only by a wise and temperate reform that they could allay the discontent of the country. He lamented as much as any man the circulation of blasphemous and seditious publications, and he therefore rejoiced at the result of some recent trials, by which it was proved that the laws of the country, when enforced, were sufficient for the repression of blasphemy and sedition. The manner In which the law had been administered on those occasions, reflected eternal honour on the learned judge who presided, and would, in his opinion, be sufficient to bring out the character of the country more pure than before. The law there had been found sufficient to assert its own force; and he considered that if sedition or treason existed, it would be also found strong enough to put them down. If it should not be so, he could only attribute it to the circumstance of its not having been hitherto administered with a steady hand. It was now too late to complain of the licentiousness of the press—too late to complain of the gross and disgusting passages which were sent before the public, and which he lamented as much as any man. He, too, had to complain of the existence of such abuses, but from a different cause; for it seemed as if the abuse and licentiousness of the press had been fostered, in order to give some colourable ground for an attack upon its liberty. What he had to complain of, and did complain of, was, that in the last three years, without an attempt at prosecution, a mass of the grossest and most criminal matter had been launched forth to the public with which ever society had been visited. In some of those writings assassination had been inculcated, forgery defended, and almost every act which could violate allegiance, encouraged. He had within the last two hours read some parts of a newspaper, published in 1817, in which it was said, that the House of Commons was an imposture, the House of Lords an imposture, and the king equally an impos- 228 ture, and that they were only supported in the oppression of the people by the influence of 300,000 bayonets. It was added, that the office of the king was a sinecure, and ought like others to be abolished. The sovereign was then addressed in a coarse and familiar way, and asked, what it was he did for the money which he received from the public. The speech which Oliver Cromwell had addressed to the parliament, when he ordered what he termed "that bauble" (the Speaker's mace) to be removed, was then repeated to him, and he was advised to imitate it. This he had seen in a newspaper published two years and a half ago, and he had not learned that it had been attempted to prosecute it. There was besides this a sort of catechism in which murder and high-treason were treated as innocent and justifiable acts. It was asked "Was high treason a crime?" To which the answer was, "Not always." Another question was, "When is high treason a crime?" and the answer was, "When a subject ascends the throne by the choice of the people, then to put that man to death would be a crime, because there would be a loss of a good man to the people." But (continued Mr. Brougham) the writer of the catechism went on, and said, that when a man receives the throne as an hereditary right, then it would not be a crime even if the man were a good and efficient sovereign. Who then were to blame, if the press was licentious, but they who had not taken any steps to correct it by the proper application of those remedies which the laws prescribed? He thanked the House for their indulgence. His remarks were sincere; and he hoped they would be received as coming from one who would rather be the victim of anarchy than survive the constitution of his country.
§ The question being put, That the words proposed by Mr. Tierney be added to the said Address, the House divided:
§ The main question was then put, and agreed to; and at five o'clock in the morning the House adjourned.
|List of the Minority|
|Abercromby, hon. J.||Anson, hon. G.|
|Allen, J. H.||Aubrey, sir John|
|Althorp, Viscount||Benett, John|
|Barham, J. F.||Hurst, Robt.|
|Baring, sir Thos.||Hutchinson, hon. C.|
|Baring, Alex.||Kinnaird, hon. D.|
|Barnett, James||Kennedy, T. F.|
|Becher, W. W.||Lamb, hon. G.|
|Bennet, hon. H. G.||Lambton, John G.|
|Benyon, Benjamin||Latouche, Robt.|
|Bernal, Ralph||Latouche, John|
|Birch, Joseph||Lemon, sir W.|
|Brougham, Henry||Lloyd, sir E.|
|Browne, Dom.||Longman, Geo.|
|Burrell, hon. P. D.||Macleod, Rod.|
|Burdett, sir F.||Maberly, John|
|Byng, G.||Macdonald, James|
|Calcraft, John||Maberly, W. L.|
|Calvert, N.||Mackintosh, sir J.|
|Calvert, C.||Madocks, W. A.|
|Campbell, hon. J.||Martin, John|
|Carter, John||Maule, hon. W.|
|Cavendish, lord G.||Merest, W.|
|Cavendish, Henry||Mills, George|
|Clifford, capt.||Milton, visct.|
|Clifton, viscount||Monck, sir C.|
|Coffin, sir Isaac.||Moore, Peter|
|Colborne, N. R.||Mostyn, sir Thos.|
|Coke, Thomas||Newman, R. W.|
|Coke, T. W. jun.||Neville, hon. R.|
|Concannon, Lucius||O'Callaghan, J.|
|Coussmaker, W. G.||Ord, W.|
|Crespigny, sir W. de||Osborne, lord F.|
|Crompton, S.||Palmer, C. F.|
|Curwen, J. C.||Pares, Thos.|
|Chamberlayne, W.||Parnell, sir H.|
|Davies, J. H.||Parnell, Wm.|
|Denman, Thos.||Peirse, Henry|
|Denison, W. J.||Pelham, hon. G. A.|
|Duncannon, visct.||Pelham, hon. C. A.|
|Dundas, hon. L.||Philips, George|
|Dundas, hon. G.||Powlett, hon. W.|
|Dundas, Thos.||Prittie, hon. F.|
|Dundas, Charles||Primrose, hon. F.|
|Ebrington, visct.||Price, Robt.|
|Ellice, E.||Pringle, J.|
|Euston, earl of||Ricardo, David|
|Fazakerley, N.||Ramsden, J. C.|
|Fellowes, hon. N.||Rancliffe, Lord|
|Fergusson, sir R. C.||Ridley, sir M. W.|
|Fitzgerald, lord W.||Robarts, W. T.|
|Fitzroy, lord C.||Robarts, A.|
|Foley, Thomas||Rowley, sir W.|
|Folkestone, visct.||Russell, lord G. W.|
|Gaskell, Benj.||Russell, lord John|
|Grant, J. P.||Rumbold, C.|
|Gordon, Robt.||Rickford, Wm.|
|Graham, Sandford||Scarlett, James|
|Graham, J. R. G.||Scudamore, R. P.|
|Griffiths, John W.||Sefton, earl of|
|Guise, sir W.||Smith, hon. R.|
|Gurney, R. H.||Smith, W.|
|Hamilton, lord A.||Smyth, J. H.|
|Harvey, D. W.||Spencer, lord R.|
|Heathcote, sir G.||Stewart, W.|
|Hill, lord A.||Stanley, lord|
|Honywood, W. P.||Talbot, R. W.|
|Howorth, H.||Taylor, M. A.|
|Hughes, W. L.||Thorp, ald.|
|Hume, J.||Tierney, rt. hon. G.|
|Webster, sir G.||Wilson, Sir Robt.|
|Waithman, Robt.||Wood, Matthew|
|Walpole, hon. G.||TELLERS.|
|Webbe, Ed.||Tavistock, marquis of|
|Wharton, John||Nugent, lord|
|Whitbread, W. H.||PAIRED OFF.|
|Wilkins, Walter||White Luke|