The Lord Advocate
presented a Petition from Edinburgh praying the House to take all constitutional means to ensure the success of the unmutilated Reform Bill. It had been agreed to at the largest public meeting ever held in that 1404 neighbourhood. The petition bore the signatures of 38,700 persons, the greater part of whom had affixed their places of abode or professions. He had been thus particular in stating this fact, on account of the extraordinary misstatements that had been made in the other House on the subject of these meetings. It had there been said, that one of these meetings did not consist of more than 700 or 800 persons—a statement so truly incredible, that he was surprised how any individual could be found so to impose on the credulity of the noble Earl who made the statement. Whether such a statement was to be made as to this meeting he was not aware; but from the information he had received from the hon. Baronet who presided, and from the gentleman who acted as secretary, he was prepared to refute any such statement by the fact, that a certain number of the meeting proceeded thither in procession, and were counted as they entered the area: these, alone, amounted to upwards of 10,000; and a military engineer, who was accustomed to such calculations, had measured the ground occupied by the meeting, and given it as his opinion, that its number could not be less than between 30,000 and 40,000. At all events the petition was signed by 38,700 persons in thirty-six hours. He was also further bound to add, that the meeting was characterized, from the beginning to the end, by the most orderly and exemplary conduct; and he had been informed of the remarkable fact, that, on the day after the meeting, there was not at the police offices one single case of riot or disorder. He might also mention, that the day after the great Glasgow meeting, there was only one-fifth of the usual number of cases at the police-offices; both of which facts he would insist upon as a strong proof of the propriety of conduct observed by the people at these Reform meetings.
§ Mr. Robert A. Dundas
did not rise to confute that which had been stated by the learned Lord, or to deny that there prevailed a strong feeling in favour of Reform in the city which he (Mr. Dundas) represented; but he wished he could agree with the learned Lord, that the most constitutional means were resorted to in getting up the meeting. He did not pretend to dispute about numbers, though he also had the authority of an engineer for saying, that, allowing four to one square yard, there could not have been more than 9,000 persons present. He was not authorized to 1405 mention this gentleman's name publicly, but should be quite ready to satisfy the learned Lord in private of the fact. This meeting, however, had proved one thing—that those who had hitherto been considered the supporters of Ministers in Scotland, had now allowed themselves to be united with that class of persons which, if the recommendation of the King's Speech had been followed by the Government, would have long ago been suppressed—he alluded to the Political Unions; and it was with the greatest regret he had heard that a gallant officer, who held a high commission in his Majesty's service, and who had recently received a mark of his Majesty's favour, in being appointed to the command of one of the most gallant regiments in the army—the ninety-second—had condescended to take part in the proceedings of the day, although, in various parts of the ground, there were displayed banners of a most revolutionary tendency, such as "put no trust in princes"—"the warning to Belahazzar," representing the King without his head; and flags declaring the glory of the revolution in France. He was convinced that, although every man in the regiment would cheerfully obey the orders which, in discharge of his duty, that gallant officer might give them, there was not a private among them, if he inherited the spirit of the country that gave him birth, but would gladly have torn down these banners on the spot. He could not but regard the conduct of persons who thus allied themselves with seditious meetings, to be highly deserving of reprobation. If they had not the courage to denounce such a meeting, at least they should abstain from taking part in its proceedings. One thing he would assert; it was not owing to the Political Unions, but to the good sense of the lower classes of Edinburgh, that the most atrocious acts of violence were not committed after the meeting was over.
must say, that the course the hon. Member had taken, in thus attacking a private individual, might do much mischief to the gallant officer in question, but could do no good to the cause which the hon. Member meant to serve. If the meeting was legally convened, an officer in, the army was not to be prevented, merely on account of his commission, from attending it; for he trusted that officers in the army were to be allowed to entertain political opinions on what side they thought proper. He, therefore, hoped that the hon. Member, or at least the House, would see the im- 1406 propriety of the attack he had made, and would not think of holding the gallant officer responsible for all that was done by every individual in every distant corner of the field where the meeting assembled.
said, he had never heard a more unwarrantable attack made. Because a person of high influence chose to put himself forward, and become, perhaps, thereby, the very means of preventing violence, the hon. Member thought himself justified in making one of the most injurious and most uncalled-for attacks he (Mr. Kennedy) ever heard in all his life. Considering the strong feeling that existed in Scotland, they ought rather to rejoice that it had found vent in the manner in which it had. He was the last man to excuse the violence of the placards; but still there was ground for congratulation that, under all the circumstances, a much stronger feeling had not been displayed. It was very easy to depreciate numbers on occasions like this, but he was prepared to maintain that the meeting was most numerously attended, and that, though no means were taken for procuring signatures, it received 38,000 names in two days. He might be told that it contained such signatures as those of Napoleon and Hadji Baba; but that only proved that those opposed to Reform had been mean enough to endeavour to cast obloquy on the petition in this paltry manner. All Scotland ought to rejoice that the strong feelings which prevailed had found a vent so peaceable as that of speeches at public meetings—that the crisis had passed away without more fatal consequences—and that the people had only struck terror into their enemies by the force of public opinion.
Mr. Keith Douglas
wished the House to remember, that this meeting was called together in consequence of the King exercising his just prerogative, and not tamely obeying the immediate mandate of his Ministers. From the commencement of the Reform Bill he had been most anxious to see the question treated with fair deliberation; but from the beginning he had found the Government resisting that, and, on the other hand, doing all in its power to excite the feelings of the country. At his own election, because he professed his honest opinions, and refused to vote for "the Bill, the whole Bill, and nothing but the Bill," there were persons, in conjunction with the Government, who took care to suppress anything like deliberation; and this had been the case at all other public 1407 meetings, whether the object was to petition Parliament, or to elect a Representative. They were now arrived at that stage at which the power of the King and the House of Lords was entirely superseded; under these circumstances he had made up his mind as to the Scotch Reform Bill. He considered it quite unnecessary to offer any suggestions respecting it, because it was well known that the Government would admit of no alterations. The Ministry was now not only invested with their own customary official power, but also with the power of the King and of both Houses of Parliament. It was, therefore, better to leave to them all the responsibility and inconvenience that must attend on a measure carried in so unconstitutional a manner.
The Lord Advocate
knew that the greater part of the persons who attended the meeting were not in alliance with the Political Unions. As to the reference that had been made to the supposed misconduct of the gallant officer, he was prepared to contend, that the part he took was highly creditable to himself, and that it was monstrous to say, that he was to be responsible for the emblems displayed at the meeting. He would put it to the hon. member for Edinburgh, or to any man of common sense, whether a person on the hustings was to be answerable for individuals rearing fantastical or improper flags on the skirts of the meeting? Would the hon. Member have had the gallant officer vindicate his loyalty by making a violent attack on the banners of such an assembly? Why, surely that would have been the very way to have excited the feelings of the people, and to have given the signal for a breach of the peace. With respect to the emblems displayed, the worst he had heard of were, that the royal crown was encompassed with crape, and that, on one occasion, a portrait of the head of the King was reversed: but he had every reason to suppose that the gallant officer was equally ignorant with himself, at the time, of such emblems being exhibited.
§ Petition to be printed.
The Lord Advocate
next rose to present a similar Petition from the town of Perth, which had been voted so late as the month of January last. The petition was signed by seven Peers, by all the Magistrates and persons of property in the county, and by 27,000 of the inhabitants.
§ Sir George Murray
was not disposed to impugn the respectability of the petition, 1408 but, as it came from the county with which he was connected, he thought it necessary to say a few words on the subject. He could not deny that the petition certainly bore a great many respectable names; but he nevertheless felt himself fully justified in complaining of the very unfair grounds on which the petition had been got up. The intimation of calling the meeting began by what was not founded on fact. It commenced by stating the names of those who had signed a previous Reform petition; and it then intimated, that they were privately exerting themselves to obtain signatures to an Address to the King, and to a petition to Parliament, both of which were hostile to Reform. He denied the facts, and denounced the misstatement as a very unworthy and dishonourable artifice. He totally denied, that those who called the Perth meeting were justified in representing to the people that the former petitioners were enemies to Reform. The intimation was not consistent with truth, for those who had got up and signed the previous petition were not the enemies, but the friends of Reform, as the petition itself, now a record of that House, would fully prove. He begged those who entertained any doubt upon the subject to refer to the petition itself, and they would find that it set forth that "the petitioners would not withhold their acquiescence from such changes of the Representation as, from the lapse of time and alteration of circumstances, appeared to be necessary." He would now appeal to the House, whether it was consistent with truth to represent such persons as the enemies of Reform. But the advertisement calling the Perth meeting had affixed to it the names of many respectable persons, who never had given their sanction to their names being used for any such purpose. He would now come to the number of persons said to have been present at the meeting, and he would show that nothing could be more vague and unsatisfactory than the calculations made upon such subjects. One person of respectability had written to him stating that no more than 6,000 persons had been present, men, women, and children, and that had it not been a market-day, the numbers would not have been so great. Another person, a great promoter of the meeting, had written to him saving that there were 25,000 persons present, besides many who were attracted by curiosity. The vagueness of such estimates proved that very little reliance could be placed upon any of them. He was willing to give a very great latitude 1409 to the collection of signatures to petitions of this nature, but he nevertheless could not attach any very great degree of respect or importance to the signatures to the present petition, because in order to obtain them means utterly unjustifiable (such as threats of incendiarism) had been resorted to. Before he sat down, he must take the liberty of alluding to a calumny against the Scottish people, which that appeared a proper opportunity to notice, he alluded to a statement which appeared in The Times newspaper of the 27th of January last, which he held in his hand, and which was also inserted, in somewhat similar terms, in many other newspapers throughout the country. The statement in The Times was as follows. It purported to be a report of what was said by a noble and gallant friend of his, in presenting, in another place, a petition from the county of Perth, exactly similar to that which the learned Lord opposite had now presented to this House. 'Lord Lynedoch denied that any such language had been used at this meeting by the gentlemen in question. He had never heard of the circumstance before. As he was now on his legs, he would mention a fact which would show how strong the feeling in favour of Reform was in Perthshire. At the time their Lordships were discussing the question, whether the Reform Bill should be read a second time, a great number of weavers assembled every day at Perth to see the south mail come in, and to learn the intelligence which it brought. After the news came down that the Bill was rejected, they stopped the mail to know whether there had been any disturbances in London. The guard replied in the affirmative, and said, that the Duke of Wellington and another illustrious individual had been shot by the mob. This intelligence, which ought to have excited general disgust and indignation, was hailed with satisfaction by the assembled multitude, and in the vehemence of their indignation against the rejectors of the Reform Bill, they so far forgot the humanity of their natures as to go to a noble and gallant friend of his, and ask him whether they ought not to celebrate the fate of the Duke of Wellington and his colleague by a general illumination.' Now, he must say, that that statement was most calumnious. He, at least, could not credit, that any assembly of men could have so far forgotten the humanity of nature as to rejoice publicly in murder. No people in the world were less likely so to debase themselves 1410 than the people of Scotland, for there was not a more moral or humane people on the face of the earth. He believed, that the whole story was entirely without foundation, and for the honour of human nature he hoped that it was so. Either the nobleman in question had made a statement utterly devoid of truth, or the people of Scotland were entirely depraved, and had abandoned that character which for ages had belonged to them, and which he trusted ever would belong to them. When they could openly rejoice in an act of cruel and dastardly murder, perpetrated in the streets of London, and upon a man who of all men living had rendered the greatest and most important services to his country, they must indeed be sunk into the lowest depths of degradation. That noble person in whose assassination the people were said to have rejoiced, had not only rendered the most exalted services to his own country, but to the whole of Europe. It had been his good fortune to defend the independence of his country against her enemies—against a proud, unprincipled usurper, who had calumniated the people of England as a race insensible to glory, and incapable of deeds of arms, as one entire nation of shopkeepers. Yes, the Duke of Wellington had defended his countrymen against this charge and had raised the glory of the nation in arms higher than it had ever been raised at any previous period of her history. To that illustrious man, when he had completed his great exploits in war, was allotted the glory of redeeming the land of his birth from the stigma and ruin of religious intolerance. This was an act of equal, if not of greater importance, than all his achievements in the field. Let the country reflect upon such distinguished benefits, and then picture to itself the people of Scotland thirsting for his blood, and prepared to rejoice at the news of his death by murder. If it were possible that such a report could be correct—if it were possible that the people of Scotland were in such a state of excitement as thus to abandon all moral sentiment, and to discard every religious feeling—he should then say, that the petitions of such a people were of no value whatever. Whether the petitions of a people thus excited to depravity, thus lost to all humanity, were signed by 27,000 or 27,000,000 of names, he should say that they were utterly unworthy of the slightest attention.
had not been aware, before he entered the House, that it was the intention of the learned Lord to present the petition from Perth; but, as he was pre- 1411 sent at that meeting, he would take the liberty of saying a few words about it. As far as he was able to judge (and his opinion had been confirmed by others), there were about 7,000 or 8,000 persons within hearing of the proceedings, and about as many more beyond earshot; so that the whole number of the meeting was about 15,000. He could say with satisfaction, that the meeting was both loyal and peaceable. He had moved the first resolution himself, which expressed attachment to the Throne.
Mr. James Johnstone
was sure that the people of Scotland would never rejoice in assassination; but, in referring to the Duke of Wellington, that might be taken in a double sense; for, though they might have full respect for the Duke's military achievements, they might, at the same time, be glad that his political course—which, in Scotland, was deemed so mischievous—was at an end.
had had the honour of serving under the Duke of Wellington, and would, therefore, say nothing against him. Indeed, on the contrary, he believed his Grace to be the first soldier of the world; but he (Colonel Evans) must nevertheless add, that it was with peculiar regret he had seen him bartering the well earned glories of military victory, for the doubtful honours of a political career.
§ Lord William Lennox
, said, that though he differed from the Duke of Wellington's politics—though he rejoiced he did not come into office to pass the measure he had so often protested against—he could not sit silent and hear any palliation for the conduct of any individual who could rejoice in the supposed murder of that noble Duke. He felt assured that Scotland would not feel indebted to the hon. member for Dumfermline for palliating such a monstrous proposition.
§ Petition to be printed.