§ Mr. Buckingham
said, that, in rising to call the attention of the House to the Motion of which he had given notice, for a Select Committee, to inquire into the practicability of devising some plan for manning his Majesty's navy, without recourse to forcible impressment, he might, perhaps, be permitted to congratulate himself and the House at the removal of many of the objections which were urged to his Motion on this subject last Session. On that occasion, having, at the express desire, and to suit the avowed convenience of his Majesty's Ministers, deferred that Motion several times, he was taunted, in return for his courtesy, with the lateness of the period of the Session at which the Motion was brought forward; and this very lateness, caused as it was by his Majesty's Ministers themselves, was urged as a reason why the Motion could not be ac- 1064 ceded to, as there was then no time to consider of any substitute for the practice of impressment, which the Motion went to abolish. He had been determined, therefore, to avoid this objection now, by selecting the earliest period of the present Session for a renewal of the discussion, in order that there might be ample time for a Committee to investigate the whole subject, and close their labours sufficiently early to admit of the proper measures being matured before the Session was brought to a close. The interval had afforded him also, abundant opportunities of ascertaining the state of public opinion on this question in the principal seaports of the kingdom, where the subject was best understood: as well as of collecting many new facts illustrative of the evils of impressment, and of the general feeling of abhorrence with which that system of human robbery and violation of all personal right was viewed. As, however, he was anxious, that other hon. Members should be heard on the subject, he would content himself with such a limited statement only of the case, as would show the House the grounds on which he asked their concurrence in his views, and justify to their own minds the granting him that support with which he ventured to hope they would now honour him. At this time of day it could scarcely be necessary to say much as to the cruelty and injustice of such a practice as impressment. The noble Lord, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, had, in the last Session, expressed his astonishment that he (Mr. Buckingham) should have compared such a system with slavery. But, after mature reflection, he felt bound to say, that no comparison could be more appropriate, as a moment's consideration would show. Let the House ask itself what were the principal features that characterized the Slave Trade, and Slavery, and what were its chief wrongs and sufferings that roused up the indignation of the whole British people. The answer would be this. Slavery was first characterized by the brutal and inhuman act of dragging a man from his own home and family by force, and compelling him, against his will, to enter a service of which he had a rooted abhorrence. Secondly, by compelling the slave thus dragged from his home, to labour for inadequate wages, for an indefinite length of time, and subject to the lash of the whip, if he offended the regulations im- 1065 posed on him by his tyrant, or even evinced dissatisfaction with his hard lot. Thirdly, by subjecting to the severest torture of flogging, and sometimes even to the punishment of death, any attempt to desert from the state of suffering to which an act of tyranny and cruelty had alone consigned him. These were the characteristics of Slavery; and to abolish this, the united voices of all classes of people in the British empire had been lifted up and heard. He contended, then, that the impressment of seamen for his Majesty's fleet was characterized by every one of these revolting features. The men were torn from their homes and families by force, and obliged to yield to the terrors of the armed pressgangs, by which they were dragged through the streets. They were made to labour against their will for inadequate wages, for an indefinite period of time, and kept in subjection by the infliction of the lash. And if they dared to desert, in the hope of regaining that home from which they had been thus forcibly torn, they were liable to the severest tortures of corporal punishment, and even to death itself. There was, then, little or no difference between the two systems; for if, on the one hand, it might be said, that the labour of the seaman was not so severe, and his food and clothing better than that of the slave, on the other hand it must be admitted, that the deprivation of personal liberty to a free-born Briton, and especially to one of that profession, the chief charm of which is the liberty of action in the choice of the ship, the commander, and the station, must be far more galling to the mind than the same coercion would be to the native of Africa, to whom captivity in war, and slavery in labour, were familiarized by its being the common lot of all classes of his unhappy countrymen. He thought, therefore, that his Majesty's Ministers, who had brought forward the Bill for abolishing slavery in all the British colonies, could not refuse their assent to a measure for abolishing slavery at home; unless they were prepared to say, that, though adequate wages and good treatment would obtain sufficient cultivators for the colonies without man-stealing and oppression, yet that the same inducements would not supply the fleet with seamen, and, therefore, impressment must still continue. He did not, however, anticipate such a result; and, therefore, he trusted, 1066 that while his Motion met with no opposition from the Cabinet, it would be warmly supported by all those who had assisted, by their speeches or their votes, to give the death-blow to slavery in the East and in the West. It had been said, however, that the seamen themselves were indifferent to the evil, and that they had never petitioned for its abolition. Supposing that this had even been the case, it was no argument whatever against its injustice. Seamen, from their imperfect education and generally careless habits, were not likely to have investigated the matter with the same care which landsmen would bestow on any grievance affecting themselves. At sea they were too much engaged with their duties, and separated into too small parties to get up public meetings, and pass resolutions or petitions; and, in the few brief intervals which they enjoyed on shore, they were too much under the influence of those short-lived pleasures which their previous state of privation made them relish with more intensity than other men, to give their thoughts to any thing but the impulse of the moment. They had no organization, no leaders, and were destitute, therefore, of all the elements of a deliberative or a petitioning body. And yet, notwithstanding this, there had not been wanting instances in which the seamen of England had given expression to their feelings, in language not unbecoming any class of his Majesty's subjects. He would content himself with citing two instances only out of many that might be quoted. The first occasion was this: Soon after the accession of George 3rd, in 1760, a petition of the mariners of England against impressment was presented to his Majesty by the Duke of Cumberland, who began his career in the navy, and who, on that account, was selected by the seamen to carry their prayer to the foot of the Throne. The other occasion was more recent, coming down indeed, to our own times. It was in a document emanating from the seamen of South Shields, that most extensive nursery for the British navy, including the immense body of coasting mariners that sail from the Tyne and the Wear, which expressed their abhorrence of the system, and their prayer to be relieved from its oppressions. He believed this to be the general feeling of the whole maritime body in every port of the kingdom; and if this feeling were not 1067 so frequently or so powerfully expressed as might be expected, it was to be ascribed chiefly to the two causes he had previously named; their isolated occupation at sea, and their frenzy of enjoyment on shore. But, it had been contended, and that too, by the right hon. Baronet, the First Lord of the Admiralty, that impressment was not only necessary, but that it was legal, and its legality defended by some of the highest authorities of the land. Supposing, however, that this were undeniable, it could furnish no good reason why a wrong that was sanctioned by law should not be abolished by law also; or why a custom "more honoured in the breach than in the observance" should not be wholly discontinued. If they looked a little closer into this matter, however, they would find, that its legality had been asserted by only one authority of any note, and that a most doubtful one: while its illegality had been declared by many of the most eminent men of the kingdom. Lord Camden challenged the whole profession to prove the legality of impressment; but no one undertook so odious a task. Lord Mansfield admitted, that it had only usage in its defence; and Judges and Juries had repeatedly acquitted men under trial for murder, because they had justifiably resisted the invasion of their personal liberties by press-gangs. The great authority, however, on which the First Lord of the Admiralty relied, was Sir Michael Foster, the Recorder of Bristol; though a more unfortunate selection could hardly be made than of this subservient and promotion-seeking Judge, who stood alone in the infamy of having laboured to defend a system, which all true lovers of rational and constitutional freedom could not but regard with horror. Judge Foster was Recorder of Bristol at a time when an attempt having been made by a gang from the Mortar sloop to impress a seaman named Broadfoot, out of a merchant-ship in the Bristol channel, one of the press-gang, named Calahan, was killed by Broadfoot shooting him dead on the spot. The man who had committed the act of murder, as it was called, was tried for the offence before the Recorder, at Bristol, on the 30th of April, 1743. In the course of the trial, it was proved, that the press-warrant, by virtue and authority of which the attempt to impress the seaman was made, was not, at the time of the death, in the hands of 1068 the lieutenant to whom it was assigned, nor was the officer present—two omissions which were fatal; and the Judge was accordingly compelled to direct the Jury to acquit the prisoner of the wilful murder laid to his charge, as the act of slaying the individual who had made the attempt to seize him, without the necessary forms of the legal warrant or the presence of the officer, could not be considered as murder, but merely manslaughter. It was on this issue, however, that Foster took occasion to deliver in Court a long argument in favour of the legality of impressment, as established by usage, and being part of the King's prerogative, inherent in the Crown. This argument, or charge, he afterwards revised and published; and, as he no doubt anticipated, it proved so acceptable to the Government of that day, that it obtained for him very speedy professional promotion; for, in less than two years afterwards, he was made one of the Judges of the King's Bench. As a Crown lawyer, and a warm advocate for the King's prerogative, he was, undoubtedly a person of great repute; but, on many occasions, his views were so singular, that he often differed on various points from all the other Judges of the Court, and delivered his opinions against their judgments. As regarded the argument or charge in question, "The King versus Broadfoot," it had never been considered by great constitutional lawyers, or by eminent liberal statesmen, as of any worth, and had rarely been referred to, except to prove the usage of impressment as continuing through several successive reigns. Even Judge Foster, however, qualified his opinions by passages like these. 'The question is—whether mariners, persons who have freely chosen a seafaring life, persons whose education and employment have fitted them for the service, and inured them to it—whether such persons may not be legally pressed into the service of the Crown, whenever the public service requires it—Ne quid detrimenti respublica capiat? For my part I think they may—I think the Crown hath a right to command the service of these people whenever the public safety calls for it;—the same right that it hath to require the personal service of every man able to bear arms, in case of a sudden invasion, or a formidable insurrection. The right in both cases is founded on one and the same principle: the ne- 1069 cessity of the case, and the preservation of the whole. This personal service, in case of extreme necessity, is a principal branch of the allegiance which every subject of England owes to the Crown.' This was the language of Judge Foster; and who did not see, even in this, that it should be only in cases of sudden invasion—formidable insurrection—or moments of the greatest danger—that every man capable of bearing arms, should be equally liable to the call upon his personal services?—a maxim to which most persons would agree, if the emergency should arise, and the necessity be clearly proved. The error lay in this—that what should only be the exception was made the rule. A standing army was held to be unconstitutional; and therefore we have an annual Mutiny Bill. The trial of civil offences by Courts martial in Ireland, was clearly unconstitutional, and therefore we have a Coercion Bill. The impressment of men for the Navy, except in times of admitted peril, should be declared equally illegal; and if an inevitable necessity should arise, it would be better to pass an Order in Council, as for the suspension of the Habeas Corpus, or the establishment of a censorship on the Press, to be repealed when the danger was over, than to let impressment be considered to be the legal rule, and thus warrant resort to it at the discretion of any single captain, which is the case at all times abroad, and wherever there is a difficulty in getting men to enter at home; though, with a well-organized system of a retaining pay for the navy, registering for the merchant seamen, and ballot for the maritime towns, no such cases of necessity ever could arise. It was said, during the debate on this subject in the last Session, that Judge Foster's argument had never been answered: but, besides a host of minor writers, who undertook its refutation at the time of its appearance, the celebrated Benjamin Franklin entered the lists against him, and gave him a complete refutation. And although a First Lord of the Admiralty could not be expected to read every work on Impressment, it was certainly very remarkable, that so celebrated a reply as that of Benjamin Franklin to the charge of Judge Foster should be unknown to the right hon. Baronet. So much, then, for the authority of Mr. Justice Foster. But, turning from so tainted a source as this, to the opinions of men not seeking preferment, 1070 by subserving arbitrary power, they would be cheered by the contrast. The great Lord Chatham, in his speech on the occasion of Lord Pulteney's Bill for speedily manning the navy, in speaking of the recent practice of impressment, condemned it in the strongest terms, as illegal, unconstitutional, and cruel. Lord Chatham also quoted the celebrated passage of Magna Charta, which says, "No free man shall be taken, or imprisoned, or outlawed, or exiled, but by lawful judgment of his peers, or of the law of the land." On which passage, the great Lord Coke had made the following commentary: "No man shall be exiled, that is banished, or forced to depart, or stay out of England, without his consent. By the law of the land, no man can be exiled, or banished out of his native country, but either by authority of Parliament, or in case of abjuration for felony, by the common law; and so when our books or our records speak of exile or banishment, other than in case of abjuration, it is intended to be done by the authority of Parliament, and therefore the King cannot send any subject of England against his will out of this realm, for that he should be an exile, and that he should perdere patriam. No; he cannot be sent against his will into Ireland, to serve the King or his Deputy there; because it is out of the realm of England; for if the King might send him out of this realm to any place, then under pretence of service as ambassador, or the like, he might send him into the farthest part of the world, which being an exile, is prohibited by this act." And as it was a generally received opinion in law, that nothing less than one Act of Parliament could repeal another, so, if Magna Charta stood unrepealed, then was the forcible impressment of seamen a direct violation of its provisions, and contrary to the law of the land. Of cases in which the illegality of impressment had been decided by verdicts of juries, it would be easy to cite many: but he would content himself with two only, the particulars of which he had become acquainted with in his recent visit to Hull, and to one of which an hon. Member of this House (Mr. Pryme) had been an eye-witness. In both these cases, the persons who had killed men belonging to the pressgang were acquitted of the charge of murder, on the ground that the power of impressment was illegal, and might be therefore lawfully resisted. 1071 Let the House observe, then, the position in which such verdicts as these placed both parties in the transaction. It had been well said, that it is an incontrovertible maxim in all oppositions, that one side must be right, and, vice versâ, one wrong. But, according to every authority, the nature of a press-warrant is such, that if the lieutenant of the gang, in the attempt of pressing a man, were to commit murder, he would not be amenable to justice, but would be acquitted, from having done it ex officio: and, on the other hand, if any one whom they were attempting to press, were likewise to be guilty of that crime, neither would he be liable to punishment, but would have an acquittal upon the plea of self-defence. Strange contradiction, when murder on either side is palliable! This at once set the injustice of press-warrants in the strongest light; they were either right or wrong: if the former, no man that came within their tenure could by law resist them, and undoubtedly would (if murder were the consequence of such resistance) be open to the extremest rigour of the law, as much so as if he were to kill a constable, or any other peace-officer, in the execution of his duty. On the other hand, if they were unsupported by law—if they had nothing to justify them but the absurd plea of custom—they were in every respect unwarrantable, and the officers who executed them had no justification for the violence they too frequently made use of, but were liable and ought to be brought to condign punishment. It was high time that such a state of things as this should cease, and give place to some more settled and defined law on the subject: and all that was wanted to effect this was, that the Committee he asked for should be granted, and the subject investigated with that care and attention which should prepare a substitute for the practice he sought to abolish, and preserve, at the same time, the rights of private liberty and the interests of the public service. The inefficiency and expensiveness of impressment, as compared with voluntary service, were topics, however, that required to be touched on as well as its cruelty and illegality; and if he could establish these points in addition to the former, he thought the grounds on which he should ask the support of the House would be irresistible. So long ago as the time of Sir Robert Walpole, the utter inadequacy of impressment to secure the 1072 full supply of proper men had been forcibly dwelt on, and, from that hour to the present, the difficulties of obtaining the number and kind of men required had been a constant theme of complaint. Indeed, a moment's reflection must satisfy any one, that the agency of a press-gang, at the very name of which men fly with terror from the ports where they are, into all the surrounding country, to escape being seized, must be a most inefficient instrument, when the object is to draw and attract all the scattered seamen of the kingdom to the principal ports where they are required. It might be safely assumed, that, of 20,000 seamen which might be present in the harbours of England at the breaking out of a war, 19,000 might be obtained for the navy as volunteers by adequate pay, limited service, and kind treatment; while the effect of attempting to seize them by press-gangs would be, that 1,000 might be secured by the first sweep of the ships and taverns; but that 19,000 would escape; and either remain in their hiding places, till the impress had subsided, or go off concealed in the holds of merchant vessels, while foreigners navigated them, to swell the navy of France, or Russia, or America, and take up arms against their native land, as had been notoriously the case in past time, and as would be repeated again should impressment ever be attempted to be revived. In consequence, then, of the impossibility of securing by impressment the full number of the best seamen required for the fleet, men of an inferior description were taken; and when these were exhausted, landsmen were impressed, jails and prison-ships were emptied of their criminal inmates, and heterogenous assemblages of all manner of men were thus congregated together, who could only be kept in order by a severity of discipline which would be wholly unnecessary in any voluntary service; and which, besides, endangered the safety of the ship and crew in moments of peril, whether in the face of an enemy, or amid the dangers of a lee shore. Admiral Patten asserted, that he was enabled, from his official situation, as one of the Lords of the Admiralty, to ascertain the fact, that the total number who deserted from the service in the last war, in the short space of twenty-five months, from May, 1803, to June 1805—and that, too, notwithstanding the utmost vigilance exercised to prevent it, 1073 was no less than 15,000 men. Lord Nelson, in an interesting paper presented by him to Earl St. Vincent, in February, 1803, on the evils of impressment, and the best mode of manning the navy, calculates the cost of procuring the men by impressment, at 20l. a-head, on the average; and says, that 42,000 so impressed, deserted during the last war, making a loss of 840,000l. to the nation, besides the cost of supplying their places by others. He asserted, that there was then scarcely a fleet of merchant ships that left England which did not carry off at least 1,000 deserters from the Navy concealed in their holds: and all these, of course, went to replenish the navies of other powers, but especially American, many of whose crack ships were manned, disciplined, and fought, by the skill and valour of British seamen, while the ships of the English navy were left with skeleton crews of the most wretched kind and description. Admiral Ekins gives some account of the number of our seamen who were serving in the American ships, and says, that Commodore Decatur declared, after taking the Macedonian, that he had not a seaman in his ship who had not served from five to twelve years in the British navy. He added, that two of their guns were named 'Nelson' and 'Victory;' and to the former it was the exclusive privilege of men who had been bargemen of the British Admiral to be quartered. Now, in the event of a war with any of the maritime powers of Europe, should impressment not be previously abolished, there could be no doubt that our seamen, driven by the terrors of the press-gangs from our own shores, would escape as speedily as they could to America, and enter into their merchant or naval service. Impressment on shore would be useless after the first day, as the men would have hidden themselves or flown; and impressment afloat, from those American vessels to which our seamen may flee for safety, would be resisted by the Americans to the death; so that we should be shut out from both these sources, and be obliged to depend on voluntary entry, for bounties or increase of pay, after all. The system, then, was not merely cruel, but altogether inefficient, not answering even the end proposed, namely, the speedy manning the fleet, the necessity for doing which effectively on a sudden, was the chief plea for retaining this terrific power. But it appeared, that it was not only on 1074 sudden occasions, but even in periods of profound peace, that impressment was resorted to. Not more than two days ago, he had received a letter from a gentleman at Liverpool, which stated this fact; and as the letter was so recent and so well authenticated, he would venture to read a portion of it to the House. The writer said: "In the autumn of 1832, the Government ordered the equipment of a fleet of vessels, which were sent to the Scheldt to watch over the movements of the Dutch. To man this fleet, impressment was had recourse to in the Thames, and, through private information, I learnt that the Admiralty had ordered a vessel round to Liverpool for the same purpose. To prevent the completion of their design, I immediately wrote to the Admiralty, and offered to procure 1,000 able seamen, without a bounty, for his Majesty's service within one month, provided they would give to the men, as is customary with merchants of this port, an advance of two or three months' pay. A vessel, the May Flower cutter, lieutenant Morgan commander, came round to Liverpool with forty-five men, an acknowledged press-gang; but I need scarcely add, that no impressment was attempted. Mr. Barrow acknowledged the receipt of my offer, and said, he was commanded to thank me in the name of the Admiralty, and to say, that a sufficient number of men had been procured. The cutter was in the Mersey about a fortnight, during which time she got about twenty volunteers. There were, to my knowledge at the time, many hundreds of seamen, who wanted to ship themselves; and the finest men in the port could, at that, or at any other time, be procured at a bounty of 4l. or 5l. per man." It could scarcely be necessary, he thought, that he should trouble the House further on this point. If the object of impressment were to secure a full supply, not merely of the requisite numbers, but also the best description of men for the King's navy, then had it utterly and entirely failed; for its effect had hitherto been, to frighten and to force from our own shores some of the best and bravest of our seamen, who went to strengthen and improve the navies of other countries—to leave our merchant ships to be navigated almost wholly by foreign seamen in time of war; and to cause our naval ships to be manned by the sweepings of the 1075 brothels, the outpourings of the jails, and the rejected and condemned outcasts of society, who could only be kept in order by a system of torture and terror, instead of their being, as undoubtedly they might be made, under a better system, homes of comfort and protection, as well as bulwarks of safety and defence. The House would now expect him to show what remedy could be applied to such an evil as this, and what mode of obtaining men he would recommend in lieu of the present. His answer would be, that we should act exactly on the same principle as had guided us in the Abolition of Slavery. In that House, during the last Session, it had been triumphantly shown, that the negroes of the West Indies, being human beings like ourselves, were animated by hopes and fears like us, and, having a love of pleasure and a hatred of pain, they were capable of being swayed by the same motives as other human beings to seek the one, and avoid the other. The question with respect to their condition was comprised in these few words, "wages or the whip." The latter had been tried, and found ineffectual. The former was, therefore, determined to be the proper stimulus to draw forth their willing and efficient services. It was exactly the same with the seamen of Britain. The handcuff of the press-gang, and the lash of the boatswain's mate had each been tried, and the effect of both was to inspire hatred of the service and frequent desertion. Let adequate wages and limited service, free agency and honourable treatment, be tried; and there would be no more difficulty in getting men for the navy than for any other service in which human hands are required. On a former occasion, he had entered into minute details, explanatory of the plan he would propose as a remedy or substitute for impressment. But as his present Motion was not, like the former one, declaratory of any opinion as to impressment, but merely for a Committee to consider of the practicability of doing away with the forced service, and substituting some mode of voluntary entry instead, he should content himself with briefly enumerating the three leading principles on which the plan he suggested was founded, and in the justice of which the first Lord of the Admiralty then concurred, as he doubted not the whole House would now do. The three principles were these: 1076 The first principle of it should be, to encourage the entry, education, and protection of seamen, in the fishing, coasting, and mercantile vessels of the country; so that no new levies, or unskilled hands, should ever get their first training in a ship of war, but be previously initiated and well seasoned to the hardships and duties of their enterprising profession, in those nurseries already named. The second principle of any such system should be that of rendering the naval service as attractive as possible, and making it the interest of men to seek for employment in his Majesty's ships, rather than in any other class of vessels. The third principle should be, that of progressive advancement in honour and emolument in proportion to the length or the importance of the duties performed, so as not merely to draw men originally into the service, by the attraction of adequate wages, kind treatment, and a reasonable enjoyment of liberty, but also to attach them to the service for ever afterwards, by making their interest and their duty to go hand in hand together, and inspiring them with feelings of honourable pride in a rank obtained by length and value of time devoted to the defence of their country's liberty and honour. On these he would ground a system of registration that should include every individual obtaining his livelihood on the seas, or coming within the fair description of a maritime or seafaring person; and, exempting them from all liability to serve in the army or militia, procure out of their body, by a system of voluntary entry, and fair routine of equal liability to service afloat in turn, any number of thorough bred, able, and enterprising seamen, that his Majesty's service could at any time require; the details of which system he should be prepared to state fully to the Committee, under whose province it would properly fall, to consider of their practicability, and report their opinion thereon to the House. As some prejudices and misconceptions, however, existed, with respect to a system of registry, which, it was contended, had been tried and failed, a brief explanation of the history of that experiment might be permitted to him. There was an act passed in 1696, in the reign of William 3rd, for the registry of seamen, which had often been described as tyrannical and oppressive, though it was wholly voluntary, and authorized no coercion whatever. 1077 The seamen of that day, however, would not enter themselves in such registry: first, because there being no legislative provision for the abolition of impressment, they regarded it as a decoy to induce them to enter themselves for the purpose of assisting towards their own seizure, if their services should be needed; and secondly, from the deep-rooted aversion they then had to the naval service, in which all manner of abuses prevailed. Ralph, in his History of England, states, that in 1703, Queen Anne, after prevailing on the sailors to man the fleet, by the most solemn promise, that their wages should be paid up to a certain period before they sailed, totally neglected the fulfilment of her pledge: for, by accounts laid before the House of Commons at that time, it was shown that no less a sum than 1,036,415l. was due to the fleet for arrears of pay; and so great, he says, was the discontent among them, from this arrear of their pay, bad provisions, and cruel usage, that the most severe discipline, nay even death itself, (for many of them were hanged for desertion, and some even for demanding their wages, which was called Mutiny!) could not prevent its breaking out. In 1706, however, a new mode was tried of compulsory registry, under the most odious and oppressive provisions. The Act was passed through Parliament in four days. It authorized the levying of 20,000 men; and it empowered Magistrates to hunt out seamen wherever they could be found. Twenty shillings a-head were to be given to constables for apprehending them; and if they deserted after being delivered over to the officer, they were to be deemed guilty of felony. As an encouragement to dishonest men to join the royal standard, all insolvent debtors who entered to serve in the fleet were to be released from their imprisonment and liabilities. The enforcement of this Act was found impossible; for though every means were tried to hunt out and seize the seamen, they secreted themselves in all manner of hiding places, and the people on shore gave them ready shelter, till at length, in despair of manning the fleet by such means, the Act was repealed, on the very ground that it had been found oppressive, expensive, and wholly inexpedient. It was about this period, too, that piracy in the East Indies, and buccaneering in the West Indies, were so prevalent; and it was a matter of 1078 certainty that this horrid system of forcible impressment, ill-usage, and excessive cruelty at home, drove the best and bravest of our seamen abroad, who, being unable to gain an honest livelihood in the peaceable pursuit of their profession, manned and fought some of the finest vessels that ever swam the seas, and performed prodigies of valour, accompanied by mercy in many instances towards their captives, bespeaking the noble and generous nature of the men themselves, which, under kind treatment and a liberal system of inducement and rewards, would have made thousands of them useful and honourable defenders of their native land. Let the House assist him then in his endeavours to prevent a recurrence of all these evils, by the abolition of that cruel practice which had been so fruitful a source of misery and crime. If the difficulty of finding a substitute were alleged, he would say that a nation which should have the hardihood to attempt to govern an empire of a 100,000,000 of conquered subjects at a distance of 10,000 miles, and yet shrink from undertaking to devise a plan for organizing 100,000 seamen for the supply of our navy at home, must have a strange conception of its own strength and weakness. If the expense of paying bounties and adequate wages formed the principal obstacle, he would point to the grant of 20,000,000l. for the abolition of slavery; and contend that the abolition of impressment ought to be an object fully as dear to us as the abolition of slavery. And if the King's prerogative, or immemorial usage, were pleaded in objection, he would point to the annihilation of ancient boroughs, with their Royal Charters, and vested rights, to the reform of Municipal Corporations, whether given by Royal Charter or otherwise, and to the generally recognized doctrine, that to the great and paramount consideration of the happiness of the people, all privilege, prerogative, and custom must be made to give way. He would leave the subject, therefore, in the hands of the Commons of England, the most appropriate protectors of the rights and liberties of all classes of his Majesty's subjects: in the full assurance, that the seamen of Britain, the brave and generous defenders of their country from all foreign aggressors, who wielded the thunders of the British Navy on every hostile shore—and who manned those floating bulwarks to which we looked as the guardians of 1079 our sea-girt home—would receive at their hands, the justice of which they had so long been deprived. They desired not to be placed above any other class of the King's subjects. But they had determined that they would no longer submit to be placed below them all; and the world at large would concede to them the justice of their demand; when they simply asked, before they took up arms and shed their blood in defence of their country's liberties, that that country should no longer sanction a violation of their own. If they were to fight the battles of freedom, it was necessary that they should themselves be free; and in the progress of improvement and reform, though they were content to be the last of all the classes emancipated from their chains, yet they could not endure their galling pressure longer; and demanded, before they lifted up the arm which they held ever ready to strike down their country's foe, that that arm should be unmanacled, unfettered, and completely free; as they would then be best enabled to protect the liberties of others, when they had been taught to preserve and respect their own. He begged leave, therefore, to move, "That a Select Committee be appointed to consider the practicability of devising some plan, by which his Majesty's navy may be manned in time of war, without recourse to the practice of forcible Impressment."
§ Mr. George Frederick Young
rose, with a deal of pleasure, to second the Motion. He had hoped that the necessity for bringing it forward would have been superseded by the concession of the right hon. Baronet at the head of the Admiralty, for he was sure the right hon. Gentleman could not have forgotten the unequivocal expression of feeling on the subject in that House, when it was last under discussion. This hope had been greatly encouraged from the new regulation which it was proposed to adopt, of discharging 500 men from the navy, and rearing 1,000 boys; and from the Bill introduced by the Government, to do away with service in the navy as a punishment for the crime of smuggling, thus enhancing the character of the service, and holding out inducements to men voluntarily to enter it. Impressment had been upheld on the ground of necessity, that had been hitherto the only plea for its continuance, but he, for one, denied that that necessity existed. That was the only argument used by the right hon. 1080 Baronet the last time the subject was under discussion. The right hon. Baronet adopted the opinion of Lord Chatham, and rested contented with that. But the plea of necessity had never been made out, and as was well known, both Lord Nelson and Lord Exmouth doubted it. The gallant Officer opposite (Sir Edward Codrington) too, who while he entwined his brows with laurels at Navarino, had made his claims known to the world to be considered a high authority on all naval matters, asserted that impressment was not necessary. It had been asserted that the sailors were themselves quite indifferent on the subject; in answer to which he would refer to the petition he had the honour that day of presenting to the House, from 805 sailors of North Shields, and the strong terms of reprobation which they used as to the system of impressment. As a proof, too, of the progressive advance which they were making in civilization, he begged to state, that out of the 805 subscribers to the petition, there were only thirty who made that mark which proved them to be incapable of writing. He trusted the time was fast approaching when the British sailors would be released from this cruel and degrading system—when proper inducements to voluntary enlistment would be employed—when promotion would be by merit, and when prize money would be more equally distributed. He believed it would be impossible to continue the system of impressment, that, indeed, it would be openly and generally resisted. A case for inquiry had certainly been established, and he could only repeat his expression of regret that the Government had not thought fit to grant the Committee which had been called for. He felt bound, from his view of the case, to support the Motion to the utmost of his ability.
§ Sir James Graham
said, that in ordinary circumstances he might have been induced to request the hon. member for Sheffield to postpone his Motion; but, under present circumstances, as the hon. Member appeared to think that he had imposed on the hon. Member's courtesy last Session, by such a request, he could not think of again appealing to the forbearance of the hon. Member. Besides, he should not have deemed a postponement of the final decision of the question consistent with his duty, when he looked to the high importance of, and its intimate connexion with, the public weal; for there could be 1081 no doubt the question was one which particularly concerned us as a maritime nation. He was, therefore, anxious to answer the speech of the hon. Member, and he felt confident that the calm deliberation of the House would be given to a matter so deeply concerning the welfare of the people of the country of whom they were the representatives. There was no one point of the hon. Member's speech in which he more fully agreed with him than this—that every prerogative of the Crown was held for the benefit of the people, and unless the Representatives of the people felt satisfied that that prerogative was so exercised, they were not only entitled, but bound, to hold the advisers of the Crown responsible. He believed it was scarcely necessary for him to add that if his Majesty's Ministry, of which he formed a part, were not convinced that any one prerogative of the Crown was consistent with that welfare and those interests, they were not the persons who would advise the maintenance and enforcement of such a prerogative. The prerogative in question was one which, in a moment of public emergency, had been always considered to be eminently conducive to the public safety. The hon. member for Sheffield had, in the course of his speech to-night, appealed to his Majesty's Ministers, and to himself in particular, to do that which he said he firmly believed would render them extremely popular out of doors. Now, however desirous he and his colleagues were of doing that which was agreeable to the public, and however grateful they felt for the great and important support which, in their projects for the reform of abuses, and the amelioration of the condition of all classes in society, they had so happily experienced at the hands of the public, they were by no means disposed to make concessions to the desires of either classes or individuals which might endanger the real and best interests of society through an over eagerness to attain a fleeting and fugitive popularity. They were prepared to do fearlessly that which they conceived to be their duty upon their high responsibility, and to the best of their judgments, trenching as little as possible upon the rights of individuals in order to ensure the safety of the State. The hon. Member had stated that he had had interviews with a great many persons in the outports and in the north of England, who agreed in opinions which he had 1082 expressed, that the practice of recruiting the navy by Impressment was inexpedient and unnecessary. But though the hon. Member might have benefited by their opinion, he was bound to say, that the hon. Member had not adopted their language. He must praise the manner in which the hon. Member had brought forward his Motion this evening, when there were not wanting inducements to follow a course which might be more likely to excite popular feeling. He was bound to admit that the hon. Gentleman, in abstaining from topics of an inflammatory and exciting character in support of his. Motion for adopting a different course, in cases of emergency, for manning his Majesty's navy, had offered some and no inconsiderable atonement for the excitement which the hon. Member according to report, had endeavored to raise elsewhere by his harangues on this very delicate but important exercise of the prerogative of the Crown. The language which the hon. Member had used out of doors, it was, however, fair to infer, had, in point of fact, occasioned no very marked expression of feeling on the part of the classes supposed to be most interested upon the subject of impressment. This inference he was authorised in making, in consequence of the silence of those who otherwise would have felt this a fit opportunity to cover the Table of the House with petitions upon that subject. It was always his opinion that the right of impressment was at once a question of great delicacy, and of vital importance to the public welfare. Had he thought that the hon. Member was very likely to obtain what he professed to seek through the instrumentality of a Committee he should have had little difficulty in agreeing to the Motion of the hon. Member. The hon. Member had asked if the House were competent to institute such an inquiry? Without questioning that right, but assuming that the House was properly competent to go into that inquiry, he would suggest to the hon. Member whether it would not be a better course, instead of going into a Committee, to inquire generally, and without some determinate object being pointed out to which its inquiries should be addressed, that the House should have a distinct and specific plan for remedying the evils complained of, as far as that object was safely attainable, and that a measure to attain all that was possible should be brought forward 1083 upon the responsibility of his Majesty's constitutional advisers? Having stated this much of the course which he thought might be advantageously pursued, and to which he should again refer, he should proceed to answer some points of the hon. Member's speech, which he felt ought not to pass without observation. The first of these was, perhaps, the most important, and that of which he felt he had the most right to complain as extremely unfair, and calculated to cast great odium in the eyes of superficial observers, upon the exercise of the right denounced by the hon. Member. He alluded to the comparison, and a highly injudicious and unjust one in his mind, and not essential to the hon. Member's argument which he had instituted between impressment and slavery. In instituting that comparison, the hon. Member had altogether over looked what constituted a most important distinction between the things compared. It had, he believed, been always conceded that the great blot in slavery consisted in the labour of the slave being performed without remuneration. But the hon. Member had overlooked that, in the case of sailors impressed, they received equally remuneration in pay and allowances for their services as other men, who were volunteers, received. The next observation of the hon. Member which he felt it his duty to answer was, the allegation that the practice of impressment would be a general subject of complaint in the service, only that the sailors had not opportunities afforded them of meeting together in bodies, to represent their grievances. Now this he denied, for the House would recollect it had happened that the seamen had, on some occasions, actually met, in order to remonstrate or petition for redress of grievances. It was important that these assertions should be distinctly met and calmly and dispassionately argued. The most remarkable of these assemblies was that which took place at the Nore, at a period of our history deeply interesting to every well-wisher of his country, when the seamen, as a body, drew up a statement of their grievances; and though that statement or remonstrance consisted of eight or ten different topics or heads of complaint, the practice of impressment was not complained of by the seamen. The hon. Member had discussed at some length the question of the legality of impressment. In his exposition of what 1084 was the law as to impressment, the hon. Member had remarked that the observation of Sir Michael Foster had applied only to the special case then before him. He, however, was prepared to contend that the judgment of that learned Judge went at large into the question of the legality of impressment, and condensed in it all that which had formerly been law, as well as what were the opinions of lawyers in his day, upon the legality of the practice; and stated, in the first instance, that it had been, from the early periods of the monarchy, the undoubted prerogative of the Crown to recruit the navy by means of impressment in times of emergency; that the usage had since been uninterrupted down to the time at which the learned Judge spoke; that the usage had been confirmed by not less than thirty Statutes from the time of King William 3rd; that it was clear in law, that no right of the subject would stand on firmer ground than that of a right based upon custom, supported by concurrent Statutes recognizing the usage. The legality of this exercise of the prerogative was recognized by some of the highest constitutional authorities. Amongst others, Lord Chatham had, in his place, said, "that this was a prerogative of the Crown, and as such ought to be upheld, and never questioned." He certainly doubted, that this was the fittest tribunal to entertain and decide upon the legality of the practice founded on long usage. If those objects contemplated by the hon. Member were desirable, or there were any doubt as to the law on the subject, would it not be the better way for him to attempt to fix the law by some declaratory Act? The hon. Member had hazarded an assertion which he confessed struck him with surprise and astonishment, acquainted as he necessarily and officially was with the orders issued at the Admiralty—namely, that the practice of impressment had been resorted to lately in a time of profound peace; his astonishment was much increased when the case was quoted as having occurred in 1832, at the time of the Dutch embargo, when it was alleged the Admiralty had issued orders to impress men in the river, and that a ship had been sent round to Liverpool for the same purpose. Now, on these points, he assured the House the hon. Member was altogether misinformed, for there had been no such warrant issued in 1832, nor, indeed, 1085 had there been any such order since the peace in 1815. There had been found no difficulty during the whole of that period in obtaining-volunteers to man the navy. He repeated the assertion; and the only reason for sending: a vessel round to Liverpool was, to be ready to remove seamen who were willing from preference to quit the merchant service and enter the navy. An hon. Member, by his "hear," seemed to think this admission was triumphantly conclusive of the question as to the necessity for impressment. It would, perhaps, be so, if the subject were the broad and abstract question of the propriety of impressment. He was not arguing any such abstract question. He confessed he thought that impressment was amongst the greatest evils of a state of war, and should never be resorted to but on the greatest emergencies. The principal features of the hon. Member's plan for the improvement of the service, and substituting other motives for enlistment into the navy, consisted of four or five regulations:—Encouragement to serve by an increase of pay; encouragement to be given to seamen in the merchant service to enter the King's service; rewards for seamen proportioned to length of service, and faithful discharge of duty; service to be limited in duration; leave of absence to be given, and also aid to be afforded him in his emergencies. To show how amply the hon. Member had been anticipated in securing many of those objects to the British seaman, he must state what had been done since 1815 by the Board of Admiralty, and particularly what had been done since he presided at that Board, actuated as he was, by the conviction of the soundness of the principle, if it could be carried into effect, of avoiding altogether having recourse to compulsory enlistment into the navy. In the first place, the pay of the seaman had been actually increased by the altered value of money since the war, and our return to a metallic currency; and his wages had not only been thus positively increased, but, since 1825, they had been also nominally increased; so that now the difference between the pay of seamen in the King's ships and of merchant seamen, did not amount to more than an eighth, which the seamen were of opinion was more than compensated by the superior allowances they received on board of King's ships. The men had formerly 1086 been subjected to a deduction from the pay, called the King's sixpences, which was known no longer, and the profit on slops, delivered out by the purser, formerly very considerable, was now diminished to its minimum—that was so as merely to guard against loss. There had been a change very much to the advantage of veteran seamen made by the new pension regulations. Seamen, after twenty years' service, were entitled to pensions of from 10d. to 14d. per diem. To all persons injured or disabled, though for short services, pensions in similar proportions were given. He should now state what had been done by his Majesty's Government since he had last addressed the House on the subject, with a view to render the service more acceptable to the seamen, A considerable grievance of which the sailors had complained, and of which they might justly complain, was, the difficulty they had of obtaining a fair share of their pay, when out for perhaps two or three years, on a foreign station. The former Board of Admiralty had felt this to be a grievance, and had allowed the seamen in such cases, to draw 4s. per month, whilst abroad. He thought this allowance was still too little, and that, when a man had 40l. or 50l. owing to him, it was likely to beget dissatisfaction if he could not enjoy any of the little luxuries which might be procured on a foreign station; he had, therefore, arranged, that the seamen should be allowed to draw to the extent of 1l, per month, without at all interfering with the right of allotting, as was usual, to their wives or friends a portion of their pay. Thus the seaman abroad, if he wished to avail himself of this privilege, in both allotment and monthly allowance, would very nearly draw month by month the whole of his pay. Another subject in which improvement was to be effected, was prize money. The distribution of that had been, on consideration, deemed not so just and fair towards the able seaman as it should be, which had often proved, on the commencement of a war, an inducement to men to give a preference to, and enter on board of letters of marque. He had, as this was a very important and difficult matter of adjustment, thought it would be better that the adjustment should take place in a period of peace, when claims to share prizes were not likely to arise. In consequence, a proclamation fixing the right and the 1087 rate of seamen to share in prizes taken, had been lately prepared on quite a new scale, by which the seaman, who, on a capture of 10,000l. value, would have been only intitled to 5l. as his share, would in future be intitled to 15l.; and he had the pleasure to say this was done without any deduction being made from the shares of the officers of an inferior rank, but only from the formerly exorbitant and disproportionate shares of the Admirals. To meet the objections entertained against the service, and made in that House, and in order to render the service as attractive as possible, the practice of making his Majesty's ships serve as places of punishment and prisons for smugglers and offenders under the revenue laws, was to be done away; and a Bill was now in progress through that House, to carry that into effect. When the Ministers evinced such a disposition to attend to the subject, he put it to the House whether it might not with safety be left in their hands? It had been observed, that youths who had entered and served their time under a pennant, were sure never afterward to enter on board merchant ships, and were generally good seamen. It was considered proper, therefore, to make the King's ships a nursery for seamen; with this view a plan had been arranged for entering one thousand boys on board his Majesty's ships. He had already referred to that alteration on bringing forward the Navy Estimates. He believed that from this source the necessity of compulsory service would be considerably lessened; for after all that was said of the cruelty and hardships inflicted upon them, in ninety-nine cases out of every 100, where a boy had been in the King's service, he could never be induced to quit it for the merchants'. He would now proceed to offer some further reasons which he thought would convince the House that his Majesty's Government were not insensible to the principles which they had avowed on former Debates—that they were not content with the mere avowal of those principles—and further, that if the question which the hon. Member proposed to refer to a Committee without any definite objects were left in their hands, it would be much more likely to be so dealt with as to produce such practical results as would best satisfy the wishes of the country, as well as ensure the protection of its best interests. On a former occasion, he de- 1088 clared to the House his firm conviction that it was of the greatest importance to render not only the King's service acceptable to seafaring men; but as the merchants' service must be a principal source from which to transplant seamen as they should be required, it was most advisable to make that attractive also. In adherence to those opinions, and with those views, he had devoted himself during the recess, to the consideration of a Bill to consolidate and amend the whole of the laws relating to the merchant service. He intended to embrace in the provisions of that Bill a complete register of all the seafaring men throughout the United Kingdom. This was an object which had been deemed highly desirable by no less an authority than Lord Nelson. In a letter addressed by him to Lord St. Vincent in 1803, he recommended it, but, at the same time, Lord Nelson declared his opinion that, although a complete register should be established, yet that it would be necessary to retain the power of impressment, and that that compulsion might, and ought to be kept up. Upon that authority, he had endeavoured to frame his Bill, so that it would provide an efficient register, from which he hoped to supply the navy, but that, in case of necessity, the power of reverting to impressment should be retained. The Bill would provide that every seafaring man should be obliged to hold a certificate that he was upon the register; and the penalty of his not possessing it upon the breaking out of a war, would be, that he would be compelled to serve. Except in that case, and in the event of sickness breaking out when a ship was stationed at a colony or elsewhere, in which he did not see how the deficiencies could be filled up, otherwise than by impressment, he hoped that the register would supply a sufficient force for the navy. The ballot would be applied to the register in the same way as it was now for the militia. These were the objects which he had formerly professed, and which he now hoped to attain by the means he had stated to the House. The Ministers of the Crown were certainly determined to deal with the subject as cautious men should do, where interests so important were at stake. At present they possessed a power which certainly had been efficient for its purposes, whatever other objections there might be to it. After all that was said of the injurious in- 1089 fluence of impressment upon the character of our seamen, the victories of Copenhagen, and Trafalgar, and the Nile, and all the most glorious deeds which had rendered our navies illustrious for all time, he would contend had been achieved by seamen, who, for the most part, had been provided for the service by impressment. The system of impressment was undoubtedly effectual, for it had been proved effectual. He did not believe that impressment alone would be effectual in manning our navy; but he asked the House, before they denounced the present system, that they would take into their consideration the assurance that had been given to the Board of Admiralty, by men of the greatest weight and experience in the service, that any substitution for impressment must, to be effectual ill procuring a supply of seamen, be founded upon a system of registration; and he would, backed, as he felt himself, by such high recommendation and authority, ask the House to be permitted as a responsible member of the Administration and Minister of the Crown, to submit his plan in the shape of a Bill, the principle and details of which had occupied him for the greater part of the last six months, aided by the co-operation and experience of all those official and professional authorities which he, from his situation at the head of the Admiralty, could procure. The object of his Bill would be the consolidation and amendment of the laws relative to merchant seamen, and the registration of seafaring men in the ports of the United Kingdom. He had been informed by competent authorities, that this system would be found to work effectually, always reserving impressment as a means in the last resort. The provisions of this Bill would be various, perhaps requiring another Bill to complete all the objects he had in view. It would, in the first instance, contain a provision for binding to the merchant and King's service, as apprentices, such children as received parochial relief; it would, secondly, provide for a complete registration of merchant sailors in the ports of the United Kingdom, which would form the ground-work of the substitution of a mode of recruiting the navy other than by impressment; keeping impressment still as a reserve in the last resort. The third part of his measure would go to the encouragement and protection of the merchant service of Great Britain, and 1090 for the enforcement of the payment of their wages in ports abroad,—a most important object in itself. A fourth object would be to secure protection to the master in the discharge of his duty and the due subordination of the crew. This part of the Bill would also provide against a practice wnich he had reason to know was increasing, he meant the practice of masters leaving men on foreign stations utterly unprovided for, by which they were either driven to acts of piracy or left to be brought home at the public expense. If he were permitted to bring in a Bill grounded upon these objects, he thought the House by that course would be best carrying into effect the principles upon which the hon. Member had brought forward his Motion. When the Bill was before the House, he should have no objection to its being sent to a Committee up-stairs in order to be rendered as effectual as possible for the enforcement of those principles. Thus, he thought; they might, without throwing, as they were now requested to do, any discredit on the present system of having recourse to occasional impressment, obtain all the more desirable objects, and abolish all the evils of the British naval system. He assured the House he had, with great attention, and indeed considerable pain, discharged the arduous duty which thus had fallen upon him; convinced, as he was, that by following another course than that which he had the honour to recommend, they might do an irreparable injury to that service on whose discipline, spirit, and efficiency depended the safety and honour of this great empire. The right hon. Baronet concluded, by moving, as an amendment, "that leave be given to bring in a Bill to consolidate and amend the laws relative to the merchant service, and to keep up a registry of seafaring men throughout the United Kingdom."
§ Mr. Robinson
supported the Motion. He asked whether the proposition for a Committee up stairs did not receive an inconceivable addition of force from the announcement of this measure on the part of the Government? He, however, was against any such measure being intrusted to one person, though, if it were to be given to any individual, none could be more worthy of that trust than the present First Lord of the Admiralty. The right hon. Gentleman had asked, "Would you take away from the Crown in times of great emergency this prerogative?" Now, 1091 he (Mr. Robinson) confessed, that he would not. Speaking from the knowledge which his long connexion with the commercial interest of the country had afforded him, and from the experience which he had on board various King's ships, he would say, that he entertained great doubts whether it would be expedient to take away from the Crown the exercise of this power in all cases and at all times. Did it follow, therefore, that matters should remain in the way they were, or even in the state in which, if the well-intentioned propositions of the First Lord of the Admiralty were carried into effect, they would still be left? One of the complaints which they had to make against this power was, that it was not exercised in times of great emergency, but that, being a power vested in the Crown, it might be and was exercised by every commissioned officer in the navy when it suited his caprice. Without at all wishing to say anything derogating from the merits of the navy, he must acknowledge, that his experience had shown him that this power had been not unfrequently exercised most harshly and most capriciously. It was true, that cases of this kind occurred more rarely at present, in the time of peace, than formerly; yet, was that any reason why the House should not interfere with the unconstitutional principle of the system itself, with a view to the prevention of wrong in the event of another war breaking out? The right hon. Baronet need not fear, that the House would take up this inquiry rashly, and upon theoretical principles, merely to destroy a power which could be shown to be practically necessary. The Committee now moved for, might probably determine that this power should be retained to the Crown; yet they might also, at the same time, propose such modifications in its application, as, without impairing its general efficacy in time of need, would render it less repulsive to the national feelings of the people. The right hon. Baronet had very truly said, that the naval service had lately lost very much of the disrepute formerly attached to it. It was true, that the Government and the officers themselves had done much to render the service as acceptable as possible to the sailors under their command, and remove the opprobrium which had been cast upon the profession; yet, notwithstanding all these laudable attempts at liberality, the service could never come fairly into favour 1092 as long as the present odious practice of impressment was continued. The right hon. Baronet had said, that, in consequence of the altered value of the currency, the sailors in his Majesty's service had now the same pay as in the merchant service. That was true in the time of peace, but in time of war the case was different; and he, therefore, thought the time of peace a favourable opportunity to inquire into the hardships which pressed upon his Majesty's servants in time of war. It was well known, that, although the pay in the two services was now pretty nearly equal, if a war were to break out, the pay in the merchant's service would immediately be increased four or five pounds per month, and the consequence would be the same, disinclination, on the part of the men, to enter his Majesty's navy as formerly. And it was very natural, too, that men should feel a distaste for a service into which they were not only compulsorily impressed, but at lower wages than they could get in another to which they were admitted by their own free-will and agreement. Under circumstances like these, the practice of forcible impressment was an unjustifiable interference, not only with the personal liberty of the subject, but also with his only property—his time and his labour. Another serious inconvenience in the time of war which deterred the sailor from the national navy was the indefinite period of his service in it. When a sailor was ordered upon a foreign expedition, whatever might be his natural disinclination against that particular destination, or against the officer who commanded, or the rest of the crew who worked the ship, there was no help for him; go he must. And very often it would happen, as in the late wars, that the whole of his life would be spent in this forced banishment. Another principal point upon which the naval service laboured under popular disrepute was the nature of the discipline which, it was alleged, the efficiency of the service demanded. Whatever might be his opinion upon this subject in principle, he was bound to state, that he had been, from time to time, in many of his Majesty's ships, and that, from all his own experience there, he had no reason to believe that the powers vested in the officers in command had been exerted with any undue severity. But he would relate one circumstance which had fallen within his own observation, and which was a striking 1093 instance of the hardships entailed on the seamen by this system of forced servitude. It occurred that when the fleet was at a foreign station, the admiral, fearing that desertion would be attempted, issued an order to the whole fleet to prevent any sailor from going ashore during the whole of their stay. Now, how could it be supposed, that such an excessive interference with the liberties and the enjoyments of the men could be tolerated with any degree of good-will on their part, or with any credit to the service? The right hon. Baronet said, he had devised means by which the grievances at present complained of might, one time or other, be alleviated, as by the use of ballot, or otherwise, though he was not very clear upon these points. But he hoped the House would not give its support to the amendments of that right hon. Member, which would totally defeat the object of the original Motion. The right hon. Baronet, doubtless, felt a little jealousy at an interference with him in matters which fell directly within his office, and he was, therefore, not the person whom he could expect to find voting for a Committee of this sort. He did entreat the House, however, not to be carried away by the plausible arguments of the right hon. Baronet, but to vote in favour of the Motion before them for the appointment of a Committee. The inquiry before such a Committee would, no doubt, be calculated to put matters in a train, so as to bring about that result which the Government, upon principle, were anxious to effect. If, on the contrary, the House should consent to the Motion of the right hon. Baronet, it would leave the question of impressment, and all the objections that applied to it, precisely in the same situation as before. All that the House was now called upon to do was, to express a general opinion that the time was arrived when, not that impressment should be abolished, but when a case was made out for inquiry, in order to see whether it could not be superseded by a better system for manning the navy. This system of impressment, as he had already said, while it imposed a severe tax on the merchant service in the time of war, by rendering it necessary to increase the wages of merchant seamen, rendered it proportionably difficult for the Admiralty to man the navy then. The sentiments which had been expressed by the right hon. Baronet did him great honour, in 1094 reference to that service over which he so ably and honourably presided; but he must contend, that there was no excuse left for the House not to take the step which was now proposed.
§ Sir Edward Codrington
said, he would support the Motion, not only on account of the use made of impressment, but on account of the abuses which arose out of the system. The use of it he considered not at all consistent with the liberty of the subject. Sailors had a right to be put upon the same footing as the rest of his Majesty's subjects. His objection was not to the leaving such a power in the hands of the Crown; his objection was this,—that sailors alone, of all the subjects of the King, should be exposed to the exercise of this tyrannical power. He would just give the House an instance of the extreme hardship and injustice arising out of this system of impressment. A man who had been originally pressed served with him (Sir E. Codrington) for eight or nine years; he discharged his duty during that time in the most reputable manner possible, and, at the expiration of that period, from motives that would do honour to human nature,—namely, from a desire to support an aged father and mother,—he applied for his discharge, and offered eighty guineas to obtain it, It was refused him. Now, he really thought, that if this power of impressment were not to be used, some equivalent remuneration must be given to the seamen for services which were so imperatively demanded. In the army it was so. A man in a smock-frock got sixteen guineas to enlist as a soldier; and if a seaman was wanted by the State, why should he not be equally well rewarded? His conviction was, that if the men were not, in consequence of the existence of impressment, treated with a certain degree of harshness on board men-of-war, they would much rather enter the navy than the merchant service. He was certain, that such would be the case, provided they were allowed the indulgence which was given to them on board merchant ships, of going on shore. The restrictions and comparatively harsh treatment to which they were subjected on board men-of-war were attributable to the existence of impressment. The work which seamen had to do in merchant vessels was double that which they had to do on board men-of-war; but then they had on board merchantmen the opportunity of going on 1095 shore and visiting their families, which, often in the navy, particularly in ships where the crews had been impressed, was denied them. The hon. Member who had last spoken, had spoken of the hardship of preventing the men from going ashore at a foreign station. He was, however, prepared to maintain, that seamen had been sent abroad on purpose to prevent them from deserting. The poor fellows had been in the constant habit of communicating with their families, and had constant temptations to return to them, and they were sent abroad on purpose to cut them off from these domestic ties. As to the odium and other evil consequences produced by our system of impressment amongst foreigners, he would just mention an instance bearing out the statement on that point of the hon. Member who had brought forward this Motion. At the battle of Trafalgar, the primest seaman which he (Sir E. Codrington) had on board his ship was an impressed American. He had been taken out of an American ship, on the pretence that he was a British subject, brought to England, and thence transmitted to him amongst other impressed seamen. On account of his admirable conduct in the battle, he (Sir E. Codrington) made him a warrant-officer. He afterwards told him that he would be glad to remain in the English service, but that he had a wife and family in America, whom he had not seen for many years. This seaman, like many others, had been kept in ships stationed abroad, in order to prevent them, having been originally impressed, from getting their discharge. That was but an instance of the odium which the maintenance of this system got us into with foreigners. The system was extended to forcing those who were known by the name of "civil-power men" on board ships of war. Such persons were, in other words, the rogues and vagabonds of the country; and while they were utterly useless as effective men, they did much to contaminate the rest of the crew. He recollected having twenty-seven such men forced on him. He went to the Admiralty to remonstrate on the subject, but he was there told that he must take them to make up his ship's complement. He was not ashamed to own it, that in proceeding to sea he took the first opportunity that offered to man the boats with these fellows and let them run away, thus getting rid of a parcel of vagabonds, The 1096 naval service should not in this manner be made a vent for the common gaols of the country. Then as to the pay of the navy, he begged to say that whenever the question of the paper currency should be discussed, he would be prepared to show that during a great part of the late war the navy had been paid 6s. in the pound less than it was entitled to, and he should then claim for the navy that 6s. in the pound. The manner in which it had occurred was this—the ships with impressed men on board were ordered abroad, and when they got to Gibraltar, on getting their pay, the sailors received only 14s. for the pound, in dollars. He recollected an instance where, under such circumstances, the whole ship's company came to him on the quarter-deck to complain of such treatment. He must acknowledge, that in that instance he practised a little piece of imposition upon them, for he feared the consequences should he act the part of agitator. He asked the steward what was the nature of the complaint? His reply was, that they only gave him 14s. in dollars for the pound. He (Sir Edward Codrington) said in answer "What scoundrels they must be! But you know we are all treated in the same manner." The result was that they went away satisfied. Now if he had acted the part of agitator, and had said that this was a robbery on the part of the Government, he should probably have caused a mutiny in the fleet. To return to the subject of impressment, he (Sir Edward Codrington) had never had the honour, had never impressed a man in the whole course of his service, and he never would have an impressed man in his ship if he could help it. The practice was held in such horror by those whose calling subjected them to it, that they were known to submit to all sorts of privations and tortures to avoid it; frequent cases having occurred of men being headed up in casks, and so shipped away from the reach of his Majesty's officers. He would further state that when the fleet was at Gibraltar, during the war, several soldiers joined the ships who had been originally seamen, who had been driven from that profession by the fear of impressment, and who afterwards finding the life of a soldier unsuitable to their habits, were allowed to exchange into the navy. Could there be any thing more cruel than the practice which prevailed in times of impressment? 1097 It was well known that in the river or the Downs, whenever a fleet of traders came in from the South Seas, or elsewhere, the boats of the navy were manned, went on board, and took all the men out of those ships, which they then sent up the river under a convoy of their own. These men whom they so impressed, returning as they did from a long voyage, were again sent abroad, without being so much as allowed to go once on shore to see their friends. Such practices as these could not but lead to disaffection and mutiny, of which some memorable instances were recorded in our own times. It was not to be supposed that the famous mutiny of the fleet at the Nore was got up by the regular seamen. It was first planned and set a-going by fellows who had not any pretensions to the title of seamen—"the civil power men"—the scum of the earth. These were the concoctors of the mutiny, who afterwards forced the real sailors to join with them, by means of tyranny and intimidation worse than that they themselves complained of. The House would now, perhaps, allow him to state his opinion upon the subject of corporal punishments. When that question in respect to the army, had been brought before the House, he had felt it his duty to oppose the abolition of that practice. It was not with any view of keeping up his own authority, for he thought that it could not be felt otherwise than as a degrading and unpleasant task for an officer and a gentleman when obliged to enforce it. All he would say was, that he should be glad if any one would tell him what other method of discipline, what other more agreeable punishment, could be adopted in its stead? There was no black hole in the ship; and he knew enough of the feelings of the men to assure the House that they did not view with any relish, the schemes of commuted punishment which had sometimes been proposed in their behalf. But the fact was, that a good regular seaman was never punished; they never had occasion to punish them; it was the civil power men, the scum of the earth, to whom he alluded before, who came in for this. This was another of the cruel features of the service that arose entirely from the system of impressment. At the end of the war, when the ships were in the Downs, it had been found necessary to give up the plan of lowering a sail into the water to make 1098 a kind of swimming-bath by the side of the ships, lest the men should swim ashore, thus depriving the whole body of a very reasonable source of enjoyment. It had been urged by the advocates of the present system, that the very men who had been impressed themselves would be found assisting to impress others. This certainly did appear extraordinary; yet those very men would afterwards, when the occasion offered, desert with the very men they had assisted to impress. Looking at the question in all its bearings, he must say, that he thought some plan might be devised to rid the service of much of the cruelly and odium now attached to it, taking care still to leave his Majesty the power of using his extraordinary prerogative in case of extraordinary necessity. He should therefore conclude by giving his cordial support to the Motion before the House.
§ Captain Elliot
rose to offer a few remarks to the House, in consequence of what had fallen from the hon. mover, and in consequence of some errors into which he had been led, both on the present and on the former occasion, when he had brought this question under the consideration of Parliament. On a former occasion that hon. Member had drawn a most affecting picture of the injustice and inhumanity of impressment. He had proved himself a great artist in the picture he then drew, but he had taken the liberty of an artist in colouring that picture for effect. He was sure of this, that no commander could keep his ship effective in time of war, and with the requisite number of men, without the aid of impressment. He did not mean to say, that a better system might not be substituted, but as matters stood at present, it was impossible to keep a ship's company in time of war, effective, without the aid of impressment. It was stated on the other hand, by the hon. mover, that Lord Ex-mouth did, without the assistance of impressment, and the gallant Admiral opposite had also told them that he had kept up his ship's number without it.
§ Sir Edward Codrington
begged to explain, that what he had said was, that he had not impressed men. He did not say that he had not received impressed men on board.
§ Captain Elliot
said, he would just refer to the returns as to the ships commanded by the gallant Admiral, in order to show 1099 the House how far the gallant Admiral had done without the aid of impressment. The number of men impressed by the ship first commanded by the gallant Admiral in the course of the war was certainly only seven. She was commanded by him for two years and a half, and during that time she received 616 men on board from other ships. She obtained only five volunteers during that period, and seven men who had been impressed, deserted. There were therefore 609 men serving on board the gallant Admiral's ship who had been forced to serve there from the receiving ships. Now, if every officer in the service had followed the example of the gallant Admiral, and had not impressed, what would the gallant Admiral have done for men to man his ship? He for one did not follow such an example. He thought it his duty to do as the other officers in the service did, and he did not throw himself on other ships for supplying men to keep his own in an effective state. Then as to the case of Lord Exmouth. He had been employed as Captain Pellew during the peace, before the breaking out of the revolutionary war. He commanded a frigate at the time, and there was not a man on board impressed, as of course then, as now, impressment was not practised in time of peace. That vessel continued under his command for ten months after the breaking out of the war. Now, the hon. member for Sheffield, amongst the other evil effects which he attributed to impressment, had stated that it was the cause of great desertion from the ships in his Majesty's service. Out of this ship, commanded by Captain Pellew for ten months, with a volunteer crew, fifty-one men deserted, being an average of one man in three and a-half during that time. He would follow Lord Exmouth to another ship—the next he commanded,—the Indefatigable. The ship's company then was composed of one-half volunteers and one-half impressed men, and the desertion in it was only one man in nine. The next ship his Lordship commanded, was manned entirely by impressed men; he commanded her for three years, and during that time the desertion from her was only one man in fifty. Those facts, he thought, furnished satisfactory proofs that desertion did not depend on the circumstance whether the men were impressed or volunteers, for here was the same officer, going on with the same course of 1100 discipline, and the desertion was found to decrease in proportion to the increase in the number of impressed men in the ship's company. He (Captain Elliot) had, whenever he wanted men, impressed them whenever and wherever he could, as he conceived that his first and paramount duty was to keep his ship effectively manned. He repeated that he never hesitated to exercise that power when he could not get volunteers. He would add, that he had never hesitated, when he thought the good of the service required it, to inflict corporal punishment. He commanded a ship for five years, from 1807 to 1812, with a complement of 280 men, all of whom had been impressed. In Captain Pellew's ship, with a company consisting entirely of volunteers, the desertion was one man in three; and in his (Captain Elliot's) it was one man in seventy-one. That was a clear proof that desertion did not depend on impressment. Captain Pellew, in the Nymphe, the first ship he commanded, received, in the course of ten months, ninety-five men in forced service, in order to keep up his complement; in his next ship he received 341 men from the receiving ship; and in his third ship he received 126 men who had been impressed, and twenty-six who volunteered. These facts proved that if his Lordship had been left to man his ship with volunteers, it would have been impossible for him to do so. In his (Captain Elliot's) ship, during the period he commanded her, he received 150 men to keep up his complement; but he would not lead the House to suppose that they were all impressed men, for they volunteered afterwards, as they had no other alternative left them. Those who so volunteered got 5l. each as a premium or reward for doing so. He felt satisfied that the merchant service would be amongst the first to complain if the system was abrogated. Indeed it was a circumstance not to be denied, that seamen had never made any allusion to the impressment as a ground of complaint, but had merely desired that the Legislature should place pressed men in the same situation in every respect as volunteers. He repeated that he had never known the navy to complain of impressment or of corporal punishment, but, on the contrary, their complaints had been confined solely to the abuse of the power of carrying in to effect the administering and inflicting both. He would instance 1101 the case of the mutiny at the Nore, during which the mutineers never dreamt, though impressment was then very much in vogue, to make it one of the causes of their mutiny. He was happy also to add that every complaint then made, and every grievance at that period complained of, had since been remedied or removed. He could not avoid, also, reminding the House, that there was no country in Europe which did not pursue the same plan of manning their ships. Certainly he admitted, that if hon. Gentlemen would go to America, they would find quite a different state of things in this respect; but in Europe such was the practice. In Spain for instance, and especially in Holland, where, though there was no power to press a man for the navy, yet the government had power to press for soldiers, and then give the pressed men the choice to go on board ship as a sailor, in preference to serving in a military capacity. In Russia, also, the power was retained of pressing whole hordes, and by these means alone was the naval service of that nation filled up. With reference to the case of impressment which had been stated to have occurred in Liverpool, he could state that so far from impressment, the full complement of men had been made up by volunteers without bounty. He should not detain the House further than to express his strong feeling that the navy of this country could ever be manned by volunteers, but he was satisfied, that on an emergency, a very great force might be wanted within a very short period of time, and that, without the power of impressment, it would be very difficult to get such a force collected.
said, that from the clear statement and the promises made by the First Lord of the Admiralty, he was sure that the impressment would be rendered unnecessary, and that the power granted by the present harsh Act would lie dormant. The object was to prevent cruelty, consistently with the preservation of an effective naval force. Both, he thought, could be done by the proposition of the noble Lord. With this impression upon his mind, he was decidedly of opinion that the power to impress seamen for the naval service could be most properly retained in the hands of Government with perfect safety to the community and with advantage to the nation. He would support the Amendment.
§ Mr. Warre
said, so strong were his feelings on the subject of impressment, that if the Motion of the hon. member for Sheffield were to stand or fall by its own merits, in place of being met, as it was, by the First Lord of the Admiralty, he would certainly give it his cordial support. But, after the statement made by the right hon. Baronet, he hoped the House would accede to his proposition, as he (Mr. Warre) thought that the original Motion would be rendered unnecessary. He concurred in most of what the hon. Member (Mr. Buckingham) said, as to the cruelty and the injustice of dragging innocent men from their homes to be forced on board King's ships, and the impolicy of keeping up such a system; and he especially concurred with him in his statement that, if we were involved in war to-morrow, while the impressment continued in operation, the feelings of the people would become changed about the navy as they were about other institutions; and that was a state of things that was much to be deprecated. It was not from any indifference about the subject, but from having heard and weighed the arguments advanced, that he came to the conclusion that the object of the hon. Member would be gained without pressing his Motion. The hon. Member declared his intention of supporting the Amendment.
§ Mr. Ingham
wished to ask the right hon. Baronet, whether it were intended by the Government to introduce a clause in the projected Bill of Registration rendering it legal to man the navy with those included in the registration in case a sufficient number of volunteers could not be procured?
§ Sir James Graham
said, that, in the Bill which it was intended to introduce, no provision would be made for regulating the wages of those engaged in the merchant service. Secondly, that the Bill would be exclusively limited to simple registration. For the last century the imperfect state of the registration was complained of, and efforts were made to complete it. He (Sir J. Graham) would not say, that he had an entire confidence in his own powers. But, from the inquiries he made, the attention he paid to the subject, and the assistance he attained, he trusted that his registration would be a complete one.
§ Admiral Fleming
said, he came to the 1103 House to listen dispassionately to the statement of the hon. Member, (Mr. Buckingham), and he would say that that statement had made an impression on him. As he was no advocate for impressment, he would be glad that a safe and radical scheme was adopted for removing the evils that attended it. And, after the statement of the First Lord of the Admiralty, he thought that a safe and gradual scheme for manning the navy could be resorted to without impressment. He would support the Amendment.
§ Mr. Lyall
concurred in most of the statements of the member for Sheffield. He thought it was proved that there existed generally a strong reluctance in men to join the navy. That reluctance to any connexion with the service existed not only before impressment, but even after. Impressment was not calculated to make the service palatable. To show how unwilling men who were forced into the navy were to remain in it, he would mention that there were 15,000 deserters in two years during the war. Now, if a system that caused such repugnance to the service and so much desertion were not corrected in time of peace, what, he would ask, would be the state of our Colonies during war, when they required protection? But it was not alone the navy or the Colonies that would be injured: the mercantile interest of the country, which stood in need of protection on the seas, would also suffer. The merchant service would require more men during the war than in peace. At all times, whether in peace or war, the same preference would be given to the merchant service over the King's service, and, of course, greater facilities would be afforded for supplying it with hands. Merchantmen possessed many advantages and offered indulgences to sailors which, on board ships of war, they could not enjoy. They were allowed more wages, were under less rigid discipline, and could oftener get on shore and return home; young and old could in a few months return to their families, and bring back their earnings. Such being the case, the repugnance to the King's service would still continue. And he (Mr. Lyall) thought that it would be highly desirable to remove it. He was not sure that registration would effect that object. Registration was impressment under a different name. It would not prevent the necessity of impressment. He had 1104 consulted several authorities of high legal character, and from the opinions they gave, he had no doubt that impressment was legal. In order, then, to meet the evils of repugnance to the naval service, and of an inefficient force in time of war, he (Mr. Lyall) thought the best course was to make preparation in time, and increase the navy during peace. If war broke out, the country would want about 100,000 men. He contended, that not less than from 120,000 to 150,000 men would be of any use during war to protect all our mercantile interests; and surely those interests were not to be neglected by such a nation as England. There was no remedy for the evil complained of but to increase our naval force in time of peace; for then would the country be best prepared for the time of war—otherwise impressment should be adopted—a system that was justified by necessity and immemorial usage.
§ Mr. Hume
was prepared to contend, that the services of seamen were to be bought as well as the services of any other class of men; but it was most unjust to expect that men who could get 5l. for their wages in the merchant service should serve for a less remuneration in the navy of the nation. He demanded for the British sailor equal treatment with that of a fellow-countryman in the merchant service, and on these grounds alone he hoped the Government would not object to a Select Committee being appointed to go into a full and complete inquiry into the subject, with a view to the removal of the difficulties, grievances, and hardships to which the sailor was exposed. The hon. Gentleman opposite (Captain Elliott) had defended the system of impressment, and had boasted that during the war the navy had been manned almost solely by the means which that system had afforded; but, said the hon. Member, "Good God! now that we are on terms of peace, are we not to look, inquire, and ascertain how far the evils of that system can be remedied?" The right hon. Gentleman ought to have been prepared distinctly to say whether or not it was fit that such an inquiry should be entered upon, and not have met the question by that sort of mere parliamentary trick which was only resorted to when difficulties arose, and when the Administration were not prepared to state the course which was deemed advisable to 1105 pursue. After the answer which had been given to the Motion of the hon. member for Sheffield by the Government on this occasion, it was evident—and it would be so held by seamen—that the proposed plan of registration was only calculated to catch them more securely, and would only serve to make the evil greater and the system still more unpopular. He (Mr. Hume) was not prepared to say, that impressment was a prerogative to be exercised by the Government; but, if exercised at all, it should only be so in times of emergency, difficulty, and danger; and it was a duty befitting the Legislature to shield and guard so meritorious a class of the subjects of the realm from so great a grievance falling too harshly and severely upon them. He could bring forward men who had been forty years in the service, who neither sought nor had they any wish to do away with the system of impressment; indeed he had been told within the last few days by a man who had served eighteen years in the service, and had been as many years in merchant ships, that as the country must be protected, and as ships must be manned for that purpose, impressment was necessary; but his informant had added, "Let impressment be understood to take place under a fixed law, let it be legalized under the authority of Parliament, and let the period of service be fixed and established by the Legislature, and then if I or any other man should be pressed "[laughter]—That laugh was most childish, and utterly unworthy of men. He spoke in the language of his informant, who had proceeded to observe, that if he or any other man was pressed on an emergency such as would warrant such a proceeding, the period of service should be fixed and limited, and in case of those limits being exceeded, a provision should be made for a recompense in the way of increased wages until the Government should be enabled to find means to relieve those whose period of service had expired. Nothing could be more fair or reasonable than such a proposition, and, as a means to carry it into effect, he fully concurred in the Motion of the hon. member for Sheffield, and in doing so he must also add his expression of regret that any man could be found who would refuse to accede to so fair, just, and equitable a course.
denied, that he had prided himself upon the fact that the 1106 British navy had been manned during the war by impressment. So far from entertaining any such feeling as had been attributed to him by the hon. member for Middlesex, he had ever regretted that impressment had not been confined to cases of great emergency, instead of being resorted to as a general practice.
§ Lord Althorp
said, that it must be satisfactory to the House that the Motion of the hon. member for Sheffield had been so fully and fairly discussed. Without entering into the various topics which had been introduced during the discussion, he must remind the House, that the present Motion was not a Motion for the abolition of the system of impressment, for, on the contrary, every hon. Gentleman who had spoken upon the subject, had admitted that the system was necessary to the effective service of the State; but was merely for the appointment of a Select Committee to inquire whether any means could be devised and adopted to mitigate the evils attributed to the present plan, and to make the naval service of the nation more popular by rendering instances of impressment more rare than at present. His right hon. friend at the head of the Admiralty had stated, that he was himself already proceeding in the same course as that suggested by the hon. member for Sheffield. His right hon. friend had also stated several measures which be had adopted, and which it was admitted were well calculated to increase the popularity of the naval service. What possible good could ensue from abolishing the system of impressment, until the proposed registration was proved to be an efficient measure? Would it not rather be an instance of most improvident legislation to destroy one source of obtaining men for the service of the navy before another could be tried and adopted? The Government had in preparation measures intended gradually to effect the object which it was now attempted, most unwisely, to attain by one step; yet hon. Members came down to the House, asked for a Committee of Inquiry, and took the measure out of the hands of Ministers, when it was in the proper train for arriving at eventual success. More than one hon. Member, however, had stated, in the course of the debate, that when he came down to the House he had entered it with the intention of voting in favour of the Motion, but that the clear statement of 1107 his right hon. friend had been so perfectly satisfactory that he had determined to vote for the Amendment. The hon. member for Middlesex, indeed, called this Amendment a trick; but in what sense that Amendment could be called a trick, he was at a loss to conceive. Ministers proposed an alteration in the present system of manning the navy, but till that alteration was carried into effect, he was prepared to show that impressment, though an evil, was a necessary evil. The hon. Member who seconded the Motion had said, that it was not a necessary evil. [Mr. G. Young: I said it might be a necessary evil.] Well, he would ask the hon. Member, who was a gentleman with extensive mercantile connexions, whether he would feel very comfortable, in time of war, when the ships of an enemy covered the ocean, if this power were not for the present, at least, vested in the Government? He admitted this power ought only to be exercised on occasions of strong necessity; but when that necessity was felt, how would the country feel without a maritime force properly manned? Before a fleet could be got ready for sea, the prisons of the enemy would be filled with the sailors of merchant-men. The hon. member for Worcester had truly stated that this question referred to times of war as well as peace; and as he admitted that the high wages offered in time of war by merchant-men tempted sailors to enter on board them instead of the royal navy, he thought that a stronger argument could not be employed to prove that some degree of compulsory service was necessary. The power of enforcing such service might certainly be better exercised than it was at present. The period, too, of general service might be limited, and certain classes of seamen might be taken for a limited time. He thought much good would result from the intended mode of registration; and he hoped the House would give that confidence to his right hon. friend which his proposition so well deserved, and the Government credit for pursuing the course best adapted to carry their intentions into effect.
§ Mr. Buckingham
, in reply, said, that as the House had already extended to him their unbroken attention during his first address, and must by this time consider the snbject nearly exhausted, he should trespass but a few minutes only on their time. As, however, he was anxious to 1108 avoid the imputation of factious motives in persisting to divide the House on his original Motion, he would frankly say, that if the amendment of the right hon. Baronet had in any way met the case, he would have yielded to him without hesitation. But it went altogether wide of the mark; and this he thought he should be able to show—so as to justify his perseverance in asking the House to grant the Committee required. The right hon. Baronet had done him the kindness to compliment him upon his opening speech, and to praise it for the talent and discretion which he was pleased to say it displayed. He contrasted this, however, with the tone of certain speeches delivered by him elsewhere, and thought the present an atonement for past indiscretions. He thanked the right hon. Baronet for thus reminding him of what might otherwise have escaped his recollection, namely, that there was a still wider contrast between the speeches of the right hon. Gentleman delivered to his former constituents at Hull, when a candidate for the representation of that seaport town, and his speeches as First Lord of the Admiralty. In his latter capacity he had defended the practice of impressment, both in the last Session and the present; while, in his former capacity, he had denounced the system as cruel and unjustifiable; and obtained great popularity among the electors of Hull as its determined enemy. [Sir James Graham intimated, that the hon. Member had been misinformed.] Such was the statement which he had himself repeatedly heard from the electors of Hull themselves: and if a total difference of principle should mark the speech of any hon. Member in different situations, it was rather extraordinary that such hon. Member should complain of a mere difference of tone in the speeches of another. He would come, however, to the main points of the debate. The first Lord of the Admiralty had proposed a Registration of the Merchant Seamen of England, which was to be compulsory, or at least to subject to certain disabilities those who did not act upon it. Now, if this were to be preceded or accompanied by a distinct declaration, that impressment was not to be resorted to but in extreme cases of invasion or insurrection, and then under an Order in Council, for a limited time, and with adequate pay, he should not object to such a Bill as a first step to 1109 improvement: or if it had been accompanied with an admission, that when the registry was complete, some plan of service by rotation or ballot, was to be substituted for impressment, he would have consented to its adoption. But as the right hon. Baronet had admitted, that neither of these provisions were to be embraced by the Bill, he was quite certain that the seamen of England would consider such a registry as calculated only to facilitate their seizure whenever impressment should be resorted to: and, under this feeling, not 1,000 men in all England would be found to register themselves, They would regard it as a mere snare to entrap them into a description of their names, ages, and places of abode, that they might be the more readily found when the press-gangs were sent in their pursuit. A striking proof that this proposed registry would not abate impressment in its most oppressive form, was this: that the First Lord of the Admiralty admitted it was not intended to abate in any degree the power of impressment on foreign stations, where it must be allowed to exist in full force. The right hon. Baronet had said, that, in the event of ships of war losing men by battle, or disease, on foreign stations, they must be allowed to supply their losses by impressing the first men they could find; and it was asked, how could they otherwise repair their crews? This question might, he thought, be well answered by asking another—namely, this: Supposing a ship of war to be disabled on a foreign station, by losing her masts, yards, anchors, or cables, how was she to repair her loss? Certainly not by seizing those indispensable requisites from the first merchant ship she meets, nor by robbing them from the first dock-yard she can find; but by honest payment of the fair market value of these supplies, to the parties who furnished them. Would the House sanction the monstrous doctrine, that it was dishonest to steal by force the materials for repairing a ship's hull or rigging, without paying their full value; but that it was legal and just to rob as many men as could be found—to deprive them of their liberty—to rob them of the value of their only property—their skill and labour; and to punish them with torture if they dared to refuse. No! If the merchant service is in need of men, they cannot seize them by force, under the plea that the national commerce must be main- 1110 tained; neither should the King's Navy be thus supplied, on the plea that the national defence must be unimpaired. If the navy must be kept up for defence, commerce must be sustained to pay the cost; but let both bear their fair share of the burthen, be it what it may; and for himself he believed there was too strong a sense of honesty and justice in the nation, to refuse to seamen their full remuneration for their services, which all other classes asserted and enjoyed their right to command. This power of impressing abroad surely could not be defended, on the ground of the King's prerogative. That was expressly restricted to the manning the fleet in times of danger, and only in the narrow seas:—that is, in the channels around the island, where defence against invasion would have to be made. But if impressment were to be allowed on all our foreign stations and colonial possessions abroad, this would embrace nearly half the globe; so that every single commander, whether of a line-of-battle ship, or a cutter, would, without any delegation of the King's prerogative—without a press-warrant—without any authority in short but his individual caprice,—be enabled, whenever he thought proper, to press any number of men out of any ship he met, and be accountable to no authority for any such abuse of his power. The First Lord of the Admiralty had himself, however, furnished the strongest reasons to show that impressment would in future be wholly unnecessary, and that therefore it might be safely abolished. He rejoiced at the improvements which had already been introduced into the naval service; he was glad to find that still more improvement was to follow; and if, as was alleged, the wages of the navy were already nearly equal to that of the merchant service, and the treatment better, was it not an ill compliment to themselves, for the Ministers to suppose, that, with this superiority of attraction, his Majesty's ships could not obtain men? Why, was it not notorious that privateers, where all the dangers of war, and very many inconveniences not suffered in the navy, were to be endured, could get men in large numbers at any time by voluntary enlistment? Nay, that Don Pedro, or Don Miguel, or any other person in want of seamen to fight their battles, might ship as many men as they wished in the Thames and the Mersey without impressment? These were mat- 1111 ters of universal notoriety; and it was an insult to the King's service to suppose that, if the same system of fair bounty, limited time, and adequate wages were tried, men could not be as readily obtained for his Majesty's fleet, as for the squadrons of any other warlike power. The truth was, that seamen generally, so far from disliking danger, rather courted it. A voyage of entire fair weather, unrelieved by any incident or adventure, was to them tame and tiresome. They liked an occasional struggle, either in the battle or the breeze; and would generally prefer the hazardous and the enterprising, to the dull regularity of an unvaried round of safely and peace. But though they had no aversion to danger, they abhorred being dragged into it by coercion. Only remove this, and leave it to their own free wills, and the seamen of England would never be found backward to serve their country, at the peril of their lives, whenever their services were required. The hon. Secretary to the Admiralty (Captain Elliott) had paid him (Mr. Buckingham) the high compliment, for so he considered it, of replying in detail to the speech delivered by him on this question a year ago—to this he had no objection—he only regretted that the pledge under which he felt himself bound to the House to be very brief in Ins reply, prevented his following the hon. Secretary so closely as he could wish. Judging from the speech of the gallant Officer, he should say, that if his views were correct,—that volunteers were more likely to desert than pressed men, the House ought to pass a resolution declaring, that no volunteers should ever be received, since they were so liable to desert, but that pressed men, and pressed men only, should be employed. There was an important omission, however, in the gallant Captain's statement, respecting the comparative desertions of volunteers and pressed men. He did not explain the different circumstances under which the ships or their crews were placed in either of the cases—so that there might be other causes for their deserting in one instance and remaining in another, besides that of their being volunteers or impressed men. If the argument of the hon. Secretary were worth anything, however, it would go to prove that forced service was more agreeable than voluntary, and therefore ought to be resorted to in all cases. The gallant Captain asserted, indeed, that King's ships could not be manned by 1112 volunteers, and added that all the civilized nations of Europe adopted some system of impressment or other to man their fleets: none but the Americans being able to equip their ships of war without. This contrast was unfortunate, however, for the gallant Officer's case, for the superiority of the American navy, manned wholly by volunteers, to all the navies of the old countries of Europe manned by impressment, was as striking a proof as could be cited, of the superiority of the free system to that of compulsory. But it was sufficient for him, he thought, to appeal to the good sense of the House, and to ask hon. Members, whether any serious argument had been offered against going into a Committee of Inquiry at least. The Bill proposed as an Amendment might be a very good Bill for effecting its particular object, to register the seamen of the mercantile marine, but it had nothing whatever to do with the subject of impressment, except, indeed, to make it more easy to press seamen than before; for the hon. Secretary to the Admiralty had admitted that registration was only impressment in another form; and undoubtedly, unless accompanied with the limitations of that power which the First Lord of the Admiralty was unwilling to admit, it would be so received by the seamen of England generally. But while officers, who had passed their lives in the service entertained such opposite opinions as they had heard that evening, while great doubt existed as to the legality, and still more as to the efficiency of the practice, he could not conceive a stronger case for a Committee of Inquiry at least, before which the conflicting evidence would be sifted, in which the right hon. Baronet's Bill might be considered, and the result of the whole reported to the House. In the name, then, of the seamen of England, and of the large body of landsmen who, as their fellow subjects had sympathised with their wrongs and petitioned on their behalf, he intreated the House to yield to the justice of their claims, and grant him the Committee of Inquiry.
§ The House divided on the original Motion—Ayes 130; Noes 218: Majority 88.
|List of the AYES.|
|ENGLAND.||Baillie, J. E.|
|Adams, E. H.||Bainbridge, E. T.|
|Aglionby, H. A.||Baines, E.|
|Anson, Hon. G.||Barnard, E. G.|
|Attwood, T.||Beauclerk, Major E.|
|Bewes, T.||Rider, T.|
|Bish, T.||Rippon, C.|
|Briscoe, J. I.||Robinson, G. R.|
|Brodie, B.||Roebuck, J. L.|
|Brotherton, J.||Romilly, J.|
|Bulwer, E. L.||Romilly, E.|
|Bulwer, H. L.||Rumbold, C. E.|
|Chaytor, Sir W.||Scholefield, J.|
|Chichester, J. P. B.||Shawe, R. N. E.|
|Clay, W.||Simeon, Sir R. G.|
|Clive, E. B.||Staunton, Sir G. H.|
|Codrington, Sir E.||Stuart, Lord D.|
|Collier, J.||Strutt, E.|
|Curteis, H. B.||Thicknesse, R.|
|Curteis, Capt. E. B.||Thompson, Alderman|
|Davies, Colonel||Throckmorton, R. G.|
|Dawson, E.||Trelawney, W. L. S.|
|Dundas, Hon. J. C.||Vernon, G. H.|
|Ellis, W.||Vincent, Sir F.|
|Evans, W.||Walker, R.|
|Ewart, W.||Warburton, H.|
|Faithfull, G.||Wason, R.|
|Fancourt, Major||Whalley, Sir S.|
|Fort, J.||Wigney, J. N.|
|Fenton, J.||Wilks, J.|
|Fielden, J.||Wood, Alderman|
|Gaskell, D.||Young, G. F.|
|Gully, J.||Colquhoun, J. C.|
|Halcomb, J.||Ewing, J.|
|Hall, B.||Johnston, A.|
|Hardy, J.||Maxwell, J.|
|Harland, W. C.||Oswald, R. A.|
|Harvey, D. W.||Oswald, J.|
|Hawes, B.||Parnell, Rt. Hon. Sir H.|
|Hawkins, J. H.||Sinclair, G.|
|Hughes, H.||Steuart, R.|
|Humphrey, J.||Wallace, R.|
|Hurst, R. H.||IRELAND.|
|Hutt, W.||Barry, G. S.|
|Ingham, R.||Bellew, R. M.|
|Jervis, J.||Blake, M. J.|
|Kemp, T.||Evans, G.|
|Kennedy, J.||Fitzgerald, T.|
|Lambton, Hon. E.||Fitzsimon, C.|
|Langdale, Hon. C.||Lalor, P.|
|Lennox, Lord W.||Lynch, H.|
|Lester, B. L.||O'Connell, D.|
|Lister, E.||O'Connell, M.|
|Lloyd, J.||O'Connell, M.|
|Lushington, Dr.||O'Connell, J.|
|Marryat, J.||O'Connor, F.|
|Marsland, T.||O'Dwyer, A. C.|
|Mills, J.||O'Reilly, W.|
|Morrison, J.||Roche, W.|
|Ord, W. H.||Ruthven, E. S.|
|Parrott, J.||Ruthven, E.|
|Pease, J.||Sheil, R. L.|
|Philips, M.||Vigors, N. A.|
|Plumptre, J. P.||Wallace, T.|
|Poulter, J.||Buckingham, J. S.|
|Pryme, G.||Hume, J.|