§ Lord John Russell
asked the hon. Member for 1236 Finsbury whether he would have the goodness to postpone his Motion, which stood first on the paper, for an address to his Majesty to grant the pardon and order the recall of the Dorchester labourers. The reason he addressed this request to the hon. Gentleman was, that the House might go at once into Committee on the Municipal Corporation Bill. He would avail himself of this opportunity to afford the hon. Gentleman some explanation in connexion with this subject. The case of the Dorchester labourers was one to which he had given a great deal of attention, and after a careful consideration of all the circumstances, he thought it his duty to recommend to the Crown a remission of the punishment of those persons to a certain extent. The extent to which he had recommended a remission was this—that pardon be granted to the whole of them, there being six, on the condition that they remained in the colonies—such being the form in which pardons were often granted—and with respect to four of them, he recommended that at the end of two years from the time of their arrival in the colony, provided the Governor approved their conduct during that period, and no offence was attributed to them, they should receive a full pardon, which would enable them to return to this country. But two of those persons named Loveless, whom he considered the most culpable, and who in fact had incited the others to the commission of the offence, would not be allowed to return to England. Having given this explanation, he would ask the hon. Gentleman whether he would press his Motion now; and he could not help hoping that the hon. Member would not consider it necessary to do so at any future time, inasmuch as the Motion was one of an unusual nature, and involved an interference with a prerogative of the Crown, namely, the exercise of mercy.
§ Mr. Harvey
presented a petition from an attorney at Dorchester, who stated that he was so affected by the arbitrary and severe course pursued by the Judge on the occasion of the trial of these men, that he could not remain in the Court to witness the remainder of the proceedings.
§ Mr. William F. S. Ponsonby
said, he was one of the Grand Jury who found the bill, and there was no difference of opinion amongst them.
§ Mr. Thomas Attwood
hoped the Crown would extend its clemency, and place the whole of these men on an equal footing.
§ Mr. Cresset Pelham
said, the Motion of the hon. Member for Finsbury could hardly be considered an interference with the King's prerogative of mercy any more than it was an interference of that description to petition the Crown for mercy, which was often done with success.
§ The Attorney-General
said, that after a great deal of deliberation on the case, it appeared to be the opinion of all persons that these unfortunate men had violated the law.
felt called on to make a remark or two after what had just fallen from the Attorney-General. When the indictment against these men was first found, his impression was that the conviction was illegal. He had no hesitation in avowing that he changed his opinion on the subject after hearing what fell from the Attorney-General, respect for whose judgment led him, inclined as he always was to defer to it, to doubt his own. He had since that time given the case much consideration, and the opinion he now entertained was that the conviction was not sustainable.
§ Mr. Roebuck
reminded the House, that these unfortunate men were so hurried out of the country, that there was no opportunity of learning what they could say in their own behalf.
§ Mr. Ward
said, when it was seen how much difference of opinion existed as to this case, he thought a very strong claim was made on behalf of these men for mercy. All the purposes of this prosecution had been answered; it had proved to the labouring classes the danger of secret associations, and had put a stop to similar combinations.
§ Mr. Hume
wished to press on the noble Lord's consideration that what appeared to be the general wish was that all six of the men should be placed on the footing of the four to whom the noble Lord proposed to extend the mercy of the Crown. The noble Lord could scarcely be aware of the anxiety which existed amongst all classes of the community on this subject; but it was particularly strong in that class with which he was most anxious that the Government should stand well. The prevailing feeling was that the punishment of these men was a personal injustice. He would not now enter into the question of whether it was so or not; but he would express his wish that the noble Lord would hold out some hopes that the difference between what was granted and what was refused would 1238 be conceded, in order that they might not be obliged to enter into what might probably be an unpleasant discussion. Though his hon. Friend had given a pledge to bring the question forward, he was inclined to ask his hon. Friend to postpone his Motion for fourteen days, to give time to the Government to take the case again into consideration. There were the names of half a million of petitioners upon the Table of the House, and three times as many more would have been sent if sufficient time had been given.
§ Lord John Russell
would state at once the answer he had to make to the hon. Member for Middlesex. What he had to say was, that in this case, as in any other that might be brought before him, whether in this House or out of it, he did not hold himself precluded from entering upon the consideration of any facts or circumstances which might come to his knowledge, and forming a judgment upon them without reserve; but he begged to add, that he had considered most deeply the case of the Dorchester labourers, and it did appear to him, on looking into what had been the conduct of two of the parties, he meant the two Lovelesses, that in the extension of mercy towards them, they ought to be distinguished from the others. His opinion was, that the four had been the dupes of the two he had named. With respect to these two, then, his conviction at the moment he was speaking was, that if he recommended, either on his own authority or in consequence of any proceedings in this House, the Crown to extend further mercy to them, he should be lending himself to weaken the authority of the law, and to impair the influence which that great institution, Trial by Judge and Jury, ought to have in this country.
§ Mr. Wakley
said, that if the two men had been treated in the same manner as the other four, he should have been disposed to be content. He was prepared to prove that those persons were innocent; nay more, he could show that they ought not to have been prosecuted at all. The learned Attorney-General said the prosecution was a just one; but he begged to ask the hon. and learned Gentleman under what Act of Parliament the prisoners were prosecuted? If the Attorney-General could not tell, how should poor ignorant men, living in remote districts of the country, know any thing about it. If the noble Lord would reconsider the question, he would defer his Motion till some day next week, otherwise he must bring it forward.
§ Lord John Russell
said, it seemed to him, that after what he said, and what had fallen from the hon. Member, that it would be better for the hon. Member to bring forward the Motion at once.
§ Mr. Wakley
then rose, and in bringing forward his Motion could not help expressing his astonishment that the foreman of the Grand Jury, a gentleman in that House, should endeavour, even before the case was heard there, to interpose between the sufferers and the seat of mercy, and he hoped that if any other hon. Member was connected with the prosecution he would, at least, hear the discussion. The hon. Member for Dorsetshire was himself the Foreman of the Grand Jury, and he, upon an ex-parte statement, having found a true bill against the unfortunate men, came forward in the House, and, before he had made his statement, repeated the evidence given in a Court of Justice. Now under what circumstances were those men prosecuted? He begged the attention of the House, for if he should fail in his object he could only say that the people of England would hereafter look in vain for justice at the hands of that assembly. He believed that every one in the House well knew that the Trades' Unions were instituted in London in July 1833. When was the union of Tolpuddle instituted? In the November of that year, after the Trades' Union had been established in London for four months. Hundreds of men belonged to them, and Government permitted, at least had not interfered with, them. No party was prosecuted, and thus, by acquiescence, at least, Government gave their sanction to those Unions. It could be proved that in numberless instances police-officers, in plain clothes, belonged to them, and if any one would read the evidence given before a Committee of that House, it would be at once inferred that the information of those police-officers was regularly transmitted to the Home Office. The Dorsetshire labourers having received notice (pray let Gentlemen mark this) that their wages were to be reduced from 7s. a-week to 6s., they having wives and families, they wrote to their brothers in London and communicated to them their distressed condition. What was the reply? "We have established the Unions for our protection here, we are given to understand that they are strictly legal, we walk in procession in this metropolis, and neither Police Magistrates, nor the Ministers, nor the Judges of the land, interfere with our 1240 operations. We recommend you to do the same." The men of Dorset seeing that there was a protecting power in those Unions in the metropolis, immediately set to work to establish one there, and it was not established in those distant villages until such Unions had existed for four months unmolested in London. He asked hon. Gentlemen whether it was possible for them to believe that those men imagined they were committing any offence against the law in establishing such an Union? An hon. Member had stated, that a placard containing extracts from certain Acts of Parliament relating to Unions was found in the pocket of one of the men. That was true: but when did the poor man obtain possession of them? Why, on the Sunday previous to the day of his being taken into custody,—the individual obtaining cognizance of the nature of his offence (if he had committed any) only after the offence had been perpetrated. These men were actually going to break up the Union in consequence of seeing that paper—but they had not time to accomplish its dissolution. A prosecution was determined on by the magistrates of Dorset, and one afternoon, a constable called at the cottages of the men telling them there was a criminal charge against them. So great was their conviction of their innocence that they went, with only one officer, all the way to Dorchester, under the impression that they were to return the next day. On their arrival they were examined by the magistrates, and remanded to the gaol. The next morning the magistrates actually, instead of bringing them into open court, visited them in the gaol, took the remainder of their depositions in private, and made out their commitment in the gaol. Even the witnesses were committed to gaol, in order that they might be compelled to give the required evidence at the trial of the accused. And who was the chief witness whom it was necessary to imprison, in order to secure his testimony? Why, the son of the gardener who was in the employment of that very magistrate who caused the labourers to be apprehended. In fact, the whole matter looked like a conspiracy to entrap the accused. He admitted that societies bound together by secret oaths ought not to be tolerated, but no objection to them in point of law in this case could exist, as combinations for the protection of wages were strictly legal. Besides he contended that men should not be punished for alleged offences, the law 1241 against which had not been clearly defined and settled. The proceedings connected with their commitment and trial were equally unfair. On the Sunday before the trial an officer connected with the county court, visited Tolpuddle, and other neighbouring villages, in order to make inquiries relative to the characters of the individuals who were to be summoned as jurors on the trial of the labourers, and the neighbours were asked who would be safe persons to put into the jury-box on that occasion? In pursuance of the objects sought to be obtained by this unjust inquisition, a tradesman, of the name of Bridle, a linen-draper at Bere Regis, was challenged by the Crown, and turned out of the jury-box, his disqualifying offences being, that he was not a farmer, and that he had occasionally heard one of the Lovelesses preach in the Methodist chapel of Bere Regis. Now, seeing such a determination on the part of the magistrates and the prosecutors, was it likely that the men would have a fair and impartial trial? The House would imagine what were the feelings of the Judge and the Jury when they heard the charge delivered by the former to the Grand Jury of the county—
"Gentlemen, (said Mr. Baron Williams) there is only one other subject on which I shall presume to give you information; it is the case at the conclusion of your calendar—the charge of administering secret, or as they are called—and properly called—secret and unlawful oaths. Gentlemen, you are probably aware that the Act 37 Geo. 3rd, c. 123, seems to allude particularly to seditious societies and confederacies; but, though it does so, it has been decided that the combination, or confederacy, be it which it may, need not be for a seditious purpose, but that other unlawful purposes of combination are embraced in the Act of Parliament; if, therefore, you should have evidence that a person or persons had administered an oath to bind to secrecy, though there should be no evidence to satisfy you that it was connected with mutinous and seditious purposes, yet there can be no doubt that it would come within the meaning of the Act. Gentlemen, having had my attention called to it, I cannot refrain from making some observations on the nature and quality of these offences. In the first place, it is no light matter to receive an oath in the secret manner alluded to, especially if it should appear to be for illegal purposes, as it is disparaging and bringing into discredit the 1242 administration of oaths altogether, thereby affecting that which is essential to the purity of judicial oaths, upon the obligation of which the administration of justice depends. It has been observed by moralists (among whom I may mention Dr. Paley), that a frequent and familiar administration of an oath, even for purposes of justice, is much to be regretted, and if there be any truth in such an observation, how much more applicable is it where the administration of an oath, which places the party in so doubtful a state of morality, that a casuist would be puzzled to decide what course the party ought to pursue? Certainly, in courts of law we could not allow of his acting under that obligation, but how far it would be incumbent on him to disclose anything against his oath, is a question of doubtful morality, and is one of the baneful effects resulting from the administration of an oath, which puts the party in such a predicament; openness and publicity of conduct have hitherto been considered the criterion of honesty, and I fear it would be an evil day for this country if the disposition for such openness should fail; all secret societies which are self-constituted, self-elected, are calculated to shake the foundations of society, and bring the country into extremely perilous circumstances; the misery of these particular cases is this—that men subject themselves for the irresponsible conduct of others, who have no regard for the individuals over whom they exercise this authority, and who are the most dangerous persons in the world to be intrusted with authority; the unhappy men who have been thus misled are in a state of the most wretched subjection and debasement. Gentlemen, of all the persons affected by it, not even excepting the public, the unfortunate persons themselves who are brought into the trammels of these bonds, and have had an oath of this kind administered to them, are affected the worst. Sure I am, that in my own experience, I have known that they have been compelled, by forced oaths, to make out of their scanty means contributions to so large an amount, as would not be endured if demanded by Government for the service of their country. The arbitrary demands made on them have, in many instances, exceeded anything before known in this or any other country; nor does the evil rest here, for when men unite themselves to such societies, the common right of labouring for whom they please is taken from them; this is undoubtedly a very 1243 serious subject, and as far as your influence extends, I doubt not that every means will be used on your parts for the prevention of this great, and I fear prevalent, mischief." Thus the Jury were led to infer that all secret societies were illegal. Now after such a charge as that coming from such high authority, it was impossible to expect that the men should have a fair trial, the impression made upon the Jury by such language as that would be that the parties had committed a very heinous offence. Now, what was the evidence, to make it appear to the Jury that the combination was illegal? The rules of the society were laid before them, and there was not one rule among them which he (Mr. Wakley) considered illegal. Yet the illegality of the association was the foundation, in all the counts of the indictment,—for sustaining the allegation with regard to the illegality of the oath. Had the indictment been framed in accordance with the spirit and the letter of an Act passed in the 39th of Geo. 3rd—avowedly framed for the purpose of putting down all secret associations, with the exception of the society of freemasons, and two or three other societies therein specifically named,—then, indeed, doubts might justly have been entertained whether these men had not offended against the conditions of that Statute, notwithstanding the repeal of the combination-laws. But there was a motive for not prosecuting them under that Statute. The poor fellows might then have been proceeded against summarily before the magistrate, and been committed to prison for three months for taking an oath not required or authorised by law; whereas, under the 37th of Geo. 3rd, the Judge, upon the conviction of the accused had the power of transporting them for the term of seven years—a power, which he could not exceed, and which, in the discharge of his duty, he exercised to the very uttermost. It was true that the society was secret, and proved to be secret, but he denied that it was an illegal combination. He called the attention of the House to the Act of 1826, an extract from which he would read to the House, which provided that workmen of the country might legally combine to any extent, or in any form they pleased, with respect to the trades in which they were engaged, without subjecting themselves to any legal condemnation, and if he should succeed in proving that, he thought no Gentleman would say that the merely administering 1244 the oath made them illegal. The Act to which he referred, was the, sec. 4, Geo. 4th, cap. 129, it said. "Provided always that nothing in this Act shall subject any persons to punishment, which shall meet together for the purpose of consulting upon the rate of wages, or the prices which the persons present at such meeting shall demand, or upon the time for which such persons should work, in any manufacture, trade, or business, or who should enter into any engagement verbal or written, for the purpose of fixing the rates of wages which the said parties shall require for their work, or the time for which the said persons should work, at any manufacture trade, or business, &c." Now the combination of those men was to protect themselves; they had notice of a diminution of their wages, from 7s. to 6s. and they followed the example set them in London, to protect themselves and their families from a diminution in their scanty earnings, which was to them nothing less than starvation. He would refer to a case in 1816, when the unions did not create such agitation, and excited no such morbid feeling, and he thought from the language then used by Mr. Justice Holroyd, all parties must admit that he considered the 37th of Geo. 3rd did not apply to those societies unless their object was strictly illegal; the combination in that case was one of poachers who went out at night with blackened faces to kill game. He would quote the charge from Carrington's and Paine's Reports; the case was tried at Gloucester Spring Assizes, 11th April 1816, the indictment was against sixteen persons for administering unlawful oaths; the Lord Judge summed up as follows. "If the oath, administered by the prisoner to the poachers, was intended to make them believe themselves under an engagement, it is clearly within the Clause, whether the book was the Testament, or not. As to the assembly itself, it is impossible that the meeting to go out with faces disguised, can be other than an unlawful assembly, and therefore the oath to keep it secret is clearly an oath prohibited by this Act." That, in his opinion, decided the question as to the oaths which could only be considered illegal, if the society were illegal. The union of the poachers was unlawful, but the union of the labourers was legal, and the Act under which they were punished, did not apply to their case. Under those circumstances, was it possible that the 1245 noble Lord could be justified in commanding the infliction of the sentence upon the men? He (Mr. Wakley) had asked almost one half the Barristers in the House, and none could tell him under what precise Act those men were condemned; or who could say that the conviction was legal, or that the prosecution was legal. He, therefore, appealed to that sense of justice which he was sure the noble Lord possessed, for a remission of the sentence imposed on the unfortunate men. If they had erred, they erred in ignorance, he would however altogether throw aside the question of law, and go to the question of facts, to the character and conduct of the men. Was it proved in the Court that any of the men had been guilty of threatening their fellow labourers, or in any degree given offence to their neighbours? He had evidence on the contrary, that six better labourers, and more honest men did not exist in the kingdom. They were most exemplary persons:—and the two men, whom the noble Lord was to visit with the last sting of the law's severity—those men who had never been anything during their lives but common labourers; had by dint of study, and application, become so qualified in mental capacity as to be enabled to give lectures in the neighbourhood to their fellow labourers, and had even been received into the Wesleyan conference as preachers. He (Mr. Wakley) feared very much, that that was their great offence; he feared there was something behind the scenes which would not, but which ought, to come out. The two men had large congregations attending them, and he much feared there was something in the transaction to which he would not then further advert. George Loveless, at the age of twenty-eight, with a salary of 7s. a week had succeeded in purchasing a small theological library and had studied with so much assiduity that there was no man in the neighbourhood who could compete with him in point of theological knowledge, but he could prove that in political discussions he had never taken part in his life. With the exception of one individual who had been charged when a boy twelve years of age, with taking a piece of old iron from a farm yard, valued at four-pence, not one of the individuals was ever accused of the slightest breach of the law. It was admitted, in fact, by all persons acquainted with their characters, that six more honest, peaceable, and industrious men were not to 1246 be found in the county of Dorset. Their employers at Tolpuddle bore one and all the highest testimony to their good conduct. He had received a note from a lady who had employed four of the men for several years. That lady said,—"George Loveless, James Loveless, Thomas Stand-field, and John Standfield, were agricultural labourers of mine for many years. I most willingly comply with your request, and now state, that they were all honest and industrious men."—Under date April 28th, 1835. The lady's name was Northover. Who, then, could describe the cruelty of the sentence passed on these meritorious men? He blushed for the character of his country while he related the particulars of such a barbarous transaction. To shew the stamp of mind, and the estimable character of George Loveless, he would read an extract from a letter written by him from on board the hulk in which he was confined immediately after his conviction, and previous to leaving this country. The letter was addressed to his wife in all the confidence of matrimonial attachment, and unrestrained domestic intercourse; never expecting that it would be seen by any individual—except the object of his anxious solicitude at home—least of all did he ever expect that any portion of his letter would ever be read in the British House of Commons. He might observe, that when he asked Loveless's wife whether she had received any letters from her husband that would enable him to judge of his character by the tone and temper of his language, this letter, and others which she handed to him, had been in her possession within a few days of twelve months. Never, should he forget with what trembling hands she gave him those documents, her countenance denoting almost insupportable agony, scarcely mitigated by an unceasing flow of tears, and her little children witnessing and partaking of the sorrows of the scene. The letter was dated from Spithead, May 28th, 1834, and was remarkable as containing not one word expressive of indignation or complaint against his prosecutors; it was as follows:—"I thank you, my dear wife, for the kind attention you have ever paid to me, and you may safely rely upon it, that as long as I live it will be my constant endeavour to return that kindness in every possible way, and hope to send to you as soon as we reach our place of destiny, and that I shall never forget the promise made at the altar; and though we may part awhile, I shall consider myself under the same obligation as 1247 though living in your immediate presence. What Member of this House could have expressed himself to the object of his affections in more delicate or refined terms? How undying and unalterable was the force of his attachment to a deeply affectionate wife! In a portion of another letter which he would read, this virtuous man—stigmatised as a common criminal—was anxious that the moral and spiritual education of his children should not be neglected during his absence. Really, to see such a man as this torn from his wife and infant offspring,—dragged from his friends and country on grounds so slight, doubtful, and suspicious,—was enough to drive the working millions of this country into madness and revenge. In the letter to which he had referred, Loveless said,—"Be satisfied, my dear Betsy, on my account. Depend upon it it will work together for good, and we shall yet rejoice together. I hope you will pay particular attention to the morals and spiritual interests of the children. Don't send me any money to distress yourself: I shall do well, for He who is Lord of the winds and waves will be my support in life and death." Poor fellow, he needed the support of the Lord who ruled over the winds and the waves, for he had found only cruelty and persecution in the decrees of the great men of the earth. Was it fitting, was it just, that such a man as this, for a doubtful offence, should be torn from his loved family, and expatriated for the lengthened period of seven years? This excellent man and his brother were the two selected to be left in New South Wales after they had been pardoned, which was a most harsh and unwarrantable proceeding. There had not been a just consideration shown to this case,—no adequate discussion and examination into its merits,—no ordinary adherence to the dictates of justice. The prosecution was one uniform and unmitigated act of tyranny. The husband was torn from his wife, and the son from his mother, and no distinction whatever was made between the case of a man who had reached the age of fifty-seven years, and a boy of twenty. The two Stanfields were father and son—the one a man, the other almost a child. "And hear it," said the hon. Member, apostrophizing the House, "Ye Gentlemen of England, who are husbands, and fathers, and brothers,—who have wives and children of your own;—one woman,—ah! poor creature, how painfully is she figured in my mind at this moment,—having a 1248 husband and six children, had taken from her her two brothers, her husband, and her eldest son, all at 'one fell swoop,' and this, my Lord, (addressing Lord John Russell) is your boasted England! This is your country of equal laws and equal justice. I do appeal to your Lordship——" [The Speaker: Order! Order!] He was aware that he was out of order in addressing the noble Lord personally, yet he trusted he would receive the appeal personally, for personal it was intended to be. The cause of the sufferers came not within the limits of any ordinary rules, and the pain which it excited was calculated to lead to a divergence from ordinary arrangements. He called upon the noble Lord to extend justice—mercy—to those individuals; and if they were allowed to return home, he would himself give personal or pecuniary security for the good behaviour of the two Lovelesses. He implored the House, he entreated the noble Lord, to take this fitting opportunity of extending mercy to the men, thereby gratifying thousands of the labouring classes who had appeared before the House as petitioners. Enough had already been done to deter others from following their example, and there was no longer reason why mercy should not be extended to these poor men.The quality of mercy is not strained;It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven,Upon the place beneath. It is twice blessed;It blesaeth him that gives, and him that takes.He lamented that the labouring classes of England had no representatives here. A few of them, by birth and servitude in borough towns, enjoyed—and would, he hoped, continue to enjoy, the right of voting for representatives in the Legislature; though it had been decided otherwise in that House, unjustly and unwisely in his opinion. He had no desire to press the Motion to a division: he hoped the noble Lord would see the propriety of bringing the men back to their country. As to remaining in the colony, the hand of persecution had reached the poor men even there; would the House believe that the two brothers had been separated; that George Loveless was in a hut, 250 miles from the sea-shore, and James was in a part of the country in which the men were actually dying of famine, and in want of work? So long as George and James Loveless were in New South Wales, and were confined there against their will, they would be neither more nor less than transported men, suffering all the miseries concomitant to a forced separation from the 1249 persons whom they dearly loved, and whose happiness constituted a part of their existence. The noble Lord shall judge whether George and James Loveless would feel their continuance in New South Wales, under any circumstances, to be less than a forced transportation, by an extract, which he would read from a letter that, within the last fortnight, had been received from George Loveless:—'From what I can observe (he says) of this country, it is not such a paradise as is generally supposed by the people of England. Bread is uncommonly dear, more than double the price of bread in England, and other provisions in proportion. Clothing is dearer than provisions,—thousands of people are actually starving in this country, as many cannot get employment, and many are too idle to work. As yet, I see nothing to attract my attention to make me stop in the country one day after I obtain my liberty, and have the means to return; in fact, at present I despair of ever getting money to go to England, and yet nothing would yield me so much satisfaction, nay, nothing in this world will satisfy me, until I return to you and the children.' What mitigation of punishment would that be which was attended with such a reservation as a five years' domiciliation in such a country under such afflicting circumstances? His prayer to the House was for the restoration of all the prisoners to their families. He beseeched them to concede the favour—to gratify the humane wishes of the working people of England who had implored the House for mercy to their fellow-labourers. The people of England, he could assure the House felt deeply on the subject. To the working classes especially it was a constant subject of agitation, and unless the men were restored, that agitation would continually increase. The society was legal with the single exception of the oath; and when the object was legal, the oath alone could not make the society illegal. He hoped the House would interpose its authority; it was nothing to say there was no precedent; let them make one as soon as they could, for as it was well said yesterday night they did not need one to do right. He had no object in bringing forward the Motion, but the interests of the working classes. He trusted there would be no misinterpretation of his motives, he had entered the Motion two months ago, in hopes that the men would be restored without his bringing it forward; that the entering the Motion on the books would lead to investigation, 1250 and that investigation would lead to a conviction that the men had committed no offence whatever in a moral point of view; the laws had been vindicated by the transportation; the power of the law had been displayed; it had been made evident that the Unions would be repudiated and condemned, and he was convinced that no evil would arise from the restoration of those individuals to their native country. He therefore moved, "That an Humble Address be presented to the King praying that his Majesty would be pleased to grant a pardon to, and direct the recall of, the six Dorchester Labourers who were convicted at the assizes held at Dorchester, in the Spring of 1834, on a charge of having administered oaths not required by law, and who were, thereupon, sentenced to transportation for a term of seven years."
§ Mr. Hume
seconded the Motion, and said he was anxious to do so, because he was one of those who took a part in framing the Act of 1826, respecting the combination of workmen. He was happy the noble Lord had determined to re-consider the subject. The objects of these poor labourers were justifiable, and only directed to protect their interests against an attempt made by their employers to reduce the wages of their labour one-seventh. He strongly recommended their cases to the noble Lord, who, he hoped, would not sanction an opinion rather prevalent, that their improved information and peculiar religious opinions had, in some degree, been permitted to aggravate their unwitting offences against an obsolete law. He appealed, therefore, to the noble Lord, if they even had committed a fault, whether they had not amply atoned for it? He entreated the noble Lord to consider the number of persons who had petitioned for a remission of the sentence passed on these men, and the excitement which the severity of their punishment had caused throughout the country. To one petition alone there were upwards of 21,000 signatures; and he believed the entire number of persons who had petitioned in their favour exceeded 800,000. If this boon were granted to these unfortunate persons it would impress a conviction throughout the population of the country, that although it might be delayed, justice in the end was sure to prevail in England.
§ Lord John Russell
said, that it was with the deepest regret he saw such a Motion as the present submitted to the consideration of the House, yet he confessed that as far as 1251 regarded the manner of bringing it forward by the hon. Member for Finsbury he had no fault to find. He was perfectly willing to bear his testimony to the temperate manner in which the hon. Member had appealed to the House and to the Government for a further extension of mercy to those men of whose cause he was the advocate. He said a further extension because he was free to admit that he did not consider this a case from which mercy ought to be excluded—while, at the same time, he looked upon it as a case that required punishment for example sake. There were some cases that deserved punishment on account of the moral guilt that attached to them, while other cases required to be punished for the sake of public example. In the latter cases, the persons offending might have very good views as to the end and object of their proceeding, while at the same time they were committing a crime against the well-being of society. The latter species of guilt, he believed, attached to the persons who were the objects of the Motion before the House, and upon this ground he considered them not unworthy of some extension of mercy. But, however, innocent or even good the ultimate views of persons thus offending might be, it was the duty of the Judges and the Government to see that, by the operation of the laws, the peace and interests of society were preserved. In the year 1883, Unions were established throughout the country, for the purpose of destroying or preventing those voluntary engagements between masters and workmen that are so essentially beneficial and necessary to the interest of both. The object of these Unions was, by a forced and compulsory system, and by an unjust combination, to direct the terms on which labourers and artisans should receive employment; and he thought it was a fortunate event—an event for which Lord Grey was at the time well entitled to take credit, that all the dangers which such a state of things threatened to inflict on society were overcome without the necessity of resorting to coercive measures, and the suppression of which was left to the mere ordinary operation of the laws without any strong interposition on the part of Government or the adoption of any new system of legislation. It was not, he contended, any exception to the forbearance which was then observed by the Government that the Dorchester Labourers had been declared guilty of a violation of the law. He was satisfied that the hon. Member who brought forward the 1252 question in so calm and judicious a manner did not suppose that these men were guilty of any intentional breach of the laws; but he was sorry that he or the hon. Member for Middlesex should have declared, and the latter expressly pronounced it as his opinion, that these men were guilty of no offence whatever—that they had met for legal purposes, and that no proceedings should have been instituted against them. He said, that he regretted this, because, if he had not wished that these individuals should be treated with all due clemency, if he had not in fact already advised the Crown to extend its mercy to them, it might be supposed, had he given that recommendation after and not before the Motion of the hon. Member, that these persons were not guilty at all—that they were the victims of an unjust proceeding—that all those who took up the defence of the case of these persons, as a general and political question, would be considered to have attained a great triumph over those whom they looked on in the light of opponents. It would, no doubt, be readily believed, too, that the tardy pardon which had been awarded to the Dorchester Labourers would justify those who might be desirous to follow their example in executing that which these men had done without being liable to be checked by any just interference on the part of the law. He could only say on the law of the question, that it was not for him to give any interpretation of the Act under which these men had been sentenced. The opinion of the legal tribunals of the country was the only guide which he could have for his decision. He knew that the Attorney-General of the time had confirmed the legality of the application of the Act—that the hon. and learned Gentleman, the Member for Dublin, in the discussion which took place last year, admitted the legality of the sentence—that the learned Judge who presided on the trial carefully considered the case, and read the particular section of the Act under which these persons were charged, to the Jury—that they were declared guilty by that Jury, and that no one of the numerous bodies by which their cause was espoused thought it expedient to bring the question at the time under the cognizance of the twelve Judges. He did not see, then, how, such being the state of the authorities on this subject, any man could dispute the law as it was then laid down. Well, then, he next came to the question how far these men had infringed what ought to be the general policy of the 1253 law of this country; and on this point the hon. Member for Finsbury, so far from denying, appeared fully to admit, that the state of the law ought not to allow of the existence of secret societies, bound together by secret oaths. He might be permitted to state, in addition to what the House had already heard on this subject that one of the regulations of these societies was, that the Members on entrance bound themselves by oath, that they would not give evidence with regard to their associates, and that they would maintain inviolate all the rules and regulations by which their society was bound together. The purpose for which such a society was instituted was no doubt an innocent one in the minds of those by whom it had been originally formed; but that it was harmless in its effects he entirely and unequivocally denied. He thought he should be able to establish the justness of the view which he took of such combinations, by informing the House of the substance of one or two of the rules which they laid down for the conduct of their proceedings. By rule 20, if any master should attempt to reduce the wages of his workmen, the fact was to be communicated to the Grand Lodge, in order that they should receive support from that body whilst they remained away from employment. By another (No. 22.) if a Member of the order should divulge any of the secrets, or violate any of the obligations of the same, it was directed that the name and a description of the person, and the crime of which he had been guilty, should be communicated to all the Lodges throughout the county in which the society was established, in order that wherever such persons got work, all the labourers in that employment should instantly refuse to cooperate with. them. Was such a system, under which the persons who composed such societies were denounced as criminals, if they divulged the secrets of them, to be tolerated in a country pretending to anything like freedom. However innocent the intentions of persons forming such societies, the societies themselves governed by such rules and regulations must be dangerous; for certainly it was contrary to law, and to the spirit of our institutions, that men should take such power into their own hands. No doubt every man had a right to put what price he pleased upon his own labour, but he had no right to dictate his price to another. What was to become of the industry and capital of the 1254 country, if men were not to be allowed to make their own bargain for the sale of their labour at what they might think a fair price? If men who entered into such combinations were to be exempted from the operation of the law, when fairly brought before the tribunals of the country, or if the Government were to be easily released from those obligations imposed upon them by the decisions of these tribunals, the inevitable result of such a relaxation would be, that instead of the flourishing and prosperous condition which the industry of the manufacturing districts in many instances exhibited, those persons possessed of capital, and who sought to employ it, would transfer that capital to other countries, where they might be at liberty to strike their own bargains with those whom they employed, without having their workmen denounced as criminals for observing the terms of the contract into which they had entered. However innocent these two persons of the name of Loveless might have considered such proceedings, they must be regarded by every person of proper judgment as most dangerous to the community; and if those societies had spread through the county of Dorset, and through the other counties of England, their suppression would have required not the transportation of six men for seven years, but would have called for the strong interposition of the Legislature, and demanded a far greater extension of severity than the punishment which had been visited on the Dorchester labourers. With regard to the two persons named Loveless, he could not help thinking that they deserved some greater degree of punishment than that inflicted on those who were associated with them. He considered the very fact on which the hon. Member for Finsbury relied—namely, their intelligence—as an aggravation of their offence, inasmuch as it rendered more probable the extension of their principles. He submitted that the intelligence of these men would render their proceedings more dangerous; and of itself would be a ground of aggravation, for their superior intelligence ought to have made them see the dangerous consequences of such societies. All these circumstances fully justified the Government, in the first instance, in allowing the law to take its course. But the case was now somewhat different. The law of the land had in a great degree been satisfied; and under all the circumstances, his Majesty had been advised to mitigate the sentence to a considerable degree. The 1255 Governor of Van Diemen's Land had been written to, and directions had been sent to him, to announce to these men that they were pardoned, subject to the conditions he had already mentioned. It was objected by the hon. Member that these men could not at present leave the colony; but in this, under their circumstances, there was no great severity or hardship. Although they received a pardon, he might be told that they were separated from their homes and families; but it should be borne in mind that they were allowed their freedom in a country, which so far from being a desolate and wretched land, was a place to which numbers were voluntarily hastening from this country, as being more likely to receive there, than if they remained at home, the proper reward of their industry. But still it would be objected that they were separated from their wives and children. In answer to that, he could only say, that at the time when he sent those orders, commanded by his Majesty, he made inquiries as to the usual course or practice pursued with respect to the wives and families of convicts who had received their pardon at the colony; and without stating precisely what were the exact steps which he wished to be taken, he did not hesitate to declare that whatever he found to be the most lenient course he was willing to adopt, and either to assist the wives and children to go out, or send them out altogether at the expense of the Government. The prisoners had now been gone for more than a year, and at the end of two years, from the time of their going out, four of them would be at liberty to return to this country. It would have been more grateful to his own feelings to advise the full extension of the Prerogative of the Crown, if circumstances had appeared to justify him in so doing; but at the same time he must consider that if he advised his Majesty to grant a full pardon, it would be concluded that the sentence was illegal. If these men were now wholly pardoned, it would be considered not so much a remission of the former sentence as a reparation of the injustice which had been done them; and their return to Dorchester would, so far from serving as a check for preventing others (which had been he was convinced the effect of the original sentence) from following the evil courses into which they had fallen, their presence would be only a signal for the spread of that spirit of insubordination, and reliance on the noninterference of the law, which must create 1256 a necessity for fresh trials, harsher punishments, and greater dangers than those which had been already overcome. He hoped, then, that the House would not, under the circumstances, sanction a proceeding which, in an unusual manner, interfered with the prerogative of mercy vested in the Crown—a power the exercise of which, while it enabled us to preserve the authority of the Government and order in society, enabled us also to dispense pardon humanely and mercifully to those who had ignorantly fallen into the commission of offences. For his own part it had always been a source of the greatest gratification to him to have it in his power to prevent a severe sentence of the law from being carried fully into effect; but he must be allowed to say, that he had looked into this case most carefully, and that the conclusion at which his mind had arrived on a review of all the facts and circumstances of it (though there might be some with which he was not yet acquainted, and a knowledge of which might induce him to alter his opinion) was, that it was not safe to grant further favours to those persons. He entertained, therefore, the sanguine and earnest expectation, that the House would not, by agreeing to the proposed address, act in a manner which was at once most inconsistent and inexpedient, and thus establish a precedent which must be considered as conveying the reproach of severity to a judge who administered the law, and the Government which sanctioned the sentence.
§ Mr. Roebuck
contended, that the Dorchester labourers were perfectly ignorant of the law; that they had a right to assemble together for the purpose of fixing a certain price on their labour, though, in the mode in which they did so, they might have been guilty of some offence, but certainly not of that which deserved the severe punishment of transportation.
§ Mr. Aglionby
said, he had received a number of petitions from individuals in the borough which he represented, in favour of a remission of the sentence, and as many of these persons had not votes for Members of Parliament, and consequently were unrepresented, he considered it a duty only the more imperative on that account to represent their wishes to the House. The question lay in a narrow compass, and he thought that any Member might support the Motion of the hon Member for Finsbury, though at the same time he disapproved of the conduct of the men. He did 1257 not impugn the conduct of the Jury, or the summing up of the Judge—he would not even find fault with the law. There was no point even reserved by the counsel; but still it was very clear there was now some doubt as to the legality of the conviction. From the admissions of the noble Lord himself, on which he would refer the case to the House, it might be fairly concluded that it was one calling for some interference. The noble Lord admitted that they were assembled for innocent purposes. Their object, in fact, was to better their condition by procuring a rise of wages, and though they might have gone farther than the law allowed, still under all circumstances he thought them entitled to mercy. The noble Lord said too that the object was not so much punishment as example, that, with respect to the Lovelesses they might not have been aware that they were committing a moral offence, and in the third place the noble Lord admitted that the law was, in a great degree, satisfied. Why not, then, extend full pardon to them? [Lord John Russell: "They are pardoned in the colony."] He trusted that the noble Lord would go still further, and recommend to the Crown to grant them full pardon. Such clemency would have the very best effects on the working classes. He saw nothing in the case of the Lovelesses why the same merciful consideration should not be extended to them as to the others. Men who could write such letters as were read by the hon. Gentleman who brought forward the Motion must be persons alive to some of the best feelings of human nature, and he had no doubt that, if permitted to return home to their families, they would become useful and exemplary members of society.
§ Viscount Howick
agreed with the hon. and learned Gentleman who had just spoken, that that House was not the proper tribunal for the decision of such a question as the present; and that if there was any serious doubt as to the legality of the sentence passed upon the individuals in question, the matter ought to be submitted to the twelve Judges. His noble Friend (Lord John Russell) was represented to have said that the Lovelesses might have thought they were doing what was for the good of society. He believed his noble Friend, in anything he uttered upon this occasion, did not admit, and could not have intended to admit, that these men did not well know they were doing what was wrong; but even if they thought other- 1258 wise it would be no justification. If the principle was to be admitted that there was no guilt when men thought they were acting for the good of society it would go far to justify every crime. Was it possible to suppose that they were ignorant that they were committing a crime in the eye of the law? Such cases were not unfrequent. When persons were convicted of high treason, of an attempt to destroy one form of government and to establish another, they no doubt believed they were acting for the good of society; but they were aware that they were committing an offence against the law. The unfortunate men who were executed on the occasion of the two last great rebellions in 1715 and 1745 were no doubt actuated by the most high and honourable feelings, by devoted loyalty to the person who they believed was entitled to the Crown; but at the same time they were quite aware that their conduct was a violation of the law, and for that violation they were prepared to pay the penalty. The same might be said of recent societies in France and other parts of Europe, which attempted to overthrow the existing state of society under the romantic idea that they were about to bring back the golden age, and to restore mankind to primeval happiness and innocence. To the Unions lately so prevalent the same observations applied. Everybody knew, in fact, that mistaken notions of this kind had been frequently entertained. From the voluminous correspondence which had come under his notice, he had reason to believe that those mistaken notions very generally prevailed among the working classes. The periodical publications circulated among them had greatly increased the evil. That the members of the society to which the persons in question belonged were aware that they were violating the law, and rendering themselves liable to punishment, was proved by the fact that they not only held their meetings in a remote and secluded place, but carefully posted sentinels to prevent their being interrupted by persons who were charged with the administration of the law. It was quite evident, therefore, that they were aware they were acting contrary to law, although they might not know what specific Act of Parliament they were violating. The hon. Gentleman who brought forward this motion in a manner which was highly calculated to recommend it to attention, a manner no less distinguished by its moderation than respect for the feelings of the House, said, and this was 1259 one of the few mistakes into which he fell, that no lawyer whom he consulted could exactly point out to him the precise law under which these men were convicted, and that it could not therefore be expected that the parties were acquainted with the existence of such law. The same observations would equally apply to most crimes and offences. He did not know that he could point out, or name the statute, which made murder punishable with death, though he well knew that there was such a law. He believed there were few Gentlemen in the House who knew what laws were applicable to the various crimes and offences, though they knew generally that such and such acts were illegal and punishable. He was ready to admit that the great object of punishment was prevention; and surely no person would deny that the acts of these men, their combinations, and meetings, accompanied with the secret obligation of an oath, were such as ought to be put down. He perfectly agreed with the hon. Member for Middlesex that a combination of working men to raise their wages without any violation of the law was quite justifiable. But here there had been a combination to raise wages by means which violated the law. Last year a very extensive correspondence connected with this subject had come under his official notice. There was one case of the grossest tyranny and hardship which he had ever heard of, connected with the Huddersfield Union, and which, with the leave of the House, he would state. Two individuals connected with one of the Trades Unions, and members of the committee, quarrelled with the other members of the committee, and were expelled from the Union. They were members of a particular trade, which was only carried on in certain portions of the county of York. They were immediately placed under the ban of the society throughout the whole of that part of Yorkshire to which they belonged, a description of their persons was circulated in those districts, and no master dared employ them. Thus these men, for resisting a point upon which they were fully entitled to exercise an independent discretion, were reduced to a state of absolute starvation, though it was admitted that they were good and skilful workmen. The hon. Member for Bath intimated that this case had nothing whatever to do with that under the consideration of the House. He should, however, show that the cases were analogous. Societies were in the first 1260 instance formed for proper and justifiable purposes; but when the leaders had contrived to impose oaths of secrecy on the members, they drew them on to practices which led to tyranny and oppression. In all the inquiries which had been instituted into the subject by the Home Office last year, it was found that the existence of these oaths of secrecy was the immediate cause of the gross description of tyranny to which he had alluded. It appeared, therefore, that the administration of these oaths was not only a legal crime, but that it was a practice which, for the good of society at large, and for the welfare of the working classes themselves, it was the bounden duty of Government to endeavour to suppress. The hon. Member for Bath had observed that the administration of oaths of secrecy had been allowed with impunity in London. That was true; but the practice had remained unpunished only because the system was so perfect, that it was impossible to obtain evidence of the fact. If that had not been the case, Government would not have shrunk from the duty of inflicting punishment on persons by whom it was so richly merited. To show the tyranny exercised by these societies he would read the article in the constitution of one of the lodges of those Unions, which had already been read to the House by his noble Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department. [The noble Lord read the rule, declaring that if any member divulged the secrets of the society a description should be given of his person and of his offence; that his name should be communicated to all the lodges and that all members of the same must decline working with him.] That article contained palpable evidence of the system of tyranny which existed; proscribing, as it did, individuals who differed from the society, and communicating that proscription to all other lodges, so that no member of the society was permitted to work in company with the proscribed individuals. To a working manufacturer such a proscription amounted to an absolute denial of the means of getting his daily bread. It was the duty of Government, it was the duty of Parliament, by every means to discourage the taking of these unlawful oaths. Now he asked the House if the course which was proposed by the hon. Member for Finsbury was not calculated to deprive the country of all the advantages which had been derived from the punishment of the men in question? If 1261 the decision of Government on the subject were overruled by a vote of the House of Commons, he asked, what must of necessity be the effect? Would it not go forth to the country that these societies were so powerful—that they could get up so many petitions in their favour—that they could apply such an influence over the House of Commons—that if Government did not give way they would be compelled to do so? If, therefore, the address proposed by the hon. Member for Finsbury were agreed to by the House, not only would the benefit of the punishment which had already been inflicted be lost to the country, but a blow would be given to the authority of the law, and a source of public danger would be opened, which he shuddered to contemplate. Still he was prepared to concur with his noble Friend in saying, that there was much in this case which entitled it to consideration. That consideration, however, ought to be left to his noble Friend, without any interference on the part of the House. These individuals were already exempted from labour in the Colony, and their families were perfectly free to go out to them if they pleased. Undoubtedly it might not be safe to allow these persons to return to that part of the country to which they belonged; thereby creating a general impression either that the sentence which had been passed upon them was unjust, or that Government was afraid to carry that sentence into execution. He concluded by repeating his earnest hope that the House would leave this question in the hands of the Executive Government, and would not establish a precedent fraught with the highest danger to the peace of the country.
§ Mr. Brotherton
said, that having presented to the House a petition, signed by upwards of 22,000 individuals in favour of the unfortunate men now suffering under a sentence of transportation, he hoped to be allowed, in the name of the petitioners to implore the House and his Majesty's Government to use their influence in order that mercy might be extended to those six unfortunate individuals. He was satisfied that a remission of their sentence would not be hailed by the people of this country as a triumph over the Government, but, on the contrary, would be received by millions with thankfulness and gratitude. He was not disposed to blame the noble Lord or the Government for the course which had been pursued, but he must state, that there were some extenuating circumstances in the case which had weight upon his mind. 1262 The law had been vindicated, and without any wish to discuss the legality or otherwise of the conviction, he claimed on behalf of the petitioners who had addressed the Legislature an extension of mercy to the objects of their commiseration. The legality of the conviction had, however, been doubted by many high legal authorities, and he would claim the benefit of those doubts in favour of those now suffering the punishment of the law. In point of good, moral, industrious character, these men were entitled to the royal clemency. The public mind, too, had been roused, and the public sympathies had been excited in their behalf, and the law he held would ever be inefficient unless supported by public opinion. It had been a saying, he believed, of the late Sir Robert Peel, that it seldom or never happened that the feeling of the common people of the land was wrong, and, therefore, that their feelings upon any subject ought to meet attention. In that sentiment he concurred, and on all these grounds he submitted that the time had arrived for an extension of mercy to those six unfortunate individuals.
§ Mr. Mark Philips
amidst cries of "Question," which rendered the hon. Member nearly inaudible, observed that, during the last Session he had presented several petitions on this subject, and had examined into all the allegations and statements bearing upon the case, and which had been urged against the legality of the conviction, and the sentence to which these men had been condemned. He had, by that examination satisfied himself that the sentence was a legal sentence, and he had, both in Parliament, and to the working-classes out of doors, declared such to be his conviction. He, however, must now, as he had done before, call upon the Government to temper justice with mercy. He deprecated as much as any man the formation of these unions, and he was anxious to rescue the operative classes from, that tyranny which owed its origin to the selfish views of one or two individuals. He differed from the noble Lord (Lord Howick) in the opinion he had expressed as to what were likely to be the feelings of the people if the sentence were reversed. He agreed with the hon. Member for Salford in thinking, that an extension of mercy would be received by the people with gratitude.
did not wish to protract the discussion, but merely to express a hope that the Government would again take the case of these men into consideration; for 1263 although he knew that a decision had been pronounced in the courts of law, that under the Act of Parliament they had been guilty of the offence charged to them, yet he, for one, confessed that he was not able so to construe the Clause upon which the indictment had been framed. He, however, concurred in thinking, that that House was not the proper tribunal for discussing that question of law. Although he was anxious that the Government should take the subject into consideration, he was not prepared by voting for this Motion, to take from their hands a power which properly belonged to them. He did not like to vote against the Motion without thus stating the reasons why he should do so.
§ The Attorney-General
merely rose in consequence of what had fallen from his hon. and learned Friend who had just sat down. His hon. and learned Friend had truly said, that this House was not a Court of Appeal from the decision of a Judge of Assize, and therefore it would not become him (the Attorney-General) to enter into any argument upon the question of legality. He was, notwithstanding, prepared to show by sections of the statute in question, by decisions of the Court of King's Bench, and by two other statutes agreeing with the first in part materiâ, that the indictment was valid in point of law, and that there had been at the trial evidence abundantly sufficient to support that indictment. He should, however, content himself with declaring his most clear and decided opinion that the conviction had been strictly legal. He should not enter into the merits of the case, but rest satisfied with expressing a hope that the House would not consent to interfere with the exercise of the strict prerogative of the Crown?
§ Mr. Harvey
expressed his surprise that any impatience should be manifested during a discussion affecting the working classes of the community, who had so few direct Representatives in the House. That class in this respect were unlike either the agricultural or manufacturing interests, whose friends, if the question affected them, would crowd all sides of the House, and secure the utmost attention. He should have hoped, that on this occasion there would have been manifested something like the appearance of impartiality, even though this debate had been extended to another night. He should have hoped that the intense anxiety prevailing out of doors, and the circumstance of nearly half a million of petitioners having approached the Legislature 1264 on this subject, would have secured something like decency in its discussion. When that very night several hon. Members from Suffolk had called to the recollection of the House the deplorable situation of some six or eight gentlemen, some of them of the law, who had violated the best safeguards of the Constitution, in whose behalf he doubted not that to-morrow night a whole army of advocates would be arrayed, and when the suggestions that they had been torn from their families and homes (he believed for something like a fortnight) had raised such a sympathy in their favour, he had anticipated that the case of the unfortunate men of Dorchester would have received something like common attention. Their case, however, could not be discussed, even for a few short hours, without shouts of discontent, and expressed demonstrations of impatience. The Attorney-General, in the short part he had taken in this discussion, had drawn very largely upon his very high reputation, and had seemed to suppose that it was abundantly sufficient for him to place his hand upon a mass of law books, and to express as his solemn opinion, that these men had been legally convicted, and that the sentence pronounced upon them was both legal and just. Now, he thought it would almost have been worth while for the Attorney-General of the Crown and of the people to have condescended in a few simple popular terms, and not with the dryness of an Act of Parliament, just to have dispelled the impressions prevailing in the minds of several hon. Members, and other ignorant people, that the sentence was illegal. It would have been well if the hon. and learned gentleman had condescended to fortify his declaration by a reference to the statutes and to the decisions of the Courts of Law. The hon. and learned Gentleman had not done so, but having now beside him a learned Colleague (the Solicitor General), who was equally conversant with the statutes, and who would be able to reply to him (Mr. Harvey), he would state one or two points in contravention of the declaration of the hon. and learned Attorney-General. He had been furnished with a report of the trial of these unfortunate men by one of the Counsel engaged in the case, and the report contained the opening speech of the Counsel who conducted the prosecution. In that learned Gentleman's statement to the Jury, he said that the prisoners were arraigned on an indictment framed under the provisions of the statute 37th George 3rd., ch. 7, and he had 1265 made no mention of any other statute at all. Now, what was that statute (because, after all, the question was reducible to a question of common sense), and what was the indictment? A copy of the latter he had now before him, in a return obtained by the hon. Member for Finsbury, and a reference to it would show that every count in it was framed exclusively under the statute 37th George 3rd., and it was a great mistake to say, that because these men had administered an illegal oath, the verdict on that ground alone could be sustained in point of law. To justify the conviction, two distinct and separate points must be established—first, the administration of an illegal oath; and secondly, that it was administered for an illegal purpose. He knew that the hon. and learned Attorney-General, in one of those displays for which he was remarkable in the neighbouring Courts, where he would not be interrupted by cries of "Question," or shouts of "Spoke," would be well pleased to show that these parties had been guilty of an illegal combination. He had, however, also before him a copy of the objects of the combination, which it was remarkable had been pressed on the trial from the counsel for the prosecution. The objects were shown in the rules of the association itself, which were given in evidence on the trial, and which it appeared had been furnished by the turnkey of the prison, who had come into possession of a key belonging to one of the prisoners, which opened a box in that prisoner's house, containing the document in question. He must ask whether the labourers, who had an interest in their labour, had not as much right to meet, as their landlords, who had an interest in keeping up enormous rents, had to meet to promote what they were pleased to call the agricultural interest? Now, from the rules of this society, it appeared that "this society was to be called the Friendly Society of Agricultural Labourers." Why not such a society as well as a Friendly Society of Agricultural Landlords? Another rule was, "that there was to be in the society no drinking, no immorality, no conversation on politics or religion." Now, would the Attorney-General contend that a society meeting for such purposes was in itself an illegal confederacy and combination? If he would not, then where was the illegal oath administered for an illegal purpose? The administering an illegal oath was a misdemeanour in itself punishable, but not by 1266 transportation for seven years. The administering an illegal oath for an illegal purpose was made punishable with transportation by this Act. But when was this Act passed, and for what purpose? It was passed in the year 1797, for the purpose of preventing individuals from being seduced from the army and navy, and from being afterwards bound in secret societies by illegal oaths. He thought that this statement was enough to prove that these individuals had not been legally indicted and convicted under this statute. He hoped that the affecting letters which had been read by the hon. Member for Finsbury in the course of his speech, which did so much honour to the individuals who had written them, and which had produced such a strong impression upon the feelings of the House, would be laid before his Majesty by the noble Lord opposite, whose amiable anxiety to temper justice with mercy, he could speak of with certainty from his own communications with that noble personage. He had hoped, but in that hope he had been disappointed, that the noble Lord, on hearing those letters read, would have risen in his place and said, "Let the debate here have an end, and give me further time to inquire into the circumstances so feelingly depicted by these artless and uneducated, but eloquent and affecting, writers." He concluded by declaring his intention to support the Motion.
The Solicitor- General
said, that this debate had been conducted with the most perfect calmness and propriety, until the hon. Member for Southwark rose to take part in it. He thought, however, that the success of the cause which that hon. Member advocated would not be much promoted by the tone which he had assumed in the remarks which he had addressed to the House. The reason why his hon. and learned Friend, the Attorney-General, had spoken so shortly on this Question, was to give a contradiction to his hon. and learned Friend, the Member for Huddersfield, in terms as short as those which that hon. and learned Gentleman had used when he said, that the sentence passed on these individuals was not, in his opinion, strictly legal. It would be tedious were he to go into the details of the trial; but he thought that he could state very shortly reasons sufficient to prove the complete legality of the decision to which the Judges came upon this indictment. The indictment was framed on the 37th George 3rd, c. 7. That Statute made it a felony for any person to 1267 administer to another an oath to admit him into an association for mutinous and seditious purposes, or to obey the authority of any body of men not having legal authority from the Crown, or not to give evidence against any member of their association, or not to give information of any unlawful combination or confederacy. Afterwards another Statute was passed under which this association in Dorsetshire evidently was an illegal association. That Statute was the 49th Geo. 3rd, c. 39. It declared every society which administered an oath not required by law an unlawful society. Was it necessary for him to say more to justify the proceedings in this case? There was a strong primâ facie cause for supposing that the Judges who tried, and the Counsel who conducted, this case were right, and he therefore trusted that the House would not take upon itself the duties of a Court of Appeal against the opinions not only of the Judges of the Court of King's Bench, but of the twelve Judges, to whom the Counsel for the prisoners might have appealed, had they been dissatisfied with the opinions of the Court of King's Bench.
§ Mr. Tulk
considered, that in whatever way the Question was decided, the hon. Member for Finsbury would rest satisfied that he had done his duty, and would have the further satisfaction of knowing that the cause had not been injured by his conduct. He (Mr. Tulk) was well satisfied with the manner in which the Question had been met by the noble Lord. He could not, however, help regretting that he had made such a distinction in the objects of his mercy: he could not say that he believed the noble Lord had made out a case that the two Lovelesses were more guilty than the other four. He was not going then to enter into the Question of the justice of the sentence passed on them. He thought the House was not the proper place to raise that Question; but he asked the merciful consideration of the House, on the ground that the men were ignorant. He remembered last year, the late hon. and learned Member for Hull stated that he was ignorant of the Clause; and that undoubtedly the Clause applied to him inasmuch as being a member of a club he had taken a secret oath, and was, therefore, as much an object of justice as the six unfortunate labourers. If the hon. Member pressed the Motion to a division, he proposed the Members should vote in the following manner; that those Gentlemen, 1268 who, at the time of the unfortunate men's offence, were aware of the illegality of the oath, should vote against the Motion, but that those who at the time were ignorant of it should vote for it. He would tell the noble Lord that the effect which would be produced on the poorer classes of the country by the recal of the labourers would be very different from what he apprehended; they would see that the Government was conducted on principles of reason, not merely by force; and acquainted as he (Mr. Tulk) was with the working classes, he knew there could be no act of the Government which would be more popular among the people, and better calculated to bring around them the affections of the great body of the population, than the pardon of the Dorchester labourers. And he could not help expressing a hope that the noble Lord, upon a re-consideration of the Question, would see the propriety of, in this instance, administering mercy.
hoped that his hon. Friend, the Member for Finsbury, before he rose to reply, would remember that his first duty on the present occasion was to be useful to these individuals. It would require the exercise of all his hon. Friend's judgment to decide properly on the course which he ought now to pursue. He therefore wished his hon. Friend to take his advice on the course which it was most advisable to follow. His hon. Friend must know that the House of Commons was an improper place for an appeal from the decisions of the Courts of Law. Hon. Members could not indulge their sympathies on such occasions without running the risk of injuring a great constitutional principle. His hon. Friend had heard from the noble Lord the manner in which he had already mitigated the punishment inflicted by the sentence of the Court. He had remitted the punishment of four individuals entirely, and had ordered it to be mitigated so far as regarded the other two. If, then, there was any difference between the noble Lord and his hon. Friend, it could only be with regard to that part of the punishment on two individuals which still remained unremitted. Now, in pressing this Motion, would his hon. Friend leave Ministers in that situation which was best calculated to produce a further remission of the sentence? Would he not, if Government was in a majority, as there was every reason to expect that they would be, leave the Government under the impression that the House was of opinion that they had already done 1269 enough in the mitigation of the punishment? What could his hon. Friend expect from pressing his Motion to a division? He had produced by his speech that night an effect on the House which he had never seen exceeded in his life. The letters which he had read, and which did honour to the feelings of the writers, and to the country which produced among its peasantry men capable of such feelings, must produce an effect upon the public mind. He had formerly stated it to be his opinion that the sentence passed on these men was illegal; but, on more mature consideration, he was inclined to think that opinion was erroneous. He avowed his change of opinion as to the legality, but not as to the severity, of the sentence. He must, therefore press his hon. Friend to withdraw his motion. But if his hon. Friend would not take his advice, he should vote with his hon. Friend, because he thought that the sentence ought not to be carried into full execution. He was, however, of opinion that his hon. Friend would act more wisely in leaving the consideration of mercy in the hands of the noble Secretary for the Home Department, and in giving him an opportunity of advising his Majesty to exercise towards these individuals one of the most valuable and delightful prerogatives of the Crown.
§ Sir Robert Peel
said, that he should give his vote on this occasion upon a great principle which excluded any reference to the individual merits of the case. He thought that the consideration of it ought to be left in the hands of those who were responsible for their decision—he meant, in the hands of the executive Government. He did not dispute—on the contrary, he admitted—the right of the House, if it entertained a suspicion that the course of justice was perverted for corrupt purposes, to interfere for the purpose of redressing so great a wrong. He did not, however, see that there was any allegation or even any suspicion that Government had been actuated by any improper motive in the consideration of this case, and therefore, he should recommend the House to leave the Question in the hands of the executive Government—the constitutional party by whom the punishment ought to be fixed. He did not hesitate to say that if Government should be in a majority in resisting this Question, that majority ought to have no influence in their minds with respect to their ultimate decision respecting these individuals. He did not give his vote on 1270 the principle of defending unnecessary severity. He did not give his vote in reference to the merits of the case, he left that entirely in the hands of the Government. He should recommend the noble Lord, who now filled the office which he himself had formerly had the honour of filling, to consider this case on its intrinsic merits, and to forget what passed in this House. Having ascertained the legality of the sentence, the Government ought to adhere to this principle, that no proceedings taken in the House of Commons should influence their judgment, unless the House went the length of asserting its right—which he did not deny—of charging the Government with improper motives. He should give his vote against the Motion.
§ Mr. Sergeant Wilde
said, that he happened to be at Dorchester when the case of these men came on for trial. He was generally intrusted with the care of conducting the prosecutions instituted by Government on that circuit; and in performance of that task upon that occasion he had carefully looked into the statutes against which they were charged to have offended, in order that he might discharge his duty properly. He came to the conclusion that if the witnesses should prove the facts which were communicated to him as the groundwork of the prosecution, the parties, whom he was directed to prosecute, had been guilty of the offence mentioned in those acts of Parliament which had been quoted by his hon. and learned Friend, the Solicitor-General. The hon. and learned Member proceeded at some length to argue the legality of all the proceedings in this case; and at the conclusion of his argument said that he had not risen to offer any objection to the extension of mercy to these misguided individuals. He thought, however, that any doubt as to the legality of their sentence formed a very different subject from the consideration of their claims to mercy. He thought, too, that it was a doubt which ought to be disposed of, before the claims for mercy were even considered; for the claims of justice were the first claims which ought to be satisfied. If the parties were suffering under an illegal sentence, it could not be for the public good that they should any longer suffer a punishment which the law did not affix to their offence; but if they were legally convicted of an offence clearly denounced by the law, then it was not usual for the House to interfere with the exercise of the most valuable prerogative of the Crown.
§ Mr. Wakley,
in reply, said, when the noble Lord opposite had any question to propose hon. Members showed the utmost forbearance for hours; but when the case of poor labourers was introduced to the House, he hoped the Representatives of the people of England would not refuse some time to them. He trusted these wretched sufferers would not be repulsed because they were poor. The impatience which had been displayed by some hon. Members during the consideration of the case of these poor and unfortunate individuals, formed an instructive contrast to the attentive patience which had been paid to a recent motion which affected the honour and character of a nobleman of rank, who filled the situation of Lieutenant of an Irish county. He would not, however, prejudice his clients by exciting unpleasant feelings, but would proceed to notice some of the objections made to his Motion. And first with regard to the objection which had been made to his Motion, on the ground that it was an improper interference with the prerogative of the Crown, he had only to observe, that he had consulted their journals, and found more than one instance of such interference with it as he had proposed. One instance was of so extraordinary a character that he would briefly state the nature of it to the House. In the year 1814, the noble Member for Devonshire (Lord Ebrington) moved that an address be presented to the Crown for remission of part of the sentence inflicted by the Court of King's Bench on Lord Cochrane. On that occasion Mr. Michael Angelo Taylor expressed his regret that a question which had been decided by a jury should be brought under the cognizance of that House, because he was convinced that that was not the place in which the merits of a proceeding of the kind could with propriety be tried. The best and safest way, as it appeared to Mr. M. A. Taylor, was to leave the prerogative of mercy unmolested, where the constitution had placed it, and not to attempt any interference whatever. To this argument a reply was given by an hon. Member, whom the House acknowledged to be high authority in all cases of parliamentary practice and privilege—he meant the right hon. Member for Montgomeryshire. That gentleman said that—"if they subscribed to the doctrine of his learned Friend, there would be at once an abandonment of their best rights, privileges, and immunities. His learned Friend had said that it was better to leave 1272 the prerogative of mercy just where the constitution had placed it; and he seemed to think it would be a violation of the constitution to interfere with it. Now he denied that there was any prerogative of the Crown which that House had not a right to interfere with, so far as to give advice with respect to the way in which it ought to be administered. Not only did the House give advice in the two cases cited by his noble Friend, but in many others. He did not mean to say that the House were not bound to examine the particular case before them, and every other in which their interference was called for; but he could not allow that they should sit down shorn of one of their greatest privileges. It was as much their duty, if they thought the punishment undeserved, to come forward and address the Crown on the subject, as it was that of the Ministers of State. They were the great council of the nation: Ministers were merely the council of the Prince."* The hon. Member who spoke last, told the House that he was at Dorchester at the time of the trial, and that he had a brief. He could not attach much value to the opinion of the hon. Member in this case, for lawyers were so much in the habit of making truth falsehood, and falsehood truth, that they lost all power of just discrimination. He did not defend the oaths of secret societies—they carried dishonesty on the face of them; and if these societies were fair why should they be ashamed to meet the face of day? But these men were ignorant, and had in their ignorance taken such an oath. Still they had not, in his view, done any thing illegal, and were not justly punished. The children of these unhappy men cried to the House for pity. If the House listened to their cries, it would receive the gratitude of the poor of England; but if they rejected them, he hoped the people, if they were wise, would form legal societies, and return proper men to that House. The hon. Member concluded by expressing his regret that he could not comply with the suggestion of the hon. and learned Member for Dublin to withdraw his Motion. He felt he could not discharge his duty without pressing the Motion to a division.
§ The House divided on the Motion: Ayes 82; Noes 308—Majority 226.
|List of the AYES.|
|Aglionby, H. A.||Baldwin, Dr.|
|Ainsworth, P.||Barnard, E. J.|
* Hansard, vol. xxviii. p. 777.
|Attwood, T.||M'Cance, J.|
|Baines, E.||Macnamara, Major|
|Blake, M. J.||Marsland, H.|
|Beauclerk, Major||Maxwell, J.|
|Bish, T.||Molesworth, Sir W.|
|Bodkin, J. J.||Musgrave, Sir R.|
|Bowring, Dr.||O'Brien, C.|
|Brady, D. C.||O'Brien, W. S.|
|Bridgman, H.||O'Connell, D.|
|Brocklehurst, J.||O'Connell, M.|
|Brotherton, J.||Power, P.|
|Buckingham, J. S.||Philips, M.|
|Buller, C.||Phillipps, C. M.|
|Bulwer, H. L.||Richards, J.|
|Butler, Hon. Colonel||Rippon, C.|
|Cayley, E. S.||Roebuck, J. A.|
|Collier, J.||Rundle, J.|
|Crawford, S.||Ruthven, E. S.|
|Dennistoun, A.||Ruthven, E.|
|Dobbin, L.||Scholefield, J.|
|Duncombe, Hon. W.||Sinclair, G.|
|Duncombe, T.||Spiers, A. G.|
|Dundas, Hon. J.||Strickland, Sir G.|
|Elphinstone, H.||Thompson, Colonel P.|
|Euston, Lord||Thornley, T.|
|Ewart, W.||Tooke, W.|
|Fergus, John||Trelawney, Sir W.|
|Fielden, J.||Trevor, Hon. A.|
|Finn, W. F.||Tulk, C. A.|
|Forster, C.||Wall, B.|
|Gully, J.||Wallace, R.|
|Harvey, D. W.||Walter, J.|
|Hawes, B.||Warburton, H.|
|Hector, C J||Wason, H.|
|Hindley, C.||Whalley, Sir S.|
|Hodges, T. L.||Wilks J.|
|Hutt, W.||Williams, W.|
|Kemp, T. R.||TELLERS.|
|Lawson, A.||Hume, J.|
|Lister, E. C.||Wakley, T.|
|Lowther, Hon. J. H.|