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was evidently calculated to oppose, to check, and to suppress. It was by exciting the envy and hatred of the poor against those in higher stations, by holding out to them the hope of exchanging their conditions, and by representing property as the easy prey of the indigent, the idle, and the licentious, that the profligate principles of jacobinism had succeeded in destroying all social order in France, and the same end had been aimed at, by the same means, in all other parts of Europe.

Under our happy constitution, he believed there was no man of rank or property, at this time, so negligent of his duty, and so unacquainted with his interest, as to draw a line of separation between himself and those that were below him, in rank, affluence, or degree. What nation in the world now existed, or had been known to exist, in which the great and the low were placed at so little distance, and so slightly separated? A continued and well-cemented connection, which could not easily be dissolved, was so visible, that it was impossible to fix upon any link in the general chain where the union of the parts did not immediately appear. The middle class derived supply, vigour, and support from that below it; diffused it through all around; communicated and received reciprocal aid from that which was above it; and an animating spring gave that activity and general circulation of benefits to the whole, which composed the order of well-regulated society.

The manner by which the right honourable gentleman had attempted to prove that the tendency of this bill was to make such invidious distinctions, was most extraordinary. The bill had been held out, as a bill which proscribed all meetings whatsoever from petitioning parliament, except such as were licensed. So far from this, the bill left all established meetings precisely as they were before. The requiring of a license had been stated as, in all cases, an intolerable evil; it was, nevertheless, singular enough, that not to require a license was now considered by the right honourable gentleman as a still worse evil, on account of the partiality of the principle. He would ask, what was the partiality? Was it that. all other meetings but those that were

licensed were to be abolished? No such thing: they were merely to be put under some new restrictions, which should make them more resemble the regular meetings, which were not to be subjected to a license.

But to come to the main question:- it was distinctly this. First, Does the bill so abridge and limit the right of petitioning parliament, as to leave it insufficient for the purpose of affording due constitutional security? Secondly, Does the bill impose any ineffectual, superfluous, and unnecessary restraints? In order to judge upon these questions, he would consider what were the limitations imposed by the bill on this right of petitioning. A previous notice of the intended meetings was, in certain cases, to be required. The meetings of corporate bodies were not required to give any notice whatever: meetings called by a certain number of justices: meetings called by the lord-lieutenants of counties, or by sheriffs, were all excepted from the obligation. It had been said, however, that these last were servants of the crown, and because servants, therefore in the interest of the crown. But how did this observation apply? A sheriff of a county was under no influence either of dependence, or expectation, or gratitude. The office of sheriff was considered as an onerous and expensive office, which few persons liked, and from which many wished to be excused. Was it fair then to describe a meeting called by a sheriff, as a meeting called by one who was a mere tool of the crown? But, besides, what was the fact? The fact was, that meetings were, according to the present custom, called by these very sheriffs, and a great proportion of the complaints of the country actually found their way to parliament through this channel; — a way which was still left open. This, he said, was the best proof that meetings of this sort were not unavailing. He believed it had commonly happened, that much the greater proportion of petitions to parliament came through the sheriffs, and those of another kind were usually thought more suspicious. How unfair then was it to call the bill, as it had been called, "an extinction of the right to petition," when, in fact, that channel through which petitions usually come, was still

left open! He declared he was as ready as any man to admit broadly, that supposed or real grievances might, as matter of right, be presented to parliament by all ranks of people. He must, however, at the same time remark, that he did not consider those to be the best friends of the constitution, or of the lower ranks of the people, who were always goading them to bring forward petitions, and encouraging the agitation and discussion of public affairs; among those, too, who, of all men, from their education, their habits of life, and their means of information, were indisputably the least capable of exercising sound judgment on such topics. The right of petitioning then remained as formerly, excepting in certain cases, to which he had alluded.

With regard to the observations made by the right honourable gentleman in his interference for procuring a more equal representation of the people in parliament, Mr. Pitt said, he would do him the justice to say that he never had encouraged the wild, visionary, and mischievous plan of universal suffrage and annual parliaments. He had felt, what every man of sense and observation must feel, that the House of Commons, composed as it was, was the virtual representation of the people of England: the sole matter in doubt was, whether the members had such an identity of interest with those who had no voice in election of representatives, as would secure to the latter the consideration, to which, as Englishmen, they ought to be entitled? In the meetings held upon that subject formerly, though some of them had not been regularly convened by the sheriffs, he well remembered that their proceeding were looked to with more jealousy than the proceedings of those meetings which were assembled in a regular manner.

So little had been urged in opposition to the provisions of the bill, that it was unnecessary for him to argue much in their defence. The notice to be given of meetings held avowedly for the discussion of public measures, had been so modified as to retain little of that formidable appearance which gentlemen at first represented it to bear; indeed, the honourable gentleman himself had confessed, it was that part of the bill to which

he saw the least objection. So necessary did public advertisements, in order to convene large bodies of men on political questions, strike him to be, that the clause would seem a superfluous precaution, if it were not for the peculiar construction of the corresponding societies, which, by their divisions and subdivisions, had not only the means of secret communication, but also of prompt execution of their designs, however alarming, however dangerous.

It had been much insisted on, that a main objection to the bill was, that these meetings were hereafter to be held under the inspection of magistrates. The force of this objection would surely be done away, when it was considered that this provision only set all other meetings on the same footing with those which had always been authorised in their corporate capacities; for in regular meetings the sheriff was necessarily and of course always present. The next point complained of had been the mode of dispersing meetings. Was it possible for the House. not to have felt the danger of some late meetings, and did they not feel the necessity of checking them? If they did not, he would only say, that this was not the time to trifle: if they did not seize the opportunity of applying a preventive, they might soon lose the power of exercising their own functions in that House. For this reason it was highly necessary to grant new discretionary power to magistrates-a degree of additional power, guarded by the degree of additional responsibility attached to them. He owned he felt some astonishment at one argument coming from a quarter from which he least expected it, a declaration that struck at the very foundation of the administration of public justice in this country. A learned gentleman of the first professional talents, reputation, and practice, had urged as an argument against the bill, and put it in a general and unqualified manner, that the magistracy of the country were necessarily corrupt; an invective against a body of persons, to whose exertions, in their situation, the

* Mr. Erskine.

VOL. II.

country owed the most signal services. With equal surprise he had heard the same learned and honourable gentleman who, while he arraigned the discretion granted to the magistrates under this bill, acknowledged at the same time, that they were already authorised to exercise the same powers under the existing laws, namely, the Riot Act, and a statute of Henry IV. which had been alluded to by the Judge (the late Lord Mansfield) on the trial of Lord George Gordon. Without insisting for the present, on the illiberality of the suggestion, its inconsistency was glaring, and it might be proper to consider, in another point of view, how a meeting convened by a sheriff could be esteemed a meeting held only by permission of His Majesty's ministers. That sheriffs were appointed by His Majesty, from lists made out by the judges of assize, of the persons most capable of serving that office, was certainly true. Although the office of sheriff was an office of dignity and honour, were he to ask, whether His Majesty, in conferring it, bestowed a favour which called for any great gratitude on the part of the receiver, he believed that in most instances he should be answered in the negative. Added to this, when the appointment was once conferred, the King had no power to remove the person appointed sheriff; and upon the whole, there was scarcely any office which was attended with a greater degree of independence. Other magistrates who exercised offices, for which, as all our law-writers declared, the nation was indebted to them, and who, in the service of their country, every day exposed themselves to insults and dangers,-he could not but lament that any professional gentleman should be found to speak of them. with such undeserved indignity. It well merited the close examination of gentlemen, to what extent, and to what extent only, the powers of magistrates under the present bill went to prevent meetings, if their designs seemed calculated to obtain redress through any other medium than the legislature, and to disperse them, if the magistrates were of opinion, that the proceedings held, or the speeches delivered at any meeting had an illegal tendency. In fine, the sole object of the bill was,

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