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that the people should look to parliament, and to parliament alone, for the redress of such grievances as they might have to complain of, with a confident reliance of relief being afforded them, if their complaints should be well founded and practically remediable. That it should be understood that the condition of no man was so abject, but he could find a legal means of bringing his grievances before his representatives in parliament, and subject them to their consideration ; but that he would not leave a door open, through which a torrent might rush in, and overwhelm the constitution. It behoved them to take care that menaces were not conveyed to parliament under the pretext of petitions, and that they were not made the vehicles of indirect libels, fabricated at meetings convened under the pretence of very different objects, by men whose real purpose it was to undermine and subvert the constitution.
Mr. Pitt concluded by saying, that, upon the whole, a just comparison ought to be made between the evils that might follow from this bill, and the dangers that might arise, were the House to reject it. The balance being struck on this alternative, the next question was, whether it was not necessary that the people should know it was to parliament alone that they must look for any alteration of the law, and that, when their grievances were known and stated, they would not look to parliament in vain for redress. The House and the public were equally interested in this bill, and so was every class of the people, as fair and constitutional petitioners; it therefore only remained for gentlemen to decide whether they did their duty best for the interests of their constituents or not, by entertain. ing or rejecting a bill founded on such principles. The question was carried,
For the second reading of the bill............... 215
November 23. 1795.
Mr. Pitt having moved, that the order of the day, for going into a committee on the bill for the better security of His Majesty's person and government against treasonable and seditious practices, should be postponed till Wednesday,
Mr. Fox took this occasion to express in very forcible language his reprobation of the bills then passing through parliament, (the bill for more effectually preventing seditious meetings was at this time in its progress through the House) asserting that he conceived them to be a repeal of the bill of rights, and as tending to the subversion of the constitution. “ If,” said he, “ I am asked how they are to be resisted, in the present instance, I will say by peaceable means, by petition, by remonstrance; but if they have once passed into law, and I am then asked how they are to be resisted, I will then answer, that it is no longer a question of morality and duty, but of prudence. I affirm, that no attack which the unfortunate family of Stuart made upon the liberties of the country was more alarming and atrocious than that which is intended by the present bills. I know that by this declaration of sentiment, I shall subject myself to misconstructions, but I am prepared to brave them in the discharge of my duty. I again repeat, that if the people of England submit to these bills, I may still retain my partiality for my countrymen : I shall wish them all happiness, consistent with such an abject state of mind -- but I can no longer be a profitable ser. vant to the public.” Mr. Fox concluded by moving, that the committee on the bills should be postponed till that day se’nnight.
Mr. Pilt:- I do not rise, Sir, to argue the tendency of these bills. I do not rise to speak to the question of delay; that has already been fully discussed. Nor do I rise to follow the right honourable gentleman * through the whole of his speech. But there are some passages in it which consistently with my duty as a member of parliament, with my feelings as a man, with my attachment to my sovereign, and my veneration for the constitution, I cannot hear, without instantly expressing my horror and indignation at them. The right honourable gentleman has made a bold, broad, and unqualified declaration, that if his
arguments and his measures do not prevent the passing of the bills, which a great majority of this House conceive to be necessary for the security of the person of the sovereign, and the preservation of the rights of the people, he will then have recourse to different means of opposition. He has avowed his intention of setting up his own arguments in opposition to the authority of the legislature. He has said, that if he is asked his advice, he will put the propriety of resistance only on the question of prudence ;-without adverting whether the consequences of this advice may be followed by the penalties of treason, and the danger of convulsion, thus openly advising an appeal to the sword, which must either consign its authors to the vengeance of the violated law, or involve the country in anarchy and bloodshed. The right honourable gentleman has taken care not to be misstated : happily for the country, this declaration of his principles is too clear to admit of a doubt. With all the horror that I feel at such language, I am glad however the right honourable gentleman has been so unreserved and explicit. The House and the country will judge of that gentleman's conduct from his own language; they will see the extent of his veneration for the constitution, and of his respect for parliament, when, in violation of his duty, in defiance of legal punishment, he can bring himself to utter such sentiments. I am glad the right honourable gentleman has made that avowal, because I hope that it will warn all the true friends of the constitution to rally round it for its defence.
I will not enter into a discussion of the abstract right of resistance, or what degree of oppression, on the part of the government, would set the people free from their allegiance. I will only call to the recollection of those who hear me, that the principle of these bills, upon which the right honourable gentleman has ventured such language, has met with the approbation of a large majority of the House, and I trust that majority have not forgot what is due to themselves and their country. I hope they will show the right honourable gentleman, that they have not lost the spirit of their ancestors, which has been so fre
quently referred to; and that if they are driven by treason to the hard necessity of defending the constitution by force, that they will act with that irresistible energy which such a crime must necessarily excite in a loyal assembly. The power of the law of England, I trust, will be sufficient to defeat the machinations of all who risk such dangerous doctrines, and to punish treason wherever it may be found. Let me tell the right honourable gentleman, therefore, that if our sense of public duty induces us to have recourse to those measures, we will not suffer ourselves to be intimidated by his menaces. If we feel it incumbent upon us to enact laws suited to the emergency of the times, we shall not be wanting to ourselves in the energy which may be required to enforce those laws; and whatever attempts may be made to resist their operation, we trust, that the power of the laws themselves will be found amply sufficient to defeat such attempts.
Mr. Fox rose to explain :-“ I rise to restate my expressions, but not to retract one word of what I have said. Let the words be taken down at the table. — They express the sentiments of an honest Englishman; they are those sentiments for which our forefathers shed their blood, and upon which the revolution was founded : but let me not be mistaken. The case I put was, that these bills might be passed by a cor. rupt majority of parliament, contrary to the opinion and sentiments of the great body of the nation. If the majority of the people approve of these bills, I will not be the person to infiame their minds, and stir them úp to rebellion ; but if, in the general opinion of the country, it is conceived, that these bills attack the fundamental principles of our constitution, I then maintain, that the propriety of resistance, instead of remaining any longer a question of morality, will become merely a question of prudence. I may be told that these are strong words; but strong measures require strong words. I will not submit to arbitrary power, while there remains any alternative to vindicate my freedom.”
The House negatived Mr. Fox's amendment without a division.
December 10. 1795.
The order of the day being moved, for the third reading of the bill for the better security of His Majesty's person and government against treasonable and seditious practices,
Mr. Pitt rose as soon as Mr. Fox had spoken:
After the many important discussions, which for some days past have successively engaged your attention, it would ill become me to occupy much of your time at this advanced period of the debate; but having had so large a share in bringe ing forward these bills, it is necessary that I should shortly advert to the arguments advanced against them by gentlemen on the other side. And first, I will take notice of the general objections, before I enter into the detail of the measures.
There is one circumstance, in which I agree with the right honourable gentleman who has just sat down, that these bills form an important crisis in the history of this country. The crisis is not less important than whether the King, Lords, and Commons, invested with the constitutional power of the country, and acting for the protection of the whole, shall unite to repel the attacks of those, who have proclaimed themselves the enemies of the constitution, and who now, under the pretence of exercising its privileges, are busied in carrying on the hostile designs which formerly they openly avowed, and which they have never since abandoned. There are two reasons from which I am apt to think that this crisis is determined. On this day a boldness of language and vehemence of assertion have been employed in arraigning the bills, which go beyond the bounds of parliamentary usage, and almost beyond the expressions of the English language. One gentleman®, in a speech apparently studied, with a great deal of prepared and elaborate attack, has called these, infernal bills, and has used terms which, if meant to cha
* Mr. Jekyll.