Page images

it merely as a pretext or mask for their real and mischievous designs; and the papers inserted in their report were, in his opinion, a full and complete answer to such gentlemen as endeavoured to confound those men with parliamentary reformers, and served also to refute the charge made by those who had insisted that the report contained no new matter whatever. In one of their proceedings they appointed a committee for the express purpose of watching over the conduct of parliament, with a view to control any proceeding which might appear to them improper; and that they were to effect through the organ of a convention, expressing at the same time, that as no redress of grievances could be expected from that quarter, it became their duty to repel tyranny by the same means by which it was supported. On that point he could not but express his surprise at hearing the same arguments used by that right honourable gentleman which had been used on a former night, respecting the right which existed in the people at large to watch over the proceedings of parliament, and to interfere when any measure was going forward which they might conceive inimical to their interests. What most astonished him was, that any argument of that sort should be offered as a palliation for the conduct of that society ; since, after the union with the other in the same system, and for the same objects, they avowedly came to resolutions, that they should not appeal to parliament for redress of their supposed grievances, but were to proceed to acts of authority and control over the functions of parliament.

With regard to nothing new being contained in the report, it was in itself a matter of indifference, whether the information contained in it was old or new, provided it was considered to substantiate the grounds upon which the alarm had taken place. However, in point of fact, they were not old proofs which it contained; for, until the seizure of the papers, the correspondence with the club at Norwich was never known; and that was one of the most important discoveries that those papers contained, as it had brought to light the general design of assembling their Jacobin convention. As to what was known two years ago, could any person say, that these transactions were unconnected with the subsequent and progressive proceedings of those societies, and that they did not form a very material link of that chain of conduct which it was necessary to trace from its first commencement down to the present moment ? One part of the report, however, the right honourable gentleman had admitted to be new; that which stated that these societies were preparing to put arms into the hands of those who were to carry their designs into execution. That article of the report had been somewhat curiously objected to, that, not being in the body of the report, but given as a separate article, it was therefore less authentic. In answer to which he should mention, that that piece of information was cautiously given, because the committee, at the time their report was made up, had not been able to make so full an inquiry into that matter as the importance of the subject demanded; they, however, were now convinced, that they would very soon be in possession of such information as might lead them to propose to parliament some further measures on that article. Another reason they had for making it a separate article, was, that the full information contained in the report respecting the intended convention, was in their minds sufficient to warrant the proceedings intended to be founded thereon.

As to the propriety of the remedy, without again recurring to the arguments used against persecution for matters of opinion, he would shortly say, the remedy amounted to nothing else than putting a legal restraint upon criminal actions; and the present crime amounted, in his opinion, to a conspiracy of that nature, which was an equal, if not a stronger, reason for the suspension of the Habeas Corpus act, than either the cases of invasion or rebellion, to which gentlemen had so frequently alluded. The right honourable gentleman seemed very much to doubt the good effects of the bill, and that it would never attain the object for which it was intended : the opinion of the persons who composed those societies seemed to differ essentially from his, and they considered it in a different point of view ; for they had declared the suspension of the Habeas Corpus act the very measure which should be the signal for them to assemble their convention, and on that account it became the more necessary for parliament to pass the bill quickly, to prevent them from taking measures to evade its operation.

With regard to the measure being likely to invite the French to invade us, the right honourable gentleman had spoken nobly and boldly on that head, when he said, that he did not fear an invasion, but would not invite one ; and in that sentiment he perfectly concurred: but the material difference between them was, that he believed the effect on the French would be quite the reverse from what he supposed, for certainly the suppression of our enemies at home would be no very welcome intelligence to our enemies abroad. But however that might be, with regard to the disaffected persons in this country, whatever their numbers were, it was proper the vigilant exertions of government should equal their activity.

The House divided on Mr. Jekyll's motion of adjournment; which being rejected,

Ayes............ 33

Noes............ the bill was read a third time, and passed. *


May 30. 1794. Mr. Fox, pursuant to the notice he had given, this day submitted to the House a series of resolutions (fourteen in number), reviewing the past proceedings of the war, and setting forth the measures that ought instantly to be adopted for promoting, on equitable and moderate conditions, a pacification with France.

Mr. Sheridan, in supporting these resolutions, took occasion to comment, in very severe terms, upon the conduct of Administration. He charged them with being the authors of a system of alarm calculated to deceive and insnare the people, and maintained that the traitorous

This debate, which was conducted with unusual warmth, lasted till three o'clock the following morning (Sunday).

designs, which had been pointed at in the report of the Secret Committee, were fabulous plots and forged conspiracies, originating solely in the foul imagination of His Majesty's Ministers.

MR. Pitt:

I do not feel it necessary, on the present occasion, or in the present stage of the debate, to trouble the House for any length of time, for the same reason that I had, in the first instance, conceived that it would be unnecessary for me to trouble them at all. The substance of the question, and of the arguments brought in support of it, is, as was stated by the right honourable mover of the resolutions, certainly old. The honourable gentleman *, however, who spoke last, has contrived to intro. duce a considerable deal of novelty into the latter part of his speech. I will not say that the matter which he thus introduced, was not connected with the question : had it not been connected with the question, you, Sir, would undoubtedly have called him to order. I could easily, however, account for the principle on which you were restrained from doing so, when I recollect that on a former occasion you stated, that any argument, however bad or absurd, does not therefore become disorderly. It is possible that an argument may have some connection though it be not such as can evidently be received in the first instance, and certainly it will be allowed, with respect to the honourable gentleman, that he is possessed of such ingenuity as to bring together every argument, however incongruous, that may suit his purpose, and give it an appearance of connexion with the question. What then was the amount of his arguments? That you ought to discontinue the war, because it afforded the means of fabricating plots in this country. The honourable gentleman thought proper, without the smallest regard either to probability or decency, to assert that plots had been fabricated, and that these plots had no foundation except in the foul imagination of ministers. The abuse of that honourable gentleman has been too often repeated to have any degree of novelty with me, or to be entitled to any degree of importance, either with myself, or any other of my honourable friends, who may occasionally happen to be its objects. But I must own, that there is some degree of novelty indeed in this mode of attack against a report originating from twenty-one members, to whose character for honour and integrity I will not do any injury by comparing it with the ter from which the attack was made

* Mr. Sheridan.

[Being here called to order by Mr. Courtenay, for an improper and uncalled-for attack upon the character of his honourable friend (Mr. Sheridan), the Speaker interfered, and allowed that the expressions were disorderly, however they might have arisen from the mode of at. tack which had been irregularly adopted by the honourable gentleman (Mr. Sheridan) in the first instance.

Mr. Sheridan rising to speak, Mr. Pitt proceeded :

Except the honourable gentleman rises for a motion of order I certainly, as having been already before the House, am en. title.. to be heard. [Here Mr. Sheridan sat down.] I beg leave to say, that I must always bow with deference to any interruption from you, Sir, whose regard to the dignity and impartiality in conducting the business of this House is upon every occasion so evident, and whenever interrupted for any expression that may appear disorderly, and may have escaped me in the heat of debate, I most readily make my apology, where alone it is due, to you and to the House. Still, however, I must be permitted to add, that the language of the honourable gentleman whose observations I was called upon to answer, was neither within the rules of parliamentary debate, nor of parliamentary decency.

I was proceeding, when interrupted, to state, that the honourab gentleman had argued, that the discontinuance of the war would put an end to those proceedings of a committee of this House, which he has chosen to brand with such coarse and indiscriminate censure. The question is not merely, whether his mode of attack is fair and candid with respect to the individuals composing that committee; but how far it is proper to be adopted, when their report has already been received by this House, and been made the foundation

« PreviousContinue »