Page images
PDF
EPUB

On the introduction of Mr. Grenville's bill for regu. lating the proceedings of the house, in cases of controverted elections, Mr. Dunning supported the bill *; and in the debates which took place in 1774, to render that law perpetual, Mr. Dunning voted with the majority. He made a humorous apology for supporting the bill and voting against his own interest ; for since the act had been put into execution, not one trial had come into Westminster-hall, and he was confident, that, if the law should be made perpetual, there would not be one. +

In the debate on Mr. Serjeant Glynn's motion, on the 6th of December, 1770, “ that a committee be appointed to enquire into the administration of criminal justice and the proceedings of the judges in Westminster-hall, particularly in cases relating to the liberty of the press and the constitutional power and duty of juries," Mr. Dunning distinguished himself greatly by a copious and learned argument against the doctrine as to libels maintained by Lord Mansfield and the court of king's bench. After tracing the tainted sources from which that doctrine was derived, he concluded with a serious accusation of Lord Mansfield, for his conduct on the trial of Almon.. “ He said he could not with justice deny Lord Mansfield the merit of being the first who had, in a criminal case, made primâ facie evidence alone conclusive; but he said there was something more remarkable and peculiar to his lordship: Lord Mansfield was very careful, in the case of Almon, to conceal that part of his doctrine till the trial was over. When Almon's counsel were going to examine a witness, in order to contradict the primâ facie evidence, and had declared the

purpose

for which they called him, and whilst they reasoned amongst themselves aloud, and some of them doubted whether it was incumbent on them to disprove what had not been proved, his lordship told the counsel, . Follow your own opinion in that: if you think it necessary to examine the witnesses, you will proceed; you ought to consider what is best for your client.' Hints, and looks, and half * Parl. Hist. vol. xvi. p. 910.

+ Id. vol. xvii. p. 1071.

[ocr errors]

words following, persuaded the counsel that they were doing wrong ; and, though the witness was sworn, they agreed not to examine him, on a supposition that it was not necessary for their client's defence.

His lordship immediately proceeded to direct the jury, and told them, that since the defender had not contradicted by witnesses the primâ facie evidence, as he ought to have done, that evidence was conclusive. On this very hinge did the verdict turn; and had his lordship, through the whole course of the trial, but hinted this doctrine, the primâ facie evidence would have been contradicted, the witness having been already sworn for that purpose. This management was very much superior to that of the judges he had cited: whatever their doctrines were, they declared them from the beginning and throughout the trial : they did not, by skulking and concealment, filch a conviction from the jury, but committed a bold robbery on justice, looking in the faces of the laws and the defendant."

In the debate which took place on the 25th of March, 1771, upon the motion for committing the Lord Mayor and Alderman Oliver to the Tower, for their conduct towards the serjeant at arms, Mr. Dunning made a long and animated speech against the right of the house to commit for such a case of contempt. He also took the opportunity of referring to the imperfect state of the representation, in the following strong terms :-" It is a plausible argument, that the voice of the nation is only to be heard in this house ; but plausibility does not necessarily imply justice, nor does this house constitute a real representative of the kingdom. The metropolis, for instance, which contains nearly a sixth part of the people, has no more than four members, and many of the principal trading towns are wholly without a member. When this is recollected, sir, and when it is moreover recollected that the inadequacy of parliamentary representation is a subject of universal complaint, there is but a slender basis for asserting that our voice is the

* Parl, Hist. vol. xvi. p. 1279.

voice of the kingdom, and that, as such, it should be decisive in every deliberation.” *

In all the debates which took place upon the affairs of America, from 1774 to the conclusion of the peace, Mr. Dunning was the strenuous opposer of the various measures of force and coercion adopted by the government. Though, in common with many other friends of liberty, he did not oppose the Boston Port bill; yet on finding, upon the introduction of the bill for regulating the government of Massachusetts Bay, that the same system of severity was to be continued, he resisted that measure with great energy and effect. “ I have not,” said he, “ heard of, nor do I see any overt act of treason stated in the preamble of this bill, so as to authorize the severe punishments which it enacts. We are now, I find, in possession of the whole of that fatal secret which was intended as a corrective for all the disturbances in America : but it does not appear to be either peace or the olive branch; it is war, severe revenge and hatred against our own subjects. We are now come to that fatal dilemma, Resist, and we will cut your throats ; submit, and we will tax you : such is the reward of obedience.” In the course of the same session, Mr. Dunning also opposed the bill for the government of Quebec.

As the affairs of America drew to a crisis, and the colonists, exasperated by the attempts to force them to obedience, took up arms, Mr. Dunning still continued to advocate the same policy. In the debate of the 2d of February, 1775, on the address to the crown, which stated that a rebellion at that time actually existed in the province of Massachusetts Bay, Mr. Dunning rose immediately after Lord North, who had moved the address, and maintained that the Americans were not in rebellion ; that the votes and resolutions of the several congresses were decent and moderate, though firm, declarations of the estimation in which liberty ought to be held, and tempered with the highest expressions of

* Parl. Hist. vol. xvii. p. 142. + Id. p. 1300. # Id. p. 1359. 1396.

loyalty and duty to their sovereign. In conclusion, he said, “ I insist that America is not in a state of rebellion. I insist that every appearance of riot, disorder, tumult, and sedition, which the noble lord has so faithfully recounted from newspapers, arises not from disobedience, treason, or rebellion, but is created by the conduct of those who are anxious to establish despotism, and whose views are manifestly directed to reduce America to the most abject state of servility, as a prelude to the realising the same wicked system in the mother country." * In the various debates which occurred in the session of 1775-6, on the employment of foreign troops in America, and upon the introduction of them into Ireland, Mr. Dunning spoke very frequently, vainly directing his arguments, his wit, and his ridicule against the mea sures of ministers. At the conclusion of the year 1776, he supported a motion, made by Lord John Cavendish, for the revisal of all acts of parliament by which his majesty's subjects in America think themselves aggrieved.” + After the loss of this motion, Mr. Dunning, in common with many others of the friends of America, despairing of better measures, seems to have ceased for a time to take part in the debates on the subject of the colonial disturbances.

But upon the question of suspending the habeas corpus act with regard to America, which arose upon the introduction of a bill in the year 1777, to empower his majesty to secure and detain persons charged with or suspected of the crime of high treason, committed in North America, or on the high seas, or the crime of piracy,” Mr. Dunning vigorously opposed the bill, contending that it could“ be stretched and twined and twisted by the attorney-general, or by some of his bréthren equally ingenious, to affect and reach men who never saw America, or, peradventure, the high seas, as efficaciously, for the mere temporary purposes

of

persecution and revenge, as if they had been caught in arms, in open rebellion.” # On the third reading of the bill he moved * Parl. Hist, vol xviii. p. 224. † Id. p. 1447. | Id. vol. xix. p.7.

*

an amendment of one of the clauses, to prevent its possible operation in England, which, with some slight alteration, was carried ; upon which Mr. Fox congratulated the house and the nation as upon an escape from a state of temporary tyrannic dominion.

The liberality of Mr. Dunning's sentiments upon matters of religion was manifested on the debate in 1778, upon Sir George Savile's bill for the relief of the Roman catholics, which afterwards led to the riots of 1780. Mr. Dunning seconded the motion, and placed in a strong light the harsh, cruel, and unjust penalties to which, under the existing laws, the catholics were exposed. Again, in the following year, upon the debate on the bill for the relief of protestant dissenters, Mr. Dunning opposed the clause which introduced the following test: "I, A. B., do solemnly declare, that I am a Christian, and a protestant dissenter, and that I take the holy Scriptures, both of the Old and New Testament, as they are generally received in protestant countries, for the rule of my faith and practice.” He maintained that “ the enjoyment of any right, civil or religious, in a free government, ought not to be clogged with restrictions; that government having secured the established religion of the country by law, and confined the honours and emoluments of the church to the ministers of that religion, all dissenters from it, while they behaved themselves as loyal subjects, ought to enjoy their own religious opinions without restraint, as a common right belonging to them by the nature of the constitution itself.” t

It was during the session of 1779-80, that Mr. Dunning made his most considerable parliamentary efforts. Early in the latter year he supported Sir George Savile's motion for an account of pensions granted during pleasure or otherwise; and in his speech we find some traces of that humour, which those who have drawn his character so highly extol, but which is very seldom met with in the reports of his speeches. Parl. Hist. vol. xix. p. 1139,

+ Id. vol. xx. p. 320.

[ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »