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or any branch of the established government of the country. That the magistrate should be empowered to apprehend any persons whose conduct should seem calculated for those purposes, and that any resistance to the authority of a magistrate so acting, should be deemed felony in every person concerned in it. That, on perceiving the proceedings of such meeting to be tumultuous, and leading to the bad consequences he had already mentioned, the magistrate should have power similar to that which he had already by the riot act, to disperse that assembly; and that, after reading the riot act, and ordering them to disperse, any number of persons remaining should, as by the riot act, incur the penalty of the law, that of felony. The House would see, that this summary power in the magistrate, while it would still leave to the people the fair right to petition, on the one hand, would, on the other, prevent the abuse of it. This, he said, was the outline. All detail he would reserve for future
Under the other description of meetings, through which the minds of the people were poisoned, fell those of public lecturers, who made the dissemination of sedition the source of livelihood. To them he thought it would be proper to apply regulations something like those that passed about fourteen years ago, in an act, which, from the learned gentleman who brought it in, was called Mansfield's act, and by which all houses wherein meetings of an improper kind were held on a Sunday, were to be treated as disorderly houses. And, to avoid evasion, the clause should apply to every house wherein any people met, exceeding a certain number to be stated in the act, the real family of the House. These, said he, are the outlines of the measure I have to propose; and so convinced am I that there can be but one feeling, and one opinion, that some measure of this kind is necessary [here a cry of "hear!" from the opposite side]; and so little am I shaken in that conviction by the adverse vociferations of "hear! hear!" that I am sure I should but show a
distrust of the cause, if I said any more. I will therefore only
"That leave be given to bring in a bill for the more effectually preventing of seditious meetings and assemblies."
After a debate of much warmth, in which the measure was loudly reprobated by Mr. Fox, Mr. Sheridan, and Mr. Grey, the House divided on the motion for leave to bring in the bill,
November 17. 1795.
On the question for the second reading of the bill for more effectually preventing seditious meetings and assemblies,
Mr. PITT said, that as he had repeatedly delivered his sentiments upon the bill, he felt but little inclined unnecessarily to take up the attention of the House, particularly as most part of what had been already said that day had little connection with the question. Under this description he did not include the comparison which the right honourable gentleman had thought proper to draw between a revolution in this country in favour of the house of Stuart, and a revolution in favour of that kind of government which French principles would recommend and inculcate. No man could be more sensible than he was of the dreadful calamities that the nation would sustain by the re-establishment of a Popish pretender, who would, no doubt, endeavour to subvert our liberties, our religion, and our laws, and possibly he might succeed in his object. He had no hesitation, however, in declaring, that were he to chuse between two such horrible alternatives, he would cheerfully prefer the restoration of the pretender to that cruel and desolating system of anarchy, which would radically destroy all those principles by which social order was maintained. He scrupled not to agree with the right honourable gentleman in declaring, that were we under the same circumstances that pressed on our ancestors, we should be equally * Mr. Fox.
ready to make the same sacrifices that they had done in so necessary à resistance; and he further admitted, that when we expressed ourselves equally willing to risk our lives in an opposition to either jacobitical or jacobinical principles, we had no more to offer, nor were we any longer to seek for any practical 'difference. It happened conveniently for his purpose, that the arguments and illustrations employed by the right honourable gentleman furnished him with materials which would serve for an answer to most of his arguments, as far as he had urged any thing closely connected with the subject. Of this comparison between the two kinds of revolutions alluded to in particular, without attempting to reason on which side the choice ought to preponderate, it was sufficient to say, that we were ready with our lives to resist the introduction of either.
Here, then, Mr. Pitt said, he wished to pause, and beseech the right honourable gentleman to adopt the sage counsels of his ancestors, with the same ardour which he expressed when he declared his desire to imitate the valour of their arms. Our ancestors expelled the family of the Stuarts, and established the glorious and immortal revolution, in the first instance by the sword; but their bravery might have been ineffectual, if they had not secured their object by legislative provisions. It was in this manner, more than by personal valour, that they preserved the constitution. What was the bill of rights itself, but a measure adopted by our ancestors în consequence of their finding them'selves under new circumstances? They declared it to be high treason to dispute the queen's authority, to deny that the parliament was competent to confine and limit the succession, and, finally, to render attempts to introduce a system, different from that which they had established by the laws, feloniously penal. Upon examining the present bill it would be found, that their example was rigidly adhered to, and preventive measures resorted to, on motives of policy and prudence, in order to guard against that extreme which would make it necessary for many to risk their lives in a contest, and be involved in all the miseries that attend a civil war. One great recommendation of this temporary
measure was, that it strictly adhered to the examples of former times; and while it added to the general security, made no innovation on the constitution, nor, in the smallest degree, weakened the spirit of the laws. Our ancestors, in times of danger, and even during that interval which took place between the deposition and the restoration of the monarchy, adhered, as much as so peculiar a situation would admit, to ancient forms, and conducted the public business by means of both Houses of Parliament, if that assembly could properly be called a parliament, when it was actually deprived of one of its component parts.
Were there no precedents, no land-marks, to guide their proceedings on the present emergency? In days of difficulty and danger, which had threatened one branch of the legislature, and when doubts had arisen respecting the competency of parliament to legislate in one particular case-limiting the succession of the crown, our ancestors made a law suitable to the occasion. But at this time what was the enemy that we had to contend with, and what the danger to be repelled? Not an attack upon one branch of the legislature, not a doubt about the right to legislate in a particular case; the right to legislate at all was questioned, and the legality of monarchy itself in any shape was denied. Was that, he begged to ask, a proper time to sit still, and refrain from taking vigorous and effectual measures, merely because they might deviate in some degree from established practice? The parallel that had been attempted to be drawn between the measures of the executive government at this time, and those of the house of Stuart, in no degree applied. In the days of the Charles's, the people were above all taught to look up to parliament for safety and protection: they might undoubtedly look elsewhere for assistance, but parliament was the centre in which all their hopes and dependence rested, and in which alone they were led to expect redress for their grievances: such had been the example of their ancestors at the revolution, and, as it was before their eyes, it ought to regulate their proceedings.
The right honourable gentleman had talked of risking his life in defence of the constitution; he was not asked now to risk his life, he was asked only to apply the laws to the present state of the country, in such a manner as to render the risking of lives, for the present at least, unnecessary; and he was asked to do this in time, before the evil which threatened us should have risen to such a height, as to bring on personal dangers. Gentlemen had made much objection to this bill, as debarring the subject of the right to petition, as secured to them by the bill of rights. But did the bill of rights imply, that any other than parliament was to be the channel through which evils in the government or constitution were to be redressed? The revolution itself tended also to prove the point he was contending for; since it was a memorable example, that even when the throne was vacant, and when the forms of the constitution necessarily failed, yet, even then, so strong was the impression on the minds of men, of the maxims which they had before learnt, that no new constitution was formed in consequence, but the old constitution was still considered as subsisting. The two remaining Houses of Parliament, and those two Houses alone, were then resorted to, and not the sovereignty of the people, as the means through which the other branch of the legislature was to be supplied. It was not to that sovereignty of the people which is now talked of, that recourse was had. Thus, therefore, the revolution itself conspired to shew that it was to parliament, or to the people in parliament, and not to the people out of parlia ment, that the right of framing alterations in the constitution always devolved.
The next point to be considered had been insisted upon much in the House, and, as he understood, made very industrious use of out of it; viz. that the present bill was calculated to create a difference, and cause a separation, between the lower and the higher orders of the people. The effect of this bill he was ready to maintain would be diametrically the reverse. The system of dividing the orders of the community was that which formed the grand spring and power of jacobinism, which the present bill