§ The order of the day for the first reading of this bill, having been read,
said, that no individual could feel more deeply than he did the importance of the measure which he considered it to be his duty to recommend to the House. He was sensible of the heavy responsibility which must fall on those who called for it, and that on all hands it must be admitted to be a serious encroachment on the rights of the subject, during the time for which it was to be continued. It then became a question, whether the internal state of the country was such as to call for so strong a measure,—whether the ordinary laws were sufficient—or whether if these were not sufficient, other measures less strong than the Suspension of the Habeas Corpus, ought not to be resorted to? In arguing on this measure, he protested at the outset against any inference being drawn, that ministers, in forming their judgment on it, were subject to any undue bias in its favour. Nothing but a conviction, that for the safety of the loyal and the peaceable, and for the preservation of the constitution itself, they were necessary, could, he was certain, have made them consent to take upon themselves the arduous responsibility which attached to a measure like that now under the consideration of the House. He hoped their past conduct was such, as to prove they would not have advised the continuance of the act, if they were not satisfied, that of all the measures that could be resorted to, this would be the most effectual, and prove least injurious to the people at large. He wished 1110 the House to decide on its adoption or rejection, purely from the facts which were brought before them. He protested against the inference that had been drawn, that to bring in a bill like this was to libel the whole country, and to prefer a general bill of indictment against the people of England. He did not call for this measure against the people; but, on the contrary, he demanded it for them, in order to protect them in the exercise of their industry against the machinations of agitators, which were as hostile to their interests as they were to those of the country at large. The adoption of such a measure might alarm those who knew themselves to be guilty of treasonable designs; but, in his conscience, he believed the loyal and peaceable part of the community would feel no uneasiness about it, but, on the contrary, would be grateful for the passing of the bill, which they would regard as a measure of protection. —The noble lord argued, at some length, in opposition to those who were of opinion, that supposing treasonable designs to exist, those by whom they were entertained were too insignificant to merit the serious attention of parliament. Though happily, the disaffection was confined to the lower orders, yet still, he contended, the danger was formidable. He showed the lower classes of the manufacturers to be confident in their own strength; to possess considerable acuteness, knowledge of the law, and ingenuity to evade it. To the manufacturers he stated these designs to be in a great measure restricted. They had studied precedents from the history of the treasons of former times, and it was not necessary in his mind for higher characters to take part with them to enable them to succeed if they were not well watched. They might at any rate succeed so far as to cover the country with desolation for a time. He wished the attention of the House to be directed to two points—the consideration of the events which preceded the 15th of April might first deserve their consideration. It would then be for them to look to what had occurred subsequent to that period. This division of the subject, according to dates, he thought of some importance. Those who had formerly opposed the Habeas Corpus suspension bill, might, he thought, now, with the additional experience they possessed, feel justified in supporting the bill for renewing that act; but he could hardly think it possible that 1111 those who concurred with him on the former occasion could oppose the present bill, as the case for its renewal was infinitely stronger than that made out for passing the law now in force. Not only had additional conspiracies been discovered, but, in the late inquiry, the former conspiracies had been confirmed. He denied that the result of the late trial proved that there was no treason in the country, though God forbid that he should arraign the decision come to by the jury. No person could, he thought, shut his eyes to this fact, that there was treason in the country. He was anxious that the events down to the 15th of April should be considered separately, because he expected an attempt would be made to create a belief that the conspiracies which had been formed, had been in a great measure brought about by the emissaries of government sent into the country for that purpose. Mr. Oliver, who was supposed to be the moving cause of all, did not leave London before the 17th of April, to go on his first mission. It was plainly seen, that an explosion had been intended with which he could have nothing to do. This would result from the reading of the second report of the secret committee, unless they absolutely disbelieved it. Three periods, it might be seen, were indicated, at which an effort was to have been made, and at three several times the conspirators had brought their preparations so nearly to a point as to think of naming the day on which they were to proceed to action. In two of these cases, it was quite clear that Mr. Oliver could have nothing to do with the designs of the conspirators—that no part of their proceedings could be ascribed to his exertions. That person had not been sent down to encourage the disaffected to riot and insurrection. The fact was, he had become incidentally possessed of some information respecting their designs, which he had communicated to the government at a time when he was not known to the secretary of state. He did not leave town till the 17th of April, and at no period had the treason in agitation assumed a more malignant character than that which belonged to it on the 30th of March, when the destruction of Manchester was contemplated. This was before Mr. Oliver was in communication with the government. That plan was only frustrated by the arrest of the delegates. With these proceedings, and with those of the 9th of 1112 March, Mr. Oliver had no connexion whatever. He had never been sent to the country, to encourage the disaffected to commit acts of treason. It might be that the appearance of a person in the character which he assumed, that of a delegate from London, would have the effect in some degree to encourage the conspirators; but he apprehended the government were justified, if they had reason to believe that such designs were in contemplation, to send down somebody to see what the parties were about. Oliver was directed to go there for this purpose, and not to excite those on whom he was to be a spy to any acts of a criminal nature. The fact was, he was applied to by a delegate from the country—a leading man and a well known character, to satisfy himself of the spirit which existed where he had been; and he was told that if London would not unite with them, the people of the country were determined to risk a rising by themselves. Mr. Oliver had nothing at all to do with them before this delegate, and another leading man, introduced him to them. The person connected with the delegate had been about to leave the country, but understanding the effort was immediately to be made he determined to remain, in order to co-operate with the conspirators. Mr. Oliver was then invited to go into the country, and on this he communicated to government what had passed, whether he ought to avail himself of the opportunity or not. He was authorized to do so, but no one had been base enough to direct him to excite them to acts of violence, and so far as government had been informed of his proceedings he had not done this. At Nottingham, it was clear that Mr. Oliver was not concerned in the rising which it was intended should take place on Whit-Monday, and which was afterwards put off till the 9th of June, He left the country before the deliberations of May 23rd, on the subject of the rising, and did not leave London on his return till the evening of that day, after the discussion was over. What had taken place, therefore, on that occasion could not be brought home to him. What Mr. Oliver had or had not done while in the country, it was impossible for ministers to tell exactly; but this he (lord C.) knew that he had had no instructions to take the part he was reported to have taken. It was not known that he had been guilty of that which was imputed to him, and 1113 there was reason to believe that his exertions had materially contributed to prevent the intended explosion of June 9. He thought the information of this man was entitled to considerable credit. With respect to the numbers, the delegate who had introduced Oliver, had given very large and magnificent reports of them; and the numbers staled by Oliver to the persons he was represented to have invited to rebel, were the same as those mentioned to him by the delegate. He entered his protest against the system of imputation on government for taking the measures necessary to prevent rebellion. Were they to suffer it to take the field before they attempted to counteract its effects? He thought that the contrary was their duty. All information had not been received from common spies, but many persons had considered it their duty to communicate what they knew. He blamed the attempt to throw odium on such persons, as calculated to prevent individuals from coming forward. The measure now proposed to be renewed had already rendered considerable service. In the judgment of nearly all the magistrates it had checked insurrection, and been more effective than any of the other measures adopted by parliament. It had operated as a preventive rather than as a punishment. It had occasioned a considerable decrease of the mischief, and if continued would prove a sufficient remedy to the evils by which the peace of the country was menaced.
seized the first opportunity to state facts which, as a member of the committee, had come to his knowledge, and which he thought ought to induce the House not to adopt a measure as vicious in its principle as it must be mischievous in its effects. He would begin with the conduct and transaction of an individual whose character had become notorious to the country. If he were to state that Mr. Oliver had excited the disaffection that prevailed, that he had formed the plots and arranged the insurrections which were described in the report, and that no design to disturb the peace of the country had been entered into till he left London to go to the agitated districts, he should be stating what was not consistent with fact, and what he did not believe. He believed that insurrectionary movements were contemplated before this individual began his labours, or received his commission, and that he had predecessors 1114 in the course he pursued. He did not know who those individuals were; he did not know their names or characters: the only person on whose authority he could rely was that of the person himself so often alluded to. It was true that there were dangerous movements in some of the disturbed districts, but who were the agents or agitators the committee had not learned. These movements were not of recent date. He begged to state to the House, that in those counties there existed an association more atrocious, malignant, and bloody, than any that had ever before disgraced this country, or braved its laws; but that this association had not originated in political principles, and did not direct its view to political objects. The House would anticipate that he meant Luddism, or Ludditism. It had commenced several years ago, it still continued in full vigour, and some of the most atrocious suggestions for the disturbance of the public peace, or the commission of cruelty and bloodshed, proceeded, he believed, from individuals trained to mischief by its laws. That they might have mixed themselves with those who had political objects in view, he was not disposed to doubt; but he believed that the great mass of the people never intended disturbance, or were disposed to engage in any criminal proceedings. He was convinced that these people met for the purposes of reform, and that they formed themselves into numerous associations, merely because they thought that was the only means of obtaining their object. Though he believed them innocent of any criminal intention, he could not say the same of all their leaders, many of whom entertained, he had no doubt, very wicked designs. He would state some of the information gained from the papers and evidence presented to the committee. In the month of March last a person calling himself a delegate, came to town from one of the midland districts, and was introduced to a person of similar opinions in London. The object of his visit was to inform the people in London of the situation of the country, and to carry back to the country the degree of assistance which in any movement in the north might be expected from the metropolis. He told them that the people in the country laboured under an intolerable load of distress, and were excited to great disaffection; that they were unable longer to bear their sufferings, and were determined to throw off the yoke; 1115 that they merely wanted to know what aid they could expect from their friends in London, and were anxious to learn the public feeling here. The person to whom this delegate addressed himself gave only discouraging information; expressed great dissatisfaction with the state of the public feeling; and told him that, in consequence of the present situation of affairs, he was about to leave London, and even England; a purpose which he carried into execution soon after. This delegate, however, found two other persons ready to accompany him as delegates from London, to inform the country of the feeling of the capital, and Oliver proposed to go along with them, making a fourth delegate. They soon afterwards left London; but before they proceeded on their journey, Oliver applied at the office of the home secretary for permission to go to the disturbed districts, to examine appearances, and to transmit such information for the use of government as he might obtain. He (Mr. P.) thought it only justice to the noble lord at the head of that department to say, that he gave no authority to Oliver to commit such acts as he had been stated to have committed, or to compromise the safety of any by tempting them into, practices which he afterwards exposed. The country delegate placed full reliance on the zeal and sincerity of Oliver. He introduced him to all his friends in the country; he told them that they might place implicit confidence in him, that he was a second self, that nothing that they could disclose to him would be misplaced. Oliver was accordingly received by these people with that confidence which became such a recommendation; he was called the London delegate, was acknowledged and treated in that character, and acquired all the confidence and influence which his high commission conveyed or inspired. He remained among these people from the 17th of April to the 17th of May. He could not tell how he comported himself at that epoch; but he was every where received as the London delegate. The account that he gave of his transactions was the following:—The people in the country often asked him, how the people in London were disposed. To this he was shy of returning an answer, and sparing of information when he did. He told them that he came to learn the situation of the country, to convey intelligence to the capital, and not to inform the country of 1116 what was doing in the capital; that London was ready to rise, and only wished to know what assistance could be derived from the country; and that the people in London would not stir first, but would be ready to second any movement from the country. His friend, the country delegate, gave effect to this information, by telling his brethren, the country delegates, that 75,000 individuals could be relied on in the eastern parts of the capital, and 75,000 in the western, making in all 150,000 men. At any rate, he assured them, that there could be no doubt that all who assembled at Spa-fields were zealous reformers, and these amounted to 70,000 men. Could it be denied, that a person communicating such reports as this would not do mischief? Must not the effect of his conduct necessarily be to excite the wretched individuals with whom he conversed to acts of rebellion or insubordination, by assuring them of the certainty of a relief to their distress by means of a revolution which, there was no doubt, they could produce, by merely giving the signal to an irresistible force which would follow in their train, and be guided by their example? Could any thing be more calculated to encourage criminal hopes, or to lead to desperate enterprises? Yet the information which Oliver gave to the committee was calculated to destroy any belief that might exist of a correspondence, or an understanding between the disaffected in London and the country. He (Mr. P.) had asked that individual, if, when he thus encouraged the country delegates with hopes of assistance from the capital, he knew of any society or association established in London for the purpose of corresponding or co-operating with any society or association in the country, or if he had ever seen traces of such correspondence? and he answered that he neither knew nor had known of any such society. "I next asked him," said the right hon. gentleman "if he knew or had known of any man of rank, wealth, character, or influence in London, with whom the disaffected in the country were in correspondence, or whom they regarded as favourable to their designs?" and he answered, "I neither now know nor have I known such a person." "I then asked if the person who accompanied him to the country ever mentioned the name of any individual whom the country meetings or delegates had selected in London as the channel of communication between 1117 any body of disaffected men in the metropolis, and the districts which he traversed?" and he answered that the delegate never named such a person, or spoke of such a proceeding. He mentioned these things, to show that if no society existed in the metropolis to correspond with the disaffected, if no man of rank, wealth, influence, or character, was implicated in their designs, or favoured their projects, if the disturbances were confined to districts of the country where there were so many causes of excitement, besides political, our liberties ought not to be suspended. He allowed that disaffection existed in the manufacturing districts, but was this a reason for depriving the whole of the country of the benefits of the constitution? The suspension of the Habeas Corpus was neither necessary, nor was it adapted to the evil. It was not by suspending our liberties that the tranquillity could be restored, but by destining this system of outrage and atrocity, supported by an association who had wrought their minds to such a pitch of rancorous and cruel malignity, that they would shoot any person for a few shillings who never did them any injury, and who was perfectly inoffensive. Unless this system could be rooted out, in vain would any attempt be made to restore the peace of the country, or to retrieve England from a stain which was now cast on her for the first time by the atrocious conduct of Englishmen who hired themselves to murder their unoffending fellow subjects. A measure like that now proposed, instead of putting down the evil, would increase it, by teaching the more respectable part of the nation to be dissatisfied with that constitution which was no longer worthy of their attachment, and that government that robbed them of their liberty. How could the present measure repress the efforts of these people? Would a few months imprisonment cure them? Would it deprive them of their malignity? It was not his duty to propose a remedy, but he would say, that penalties must be enacted against those desperate associations. Was it to be endured that the nation should be deprived of its liberties for associations like this? In 1812, the Luddites were equally formidable as now, and yet the Habeas Corpus act was never proposed to be suspended then. He would now recommend an inquiry into this subject; he would recommend 1118 it as a good thing for the districts infested with these banditti; for the honour of the nation; and above all, for the purpose of destroying that pretence for the suspension of our constitution that was now resorted to.
Mr. Leigh Keck
thought there was no other remedy for the disturbance to which the right hon. gentleman had alluded but the measure which he had opposed. The magistrates had endeavoured without success, to put down these associations by the ordinary powers of the law. The evil had fixed its roots so deep, that as long as there was free agency allowed to the leaders of these associations, it was not in the power of man to put them down. The usual powers of the law were useless; there was but one opinion on this subject in the part of the country to which he belonged. If any gentleman knew a better remedy than the present, let him propose it, and the magistrates would willingly adopt it. With respect to Oliver, there had been great misrepresentations. His character stood higher than that of the class of men to which he was generally described as belonging. Against his moral character there was no imputation. Without such agents the designs of the disaffected could not be counteracted. Whatever might have been the original object of the Hampden clubs, he did not scruple to say, that they had become the pest and bane of society.
observed, that the existence of considerable danger was admitted on all sides; and the only question for discussion was, whether this bill would prove a successful remedy for the evil. He was sorry to say, he had never heard a less convincing speech than that of the hon. gentleman. It was made up of statements which rested entirely on his own assertion, or of reasonings which directly controverted those statements. The hon. gentleman had stated his conviction that nothing could be proved against the moral character of Oliver. But what did this morality consist in? In introducing himself to the confidence of persons resident in the country, by flattering their prejudices, instigating their zeal, and inflaming them to acts of sedition; by assuring them that 75,000 men in London waited for no other inducement to insurrection, than the indication of the same spirit in other parts of the country. Such was the morality of the man employed by his majesty's ministers to sound the dispositions of the 1119 people. The House was bound to consider into whose hands they were about to commit so great a power. There never was a time when so many constitutional questions were pending, with respect to the conduct of a minister, as were now raised with respect to the conduct of lord Sidmouth. The government might appeal to their majorities in parliament; but who was there who had heard the dicussions on the subjects of the prisoners confined in Reading gaol, or the circular letter to the magistrates, founded on the opinion of the law-officers of the Crown, and lastly, on the extraordinary mission of Mr. Oliver, who would not say, that a strong case presented it itself against any reliance on the discretion of a minister whose proceedings had in those instances been impeached; and, he believed, condemned by a large majority of the country? From all the evidence of which the House was in possession, the inference was, that the disorder was local; that it had no communication with London; and that with regard to its capacity of subverting the government, nothing could be more futile or contemptible. What he would recommend to the House would he, the enactment of a code of laws referring precisely to the nature and extent of the evil, and the rigorous enforcement of them when enacted. Our ancestors, when they passed the statute of treasons, never thought of constructive treasons; they contemplated a real conspiracy against the king's life, or an actual levying of war against him; and so strong was this feeling in the country, that so long as the disaffected were brought to trial in this form, he believed the Crown would obtain no convictions. So far from thinking a suspension of the Habeas Corpus act a measure of that nature, he apprehended that it would only serve to alienate the affections of the public, and to render the conviction of offenders more rare and difficult. The consequence must be, that ministers would be glad to avail themselves of any plot as a pretext or ground for still farther continuance of this measure.
§ Mr. Barclay
was of opinion, that the noble lord, in looking at the extent of the evil, had forgotten the remedy already in his hands. Whilst he magnified the danger he diminished the strength of those laws which were already provided against it. The plans of insurrection which had been disclosed evidently proceeded on no certain knowledge or just calculation of 1120 their own force. He could not consent, therefore, to sacrifice one of his dearest liberties upon vague apprehensions and futile dangers. The present circumstances were very different from those under which this measure was before brought forward. Parliament was then sitting, and if any instance of an abuse of authority occurred, it was sure to be represented to that House. The employment of spies and informers he considered necessary; but it was obvious that the trust reposed in them might be easily perverted to injurious purposes. As the representative of a large body of his fellow-countrymen, he could not, although he believed ministers had no sinister purposes in view, support such a measure upon the grounds alleged, and during the recess of parliament. The country was in a course of improvement, labour was again beginning to find employment, agriculture was recovering, and that severe distress, which it was only wonderful had not still more exposed them to the instigations of the disaffected, would soon, he trusted, disappear, and banish all those violent symptoms which were supposed to render so extraordinary a measure as the present necessary.
§ Mr. Wilberforce
declared, that he should always feel a strong reluctance to sacrifice so important a privilege as that which it was now proposed to suspend; and if he consented on this occasion to invest ministers with such a power, it was because he concurred with them that they had the best means of judging that it was necessary to the safety of the country. He thought there was in the late disturbances all over the country much more of a political character than had been represented by a right hon. gentleman. If the leaders were without property, they were not without great natural energy. He could readily conceive how the lower orders, that valuable portion of the community whose labour was so essential to the social system under which we live, might be tempted by the delusive and wicked principles instilled into their minds, to direct their strength to the destruction of the government, and to the overthrow of every civil and religious establishment. It did not appear, that Oliver had asserted, when he mentioned in round numbers the force of the disaffected in London, that there existed any general committee, or that there was any precise calculation formed upon that subject; but surely nobody would deny that there was a great deal of disaffection in London, 1121 which, although in consequence of this measure it might hide its head for a while, only waited for the first favourable opportunity. How was the circumstance, so fully attested, of the number who in many populous districts in the country daily watched the arrival of the mail, in the expectation of hearing that the Tower and the Bank were in the hands of insurgents, to be explained, except as the indication of a belief, that the rising in one place would be the signal for a rising in others? He believed this disposition was created, not by the spirit of Luddism with all its dreadful system of secresy, and tendency to mischief, but by the dangerous political doctrines so actively propagated of late. He begged to refer them to the first report: in that they would find that the late committee was of this opinion, and that they took the same view, both as to the extent and malignity of the disease. The question then was, whether this was an appropriate remedy. Strictly speaking it was not, for the object was, to take away those who infused the poison, whilst the complete remedy could only be expected from that alterative system which must be brought about by a more general diffusion of knowledge and moral principles. With regard to the possibility of its abuse, he believed the best affected and the most respectable entertained the smallest fears. He could not easily bring; himself to apprehend that the noble lord (Sidmouth) would so far forget the character he had always sustained, as to employ the authority intrusted to him to wicked or oppressive purposes. Although parliament might not be sitting, no case of cruelty or hardship could remain unknown in the present state of the press, and every such case would most certainly be canvassed whenever parliament should be reassembled. Candidly speaking, however, did any hon. gentleman believe that such abuses were likely to take place? He admitted that all power had a tendency towards excess; but in this country that tendency was corrected by various controlling causes. If such instances of abuse had already occurred, the blame attending them was not imputable to ministers, nor did they afford any ground for believing that they had been actuated by any other intention than that of discharging their duty. It was often the accident of human affairs, that nothing was left but a choice of evils, and such he conceived to be now the case with ministers. He confessed that when 1122 he saw the designs of those who, whatever the world might think of them, were yet wise in their generation, and when ministers pledged themselves that this measure was necessary, he felt himself, however reluctant, compelled to yield to such necessity. He certainly thought it an evil: at the same time he hoped that the natural good sense of the people of England would at length restore them to their suspended rights. Till then he must, for the sake of the patient poor, for the sake even of the turbulent themselves, consent to the passing of the bill now proposed.
§ Lord Althorp
said, that the speech of the hon. gentleman though very eloquent, had failed in convincing him of the necessity of the present measure. He thought that ministers had entirely failed in making out such a case as to justify the necessity of granting those powers. Even if all that the reports of the committees contained were allowed to be true, a sufficient case had not been made out. But when it was considered how very much the facts alleged in the reports had been mistaken, the case against this bill was much stronger. In the first report it was said, that the disaffected in the metropolis had assumed the French revolutionary emblems, but it had been proved that this was not the case; but on the contrary, that the flags and cockade of the rioters were not of the French colours, but green, white, and red, adopted from some absurd notions about nature, truth, and justice. He trusted that many of those who had supported this bill in the early period of the session, would vote against it now, for there was a wide difference between intrusting the executive with such extraordinary powers during the session of parliament, and continuing those powers during its prorogation. To talk of confidence in government was no argument when the question was the safeguard of the constitution. On the whole, he hoped the House would reject this bill.
§ Sir S. Romilly
rose at the same time with Mr. Courtenay, and, having been called to by the Speaker, he said, that he hoped that he should not deprive the House long of the pleasure of hearing his learned friend, but, having taken some part in opposing the former bill, he was unwilling to give a silent vote upon this. The noble lord had said, that all who voted for this measure in the early part of the session, must necessarily concur in it now; and that even those who were hostile to it 1123 before, might well, in the present circumstances of the country, give it their support. He was so far from thinking this, that even if he had been friendly to the bill before, he should be decidedly against it now. This, indeed, was a measure of much greater importance even than that which the House had before adopted. They were then called upon to suspend the Habeas Corpus, but it was only for four months, and while parliament would be sitting, and might watch in what manner the extraordinary powers given to government were exercised; now they were required, just before they separated, to suspend the most valuable part of the constitution, and to commit this arbitrary power into the hands of ministers without any parliamentary check or control, and this for an indefinite period of time, the duration of which was to depend entirely on the pleasure of the Crown. When parliament should meet again, rested entirely in the breasts of ministers; and so repugnant to the spirit of liberty did he think such a power, that, if the bill should be carried, it was his intention to move that some fixed time should be named at which ministers should be compelled to call together the parliament. The noble lord had talked of circumstances of augmented danger: if such were the case, what did it prove, except that not only was the suspension bill inefficient, but that it had increased the evil it was intended to prevent, and treason had grown up under it, instead of being crushed? And, indeed, could any one doubt that it must furnish food for discontent and disaffection? Before the passing of this bill the grievances complained of by the people might in some sense be said to be imaginary. They had some remote notion that every thing was not precisely as it was in the reign of king John [a laugh]. But now it was very different: there was a positive and present evil to complain of; an evil no less than their being exposed to the privation of personal liberty, and that without notice and without trial. There was also another evil no less grievous. It was now, for the first time, avowed, that spies were in the regular pay of ministers, and were part of their cruel system of administration. Spies who were the promoters and the instigators of the crimes which they afterwards denounced. Surely, here was enough to excite discontent and disgust through the house and the nation. It was impossible not to feel that the first 1124 report (of course unintentionally) had been in many respects grossly exaggerated; and was there a man who could doubt that if the committee had seen the examination of certain witnesses, they would never have made so strong a report? It was a most striking feature in this case, that though these treasonable practices were said to have continued so long, and though the quarter sessions and the assizes had been since held in the disturbed districts, yet nobody had been brought to trial. Government, indeed, had studiously avoided bringing the matter into any train of open examination. Though 140 persons had been arrested in the neighbourhood of Manchester alone, and though some of them were indicted, yet rather than bring them to trial government had sent down certioraries in order to remove the indictments into the King's-bench, and to prevent immediate investigation. How was this to be accounted for? How was this to be explained, except on the supposition that ministers felt that investigation might be unfavourable to the object which they had in view? There was another circumstance well worthy of notice, which was, that notwithstanding the parade that had been made in the first report respecting seditious libels, yet only one person had been brought to trial for an offence of this description, and that alleged libel which alone had been the subject of prosecution had been created by the very suspension of the Habeas Corpus act. Thus the measure had produced the very mischief which it pretended to remedy. He alluded to the case of Wooler. Looking at the last report, he found more than one passage corroborative of this position, that the act had rather increased than diminished the evil so much complained of. What did this prove, except that no permanent good could be expected from these boasted measures of repression? It was somewhat curious, that when government was already armed with the power of transporting any of these delegates who might be found offending, yet they carefully shunned what might be a useful example, preferred locking them up in obscurity, so that not even their names could escape to warn their fellows, or deter their followers, and thus their punishment was at once odious and useless. An hon. member had intimated that this measure was necessary for the repression of Luddism He deprecated this idea, and conjured the House not to entertain it for a 1125 moment; for if it was once to be allowed that the suspension of the rights of the whole people was the only effective remedy for Luddism, he feared that the consequence would be, that the suspension act might last, not for six weeks or for six months, but for six years, or for sixty: for he feared that Luddism was not likely ever to be eradicated by such a proceeding, or within so short a time as some gentlemen contemplated. The last report seemed to acquit London from the charge of any connexion with the disaffected; at least it stated, in a very ambiguous manner, that the committee had obtained no specific information of any body of men associated in the metropolis with whom the disaffected in the country appear to be acting in concert. This ought to induce his hon. friend (Mr. Wilberforce) to regard the spirit, of which he was afraid, as less extensive and powerful than he had supposed it to be. He must confess, too, that after the petitions which had been laid on the table, and amongst others that from the place which his hon. friend (Mr. Wilberforce) had himself once represented, the town of Hull, numerously and respectably signed as it was, after the instances which had been produced of great oppression under the former suspension of the Habeas Corpus act, and particularly one which had been laid on the table that evening, and which related to a case of uncommon severity, he could not but be surprised how his hon. friend, with the knowledge he possessed of these facts, could still believe that none but the disaffected entertained apprehensions on the subject of the suspension of the Habeas Corpus act. He well knew the humane disposition of his hon. friend, who, he was convinced, could not have looked into the circumstances and situation of the country with his usual attention when he delivered this opinion. The kindness of his hon. friend to him would not permit him to suppose that he ranked him among the disaffected, though he frankly avowed that he was one of those persons who entertained most serious apprehensions from the passing of this measure. It was giving to ministers a power most dangerous to the constitution, and he cared not in whose hands that power might be placed. It was one of the melancholy signs of the times, that while, day after day, encroachments were making on public liberty, the answer to every complaint was, that the power which was given would be placed in 1126 gentle hands. Was there ever any despotic government which did not claim the right of exercising power on this ground? It was the interest of every sort of government to govern well; and when the most despotic enforced mischievous measures, it often proceeded more from ignorance or want of judgment than intention; but the only real security for the governed, was that responsibility of the government which it was the object of this measure to remove. He saw, besides, no particular reason for the satisfaction at the bands in which this monstrous power was now to be placed. The private character of the noble lord on whom the powers would devolve, he was sensible, was meritorious and praiseworthy; but he confessed that he did not entertain any respect for him as a public man. He could not reconcile himself to so light a way of speaking of the constitution as that which made the suspension of its most valuable privileges a matter of indifference, because certain persons, of whom a favourable opinion was entertained, were to be invested with the arbitrary authority which must be the consequence of that suspension. He could not, readily, join in that favourable view of the mode in which that authority was likely to be exercised, when he recollected that it was placed in the same hands that vindicated the violation of the statute for the protection of prisoners, and which in the Circular Letter to the lord lieutenants had taken upon itself to tell the magistrates how they were to exercise the discretion which the law was supposed to give them, and had presumed to declare to the magistracy what the law on extremely doubtful questions was. It was no slight objection to the bill that it was made to extend to Scotland, though the report afforded no ground for that extension. He would ask, whether it was possible to point out a sentence in the report which could afford a pretext for depriving Scotland of the protection of the act against wrongous imprisonment. He could state, that the disposition of the people of Scotland was most orderly and loyal; and this he could do, not upon vague and uncertain evidence, but upon the best authority. He alluded to the address lately voted by the general assembly of the church of Scotland to the Prince Regent. That address came from a body of the clergy, who did not, as was unfortunately too often the case in England, live absent from their charge, but 1127 who were always resident in their respective parishes, and intimately acquainted with the opinions and situations of their flocks. The address described the people as enduring the distress and difficulties they had to encounter with the greatest firmness, tranquillity, and patience, and congratulated his Royal Highness, that neither privations nor the corrupting influence of inflammatory language employed by seditious persons had been able to seduce the people from their principles of loyalty and allegiance." He must contend, therefore, that the people of Scotland were completely acquitted of any charge of disaffection. Why, then, were they threatened with the suspension of that act, which was justly regarded as the Magna Charta of that country? The noble lord had talked about the great responsibility under which ministers brought this measure forward. He must say, that the public was not treated with much respect when that argument was used. The ministers would incur no responsibility, and they knew that they incurred none: they were quite sure that the House whenever they asked for it, would pass a bill of indemnity; nay there could be no doubt that the same House which had refused to require the names of the persons who were now imprisoned under the bill, would, if the ministers wished it, give them an indemnity by anticipation for what they should hereafter do, as well as for what they had already done. His hon. friend seemed to make very light of the evils which might be produced by the exercise of these extraordinary powers, as if it was little that individuals might be carried off from their homes, and imprisoned in dungeons, without any of their friends knowing where they were to be found. His hon. friend supposed that such transactions could not take place without being soon inquired into, and that any act of oppression must speedily come to the knowledge of the public. That would indeed be true, with individuals of distinction like his hon. friend, or persons of any consequence; but who would inquire after unfortunate journeymen shoemakers or weavers? The obscurity of these persons rendered them? liable to the greatest oppression. He did not know whether his hon. friend had been in the house when a petition was presented from an individual who had been detained seven years in close custody. There might be many such cases, and the parties, though no charge had been 1128 brought against them, were ultimately shut out from all means of obtaining redress. The noble lord had said that ministers had no interest in possessing themselves of this extraordinary power: on this point the public was not exactly of the same opinion with his lordship. The public in general were satisfied that the session has passed over in a very different manner from what it would have done, had it not been for the introduction of these arbitrary measures. An opinion prevailed very extensively in the country, that the noble lord and his colleagues had in some degree been obliged to the alarm they had raised for maintaining them in their situations; for what questions of economy or reduction of expenditure could be attended to when measures of such great magnitude were forced upon parliament? The prospect which the country had before it, he thought a very melancholy ore. The two most powerful parties in the nation were the ministers and their friends, who were constant in their endeavours to increase the power of the Crown on the one hand, and on the other, those who professed not to be of any party, but who were proceeding steadfastly and most systematically to tire objects they had in view. A part of their system was by misrepresentation, and by every other artifice, to destroy all confidence of the people in all public men, and this was a purpose which ministers had, whether inadvertently or by design, unremittedly contributed to promote, by having recourse upon all occasions, when their own measures were censured, to the acts of recrimination, not so much defending themselves, as attempting to prove that their predecessors were equally criminal, and inculcating a belief, that all who interfered in the public councils were only desirous to retain or to possess themselves of power. To such an extent by this extraordinary co-operation of opposite parties had this evil reached, that if the country were destined to experience any violent political convulsions, it was to be feared that the dangerous powers to which such a crisis always gives birth, would be wielded by men the most dangerous and desperate, whom nothing but so extraordinary a state of things could ever raise into importance. In the mean time, each of these parties was strengthening the other's hands. The popular faction by acts of violence was affording a pretext to the ministers to destroy or to suspend all 1129 that was most valuable and sacred in the constitution, while the ministers, by the arbitrary measures they pursued, provoked the people to acts of violence and insurrection. How all this would end, what would be the result of that crisis, which each side seemed desirous to hasten, no man could say, but that when it came, it would bring with it evils and calamities, which every honest mind must look forward to with horror there could be little doubt; and he must say, adopting an expression lately used by the noble lord himself, it was his full conviction, that for those multiplied and aggravated calamities that noble lord and his colleagues would be chiefly answerable in the eyes both of God and man.
had reluctance in acceding to the measure, but he was convinced it was necessary, and had no fears that the powers it convoyed would be misused by the noble lord in whom they would be invested. They had no reason to doubt the regard of that noble lord for the constitution, who, when he sat in the chair of that House, had shown so much knowledge of the constitution, and so strong an attachment to its principles. He was satisfied that no other remedy could he applied to the existing situation of the country; and the circumstance of parliament being about to rise was, in his opinion, an additional reason for passing the bill, as the country ought not to be left unprotected during the prorogation. It was said, the conspirators were not dangerous, because there were no persons of consequence among them. It appeared to him, however, that they were the more dangerous on that very account. When persons of distinction are engaged in plots, if the heads be seized the whole business is over: but such was not the case with insurrections of the present description; for one head was no sooner seized than another Hydra started up. A most dangerous spirit had gone abroad, and he believed the well-disposed part of the country would be sorry to see parliament separate without passing the bill.
§ Lord Milton
was against the bill, not only because it was an infraction of the constitution, but because it was not applicable as a remedy for the evil complained of. When he last opposed this measure, he had done it with a trembling hand and an aching heart. It was the only time he had ever had the misfortune to differ from one to whose opinions all his respect was 1130 due, and he had given his vote with great pain; but with what satisfaction did he give it now, knowing that that difference which then made him regret the course he was taking was removed. An hon. friend had stated that all the civil and military authorities in the disturbed districts were for the bill. He could tell him of one who now entertained a different opinion, and one whose opinion he believed his hon. friend was inclined to respect. That person (earl Fitzwilliam) had made a strict investigation into the situation of those parts of the country: and the result was, that he was perfectly satisfied that there was no ground for the present measure.— What was now proposed to be done? They were going to prolong a bill in a manner for which there was no precedent. If there was nothing to support the measure in point of precedent, there was still less to be said in its defence, on the ground of the hands to which the authority was to be intrusted. The love of power was predominant in the human mind, and there was no reason to suppose that the present ministers were exempt from the operations of this law of nature, which extends from the peasant to the throne. Speaking of the throne, in which the passion for power was so generally admitted to exist, he could not refrain from alluding, as an instance in point, to a work lately published. He meant an account of the Life of James 2d. There was in the appendix to that work a very curious document, intituled "King James's Advice to his Son." That advice was known to have been transcribed by the fair hands of a lady in a high station, to which it would be unparliamentary for him to allude. That there should be any thing in such advice to delight the eyes of those who were brought to this country to maintain the Habeas Corpus act, to protect the liberties of the people, and to maintain that very constitution which James 2nd had violated, was most extraordinary. The advice given by king James to his son, which had met with such distinguished approbation, contained a sentiment to this effect—that it was a great misfortune to the people as well as the country, that the Habeas Corpus act had been passed, as it obliged the government to maintain a great force, and enabled the turbulent to prosecute their evil designs. This, it was alleged, had been the object of lord Shaftesbury in promoting the passing of the act. He had no doubt that, with all thrones, Habeas Corpus acts were 1131 great evils. For this opinion he had the authority of king James; he had also the authority of the government of France. There had been a struggle in that country in former times, the great object of which was, to obtain a constitutional law similar to our Habeas Corpus. The court of France, however, prevailed, and the history of the succeeding century and a half sufficiently proved what had been the lamentable effects of that success. He should now take the liberty to notice a passage in the report. It was stated, with respect to the metropolis, that the committee had received no specific information of any association. He had acceded to that proposition; but he must say, that the thread of evidence on which it was founded was most slender. He would repeat, that throughout the whole proceedings there was a disposition to give a stronger impression to the evidence of disaffection than he thought it fairly bore. On this account he had prepared a paragraph with the view of inserting it in the report to diminish the effect of that impression. He had also wished to introduce a proposition recommending the bringing the individuals accused to a speedy trial, a measure which was calculated to have the most salutary effect. "This," said the noble lord, "is a bill of attainder against the people of England. Do not talk to me of good kings and good ministers; that is not proper language for a House of Commons. I know of no kings, I know of no ministers, who are not disposed to increase their power, and therefore I say, let us preserve the Habeas Corpus act. Much has been said of the danger arising from seditious and inflammatory publications, and certainly no man can be more ready than I am to vote for the punishment of the authors; but if the ministers of this country shall persuade country gentlemen that the Habeas Corpus act is not to be held in religious veneration by the people, they will add much to the dissatisfaction which now prevails. I believe that this act will be administered mildly; so much the worse; because it must tend to create an opinion, that the people of this country can do without the great measure which our ancestors considered the principal security of their liberties. I would much rather have this power in the hands of those who would abuse it; because, in that case, the people would be more likely to value their liberties, and to demand the restitution of 1132 them. I admit that there may be considerable discontent in the country. Great distress exists in all classes of the community, and wherever there is distress there must be also discontent. Let the ministers restore prosperity to the country, and we shall hear no more of the risings of the people. I consider the bill unnecessary and uncalled for by the existing state of things, and I believe it will rather increase than allay the spirit of disaffection which is said to prevail in the country.
supported the motion. The question at present was, first, whether there was danger existing in the country, and then whether the remedy proposed were applicable and sufficient? In 1812, a danger something similar to the present existed, but it was without the peculiar character of having a great physical force applied to political purposes.
§ Sir J. Newport
observed, that no one had yet told the House how this measure was to remedy the evil which was said to exist. The arguments which had been adduced were of no greater weight than when this measure was first recommended to the House; and as he thought the danger still less at this moment, he should certainly vote against the bill.
§ Mr. Elliot
said, he would pass by entirely the objection against this measure, that it would be an encroachment on the constitution, because he was satisfied that no lover of his country, no Englishman, could tolerate such a measure without a conviction of its adequate necessity. Parliament having reserved to itself the power of re-considering the state of the country before its separation, the question turned upon the nature and extent of the danger that existed. It certainly appeared to him, that there was a systematic design to corrupt the lower classes of the people, particularly in the manufacturing districts, which comprised the most efficient part of our population. If Luddism took a favourable turn, it was capable of being converted to the worst of purposes. The peculiar danger which he saw was in the mind and temper and disposition of the people. Who could contemplate the fact of great bodies of people turning their attention to arms and ammunition, without feeling the necessity of adopting precaution? Slight as this mischief might appear to some, it was of a character to associate to itself greater force, and it would work even into higher classes of the community. He was aware 1133 of the argument, that the spirit of disaffection and rebellion was confined to low persons; but he did not know that men of that cast were not peculiarly calculated to effect the object which they had in view. A government might be overturned by people of the lowest rank, though greater abilities were required to recover the scattered elements. No one could doubt that the object of the Manchester expedition was force. The circumstances of that case established the fact of influence: it was a concerted plan undertaken by demagogues, and intended to be carried into execution by armed men. The demagogues harangued, and the people followed. These people were capable of doing considerable mischief, and were actually doing it: and if we were now to withdraw this measure, we should give them a fresh impulse. Upon the whole, he thought this precaution necessary for the preservation of the lives, the property, and the liberties of the country; and although he lamented exceedingly to have occasion to differ from his noble friend, lord Milton, whose decision, from his superior means of knowing all the evidence, made him reel and stagger when he ventured to express a contrary opinion, yet he found himself bound in conscience to give his assent to the bill.
§ Mr. Brougham
said, the question simply was, had the House evidence to prove that this measure was absolutely necessary? Upon that question he said, no. He did not mean to impeach the integrity of the committee, but men might be mistaken, and it was of the nature of alarm to be infectious. By the second report it was asserted, that the treasonable practices were confined to the country, while the first had insisted that the whole centered in the metropolis—a contradiction of no small importance, because there was a wide difference between an organized plan in the heart of the empire and the seat of government, and a scattered and uncombined discontent in distant parts of the country. It was not a little curious to contrast what was inserted in the first report as fact, and as reason for unlimited; alarm, and what had now come out to be the truth on the recent trial. The report talked of numerous leaders and of large funds, and of one individual in particular, Thistlewood, as having pecuniary resources, not only for providing arms, am- 1134 munition, and equipments for horse and foot, but for the payment of the wages of the thousands who were thrown out of employ in consequence of his plot, and who engaged to devote their labours to its accomplishment, demands which the fortunes of the dukes of Devonshire or Bedford would be incapable of answering. What appeared to be the fact, but that this man of inexhaustible wealth was in reality so poor as to be unable to appear on his trial in court in the ordinary dress of the country, but was content to put up with the jacket and trowsers of an old sailor. When the managers were arrested, they were found in a miserable garret, two or three in one bed, and in the depth of winter covered only with a single blanket. At least, therefore, if it were true that they had immense funds at their disposal, they had behaved most disinterestedly in appropriating no part of them to their own purposes. The subscriptions of which the first report said so much, amounted in the whole to 1l. 2s.; and the whole scheme of summoning the Tower, taking the Bank, and seizing the bridges, was as contemptible in its reality, as the report had endeavoured to make it important in the representation. The cavalry was to consist of horses taken from hackney-coaches at a time of night when there were none in the streets; and the general who was to lead them had been appointed to his command, not so much because he could ride as because from his lameness he could not walk. All the craft in the Thames, like the Tower, was to be captured by a single rebel; and when a few barges had been furnished with one gun each, they were to proceed to the Nore, to capture all the first-rate men of war there stationed for the protection of the river. Upon the subject of the ammunition waggon the report had been very diffuse; and the right hon. member for Liverpool had added to the gross exaggeration by his taunt, that he could see no connexion between a peaceable meeting for reform of abuses and a waggon loaded with military stores: yet what did it turn out to be but an ounce or two of powder in a little tin-canister and a few bullets in the foot of an ancient stocking. These, too, placed in the waggon by the miscreant and accomplice Castles, or by some person employed by him for the purpose. Having thus contrasted the truth with the statement, was he not warranted in saying, that if the members of the committee 1135 who agreed to the last report were now called to confirm their former opinion, they would at least hesitate before they arrived at the conclusion. The right hon. gentleman who spoke last had observed, that his alarm was occasioned because he plainly saw that some men in the country entertained a design to corrupt the principles and pervert the allegiance of the lower orders; but what evidence was there of any such attempt? Did he refer to the men recently acquitted, and who had thus been cleared of the guilt of treason, but who still were not free from a heinous offence, for which they had been tried, they would doubtless have suffered the punishment of the law? After the exposure they had undergone—after the crimes in which they were involved, and the stigma that still remained upon them, it would indeed be a subject of deep regret, and of more astonishment if these wretched companions and associates of Castle received any portion of the support or confidence of their fellow-countrymen. Did the fears of the right hon. gentleman then arise from the recent discoveries at Manchester, in a county where discontent undoubtedly prevailed, because the distress was peculiarly severe? Were there, however no laws to check these discontents? Were there no adequate laws in 1792 and 1793, a period of ten-thousand times more danger than the present? Passing over the intermediate period, was there no discontent in 1812, when Luddism was at its height, and when all the formalities of a green bag and a secret committee were gone through to give it importance? and yet ministers had not then ventured to propose the suspension of the Habeas Corpus? The late member for Yorkshire (Mr. Wilberforce) had insisted, that no resemblance could be drawn between the suspension bill and the lettres de cachet of France, and he had no apprehension of abuse; but surely when he so said, he had forgotten the names of Castles, Reynolds, and Oliver; and, had forgotten too, when he talked of the controlling superintendence of parliament, that the House had refused to do anything in favour of the liberty of the subject, and had recently rejected a motion to assert the right of magistrates to visit the prisoners of state. As he did consider this ground very tenable, the same hon. member had, with all the simplicity of innocence, put it to the House, whether it could suppose that such, a man as lord Sidmouth would abuse the powers 1136 intrusted to him? It was an old saying, that if all men were angels, despotism would be the best government; but as that was not the case, the law had wisely provided securities both for the rulers and the ruled; and however mild, gentle, and inoffensive might be the disposition of the noble secretary for the home department, he might be the instrument if not the agent of abuse. The noble secretary was not infallible; he might, like other men be deceived; and that his sagacity might be imposed upon recent experience had shown, for he was the admitted and recorded dupe of the informer Oliver. Private malevolence might find its way where self-interest had already made a lodgment, and the footing Oliver had gained in the home department might lead to the establishment of others, with designs equally desperate and wicked. Oliver might point out a suspected individual; and a second informer, a second brewer of plots and mischief, apparently from another quarter, might direct the penetrating eye of the noble secretary to the same unhappy person; and the noble secretary lost in the strong conviction of the guilt of an innocent man, confounded by the cross-fires of positive evidence he had so cunningly obtained, might condemn him under this bill to solitary and indefinite confinement. Much had of late been said upon the employment of spies, and it was asked whether there existed any charge against the moral character of Oliver? Was it nothing to prove that he was a spy and an informer, that he had employed the names of sir F. Burden, lord Cochrane, and major Cartwright, to inveigle the unwary, and to lead them into crimes by which their lives would be forfeited? Was it nothing against his moral character to prove that he was a cheat in fact, and a murderer in contemplation? Could a more blackened a more blood-stained villain be found, than a man who went about the world to ensnare, that he might betray, and to corrupt, that he might destroy? The hon. and learned gentleman then proceeded to censure the period at which this question was agitated: viz. the eve of a prorogation, which would give ministers the power of continuing the operation of the measure at their own pleasure. It was his firm conviction, that the existing laws were adequate not only to prevent the mischief, but to punish the guilty. If it were said that ministers had not evidence to bring offenders to trial 1137 what was it but a confession that the suspension bill was to enable them to punish without proof 170 individuals already in their power in Lancaster castle and other prisons of the kingdom? He felt no such alarm as the two reports of the committee endeavoured to excite; and he was prepared to set against them, and the evidence on which they were founded, the venerable authority of lord Fitzwilliam, who notwithstanding his constitutional unwillingness to be lulled into security where any real danger existed, was convinced that the fears of the supporters of this measure were without foundation. It was said by the supporters of this bill, that in times of danger the constitution required support. He begged leave to protest against this doctrine; the constitution of England was not made merely for fair weather, and if it could not defy and out-live the storm, it was not worth preserving. If this measure were unfortunately passed, he hoped never again to be compelled to listen to the pharisaical cant of—how much happier and more free the subjects of this country were, than the nations by whom they are surrounded; for what did the suspension of the Habeas Corpus act prove, but that the constitution of England was of no use, and the liberties of Englishmen of no value.
said, however much gentlemen might differ as to the conclusion to be come to, there was a pretty general agreement as to the grounds on which the subject was to be argued. There were three distinct questions for decision:— First, Was there danger in the state? Secondly, Were the ordinary laws sufficient for its suppression? and if not— Thirdly, Was the specific measure proposed one which supplied the deficiency of the ordinary laws, and was directly applicable to the danger? If any one of these questions could be answered in the negative, he was perfectly willing to admit that the House ought not to consent to the third reading of the bill; but if, as in his conscience he believed, they must all be answered in the affirmative, then could not the House discharge its duty to the country, except by sanctioning the measure with the least possible delay. The hon. and learned gentleman had undervalued that danger to such a degree, as to make it appear ridiculous that any remedy should be sought for. Up to the period of the debate at which the hon. and learned gen- 1138 tleman had spoken, no person—so far as he (Mr. C.) believed—had distinctly maintained such a proposition. The hon. and learned gentleman had contrasted the information in the first report, with what he was pleased to consider as the complete refutation of that report, by the acquittal of the persons lately brought to trial. God forbid, that he (Mr. C.) should not go as far as himself in admitting the effect of that acquittal, so far as concerned the persons themselves. Undoubtedly it absolved those persons from the technical guilt of high treason. But did this absolution of the individuals negative the existence of the crime? Because Mr. Watson and others were not proved by such evidence as the jury thought fit to credit, to have been guilty of the crime laid to their charge, did it follow that all that was laid to their charge was harmlessness and innocence? Did it follow that there had been in those designs, as the hon. and learned gentleman seemed to think, not only no criminality, but no real and substantial danger? Did it follow that the government had done wrong in bringing before a jury the question, whether such designs were innocent or criminal,—or that amidst the preparation of such projects as were proved beyond doubt to have been prepared, the state might have remained safe without having recourse to measures of precaution? It was easy to underrate the danger now that it was dissipated—to compare the means employed with the objects in contemplation—and to expose their utter disproportion and incongruity. But to such arguments does not history, and recent history, afford too striking a refutation? Who could have believed, à priori, that the mob of Paris would sack the palace of their king, and lead him in triumph to the capital?—As to the technical designation of the crime,—whether treason, or riot, or insurrection,—surely the hon. and learned member must recollect that at an earlier period of the year, when these men were first tried, it was made one of the charges against the officers of the Crown, that they had abandoned their duty in indicting them for the lesser offence,—that if there was any thing at all against them, it must be a charge of high; treason, and for that only could they be put on their trial [Hear, hear!].
The hon. and learned gentleman had next attempted to discredit the whole statement of both the reports, and the evidence on the trials, because the informa- 1139 tion had been derived in some degree from spies. Was it meant that government should receive no evidence of treasonable designs but from men of unimpeachable moral character? What plot was ever discovered by men who were found actually blameless in all the relations of life, and who were engaged in treason only for a day, and by accident? Did the mere fact of informing take away all credit of the information? Did the hon. and learned gentleman mean to say, that if the peace of the country, in consequence of his learning and talents, were committed to his hands, he would altogether have rejected such evidence? If so, he would be precluded from the best means of detecting and defeating conspiracies, and would abandon the duties of the office intrusted to him,—one of which — and one for which it is armed by act of parliament with special authority and special means—is to detect (through informers) conspiracies against the state. One thing, however, he must state, which he thought must be satisfactory. It was, that on the testimony of the spy particularly alluded to in this debate, no one human being had been arrested or molested [Hear, hear!]; and that every communication from him was laid in extensor before the committees of both Houses of Parliament.
The second point in question was, whether the evil which had grown up in the country, did not require to be met and controlled by laws more efficient than any now existing? To establish the negative of this proposition, some gentlemen had been willing to resolve the whole of the mischief which now agitated and alarmed us into Luddism. Luddism was, no doubt, a canker in the country highly desirable to be eradicated: but let it not be supposed that measures even against Luddism would have met with a ready concurrence from those who are now so active in recommending them. Five years ago, when measures deemed necessary for this purpose were brought forward, a most active and persevering opposition was made to them from those very quarters in which Luddism was now represented as the only evil requiring oar attention. But neither would the re-enactment of those laws, nor of any laws against Luddism, specifically meet the present evil in the country. The principles at work are those which may seize upon the established system of Luddism, and employ it as an instrument; but they point at wider objects, and tend to more 1140 spreading destruction. The combinations of Luddism might furnish the means of quicker and more concentrated action; but the master-spirits who were now stirring the populace into disaffection had other objects of enmity than frames and manufactories—they looked to the subversion of the kingdom. To meet this evil, was a law which gave a power of temporary detention of persons suspected of treasonable and revolutionary designs, a fit and adequate remedy?
As to the objection, that the powers demanded would be placed in improper hands, he would only say that he asked nothing in confidence; but that believing, as he did, those powers to be necessary, he could not conceive the administration, framed out of gentlemen of this country, to whom he would not confide them. As to the noble lord at the head of the home department, it was indeed altogether a new charge to say that he was by nature a tyrant,—thatTurn'd a tyrant in his latter days,He lost the merit of his former praise.One noble lord, indeed, had made a counter accusation, and had apprehended danger from the lenity and mildness of the minister in question. He left these conflicting charges and apprehensions to balance each other. He did not mean to undervalue—he never had undervalued the sacrifice made by the temporary suspension of the undoubted right of every subject of this country to be brought to trial immediately upon his arrest on charge of crime. But this sacrifice is to be compared with the interests which it is calculated to preserve. He (Mr. C.) had been reproached with arguing that the British constitution was pliable, and would yield to circumstances without lasting detriment or dilapidation. He had so argued: nor would any thing that he had heard that night drive him from an argument which he thought strictly true; and he did think a temporary suspension of liberty a much less evil than a lasting enactment equally powerful against disaffection, which he trusted was but the disaffection of a day.
As to the often repeated, and as often, refuted fallacy, that it was against the people of England that we were called upon to pass this measure, he would not waste words in combating so palpable an absurdity. Was it the people of England who were to be imprisoned? No: it was the people of England who were to be preserved by putting a stop to that fermenta- 1141 tion which, if suffered to proceed, would explode and destroy them. To save the deluded from the deceivers,—to rescue the wicked from themselves [Hear, hear!] from the maturity of their own projects, and from the consequences of their perfected criminality; to reserve them for repentance, and for the hopes and softening influence of better times,—such was the object, and such would, he doubted not, be the effect of a measure which had often saved the constitution that it was admitted to violate,—and which never was more necessary for that purpose than now [Hear, hear!]. He did not think the picture of the country drawn by the hon. and learned gentleman (sir S. Romilly) to be true in any of its parts. By pursuing this system, said the hon. and learned gentleman, parliament was pushing the people to despair. The people!—No—For what the parliament had done and was now doing to save the people, it merited—aye and received the good wishes, the applause and thanks of every thinking man in the country. There was a morbid sensibility which felt only for crime, but winch thought nothing of all the miseries, injustice, and outrage which were inflicted by the criminals upon the innocent. But he (Mr. C.) looked on the country with different eyes, and felt that he had a different duty to discharge. He was convinced that those who voted for the bill, no less than those who opposed it, considered even the most criminal as objects of merciful consideration. But it was in behalf of those whose lives were embittered, whose safety was endangered, and whose tranquillity was perpetually disturbed by the machinations of the disaffected, that he would enable the government to take from among the people for a time, those who were disturbing them and putting them in danger, and thus to preserve both the criminal and the innocent from one common destruction [Hear, hear!].
confessed that there had been a smile on his countenance at one part of the right hon. gentleman's speech, and that it did strike him as extraordinary, even, after the reconciliation that had taken place, to hear the right hon. gentleman stand up for the talents of that poor doctor who had so long been the butt of his most bitter and unsparing ridicule [loud cries of Hear!]: a creature, the diagnosis of whose characteristic infirmity had so repeatedly amused the right hon. gentleman— 1142The symptom a dulness that's fix'd in the head,A dislike to all changes of place—Whether in poetry or prose, the great object of his derision, and that for want of ability and sense, had been the noble lord whom he had so strenuously defended that night; and now, forsooth, he wondered that any person could object to confide unlimited power in the hands of such a person. In no hands would he confide such uncontrouled power, but least of all to the noble secretary; for, in his opinion (and in the right hon. gentleman's formerly), he did not possess the sagacity requisite for the discharge of such a trust. —The noble lord then proceeded to point out several inconsistencies in the arguments by which it had been attempted to support the measure: among; others, he contended that either the prisoners lately discharged, if guilty, were turned out to increase the amount of discontent and disaffection, or if innocent, had been most grievously injured. The right hon. gentleman bemoaned the heavy responsibility of ministers. But what could be the amount of that responsibility, when the House was refused the names of the parties committed, under the pretence of a fear of affording communications to the disaffected; who, if they existed, could not exist without knowing already the names of those with whom they were connected? He believed that the bill was pressed for the purpose of intimidation. A distinction had been attempted between the powers granted by this bill, and that exercised in France by lettres-de-cachet; but there was no difference between the two. There might be some danger, he admitted, from the release of apprehended persons, in the influence that it might have on those who were considered disaffected; but that was not enough to incline him to agree to renew the suspension. If the suspension were passed for several months more, the reasons would be still stronger for the continuance of it; for it was not improbable that the disaffection would be increased. If it was good now, it would be made to appear so then; and by the reasoning upon circumstances it might be rendered perpetual. He entreated the House to pause before they consented to the perpetuation of a measure which was of the nature of that horrible inquisition, which led in a main degree, to the French Revolution, and which, if carried long into practice in 1143 this country, might destroy all that was most valuable in our constitution.
§ The House divided: Ayes, 276; Noes, 111; Majority, 165.
|List of the Minority.|
|Anson, sir G.||Moore, Peter|
|Atherley, A.||Milton, visc.|
|Aubrey, sir John||Markham, admiral|
|Burroughs, sir W.||Mostyn, sir T.|
|Baring, Alex.||Newman, R. W.|
|Brand, hon. T.||Newport, sir J.|
|Brougham, Henry||Neville, hon. R.|
|Burdett, sir F.||North, D.|
|Browne, D.||Nugent, lord|
|Birch, J.||Orde, W.|
|Barham, J. F.||Ossulston, lord|
|Barnett, J.||Osborne, lord F.|
|Bennet, hon. H. G.||Palmer, col.|
|Byng, Geo.||Parnell, sir H.|
|Barclay, C.||Peirse, Henry|
|Broadhurst, J.||Pelham, hon. C. A.|
|Baker, J.||Pelham, hon. G. A.|
|Carter, J.||Piggott, sir A.|
|Calcraft, John||Ponsonby, rt hon. G.|
|Cavendish, lord G.||Ponsonby, hon. C.|
|Cavendish, hon. H.||Powlett, hon. W.|
|Cavendish, hon. C.||Preston, R.|
|Campbell, lord J.||Pym, Francis|
|Campbell, hon. J.||Portman, E. B.|
|Cochrane, lord||Protheroe, Edw.|
|Coke, T.||Ramsbottom, J.|
|Caulfield, hon. H.||Ramsden, J. C.|
|Duncannon, visc.||Rancliffe, lord|
|Dundas, hon. L.||Ridley, sir M. W.|
|Dundas, Chas.||Romilly, sir S.|
|Douglas, hon. F. S.||Rowley, sir W.|
|Fazakerley, N.||Spencer, lord R.|
|Folkes, sir M.||Scudamore, R. P.|
|Fergusson, sir R. C.||Sefton, earl of|
|Fitzroy, lord John||Sharp, R.|
|Folkestone, visc.||Smith, W.|
|Fellowes, hon. N.||Smith, J.|
|Gaskell, Benj.||Smith, Robt.|
|Gordon, R.||Smyth, J. H.|
|Guise, sir Wm.||Shaw, sir James|
|Gurney, Hudson||Tavistock, marquis of|
|Heathcote, sir G.||Taylor, M. A.|
|Heron, sir R.||Tierney, rt. hon. G.|
|Hughes, W. L.||Walpole, hon. G.|
|Hanbury, Wm.||Waldegrave, hon. W.|
|Hill, lord A.||Webb, Ed.|
|Howard, hon. W.||Warre, J. A.|
|Latouche, R.||Wharton, John|
|Latouche, R. jun.||Williams, Owen|
|Lester, B. L.||Wood, Matthew|
|Lemon, sir Wm.||Webster, sir G.|
|Lloyd, J. M.||TELLERS.|
|Methuen, Paul||Abererombie, hon. J.|
|Macdonald James||Althorp, visc.|
|Mackintosh, sir J.||PAIRED OFF.|
|Madocks, W. A.||Baillie, J. E.|
|Martin, H.||Calvert, N.|
|Martin, J.||Calvert, C.|
|Molyneux, H. H.||Curwen, J. C.|
|Monck, sir C,||Foley, hon. A.|
|Howorth, H.||Plumer, W.|
|Lambton, J. G.||Shelley, sir J.|
|Latouche, J.||Symonds, T. P.|
|Lefevre, C. S.||Townshend, lord J.|
|Morpeth, visc.||Western, C. C.|