Mr. Somers Cocks
brought up the Report of the Address on the Prince Regent's Speech. On the motion that the said report be agreed to,
§ Sir Robert Wilson
rose. He expressed his disinclination to renew a subject which had been for two nights so fully discussed; but it was a question of such national importance, involving principles and consequences so essentially connected with the public welfare and tranquillity, that he felt it an indispensable duty to state his opinion upon it. In appreciation of the blessings enjoyed under the British constitution, he was as sincere as any man in that House; and to the eulogium passed upon it by the hon. member, who moved the Address, in a speech which evidently was the dictate of his own conviction, and not a mere echo to the communication from the throne, he as warmly subscribed. But it had been said, that Paradise was a place with many gates; and in directing the efforts of men to arrive there, too frequently had it happened, that fire and sword were used by those to whom religion should have communicated a purer and more congenial spirit. In politics, as well as in religion, he was one of those who never would meet with coercion those who might differ in opinion as to what they considered the privileges and the rights of that constitution. He was no radical; he objected to the vote by ballot, and thought it inconsistent with universal suffrage: he objected no less to universal suffrage, because if it existed, many of the institutions he had been sworn at the table to support could not be maintained. Yet he did not on that account think that radical reformers were to be placed out of the pale of the constitution. His objection, to their system should never lead him to act upon the Tory doctrine of putting down and coercing those from whom he differed. Such, however, was too frequently the spirit of high Tory politics, and was well pour trayed in "The History of Lord Russell's Own Times," by sir R. L'Estrange, where he stated, that a citizen's skull was a pretty thing to try the temper of a soldier's sword on. With respect to the meeting at Manchester, it was undoubtedly a meeting of Radical Reformers. Much had been said of its legality and illegality by many of the hon. members who had preceded in that discussion; in- 303 deed, he that spoke now could only pick the gleanings which remained, after the rich harvest of eloquence and argument which adorned and illustrated the debate. If we put ourselves in the situation of the persons in question, we should be inclined to parody the lines of the poet, and say,The realm is not my friend, nor the realm's law:The realm affords no law to make me rich—My poverty and not my will offends.As to the flags and their devices, an hon. baronet had given that part of the imputation a most decisive and satisfactory answer. By one right hon. and by one learned gentleman, it was contended that numbers constituted illegality. Against that doctrine he solemnly protested. The principle was unknown to the law—it was falsified by the usage of that House. Did he not speak within the knowledge of that House, when he reminded it, that when, on important occasions, petitions were presented by members from public assemblies, the members who presented them uniformly took credit for the numerous attendance of those from whence the petition emanated. He protested against its recognition as law, on the conviction, that, if such a principle were reduced to practice, the right of petition would be destroyed, and what were called the public meetings of the people of England would degenerate into close vestries. But if there was no proof of the illegality of the meeting at Manchester, there was ample evidence that the great body of the people who assembled there had no intention to commit any breach of the peace. They gave that guarantee by the presence of their wives and children; unless, indeed, it was to be argued, that, like the people of an ancient nation, they took with them to the scene of contest those pledges of nature, to animate their ardour, and to invigorate their despair. But there was, in the very disposition of the local circumstances, a proof undeniable that they assembled there with no intention of riot. Was it to be supposed, that if riot or rebellion was contemplated, those persons would have put themselves into a situation where escape was impossible? As they stood on the ground, with detachments of military on every side to hem them in, they were literally in a cul de sac—in a mouse-trap, as it were. Was that the position rioters would have selected for resistance? Escape was im- 304 possible, and they were obliged to place themselves at the mercy of the yeomanry. Admitting that the people were acting illegally, that was no reason why they should be cut and trampled down; and all would have been peaceable but for the orders of the magistrates. Nadin himself, the most obnoxious man in the town, admitted that he had received no insult. He did not mean to say, that the magistrates might not have acted on the act of George 1st, in the dispersion of that meeting; but they were bound, if they so acted, to abide by the provisions of the law. The law was tender of the subject's life; it was only in the last extremity that it enforced its penalty.—If the military, as had been stated by the noble lord opposite, acted upon their own discretion, without the orders of the magistracy, they incurred a great responsibility. There was not a more estimable officer in the British army than colonel L'Estrange, whom he knew well, but if he acted on his own discretion in ordering a body of cavalry to advance on men, women, and children which he did not believe, he incurred a great responsibility. His honour required that the subject should be investigated. The yeomanry might have been provoked beyond patience; but that fact, and many others, did not yet appear, though it might if proper evidence were adduced. At present they remained under heavy imputations, and he held in his hand a letter from an individual, on whose veracity he could safely rely, who had himself examined and relieved 121 cases of wounds and injuries, and yet had not seen half the whole number. In a few days he expected to be in possession of a perfect list of the wounded and maimed; and he should be happy to communicate it to ministers, that they might ascertain whether any imposition was contained in it. As to the stress laid upon the rejection of the bills by the grand jury of Lancashire, he believed that they threw out the bills from a misconstruction of their powers, and not from any decision on the merits of the case. The most lamentable part of the whole proceeding, was the precipitate approval of his majesty's ministers. The moment government identified itself with the magistrates by the vote of thanks, the nation did conclude, and had a right to do so, that it identified itself also with the system. In the answer of the Prince Regent to the city of London not one expression even of regret 305 was inserted, while the letters of Mr. Hay and general Byng contained sincere lamentations over the unfortunate occurrences. Every thing showed that ministers intended to pursue a system not of conciliation, but of coercion; founded upon the fatal mistake, that the king of France might have preserved his life and his throne had he adopted measures of greater vigour and firmness. He differed from that opinion; and he had the authority of those who had the best information on the events of that day, that a system of greater severity would have aggravated the horrors of the French Revolution. Coercion had lost Holland to Spain, and St. Domingo to France. If disaffection existed, it arose from misery; and ministers, who acted in so unchristian a spirit as to refuse political liberty to the Catholics on account of religious tenets, ought to be the last to complain that irreligion prevailed in the country. Under all its afflictions and inflictions, the people had evinced unparalleled forbearance. They felt as men and as Englishmen, but they had mastered their resentments, and conquered some of their most inveterate habits. In time of peace they were now called upon to support additional forces; all would be ineffectual, for they dreaded much more the evils they felt than the arms that menaced them. A system of conciliation must be adopted sooner or later, connected with that reform which an enlightened judge on the bench had declared would extirpate corruption from the House, and restore confidence between the people and their representatives. Then might it be said of Great Britain—"Nemo enim illie vitia ridet; nec corrumpere et corrumpi sæculum vocatur."
§ Mr. George Lamb
said, that his wish was, according to the ordinary courtesy of the House, to have given precedence, after the speech of his hon. and gallant friend, to any gentleman on the opposite side who was anxious to address the House; but having in vain waited for the two previous nights of the discussion for an opportunity to present himself to his notice, he seized the present moment of doing so. One advantage at least had arisen from the adjournment of the debate, that the people would see that notwithstanding the discussion of a former night on what he supposed he must now call the fancied outrage of Manchester, their complaints were at least not dismissed without full discussion. It was 306 rather extraordinary, that while so much labour was exerted to besiege the throne with protestations of loyalty and attachment, an indisposition was manifest to advert to those admitted distresses to which, even in the papers before the House, the discontents of the manufacturing districts were to be attributed. Those distresses were merely glanced at in the address, with the expression of hope that they were temporary—a hope which rested on no avowed, no reasonable grounds. He wished to avoid entering at large into the subject of the proceedings at Manchester, which had so long and so painfully occupied the attention of the House; but there were two circumstances to which he was desirous of alluding (having some means of procuring accurate information), and on which he was distinctly at issue with the noble lord opposite. It happened that he (Mr. Lamb) was near the spot soon after the memorable 16th of August, and from all the information he was able to collect, he decidedly disbelieved the two circumstances stated by the noble lord. He was convinced, first, that no interruption was given to any magistrate in reading the Riot act; secondly, that no attack or resistance was made to the yeomanry, until the latter had raised the cry of "Have at the flags." This, however, was the time when bold assertion was substituted for inquiry. What one party asserted the other might contradict; and thus they were not likely to come to any conclusion on solid grounds. He hoped that the truth would be elicited, and, when it was, he would cheerfully retract his opinion, if it were an erroneous one; a course equally candid he should expect from the noble lord. A retraction on the part of the noble lord he should be sorry for, because it would go to the crimination of the Manchester magistrates; but he should be glad if circumstances were adduced which would justify a retraction of the opinion he had imbibed, since it would operate as an exculpation of those individuals. He was desirous to call the serious attention of the House to the appalling circumstances in which the whole country, but more especially the town of Manchester, was placed, in consequence of the refusal to inquire into the late proceedings. They were not now to be told, that great irritation existed on the part of those whose friends or relatives had been killed or wounded on that occasion; but even the individuals who had lost their 307 dearest connexions, even the parents who had now to support the maimed offspring, from whom they formerly derived subsistence, even those persons, he believed, notwithstanding the efforts of the turbulent and seditious demagogues, who endeavoured to inflame the minds of the people at public meetings, had looked forward with some degree of confidence to the meeting of that House. They had indulged themselves in the hope, that parliament would meet and inquire into the whole of these proceedings for the purpose of affording them redress; but now they were to learn that that hope was fallacious, that they were to be disappointed in their honest expectation. What, then, would they first have re-course to? They would look to the debates of that House, and there they would expect to find some decided reason promulgated, some important circumstance stated, which would prove that inquiry was unnecessary, or mischievous. But what had the noble lord said? what had he, the polar star, by which the majorities of that House guided their course, thought proper to declare? He had told the House, in an after-statement, that the magistrates ordered the military to disperse the people; but he had hot ventured to say, that they directed violence and cruelty to be exercised. Many observations were made with respect to the policy of employing that species of force denominated yeomen; but there were other considerations connected with this part of the subject, which had been but lightly touched on, and which he would briefly notice. The regular soldiery had no home but where they were ordered; in the event of any conflict with the populace, their removal put an end to all vindictive feeling. But a yeomanry force were connected by local circumstances with the place—they could not withdraw themselves—there they were doomed to live, held up to the abhorrence of the lower orders, for the act in which they had been engaged. These were sad reflections, and he would on that point say no more. The people of Manchester were told, that although inquiry was refused in that House, yet an indictment was preferred against Hunt; they were informed that they might look to that proceeding; they might attend to the progress of that trial, and there they would find a full justification of all that had been done. The people would naturally 308 ask "who are the prosecutors of the indictment?" The answer was, the magistrates,—the very persons who were parties in the transaction complained of. In what he was going to observe, he was sure the attorney-general would not suppose that he had any intention of throwing a shade of doubt on the purity and propriety by which his conduct would be guided. But he would suppose this indictment to be preferred against a number of persons, A. B. and C., by a common prosecutor. If that prosecutor could not make out the case, without stating facts that must criminate himself, he would ask whether it was not very likely that he would let those persons escape; rather than disclose such facts? That was the point of view in which he could not help considering those prosecutions. The legal gentlemen on the other side of the House ought to have stated on what particular ground this transaction was to be brought before a legal tribunal, instead of being subjected to a general inquiry in that House. One thing was most certain, namely, that with respect to his majesty's ministers, no inquiry here or elsewhere could justify the part they had taken. Between the conduct of the magistrates and the yeomanry there might be a very great difference one of those bodies only might have acted improperly, and the evidence of the one might exculpate the other. But ministers had embraced the whole case, they had identified themselves with it, and which ever party was guilty, they could not be innocent. One passage in the papers before the House, showed that the people could not procure redress by any proceeding at law. It was there stated, that the distress and pressure of the times occasioned those meetings. If it were so, and no man could doubt it, how could those distressed impoverished people go into a court of law to seek redress for the injuries that had been inflicted on them? The answer was, that a subscription was set on foot in the metropolis for that purpose. It was most extraordinary, that this subscription, which had been spoken of by the ministerial press as the off-scouring of the Jacobin purse, should at length be recognized as the only means by which the people had a chance of procuring legal redress! Under the sanction of the gentlemen on the other side, who had disclosed this fact, guided and directed by them, he should now, most certainly, contribute his mite to that sub- 309 scription; and, in his opinion, those gentlemen were bound in justice to contribute also. They stated, that a court of law was the only place in which redress could be obtained, and he thought they ought to afford the means of attaining it. In those who censured the late proceedings, to subscribe was an act of humanity and kindness; but with respect to the individuals who approved of them, it was nothing more than an act of justice and consistency. Gentlemen opposite might laugh, but he was perfectly serious. If they disliked the subscription which was now in progress, and would not give any thing in aid of it, they might set up a subscription of their own, and he would assist it most willingly. He thought it would be very well worth the while of the majority of that House to show, by a liberal contribution, by a free use of their purses, that they entertained a degree of feeling and sympathy for the sufferings of the people, which their vote seemed to imply they did not possess. He should not be doing his duty if he did not point out to ministers some means by which the ferment in the public mind might be allayed. He was opposed to violent measures, and besought ministers to have recourse to kindness and conciliation. With respect to the Manchester magistrates, it had happened to him to have lived for years in connexion with that body. He was acquainted with some of them, who, he would say, were most respectable men. Of one of them, his learned friend Mr. Norris, the resident stipendiary magistrate, he could declare that, in his opinion, a more kind-hearted man did not walk the earth. If the proceedings of the 16th of August were authorized by him—if his judgment were not overruled by the opinion of those with whom he acted—then must Mr. Norris have changed his nature on that day. The House had heard complaints of the seditious press; but it was not surprising that strong language should be used by the press when circumstances of a most unprecedented nature had taken place. They had seen proceedings before the coroner carried on in a manner perfectly novel. Those proceedings had terminated for the present, and certainly demanded investigation. They had also witnessed another very extraordinary circumstance; they had seen a magistrate taking on himself the two distinct offices of judge and jury. A person complained that he had been wounded by a shot from a pistol: 310 the magistrate heard both sides, and declared the accused party to be Innocent. He should be surprised, indeed, if any legal gentleman, in or out of that House, would venture to say, that the case of Meagher, the trumpeter, whatever defence that individual might have made on his trial, was an unfit one to be submitted to a jury for their decision. He implored ministers to exert every means by which the irritated feelings of the people might be soothed—to restore that even balance of justice which once distinguished this country; or, at least, not to suffer it to be wanting in appearance, if it did not exist in reality. Next came the consideration of the measures that were to be adopted. The House was, it seems, to be called on in a time of peace, to increase the military forces, and to agree to coercive bills of various descriptions. It would be wonderful if, in the course of the debate, they had not heard any observations on the glories of the late war. It was now time, he conceived, that they should have something to say about the blessings of peace. Barren, naked glory, however showey and attractive, never could be considered a sufficient exchange for the welfare of a great nation. What had the late glorious war produced? It had procured for England an abundance of barren glory, and all those gagging-bills, which, having originated when this country was engaged in hostilities, were now, in a time of profound peace to be renewed. In the latter years of the war—he meant, during that period when our armies were under the conduct of that great general, of whom every Englishman boasted, and who, as he had fought for the independence of other countries would, he hoped, always be found the defender of the rights and liberties of his own—in those years all that could be done was, to repair the disasters previously incurred. But the war commenced with another object. It commenced for the purpose of destroying republican principles, and suppressing doctrines which were said to be subversive of all legitimate authority. Could the country boast of having achieved that object? He would not himself answer the question; he would borrow the answer from the address that had been recently read, in which it was stated, that republican principles, that even the doctrine of atheism itself, teemed in every street, and in every 311 shop more plentifully than they did before the war was entered into. He thought that the House had in a great degree lost the confidence of the country; and that confidence could only be restored by giving a share in the representative system to all those who assisted in supporting the state. There was another evil of still greater magnitude—the loss of confidence in all public men. This, he thought, arose entirely from the conduct of his majesty's ministers, and their adherents. When they entered on their career, they found themselves not perhaps quite bankrupts, but exceedingly deficient in popularity. What was their conduct? He would not say that they used any base acts to procure popularity. No; of them it could not be observed, "gaudent nimium popularibus auris." But he would assert, that for several years their speeches had been all directed to one object, that of reducing every public man to a level with themselves. They had unfortunately succeeded in their efforts, and were, indeed, the worst of levellers. One prayer he earnestly made to them. It was stated in the address to the throne, and it was the only consolatory passage which that address contained, that the great bulk of the population did not appear to be infected with the dangerous doctrines in question. He conjured ministers to pause before they insulted that loyal majority by proposing any measures calculated to throw suspicion on them;—he conjured them to pause before they deprived the well-disposed of the proofs and arguments which the constitution, while it was preserved inviolate, would always afford to combat sedition and disaffection.
§ Mr. Bootle Wilbraham
felt that some apology was necessary for again addressing the House on the subject of the proceedings at Manchester, on which he had already declared his opinion; but an hon. member had on a former evening made several observations on the speech he had delivered, which he conceived himself bound to answer. He would not say what were the motives of that large body of men (at the smallest computation 30,000), in assembling together; the idea of their leaders was, perhaps, only to review their army, and to excite that degree of intimidation in the public mind, which such congregated numbers were calculated to produce. When he spoke of 312 their object being plunder, he did not mean to use the word in its ordinary sense. His meaning was precisely expressed in the address of the chairman and grand jury at Chester, about a fortnight after the occurrence took place. The statement, which was unanimously agreed to by every person present, set forth that "whatever may be the real object of those who have obtained influence over the minds of the misguided, it appears that the object of the lower classes is no other than to destroy the orders of society so long established, to wrest, by force, from its present possessors, and to divide among them, the landed property of the country." On another point he also wished to set himself right. The hon. member had objected to the correctness of the account he had produced relative to the persons wounded. That statement was taken from an official paper sent to him from Manchester. In that account the number of out-patients was not included, which, he believed, amounted to 38, or thereabouts. He now had an official report dated the 20th of October, which contained an account of 26 in-patients, admitted to the infirmary in consequence of the proceedings of the 16th of August. In consequence of a riot which took place on the night of the 16th, some other persons were brought in. Amongst others who were hurt on that evening, was an unfortunate man, a Greenwich pensioner; who, having acted as a special constable, was pursued into a house by a number of persons, and so severely ill-treated, that he died in a few days. As to the statement, that an attack was made on the yeomanry before they molested the people, he believed it to be perfectly correct. He had examined all the evidence, and he was borne out in saying, that an attack was made on the yeomanry before they assailed the populace. In order that they might not injure the people, the yeomanry advanced in single files, and were immediately closed upon and surrounded. After taking an impartial view of the subject, all the circumstances proved to him the extreme impropriety of this case being taken up by the House. It was alone ha a court of law that the evidence could be fairly adduced, and properly examined. Some gentlemen had expressed a wish that the magistrates should be dismissed. Such a dismissal would cast a slur on their character, and would 313 be severely felt. Many of them were gentlemen of independent fortune, and had performed most meritorious services. For months after months they had preserved the public peace, at the risk of life and property. Though they had met with hard treatment in that House, such was not the case with respect to those who knew them, who had seen their conduct, and who were therefore the best judges of it. In an address from the town of Manchester to the Prince Regent signed by all the respectable inhabitants, the conduct of the magistrates was spoken of in the highest terms of praise.
§ Mr. Denman
observed, that as challenge had been thrown out to all those gentlemen who were connected with the legal profession, calling on them to state their sentiments on the subject of the meeting at Manchester, he felt it a duty which he owed to himself—a duty which he could not pass over, to declare to the House the opinion he had formed with respect to the legality of that meeting. He trusted he should stand excused for not accepting the challenge at the time it was thrown out, for, if he had proceeded to address the House at two o'clock in the morning, it was easy to anticipate the way in which such an entertainment would have been received, after a debate of 20 hours. He conceived that the meeting was perfectly legal, and that it was improperly dispersed. It was a most momentous subject, a subject that never would be exhausted, until the House granted a full inquiry. He had attended that evening with much inconvenience to himself, in order, on the motion of which notice had been given by the noble lord opposite, to assist in endeavouring to persuade the House to do its duty, by instituting an inquiry. As, however, the noble lord had deferred his notice until Tuesday, he should postpone any detailed observations to that day. All that he would now say was, that he could never concur in the address until he should be convinced of the necessity of the measures to which it referred, and until the greatest grievance of which the people of England ever had to complain—not merely the establishment of a military despotism, but, which was much more alarming, an attempt to maintain that military despotism was consistent with English law and justice—had been thoroughly investigated. Nor could he concur in an address which, overlooking 314 all considerations of humanity, abstained from the expression of regret at the melancholy occurrences which had taken place. Whatever motive might have influenced his majesty's' ministers to withhold the expression of their regret at the time of those occurrences, there could be no reason why the House of Commons should not now express its regret that the blood of their fellows subjects had been shed. He really thought, that at least it was highly fitting to accompany a declaration of the necessity of farther restrictions on the liberty of the people, by an assurance of protection in the uninterrupted enjoyment of the rights still left to them.
§ Mr. Shepherd
considered himself bound, by every sense of justice, to resist the amendment proposed, because he thought it would be most unjust to the magistrates, who had acted meritoriously, if they were harassed by vexatious proceedings. It would be, in his opinion, most inexpedient to enter into an inquiry in that House, because, whatever the result might be, such a course would operate to the disadvantage of the magistrates. The feeling of the public mind, if an inquiry were instituted here, would be, in the very first instance, that the magistrates were guilty. It had been said, that the Riot act was not read, and that the yeomanry attacked the people before any resistance was made. Now, it was immaterial whether the yeomanry did or did not assail the people first, nor was it of any importance, whether the Riot act was read or not, because the meeting was, ab initio, illegal. The reading of the Riot act would only aggravate the offence, and give to that, which, in the first instance, was an unlawful assembly, the character of a felonious offence. The meeting was, in point of law, a riot; and a meeting of that description had ever been considered a great offence, by men of the first eminence on the bench. His hon. and learned friend had risen to state his reason for thinking the meeting legal, but he had not advanced one. He did not argue the question, whether the meeting was legal or not. What his hon. and learned friend had said was mere assertion; and in opposition to his assertion, he would place the opinions of lord Holt and Mr. Justice Foster. The former of them had said, that any number of men who assembled in terrorem populi, were guilty of a riot, even though they were without arms, 315 because in such a case their numbers supplied the place of arms; and in this doctrine the latter had fully concurred in his admirable work on the law of treason. If this was law, could it be denied that those who met at Manchester were guilty of a riot? For, had they not declared themselves to be in pursuit of an object, which they had said they would obtain by violence, even unto death; not, indeed, at that time, but at some future period, when they bad infused such terror into the loyal, as would prevent opposition being offered to their designs? Had they not also marched, in furtherance of their projects, from different quarters of the country to one place, in large bodies, in military step, with martial music, and with flying colours? He maintained, that they had; though at the same time he must state his opinion to be, that they had no intention of creating a riot then. He had been very much surprised to hear the conduct of the magistrates condemned in choosing the yeomanry for the purpose of dispersing the meeting. If any body of men could more, constitutionally than any other be employed in aid of the posse comitatus, it appeared to him to be the yeomanry. Could any man doubt that the meeting at Manchester grossly abused the right, on the pretext of which they assembled—namely, the right of petitioning parliament for the redress of grievances?—And was it not manifest that exactly in proportion to the value of any right, the abuse of it ought to be deprecated and resisted? Those who maintained that there was no danger in the existing state of things, must shut their eyes to experience. All history showed the expediency of crushing dangerous designs in their infancy. Ambitious men would never succeed in their guilty enterprises, had they not the art to conceal for a while the real character of their intentions. A remedy to evil ought to be applied in due time, and not deferred until the evil was incurable. It had been argued that it was impossible to wage war with public opinion. He should be sorry, however, to believe that the great majority of the country were infected with the dangerous doctrines in question. Still there was a great, although he hoped a limited hostility to the government and the laws. The danger was indeed so alarming, that it became imperative on government to propose, and on every good man, to adopt such mea- 316 sures as might obviate it. It had been said that Christianity was the religion of liberty; it was so; but of true liberty founded on law, and respecting the rights of individuals. The revolutionary demagogues wished for a description of liberty, which would deprive every individual of his rights. Adverting to the subject of blasphemous publications, he observed, that some persons contended that such publications ought to be left to public contempt and hatred. This was not the view which he took of the subject. It was not the view which any state had ever adopted on the subject. It was not the view which the wisest persons in all times had entertained on the subject. one of the greatest men that ever lived, and whose opinions were invariably favourable to liberty, in speaking of the danger that attended improper publications, had said, "books, are not absolutely dead things, but do contain a potency of life in them to be as active as that soul was whose progeny they are; nay, they do preserve, as in a phial, the purest efficacy and extraction of the living intellect that bred them. I know they are as lively, and as vigorously productive, as the fabulous dragon's teeth, and being sown up and down, may chance to spring up armed men." The publications in question had not, indeed, produced that effect as yet, but he was convinced that they would produce it as soon as any leader of consequence should spring up among the reformers, who was able to unite the different factions which existed among them.
§ Mr. R. Martin
declared, that no man felt more than himself for the innocent persons who had suffered in the dispersion of the Manchester meeting; he deeply lamented that any man, woman or child should have been a victim on the late unfortunate occasion. It was highly laudable for any one to contribute to relieve those who had sustained injury, and no person need be ashamed of such an act. He thought, indeed, that if the gentlemen opposite would actively apply themselves to the relief of those families at Manchester, who might have been deprived of the aid of their fathers and husbands, they would show more real humanity than by making speeches which were calculated to inflame the public mind. Instead of making such speeches, they had much better put money and sustenance into the mouths of the afflicted. A few pounds would, 317 in his opinion, be more grateful to the sufferers, than all the mouthing speeches of the hon. gentlemen in their behalf. He Lad heard that an hon. baronet opposite had adopted several families who had been made orphans at Manchester. If so, it was highly to his honour; and he thought that it would be highly to the honour of other gentlemen if they would imitate so bright an example, and would not merely content themselves with making long speeches. He was against instituting a parliamentary inquiry into the conduct of the magistrates for various reasons. How could the House interfere if it were proved that a man was maimed or trampled on? Could it commit for trial, as the Court of King's-bench could do? If pecuniary damage had been inflicted, could it order the party inflicting it to make pecuniary compensation? By no means. The inquiry would therefore be useless to all intents and purposes. He should not, however, object so much to such an inquiry, if he thought it merely useless; but, in his opinion, it would be unjust, as it would disclose the cases of the individuals in question, which might afterwards be met in the courts of law by the foulest subornation and perjury. It would excite a prejudice on the subject, and that prejudice might be assigned as a ground for postponing their trials. As to the argument that the prejudice would be rather the other way, namely, in favour of the individuals accused, it appeared to him to be a very clumsy one. What he wished was, that there should be no prejudice either one way or the other; that the scales of justice should be held with perfect evenness. A great deal had been said of the evils that had occurred at Manchester. He was very sorry for them. He believed that several lives had been lost, and that a number of persons had been maimed. But to whom was all that attributable? In his conscience he believed it might be justly ascribed to the hon. gentlemen opposite; who had promulgated doctrines and stated opinions calculated to make an undue impression on the public mind. The country was continually told that ministers levied taxes for the purpose of putting the produce in their own pockets. The gentlemen who made such statements were accountable for the mischief produced by them; and he hoped that they would assist in averting the evils which they caused. If such statements were true, 318 let them be proved. If it was true that the people would have meat, drink, shoes, and cloathing in abundance, were it not for placemen, pensioners, and sinecurists, let the fact be established; if false, those who were the authors of such statements, ought in fairness to come forward and disabuse the people. Let them inform the people of Manchester, or any other people, who held such opinions, that 20 years revenue of those expenses would not serve to purchase them a breakfast. There was another point to which he wished to refer, but not seeing an hon. member in his place, he did not wish to say any thing to which there could not be a contradiction given. The necessity of inquiry had been urged on the ground, that the magistrates would come out of it without any imputation of blame. Was there ever such a doctrine heard? Did any one ever hear it urged to a grand jury, that a true bill ought to be found against a man for a rape, or for murder, of which he was supposed innocent, for the purpose of giving him an opportunity of showing that he could handle the burning ploughshare without injury? The grand jury would answer the dolt who made the proposal, that they who were sworn to oar sovereign lord the king to do justice to all parties, could not find a bill on such grounds. Such laws as this reminded him of a court formerly held at Rome, to try whether a man was a saint or not. On that occasion the devil had an agent, who pleaded against the miracles of the saint, but there was no advocate on the other side. He hoped a fairer trial would be granted on this occasion. It had been remarked, that in the thanks which had been given to the magistrates, no regret had been expressed for the lives lost on the occasion. It would be inconsistent to express such thanks, the idea was ridiculous. What! were they to suppose that the father of his people did not regret the loss of their lives on such occasions? The thing was self-evident, and it would have been bad taste to insert any such expression. After some observations on the dismissal of earl Fitzwilliam, the hon. member concluded by supporting the original Address. The hon. member concluded his speech by some remarks on lord Sidmouth's letter of thanks to the magistrates, and on the dismissal of earl Fitzwilliam from the lord-lieutenancy of the West Riding of York, shire, which, he maintained, was not an 319 affront to that exemplary nobleman; and for which he contended ministers were entitled to the thanks of every honest man.
§ Mr. Wilberforce
rose, for the purpose of correcting a mistake which he understood had gone abroad, relative to some observations made by him when he delivered his opinions on this question. He was made to say, that the great meeting lately assembled at Manchester had it in contemplation to keep together until night, and then to burn the town. He had never said any such thing: he recollected well what he had said. It was this. In the evidence which was offered to a committee of the House two years ago, it was stated that the leaders of a meeting, which had then been in contemplation, had intended to have waited till evening, and then to have set the town on fire at once in various places, in order to profit by the confusion and devastation which would have been created. It was also in evidence, that their reason for entertaining such intentions was, that a rate would have been laid on the county, to make good the damage done, and that such rate would have excited general discontent and dissatisfaction. He had said, that it was proper that the magistrates, who knew of such a scheme being once in contemplation, should be upon their guard to prevent its execution, whenever large meetings were assembled by the same or similar leaders. It had also been asserted in the course of the debate, that he had warmly defended the conduct of the magistrates; he was not prepared to defend, any more than he was to attack them; but he had said, that it would require a strong case to be made out, in order to justify such a measure as was proposed in the amendment. The conduct of the magistracy of the country, whose eulogium a right hon. friend of his had so eloquently pronounced on a former evening, was not to be lightly questioned. If there was any one body of people to whom the public were particularly indebted, it was to the magistracy of the country. They not only owed to them the great obligation of preserving the peace and supporting the laws of the country, but also that habitual disposition to obey the laws which was to be found in the people of England. This spirit was created by the impartiality as well as the readiness with which justice could always be obtained in the country; and therefore to institute an inquiry into 320 their conduct would be to cast a slur upon them, which would be productive of most injurious consequences. It was admitted, that in the courts below justice would be done. But if the investigation were to be instituted in that House, the effect would be, to injure the character of the House, and to increase the discontent of the people. He was, therefore of opinion, that without urgent, imperious, irresistible necessity, the House ought not to institute any inquiry, because it would be imputing great blame to the persons concerned in the transactions in question, and still more, because, instead of improving the character of the House, and endearing it to the country, such an inquiry would have the effect of rendering it more suspected, and more unpopular with those who regarded its conduct in general with suspicion. But there was a mode pointed out by a right hon. gentleman near him, which was free from party feelings; that mode was, by trials in courts of justice. There the testimony given, was given upon oath; there the truth was developed and sifted out; there justice would be done to all parties, and by a body regarded by all with love and veneration, instead of a body which was become the object of aversion, suspicion, and censure. Although he agreed that it was infinitely desirable that the people should be taught to look up to that House as those who would redress their grievances, yet the circumstances to be inquired into were so various and so much connected with individuals (so much indeed, that there were as many varieties of cases as there were individuals concerned), that he could not consider the House the proper place for inquiry. A right hon. gentleman had animadverted upon the omission in the address of any expression of regret for the occurrences at Manchester. He did not think that the omission was improper. No person would have considered himself indebted to them for any regret they might express. There was no man there who did not from his soul lament those transactions. If that House were to state their sentiments, one by one, all would agree in lamenting them. If there were any who were not deeply hurt at them, they were those who looked upon slaughter and civil war as the natural regeneration of the country, and regarded the overthrow of religion and the law, and all the institutions to which we owed our so- 321 cial security and happiness, as the means of accomplishing their wishes. At the same time, he thought some declaration or other should be made, explaining whether they could alleviate the distress and improve the condition of the poor. He thought that, if employment could be provided for a certain number of them, the demand which that would create for various things would have a beneficial effect upon all other classes of the community. He thought it possible, by some such means, to improve the condition of the suffering portion of the people. It was a duty which must be felt by all, but especially by those in high offices (although from the responsibility of their situation they must be anxious to avoid exciting expectations which would only increase the severity of the storm), to do all that was possible for relieving the distresses of the laborious poor. There were ways by which their condition might be considerably relieved. Some general declaration, therefore, of that disposition of mind, which, no doubt, was felt by all, and especially by his majesty's ministers, might be proper and useful. By increasing the employment of the industrious poor, they would be brought into a situation in which they would be supported by their own labour, and their personal characters would be improved. The dependence for partial or entire support upon parochial aid tended to the injury of the public interest, and to the injury and deterioration of the personal character of the poor. He had been drawn aside unintentionally into those observations. He felt indeed at this time somewhat of the feeling of a noble lord, he meant lord Falkland, who put on mourning at the beginning of the civil war, and walked backwards and forwards, sighing and groaning, and often repeating the word "Peace!'' He felt some difficulty in expressing his feelings. His views on certain points were not popular there, nor were they matter of popular feeling. When he heard in that House the one side charging the other with weakness and with wickedness, he saw a danger of people beginning to believe this. It was a persuasion produced upon his mind by irresistible force, for he was a rooted enemy to party, that many of the evils which we now suffered had arisen from the effects of party. There was not a single individual in that House whom he did not believe to have 322 the benefit of the people in view. There was a certain understanding about several sentiments and expressions there, which was not received abroad, and which produced effects in other places very different from their original intention. He admitted that there might be much truth in what a right hon. gentleman had said of the benefit of parties in a free country; but he would not enter into that question. His intention in rising was to vindicate himself into that question. His intention in rising was, to vindicate himself from stating what he really had not stated; but he could not avoid saying, that it would be an unspeakable comfort to his own mind, if they could all join in remedying evils which they all felt, and endeavour most diligently to counteract principles subversive of all social happiness. The attack now made upon religion was no slight way of attacking this or that particular mode, but a sapping of the very foundation of it. When they considered this—when they considered that, instead of respecting, as it had been well said, the very columns on which the edifice of society rested, those columns were attacked with unsparing wickedness, it became all who regarded the well-being of the community, to unite in defence of what had proved at all times the safeguard and protection of moral goodness and social happiness. It was necessary to join in applying the alternative which our political disease required. It was necessary to join in preserving institutions and principles by which the character of the people had been so far improved—principles and institutions which were made, not for the benefit of particular individuals, but for the benefit of the whole country. The bulk of the people in general were interested in mintaining the rights of property and the principles of religion—principles in their nature sound and sincere, and in their effects prosperous and happy.
§ Lord Stanley
said, he was anxious to make some observations on what had been circulated relative to the late proceedings at Manchester as well as upon the proceedings of the grand jury of Lancaster. The station which he held as foreman of that grand jury made it necessary that he should speak upon the latter subject. He had expected to hear observations made in that House, upon the conduct of the grand jury—such as he knew had been made elsewhere. He was 323 happy to find that no such observations had been made in that House. Observations had however been made elsewhere, reflecting severely upon their conduct. Even the learned judge in the Crown court, had permitted himself to utter expressions from the bench which were an indirect censure upon the conduct of the grand jury. A bill had been thrown out by them against a person who was afterwards tried upon the coroner's inquest, and found guilty of manslaughter. It might have occurred to the learned judge, that by the skill and practice in which he had grown old, he could extract the truth from ignorant and reluctant witnesses with more success than had attended the grand jury. The learned judge had asked the witnesses whether they had been examined before the grand jury; but though all the witnesses had been before them, all the evidence might riot have been produced. A gallant general had said, that the grand jury could be proved to have thrown out bills upon a misconstruction of their powers. How could the gallant general know this? He did not believe that any one member of the grand jury could have divulged any thing against his oath; and from the consideration that they were restrained by their oaths from disclosing what took place there, he would not allow himself to make any observations upon this subject. He knew them personally, and most of them were personal friends of his own; and from his knowledge of them he could say, that they had acted, not from certain chance opinions, but upon grounds which they conscientiously believed to be correct. He would now pass over that part of the subject. Upon the question now before the House, which was whether the address should go up to the throne, although he wished that the address had contained something further, yet he could not deny what had come under his observation and knowledge, what they had on their table, and under their eyes from him. These things called for some measures to meet what the present laws were not sufficient to put down, what he confessed existed in his own country—atheism, blasphemy, and disaffection, to the greatest degree—he had almost said, to the borders of rebellion; but till the case should be Fully made out, he could not pledge himself to any particular measure. Not having been able to deliver his senti- 324 ments when the question was before the House, he should take that opportunity of stating why he had supported the amendment to the address. He had done so, not because he had disapproved of the address, but because the address had not gone far enough. A right hon. gentlemen had said that inquiry was inconsistent with what he called the wholesome harshness of the amendment. He could not agree in that opinion. It was the duty of the House, if there was no other channel, to inquire when the lives of his majesty's subjects were lost, and particularly in such a case as this, when ministers put a speech into the mouth of his Royal Highness without any mention of what took place in Manchester; passing it over like an every day occurrence: was that the conclusion which the events of Manchester warranted? He would not venture to go into the consideration whether the meeting had been legal or illegal. He felt very considerable doubt upon that subject. He was certain, however, knowing the magistrates at Manchester as he did, at least many of them, that they would not have done what they did not consider themselves justified in doing. With respect to the yeomen, he was enabled by themselves to disclaim and deny many things that had been imputed to them. Several statements which had been made, he knew from his own knowledge to be incorrect: among these was one, which represented that the Manchester yeomanry cavalry had sent their swords to be sharpened for the purpose of cutting with them at the meeting. His own opinion was against the probability of that statement; but he had fortunately got what amounted to a complete disproval of it. He did not mean to say that the swords had not been sharpened, but every thing depended upon the time when, and the cause from which, they were sharpened. He had a letter from the individual who commanded on that occasion, an individual whom he was happy to have heard alluded to with respect in this debate. A more mild and more humane person did not exist. That individual said—"If any blame attaches for sharpening the swords, I must take it all to myself. At drill a sabre was drawn to screw a flint, and seeing the state it was in, I looked at the sabres, and finding them not serviceable, I directed them 325 to be taken to the cutler's and put in order." Fortunately for captain Birley, this matter was taken notice of by a paper certainly not very favourable to the yeomanry corps. It was mentioned in the Manchester Observer of the 10th of July, five weeks before the meeting at Manchester took place. The order to the yeomanry to hold themselves in readiness to assist the civil power, if necessary, was issued on the 13th July, so that the circumstance of the swords being ordered to be sharpened was noticed in The Manchester Observer three days before the yeomanry cavalry knew that they were to be put upon such a service. It was also urged, as matter of objection, that the Manchester yeomanry ought not to have been employed. He could,, assure the House that, as he was informed, this arose from pure accident. A corps of the Manchester yeomanry, the 15th hussars, and the Cheshire yeomanry, were stationed at one side of St. Peter's-field, and a part of the Manchester yeomanry on the other. Orders were issued to bring some of the troops round to the point where the constables were stationed, and the Manchester yeomanry being the first moved forward. The crowd was so great that doubts were expressed whether the civil power could be effectually aided without some additional troops. The officer who commanded the yeomanry, seeing an open space leading to the hustings, near the line of constables, and fearing from the motion of the crowd, that it would be blocked up, pushed forward to occupy it. At this time there was no obstruction, and the soldiers advanced six abreast, until they got rather nearer the hustings. Here the line of constables was broken by the crowd, who, however, retired, and made way for the trumpeter, officer, and first part of the body. In a short time, however, the crowd closed, and obliged the remainder of the troop to move forwards towards the hustings in single files, contrary to the wish of the commanding officer, but the reason why the yeomanry did so was to avoid riding over the people.—Some followed the officer directly up to the hustings, while others went round, by which means the cart was surrounded, and the warrant of the magistrates executed. At this period, considerable tumult prevailed, and a struggle ensued between the constables and those persons in the cart, who wish- 326 ed to save the caps of liberty, banners, &c. Some of those who resisted were taken into custody, and the soldiers cut with their sabres at the flag-staffs. In doing this, it was possible that some persons had been hurt, but not intentionally. This was an answer to those who stated that the yeomanry cut right and left in their approach to the hustings. It had been lately the practice to post up in the windows of The Manchester Observer the names of the persons wounded, and also the names of those soldiers by whom wounds were said to have been inflicted. Among others, the name of captain Birley was frequently mentioned. Now the fact was, that captain Birley had, according to his own statement, never taken his sword from his shoulder, unless to make way for two poor women who were oppressed by the crowd. If that gentleman had seen the soldiery commit any of the acts so often talked of, he (lord Stanley) had no doubt that he would have exerted himself to put a stop to them. He understood from that gentleman that the real state of the case was, that a part of the yeomanry, when they had approached towards the hustings, were separated from the rest—that the individuals so separated from the rest were closed in on, and then assailed with stones and sticks, in consequence of which some of them faced round, in order to defend themselves. The situation in which these individuals were placed was perceived by the magistrates, who, on seeing what was going forward, thought it their duty, without delay, to order colonel l'Estrange to move forward troops in support of them. On seeing this confusion about the hustings, and the perilous situation of the yeomanry and constables, the expression of the magistrate, who ordered colonel l'Estrange to move forward, was, "for God's sake save the yeomanry!" They did save the yeomanry, and the crowd was in a very short time dispersed. But an hon. gentleman behind him had been misinformed, when he stated that there was no avenues for the escape of the crowd, but those occupied by the troops.—The great and leading street of Peter-street was open for them to disperse by, as no cavalry came that way. In addition to that, there were many minor streets open, though they were not all so broad as Peter-street, and at a good many corners, the mob, by closing up, created obstacles to getting 327 on. Such was the impression on his mind, with regard to the statement of that gentleman whom he had just mentioned. With respect to the legality or illegality of the meeting, he could form no fixed opinion on that point, because he was not possessed of a sufficiency of facts to guide him. For that very reason it was that he wished for inquiry. With regard to what had been said by the noble lord opposite, the opinion of that noble lord was founded, no doubt, on facts known only to the government, and which could not be supposed to be known to himself, or those who were in the same situation with himself. He certainly felt a great anxiety to hear those statements on that subject, which they had been taught to expect. In the mean time he would say, he had that confidence in the magistrates, that, however hasty in some respects, and however injudicious in other respects, he might think them, he yet thought they would not have adopted such a course as was adopted, if they had not been convinced of its legality. He had no hesitation in saying, that he should prefer an inquiry in the courts of law, thinking, with many members of this House, that the courts of law were more proper, in many respects, for it, than the House of Commons, partly, because the inquiry could only be carried on in the latter on parole evidence. But he confessed that he was in doubt whether it could be so carried on. It had been said, "Look at the case of Coventry; there the court of King's-bench has directed the matter to be investigated." It was thence inferred, that a similar proceeding would take place if the transactions at Manchester were brought before it.. But at Coventry no lives had been lost, whilst at Manchester the result was unfortunately very different. If the court of King's-bench should be of opinion that the matter would involve questions of felony, it would probably refuse to grant a criminal information. The judges of that court would refuse to take cognizance of it in that form of proceeding. The consequence might be, if the House relied on that particular course, that a subject admitted to be of great importance, not only to the unfortunate sufferers, but as it affected the constitution, would be passed over as completely sub silentio as it was in the address. Somewhere or other an inquiry ought to be made. From one end of the country to the other 328 he saw only one opinion on the subject. There was hardly a part of the country where a portion of the people at least did not call out loudly for inquiry. He confessed that he thought the House were bound to show some deference to the public opinion. He was compelled to declare his own private opinion that inquiry was necessary, and that he thought the House ought at some time or other to enter on the subject. A great authority (Mr. Burke) had said, that even the imaginary grievances of the people ought to be inquired into. And if it turned out that the people were, on the occasion in question, exercising a constitutional right, he hoped the House would show that even the excellent character of the magistrates of Manchester should not screen them from the consequences of their acts.
bore testimony to the high esteem in which captain Birley was held by all who knew him. He had universally the character of a most humane gentleman.
observed, that the Manchester yeomanry fully participated in the feelings of the noble lord who had just sat down. They were also desirous of inquiry, because they were assured that its result would be to relieve them, from that weight of calumny under which they had hitherto laboured. An inquiry conducted before the House would, however, as he conceived, be contrary to every sound principle of judicature. He would not now go into any argument with respect to the nature of the meeting, or assign any reason why in his opinion the facts ought not to be inquired into by the House. He must say, however, that he was rather at a loss to conceive what statement of facts the noble lord who had given notice of a motion on the subject for Tuesday next, and an hon. and learned gentleman opposite, who had signified his intention of arguing the legality of the late meeting at Manchester, were prepared to bring forward to satisfy the House of the necessity of such an inquiry. But he rose now to congratulate the House that an individual, who represented that great county where the proceedings so often alluded to took place, and who was the son of the individual charged with the king's commission in that county, and he was sure he only spoke the sentiments of admiration of that nobleman common to all who had the honour to be acquainted with the manner in 329 which he discharged his official duties, when he said, that a brighter example could not be set than that of lord Derby—he rose, he said, to congratulate the House and the country that they had heard from the individual in the House most competent to give them information on the subject, who on this occasion had stript himself of all prejudices in the view of the public, not wishing to inflict any injustice on his majesty's ministers (indeed he must say, that he had never given any other than the most constitutional opposition to them), a statement of the utmost consequence with respect to the transactions at Manchester. Having voted for the proposition for inquiry, submitted the other night to the House, but which had not received their sanction, the noble lord had now come forward from a love of justice to discharge a debt, he would not say of gratitude, but a debt of justice to men who were suffering under unmerited obloquy. He did not wish to weaken the statement of the noble lord, but merely to allude briefly to what were the leading features of a transaction which had been represented in the light of a bloody massacre. But if he knew the country right, it would now be filled with indignation against those who had represented the transaction in that light; and if his countrymen were apt, and in his opinion they were but too apt, to take a severe view of a transaction before they could be possessed of sufficient information respecting it, there was something at the same time in the breasts of Englishmen to make the tide turn rapidly in favour of those whom, on mistaken information, they had been led prematurely and wrongfully to condemn. These yeomanry troops had been represented as charging an unarmed mob, and in the outset being guilty of the most unprovoked violence and cruelty. It now appeared, however, that they went up to the hustings by the only way by which they could get access, and in the manner least calculated to injure the people. They went up where they did, because they saw that the constables had so placed themselves as to leave an avenue for them to pass through; and they went into the crowd at the moment they did, because, when they arrived on the ground, they thought there was an opening for them. What was further the fact? When they arrived at that part of the ground, where an arrangement, it was 330 said, had been deliberately made to keep the enemy out, they had so much coolness and presence of mind as to go in single files to surround the hustings. It was also stated, that captain Birley, so far from acting in the manner he was stated to have acted in, had, on the contrary, endeavoured to extricate women from the perilous position in which they were, a position in which women of this country had for the first time placed themselves. It appeared that captain Birley and the six yeomen immediately succeeding him were separated and cut off from their associates, and then attacked with stones. Then, and then, only had troops been ordered to support the persons who were thus endangered, by being cut off from the rest of the body. The noble lord had delivered the House and the country from all the delusion which had been so sedulously propagated on the subject; and had exonerated the magistrates and yeomanry from the calumnies which had been so industriously circulated and also from another calumny, of the streets being closed against the mob. Never was any thing so false. So far from this being the case, the magistrates actually withdrew the cavalry from the opposite side of the square, that they might not be an obstacle to the dispersing. But it was in order to carry terror and intimidation into loyal breasts, and to leave them exposed to violence, that these calumnies were directed rather against the yeomanry than against the king's troops. It had happened here as usual, that the supporting force was obliged to act with more activity than the force which was surrounded. Could there be a more striking illustration of this, than the magistrates saying, "For God's sake save the Yeomanry." He saw them in the midst of the crowd, and in peril. He was sure the House were satisfied, and also that the public feeling would now be satisfied on this question. He did not think with the noble lord however that it was necessary the House should go into an inquiry on this question, in order to rescue the magistrates and yeomanry from the torrent of unfair prejudice by which they had been assailed. He was confident the debates in parliament on this subject, and above all the speech of the noble lord, had placed them in a situation which rendered this unnecessary. He trusted that the country would now see cause to give credit to those magis- 331 trates for what ought never to be denied to men in their situation, and presume them innocent till the contrary was proved. All he asked of his countrymen was, not to ran them unfairly down, but to believe them innocent till something was established against them. The noble lord by his explanation not only satisfied the claims of justice, but had done a signal benefit to his country by removing the disgraceful and foul calumnies attempted to be thrown on persons who undertook an arduous duty for public advantage, without any reward or consideration for their services, for doing that which they could have had no earthly object for doing but the due administration of the law of the land.
§ Lord Stanley
expressed his thanks to the noble lord for the manner in which he had spoken of the services of his father, and what he had chosen to say of himself. The noble lord, however, seemed to labour under a little mistake. He appeared to represent him as vouching for the truth of the statements which he had made. As far as he had expressed his own opinion, he had no hesitation in saying he had that opinion of the magistrates, he did not believe they would act illegally;—but when he particularly alluded to the conduct of the yeomanry cavalry, he certainly stated he spoke from information received from that very yeomanry cavalry themselves. He had stated, indeed, at the same time, that he thought so highly of captain Birley, he was convinced, in his own mind, that gentleman would make no statement which was not correctly true. At the same time, he wished the noble lord to understand, that he did not mean to identify himself with that individual, as the narrator of the facts.
said, he was perfectly aware the noble lord did not speak from his own knowledge, but from the evidence of others in whom he reposed confidence. He congratulated the House, however, on the opinion in this respect, the deliberate opinion of the individual who had had the best opportunities of becoming acquainted with the facts of the case, and who was not likely to have any bias on the subject. His majesty's ministers also spoke upon information which they had received on respectable authority, and from credible witnesses.
§ Mr. J. P. Grant
agreed with the noble lord opposite, in hoping that the magistrates of Manchester would be believed 332 innocent till their guilt was proved. But he was rather astonished at the inference attempted to be drawn by the noble lord opposite from what had fallen from his noble friend; for his noble friend had stated, that of his own knowledge he knew nothing. His noble friend had only repeated the statements of the accused parties; and therefore, as in all other cases where there were conflicting statements, they were bound to enter on an inquiry for the purpose of ascertaining the truth. He should not hold himself pledged to any opinion now, but reserve himself till the time came for deciding on this subject, when he should give that vote, which, in his conscience, he should consider himself bound to give.
said, the statement did not rest on the authority of the noble lord, however high, but was confirmed by the authority of an hon. member connected with that quarter.
§ Mr. Bennet
said, three testimonies had been given in favour of the character of captain Birley—his character had not been called in question. He did not believe it had ever been called in question in Manchester, and he was certain it had never been called in question in that House; and he should wish to know, therefore, whether any gentleman could say he had heard it questioned. He wished to make another observation. The statement of his noble friend rested entirely on the statement of captain Birley himself. It might be true, and it might not be true. Other statements had been made by a number of individuals on oath, on the coroner's inquest, of a nature altogether contrary to it. These statements might be true, or they might be false. They were therefore called on to inquire which of these statements were true, the statements of the magistrates and yeomanry, or the statements directly contradictory of them on oath.
observed, that the noble lord had expressed his confident belief in the veracity of the statement of captain Birley, and had borne testimony to his general disposition to humanity. That character was confirmed by an hon. gentleman from Manchester, whom he did not now see in his place. These were the attestations of persons competent to judge what authority any statement from him was entitled to, and his credit was therefore supported by the noble lord and the hon. gentleman whom he had alluded to. 333 Till something to the contrary, therefore, was produced against him, he must take the statement of the noble lord and hon. gentleman as a primâ facie case in favour of that gentleman and of the magistrates. The yeomanry it appeared went through the opening which at first led from the house to the meeting; but, by the alteration caused by the persons round the hustings, who removed the waggon to a distance from where it originally stood, and who placed a cordon of not less than 15 feet of persons, known to be selected from the most determined part of the meeting, the troops with the civil power were not able to approach close to the hustings. It was to be considered that the magistrates had behind them the loyal population of that great town; and with all these loyal people (and when the people were talked of it was too much the fashion to include only under that description—disturbers of the peace) more in number, perhaps, than that of the people assembled at the meeting, the magistrates were called on to execute the powers of the Jaw to rescue them from the perilous situation in which they were placed. It was well known at the moment the fury of the loyal people was so great against the mob, that the moment it was dispersed, had it not been for the intervention of the magistrates it would have been impossible to save many individuals from the resentment of those who felt themselves rescued from their outrages.
said, he should not have spoken had it not been for what had occurred within the last half hour. If any thing could show the necessity of an inquiry, and the duty of that House to institute it, it was the course just adopted on the other side. The noble lord had declared that his noble friend had brought forward such information as ought to satisfy the country. And what had his noble friend stated? He had stated to the House information derived by him from the very persons who were implicated in these transactions. He was ready to believe the magistrates and yeomanry might be able to justify themselves; but he would ask the House whether that description of evidence which they had just heard would satisfy any part of the country. It was too much to hear such a supposition trumpeted forth by the noble lord. When his majesty's ministers knew that in all parts of the country so many meetings had taken place on this 334 subject, all loudly demanding inquiry, he was astonished they should think such a statement from such a source, would prove satisfactory. There was hardly a person whom he had seen, who did not think inquiry was necessary. This was the opinion of many persons who never attended public meetings, and it was not fair to infer that those only who attended public meetings were in favour of inquiry—for, from what he knew, he would say there were still more who had not attended public meetings, than of those who had attended public meetings, who thought inquiry necessary. The hon. member for Yorkshire for instance, with his friends, the loyal declarators of that county had in fact admitted as much. This was itself an admission of the necessity of inquiry. If any thing proved more than another the necessity of inquiry, it was what had followed his noble friend's statement. He had not heard a single person who had expressed an opinion that the magistrates were to blame. But what had the right hon. gentleman who just sat down said? Why, that after the declaration of his noble friend there was a prima facie case, unless there could be shown something to the contrary, which proved the innocence of the magistrates. What was wanted was an opportunity to show these facts to the country. If the House did not enter into this inquiry, could the country remain quiet? In denying inquiry, his majesty's ministers were not only guilty of a great want of feeling towards the country at large, but of injustice to the parties themselves, in holding them up in an invidious light to the country.—He trusted the magistrates and yeomanry would be able to clear themselves from the charge of cruelty, but that was a reason why the inquiry should be gone into. However they might clear themselves of cruelty, he did not think they would be able to clear themselves of the imputation of gross neglect.—One thing was admitted on all sides—it was admitted that the magistrates were aware the day before that it was an illegal meeting. At all events when they saw the fellows coming in the manner they did, they could have no doubt that it was an illegal meeting. But though they saw them so coming in, what did they do? They waited till 50 or 60,000 persons were assembled together to make the case more difficult. Thus from their own statements there was a great want of pru- 335 dence on the part of the magistrates. Supposing the magistrates and yeomanry however could acquit themselves of the severe charges against them, the noble lord was guilty of great injustice towards them, in holding them up to the country in so invidious a light. If it had not been for what fell from the noble lord he should not have troubled the House on this occasion. He was one of those who were convinced the present state of things must somehow or other be got rid of. He meant the state of things in the manufacturing districts—The manufacturers of those districts were a body of individuals on whom a great part of the prosperity of the country depended. All the manufacturers were in a state of derangement while this disposition prevailed. It was impossible that rich capitalists would remain in a country exposed to tumultuary meetings. Great numbers of manufacturers had been brought here from other countries, some from civil and some from religious persecution. But no persecution could be so fatal as a mob persecution. Every other persecution there was some means of softening, but this was unrelenting and implacable. Despotism itself was not so bad. Every man at all conversant with business must know that if this state of things lasted another twelve months it would be attended with the destruction of the manufactures of that part of the country, and would reduce to utter misery that part of the people of this country. He did not pretend to say what means would be successful for putting it down. Whether strong means or means of conciliation—but this he would say, that if such a state of things continued the manufacturers could not possibly go on. He really could not conceive what interest could be served by preventing the inquiry proposed from being carried on in that House. Every person possessed of capital was very much interested in the inquiry. He had only one more observation to make. He should say an inquiry ought to take place, not so much an inquiry for the purpose of ascertaining whether the magistrates and yeomanry were guilty or not guilty, as an inquiry on general principles, to let us see whether there had been any interference of government with the ordinary administration of justice—whether there had been any interference with the coroner, the magistrates or lord lieutenants, for the purpose of preventing the ordinary course of justice. On this 336 subject there was a prima facie evidence of some interference. He did not allude to the bills thrown out by the grand jury—whether the grand jury-were right or wrong in throwing out these bills, this was in the ordinary course of the administration of justice. But where he saw one set of magistrates refuse to listen to the applications made to them in the ordinary form, because they were themselves concerned in the transactions complained of; and another set of magistrates refuse to interfere, because their neighbours were concerned—when he saw the approbation of his majesty's government given, at a time when it was impossible they could be acquainted with the case of which they approved—and what was most extraordinary, and what in his opinion too little stress had been laid on—when he saw the inquest of the coroner at Oldham stopped for six weeks, he could not help saying that this was a prima facie case, that the ordinary course of justice was not going on—this was a state of things which had never existed before. It had been said that an inquiry was prejudging men who might afterwards be put on there trial. He said that this was not the sort of investigation, which he wanted, but that higher and far more important investigation, to ascertain whether the wheels of government were going on in the ordinary way. These were the reasons on which he grounded the vote he had given, and which would have induced him to oppose any address which after the extraordinary circumstances which had occurred, should not contain a pledge to inquire into them.
§ Lord Compton
said, that the reasons which induced him to support the address were these:—Though it might happen that the House should vote in favour of inquiry, yet a majority might vote against any of the three modes of inquiry which were open to them. The first mode of inquiry was by an examination of witnesses at the bar. This mode of inquiry-was open to many inconveniences, and they had been well exposed by the hon. member for Yorkshire. The second mode was by a committee up stairs; but in the present state of feeling in the country it would be difficult to make a selection of members which would satisfy those whom it was proposed to conciliate. The third mode was to order the Crown lawyers to prosecute the magistrates, &c. in a court of law. But he could not consent, nor 337 would the House consent, to act as the accuser of persons who were in its opinion not only guiltless, but meritorious. A great deal had been said of the thanks given by the ministers to the magistrates, because it was alleged that time had not been taken to inquire into the circumstances. But the magistrates were public functionaries, and surely, when they said that under such and such circumstances they had acted so and so, his majesty's ministers were bound to receive, their statement as true, until it was proved to be false. If the statement of the magistrates had been found to be false, so far from being bound by their declaration, the ministers would have been justified in proceeding against them with the greater severity. The hon. member for Shrewsbury had said, that captain Birley's character had not been attacked in or out of the House. As to the House, the statement was correct, but in Manchester captain Birley's character was attacked in the most mischievous manner by a placard in a shop window. As to the dismissal of lord Fitzwilliam, he believed that nobleman to be as honourable a man, and as loyal a subject, as ever existed; but he thought, that if it was only that he differed from the ministers, not only in the mode of quelling the disturbances in his district, but even as to the nature of those disturbances—this alone would have been a sufficient reason for his removal. Besides this, the lord lieutenant was not merely the servant of the Crown, but of the ministers, and though lord Fitzwilliam would have been called upon by duty (entertaining such sentiments as he did), to demand an audience from the Prince Regent, to lay before him his opinion as to the conduct of the ministers; yet he was not justified in attending a meeting, to throw blame on the ministers for their conduct in the very department in which he had to obey their commands. But he followed the dictates of his conscience, and there was no disgrace in his dismissal. It was not more a disgrace for lord F. to differ from the ministers, than for the ministers to differ from him. As to parliamentary reform, before he (lord Compton) consented to enter into the consideration of that subject, he must be satisfied of two things; first, that the alteration of the constitution of parliament would be in a beneficial direction; and, second, that it would not go farther than he wished. What appeared to him an almost insuperable 338 objection to an attempt to reform the House, was, that if any interest was already too strong in it, the result of the change in its constitution by the same body, would be to make that interest stronger. He was extremely surprised at the language held by one hon. member, who seemed to consider that the Manchester magistrates had shown an unbecoming eagerness for shedding human blood. For his part, he thought they had proved themselves anxious to avoid shedding blood, and that they had, by their judicious measures, saved perhaps the town of Manchester—saved the lives of a large portion of the multitude that had been dispersed, and vindicated the majesty of the laws.
§ Mr. Valentine Blake
said:—I beg to assure the House, that, after the ample discussion which this subject has received, I shall feel it to be my duty to say but a very few words. I am not vain enough to imagine, that it can be in my power to alter the opinion of any hon. member, whose view of this subject is different from my own; but when I consider the vast importance of the question before the House, its consequence not only with regard to the rights of the people, but also to the rights, independence, and character of the parliament, and even the very existence of the constitution, and when, to my very great amazement, I find a course adopted by the hon. gentlemen on the other side, equally new, unnecessary, and pernicious, supported by arguments futile and dangerous too, no consciousness of ray own inability to do the subject that justice which it has received from others, shall deter roe from recording my sentiments in justification to my constituents of the vote which I have given, in the discharge of the most solemn duty which I may ever be called upon to perform towards them. In the first place, I think it right to observe upon a part of what fell last night from an hon. and learned gentleman. That hon. and learned gentleman recommended conciliation and clemency; and I admit the principle, as I am sure every man does who votes on this side of the House, if applied at the proper season. But it is not when sedition and. blasphemy and avowed treason go hand 339 in hand with such alarming strides, that I would have recourse to measures which would be misrepresented by the disaffected, and called weakness. I would, in such circumstances, put on a firm resolution to suppress open rebellion, even if it went to that (as I sincerely hope it will not), and after having done so, I would then turn round and put on that air of clemency and conciliation so recommended by the hon. and learned gentleman. In taking this course I do not think that I could be charged with inconsistency; and therefore the imputation upon this identical point with respect to the inconsistency of the right hon. and learned gentleman, whose speech brought conviction to every unprejudiced mind, and whose life has been one uniform instance of political consistency and sacrifice appears to me to be wholly unfounded. The hon. baronet was not more happy than the hon. and learned gentleman in his attack upon the same quarter, and the ridicule which he attempted to throw upon the speech of the right hon. and learned gentleman must revert upon himself; for, surely, the hon. baronet cannot be so ignorant as not to know that the civil force of a parish or a district is not vested in the parish constables only, but in the magistracy of the county, with powers ample enough to warrant them in putting down a meeting so numerous as must be dangerous to the public peace, and the more especially so, when the temper and spirit of the persons who compose that meeting have been previously manifested by a training to military exercise, for the purpose, avowedly, of revolution. How such a meeting can be termed legal is astonishing, and only shows how far prejudice and party will cloud the best mind and the honestest judgment. The hon. and learned gentleman, who spoke this night on the other side, rose, as he said, for the particular purpose of giving a legal opinion in favour of the meeting; and having listened to him with anxiety, I never was more astonished than when that hon. and learned gentleman sat down, forgetting the express purpose for which he rose. I am perfectly sure that if a client went to that hon. and learned gentleman in his professional capacity, he would never think of giving his opinion without his reasons, because such an opinion would be looked upon as nothing; and from this it is fair to infer, that the hon. and learned gentleman has no reason 340 to give. Another hon. and learned gentleman, who just sat down, gave a like opinion, and threw the weight of his authority into a scale opposed to that of the right hon. and learned gentleman, whose opinion, not only as to the illegality of the Manchester meeting, but of other meetings, was authenticated by the speech of the hon. and learned gentleman who spoke on the first night's debate from the floor, and who used the fact as a means of accusation against the law officers of the Crown, for not having prosecuted the offenders. But who, I will ask, ever heard of a prosecution against a multitude? That hon. and learned gentleman declared that he would, out of respect for the right hon. and learned gentleman who preceded him, consume a reasonable time in his reply, but although the time which he did consume was certainly very unreasonable, considering the matter of his speech, he did not consume one particle of the sound reasoning and unanswerable argument of the right hon. and learned gentleman. The hon. and learned gentleman by along course of extensive employment, has raised himself in the estimation of every man (and in none more than in mine) to the head of his profession; but I hope it will not be deemed improper of me to say, that he ought as much as possible to refrain from legal device as a legislator. It must have happened to the hon. and learned gentleman, that when he was concerned on the wrong side, and found himself unable to meet the facts and the arguments of his adversary, as in the present instance, he found it for the benefit of his client to make a hash of those facts, and so to mix them up as to make them unintelligible, and thus to mislead the jury; but, surely, that course which would be advisable and proper for him to take as a pleader, ought to be repudiated by him as a judge; yet the contrary has taken place. Besides which, the hon. and learned gentleman had the candor to impute special pleading to a speech, which can only be justly appreciated, when its effects are considered after the display of talent and legal knowledge and eloquence to which it was a reply. The hon. and learned gentleman, I am astonished to say, also thought that it was necessary at this time of day, to go about to prove that the right of the subject to petition was a right which could not be taken away without annihilation of the constitution—but this was an extraordi- 341 narily unnecessary course. Who is it that does not admit the right? Yet if it was disputed, the record to which the hon. and learned gentleman adverted would have been but poor authority, when the circumstances of the times which it referred to are considered, especially when it is known that then in reality the king disputed the right, and went to such lengths as to induce the hon. members of that day to go to the House armed, prepared to fight, and not to deliberate. This right is not, nor ever shall be, with my aid, disputed, but I look upon an abuse of the right as most dangerous, even to its own existence, and therefore I will resist it. The liberty of the press is a valuable right; but what does a libel consist of but in an abuse of that liberty. The right to petition is also a most valuable right; but is a flagitious and flagrant abuse of it to be tolerated to an extent which would, by its explosion, produce revolution, with all its attendant horrors, as lately exemplified in France? while the guilty libeller is punished for a crime certainly much less dangerous, because less rapid in its effect. I have but one word more to offer; hon. gentlemen on the other side have often thrown out against us who support the government, charges of the most abominable corruption; but it is time to retaliate, and I will not shrink from the undertaking; individually, I confess, I respect and admire those hon. gentlemen denominated the Whigs of this day, but as a party I must point at the fallen image which they have so long worshipped. In the infancy of that party perhaps I would have admired its principles; in its growth I would have feared them; in its manhood I opposed them; and now, in the hour of its final dissolution, I despise them. Power, power, power (no matter by what means acquired) was their constant object; blinded by this passion, and goaded on by continual disappointment, they have at length delivered themselves over (without intending it) to the projects of disaffection and treason. It is in vain that they have laboured and tortured this fair inference, in order to separate themselves from their new allies; the impression has gone abroad, and will never be effaced. The substantial principles of this party have long since vanished; even the name, to which they would still fondly cling, is gone, and nothing remains to them but political distrust, insignificance, and ruin.
§ The report was then agreed to; and the Address was ordered to be printed by the whole House.