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Hon could only reach delegation, for the purpose of presenting or subscribing petitions, not preparing petitions, nor corresponding, nor digesting resolutions, nor promoting redress of specific grievances, to all which the bill goes, to none of which the argument goes; nor does the argument even go so far as to prove the illegality of any delegation whatsoever: it only proves, that delegation, for the particular purpose of presenting or subscribing petitions, is useless; but it does not prove the delegates to be an unlawful assembly; or that the peace-officers can disperse them, or the crown-officer can prosecute them. You cannot petition parliament by attorney—does it follow you cannot appoint one? Associations for the peace, delegations for redress, clubs for society, are all voluntary conventions, without seal, certificate, or incorporation. Parliament cannot know them by that description which they give themselves; does it follow that the law would punish them as an unlawful assembly?
The object of these meetings has, in general, been to propose matter for petition, or to collect or combine the public mind to one specific mode of remedy, and not in the person of delegates to approach the legislature: and it is against this proceeding the bill is directed. The bill leaves the county meetings free; its design is, to prevent the communication of county with county, and city with city, on the subject of public redress, and the reform of parliament, above all other, subjects: and the reason is very obvious; the resolutions of such county or aggregate meetings have proved generally ineffectual; but the resolutions, formed on representative or delegated meetings, have generally proved effectual. The bill leaves the people such resources as have been abortive, and only takes away all which have been successful.
It has been said, in support of this bill, that the preamble contains in it no point of law whatsoever, but is one proposition, only stating a matter of fact. This I must deny. The preamble contains two propositions; the one, matter of fact, or rather prophesy, which is positive; the other, matter of law, which is implicative. It describes an unlawful assembly in these words: "An assembly purporting to represent the people." But it does not stop here; "or any description or number of the people, under pretence of preparing or presenting petitions, complaints, remonstrances, or declarations to the king or parliament for alterations of matter in church or state, alleged grievances, or other public concernment." But, if there was any doubt what the preamble implied, there can be no doubt but that the declaratory part expresses, that any assembly of delegates from any description or number of his Majesty's subjects, for the purpose of procuring by petition, or in any other manner, an alteration in matters established in church or state, is unlawful. Let me ask gentlemen of the bar, what was the committee of the lawyers' corps in 1782? Was not that very assembly a delegation from a certain description of his Majesty's subjects, to procure an alteration in matters established in state; a delegation to consider a public concernment; a delegation purporting to promote the redress of grievance? There is not a description in the act that delineates an unlawful assembly, under which that committee does not come. Who appointed that committee? A certain numerous description of his Majesty's subjects. What was the object of their delegation? To consider matters of state, then settled by the law; that is, to report whether the measures taken by the parliaments of the two kingdoms were, as unanimously alleged by the parliament of Ireland, adequate, in point of law, to liberate this kingdom from the legislative interference of Great Britain. And what was their determination? In direct contradiction to a settlement concluded by both houses of parliament. They reported, that the remedy which our parliament had deemed sufficient, was inadequate; and they concluded with a redress of their own, namely, that a bill of renunciation ought to pass in the parliament of England, and a bill of right in the parliament of Ireland.
Here is a delegation taking into consideration every thing which this bill forbids—public concernment—redress of grievance, and a particular matter, vitally affecting the state, and just settled by the law; and here is a report of that delegation opening that settlement to procure an alteration therein.
There were, indeed, two circumstances, which distinguish this delegation from others which the bill describes and declares to be unlawful—the
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committee were delegated by an armed body, to impeach the sufficiency of a parliamentary settlement. Do I wish to reflect on their motives? No; they thought the independency of this country was a matter of state, too invaluable, though settled by law, to be left entirely to any body of men, even the House of Commons, or to any individual of that House, however well disposed. It was an occasion in which zeal, and even suspicion, was commendable. I differed from the members of that committee, in the doctrines they then advanced against the proceeding of parliament. I differ from some of them in the doctrines they now advance against the proceedings of their own committee; and it is by a singular fatality, that it should fall to my lot to resist, and to theirs to support a bill, whose preamble and whose declaration do, in the fullest and least equivocal manner, pronounce their committee to have been an unlawful assembly, and their conduct to have been illegal.
While I combat the argument, I must give every due praise to the abilities of the learned gentleman who advanced it—for taste as a scholar, knowledge as a lawyer, and extensive, liberal and deep erudition. It has been said, that the bill does not affect committees appointed bona fide to prepare petitions or other matter, but only such as make petition a pretence for delegation— ridiculous! The bill goes against all delegation for public matter, and provides that the pretence of petitioning shall not cover the transaction.
Gentlemen having, in my humble apprehen
•ion, mistated the law, proceed, to my certain knowledge, to mistate the fact; and they insist, that in England no convention or committee, such as the bill describes, has taken place; and this, they assign, as a reason why in England there is no prohibitory statute. I mentioned yesterday one delegation this moment existing in England, a delegation from no less a description of his Majesty's subjects than the protestant dissenters in England, appointed for the express purpose of procuring an alteration in a matter by law established in church and state—the repeal of the test act. I beg to remind gentlemen of another convention that took place in London; it was a delegation from that description of his Majesty's subjects, which comprehends the manufacturing interest of England, and was deputed to consider matter that related to the state of both kingdoms—the commercial propositions. I beg leave to turn the recollection of gentlemen to other conventions in England—to those that sat in London in 1780, consisting of a deputation from above sixteen counties, delegating representatives for the purpose of forming committees of correspondence, to procure an alteration in matters touching the state; or, in other words, to frame petitions for these several counties for the reduction of the expences of the goverment; and further, to promote the objects of those petitions, among the number of those delegates were some from the city of London, appointed by an act of the corporation, attended with a resolution, that the Recorder of Londou should be assistant