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to the delegation, a man of great celebrity and knowledge, both as a lawyer and a constitutionalist.
There were other most respectable names, members and chairmen of these committees, the Duke of Portland, Lord Spencer, Mr. Fox, the name of Cavendish, and most of the Whig interest of England. The Duke of Rutland was chairman to one of the committees. There was our Burke, the Marquis of Buckingham, Mr. Grenville, and many others. I do not find any proceeding against these meetings as unlawful assemblies, and yet all these came within the letter and spirit of this bill; they came within the letter of your act, for they were delegations from certain descriptions of his Majesty's subjects, to procure an alteration in matters touching the state, viz. the expences of the king's government. They come within the spirit, because the object of these committees was to procure, as that of the bill is to prevent, concert—concert among the people, in redressing those abuses in the state, which a House of Commons, as it is now returned by boroughs, and influenced by ministers, will not attend to, except when such concert out of doors, as happened in counties in almost all great questions, and did happen in the case of those very committees, renders it necessary to attend and concede. I have shown you the practice in England, and that the advocates of the bill, in matter of fact at least, are entirely mistaken. I think it has been already shown that they are in matter of law; and I beg to ask, whether it is reasonable to suppose, that such practice, so general, so repeated, and so countenanced, is illegal; and whether such doctrines, as the advocates of the bill have advanced, unsupported by statute, unwarranted by adjudication, and in the face of such a number of precedents, indeed, of daily experience, and of their own memorable example, is law? I must, therefore, conclude this part of my answer by observing, that the arguments of this hill do not appear to have the support either of the law or of fact.
As to the expediency, I beg to speak a few words. This bill is said to be an expedient to restore peace;—why,then, is it a reflection? why do the preamble and the declaration pronounce every man who has been a delegate, all the volunteers, the delegates at Dungannon, the delegates of the convention, the committee of the lawyers' corps, and the corps that appointed that committee—the committee of the catholics, their late convention, and all the catholics who appointed that committee, that is, the whole catholic body, offenders—men guilty of an unlawful assembly, and this moment liable to be prosecuted?—For so much has the bill in object, not the peace of the country, but reflection on great bodies, and the gratification of spleen at the expence of the constitution, by voting false doctrine into law, and the brightest passages of your history into unlawful assemblies.
Gentlemen have conceived this bill an expedient to quell the insurgents; let them read the bill. It is not a riot act; the riot act seemed forgotten until a friend of mine put it into bis temporary statute bill; it does not go against riots that are, but conventions that are not. The title of the bill, as first brought in, was to prevent riots and tumults arising from conventions; but as the bill had nothing to say to riots, aad no riots appeared to have arisen from conventions, such title was in decency dropped, and the real object of the bill professed—an act against conventions. The bill, therefore, neither is, nor professes to be, a bill against riots, it is only an expedient for peace; as far as conventions now disturb it, sir, there are none.
But gentlemen say, a national convention at Athlone was intended. Sir, I do believe that such a one was intended some time ago, and that now it is not so; or, if now intended, that it would be trifling and contemptible. But if that is the object of the bill, direct the bill to that object. Do not extend the bill to every delegation from any county, city, town, district, from any description of any number of his majesty's subjects appointed to procure redress in any abuse relating to church or state. My objection to your bill is, that it is a trick—making a supposed national convention at Athlone in 1793, a pretext for preventing delegation for ever.
I have already said, that such a meeting as was invited to assemble at Athlone should be withstood. I know not what such meeting would be, except from the summonses read by gentlemen in this house; and such a meeting, I repeat it, as would assemble pursuant to such summonses, with such a view, and under all the circumstances held out, should be withstood; for such a meeting would not be an assembly to promote the reform of parliament, but to put itself in the place of parliament. But does it follow, therefore, that the people should lose the power of delegation for ever? I acknowledge, the people retain their right to hold such primary assemblies, as meet in the aggregate; but do not we know that such meetings have been inefficacious; the object not of your respect, but of the courtiers' acorn and ridicule? and, therefore, the people have resorted to delegates, who have given to their wishes concert and effect; and, therefore, I fear it is, that a bill has been introduced, when parliamentary reform is in contemplation, to prevent such delegation; leaving to the people such popular meetings as gentlemen flatter themselves cannot have any popular effect.
My apprehension, therefore, is, that the supposed meeting at Athlone is a pretence, and that the real object of this bill is to prevent, in future, all popular effect whatsoever, particularly now, when reform has been proposed in this house; a measure offensive to all men who dislike the people, offensive to most of those who dislike the Catholics, and detestable to those men who hate both. Does it follow, because the supposed national convention at Athlone should be prevented, that all committees of correspondence, on the subject of redress, should be put down for ever? No county, no city, no description of men, can delegate a few individuals to concert the most legal and effectual method of procuring, in an acknowledged abuse, a temperate remedy.
I am against this bill, because it is not confined to the supposed convention, but is levelled against all popular delegation in all time to come: and as I was against the excesses of some of the people which shook the principles of government, so am I now against the excesses on the other side, which attack the principles of liberty. I consider the bill as one excess reforming another; as the violence of one side attacking the constitution, as that of the other did the government. It seems to me to be compounded of a dislike to the people in general, and the catholics in particular; a concern at past acquisition, and a present apprehension of reform in parliament. It avails itself of the present panic to abridge popular rights; and it finds support in sanguine but weak minds, who know there is a disease, but have not sense enough to discover the remedy, and think that a convention-bill is to restore us all to peace; who think that, in time of local disturbance, the remedy is a bill, not against the particular disturbance, but against liberty and the people.
I must repeat my conviction against this bill, and beg to resort to the memories of gentlemen, wherein to deposit my entire disapprobation of this measure."
In passing this bill, the representatives of the people assumed a power greater than was conferred on them. The people cannot confer on their delegates to the house of commons, greater