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sion and disgrace attend a longer struggle, — an interminable series of expulsions by the House and of elections by the county? It may in fairness be acknowledged that the Ministerial majority had scarcely left themselves any other course to follow. But on the ground of Constitutional right their arguments were weak indeed! There were ample precedents, no doubt, for excluding any Member subject by law to disability, and for seating in his place a candidate who had obtained a much smaller number of votes. But here lies the distinction, and it is a vital one, – that Wilkes was not subject to disability by any law, but only by a Resolution of the House of Commons. Therefore to exclude him as not eligible, and to seat another candidate in his place, was to make a Resolution by one branch of the Legislature equal to the Law by all three; and that, moreover, on the tenderest of all points, as touching the freedom of election. It might seem to be a question, if such a course were followed, whether henceforth the country was to choose Members for the House of Commons, or the House of Commons to choose Members for the country. With these views full upon the public mind, the following words which fell in debate from Mr. Henry Cavendish were warmly applauded and adopted; they were called “Mr. Cavendish's Creed,” and were drunk as a toast at political dinners. “I do from my soul detest “and abjure as unconstitutional and illegal that damnable “doctrine and position that a Resolution of the House of “Commons can make, alter, suspend, abrogate, or an“nihilate the Law of the Land.”* At the present day few or none could be found to controvert that Creed, though many in the House of Commons are still eager on occasion to set
* Compare a note in the Chatham Correspondence, vol. iii. p. 360. with the Cavendish Debates, vol. i. p. 428. Mr. Henry Cavendish was in descent an illegitimate scion of the great house of Devonshire. In 1776 he became a Baronet on the death of his father, and in 1792 his wife was raised to the Irish peerage as Baroness Waterpark. The MS. notes which he took of the debates in the House of Commons from 1768 to 1774 were partly published in 1841, and were ably edited by Mr. Wright, although their own historical value has been perhaps a little overrated. Some of the most important debates of the period (as those in January 1770) are wholly omitted by Sir Henry.
1769. I).R. BLACKSTONE. 243
Privilege above Statute; they are still heretics in action, though at last orthodox in faith.
In 1769 the course of the Duke of Grafton and Lord North in Wilkes's case was much disapproved by Lord Chancellor Camden, who nevertheless consented to remain their colleague. A support far more strenuous was afforded them by another great lawyer, Mr. Blackstone, sometimes called Dr. Blackstone, as practising in Doctors Commons. He was at this time Solicitor General to the Queen and Member for Westbury, but became promoted to a judgeship in the ensuing year. Only the first volume of those Commentaries which have since given lustre to his name had as yet appeared. In his speech on this occasion he warmly maintained the legal incapacity of Wilkes, but was answered by Mr. Grenville from a passage in his own book where all the rightful grounds of disqualification were enumerated, and where no such case as Wilkes's was assigned. Hence there grew to be another favourite toast at the Opposition banquets: “The FIRST edition of Dr. Blackstone's Commentaries “on the Laws of England.” Still more bitter is the taunt of Junius: “For the defence of truth, of law and reason, the “Doctor's book may be safely consulted; but whoever wishes “to cheat a neighbour of his estate, or to rob a country of “its rights, need make no scruple of consulting the Doctor “himself!”*
Thus at the close of the Session of 1769 the Court party had prevailed in their favourite object— the exclusion of Wilkes from the House of Commons. But how heavy was the cost of that insignificant victory! Wilkes had in consequence grown to be the idol of the people, the champion as they deemed of the Constitution; and from within his prison walls he wielded a more powerful and extensive influence than as a member of the Legislature he could ever have attained. Meetings were held in various places — as in Westminster among the cities, and in Yorkshire among the counties, – to declare that the people had lost all confi
J * Letter xiv., June 22, 1769,
dence in their present representatives, and praying His Majesty to exert his prerogative for a Dissolution. In the autumn there came on for trial the long pending action of Wilkes against Lord Halifax as Secretary of State for the seizure of his papers, when the jury gave a verdict in Wilkes's favour, and awarded him for damages no less than 4,000l. Large as these damages may seem, they by no means fulfilled the eager expectations of the populace; and the jurymen were obliged to withdraw privately for fear of insults by the way. But perhaps the strongest testimony to the extent of the popular agitation at this period is afforded by a most shrewd observer, Benjamin Franklin, then resident in London. Many years afterwards at Paris in conversation with Lord Fitzmaurice he was, as he tells us himself, descanting on the value of fair repute with the world. He adds: “To express my sense of the importance of a good “private character in public affairs more strongly, I said “that I even believed if George the Third had had a bad “private character, and John Wilkes a good one, the latter “might have turned the former out of the kingdom!”* From Franklin the transition is easy to Franklin's native country. There the import duties laid on in 1767 had unhappily revived all the dissensions of the Stamp Act. The ferment increased when the new Commissioners, appointed to enforce and direct these duties, were seen to land and to fix themselves at Boston. For this reason, among others, Boston took the lead in opposing them. So early as October 1767 the principal gentlemen of the town had met and formed a non-importation agreement; that is, they had subscribed a bond pledging themselves to encourage the consumption of their own manufactures, and to buy nothing from Great Britain beyond a few articles of indispensable necessity. Great efforts were also made through the American press. In Massachusetts Mr. James Otis was forward in circulating the Resolutions of the Assembly, which he had been no less
• Private Diary, July 27, 1784.
1769. PROCEEDINGS IN AMERICA. 245
forward in urging”; and in another quarter Mr. John Dickinson wrote the well-known “Letters from a Farmer in Penn“sylvania.” Some members of the Government in England it appears suspected Franklin as the author of that most popular work. In fact, however, he had merely republished it in London with a preface of his own”; and he also upon the strength of it retracted his former opinion, so confidently given, as to the just difference to be made between internal taxation and external. But in private he could not always forbear a little civil scorn at the want of logic in these and the like effusions. “I know not what the Boston people “mean; what is the subordination they acknowledge in their “Assembly to Parliament, while they deny its power to “make laws for them?”***
The Governor of Massachusetts at this time was Francis Bernard, afterwards Sir Francis, a man of ability and firmness, but harsh and quarrelsome. He had become much disliked by the Assembly of the province from their conviction, — certainly well-founded, - that he constantly wrote home the most unfavourable statements of their motives and designs. Between him and them there now arose a long train of painful altercations. They complained especially of his conduct in refusing to confirm the nomination of several members of the Council, and of a letter from Lord Shelburne which had approved that conduct. In February 1768, notwithstanding his most earnest endeavours, they addressed a Circular Letter to all the other Colonies, inviting them to take measures to defeat the obnoxious taxes latterly imposed. The terms of that letter must be acknowledged as moderate, but its purport might be suspected as dangerous. At all events it gave the utmost displeasure to Lord Hillsborough, the new Secretary of State for America. He directed Governor Bernard to require of the Assembly that they should rescind the Resolution on which their Circular Letter was founded. This they refused to do. “If the “votes of this House,” they said, “are to be controlled by “a Minister, we have left us but a vain semblance of liberty.” In that spirit several of their Members who had voted against the Resolution for the Circular Letter, now gave their votes against rescinding it; and thus on the division there appeared ninety-two Nays with only seventeen Ayes. – Upon this, according to Lord Hillsborough's positive instructions, they were immediately dissolved. This irritating Dissolution took place on the 1st of July 1768. Only twenty days before, another incident had happened not less untoward, and adding full as much to the popular ferment which prevailed. A sloop named the “Li“berty,” and belonging to Mr. John Hancock, a merchant of Boston, had anchored in the harbour laden with wine from Madeira. According to one of the American authorities, “it had been a common practice, upon the arrival of “a vessel, for the tide-waiter to repair to the 'cabin, and “there to remain drinking punch with the master, while the “sailors and others upon deck were employed in landing the “goods;”* the goods in this manner being landed dutyfree. But the new Commissioners, as was their duty, had determined to enforce the law. On this occasion, therefore, the tide-waiter when he came on board refused not only the usual punch, but several other, perhaps more tempting, “proposals;” upon which the skipper laid violent hands upon him, locked him up in the cabin, and carried the wine to shore without further ceremony. Next morning he entered a few pipes of his Madeira at the custom-house, declaring that they had formed the whole cargo; but the Commissioners knowing the contrary ordered the sloop to be seized in the King's name, and for security to be towed under the guns of the Romney man-of-war. As the sloop was being moved from the wharf there gathered on the shore a great * Dr. Gordon's History of the Revolution, vol. i. p. 230.
* Of Mr. Otis's own pamphlets on Colonial rights the first had appeared in the summer of 1764. Yet in 1765, on reading the Virginian Resolutions, he declared them “a treasonable composition." See Grahame's History, vol. iv. p. 185. and 271. - - t ** Works, vol. iv. p. 256. The date of the Preface is May 8. 1768; it is signed only N. N. *** To his son, March 13, 1768. Works, vol. vii. p. 391.