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1771. REPORTS OF THE DEBATES. 297
the champion of the honour of the House. As might be expected after such a taunt a duel ensued between them. The met in Hyde Park, and exchanged pistol-shots without h on either side, but Lord George displayed so much intrepidity and coolness on this occasion that, in the estimation of his friends at least, it might efface the memory of the evil day at Minden. The contest shortly afterwards with the City of London was not unconnected with the former. The more immediate cause, however, was the growing practice of reporting the debates in Parliament. It would be far from candid to judge of the measures adopted then by the feelings prevalent now. In the earlier days of our Constitutional history, from the Revolution downwards, it was deemed, even by the ablest and the wisest men, that they had everything to dread from the publication, if permitted, of any false or garbled statement of their conduct or opinions. Even Marlborough, so sagacious in estimating perils, and so serene in confronting them, warmly urges his colleague Godolphin to discover, if possible, and to pursue the author of a libel; “for,” he adds, “if such liberties may be taken of telling scandalous lies “without being punished, no government can stand long.”* In 1728 and again in 1738 under the administration of Sir Robert Walpole the House of Commons, by the concurrence of all parties, and without a single dissentient voice, agreed to stringent Resolutions against any person who should presume to give any account of their Debates. By the same Resolution they pledged themselves to proceed against such offenders “with the utmost severity.”* Nevertheless the practice was never put down. It was found that at periods especially of party-struggle and excitement the newswriters were not restrainca from gratifying at any risk the public curiosity. Various disguises and evasions were assumed for safety. The London Museum published the “Debates in the Political Club,” and the Gentleman's Magazine published the “Debates in the Senate of Lilliput.” The names given of the speakers were fictitious, often those derived from Roman History, and afterwards explained in advertisements separate from the volumes. If the real names were used at all they were designated at most by the first and concluding letter with a dash or asterisk between. In some few cases, as at present, the reports were supplied or corrected by the speakers themselves.” But in general they were most brief and imperfect, and drawn up with such glaring partiality and passion on one, chiefly the Opposition, side as to afford at the time a specious argument against the practice itself. No one as yet foresaw how much, when itself became improved, it would improve and instruct the people. The practice was then considered only on most narrow grounds; by timid men who dreaded a libel on themselves; or by formal men who deprecated a breach of the Privileges of the House. It was not until 1770 that the practice of reporting nearly in its present form may be said to have commenced. In that year the Parliamentary debates began to be given, not only at wide intervals or on special occasions, but both more frequently and more fully, and with less of disguise or concealment. Such an innovation could not fail to be displeasing to many Members. It was noticed more especially when in consequence of the quarrel with the House of Lords the exclusion of strangers came to be in question. Colonel George Onslow, Member for Guildford, and nephew of the late Speaker, moved that certain printers whom he named should be summoned to the Bar to answer for their disobedience. It did not appear easy for the House when thus called upon to refuse to give effect to its own Orders. Some of the printers being therefore summoned did accordingly appear at the Bar, and were reprimanded by the
* To Lord Godolphin, August 24. 1705. Coxe's Life of Marlborough. * Resolutions of the House of Commons, February 26, 1728, and April 18, 1738.
* “As to the speeches printed by Members themselves, we never have “prevented their publication," said Burke in February 1771. Cavendish Debates, vol. ii. p. 259. There are, however, some remote cases to the contrary; Lord Digby's in 1641, Sir Edward Dering's in 1642.
1771. CONFLICT WITH THE CITY OF LONDON. 299
Speaker upon their knees; after which they were discharged. Others evaded compliance with the requisition; and one of them, Miller by name, took his stand upon his rights as a liveryman of London. In quest of him one of the messengers was despatched to his shop by the Serjeant-at-Arms. A scuffle ensued, and at last this messenger, instead of taking Miller, was himself taken by a City constable, and carried before Brass Crosby, the Lord Mayor. The Lord Mayor, when after some hours' delay he admitted the parties, was attended by Alderman Oliver and Alderman Wilkes. With their full concurrence he declared that to lay hands upon a citizen within the precincts of the City, and without the knowledge or authority of the City Magistrates, was a flagrant violation of the City's Charters. On this ground the three Magistrates not only refused to give up Miller, but took the bold course of holding the Messenger to bail for an assault, — that is, for the arrest he had attempted.
At the news of this occurrence the House of Commons were fired with indignation. They began to feel, as the King more wisely foresaw at the outset *, that they had entered upon a rash and unsafe course, but they felt also that they could not recede from it with honour. It was ordered by a large majority that the Lord Mayor and Alderman Oliver, who were Members, should attend in their places, and that Alderman Wilkes should appear at the Bar. Wilkes wrote a letter in reply to this order, declaring that he was the lawful representative of Middlesex by the free choice of the electors, and refusing to appear unless as a Member in his place. Three times was the order repeated, three times distinctly declined. Yet so great was the unwillingness on all sides to meddle any further with this formidable patriot, that notwithstanding his open defiance of the House, the order for his attendance was allowed to drop, — to the great disappointment no doubt of Wilkes himself, who had reaped a most abundant and profitable harvest from each of his former prosecutions.
* Letter to Lord North, March 17. 1771.
Of the two remaining magistrates, the Lord Mayor being ill of gout, and compelled to quit the House abruptly, the case of Oliver was first decided. That Alderman appeared in his place, but refused to make the smallest submission. “Do what you please,” he said; “I defy you.”* After a violent debate, but by a large majority, Alderman Oliver was sent a prisoner to the Tower. Two days afterwards, on the 27th of March, the turn of Brass Crosby came. In consideration of his sickness it was moved that he should not be sent to the Tower, but committed to the gentler custody of the Serjeant-at-Arms. But the Lord Mayor with a noble spirit disdained the proffered lenity. He said that his health was much amended; that he had no favour to ask of the House; that in justice to his honourable friend he ought to share the like confinement; that in maintaining the City Charters he had done no more than his duty, and that in the same circumstances he should certainly do the same again. An amendment was then moved by Mr. Welbore Ellis that he should be sent to the Tower; an immense majority approved, and to the Tower the Lord Mayor was sent accordingly.**
It is not to be supposed that measures so violent were adopted by the House without as violent resistance from some of its own Members. A minority, small indeed in numbers, but resolute in their spirit, and historically important in their names, (they were joined by Burke; they were approved by Chatham”;) offered every opposition in their power. One evening they divided the House no less than twenty-three times. At other times they tried the moral effect of a secession; Colonel Barré, Sir George Savile, and several more withdrawing from the House in much wrath, and exclaiming it was clear that justice would not be done. 1771. PopULAR TUMULTs. 301
* Cavendish Debates, vol. ii. p. 461. ** According to Lord Orford: “When he (the Lord Mayor) entered the “Tower he was half-drunk, swore, and behaved with a jollity ill becoming “the gravity of his office or cause.” (Memoirs, vol. iv. p. 304.) *** “If the Ministry proceed to punish the Lord Mayor, the stand against “such injustice and oppression cannot be made with too much vigour and “firmness." (Chatham Correspondence, vol. iv. p. 136.)
Still less did these violent measures pass without riots and tumults in the streets. Large multitudes gathered as during the Middlesex Elections, greeting the City Magistrates with cheers, their opponents with hisses and stones. On the day, above all, when the Lord Mayor was ordered to attend, and was finally sent to prison, it was with great difficulty that the Ministerial members could make their way into the House. Lord North's chariot was broken, and himself wounded in the hand, and he might not improbably have been torn to pieces but for the rescue of an honourable enemy, Sir William Meredith. Mr. Charles Fox, then a Lord of the Treasury, and among the foremost on the anti-popular side, was almost as roughly handled as his chief. There had been at that time a prevalent rumour that Lord North intended to resign. But when he addressed the House that same evening, moved even to tears, though speaking with manly firmness, the Prime Minister adverted to that point as follows: “I certainly did not come into office at my own “desire. Had I my own wish I would have quitted it a “hundred times. My love of ease and retirement urged me . “to it, but as to my resigning now, look at the situation of “the country, look at the transactions of this day, and then “say whether it would be possible for any man with a grain “of spirit, with a grain of sense, with the least love for his “country, to think of withdrawing at such a moment from “the service of his King and his country...... There are “but two ways in which I can go out now: — by the will “of my Sovereign which I shall be ready to obey, or by “the pleasure of the gentlemen now at our doors when “they shall be able to do a little more than they have done “this day.”* The City supported its magistrates zealously and warmly. Three other Aldermen in the House of Commons, Trecothick, Sawbridge, and Townsend, declared that they made
* Cavendish Debates, vol. ii. p. 480. At this very page, that useful publication was, for want of funds, abruptly ended. The MS. extends to 1774.