Page images
PDF
EPUB

words plainly meant all the people :-he meant, that proposition in their defence, and I am sure that if the Prince Regent refused their just pe- their lordships will agree in the fitness and bitions—if he did not listen to the general cries propriety of my doing so.-I might cite to you of his people, then he had forfeited their alle upon this occasion all the authorities that exist giance, that is

, the allegiance of the whole upon subjects of this description, and confirm nation, so petitioning, and so repulsed and re the proposition I have announced by passages jected. It would be too absurd to imagine, from Locke, Hume, Blackstone and Burke, and that if all the rest of the people in the kingdom every writer, indeed, who, in a spirit of unwere to be true to their allegiance, they, the questioned loyalty, has at all entered into the Kilmarnock petitioners alone, were to rise philosophy of our freedom. But omitting those into rebellion. The words do not bear such more general and notorious authorities, I shall an interpretation. The whole people are content myself with citing to you that of one, spoken of.

not inferior in point of talents to any I have I do not hesitate to say, that the expression mentioned, and on whom also death has lately is indecorous, and that it is improper to raise set his seal. The person to whom I allude, up the idea of resistance on such an occasion. delivered his sentiments in a scene and situation The terms employed were indecent, and per- in which it was his duty to abstain from making haps punishable, as a breach of police; but such a statement, if his own judgment and good they were not seditious. What was said was, sense had not assured him he was justified in perhaps, harsh and absurd, but it was consistent what he said. I allude to a speech in the with the law of the land. For what is the printed trial of Fyshe Palmer, delivered by proposition ?—That we are entitled to present iord Meadowbank, * who was then at the bar, our petitions to our august. prince, and that he and acted as counsel for the crown on that ocis bound to listen to them. I do not know casion. In commenting on the conduct of the whether the petitioners anticipated the general panel, that eminent person took occasion to voice of the people to support iheir wishes; but say, “ The only plea that can be set up is the in speaking of the Prince Regent, they only plea of the sword-none else. The time may say, that his gracious nature will incline his ear come when such a spirit may be properly shown, to listen to the cries of his people. But, if and then I hope there will be spirit and virtue the Prince Regent is bound by the laws of the in the country to assert its rights. The country country to listen to the cries of his people, lately shewed its power to assert its right, not under what sanction is he bound? There is no against the executive power, not against the doubt, if the people were unanimous in pe- representatives of the people, but against those titioning for any object, government could not who were organizing a different representation, be justified in refusing the petitions. The those little self-elected parliaments, those selfdoctrine of the petitioners is consistent, there- constituted societies from which a convention fore, with the law and constitution of the king- was to have been formed. Then there was dom. In one sense, the sovereign is but the reason for alarm to the good citizens of the chief servant of the people, though he is en- country, and the good citizens came forward, uitled to all respect, to all deference, and to all and signified their resolution to abide by the reverence. The law and the constitution have constitution with their lives and fortunes, and pronounced that resistance is lawful for the to share its fate: and I hope, if our religion, or people in certain circumstances; though, un our civil liberty, is again attacked ; IP A KING doubtedly, a lamentable struggle might ensue, or a mob shall dare to persecule us for our if such resistance should become necessary. freedom, that there will be spirit in this country

It is with the utmost pain and reluctance to assert its right, and maintain our constituthat I enter at all upon such a discussion- tion. Such things may be-I can scarcely having been accustomed to regard this con venture to figure them; yet, kings are but men, stitutional doctrine with reverence approaching and we ought to he thankful for such a king to awe, and being convinced, that in common as we have; but if a king were to come who times it is a doctrine which should be but was to send the bishops to the Tower, because seldom the subject even of contemplation. they refused to read a prayer or a liturgy dişBut “ Fools rush in where angels fear to tread." owning the Godhead of Christ,-were the time

- And though some apology, perhaps, may be to come, when men should be punished for refound for the folly of the petitioners in the ex- fusing to pay taxes, imposed by a king without tremity of their distress, I am far from denying the consent of parliament--were the time to that it is such as to disgust and offend all per- come, when men were to be tried without form sons of good education. The doctrine of re of law, without judges, or juries, but by the sistance belongs to the more sacred and private arbitrary power of the crown, by their minions recesses of the constitution, which are profaned and delegates—then would be the time for by exposure to the eyes and to the handling of every man of spirit in the country to assert the vulgar. Yet our safety undoubtedly might their rights.” + 'I read that passage to you, in come to rest on the principle of resistance; and though violence is done to all well-consti * The father of the Lord Advocate who contuted minds, by any light or needless allusion ducted this prosecution. to such a topic, yet when my clients are in + Fyshe Palmer's case 2 How. Mod. St. Tr. danger of punishment, it is my duty to state 288.

[ocr errors]

order to point out from recent and domestic | representation at all. The statement of this authority, how clearly the doctrine of resistance very opinion has often been given in this way, is recognised among all who have studied our and has never been challenged. But it is not constitution, and how boldly it is held forth, on my authority that I wish you to take this even by the official advisers of the crown, as explanation. It is given in express terms in the ultimate resource which the constitution the subsequent parts of the very speech from affords when an extreme case shall arrive. / which the expression is quoted. The orator, Now, no more extreme case can be supposed, after some further dissertation, goes on to say, than that of the prince setting bimself in op “Will any man, then, possessed of common position to the voice of his whole people, and sense, say that this is a House of Commons that is the only sense which can be put on the agreeable to our Constitution, or that it is A FAIR passage here in question. Resistance is a la representation of the people?" All this, you mentable and a dreadful remedy; but it may will observe, is in the same speech, and it be a necessary one: and though we ought to must, by every rule of construction, be taken take it for granted that the necessity will never along with what went before to explain and occur, we cannot allow its existence or its modify those more general expressions.—The' efficacy to be questioned. It is a true, but same explanation occurs in five other passages awful maxim, and not fit to be canvassed irre- of the pamphlet-and leave no room whatever verently in conversation, public speeches, or to doubt, that what the orators meant was publications. But in defence of my client, 1 merely that the House of Commons was not say that it is a true maxim, and that there is what ihey wanted, and was not a fair and equal neither treason nor sedition in stating it, as is representation of the people. Is it sedition to done in this pamphlet.

say so? I for one think the present representI shall not fatigue you by going over all the ation a very beneficial one; and though it passages which are cited in the indictment, but might be made more agreeable to theory, I shall only trouble you with one or two, in order should not expect great benefit from some of to settle the sense and construction, and de- the changes which have been proposed. But termine what was truly and really the scope can it be called a fair and equal representation of the whole discussion on this occasion. You of the people in any sense of the word ? were told that the question lies here (and I There is hardly any person in Kilmarnock who agree that it does), Whether, upon the whole, possesses a vote. I do not say there is any under a pretence of petitioning, it appears disadvantage attending the present representthere was a purpose in the minds of ihese ation, but other persons may think differently; people not to obtain redress, but to excite se- and sure I am there are plausible grounds for dition, tumult and confusion from one end of any one saying, he would like to see the re. the kingdom to the other. That is the ques- presentation reduced nearer to the theory of tion truly and substantially; and you are not the Constitution. Upon system and principle to dwell on detached passages, without taking the representation ought to be altered in some into view all others of a less ambiguous de- particulars, though, upon the whole, I do not scription :- you are to judge ofthe import of the expect the mighty effects from any alteration whole.

which some people do. The passage in quesOne of the citations in the Indictment is, tion is a short, rhetorical, pithy, forcible way “That the House of Commons is not really of expressiog the speaker's opinion; but he what it is called ; it is not a House of Com- obviously means that the representation is mons. At present we have no representatives." | unequal, that it is not sufficient, and not Now this seems to me just such a way of stating agreeable to the theory of the Constitution the thing, as when a person says, This is no That a man should be prosecuted for sedition bouse-ihis is no dinner-this is no speech, for appealing upon such a point to the authomeaning it is not what it ought to be. The rity of Parliament was never heard of before. mode of expressing the opinion is somewhat But it has been the fate of the panels to be strong, but that is its meaning. It is said in accused of arraigning the Constitution, while the pamphlet, “And a House of Commons, contending, as they thought, for its restoration but the latter is corrupted; it is decayed and to purity and vigour. worn out; it is not really what it is called; I now turn to the definition of sedition in it is not a House of Commons.” It is then our law books. To commit sedition, you explained, “The House of Commons in its must, in direct terms, or by unequivocal insinoriginal composition consisted only of Com- uations, excite discontent and disturbance mons chosen annually by the universal suffrage against the present state and constituted auof the people.” I here is the difference be thorities of the country. Mr. Hume, who is tween what it is and what the person speaking not supposed to have looked upon sedition conceives it ought to be. When we wish to with any extraordinary lenity, expresses himsay a thing is not what it ought to be, we self thus: “It reaches all those practices, sometimes express our meaning by saying it whether by deed, word, or writing, or of is not at all; and when a person means to say whatsoever kind, which are suited and inthat the representation of the people is not tended to disturb the tranquillity of the what it ought to be, he may naturally enough State;-for the purpose of producing public express bis meaning by saying that there is no trouble or commotion, and moving his Ma

jesty's subjects to the dislike, resistance or at Kilmarnock since the evacuation was made subversion of the established Government and in Dean Park; and if that is the way in which laws, or settled frame and order of things.” the people are to alleviate their distresses, it is

Then see by what instances and examples at least as innocent as running up scores at the he illustrates and explains his definition.-In gin-shop. But we must go back to our orator. every one, you will observe, he makes it an He proceeds, “Let us, therefore, use every conindispensable qualification that there should stitutional means to recover our lost rights, be some direct exhortation to the people to rights which our ancestors enjoyed and exerusurp an illegal power.

cised ; let us be firm and unanimous in our Mc. Hume is looked upon as a great adyo- resolves, that we will not be deprived of our cate for the crown in bis observations on privileges any longer, that we claim then as sedition. The times in which he wrote his our birthright, and by our quiet and constituaccount of the law on this subject are supposed timal conduct shew onr enemies that we hate to have given a bias to his opinions, of which anarchy, confusion, and usurpation, and that we he was probably insensible. There is a pre-want nothing but what is for the general good vailing opinion at least to this effect, in the of the country." But these, it has been said, other end of the island especially,- unfounded are pretences, put on to disguise the real in all probability, but certainly very generally wickedness of their designs. I think you are diffused. This, I say, is a common opinion in no danger, Gentlemen, of believing that. concerning his treatise; and certainly his ar Whatever faults these people may have comgument against ședition is carried as far as it mitted, I am confident you will not find them can go. His book was published recently guilty of hypocrisy. My own conviction is, after the circumstances of the country re That (hey have spoken more violently than they quired a ļnore than usually vigorous applica- intended; but I am sure you will give them tion of the sedition laws; and this accident credit at least for all the moderation they promay have warped his opinion on the subject. fess. Yet, strictly and vigorously as it may be There is a great deal more to be said on the thought he lays down the law, it will be found other parts of this publication. Mr. Craig that even his grasping and comprehensive makes an eloquent harangue. There is a description does not include the case of the great deal of poetry in his speech. “Being panels, but that every one of his examples then, my brethren, impelled by necessity, let implies that there has been a direct excitement us approach, displaying reason and resolutions of the people, to take to themselves some part like men who know their duty and their obof that power which belongs to other hands. i ject. Yea, with these and similar principles But in the present case there are no words may we undauntedly go forward, and like which shew an idea to have been entertained | legitimate sons come to the years of majority, of usurping such a power, I say none of the let us in the name of law and justice demand passages can be founded upon as indicating the inestimable and dearly purchased bequest

There are words, indeed, of our worthy progenitors, that we may enjoy which expressly contradiet ths idea of any it ourselves, and transmit it to a lauding pos

In the speech of Mr. John- | terity. And so act, awaiting the fiat of Him stone, page 14 of the pamphlet, he says, after who regardeth not the persons of men, but enumerating our grievances in glowing terms, attendeth 10 the cries of the poor, and pleadeth “But what are we ta do, my friends; what the cause of the distressed ; always taking for does the constitution authorise us to do?" | our encouragement the success of the importuNow this is coming to the point with sufficient nate Widow recorded for our instruction, who by directness; but let us see how it is settled, her incessant demands prevailed with the unjust The orator answers himself thus, “It gives us judge, that although, without any regard to his a right to lay complaints before the King and high obligations, yet was not totally destitute bolk Houses of Parliament, and a right to be of that principle which makes all human kind heard and relieved when we suffer. Let us quake, when reminded of neglected duty. this day embrace the privileges of our glo- May we be actuated by the same courage to rious Constitution; let us lay our petitions be- go and do likewise.” Here, again, you see fore them, and assert our rights as men and as how distinctly their views were limited to the Britons.” Is there any thing equivalent to peaceful iteration of petitions. sedition bere.

The purpose of the Resolutions, too, has I might put the matter also to the test of been entirely misunderstood. In the 5th it is what the petitioners did. Did they organise said, “That the debt, now amounting to nearly any societies to correspond with? Did they 1,000 millions, has been contracted in the proaffiliate themselves as the United Irishmen secution of unjust and unnecessary wars, by a did? Did they declare their committees per- corrupt administration, uniformly supported manent, or provide in any way for their future by a House of Commons, which cannot be proceedings? In short what did they do? said, with any justice, to be a fair and equal They did just what they professed to do, representation of the country, but which for they petitioned Parliament, and having sent off the most part is composed of men put in by their petitions, went home quietly to their a borough faction, who have usurped the rights families. No meeting has ever been heard of of the people; and whọ by undue means have

such a purpose.

such purpose.

contrived to return à majority of members of ances which could not be borne, what do they that House." The facts here stated are trite propose to do? Do they propose to attack and stale, but the passage is worth noting, as the throne ? No; they merely say, We shall affording, and that in the most authoritative apply, like the importunate widow, and and only deliberate part of the publication, the reiterate our clamour till we weary you, or by most clear and complete evidence of what the force of our reasoning, prevail over your they meant when they used expressions vitu- prejudices. perative of the present House of Commons. There was one part of my learned friend the

The 9th Resolution is, “ Being, therefore, lord advocate's speech, of which I am really impressed with the truth of these Resolutions, unwilling to say exactly what I think, or exthe meeting resolve to present petitions to his press the feelings it excited. I mean the pasRoyal Highness the Prince Regent, and to sage regarding the ariny, when he spoke as if both Houses of Parliament, requesting_his there had been a disposition entertained by Royal Highness in particular, to assemble Par- some of those at the meeting to induce the liament without delay; to call upon it imme- army to rebel against the government. The diately to adopt such measures as may tend to only libel I have heard to-day is the suprestore to the people their undoubted right in posing, for a moment, that such an intention the representation, -to order, in the name of could be entertained, and with any the the people, an immediate reduction of the slightest hope of success. The policy of keeptaxes and the standing army, the abolition of ing up a standing army was long the subject all unmerited pensions, sinecures, grants, and of discussion in parliament, and the danger of other emoluments, as the surest way of esta- it to the constitution was much insisted on, blishing on a firm and lasting basis the rights while, latterly, such a danger has been less of the crown, and the privileges of the peo- apprehended, and the great consideration in ple; and that in all time coming, no person questions regarding the army has been the exwho has an office, or place of profit under the pense which it necessarily imposes on the King, or receives a pension from the Crown, country. But whatever opinion may be en: shall be capable of serving as a member of tertained on this subject, there was no dis. the House of Commons. 12. Wm. III. c. 2.”cussion at this meeting on the expediency of It is quite plain from the context, that it is a standing army; and the passage in question the whole Parliament, and not the Prince, that is most manifestly intended merely to meet is called upon to order an immediate reduction this common and almost obsolete Whig topic, of the taxes, the standing army, and so forth; ! and to show that it was not from that quarter - so that the eloquent exposition of the lord that danger was to be apprehended. I say advocate upon this passage was founded upon that this was obviously its meaning, if indeed a manifest misconception of its meaning. it is not rather to be regarded as a piece of

I have only to call your attention to the next mere declamation upon a very popular and inresolution, which clearly shows the scope and viting theme. Nobody at present thinks ill of extent of their views and threatenings, “ And the army: on the contrary, it is scarcely the meeting hereby resolve to make known to possible to speak on any public subject, withhis Royal llighness the Prince Regent, and to out taking an opportunity of saying something both Houses of Parliament, that they will not in the praise of the army; and to endeavour cease sending up one petition after another, and at a piece of eloquence in its favour is the using every constitutional measure insured to ordinary style of writers of all descriptions. them by the laws of the country till they obtain The hope of seducing it from its duty and the restoration of their rights and privileges as allegiance, if it were not too wicked, is far too men and as citizens of the state.” . This is the absurd to be entertained even by the most only practical resolution they came to; and desperate conspirators. even this was not acted upon, for it appears In another speech it is said, “ It is high that no other meetings have been held, or pe- time, when they have robbed us of our money, titions transmitted from that time to this. "In deprived us of our friends, violated our rights, the same way the meaning of the words, and abused our privileges,"—it is high time “ Shall we bear this,” or similar terms, is, for what? 10 take up arms and overthrow the throughout explained in the clearest and most government ? no such matter-only “ To deprecise way to be, Shall we bear our sufferings mand redress for such treatment." The orator without complaint, without murmuring, with. I then goes on, “ But, methinks I hear them out stating our grievances by application to say, we are determined to give no redress, we the proper quarter? “So far from ceasing to have huddled ourselves into places, pensions complain,” they say " the clamour of our cries and sinecures, and we are determined to hold for redress shall never cease to ring in their them. This I think is their language.” Well, ears, till the abhorrent temple of corruption be well, what then? In this desperate case, annihilated, and the banners of freedom wave proceeds this seditious orator, “ We must seek from the heights of Dover to the mountains of redress from another quarter; we must petition the North.” That is a lofty passage, and full his royal highness the Prince Regent to remove of eloquence certainly. But in every one of our grievances! to give us a parliament of our the speeches, in which it is anxiously stated, annual choosing, which will represent us in a not only that there are grievances, but griev- form agreeable to our wishes, and agreeable

[ocr errors]

to the constitution.” Is it said that this is and disturbance in the country. In judging of
hardly a cover for professed rebellion? In this you will remember what you heard in
answer, here is another passage, “ The unani- evidence as to Mr. Baird, of whom you were
mity of our sentiments and exertions, agreeable told that he would be the last man to join in
to the constitution, will once more dispel the any treasonable or seditious enterprises, and
cloud which eclipses the resplendent and that he was accustomed at all times to check
animating rays of liberty, and will again make the folly and infatuation of his neighbours.
her shine forth in this once happy couutry I have already detained you, I am afraid,
with unimpeded effulgence.” The last speech unreasonably long, but I cannot leave the sub-
in the pamphlet ends thus : “ Permit me now ject without taking some notice of the prece-
to conclude in the inimitable language of our dents respecting trials and convietions for se-
celebrated bard, and friend of liberty, Robert dition which have taken place in this Court.
Burns—May tyranny in the ruler, und licenti- They are all of very recent date, having oc-
ousness in the people, find in each of us here an curred within the memory of most of us; I
inexorable foe.

believe there was no trial for sedition earlier There is another passage where allusion is than the year 1792. There are, indeed, some made to reverend hirelings, upon which the ancient cases thinly scattered in the records of lord advocate bestowed his eloquenee as need the Court, but in all these the crime was aclessly, and, I am sure, with as little effect as companied with other offences, by which the on the passage about the army. In that quarter sedition was aggravated. There is no case of of the country, a tendency to fanaticism mere sedition, earlier than the date I have rather than to irreligion might be expected; mentioned. That date must strike you at as it was there that presbyterianism first struck once as affecting the character of all those preroot: and in this very pamphlet you will find cedents. For it is never to be forgotten, that passages similar to those employed by the they, one and all, took place at a time, when Covenanters in the Tales of my Landlord. the minds of Juries, and of Courts, and indeed “ It is there you will see how Egypt flourished of all persons in the country, were in a state of under the wise administration of Joseph ;- uoprecedented alarm for the safety of the conand what the heard-hearted and inquisitorial stitution; at a time when acts and expressions, Pharaoh did for the sons of the Nile;—it is which undoubtedly would not have been taken there you will see what Solomon did for cognizance of, in happier and more serene Israel ;-with what Jeroboam, Nebat's wicked seasons, were considered as of the most dangerson, and others, brought upon the (now) ous tendency ;-at a time when this country wandering sons of Jacob. It is there you will had recently engaged in an alarming war with see what Nebuchadnezzar, Evil-Merodach, a powerful enemy,-a war, not arising from and Beishazzar, did for the now extinct Baby- disputes about territory or points of national lonians ;-how Persia rose under Cyrus, and honour, but which, proceeding from enthusunk under the bloody Cambyses,” &c. &c. I siasm and madness on the one hand, and unam confident, indeed, that you cannot look defined fear and resentment on the other, into any part of the publication, without arrayed every individual in both countries in seeing great reverence for scripture,ma calm, personal hostility against every other :-a war, temperate reliance on the assistance of Provi- indeed, proclaimed against all established godence in all good acts,—a reliance to be vernments, by a country whose whole interior founded on good moral conduct and prayer. exhibited a phasis of confusion and crime, and The term, “ reverend hirelings,” employed by breathed forth a pestilential air, which threaten, these rude orators, might be considered per- ed to spread the contamination through all haps as not undeserved by ceriain clergymen the neighbouring regions. We fought not, as who leave their proper duty for making pro- in former wars, with men formidable only by selytes in politics; and persons who do not their numbers, their skill, or their courage, but agree with them might say, with any purpose with men whom we imagined to be armed but an intention to bring discredit on religion, with a deadly poison, and zealous to spread that they had been hirelings in certain parts contagion wherever they went. In these of their conduct. Nothing is more innocent times, not only was there a raging war with The attack might perhaps have been made in that nation, which was loudly threatening an a more decorous manner, but surely there is invasion of our shores,-but it is impossible no pretence for saying here, that there is any to deny that there was an established centre design to excite a spirit of irreligion.

of rebellion at home, looking up to France as I have now gone through the publication; the great redresser of wrongs, asking its assistand I leave it to you to determine on its na ance to rear up every wbere, the cottage on ture, only reminding you that it is a funda- the ruins of the palace, and to carry into exemental rule of law, that a seditious intention cution the most visionary and absurd plans is necessary to constitute sedition. You will for the regeneration of society. Communicatherefore consider, whether the object of these tions of a most dangerous nature were passing people was merely to petition parliament, or between the two countries, and the crisis whether, under the false and assumed pretext seemed as imminent as any the world ever of petitioning, object was to excite sedi saw. Such was the distressing condition of tion among the people, and to spread mişohief this country; that it was impossible to remit VOL. XXXIII.

I

« PreviousContinue »