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meanest of the people, from ancient times. I cannot be used without expressing discontent, Since the Revolution it has never been questi- and thereby communicating it among the peooned ; and immediately before that glorious ple, and possibly raising it, where it had preevent, it was attacked only to enable a tyran- viously no existence, may be legally (and nical government to subvert the public liberty. without any crime, or the fear of criminal pro But the attack was repelled even in the worst secutions) 'used in every case whatever, even of times; and the first act of the government though the use of it should in some respects of King William and Queen Mary was to have a bad tendency; the utility, and even neconfirm the right of petitioning, as a franchise cessity of presenting the right, counterbalancof which the people could not be deprived. ing the mischiefs which may be occasioned by It has ever since been considered as a right the seditious or discontented spirit which may unalterably fixed by the fundamental laws of be raised by it. the state ; and, accordingly, though the exer But it must be plain, that if the people have cise of it is supposed to be sometimes unplea- a right to state the grievances in petitions for sant to the government, yet no administration, redress of grievances to the different branches and neither House of Parliament, has hitherto of the legislature, it follows as a necessary thought proper even to discourage the people consequence that they have a right to state in the exercise of their right of petitioning these grievances in the plainest language, and How many hundreds, or rather thousands, of even in what is commonly considered to be petitions have been presented to the different strong or coarse language in the description branches of the legislature within these few of public abuses, if they do not in their peliyears, representing as grievances things which tions violate that respect that is due to the are not acknowledged to be such! and yet the legislature: under that restriction, they may petitions, as coming from the people in the assert in their petitiors that there are the exercise of their right, have been graciously grossest abuses, even in the legislature itself. received by those to whom they were address And you need not be told, that even petitions ed. And so important is the right of petition of that kind are occasionally sent from all ing, that every other right in the people has quarters of the country, when discontents prebeen supposed to depend upon it, inasmuch vail among the people. A stranger to the as the people, if deprived of that right, would peculiarities of the British Government might be in danger of losing the protection necessary think it odd that petitions of this class, conto defend them in their other rights.
laining inferences of a nature apparently so It is obvious that a fair communication from irreverent, not only indicating an extreme the people of their grievances and discontents degree of discontent in the petitioners, but to the legislature, which has the power, and directly tending to raise and disseminate the whose duty it is to protect them, cannot be same kind of discontent through the whole of sedition, if they have a right to make such the kingdom, should be tolerated, especially communication. If the people should petition where it is plainly the opinion, not only of the parliament without having the right by law different branches of the legislature, but also to do so, these petitions might be, and in the opinion of the more sensible part of the almost every case would be seditious and community, that the petitions are very illdangerous, in raising or increasing discontents founded in their representations of grievances, and disturbances ; because every complaint of and demand, by way of redress, new public a public grievance has a tendency to create a measures or arrangements, which would not public discontent, and this is illegal and se- only be useless, but dangerous and even caladitious in every case where the law does not mitous. Such considerations, however, have allow it. For the same reason, any violent no influence, or very little influence, in the complaint of public grievances may be sediti- question, whether the people have the right to ous or illegal, where it is not addressed to present their petitions, and whether, when persons having legal authority to take it into offered, the petitions ought to be received. consideration and give relief. But it would On the contrary, it has long been held by the be a solecism to say, that a petition to the legislature, that, as the people have the right King or to either House of Parliament, stating to petition for redress of grievances, so they grievances, and praying for redress is sediti- have the right to state what they consider to ous, because, 1st, it is allowed by law; 2dly, be their grievances, whether they are really the persons addressed have an authority to grievances that ought to be redressed or not. take the complaint into consideration and give The general rule is, that however unreasonable, relief. Petitioning is indeed considered as a or unfit to be granted the prayers of the peomeans of removing discontents and preventing ple in their petitions may be, it is not unfit to disturbances, not as a means of raising them ; receive the petitions, and the people have a and this may be true in some cases, though it right to present them, a right that is unalieis not always so, and we have frequently seen nable. a ferment of discontent much increased by But further, if the right of petitioning benumerous meetings of the people, called for longs to the people, they must of necessity the purpose of petitioning. But still the legal have the right of deliberation upon the subject right of petitioning is unquestionable; and it of their petitions, to consult with each other must be supposed that this right, though it at public meetings, to be advised by those
who are able to advise them, or think them The argument of the public prosecutor, and selves able, upon the various points which may the evidence adduced, will apply only to the occur in considering what are grievances, and second case supposed, that the speakers at a what are not; and if there are grievances, what meeting bona fide assembled for petitioning, are the remedies that ought to be proposed or had gone beyond their bounds, and deviated prayed for in their petitions. With regard to into sedition. But bas this been made out the important claims which may be made in against Mr. MʻLaren ? His short speech, though petitions to the legislature, every man neces coarse, was suitable to the occasion, as an exsarily must have a right to meet with his hortation to petitioning, and nothing else. fellows, either in small or in great numbers, We were told, indeed, that this case is simiand to discuss the matter with them. One lar to that of Fyshe Palmer, who many years man may think that annual parliaments are ago, was tried for sedition, found guilty, and necessary; another that they would be hurt- sentenced to transportation. But this is a fal or impracticable. On this trial, it is not total mistake. The case before you is very necessary for us to consider whether annual different from that of Fyshe Palmer, and from parliaments and universal suffrage are good or all the other cases which have hitherto been bad; and, on this occasion, I have nothing to tried before the Court of Justiciary. It has do with these questions. But I say that it is been reserved for the present Lord Advocate Dot unlawful to petition for either. And ge- to bring such a case as the present to trial, in nerally, whatever the grievance, or fancied which, if the verdict find the panels guilty of grievance is, it may lawfully be the subject of sedition, the right of petitioning, hitherto una petition to the legislature'; and for the same challenged, seems to be attacked almost in direason it may lawfully be the subject of deli- rect terms. The case of Fyshe Palmer was beration and discussion, even in public meet- that of a seditious libel, an inflammatory ings held for the purpose of petitioning. I hand-bill, containing seditious language, with You will observe, that there can be no limits out any proposal to petition Parliament. We to this right of petitioning, and previously de- were told that this case of Fyshe Palmer liberating ; for when it is limited the right is was defended on the same grounds that were gone. The right is to present unreasonable stated in defence at the beginning of this trial; as well as reasonable petitions. Or if un- yet the lord advocate declined to meet that reasonable petitioningwere unlawful, the legis- defence particularly, and bear it down by the lature alone is the judge of what is reasonable triumphant authority of Palmer's case There or unreasonable in petitions. If the right of was no resemblance between that case and petitioning could be restrained by the courts the present. Fyshe Palmer recommended an of law, there would be an end of the right of appeal, on the subject of grievances, not to the petitioning,—a fundamental law of this mo- legislature, but to a mob, the scum of the earth narchy,—à law, the palladium of our other in the neighbourhood of Dundee,-to the sorights.
verign authority of the multitude. The deOn the occasion of which we have heard so fence in that case was disregarded,—but what much, when the people in and about Kilmar- was it? It was said, that in this free governDock met to consider whether they should send ment it is necessary that the press should be addresses to the legislature on the subject of free. It was said that the people must have their grievances, various speeches were made, freedom to attack public men, and must be enand we are told by the prosecutor, that these titled to publish, not treason, not sedition, in speeches, and in particular the speech of a palpable form, but their thoughts in a free MʻLaren, were seditious. In regard to the and independent manner. It was added, that question, whether or not his speech was sedi- Mr. Fyshe Palmer was not very sound in his tious, he pleads that the right of petitioning mind.' These were the defences for him. necessarily implies the right of previous dis- You will perhaps be surprised when I tell you, cussion. If this be true, apply it to the case that my Lord Abercromby, who tried the case, before you. At such a meeting a speech may held, in bis speech to the Jury, that if a petipossibly be seditious, where it appears either tion to Parliament had been in view, the libel that the meeting was called, not for its pro- of which Fyshe Palmer was found guilty would fessed object of petitioning Parliament, but not have been of so aggravated a description, merely to afford opportunities to make sediti- --would perhaps not have been considered a ous speeches ;-or that though the meeting libel at all. “Much (he remarked) has been bona fide assembled for petitioning, the speech said of the purity of the intentions of the sowent beyoud its proper bounds, and was se- ciety; it is said they had nothing in view but ditious in statements not justified by the oc- moderate reform. But, Gentlemen, you will casion. As to the first of these cases, there is consider how far that is consistent, either with not even a pretence for denying that the meet- the tenor of the address itself, or with what is ing in question was bona fide called for the sworn to by Mealmaker, who drew the first purpose of framing petitions to Parliament. draught of it, and who swears expressly, that I refer to all the evidence which you have at that time he had no second petition in beard. It was a meeting collected for that his contemplation and that what was afterpurpose, and for no other, nor was any further wards to be done would have depended purpose in view.
upon circumstances. I much fear that here
Mealmaker is telling the truth, and that if of grievances, and therefore I apprehend you they had not been attended to, the conduct must disregard entirely those general expresof this society would not have proved so pure sions in the indictment, charging M‘Laren's as their intentions are said to have been.' In speech as tending to bring the Government that case, you will observe, that a seditious li- | into contempt. The petitioners felt grieva bel was dispersed over the country without ances ;—they prepared petitions, and it is im. any consequence being contemplated but that possible to state a public grievance without of inflaming the minds of the multitude. On throwing blame upon the Government. I do the other hand, we have been at pains to shew, not mean to examine the question, whether that the panels in this case were quiet orderly there really was any blame attachable to persons, not concerned with any seditious so- Government; for it is the same thing in this cieties; not connected with any political parties, case whether the petitioners were right or wrong only feeling distress, thinking they had griev- in their statement. My defence is, that they ances to complain of, and that they could bet were in the fair prosecution of legal views. ter their situations by petitioning parliament. Suppose no words to have been uttered but, They met togetber in the most orderly man what would, in other circumstances, have been ner,-deliberated as it is usual to do in public considered seditious, their having had a right meetings, prepared resolutions,-prepared a object in view is a good defence. But every petition,--and signed itand that petition, sort of obloquy has been thrown on the petitithough couched in strong terms, was presented oners, without any notice of the lawful object. to the Houses of Parliament, considered, re- they had in view, as if their object were to be ceived, and laid on their tables. Is the right laid entirely out of consideration. of petitioning, then, to be interrupted in this The legality of the object, and the situation extraordina rymanner, by bringing the peti- in which the speeches were uttered, are the tioners into the Court of Justiciary?
most important circumstances of the case. Recollet that this was a meeting for consider- Every thing else is of a trivial and subordinate ing the propriety of petitioning the legislature, nature. But let us see what the panel is and that the meeting would have been alto alleged to have said. No positive evidence gether nugatory unless the persons theu met has been adduced to prove any part of his had been allowed to state their opinions to one speech, except a few words at the end of the another. In the first page of this indictment, passage quoted in the indictment, and, so far the panel is charged with having wickedly and as I have observed, you have only the uncerfeloniously delivered “a speech containing a tain evidence of one person to these words. number of seditious and inflammatory remarks I shall remark upon the words in the indicte and assertions, calculated to degrade and bring ment. into contempt the Government and legislature, " That our sufferings are insupportable, is and to withdraw therefrom the confidence and demonstrated to the world." I do not say affections of the people, and to fill the realm whether their sufferings were insupportable or with trouble and dissention." Gentlemen, not; but they appear to have been severe, and wherever the people are exposed to grievances the people were met for the purpose of conthey necessarily must, when they meet to con sidering them, and to join in petitioning for sider the means of redress, express their sense relief. Here I presume is no sedition. of these grievances; and I ask whether it be “ And that they are neither temporary, nor possible to state public grievances, especially occasioned by transition from war to peace, is grievances arising from such a source as over- palpable to all, though all have not the courage taxation, without in some way or other reflect, to avow it.” I do not say that proposition is ing on the Government. In the exercise of palpable to every body. Some are disposed our right of petitioning against grievances, to think that the calamity has been occasioned these grievances must be mentioned; and it in consequence of the sudden transition from is impossible to mention them, or even to war to peace, and some dispute that propoallude to them, without bringing the Govern-sition. Some are of opinion, that if we had ment into discredit. For example, let a peti- continued the war, at an expense of a hundred tion be presented against over-iaxation, what- millions a year, we should have infallibly seever were the causes of the evil,--wars just cured the national prosperity and greatness. or unjust,—unavoidable misfortunes, or mis- I shall not attempt to settle these points, nor conduct in public affairs,—it is lawful to state is that necessary to the present argument, and the grievance. But can it be stated without | I beg leave to protest against the idea that I affecting more or less, or attempting to affect give any opinion upon them at all. Perhaps the public opinion as to the merits or demerits Mr. MʻLaren may include me in his censure of administration? Every public statement for my want of courage in not avowing my, respecting public affairs has that tendency opinion. Bat are the people to be interrupted on such “ The fact is we are ruled by men only sogrounds, in the exercise of their just rights. licitous for their own aggrandizement; and It is of the essence of their right to complain they care no further for the great body of the
people, than they are subservient to their own * Fyshe Palmer's case 2 How. Mod. St. accursed purposes. If you are convinced of Tr. 371,
this, my countrymen, I would therefore put
the question, are you degenerate enough to Oligarchy, the government of a few hy unconbear it? Shall we, whose forefathers set limits stitutional intiuence, alluded to in the panel's to the all grasping power of Rore; shall we, speech. Is it sedition to take notice, even by whose forefathers, at the never-to-be-forgotten allusion, of such a public grievance? Is this field of Bannockburn, told the mighty Edward, sedition? Against whom is it sedition? at the head of the most mighty army ever trod against the King ? against the Lords ? against op Britain's soil, “ Hitherto shalt thou come, the Commons? against any branch of the legis." and no further;" shall we, I say, whose fore- lature, or against the legislature taken as a fathers defied the efforts of foreign tyranny to whole? It is sedition against no person or enslave our beloved country, meanly permit, in legal authority whatever. It is, indeed, our day, without a murmur, a base Oligarchy directed against the Oligarchy itself, which,
to feed their filthy vermin on our vitals, and in the opinion of the petitioners, is the rule us as they will ? No, my countrymen.” worst enemy of the King, Lords and
A commentary was made on this passage Commons. The King, Lords and Commons though it is not proved that the panel ever ought to be independent; and, if an unconspoke it. The prosecutor takes it for granted, stitutional influence rules over them, is it sewithout evidence, that the words were spoken. dition to complain of that influence ? · Every I am, therefore, not under the necessity of de- friend to the constitution will complain of it, fending these words. But are they in reality if he supposes it to exist. I apprehend there so culpable? Are they seditious ? They are is nothing in this part of the charge; and while mere words of course, in expressing those pub- M'Laren devies having used these expressions lic grievances to which they refer. Every about our'rulers, I say there is no sedition in child knows that they are the common and them. I would say so, even if the words had hackneyed terms used by petitioners for public been used where no petition to the legislature reform, and (excepting one or two allusions, in was in contemplation. But, considering that which there is evidently no sedition), if they the meeting was called for that purpose, are not tame and feeble, they are at least neither nothing can be more unquestionable than that seditious nor inflammatory. Every word ap- such language was not seditious. plies to the professed object of the meeting in I come now to the last of the words quoted petitioning, and to no other object. The pro- in the indictment, and I hope to satisfy you secutor applies some of the words to the king, that there is nothing seditious to be found in but this is a misconstruction quite unworthy of them. Allow me here to remind you of my lord advocate. Ministers, and the pos- MʻLaren's situation when he made this speech. sessors of borough interest, are the vile Oli- It has been proved that the task of opening the garchy, whio are said to feed their filthy vermin meeting was imposed on him, contrary to his on our vitals, and rule us as they will, and this inclination, and came upon him rather unexattack was justifiable in the way it was made. pectedly. It was indeed proposed to him eight What would avail the right of petitioning, if days before the meeting, but he was unwilling there was no right to petition against his majesty's to undertake it, and immediately before the ministers and their partizans ? Ministers may meeting he pressed Mr. Samson to take the be impeached in parliament for their public con business off his hands. An hour before the duct, and they may be complained of by the meeting Mr. M‘Laren was again urged to open people in their petitions. Are petitions to par- the business; and being in some measure liament against ministers to be punished as compelled to it, he retired for a very short time, sedition? What have we bere? The opinion and made some notes of his short address to of the panel that the ministers have not acted the meeting. You will see in the whole proin an honest way, or as ministers ought to do. ceeding the most evident marks of haste. It The opinion is expressed a little strongly, but is not proved that the last sentence was written it does not go beyond legal bounds. The pe in his notes. On the contrary, it was not tition was afterwards laid before parliament, written. He was placed on what is called the and was received with respect. Now the ques- hustings, and delivered his speech doring a tion before you is not, wbether the ministers storm of wind, rain and hail; from the noise are culpable or not-not whether lord Castle of which, and particularly from the rattling of reagh or Mr. Vansittart mnight bring an action' the hail on umbrellas, it was almost impossible for a libel or defamation--but whether there is to hear what he said. Besides the words conany sedition in this speech. I ask you, tained in his notes, part of which he spoke, and whether there is any sedition in complaining part of which he omitted, he spoke other words of these ministers ? Sedition is an attack on which were not in his notes. What these the sovereign of the state an attack on the words were is uncertain, as they could not be government, not on the ministers of the go perfectly heard. A single witness told you he vernment. You may attack the latter in any heard and recollected them, though he could way, without being guilty of sedition.
not recollect any other words of the panel's Bat farther, as to the passage about the speech. There is no great reason to rely Oligarchy. It is generally understood that a on the recollection of the witness, though few persons, not exceeding 300, are possessed there is much reason to presume that the of an influence in the House of Commons that words had not the meaning given to them is very pernicious to the state. This is the by the public prosecutor. The words in VOL. XXXI!.
the indictment are, "should he be so infatuated , where there is an uncertainty what the very as to turn a deaf ear to their just petition, he words were the most favourable interpretation has forfeited their allegiance. Yes, my fellow must be given to them.. townsmen, in such a case, to hell with our But, in the worst view of the words, they ims allegiance.” But the passage is in different port merely that in an extreme case, which words according to the evidence of Mr. Finnie, could not happen, allegiance would not be due, whose recollection of words, delivered in the and such an alternative does not import semidst of hail and wiod, and the noise of um- dition. If the words were imprudent, they brellas, while nobody else could hear what were not seditious. They mighi indeed have MʻLaren was saying, is the only evidence for been without a vindication, if they had been the prosecutor of the sedition. Another wit- used at a public meeting where no such words ness said there was something in the speech were warranted by the occasion, and where the about hell and allegiance, but he could give no meeting was not for the purpose of petitioning intelligible account of the
parliament. But consider the time when the Now, is it probable that the panel should words were used. The recommendation of have so expressed himself, or is it proved that my lord advocate to this effect was quite
be used the words imputed to him? You see correct, and I desire you to keep in mind that 'the rest of the speech does not appear in the there was a petition ai the time under conside
same mutilated form with the passage given by ration, and that expressions might then be Mr. Finnie. There is reason to believe, there. more allowable than at another time. The fore, that the passage so mutilated is not the sacred right of petitioning is the bulwark of the passage delivered by M'Laren. And yet you right of free discussion. Discussion may be are called upon to rely implicitly upon Finnie, a allowed preparatory to a petition, that would single witness, to the words of a speech, though not be endured at any other time. Discussion there was such a noise when it was delivered, is necessary on all such occasions. Free words. that persons near the orator could not hear him: may on these occasions be used when speaking And this part of M‘Laren's speech is said to of ministers, and generally of public men, as have been seditious. Gentlemen, you must well as of public measures. Are not these always bear in mind the occasion. No other propositions self-evident? Suppúsing it were passage of the speech was seditious. MʻLaren asked, whether any of you have a right to write was recommending a petition to the Prince a letter to a correspondent, and send it by the Regent. He was speaking of his royal high- post. The answer would be, you have a right ness in the most respectful way, and in a warm to do so; there is no law against it. But what strain of loyalty. " Let us lay our petitions at if you have no right to use pen, ink, and paper ; the foot of the throne, where sits our august no right to lift the pen, to put it in the inkprince, whose gracious nature will incline his holder, or apply it to the paper? These acts ear to listen to the cries of his people.” Here have the same relation to writing a letter, that is the fondest expectation of being listened to the right of canvassing what are grievances has But it is natural to mingle, with the kindest to the right of petitioning. You have the and most dutiful sentiments, the severity of right of petitioning, which includes the right: doctrine and reasoning, and, on this occasion, of meeting and canvassing the subject of your it is possible that the rigour of our constitu- petition. Thus the right of discussion is pretional law for extreme cases may have sud- supposed in the right of petition. denly occurred to the mind of the panel. We As to the language that is legal and warrantall know that our constitutional rights and du- able in petitioning and previously discussing: ties go hand in hand. This has been stated in the mode of petition, it is well known that every possible form in which a proposition of parliament may be approached with language the kind can be stated. At the Revolution, as strong as any part of this pamphlet, and certhe Lords and Commons held James to have tainly stronger than any part of the speech of abdicated the throne, merely because he left the panel. As evidence of this, take ihe votes ibe country, and the illustrious house of of the House of Commons, and you will Hanover was at last established, because James find more violent and bitter expressions of had failed in the duties he owed to his subjects, grievances, than any in this publication. I Again, in Scotland, it was not held that James may read one or two of these petitions, which had abdicated, but that he had forfeited the have been appointed by the House to lie on throne in consequence of his proceedings. the table, and which the House would not Speculations on the subject, indeed, are delicate, have thought itself bound to receive, if they and ought not to be much indulged in. But had considered the language as improper in a what was more natural than for M‘Laren to petition to parliament. I hope Mr. Grant will: urge the propriety of petitioning, by stating be allowed to read them for me. that the petition would of course be received, and that if the regent did not regard the cries Mr. Grant.- This is an extract of a petition of all his people, he would forfeit their aile- from Bristol, presented to the House of Comgiance? M'Laren did not say it was the duty mons on the 29th January 1817 [Reads from of the Prince Regent to listen, right or wrong, the Votes]. “ That no man of sincerity will to the petition then proposed. In this way the affect to believe that such a squandering of the whole passage is not so unreasonable; and resources of the country for such purposes, and