« PreviousContinue »
the speech was delivered by M‘Laren at the public meeting, must enter deeply into your consideration in making up your verdict upon this Indictment.
Upon this subject I have only farther to state, that the crime of sedition is one which this Court, and the law of this country, has viewed as one of the highest and most flagitious description. Its object is to introduce dissention, troubles, and bloodshed into the kingdom,-to subvert the laws, and to dissolve the bonds of society. It is the duty of Government, therefore, to resist and extinguish it in the very outset; and if, in the present instance, I have any thing to regret, it is that this, and perhaps other cases of a similar description, have not been brought sooner before a Jury of the country.
We come now, therefore, Gentlemen, to consider whether the terms of the speech, as delivered at the meeting by Maclaren, or the terms of that speech and of the other speeches in the publication afterwards given to the world by the prisoners, amount to the crime of sedition, according to the description of that offence which I have now had the honour of giving you.
And first, as to the speech. In it you will recollect, that M Laren stated, “ That our sufferings are insupportable is demonstrated to the world ; and that they are neither tempo.
rary, nor occasioned by a transition from “ war to peace,” 6 is palpable to all, though all have not the courage to avow “ it. The fact is, we are ruled by men only solicitous for their
own aggrandizement, and they care no farther for the great 6 body of the people than they are subservient to their ac6 cursed purposes.
In this passage, the term Rulers is, you will observe, Gen. tlemen, that which is employed; and this, it may be said, applies to his Majesty's Ministers, and not to the Government in the more comprehensive meaning of the term ; but it does no such thing. There is no limitation, you will remark, introduced by the speaker, even taking the term generally, and, in its extensive sense, undoubtedly it comprehends the whole order of our Governors,-King, Lords and Commons. But in an after part of the speech, it is explained, that this last is actually the meaning in which it was employed. The statement therefore is, that the King, Lords and Commons, are corrupt ;--that they are solicitous only for their own aggrandizement ;--that they care no farther for the body of the people, than as they are subservient to their accursed purposes. Now, I ask, is not this statement calculated to bring the Government into contempt, and to excite disaffection to the established order of things? Does it not tell the people, that they have no interest whatever in the stability of the State; and is it not calculated inmediately to lead to disturbance and commotion? It is for you, Gentlemen, to answer the question, and it seems to me impossible to doubt that that answer must be in the affirmative.
But in this passage allusion is made to the distresses of the people, and these are made the instrument for giving greater effect to this seditious libel upon the rulers of the country. This, you cannot doubt, enhances the crime of the prisoner, by having employed that under which his hearers were suffering, and which he must have known their rulers could not remove, as an engine for promoting the disaffection he was endeavouring to excite. God knows, Gentlemen, I by no means wish to underrate the distresses which the persons attending that meeting were labouring under in common with their brethren in different parts of the country. No one who was at that meeting, no one who hears me now, can be more sensible of the great distress which the lower ranks in this country have suffered, and none can more deeply deplore it than I do. While, however, I fully appreciate the extent of those distresses, and applaud the patience with which they have been endured, I can only urge the use which is made of them in the passage I have read, as tending to prove the wicked and malicious intention of the prisoners, who could have had no other object in referring to them than to excite disaffection and sedition.
The prisoner's speech then goes on to state, “ If you are “ convinced of this, my countrymen, I would therefore put “ the question, Are you degenerate enough to bear it? Shall “ we, whose forefathers set limits to the all-grasping power of “ Rome; Shall we, whose forefathers, at the never-to-be-for“ gotten field of Bannockburn, told the mighty Edward, at the “ head of the most mighty army ever trode on Britain's soil, “ Hitherto shalt thou come and no farther;" Shall we, I say, 66 whose forefathers defied the efforts of foreign tyranny to en“ slave our beloved country, meanly permit, in our day, with“ out a murmur, a base Oligarchy to feed their filthy vermin “ on our vitals, and rule us as they will ?”
Now, upon this passage, Gentlemen, I shall merely say, that you have heard the only comment which I think it can fairly admit of, put upon it in the judgment of one of their Lordships in the early part of this trial. You must be satisfied that the object of the orator here is to recommend resistance, and to encourage resistance by calling to the recollection of his hearers the popular allusion to the battle of Bannockburn. Accordingly he goes on to state, that which must leave all doubt of his intention in this passage out of the question, “ Let us lay our petitions at the foot of the Throne, where “ sits our August Prince, whose gracious nature will incline “ his ear to listen to the cries of his people, which he is bound “ to do by the laws of the country: But should he be so “ infatuated as to turn a deaf ear to their just petition, he has “ forfeited their allegiance. Yes, my fellow townsmen, in such
a case, to hell with our allegiance."
Now, in order fully to understand the seditious import of this passage, Gentlemen, it must be taken in connection with that which I previously commented on, and a passage in the resolutions of the meeting, which I am fairly entitled, under all the circumstances of the case, to take as part of M.Laren's speech. On page 26. of the publication, it is stated, “ Being " therefore impressed with the truth of these resolutions, the
meeting resolve to present petitions to his Royal Highness “the Prince Regent, and to both Houses of Parliament, re“ questing his Royal Highness, in particular, to assemble par“ liament without delay; to call upon it immediately to adopt “ such measures as may tend to restore to the people their “ undoubted right in the representation; to order, in the " name of the people, an immediate reduction of the taxes, " and the standing army, the abolition of all unmerited
pensions, sinecures, grants, and other emoluments, as the “ surest way of establishing, on a firm and lasting basis, the “ rights of the crown, and the privileges of the people : And “ that, in all time coming, no person who has an office or “ place of profit under the King, or receives a pension from “ the Crown, shall be capable of serving as a Member of the 66 House of Commons."
Now, Gentlemen, the meaning of all this taken together, is, that unless the Prince Regent shall order the Parliament to reduce the taxes and the standing army, and to do all the things which are there enumerated, he has forfeited our allegiance, and that the allegiance of the meeting is to be thrown off, and to be sent to hell. But, Gentlemen, you are not to be told that the Prince Regent has no such power that
Mr CLERK.-That is not the meaning of the passage.
LORD ADVOCATE.-- If my interpretation of the passage is wrong, my learned friends will afterwards have the means of correcting me. It would be better if at present they would refrain from interrupting me. In my view of it, it clearly imports the meaning which I have put upou it. The Prince Regent is to assemble the Parliament, and to call upon it to restore to the people their right of representation ; but, in the second place, he is to order all the other things to be done by the Parliament, which it is not within his competence to do, or he is to order them to be done of his own authority ; and if he does not do so, then what is the penalty ? No less than the forfeiture of our allegiance, and, as he says, “ in that “ case, to hell with our allegiance." Here then, Gentlemen, the miserable and distressed people, goaded by their privations and afflictions, who were surrounding the prisoner, were in this speech excited to make demands
upon the Sovereign and the Legislature, which, if they were refused, no less a result was to follow than the forfeiture and throwing off of their allegiance.
Now all this, Gentlemen, I state to you to infer the crime of sedition. It was sedition to alienate the affections of the people from the Government, in the manner which was done in the first part of the speech. It was sedition to tell the meeting, in the second part of it, that if the different reforms there called for were not granted, and if the evils complained of were not removed, their allegiance was forfeited, and to exhort them in such a case to throw it off.
The next point for consideration is the publication itself. But here I am saved repeating the commentary upon one part of that production, the speech of M.Laren ; for it must be manifest to you, that if the speech when delivered was seditious, it cannot be less so when reduced into the form of publication; and every thing, with one exception, which was delivered viva voce, is to be found in the printed report. There is a blank before allegiance,-the word “hell” is left out. It is your province, however, to fill that blank up. Now, after the evidence laid before you this day, you can have no difficulty upon this point. You heard that one of the prisoners, in the presence of the other, wrote out the whole of the passage upon the manuscript when preparing it for the press. The propriety of inserting the passage was afterwards discussed, and doubts were entertained upon the subject by the committee. With the fact of that passage being actually in the bandwriting of Baird, looking him in the face, my learned friend (Mr Grant), rather strangely in my opinion, pressed upon his witnesses to prove that Baird in particular was aware of the indecency of its character ; for, under such circumstances, the fact of publication only made his offence the greater. Accordingly, it is proved to you, that the prisoner, whether convinced of its indecency or not, still he, the publisher and conductor of the press, sends it to be printed ; and out it comes with the word only left blank, affording, I should think, to your conviction, the fullest and most complete evidence of his guilt.
But let us proceed to consider the other parts of the publication. In page 2. of the indictment there is this passage; “ But let us come nearer home: look at the year 1793, " when the debt amounted to two hundred and eleven mil. " lions, and the annual taxation to about eighteen millions ; “ when liberty began to rear her drooping head in the coun
try; when associations were formed from one end of the “ kingdom to another, composed of men eminent for their ta. “ lents and virtue, to assert their rights; when a neighbour“ing nation had just thrown off a yoke which was become “ intolerable,– What did the wise rulers of this country do ? “ Why they declared war, not only against the French na. " tion, but also against the friends of liberty at home.”
Now, I think it is impossible, Gentlemen, for you to read this passage, without being of opinion that its object was to impress on the minds of the public an admiration of the proceedings of the French nation, (polluted as it was at the time by treason, by blood, and by crime of every description which it ever entered into the mind of man to conceive),- and of those who were termed the Friends of Liberty at home" in the year 1793, its imitators and admirers ;-to hold out that the associations of that period were formed for the purposes of promoting liberty, but which all of you know it was decided by Jurymen sitting in that box where you are now placed, Jurymen to whose intelligence and vigour the gratitude of this country must be for ever due,--that they were formed , for the purpose of exciting disaffection to the Government, of introducing turbulence and commotion, and of overturning the Constitution. In short, the object of the publication was to call upon the people to imitate what was so worthy of admiration; and it would be wasting time to persuade you, that if this was the object, one of a more seditious description, when taken in conjunction with the other passages in the publication which I have already read, or am now to read, cannot be conceived.
The publication then proceeds in direct terms to state, “that " the House of Commons is not really what it is called, it “ is not a House of Commons.” And here it is
And here it is necessary for me to read several passages to you, in order to prove the seditious nature of the publication, and which I shall do without commentary, because I am persuaded that nothing that I can add could carry the conviction more strongly to your minds