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whether the Ministers are culpable or not,--not whether Lord Castlereagh or Mr Vansittart might bring an action for a libel or defamation, --but whether there is any sedition in this speech. I ask you, whether there is any sedition in complaining of these Ministers ? Sedition is an attack on the So. vereign of the State,--an attack on the Government, not on the Ministers of the Government. You may attack the latter in any way, without being guilty of sedition. sotro
But farther, as to the passage about the Oligarchy. It is generally understood that a few persons, not exceeding 300, are possessed of an influence in the House of Commons that is very pernicious to the State. This is the Oligarchy, the government of a few by unconstitutional influence, alluded to in the pannel's speech. Is it sedition to take notice even by allusion of such a public grievance ? Is this sedition? Against whom is it sedition ? against the King ? against the Lords? against the Commons ? against any branch of the Legislature, or against the Legislature taken as a whole? It is sedition against no person or legal authority whatever. It is indeed directed against the Oligarchy itself, which, in the opinion of the petitioners, is the worst enemy of the King, Lords and Commons. The King, Lords and Commons ought to be independent; and, if an unconstitutional influence rules over them, is it sedition to complain of that influence ? Every friend to the Constitution will complain of it, if he supposes it to exist. I apprehend there is nothing in this part of the charge; and while M'Laren denies having used these expressions about our rulers, I say there is no sedition in them. I would say so, even if the words had been used where no petition to the Legislature was in contemplation. But, considering that the meeting was called for that purpose, nothing can be more unquestionable than that such language was not seditious.
I come now to the last of the words quoted in the Indictment, and I hope to satisfy you that there is nothing seditious to be found in them. Allow me here to remind you of M‘Laren's situation when he made this speech. It has been proved that the task of opening the meeting was imposed on him, contrary to his inclination, and came upon him rather unex. pectedly. It was indeed proposed to him eight days before the meeting, but he was unwilling to undertake it, and immediately before the meeting he pressed Mr Samson to take the business off his hands. An hour before the meeting Mr M‘LaTen was again urged to open the business ; and being in some measure compelled to it, he retired for a very short time, and made some notes of his short address to the meeting. You will see in the whole proceeding the most evident marks of haste. It is not proved that the last sentence was written in his notcs. On the contrary, it was not written. He was placed on what is called the Hastings, and delivered his speech during a storm of wind, rain and hail; from the noise of which, and particularly from the rattling of the hail on umbrellas, it was almost impossible to hear what he said. Besides the words contained in his notes, part of which he spoke, and part of which he omitted, he spoke other words which were not in his notes. What these words were is uncertain, as they could not be perfectly heard. A single witness told you he heard and recollected them, though he could not recollect any other words of the pannel's speech. There is no great reason to rely on the recollection of the witness, though there is much reason to presume that the words had not the meaning given to them by the Public Prosecutor. The words in the Indictment áre, “ Should he be so infatuated as to turn a deaf ear to their just petition, he has forfeited their allegiance. Yes, my fellowtownsmen, in such a case, to hell with our allegiance.” But the passage is in different words according to the evidence of Mr Finnie, whose recollection of words, delivered in the midst of hail and wind, and the noise of umbrellas, while nobody else could hear what M‘Laren was saying, is the only evidence for the Prosecutor of the sedition. Another witness said there was something in the speech about hell and allegiance, but he could give no intelligible account of the passage. Now, is it probable that the pannel should have so expressed himself, or is it proved that he used the words imputed to him? You see the rest of the speech does not appear in the same mutilated form with the passage given by Mr Finnie. There is reason to believe, therefore, that the passage so mutilated is not the passage delivered by M.Laren. And yet you are called upon to rely implicitly upon Finnie, a single witness, to the words of a speech, though there was such a noise when it was delivered, that persons near the orator could not hear him : And this part of M.Laren's speech is said to have been seditious. Gentlemen, you must always bear in mind the occasion. sage of the speech was seditious. M‘Laren was recommend. ing a petition to the Prince Regent. He was speaking of his Royal Highness in the most respectful way, and in a warm strain of loyalty. “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.” Here is the fondest expectation of being listened to. But it is natural to mingle, with the kindest and most dutiful sentiments, the severity of doctrine and reasoning, and, on this occasion, it is possible that the rigour of our constitutional law for ex
treme cases may have suddenly occurred to the mind of the pannel. We all know that our constitutional rights and duties go hand in hand. This has been stated in every possible form in which a proposition of the kind can be stated. At the Revolution, the Lords and Commons held James to have abdicated the throne, merely because he left the country, and the illustrious House of Hanover was at last established, because James had failed in the duties he owed to his subjects. Again, in Scotland, it was not held that James had abdicated, but that he had forfeited the throne in consequence of his proceedings. Speculations on the subject indeed are delicate, and ought not to be much indulged in. But what was more natural than for M‘Laren to urge the propriety of petitioning, by stating that the petition would of course be received, and that if the Regent did not regard the cries of all his people, he would forfeit their allegiance. M‘Laren did not say it was the duty of the Prince Regent to listen, right or wrong, to the pe tition then proposed. In this way the whole passage is not so unreasonable; and where there is an uncertainty what the very words were, the most favourable interpretation must be given to them. But, in the worst view of the words, they import merely that in an extreme case, which could not happen, allegiance would not be due, and such an alternative does not import sedition. If the words were imprudent, they were not seditious. They might indeed have been without a vindication, if they had been used at a public meeting where no such words were warranted by the occasion, and where the meeting was not for the purpose of petitioning Parliament. But consider the time when the words were used. The recommendation of my Lord Advocate to this effect was quite correct, and I desire you to keep in mind that there was a petition at the time under consideration, and that expressions might then be more allowable than at another time. Gentlemen, the sacred right of petitioning is the bulwark of the right of free discussion. Discussion may be allowed preparatory to a petition, that would not be endured at any other time. Discussion is necessary on all such occasions. Free words may on these occasions be used when speaking of ministers, and generally of public men, as well as of public measures. Are not these propositions self-evident. Supposing it were asked, whether any of you have a right to write a letter to a correspondent, and send it by the post. The answer would be, you have a right to do so, there is no law against it. But what if you have no right to use pen, ink, and paper; no right to lift the pen, to put it in the ink-holder, or apply it to the paper ? These acts have the same relation to writing a letter,
that the right of canvassing what are grievances has to the right of petitioning. You have the right of petitioning, which includes the right of meeting and canvassing the subject of your petition. Thus the right of discussion is presupposed in the right of petition.
Gentlemen, As to the language that is legal and warrantable in petitioning and previously discussing the mode of petition, it is well known that Parliament may be approached with language as strong as any part of this pamphlet, and certainly stronger than any part of the speech of the pannel. As evidence of this, take the Votes of the House of Commons, and you will find more violent and bitter expressions of grievances, than any in this publication. I may read one or two of these petitions, which have been appointed by the House to lie on the table, and which the House would not have thought itself bound to receive, if they had considered the language as improper in a petition to Parliament. I hope Mr Grant will be allowed to read them for me.
Mr GRANT. - This is an extract of a petition from Bristol, presented to the House of Commons on the 29th January 1817. (Reads from the Votes), “ That no man of sincerity will affect to believe that such a squandering of the resources of the country for such purposes, and that such a destructive power in the managers of paper money, would ever have existed, if the members of the House of Commons had been the real representatives of the people, instead of being, as they notoriously are, the mere tools of an ever-grasping and tyrannical Oligarchy of boroughmongers ; that it is in vain to hope for any real remedy, for any solid and substantial relief, except through the means of such a reform in the Commons or People's House of Parliament as shall ensure to the people the speaking of their will through the means of representatives annually chosen by all men who have attained the age of twenty-one years, seeing that all men pay taxes, and that all men have lives and liberties to protect. Ordered that the said petition do lie on the table.”.
On the same day, a petition from the township of Quick was presented and read, but it appears to have contained expressions which were deemed offensive, for (reads from the Votes )
a motion being made, and the question being put, that the said petition do lie upon the table, it passed in the negative.”
On the same day, the address and petition of the town of Oldham was presented and read, in which are the following expressions : (reads) "In the midst of all these calamities, the ministers, in conjunction with an unconstitutional and corrupt House of Commons, have proceeded to vote away a great part of the public money to superfluous and unnecessary purposes, the whole of which evils the petitioners ascribe to the want of a real, unbiassed, free, lawful, and annual election of the members of the Commons House of Parliament; instead of which, the petitioners see, in that House, by Peers and other Boroughmongers, hundreds of its seats usurped; that numbers more of those seats, through the gross venality of monopolizing corporators, are notoriously bought and sold, and a large portion of the members of that House, who ought only to sit there as representatives of the people, are nevertheless placemen and pensioners of the Crown, and receive, in salaries and emoluments, upwards of L. 200,000 a-year out of the taxes; wherefore, the petitioners feel it to be their duty to protest against that corrupt and factious usurpation of seats in that House, by which freedom is destroyed, and our once happy country threatened with slavery, starvation, convulsions, and ruin ; for, in an usurpation which inflicts on the whole community taxation without representation, nought but despotism can be discovered, nought but ruin can proceed. And the said petitions were ordered to lie upon the table.” Lorovado
Immediately after which, it appears that (reads) " A petition from Ashton-under-Line was presented and read, containing the same allegations and prayer as the petition of the inhabitants of the township of Quick, which was this day presented to the House. And a motion being made, and the question being put, that the said petition do lie upon the table, it passed in the negative." And another from the inhabitants of Delph was presented ; (reads) " And a motion being made, and the question being put, that the said petition do lie upon the table, it passed in the negative."
On the 31st January, a petition from the town of Halifax was presented and read, setting forth, (reads) “ It is now notorious that the people of this kingdom do experience flagrant wrongs and great misfortunes, because their birthright of making their own laws has, through the decay of ancient boroughs, as well as through fraud and usurpation, been taken from them ; for it is universally known that the nation are not represented in the House ;--in this complication of decay, injustice, and wrong, in this ruin of the Constitution, whereby the people have been defrauded of the self-preserving power of making, through real Representatives, their own laws, the House must see the causes of which all the present calamities of our country are the effects: here, and here only, the cause of War, here the cause of Public Debt, here the cause of an intolerable taxation.—The ław, through the resistless power of those who have usurped the