Page images

that the proportion of representation between the two countries cannot be changed. In the twenty-second article of the treaty of union, the number of forty-five is to be the representative body in the parliament of Great Britain for the northern part of this island. To increase the members of England and Wales beyond the number of which the English parliament consisted at the period of that treaty, in 1706, would be a breach of public faith, and a violation of a solemn treaty between two independent states. My proposition has for its basis the preservation of that compact, the proportional share of each kingdom in the legislative body remaining exactly according to its establishment. The monstrous injustice and glaring partiality of the present representation of the commons of England, has been fully stated, and is, I believe, almost universally acknowledged, as well as the necessity of our recurring to the great leading principle of our free constitution, which declares this house of parliament to be only a delegated power from the people at large. Policy, no less than justice, calls our attention to this momentous point; and reason, not custom, ought to be our guide in a business of this consequence, where the rights of a free people are materially interested. Without a true representation of the commons our constitution is essentially defective, our parliament is a delusive name, a mere phantom, and all other remedies to recover the pristine purity of the form of government established by our ancestors, would be ineffectual; even the shortening the period of parliaments, and a place and pension bill, both which I highly approve, and think absolutely necessary. I therefore flatter myself, sir, that I have the concurrence of the house with the motion which I have now the honour of making, “ That leave be given to bring in a bill for a just and equal representation of the people of England in parliament.” Vol. II.



(Afterwards Lord Ashburton,)

Was born at Ashburton, in Devonshire, in 1731. After studying

some time under his father, who was an attorney, he entered at the temple, and on being called to the bar, soon rose to eminence in his profession : he obtained a seat in parliament, and became one of the most distinguished members of opposition at this period. He died 1782. The following is the most brilliant display of his eloquence that I have met with ; which I was at some pains to pick out from among the shreds and patches that remain of his speeches. His legal knowledge is said to have been very great : but as this is a subject which I do not understand, I must leave it to the lawyer to pronounce his panegyric in “ good set terms" of their own.

On the Bill for punishing Persons suspected of being


He said he would not take up the time of the house, in debating the bill upon legal grounds : for where there was no reason or justice, there could be no law. Law supposes a rule, which, while it prescribes a mode of conduct, respecting either the public or individuals, defines the offence, annexes the punishment, ànd, besides, especially provides and directs all the intermediate steps between the charge and conviction, but more particularly, the measure and quantity of the punishment. What does this bill say ? No crime is imputable, no examination of innocence or criminality is to follow. The punishment is inflicted, in the first instance, on the ground of mere suspicion,

A man may be suspected; any man may be suspected; but his guilt or innocence is entirely out of the

question ; no inquiry whatever is to be made into either, as long as the present bill continues in force. He confessed there were times, in which it had been found extremely necessary to suspend the habeas corpus act; such, in particular, were two late most unnatural and unprovoked rebellions in Scotland: but then there was a necessity stated. That necessity was not denied ; it was, indeed, notorious : but would any man say that was the case at present ? Is there a rebellion within the kingdom? Is there a pretender claiming the crown as his legal and constitutional inheritance; and that at the expence of both our civil and religious rights—the very essence, as well as the form of our constitution ? No such thing: the idea is ridiculous. Are we, on the other hand, afraid that the people of America will pass the Atlantic on a bridge, and come over and conquer us? And that their partisans lie in ambush about Brentford or Colnbrook ? That, it may be presumed, will be hardly contended, even in the present rage for assertion without proof, and conclusion without argument. No, this bill, I plainly perceive, has been manufactured for other purposes.

It can be stretched, and twined, and twisted, by the ingenuity of my worthy and learned friend over the way (Mr. Attorney General,) or by some of his brethren equally ingenious, to affect and reach men who never saw America, or, peradventure, the high seas, as strongly, at least as efficaciously, for the mere temporary purposes of prosecution and revenge, as if hey had been caught in arms in open rebellion.

If even ministers had contented themselves with this first ebullition of their fiery, irresistible zeal for persecution, the public might look on, with a mixture of contempt and astonishment, at the insolence and folly of the attempt; but when they go a step farther, and venture to couple it with a power untried hitherto in the annals of this country, a power including in it the most bloody species of proscription. I confess I begin to feel

sentiments of a very different nature.

What does the clause say? After empowering the apprehension, on the mere grounds of suspicion, and directing the commitment to any common gaol within his majesty's do. minions, are not we told — or to any other place of confinement, especially appointed for that purpose, by warrant under his Majesty's sign manual, by any magistrate, having competent authority in that behalf”-(who is hereby authorised to commit such persons to the place so to be appointed ?). Is not this evidently a power, not only to punish the innocent, but to inflict such pains upon them as an honest mind must revolt at, and contemplate with horror? The magistrate may take up and commit, on suspicion, to the common gaol, and by the sign manual, to any other place especially appointed, and is further authorised to commit according to such special appointment. What is this but to authorise the mode, measure, and place of confinement, at the pleasure of the minister, which, besides, manifestly, includes in it the power of temporary banishment, as well as confinement, to any part, or to the most remote, unhealthy, and pestiferous climate within the wide circuit of his Majesty's dominions, in the four quarters of the globe ? If this be the intention of my honourable and learned friend over the way, and his no less honourable employers, in God's name, let him speak out; let us know, let the public know, what they are to ex. pect. Let him and his friends no longer amuse us with a formal circumstantial story of America and the high seas, or the crime of piracy. Such tales may be amusing to some people, and they may answer certain purposes out of doors, and in some particular places ; but to talk of them seriously within these walls, will not, I believe, be attempted. The power endeavoured to be vested in the crown by this bill, is most evidently a dictatorial power, or similar to that exercised by the Roman dicta

We all know the motives for granting such a power. It will hardly be contended, that any such mo


tives exist at present. We all know the frequent abuse of it, and the horrid purposes, towards the latter period of the commonwealth, to which it was employed; and I presume there is not a school-boy of three years standing, who is ignorant that that mighty republic was over. thrown by a dictator.

Such will always be the case, when powers are granted through ignorance, wantonness, or design. If the present bill was to have no other evil effect than establishing a precedent for future ministers to come to parliament on the same errand, I should be against it: but when I behold it in the light I do, I must deem it a most formidable, dangerous, and, I fear, fatal attack upon the liberty of this country. It seems directed at its vitals, and in my opinion, threatens its total destruction, if not a dissolution of the constitution. Before I conclude, I must observe, if any thing were wanting to shew the true complexion of this bill, the words High Seas and Piracy will fully explain it ; these words apply to the seas contiguous to Great Britain and Ireland. It is, indeed, plainly perceivable, whetever the title of the bill may be, it is not an American, so much as it is a British suspension of the habeas corpus act. It may overtake any man, any where. It authorises a discretionary punishment, without a colour of legal proof, or even a probable ground of suspicion. It makes no distinction between the dreams of a sick man, and the rayings of a demoniac, and the malice of a secret or declar.

ed enemy.

No man is exempt from punishment, because innocence is no longer a protection. It will generate spies, informers, and false accusers, beyond number ; and furnish the means of gratification, emolument, and satiety, to the most profligate of the species; while it will let loose with impunity, the blackest and most horrid vices which disgrace the human mind. In fine, it will realize what has hitherto been looked upon to be the creature of poetic fiction ; it will scatter over the land more

« PreviousContinue »