Page images

suspect that a member of parliament should be seduced by the good things of this life ! It would be an aspersion of the most unjustifiable nature !

What ! a member of parliament ! the dignity of whose situation, and the obligations of whose trust, ought to raise him to an elevation of rank among his species, superior to all the little frailties and passions of the heart, to suspect him of dependence and servility, would be a libel on the human race! And yet the conduct of the honourable gentleman himself, who was so much hurt by such aspersions, might, perhaps, afford some kind of evidence, that it was possible for a member of parliament to change his opinions, or at least to alter his manner of voting, from a prudent consideration of his own interest. The conduct of that gentleman had been marked, on his first appearance in the house, and for some time after, by an acrimonious opposition to the measures of the minister. He was now as much distinguished by a general and indiscriminate approbation of whatever the minister thought proper to adopt. This was a conduct which naturally gave rise to speculation, and to animadversion. When it was observed, that such a gentleman abandoned, in a critical moment, without even the for: mality of a reason, the friends and the principles which he had maintained, and that he became one of the most zealous and active partizans of that government which he had previously reprobated ; when it was observed, that he placed himself immediately behind the treasury bench, whispered the minister, and became his avowed champion; and when it was also seen, that the zeal and activity of this new convert were rewarded with a profitable place under the government ; under such circumstances, people could not avoid suspecting, that there was something like influence in a thousand, or twelve hundred pounds a year : and that it was corruption, and not principle, that had converted the enemy into the friend of the minister. Such suspicions might be ena tertained without any great degree of illiberality, and without any great degree of injustice.


He observed, that it had sometimes been pretended, that associations, committees of correspondence, delegations, and petitions to that house, signed with more than twenty names, were contrary to law and the constitution. But it was a clear and fundamental point in the constitution of this country, that the people had a right to petition their representatives in parliament; and it was by no means true, that the number of names signed to any such petition was limited. The act, which was passed in the reign of Charles II. prohibiting, under certain penalties, any petition to be presented to the king, or either house of parliament, if signed by more than twenty persons, for altering the religion or the laws, was completely repealed by an article in the bill of rights, which was meant to restore to the people that great privilege, which the act of Charles was calculated to abridge, if not to take away. To argue that the act of Charles was now in force, would be as puerile and absurd, as to contend that the prerogative of the crown still remained in its full extent, notwithstanding the de. clarations in the bill of rights. If it were true, that the people of this country had a right to petition the legislature, they had a right to assemble together for that purpose ; and while their meetings were sober, peace. able, and orderly, they were strictly legal. As associations, committees of correspondence and delegation, their innocence or their criminality must depend entirely upon the views with which they were constituted. There could be no legal criminality in them, unless some evil intention were proved. Associations to overturn

the constitution, to resist the execution of the laws, or to commit any violence, subversive of order, government, and domestic peace, were certainly illegal and highly criminal ; such associations ought to be resisted by the civil authority, and suppressed by the intervention of the laws. The laws had sufficiently armed the executive power against any association to overturn the legal government; and the ministry would be traitors if they suffered, either by wilful treachery, or blind negligence, such an association so far to grow and strengthen itself, as to be able to surround the parliament, and with arms and military array, to over-awe their proceedings, and force them to do what they pleased. But an association even of this nature would be legal in certain circumstances. If ever a period should arrive, when the three branches of the legislature should unite in a scheme to destroy the liberties of the people; or if the house of commons, forgetting their origin and their duty, should become the mere creatures and slaves of the crown; it would then be no longer illegal for the commonalty of England to resume their just share in the legislature ; and the means by which they accomplished this, whether it was by associations, by remonstrances, or by force, would be not only right, but laudable. It would be an honourable imitation of the conduct of their ancestors, by which the constitution had been wrested from the rapacity and from the violence of prerogative. As to the late public meetings and associations in England, the proceedings respecting them had been grave, deliberate, and orderly; the people had met to exercise a lawful right, that of petitioning their representatives in parliament; and in doing this, they had observed the most steady decorum, and the strictest regard to public tranquillity. He concluded with declaring, that the house ought to agree to the motion, as a matter essentially due from them to the almost unanimous requisition of their constitucnts.


On the American War.

He declared, that the duty he owed to his sovereign, and to his country, would not permit him to remain in silence, when he saw the ministry running headlong into measures, which could end only in the ruin of the state. He wished to shew his attachment to his sovereign, and to his family, by holding to him a language, which would shew him that he had been deceived by those to whom he looked for advice. He wished to discharge his duty to his county, by endeavouring to prevent the parliament from precipitately voting an address, which pledged the house in the most direct manner to prosecute the American war, and to support the continuance of that fatal system, which had led this country step by step, to the most calamitous and disgraceful situation to which a once flourishing and glorious empire could possibly be reduced ; a situation, that threatened the final dissolution of the empire, if not prevented by timely, wise, and vigorous efforts. He implored them to pause a moment, and to consider what they were doing. The proposed address ; he said, was couched in terms the most hypocritical and delusive; and if suffered, in a crisis so alarming and melancholy, to be published to the world as the real sentiments of the house of commons, it would be an additional misfortune, greater than any that had yet preceded it. It would at once deceive the king, prostitute the judgment of parliament and degrade its dignity, insult the people, and superinduce consequences fatal to the very being and existence of the empire.

It was an honest and a faithful line of conduct in them, to warn both the sovereign and the people of the dangers that (were common to both. It was not the base and deceitful language of adulation which parliament should adopt; but that style, and that manner, which became a body of men equally attached to their sovereign and their constituents. Was it becoming the par liament of a free people, to echo back the words which a minister, long practised in the arts of delusion, had dared to put into the royal mouth, but which were every way unworthy of the prince who condescended to de liver them? What information had they before them, to warrant their taking such a step? In the better days of parliament, the attempt to entrap the house into a countenance of assertions, wholly unexplained and unexamined, on the mere authority of a minister, would have been treated with all the violence of merited resent. ment. The persons whose interest it was to carry on so paltry a deceit, had indeed pretended, that the prosecution of the American war was not the import of the address. But let any man only take the pains to read the words of the address, and he must instantly perceive, that the prosecution of that destructive war was as plainly and fully the meaning of it, as language could possibly convey. Was there an honourable member on either side the house who really doubted it ? Was there even a person in the street, into whose hands the address could be put, that would not, on the first perusal, instantly say as much ? Why then was the house alone to sacrifice their understandings to the will of the minister, and to support his delusion? But the fact

? But the fact was, that the war was an appendage to the first lord of the treasury, too dear to be parted with. ' It was the grand pillar, raised on the ruins of the constitution, by which he held his situation ; it was the great means of extending that baleful influence of the crown, on which alone he placed his whole security. The war, however, had proved fruitless by fatal experience ; and every day that

« PreviousContinue »