Page images
PDF
EPUB

this case will require and admit of, is not at present the subject of our consideration. The amendment, if agreed to, will naturally lead us to such an enquiry. That enquiry may, perhaps, point out the necessity of an act of the legislature, or it may lead us, perhaps, to desire a conference with the other house; which one noble lord affirms, is the only parliamentary way of proceeding; and which another noble lord assures us the house of com. mons would either not come to, or would break off with indignation. Leaving their lordships to reconcile that matter between themselves, I shall only say, that' be. fore we have enquired, we cannot be provided with materials ; consequently, at present we are not prepared for a conference.

It is possible, my lords, that the enquiry I speak of may lead us to advise his majesty to dissolve the present parliament; nor have I any doubt of our right to give that advice, if we should think it necessary. His majesty will then determine whether he will yield to the united petitions of the people of England, or maintain the house of commons in the exercise of a legislative power, which heretofore abolished the house of lords, and overturned the monarchy. I willingly acquit the present house of commons of having actually formed so detestable a design : but they cannot themselves foresee to what excesses they may be carried hereafter : and for my own part, I should be sorry to trust to their future moderation. Unlimited power is apt to corrupt the minds of those who possess it; and this I know, my lords, that where law ends, tyranny begins !

MARQUIS OF ROCKINGHAM.

On the State of the Nation.

The object of his speech was to shew, that the present unhappy condition of affairs, and the universal discontent of the people, did not arise from any im. mediate temporary cause, but had grown upon us by degrees, from the moment of his majesty's accession tothe throne. That the persons in whom his majesty then confided had introduced a total change in the old system of English government--that they had adopted a maxim which must prove fatal to the liberties of this country, viz. “ That the royal prerogative alone was sufficient to support government, to whatever hands the administration should be committed ;” and he could trace the operation of this principle through every act of government since the accession, in which those persons could be supposed to have any influence. Their first exertion of the prerogative was to make a peace contrary to the wishes of the nation, and on terms totally disproportioned to the successes of the war: but as they felt themselves uncqual to the conduct of war, they thought a peace, on any conditions, necessary for their own security and continuance in administration. He then took notice of those odious tyrannical acts of power by which an approbation of the peace had been obtained. And he mentioned the general sweep through every branch and department of administration; the removals not merely confined to the higher employments, but carried down, with the minutest cruelty, to the lowest offices of the state ; and numberless innocent families, which had subsisted on salaries of from fifty to two hundred pounds a year, turned out to misery and ruin, with as little regard to the rules of justice as to the common feelings of compassion. That their

That their ideas of taxation were marked by the same principle. The argument urged for taxing the

cider counties, viz. “ The equity of placing them on the same footing with others where malt liquors were chiefly used,” was too obvious to escape the attention of former ministers ; but former ministers paid more regard to the liberties of the people than to the improvement of the revenue. That the object of the cider act, or the effect of it, at least, was not so much to increase the revenue, as to extend the laws of excise, and open the doors of private men to the officers of the crown.

Without entering into the right of taxing America, it was evident, that since the revenue expected to arise from that measure was allowed to be very inconsiderable, the real purpose of government must have been to increase the number of their officers in that country, and consequently the strength of the prerogative.

He then took notice of the indecent manner with which the debt upon the king's civil list had been laid before, and provided for by parliament. No account offered-no inquiry permitted to be made-not even the decent satisfaction given to parliament, of an' assurance, that in future such extraordinary expences should be avoided. On the contrary, the king's speech on that occasion had been so cautiously worded, that, far from engaging to avoid such exceedings for the future, it intimated plainly, that the expences of the king's civil government could not be confined within the revenue granted by parliament. That, as the nation was heavily burthened by the expence, they were no less grossly insulted by the manner in which that burthen was laid upon them. That, in certain grants lately made by the crown, the ministry had adhered to their principle of carrying the prerogative to its utmost extent. No right of property, no continuance of possession, had been considered. * But if these had been weaker than they were, he thoaght some respect was due to the memory of the great prince by

Alluding to the transfer of an estate belonging to the duke of Portland to some other person, on the plea that the grant by which he held it was void.

whom those grants had been made; and in common justice to the noble duke (Poland) whose property had been invaded, the ministry should, at last, have avoid. ed that hurry and precipitation, which had hardly left his grace time to defend his rights; and by which the ministry themselves seemed to confess their measures would not bear a more deliberate mode of proceeding. But the purposes of an election were to be served ; and the person benefited by this measure was supposed to be a better friend to administration than the noble duke, whose property had been arbitrarily transferred to another. And when, upon occasion of this extraordinary measure, and to quiet the minds of the people, a bill had been brought into parliament, for securing the property of the subject, it had been rejected the first year, and violently resisted the second : but the justice and necessity of it had prevailed over the influence and favourite maxims of the administration.

That the affairs of the external part of the empire had been managed with the same want of wisdom, and had been brought into nearly the same condition, with those at home. In Ireland, he saw the parliament prorogued, (which probably led to a dissolution,) and the affairs of that kingdom left unprovided for, and in the greatest confusion. That in America, measures of violence had been adopted; and it had been the uniform language and doctrine of the ministry, to force that country to submit. That, in his opinion, violence would not do there, and he hoped it would not do here. But even if a plan of force were advisable, why had it not been adhered to ? Why did they not adopt and abide by some one system of conduct? That the king's speeches and the language of the ministry at home had denounced nothing but war and vengeance against a rebellious people ; whilst his majesty's governors abroad were instructed to convey to them the gentlest promises of relief and satisfaction.

His Lordship here referred to Lord Bottetourt's speech to the assembly of Virginia, in May, 1769, out of which

he recited a passage in point. The passage was this :“I think myself peculiarly fortunate to be able to in. form you that in a letter dated May 13, I have been assured by the earl of Hillsborough, that his majesty's present administration have at no time entertained a de. sign to propose to parliament to lay any further taxes upon America for the purpose of raising a revenue, and that it is their intention to propose in the next session of parliament to take off the duties upon glass, papers, and colours, upon consideration of such duties having been laid contrary to the true principles of commerce."

With respect to foreign affairs, he thought it highly necessary to enquire why France had been permitted to make so considerable an acquisition as the island of Corsica ? That no man could deny that this island would prove a great addition to the strength of France, with respect to her marine, both from its harbours and the timbers it produced. He thought this attempt of France was not only unjust in itself, but directly contrary to certain stipulations in the treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle, confirmed by that of 1763, by which it was de. termined and settled, “That the republic of Genoa should be entirely re-established and maintained in all its former states and possessions; and that for the ad. vantage and maintenance of the peace in general, and for the tranquillity of Italy in particular, all things should remain there in the condition they were in before the war."

That he had not dwelt so strongly as he might have done upon that great invasion of the constitution which had now thrown this whole country into a flame. The people were sufficiently alarmed for their rights, and he did not doubt but that matters would be duly enquired into. But he considered it only as the point to which all the other measures of the administration had tended. That when the constitution was violated, we should not content ourselves with repairing the single breach, but look back into the causes, and trace the principles which had produced it, in order, not merely

« PreviousContinue »