« PreviousContinue »
vociferated from different parts of the house. ]—If ever there was an occasion, he said, in which the mind of every man who had any feeling for the present or hope for the future happiness of the nation, should be interested, the present was the time, when form should be disregarded, and the substance of the debate be kept purely in view. Nothing could be whispered on this subject, which did not involve questions of the most extensive, the most serious, the most lasting importance to the people of this country, to the very being of the state.
He felt no difficulty in asserting, in the most decisive terms, that he objected both to the time and the mode in which this business was brought forward. He would confess that, in one respect, he had changed his opinion upon this subject, and he was not afraid to own it. He retained his opinion of the propriety of a reform in parliament, if it could be obtained by a general concurrence, pointing harmlessly at its object.—But he was afraid, at this moment, that if agreed on by that house, the security of all the blessings we enjoyed would be shaken to the foundation. He conceived that the beautiful system of our constitution, and the only security we had for its continuance, was in the house of commons: but that security was imperfect, while there were persons who thought the people not adequately repre. sented. He once thought, and still thought, that if some mode could be adopted, by which the people could have additional security for the continuance of the blessings they now enjoy, it would be an improvement in the constitution of this country. That was the extent of his object; and if this could be obtained, he should think it wise to make the experiment.
Upon the time and mode of bringing this subject forward, he said, every rational person had two points to consider. These were the probability of success, and the risk to be incurred in the attempt.-Upon the latter of these, he owned his apprehensions were very great.
He saw no chance of succeeding in the attempt, in the first place; but saw great danger of anarchy and confusion in the second. It was true he had made some efforts to this effect himself. But at what time? There was then a general apprehension that we were upon the verge of a public national bankruptcy, and a strong sense was entertained of practical grievances. This was at the conclusion of the American war, succeeding a period, when the influence of the crown was declared to have increased, to be increasing, and that it ought to be diminished.” Many thought at that time, and he among the rest, that unless there were a better connection be. tween the parliament and the people, the safety of the country might be endangered.
The present, he alledged, was not a time to make hazardous experiments. Could we forget what lessons had been given to the world within a few years ? Could we suppose that men felt the situation of this country, as contrasted with that of others, to be deplorable ? He then noticed the association and the advertisements in newspapers, inviting the public to join the standard of reform He saw with concern the gentlemen to whom he alluded, united with others, who professed not reform only, but direct hostility to the very form of our government; who threatened an extinction to monarchical government, hereditary succession, and every thing which promoted order and subordination in a state. To his last hour he would resist every attempt of this nature ; and if he was called upon either to hazard this, or for ever to abandon all hopes of reform, he would say he had no hesitation in preferring the latter alternative.
In Reply to Mr. Pitt.
He reminded the house, that he had never professed to be so sanguine on this subject as the right hon. gentleman who had last addressed them ; but although less sanguine, he happened to be a little more consistent ; for he had early in his public life formed an opinion of the necessity of a parliamentary reform, and remained to this hour convinced of that necessity; and the obvious reason was, that the proceedings of the house were sometimes at variance with the opinion of the public. Of the truth and justice of this sentiment, he said, it was only necessary to refer to a recent instance-the Russian armament. The declaration of that house was, that we should proceed to hostilities. The declaration of the people was, that we should not : and so strong was that declaration, that it silenced and overawed the minister, with his triumphant majority. What was the consequence ? that the people of England were at this moment paying the expence of an armament for which they never gave their consent; and as far as that goes, they pay their money for not being represented in parliament, and because their sentiments were not spoken within the walls of that house. It was the doctrine of implicit confidence in the minister that disgusted the people ; a confidence not given to him from the experience of his probity and talents, but merely because he was minister. The doctrine was, that the agent of the executive power, be he who he may, is entitled to confidence ; and if he afterwards commit what the people call a blunder, no inquiry shall be had into his conduct.
With respect to the other part of the minister's speech, which related to the allies of his hon. friend Mr. Grey, he thought he might answer it completely by asking the minister, Who will you have for yours? On our part there are infuriated republicans ; on yours there are the slaves of despotism ; both of them unfriendly perhaps to the constitution : but there was no comparison between them in point of real hostility to the spirit of freedom. The one, by having too ardent a zeal for liberty, lost sight of the true medium by which it was to be preserv. ed; the other detested the thing itself, and are pleased with nothing but tyranny and despotism.
Upon the word innovation he must take the liberty of repeating what he uttered almost the first time he ad. dressed that house; an observation which some thought quaintly expressed—" That the greatest innovation that could be introduced in the constitution of England, was to come to a vote that there should be no innovation in it.” The greatest beauty of the constitution was, that in its very principle it admitted of perpetual improvement, If it was asked, why his name did not appear in the list of the society for reform ? his reason was, that though he saw great abuses, he did not see the remedy. Had his hon. friend consulted him, he should have hesitat. ed in recommending the part he had taken to him ; but having taken it, he could not see why the period was improper for the discussion. He professed, in strong terms his admiration of the British constitution, but thought that Mr. Pitt asserted too much, when he held forth this country as the only state exempted from anarchy and despotism. In reply to this observation, Mr. Fox noticed America, and paid a handsome compliment to the new constitution of Poland.
On the Address to his Majesty.
began by complimenting earl Wycombe, who, he observed, had anticipated some of his most forcible arguments; and proceeded to observe, that the present was the most momentous crisis, not only that he had ever known, but that he had ever read of in the history of this country; a crisis, not merely interesting to ourselves and our own condition, but to all nations and to all men ; and that on the conduct of parliament in this crisis depend, not merely the fate of the British constitution, but of doc, trines which go to the happiness and well-being of all human-kind.
His majesty's speech, he observed, was full of a variety of assertions. Perhaps he should not make use of the word assertions, without adding, that it had also a va. riety of insinuations conveyed in the shape of assertions, which must impress every man with the most imminent apprehensions for the safety of every thing justly dear to Englishmen. It was their duty to enquire into the truth of these assertions and insinuations so conveyed. In so doing Mr. Fox, agreeably to parliamentary usage, considered the speech as the speech of the minister, and professed the most true and sincere respect personally for his majesty ; but as to the speech, it was the speech which his majesty had been advised, by his confidential servants, to deliver from the throne ; they were responsible for it, and to them every observation was addressed.
I stated it therefore added Mr. Fox, to be my firm opinion and belief, that there is not one fact asserted in his majesty's speech which is not false-not one