Page images

resumed his principles. He seemed attached to his friend, as necessary, probably, to promote his fortune.

Thus a light straw, whirl'd round with every blast,

Is carried off in some dog's tail at last. He had as yet, he said, heard no argument that warranted the suspension After bestowing the highest eulogium on the Habeas Corpus act, Montesquieu, in his Spirit of Laws, had pronounced it the palladium of English liberty-an act that ought never to be repealed. Nothing could justify the suspension but great and imminent danger to the state, and the actual existence of rebellion. In the suspension of 1745, and that in the American war, circumstances were materially different from what they now were. Mr. Courtenay contended, that the report did not state any distribution of arms to have taken place, nor mention that any correspondence had been carried on with the enemy.

There was therefore no evidence for the necessity of such a measure, which was calculated to destroy the social intercourse amongst men. He was, he said, much at a loss to conjecture why ministers adopted those measures which they so much reprobated in the neighbouring country, where the same thing had been done by Barrere and Robespierre. It was evident, he said, no proof existed of a plot to overturn government. He pointed out the danger of arming government with so large a discre. tionary power. Every act of oppression might be justified on the plea of state necessity. Much had been said on the humanity of ministers; he would refer on this subject to the cases of Messrs. Muir and Palmer. He declared his full intention to oppose the bill to the utmost of his power, because it struck deeply at the existence of the constitution, and subjected innocent persons to extreme oppression.


On the same Subject.

STRENUOUSLY reprobated the bill, and replied to a part of the preceding speech (Mr. Windham's,) which he considered as foretelling the destruction of the British constitution. With respect to the gradations of punishments which were professed, what by this argument must we think of the present measure, but that it was only one step in the ladder, and that more severe remedies were in re. serve? Gentle remedies had already been applied. The alien bill was an anodyne, the treasonable correspondence bill was also a gentle medicine ; but as in the king's speech these evils were said to exist with increased malignity, this severe remedy was to be tried, with the declared intention, that if this should fail, more violent methods would be pursued. What were they? Would all meetings of the people be prohibited, so as to prevent all discussion on political subjects? When that proved ineffectual, was the minister to have the power of making arbitrary imprisonment perpetual ? Would the next step be the establishment of a revolutionary tribunal ? Under the colour of pretended alarms, were we to infringe upon and demolish the best part of the constitution ? He contended, that the proceedings here were precisely similar to those in France; that ministers circulated stories of alarms and conspiracies, to fill the public mind with fear, and, according to the French, to make terror the order of the day. The question for the consideration of the house was, he said, to compare the danger with the remedy. Whether the word convention was a bugbear held up to terrify their imagina

tions, be knew not; but it was of consequence to inquire into the nature of the thing, and not to be startled at names. Mr. Fox entered into a discussion on the nature of a convention, which meant no other than a meet. ing of the people; in which if they committed an ille. gal act, they might be sent to prison, and tried for the offence as securely as if no convention existed. The danger then called for no remedy; and the suspension was only intended to agitate and alarm the nation, to put men's minds under the dominion of terror, and take from them the exertion of their rational faculties, which would be otherwise employed in scrutinizing the fatal measures of ministers. For that reason subscriptions had been set on foot; he said for that reason, because ministers had been open enough to acknowledge that it was not for money. He expressed high esteem for some of the members of the committee, but asserted that it was composed of two descriptions, men who were either dupes to themselves, or wished to dupe others.

Their whole report was trifling and inconsequential, and told nothing which was not known before. The avowed intention of the societies was to obtain universal suffrage, which however he might be disposed to agree, was a wild and impracticable idea, he must doubt its having caused the destruction of France. Why was the house to argue theoretically or practically from the example of France ? Was every man who mentioned liberty to be regarded as a traitor because liberty had been abused in France? If such were the case, it would be fatal for England. Mr. Fox called upon gentlemen to state the parallel between this country and the old government of France, that we should dread similar ef fects from jacobinical doctrines. Had France, he said, possessed a Habeas Corpus act, had she respected the rights and liberties of the people, those doctrines would never have prevailed. He stated this not improbable conjecture, one on which he would not lay much stress; but it was material, in support of the argument adduced

by Mr. Windham, to prove that the old government of France had fallen from a want of power; as the argument had been, that we must proceed from measure to measure, till ministers should be armed with sufficient power to resist and vanquish all innovation. Such doc- · trines went to the extinction of every vestige of the constitution. Mr. Fox asked, what all these severities were for? Were they because any great body of people were disaffected to the state ? No such thing : it was the boast of ministers, that every part of the country was strictly united in love to the constitution. It was to be introduced, because some low persons, without property and consideration, had entertained opinions about a par. liamentary reform, which were thought dangerous. If the act was to be suspended, he said, till no discontented person remained in the kingdom, there was an end to it; and it was a declaration to all mankind, that the constitution of England was fit only for an Utopian society, and not for any society that ever did or could exist opon earth. If America had been alarmed, let us look to what her conduct had been on this occasion. Had she shocked every feeling and considerate mind by the scandalous rigour of her legal punishments. Had she plunged her country in war, and loaded her people with new and excessive burdens ? No: she had maintained a strict and perfect neutrality towards the belligerent powers, and protected herself at home by securing to her people all their privileges; and, so far from dreading comparison, they left their people to the most ample discussion of political doctrines. From the little regard paid by these societies to himself, Mr. Fox argued that he could not be actuated by any partial regard towards them ; but he contended strongly for the right of popular discussion, as an essential and salutary privilege of the subject. With his usual candor, he confessed that the events in France had corrected several opinions which he previously held; and that though when a boy his heart revolted at the observation of

Cicero, Iniquissimam pacem justissimo bello antefero, the wisdom of the sentiment was now manifest to his mind. He could hardly frame to himself the condition of a people, in which he would not rather covet to continue, than advise them to fly to arms, and to seek redress through the unknown miseries of a revolution. But the more he was weaned from such experiments, the more he abhorred all acts on the part of government, which tended to exasperate the people. Wise men, deliberately weighing the relative duties of government and people, would recommend incessant conciliation. Never had England been so happy as when this was the case, never so miserable as when a persecuting sys. tem had been adopted, which he argued with great ability, had almost uniformly nourished the plant it intended to destroy


[To prevent mistake, it may be necessary to observe that the following character is taken from a pamphlet published about a year ago.]

The character of Mr. Pitt was, perhaps, one of the most singular that ever existed. With few talents, and fewer virtues, he acquired and preserved in one of the most trying situations, and in spite of all opposition, the highest reputation for the possession of every moral excellence, and as having carried the attainments of eloquence and wisdom as far as human abilities could go. This he did (strange as it appears) by a negation (together with the common virtues of the common vices of human nature, and by the complete negation of every other talent that might interfere with the only one which he possessed in a supreme degree, and which indeed may be made to include the appearance of all others—an artful use of words, and a certain dexterity of logical arrangement. In these alone his power consisted ; and the defect of all other qualities, which usually constitute greatness, contributed to the more complete success of these. Having no strong feelings, no distinct perceptions, his mind having no link, as it were, to connect it with the world of external nature, every subject presented to him nothing more than tabula rasa, on which he was at liberty

[ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »