Oldalképek
PDF
ePub

Parliamentary History.

17 GEORGE THE THIRD, A. D. 1777.

THIRD SESSION

OF THE FOURTEENTH PARLIAMENT op

GREAT BRITAIN. [Continued from Vol. XVIII.]

1777.

PETITION of the African Company.] Jan. 29, 1777. A Petition of the committee of the company of merchants trading to Africa was presented, setting forth, “That the petitioners have laid before the House, an account of the money granted for the year 1775, examined and passed by the cursitor baron of the Exchequer, as required by an Act of the 23rd Geo. 2nd, intituled, “An Act for extend‘ing and improving the trade to Africa;’ and that they have invested the money granted in 1776 for the support and maintenance of the forts and settlements on the said coast; and that, the said forts and settlements having been delivered to the petitioners in a very bad state by the Royal African Company, and the sums annually granted by parliament being nearly expended in the civil and military establishments, leaving very little for the repairs of the said forts, several of them still remain in a very ruinous condition; and that the House, in 1772, granted 2,400l. to finish the repairs of Cape Coast Castle; but, in the progress of the work, the walls of the fort were found in so very decayed a state, and so many defects discovered, that the petitioners have been unavoidably led into the expence of a much larger sum, and the repairs of the said fort still remain unfinished, nor can the petitioners proceed therein until the House shall enable them; [VOL. XIX.]

and that, at the end of December 1775, the officers and servants in Africa had advanced for the public service about 7,000l. more than the petitioners have been enabled to repay them; and that the said officers have further advanced about 1,200l. to the inhabitants of Lagoe and Mumford, two principal trading towns on the coast of Africa, in order to preserve the commerce of those towns to the British nation, which advance the said officers pray may be repaid them; and that the expence of freight and insurance on the goods and stores sent to Africa this year will amount to near 1,000l. extraordinary; and that the petitioners, being sensible of the great regard shewn by the House for the British forts and settlements on the coast of Africa: therefore pray the House to take the premises into consideration, and grant such sum for the necessary support and maintenance of the said forts and settlements, for repaying the officers and servants the several sums of money advanced by them, and likewise for the repairs still wanted, as shall seem meet.” Ordered to lie upon the table. Earl Nugent observed, that the present state of the African Company called for particular attention; that regular demands were made every year in parliament, for grants to defray the civil establishment: besides particular ones, for the repairs of fortifications, &c. that certainly it was an object worthy of inquiry, to know how the money granted was ... yet he could not recommend such an enquiry to parliament, in the present state of public affairs, when he recollected what happened on a former occasion. In 1775, the same doubts existed; a committee was appointed, and employed a great part of that session; it was a tedious affair, and answered very little purpose. He could

[ocr errors]

not, therefore, think of proceeding in the having a matter of some importance to same manner now, but would move, communicate to the House, he could wish That an humble Address be presented their attention for a few minutes : it was to his Majesty, that he will be pleased to upon a business which ought not to be give directions to the commissioners for detailed before so thin a House, but there trade and plantations, to enquire into, and would be several stages of the business prepare, in order to be laid before this which would give opportunity for ample House, a Report of the general State of discussion: the thing was this; there had the trade to Africa, the condition of the been, during the present war in America, forts and settlements there belonging to many prisoners made, who were in actual . the African company, and in what manner commission of the crime of high treason; the several sums of money granted by par- and, there were persons, at present, guilty of liament for maintaining and supporting the that crime, who might be taken, but perhaps same, have been applied.”

for want of evidence could not be kept in Mr. A. Bacon was of the same opinion, gaol. That it had been customary upon and that it was necessary that the grant similar occasions of rebellion, or danger of should precede any inquiry in that House. invasion, to enable the king to seize sus

Mr. Vyner said he well remembered the pected persons : he would not be thought time alluded to by the poble lord, and the to hint at any necessity of trusting minishon. gentleman. He recollected several ters at present with such a power in gecurious particulars of the company send. neral; indeed, the times were different ; ing out bricks or stones to erect the forti. we were very far from having any rebelfications; yet, by the accounts, he was lion at home; and as to an invasion, we sorry to find, as well as by the petition, had not the least prospect of it: For these that the stones or bricks were so rotten, reasons, it was not meant to ask the full that instead of repairing the fortifications power, usual upon former occasions of of Cape Coast Castle, they were in so rebellion. But as the law stood, they ruinous a condition, that they must be were well informed, that it was not possi. pulled down, and rebuilt from the very ble at present officially to apprehend the foundation.

most suspected person. Another circumMr. Gascoyne' spoke against the con stance was, that persons made prisoners duct of the African company, and .con from the rebels, and also in the act of picluded that the grants of parliament an- | racy, on the high seas, at present, could swered no one substantial purpose, but be legally confined only in the common that of establishing a monopoly.

gaols, which would be entirely impractiThe Address was agreed to.

cable. It was necessary for the crown to

have a power of confining them like other A Bill for granting Letters of Marque prisoners of war. He therefore moved, and Reprisal passed.] February 6. A 16 That leave be given to bring in a Bill to Bill for enabling the commissioners for empower his Majesty to secure and detain executing the office of lord high admiral | persons charged with, or suspected of, the of Great Britain to grant commissions, or crime of high treason committed in North letters of marque, to the commanders of America, or on the high seas, or the crime private ships and vessels, to take and make of piracy.”—Leave was accordingly given. prize of all ships or vessels, and their cargoes, belonging to or possessed by any of Feb. 7. Lord G. Germaine presented the inhabitants of the colonies of New to the House the following Bill : Hampshire, Massachusett's Bay, Rhode

" A Bill to empower his Majesty to secure Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, the igree lower coun

and detain Persons charged with, or ties on Delaware, Maryland, Virginia,

suspected of, the Crime of High TreaNorth Carolina, South Carolina, and

son committed in North America, or Georgia, for a time to be limited, was

on the High Seas, or the Crime of passed in the Commons, and carried to

Piracy. the Lords. There were no debates on this “ Whereas a rebellion and war have Bill, in any stage of its passing.

been openly and traitorously levied and

carried on in certain of his Majesty's coDebate in the Commons on the Bill lonies and plantations in America, and for suspending the Habeas Corpus Act.] acts of treason and piracy have been comFebruary 6. Lord North said, that mitted upon the ships and goods of his

Majesty’s subjects; and many persons have been seized and taken, who are expressly charged or strongly suspected of such treasons and felonies, and many more such persons may be hereafter so seized and taken: “And whereas such persons have been or may be brought into this kingdom, and into other parts of his Majesty’s dominions; and it may be inconvenient in many such cases to proceed forthwith to the trial of such criminals, and at the same time of evil example to suffer them to go at large : “Be it therefore enacted by the King's most excellent Majesty, by and with the advice and consent of the Lords spiritual and temporal, and Commons, in this present parliament assembled, and by the authority of the same, that all and every person or persons, who have been or shall hereafter be seized or taken in the act of high treason, committed in any of the colonies, or on the high seas, or in the act of piracy, or who are or shall be charged with, or suspected of the said crimes, and who have been or shall be committed for the said crimes, or either of them, or for suspicion of them, or either of them, in any part of his Majesty's dominions, to the common gaol, or any other place of confinement specially 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) all and every such person and persons shall and may be thereupon secured and detained in safe custody without bail or mainprize, until the and that no judge or justice of peace shall bail or try any such person or persons, without order from his Majesty's most honourable privy council, signed by of the said privy council, until the said any law, statute, or usage, to the contrary in any wise notwithstanding. “And be it further enacted by the authority aforesaid, that this Act shall continue and be in force until the said and no longer.” Mr. John Johnstone thought the power of calling out the militia of the kingdom, without the consent of parliament, and the immense armament we had on foot, both by land and sea, sufficient to answer every end of government, in bringing back the Americans to their allegiance, without the dangerous measure of attacking the grand

palladium of the British constitution, the freedom of men's persons. He considered it as the last rigorous step effectually to prevent all possibility of a reconciliation between the colonies and the mother country. Mr. Dunning moved that a Bill of such importance should be printed, and the second reading put off to the 10th, which was agreed to. Feb. 10. On the order of the day for the second reading of the Bill, Mr. John Johnstone said, this measure would increase the animosity between Great Britain and America. The confinements, commitments, massacres, and the whole train of consequences which would arise from such a system of punishment, revenge, and retaliation, probably on both sides of the Atlantic, filled his mind with horror and anxiety: added to this, the total suspension of all the great functions of the constitution, seemingly pro “... and for particular purposes; but which, by the same influence, might be extended to any duration, and directed to any purpose, gave a complexion to the whole, of the most arbitrary, cruel, and diabolical colour. By the present Bill, no man would be exempt, however peaceable and loyal, from being sacrificed at the shrine of the bloody ministerial mandate; whether in America or Britain, it was all the same; whether guilty or not guilty, he lay not only at the mercy of his private enemies, but of every tool in office, from the highest to the lowest. The wide circuit of the human mind was not more various and extensive than man’s suspicions, nor more numerous than the motives which provoke him to public oppression and private ill. Bad, however, as the Bill was, and big with mischief, he would rest contented in some measure, if ministers would pledge themselves for the due performance of what the title and preamble of the Bill seemed obviously to import. Mr. Dunning 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, and, besides, specially 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 im- | his Majesty's dominions, are not we next putable, no examination of innocence or told, « or to any other place of confinecriminality is to follow. The punishment ment, specially appointed for that purpose, is inflicted, in the first instance, on the by warrant under his Majesty's sign maground of mere suspicion. A man may nual, by any magistrate, having competent be suspected; any man may be suspected; authority in that behalf (who is hereby but his guilt or innocence are entirely out authorized to commit such persons to the of the question; no.enquiry whatever is place so to be appointed)?” Is not this to be made into either, as long as the pre evidently a power, not only to punish the sent Bill continues in force.

innocent, but to inflict such pains upon He confessed there were times, in which them as an honest mind must revolt at, it had been found extremely necessary to and contemplate with horror? The magissuspend the Habeas Corpus Act; such, in trate may take up and commit, on suspiparticular, were the two late most unna. cion, to the common gaol, and by the sign tural and unprovoked rebellions in Scot- manual, to any other place especially apland: but then there was a necessity | pointed; and is further authorized to comstated. That necessity was not denied ; mit according to such special appointit was, indeed, notorious : but would any ment. What is this but to authorize the man say, that was the case at present ? Is mode, measure, and place of confinement, there a rebellion within the kingdom? Is at the pleasure of the minister, which, bethere a pretender claiming the crown as sides, manifestly includes in it the power his legal and constitutional inheritance; and wof temporary banishment, as well as conthat at the expence of both our civil and finement, to any part, or to the most rereligious rights—the very essence, as well mote, unhealthy, and pestiferous climate, as the form of our constitution ? No such within the wide circuit of his Majesty's thing: the idea is ridiculous. Are we, on dominions, in the four qnarters of the the other hand, afraid that the people of globe ? If this be the intention of my hon. America will pass the Atlantic on a bridge, and learned friend, and his no less honourand come over and conquer us? and that able employers, in God's name let him their partisans lie in ambush about Brent- speak out; let us know, let the public ford or Colnbrook? That, it may be pre- know, what they are to expect. Let him sumed, will be hardly contended, even in and his friends no longer amuse us with a the present rage for assertion without formal circumstantial story of America proof, and conclusion without argument. and the high seas, or of the crime of pi. No: this Bill, I plainly perceive, has been racy ; such tales may be amusing to some manufactured for other purposes. It can people, and they may answer certain pur. be stretched, and twined, and twisted, by poses out of doors, and in some particular the ingenuity of my worthy and learned places : but to talk of them seriously withfriend the Attorney General, or by some of in these walls, will not, I believe, be athis brethren, equally ingenious, to affect tempted. The power endeavoured to be and reach men who never saw America, or, vested in the crown by this Bill, is most peradventure, the high seas, as efficacious- evidently a dictatorial power, or similar to ly, for the mere temporary purposes of that exercised by the Roman dictators. persecution and revenge, as if they had We all know the motives for granting such been caught in arms in open rebellion. a power. It will hardly be contended, that If even ministers had contented themselves any such motives exist at present. We with this first ebullition of their fiery, irre- all know the frequent abuse of it, and the sistible zeal for persecution, the public horrid purposes towards the latter period might look on, with a mixture of contempt of the common-wealth, to which it was and astonishment, at the insolence and employed; and I presume there is not a folly of the attempt; but when they go a school-boy of three years standing, who is step farther, and venture to couple it with ignorant that that mighty republic was a power untried in the annals of this coun- overthrown by a dictator. Such will altry, a power, including in it the most ways be the case, when powers are granted bloody species of proscription, I confess I through ignorance, wantonness, and debegin to feel sentiments of a very different sign. If the present Bill was to have no nature. What does the clause say? After other evil effect than establishing a preempowering the apprehension, on the mere cedent for future ministers to come to pargrounds of suspicion, and directing the liament on the same errand, I should be commitment to any common gaol, within 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 very 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, whatever 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, the ravings of a demoniac, and the malice of a secret or declared 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 realise what has hitherto been looked upon to be the creature of poetic fiction: it will scatter over the land more ills and curses, than were ever supposed to flow from Pandora’s box. Justice will be bound, as well as blind; and it will be in the power of every revengeful minister, or mercenary villain, to satiate his revenge, or fill his pockets, at the expence of the best, and most virtuous men in the commonwealth.

Mr. Attorney General Thurlow said, that nothing more was meant by the Bill, than to apprehend, commit, and confine persons actually charged, or suspected of committing, the crime of high treason in America, or on the high seas, or of piracy. It was absurd and preposterous to i. last degree, to suppose it was framed intentionally to reach or overtake persons presumed to be disaffected to this government, within this realm. He was certain the kingdom contained no such description of men. Treason and rebellion were properly and peculiarly the native growth of America. If government feared any such disposition, in the people of this country, their application would have been fair, open, and direct; they would have come

to parliament, and desired an immediate suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act, in so many words; they would have accompanied such a request with their motives, and have stated the grounds of necessity. But the present Bill was framed totally on another plan; it was meant to prevent mischief, not with a view to rigorous punishments, much less to persecutions. No innocent man had any thing to fear, the guilty man had everything; and whatever harsh epithets gentlemen who disaproved of the Bill, might think proper to estow on it, he should, for his part, always think, that that was the mildest, wisest, and most lenient government, which directed its attention, and devised modes of prevention, instead of endeavouring to deter by rigorous and sanguinary punishments. His hon. and learned friend founded his prime objection on a supposition that the Bill might be construed to extend to persons who had committed crimes within the realm. This was an objection, he solemnly believed, of the first impression. Be that as it might, this was not the proper stage of the Bill to debate that question; supposing that the Bill were to operate precisely as his learned friend had stated it, he could not see even a colourable pretext for finding fault with it. Imagining the king's death, his justices, his treasurer, &c. was high treason; so was levying war within the realm, or appearing in arms against the sovereign, or adhering to, or corresponding with, bis enemies; now, if it should be discovered, that any person in this country had assisted the rebels with arms, or warlike stores of any kind, or that they had been assisted by his subjects, in any part of his domimions, with money, or implements of war, &c. he could not pretend to say, how far such an assistance, or adherence, might be construed to come within the description of high treason, as laid down by the 25th Edw. the 3d. The committee was the proper place to come to the explanations so earnestly pressed by his learned friend; he should, therefore, be for the second reading of the Bill, and trust for the perfect formation of the Bill to that stage. Mr. For said, that the present Bill served as a kind of key, or index, to the design that ministers had been some years manifestly forming, the objects of which they rendered visible from time to time, as opportunity served, as circumstances prov* favourable, or as protection increased,

« ElőzőTovább »