Oldalképek
PDF
ePub

and power strengthened. It resembled, he said, the first scene in the fifth act, when some important transaction, or circumstance, affecting the chief personages in the drama, comes to be revealed, and points directly to the denouement. This plan had been long visible, and however covertly hid, or artfully held back out of sight, was uniformly adopted, and steadily pursued: it was nothing less than robbing America of her franchises, as a previous step to the introduction of the same system of government into this country; and, in fine, of spreading arbitrary dominion over all the territories belonging to the British crown. He contended, that nothing but the most inevitable necessity could justify the present measure; such a concurrence of circumstances, as happen. ed at the Revolution, when the people of England were compelled to embrace the alternative of submitting passively to the will of a base, perjured tyrant, or of trusting to the dangerous experiment of appointing a dictator to preside over them, in the person of the prince of Orange, till a new constitutional establishment could be formed, and legally recognised. This perilous state of things was but of short duration; it was running, to be sure, a great risk; but then, it was to preserve the liberty of this country from eternal destruction.—He dwelt a considerable time on the invaluable advantages derived from the Habeas Corpus Act, which he called the great palladium of the liberties of the subject; expressing at the same time, his astonishment, in the boldest and most animated terms, at the insolence and temerit

of ministers, who could thus dare to o it from the people, by a mandate manufactured by themselves, though sanctioned by the sign manual; and not only attempt to deprive the object of their envy, resentment, or fears, of his liberty, but send him out of Great Britain, to the most distant and remote part of the British dominions. Who knows, said he, but the ministers, in the fullness of their malice, may take into their heads, that I have served on Long Island, under general Washington: What would it avail me, in such an event, to plead an alibi; to assure my old friends, that I was, during the whole of the autumn American campaign, in England; that I was never in America, nor on any other sea but between Dover and Calais; and that all my acts of piracy were committed on the mute creation 2 All this may be very true, says a minister, or a minister's understrapper,

you are for the present suspected, that is sufficient. I know you are fond of Scotland; this is not the time for proofs; you may be, and very probably are innocent; what of that this Bill cares not a fig whether you are guilty or innocent. I will send you, under this sign manual, to study the Erse language in the isle of Bute; and as soon as the operation of the Bill is spent, you will be at liberty to return whither you please; and then you may, if you like, call on your accusers, to prove their charges of treason in America, on the high seas, and of piracy; but they will laugh in your face, and tell you they never charged you, they only suspected you; and the act of parliament will serve as a complete plea in bar; it will answer a double end; it will be at once your redress and our justification.—-O, but says the learned gentleman, it is not possible to tell how far constructive treason may extend; or whether it may not reach such as have aided and abetted the American rebels, by sending them arms and ammunition, by corresponding with them, &c. It is, it seems, lucky for me, that I have no connection in America; if I had, though they could not so decently suspect me of being on Long Island in August last, when they knew the contrary, they might say, that I held a treasonable or a piratical correspondence with them. Suppose for instance, an old school-fellow, or intimate companion, I should most probably have kept up a correspondence; and when writing to him, would have told him, “that Whigs, and those that were friends to the Revolution, were looked upon now as factious persons, for these are the times that large strides are taken, not only to destroy the liberties of America, but of this country likewise.” Would not such a paragraph as this furnish a good ground for suspicion ? But weakness, cruelty, suspicion, and credulity, are almost always inseparable; at least they are often found in the same company. Ministers are credulous in the extreme, because they are fearful; and they are fearful from a consciousness of their crimes. Suspicions, however ill founded, upon tales, however improbable, are received by them as facts not to be controverted; witness the information of Richardson against Sayre, some time since; and the recent affair of John the Painter, relative to the improbable story of his setting fire to the ropehouse at Portsmouth. I am not surprised at any thing. The tone of the minister is become firm, loud, and decisive. He has already assured us, in this House, that he has nearly subdued America; and by what we are able to collect from this Bill, we may presume, he means to extend his conquests nearer home. Lord North. I am extremely sorry to have the misfortune to be misquoted, or grossly misunderstood, by the hon. gentleman over the way. I never said that I had nearly subdued America, or that America was nearly subdued. What I said, and what I again repeat, was, that under God his Majesty's arms had met with many signal successes, and that I thought we were in a fair way of subduing America, not that we had nearly subdued it. The hon. gentleman who spoke last, and the learned gentleman who spoke early in the debate, seem to lay great stress on the improper power vested in the magistrate respecting the commitment under the sign manual. For my part, I see no new power vested in the magistrate; the warrant under the sign manual will be his authority: that warrant will be legalized by the present Bill: so that 1 think the magistrate will stand precisely as he did before. He could before commit to the common gaol; now he is obliged to commit, ministerially, to the place specially appointed for the reception of such offenders: so that, if any alteration be made in the power of commitment, as residing in the magistrate, it is by abridging, not in extending it. Before the passing the Act, he could commit to any prison; now he is bound specifically to obey the terms of the warrant. Before he could admit persons, charged on suspicion of treason, to bail; now, neither judge, nor any inferior magistrate, can, without order from the privy council, admit any person to bail so charged or suspected. The hon. gentleman charges his Majesty’s servants with blind, ill-founded credulity, relative to the affair of Richardson and Sayre. For my part, I beg leave to think very differently on the subject. I should deem the secretary of state, who committed Sayre, extremely neglectful, if not criminal in his conduct, had he not attended to Richardson's information, and proceeded in the affair as he did. Gentlemen will, when they find a convenience in it, argue and decide on facts from events, and the doctrine of probabilities; but I will venture to contend, that many plots, which have come to maturity, and have been productive of the most fatal mischiefs, have been laid

open in their infancy, and such early discoveries treated as matters unworthy of credit or attention. It is likewise certain, that conspiracies, equally important and consequential in their nature, have been defeated in their early stages, upon a discovery of circumstances and details much more trifling than those respecting the information .# Richardson, or the suspicious conduct of John the Painter; for though the latter was apprehended for a burglary, I am still inclined to believe, that whatever his motives may have been, his conduct has fully justified the steps that have been taken towards a thorough discovery of this very mysterious affair. . The opposers of this Bill seem extremely desirous to learn its intended duration. I mean to fill up the blank by the words the 31st of December next, or to the first day of the next session of parliament, which will answer precisely the same end; for in all probability the parliament will meet before Christmas; and if it should not be found necessary to continue it, the law will consequently cease. Colonel Barré called upon administration to defend the principle of the Bill in that stage, and not send it to a committee by the mere power of numbers, unsupported by reason, justice, or policy. He said this Bill would completely accomplish what the other hasty, ill-advised, intemperate measures had begun, and in part effected. He was certain the present measure was the worst of all, and would be productive of massacre and retaliation, if not of more alarming consequences nearer home. America must be reclaimed, not conquered or subdued. Conciliation or concession are the only sure means of either gaining or retaining America. The conquest of that country is doubtful : though it were subdued, H. holding of it without the affection and good-will of the natives, would be impossible. To make America valuable, and to insure its possession, was therefore only to be effected by the most lenient measures. Governor Johnstone said, he would repeat what he had told administration a thousand times before; that America was not to be reclaimed, by the harsh decrees which originated within those walls; nor yet by the mere power of Great Britain. He said, the admiral and general sent to America were likely to effect more by their personal characters and amiable manners, than a thousand bloody edicts issued by that House. The Americans had the

spirit of Britons: they might be led, but, and the species of crime to treason and he was satisfied they would never submit | piracy. to be driven. He then turned to the Bill, Mr. Feilde saw no manner of service in and foretold, that it would be productive the clause now offered: it left the matter of one or both of these consequences: it just as it found it: it was not the place would raise a discontent, jealousy, and dis- where the fact was committed, that rouz. like of government at home, though none ed the jealousy of the nation; it was the of the powers delegated by the Bill were power of committing within the realm, ever meant to be exercised, or carried into at pleasure, on suspicion ; and the other execution; or it would widen the breach power of committing to any place, speso much between Great Britain and her cially appointed, within the wide circuit of colonies, that it would be utterly impossi- | his Majesty's dominions. A possible abuse, ble ever again to close it. The Bill was or rather misconstruction of the clause, as unnecessary, if it was not framed for latent it originally stood, might be made; but the purposes, which, while it was depending, powers of committing on suspicion, within it would not be prudent to avow, lest it the kingdom, and to whatever place the should prove fatal to it; for if the Bill minister might think proper, were of such meant, what ostensively it imported, an a nature in themselves, that if they were apprehension and confinement, for offences meant to be exercised, they would inevitasuspected to have been committed, in bly be productive of the greatest hardAmerica, it was to all intents and purposes ships. If, therefore, ministers were deternugatory and absurd; because the statute mined to carry the measure through, with of treasons, as explained by the Attorney all its imperfections, they would, after de. General, would answer every thing pro- | fining the offence, as respecting America, posed by the Bill.. If so, why then pass a confine the operation of the Bill to that Bill, which impowers the minister, or ad. country, and introduce a distinct clause, ministration, to lay every person in the which should suspend the Habeas Corpus kingdom by the heels, when they may Act in Great Britain and Ireland, for a think proper?

limited time, which would fully answer The House then divided on the motion every ostensible purpose of the Bill, as for the second reading of the Bill :

well as in its present form. He recomTellers.

mended strongly to administration to make

a difference between persons taken in arms, S Lord Cranborne - Yeas

and such as only submitted to the respecSir Grey Cooper ..

tive governments where they resided, and von Mr. Thomas Townshend l 29 | to the civil power and controul establish

Mr. Pulteney - - -S ed by the means of an usurped authority. So it was resolved in the affirmative. Lord North strongly urged the neces

sity there was for strengthening governFeb. 13. The House went into a com- . ment at this critical period. He said it mittee on the Bill.

would be impossible to carry on public Sir Grey Cooper moved an amendment, business without delegating powers to the to remove any ambiguity in the first enact- crown, on extraordinary, which would not ing clause; though he observed, there be proper on ordinary occasions. Parliawas no occasion for such explanation, as ment were the best judges when and to it was obvious that the locality of the of whom to'entrust such extraordinary powers. fence was sufficiently described by the If the present was a time that called for words “ America, high-seas, and piracy;" such a confidence; and parliament were that the words, “ said crimes, or either of satisfied that the King's servants would them,” could have no reference but to not call for an improper power, or abuse the several species of offence immediate any power, the possession of which might ly preceding; and that the general power be deemed necessary for the public safety, of committing, vested in the crown, and then every argument on a possible abuse contained in the description, “ his Majes of the proposed law, must fall to the ty's dominions," was evidently referable ground. On the other hand, if parliament to the offences stated in the preamble and should entertain any jealousy that the law clause itself, as well as in the title of the would be wrested from its real intention, Bill; but however, to remove all doubt, to purposes not avowed, or purposely con: the amendment was intended to confine cealed, then they would do well to withthe offence to America and the high seas, hold the powers desired by this Bill. For

his part, he did not wish to press for any new power; the House must judge, and .. way the House determined, he should cheerfully acquiesce in its judgment. The only material objection he heard offered against the Bill, was that now obviated by the amendment proposed. Whatever the learned gentleman who spoke last might think, the amendment, in his opinion, cleared up the ambiguity of the expression, so much complained of on the second reading. . If the opposers of the Bill meant that it should retain any efficacy at all, they must now rest satisfied: for to talk of apprehending persons only . legal proofs previously stated; or ter apprehensipm only detaining them till they could be released by a writ of Habeas Corpus, was in fact not debating the clauses of the Bill, but controverting its very principle, the necessity, at this critical season, of strengthening the hands of government. Mr. of . agreed that his lordship was perfectly right in one part of his argument, where he said, that those who opposed the Bill, though they seemed desirous to mend it, in fact disapproved of the principle on which it proceeded. He acknowledged the observation to be perfectly just, for though he wished the Bill were rendered less noxious; even if it were amended, he should give it a direct negative in the last stage. There was only one point in which É. and the noble lord agreed, and that was, if the necessity were shewn, the propriety of suspending the Habeas Corpus Act would follow of course : no grounds for any such necessity having been stated, all arguments under any such pretext were at an end. He moved an amendment to the body of the Bill, limiting the objects of it, for the better protection. of the inhabitants of Great Britain. Lord North thought the amendment unnecessary; the inhabitants of Great Britain wanted no such security, they were not within the Act, and if any one was unjustly imprisoned, this Act would not protect the injury, the party would have his action, and the warrant, if a bad one, would derive no legality from this Act. Mr. Moysey thought the objection might be removed without sacrificing the real object of the Act, otherwise he should not have supported it. To say the party had his action, was no reason for depriving him of the Habeas Corpus. Our forefathers had their action, before any of the [VOL. XIX.]

Habeas Corpus Acts were passed, and they found it a very insufficient protection, and so they would again, if driven to that alone. If the amendment could not be received, he should vote for the Bill without it, which he thought a very necessary one, but he recommended to administration to adopt a provision of this sort themselves, before the Bill should pass. Mr. Henry Dundas spoke warmly in favour of the Bill; and contended, if necessity was a good ground, that necessity most incontrovertibly existed at present. The hands of government called for every assistance in the power of parliament to delegate or create. It was absurd to express a confidence in the crown and its ministers, and yet mix with it the most childish fears, and worse-founded suspicions. To act thus, was to qualify the trust now sought in such a manner, as to render it totally inefficacious. Mr. T. Townshend said, there should be a line drawn between the innocent and the guilty; the degree of probability attending the suspicion, the degree of guilt, concerning which that suspicion arose; and a mode of redress, in cases where the power granted by the Bill was manifestl or grossly abused: in short, it was, in his opinion, arming ministers with a power every way unprecedented and unknown to the constitution; dangerous in itself, and alarming to the last degree. Mr. Wallace was in favour of the Bill, in its amended state. The whole arguments on the other side, supposed an abuse of the powers granted by . Bill ; he had a right to suppose the very contrary; so that with him, and every person who thought as he did, every jo. raised on such a supposed abuse could have no weight. Mr. Morton confessed, that he did not see the Bill exactly in the same light with several of his learned brethren, for whose opinions he entertained the highest respect; for by a natural interpretation of the clause, it was apparent, that the whole Bill was manifestly at variance with the title and preamble. The Bill was to punish by due course of law, persons guilty of the crimes of high treason in America and the high seas; or more properly speaking, to impower the crown, on grounds of suspicion, to apprehend and commit such persons, as the preamble states, who have been or may be brought into this kingdom; yet the part of the Bill, where this power of apprehending and detaining is given,

[ocr errors]

does not only give that power, but a ge- y objection totally new. If giving intellineral power to take up any person, no gence to an enemy was a species of trea. matter for what crime. It was absurd to sor, which several well authenticated cases say, that the locality of the crime was in the books affirmed it was, it would inmarked out by the Bill; for where was deed be very strange, if a person guilty the redress provided ? No where, that he of treason should escape punishment becould see, but by an application to the cause he resided in the kingdom. On the privy council, who were to be invested contrary, if there were men in the kingwith the power of the courts of common dom answering any such description, that law. But the mischief would be done, in was one very principal motive, in his opithe first instance, previous to any such ap- nion, for passing the Bill. plication, and the Habeas Corpus Act The Committee divided upon the amendwould be in fact suspended, to all intents ment proposed by Mr. Dempster; 125 and purposes, within the realm, for criines against it, and 25 for it. not pretended to have been committed within the realm. He was therefore Feb. 14. The Sheriffs of London pre. clearly of opinion, that it was better to sented a Petition against the Bill ; setting suspend the Habeas Corpus at once, by a forth : clause to be inserted in the Bill; because, “ That the petitioners have seen a Bill in that case, every man would know what depending in the House, to empower his he had to depend on, and every good sub. Majesty to secure and detain persons ject would acquiesce in a power, civilly charged with, or suspected of, the crime created, for the public benefit.

of high treason, committed in North AmeThe Solicitor General said it was to the rica, or on the high seas, or the crime of last degree absurd, to talk and reason as piracy; and that, if the said Bill should if we were at present in a state of perfect pass into a law, the petitioners are appre. tranquillity, whereas nothing could be hensive it will create the greatest uneasimore opposite to such a desirable state of ness in the minds of many of his Majesty's things.

good subjects, and tend to excite the most Mr. Serjeant Glynn spoke against the alarming disturbances, all persons indisBill, as well as the amendment. He con- criminately being liable, upon the ground demned the power given to the magis- of suspicion alone, without any oath made, trates, who might exercise it to serve the and without convening the parties, or most oppressive purposes. It might be hearing what they can allege in their own employed by the ministers, to effect the justification, to be committed to a remote most cruel acts of tyranny; and though prison in any corner of the realm, there to the law might be open, and the magistrate remain without bail or mainprize; and might be convicted of false imprisonment, that the Habeas Corpus, which is the it could not probably be' a farthing out of great security of the liberties of the peohis own pocket; but on the contrary, it ple, will be suspended; and that the petimight put several hundred pounds into his tioners are deeply affected with what they pocket, all which would be ultimately conceive will be the dangerous consedrawn from the public purse,

quence of such a law, as, from little moThe Attorney General said, one would tives of resentment, and various other in. be inclined to think that the gentlemen on ducements, there may be persons compethe other side chose to forget the cus tent to commit, who may be tempted to tomary conduct, in times of public con- exercise that power in its utmost latitude fusion. If they had not, they would have and extent: and that measures so violent confessed, that it had been always usual and unconstitutional, so subversive of the to arm government with great discretio sacred and fundamental rights of the people, nary powers pro tempore. If those powers and subjecting them to the most cruel should be abused, ihat would be a very oppression and bondage, will, in the judgproper subject for parliament hereafter to ment of the petitioners, be introductive of enquire into; but if parliament entertained every species of mischief and confusion, no such suspicion, nor had no right to en- and thereby precipitate the impending tertain any such suspicion, it was a most ruin of this country: the petitioners thereextraordinary mode of reasoning to argue fore earnestly beseech the House, that the against the use of the Bill, from the possi. said Bill may not pass into a law; or at ble abuse of it. As to the operation of least to take such care as in their wisdom the Bill, within the kingdom, it was an may seem meet, to prevent it from being

« ElőzőTovább »