Imatges de pÓgina
PDF
EPUB

SPEECHES

OF THE

RIGHT HONOURABLE

RICHARD BRINSLEY SHERIDAN.

NOVEMBER 27, 1795.

TREASON AND SEDITION BILLS. Mr. Sheridan presented a petition from his own constitu ents, the inhabitants of Stafford, against the bills. He had a general recollection of their names, and, from the signatures, i was sure that the petition contained the general sense of t, inhabitants.

Mr. Sheridan next presented a petition against the bill from the gentlemen and burgesses of Newcastle-under-Lyne, where the mayor was not averse to the petition, nor was there one person in the town dissenting from it. As the petition, therefore, passed unanimously, and both the representatives of the town were adverse to it, Mr. Sheridan said, the inhabitants had done him the honour to commit it to his care.

Mr. Sheridan next presented a petition against the bills, from a number of mechanics who had not an opportunity of signing the petition from the associated tradesmen. To those 15,000 names, therefore, might be added the 832 affixed to this petition. It came from the journeymen gun-makers, which of course, he said, the gentlemen on the opposite side would deen, very alarming!

Sir John Frederick presented a petition from the clergy, freeholders, and inhabitants of the county of Surrey, signed by 200 persons.

Mr. Sheridan observed, that this petition was a strong censure upon the bills; for though the petitioners stated, that they understood some acts were at present under the consideration of

[blocks in formation]

parliament, the purpose of which they evidently knew, as appeared by the subsequent part of the petition, they requested remedy for the evils of which they complained, without destroying the liberties of the people, or entrenching upon the right of petitioning, and the free exercise of speech.

Mr. William Smith presented a petition against the bills from the inhabitants of Aldersgate ward. He complained of the conduct of Alderman Anderson, who resided in that ward, and refused to convene a meeting of the inhabitants to consider the two bills in question.

Mr. Alderman Anderson justified himself by saying, that he had lived long in the ward, and had an opportunity of knowing most of the inhabitants ; out of thirty-one who signed the requisition he did not know more than four or five. As the purport of the bills had been amply discussed before, by the representatives of the ward in the common council, he thought it unnecessary to consult the inhubitants, and told the persons so who waited on him for that purpose, and they replied, that they were more anxious to do it, because Mr. Pitt had been minister for a great many years, and they thought it was now high time for Mr. Fox to be so.-[A loud laugh.]

Mr. Sheridan could not suffer such levity to gloss over the conduct of the hon. gentleman, who, however long his residence might have been in the ward, or however universal his acquaintance with the inhabitants, was compelled by duty, on receiving a requisition of that nature, to inquire who the persons were who signed it; and not to refuse their request because he had no personal acquaintance with them. The hon. gentleman had refused it also, because the representatives of the ward in common council had already discussed the tendency of the bills, and delivered their opinions on them ; but what kind of reasoning was this, and how would it apply to that house, if, because the representatives of the people may have happened to have passed a law, which, for argument's sake, may be supposed directly opposite to the interests, happiness, and prosperity of the kingdom, the people are no longer to have an opinion about it? He subscribed to the declaration of his hon. friend (Mr. Smith), that such proceedings were the strongest arguments that could be used against the bills, and quoted the instance, not only of the high sheriff of York, but of Northumberland also ; and asked whether, after the bills have passed, they or the hon. gentleman would think it their duty to attend that public meeting which they had refused to call ? He merely quoted these as instances of the abuses which were likely to follow the passing of the bills; and observed, that

it was remarkable when one magistrate (Mr. Le Mesurier) stated a common hall to be an improper mode of obtaining the sense of the people, and that there could be no appeal but to the decision of the several wards, that now the requisition for making that appeal should not be allowed. But as the public meeting at Westminster, so did the common hall of London, express the general sense of the people; and it was not only confirmed by that petition, signed by 200 inhabitants of one ward, and the petition he had presented, signed by 1700 inhabitants of the ward of Farringdon Without, but he trusted it would be confirmed by every other ward in the ratio of five to one.

Mr. Sheridan presented a petition from 1200 of the inhabitants of Clerkenwell, which was signed in twelve hours, against the bills; and if there had been more time, there would have been a much greater number, but they acted under the same impression with many other people, that if the petition was not immediately presented, it could not be received at all.

Mr. Sheridan said, that it was found extremely difficult to proceed with proper dispatch in the committee of inquiry upon the pamphlet entitled, “ Thoughts on Government,” on account of the slow and careful manner, he supposed, in which the gentlemen of that house ate their breakfast. He, therefore moved, that the committee be extended, and that Mr. Howard, General Macleod, Mr. Lambton, Mr. Church, Mr. St. John, Mr. Hare, Sir William Milner, Mr. Maurice Robinson, Mr. Crespigny, &c., be added thereto.

The motion was put and carried, as was a motion, " That it be an instruction to the committee to sit to-morrow.The house then resolved itself into a committee on the bill for preventing seditious meetings and assemblies.

Mr. Sheridan said, the purpose of his attending was not to propose any alterations in the bill, for he was fully persuaded that no alteration, but negativing each and every clause of it, could make it palatable to the majority of the people. He attended to watch some things which were going forward. The object of this bill was said to be to prevent seditious meetings and tumultuous assemblies; and he was now convinced, more than ever, that this bill would not answer that purpose. It would not prevent the discussion of the question of peace and war, or the conduct and capacity of ministers to carry on the war; neither would it give to ministers the security which they wanted, though this,i ndeed, was the very foundation of the bill, to which, for the

purpose

of deluding the people, they had given another title. It was calculated to give a security against any public deliberation of the people on the misconduct of ministers. By this bill 400,000 persons, or any number, might assemble and deliberate at Copenhagen House, or in an open field, and there they might canvass the question of war and peace; the whole conduct of ministers; and hold what language they pleased, whether temperate or intemperate, to recommend peace, or even to withhold supplies ; and under the authority of this bill, no justice of peace would have any power to interfere with, or to attempt to disperse them, or even to interrupt their proceedings. Gentlemen might wonder how this could happen. He would tell them :-- By this bill any number of persons might meet for the purpose of examining and considering any depending law; this they could not avoid in the bill according to the principle on which its authors pretended to proceed. Every supply bill offered to that house-and scarce a week passed without such bills-was a depending law; and, according to this act, the people might meet and discuss it ; and, under the discussion of a bill for granting a supply to his Majesty, they might discuss the whole conduct of the king's ministers, and whether they ought not to be removed from his Majesty's service. It was a bill rather to encourage and provoke, than to suppress tumultuous meetings and assemblies. He did not mention this in order that any new clause should be inserted, but to show the inefficacy of the bill ; and also by way of notice of what ground he should hereafter take when this bill came out of the committee, in order that there should be no colour for saying afterwards that he took an unmanly part in the way he should oppose the bill in its future stages. Mr. Pitt having replied to Mr. Sheridan,

Mr. Sheridan said, he was glad to hear the right hon. gentleman had taken what he said as a notice of what he should do hereafter

this bill. He need not wonder he was now a little sneered at by that right hon. gentleman, about lending the aid of his abilities to any measure, for he had been more than once reproached for having given himself so much trouble to mend so many of his bad bills. He seemed to forget the nature of the case now before parliament. Suppose Mr. Thelwall, or any other person, was to call a meeting at Copenhagen House, when a bill of supply was to be voted in parliament, and that instead of three there should be ten tribunals erected, from whence to harangue the populace, could anything be more regular in the discussion of a supply bill, than to enter into the circumstances of the war, the distressed situation of the country, and the misconduct of ministers in the course of it ? it was the constant course of debating in parliament. There was no ingenuity required upon the subject; the company so assembled would soon find out the incapacity and the tyrannical disposition of ministers; and that these were the sources of the misfortunes and calamities of this country. He said that advantage would be taken of this bill, in order to do the very thing which ministers affected to prevent. The people would avail themselves of it, because they were provoked to it by the tyrannical and absurd restrictions imposed upon them by the present bill. He should state this more at large hereafter. Whether ministers would hereafter bring in another bill upon this subject, he knew not; but he was sure this was inadequate to the object for which it was professed to be brought forward.

upon

December 3.

TREASON AND SEDITION BILLS. Mr. Mainwaring presented a petition from the churchwardens, minister, sidesman, overseers, commissioners of paving, guardians of the poor, &c., in Clerkenwell parish, whose names were all obtained, he said, in a few hours, in support of the bills.

MR. SHERIDAN said, that the church warden and sidesman who subscribed this petition, were in the singular number, for there was only one church warden out of four, one sidesman out of four, and two overseers out of six who espoused it. Nothing could be more fair and open than the petition which he had the honour to present the other day against the convention bills, from the inhabitants of Clerkenwell parish; for a requisition was made by twenty-four housekeepers, to call a public meeting ; a handbill, of which 4000 copies were distributed, was signed by twenty-six housekeepers ; six respectable houses were open for the reception of signatures, and, in twelve hours, 1200 names were subscribed. Nothing could be more clandestine than the manner in which this petition was obtained, for it was privately prepared, and carried from door to door, where the poorer in

« AnteriorContinua »