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the object of the parties by whom it was drawn up to try to what extent they couldcontri veto insult the house, and still get their petition upon the table. The same opinion was expressed by Mr Wilberforce, who reminded the house, that "though the cry now adopted by the petitioners was in favour of the popular side, yet too much ought not to be conceded on that account, for the time might come when their petitions would be as much against the popular interests, as they now preteuded'to be for them, and in the same degree attempting to run down, vilify, and degrade the house. All must recollect that this was the case in the instance of Dr Sacheverel; and that in the reign of Charles II. the people were deluded into petitions, praying that no more parliamentsmightbe assembled. Such things might nappen again j and if they now gave way, they ought to remember that they were destroying solid strength ; they were destroying the triumph of reason and justice; they were subverting all that was consistent with happiness, stability, and glory, to build up confusion and disgrace. He, for his own part, felt it a duty which he owed to those who sent him there, and to the people of England whom he represented, to reject such a petition." Mr Stephen pursued in the same strain. "There were some members," he said, " who declared, that they conceived themselves exonerated from all responsibility on this subject, as it was the conduct of ministers, and of ministers alone, which had excited these petitions. But he warned public men now they sought individually to be exonerated, or stood aloof in the moment of such an attack f it was indeed a regular systematic attack—the result of a system deeply considered, dan
gerously organized, and sought by every means to be widely diffused among the people; a system which, by affecting an hypocritical respect for the sovereign, went directly to underminetheHouseof Commons. It was the traitorous attempts of the last fifteen years now skulking under a new shape, and assuming a most dangerous and deadly form. There was no country which could be said to be safe where the legislative power was attacked with impunity, .TUpt daringly branded in such imdecent terms. At any time this would be most dangerous, but at the time the peril was doubly I a time when we were en^ most momentous and protracted . and necessarily obliged to i most aggravated burthens, such attempts no side of the 1 was safe—no men in the countntj cure. They menaced not party, but parliament—not ministers, btxt'Jtaje constitution—not any certain aejjSt" men, but all the inestimable blessing* which time, and toil, and struggles, had secured to the country. The question now was, whether the house would lend itself to such attempts j whether they would become the servileministers of theirown dishonour."
Mr Ponsonby, Mr Byng, Lord A. Hamilton, and Mr M. Fitzs spoke in favour of receiving tl tition ; but the purpose with it had been worded was so and undeniable, that it was by a majority of 139 against I day after this petition had b properly rejected, another, mischievous in its object and < in its terms, was voted by the '. of London. It stated, (f needless to load these ann the wearying repetition of: pers) that "the house had i
> power above the law, and which could be enforced only by military violecce,—a violence made manifest bv tk breaking open of an Englishman's castle, and by the preceding aal subsequent murder of peaceable ni unoffending citizens. Where was the justice of the house, where was it> dignity? Its late proceedings reqnired no comment; they had matemSj shaken what remained of the confidence of the subjects of these realms in the wisdom of that house; md the petitioners, feeling as their ancestors would have felt, could not repress the expression of their indigtafioB and disgust. They therefore Lnmbly,but firmly entreated the house to reconsider its conduct, retrace its 'teas and expunge from its journals ttQ its orders, declarations, and resolutions, respecting Mr Gale Jones and Sir Prancis Burden; no longer to prevent Sir Francis from exercising all his duties as a member of that Loose, and, in conjunction with him, to devise and adopt such measures as would insure au immediate and radial reform of parliament." Such is the tum of this petition, given in its •wi words. Sir W. Curtis presented it. This, he said, it was May 8. his duty to do, as one of the representatives of the city of London; but the sentiments *kjch it contained were very far from being his own. Mr Ryder immediately moved that it should be reject'd. Mr Alderman Combe said, he **i extremely sorry to see any opposition made to it, and hoped the house •wJd pause before they suffered themselves to be persuaded to reject Mr Whitbread defended it with to usual vehemence. "What lanEWge," he asked, "were the peti"wen to use? they thought that house had acted wrong, and they
tell it so in warm language ; but when the'feelings are roused, the language will be warm, and the ministry may blame themselves for having forced the people to say what they think. Look at your journals 1" he exclaimed; "is it not there recorded that up- • wards of 300 members are sent to the house by the actual nomination or powerful influence of about 150 peers and others, and that seats arc as openly bought and sold as stalls for cattle in a fair? What do the petitioners say more? They use the language of truth and of the journals of the nouse, and yet their petition is to. be rejected for that language! Look at a recent case, which in no small degree illustrates the construction of the house. Mr Yorke, the new Teller of the Exchequer, upon his appointment to that office, vacates his seat. He again applies to a county, where, for his private virtues, he was respected ; the county, indignant at his public conduct, almost unanimously dismiss him ; he, however, finds his way again to the house, and how! by what influence returned ? not the representative of a body of electors, but nominated by a peer. Is it possible that such things should be known to the people, and that they should not speak of them with warmth and indignation? Yet the petition is to be rejected 1 At this rate, if the ministry continue in office long enough, they will bring on an irreconcileable breach between the House of Commons and the people."
Such a speech called forth from Mr Perceval the reply which it deserved. "Mr Whitbread," he said, "argued that the House of Commons had already lost its dignity and its sense of justice, and that the confidence of the people in it was shaken : he had declared that such were his sentiments; and he had added, that the house must not expect the people of England to approach them in their petitions with deference and respect. If this were, indeed, his opinion, he might well argue for the reception of any petition, however offensive or insulting. If he were prepared to receive the insults of any petitioners,— if he even led the way in insulting the house,—if he contended that the declaration that the House of Commons had lost its dignity, was the language of truth and justice, then indeed it was no longer surprising that he should support such a petition. He had asserted, that his majesty's present ministers were men calculated to bring the country into a difficult situation ; but that they were not men calculated to fight the battles of the House of Commons against the people. If that battle must be fought, it seemed that the house would not have his assistance ; on the contrary, it seemed that he was one of those with whom it would have to contend. Whatever," said Mr Perceval," might be the success of that battle, I trust that the appearance of such documents as this which is now presented, will inspirit the house to resist the attack that is making upon them, and to shew that they are not to be intimidated, even though their assailants may be headed by Mr Whitbread himself. It is too obvious that there is a disposition existing in many individuals without these walls to degrade and vilify the two houses of parliament, and sorry I am to add, that there seems to be a person in this house disposed to lend his assistance to such an effort, and to set the example of using the strongest language of offence."
The spirit and severity of this reproof irritated Mr Whitbread.
«'Strong as hisexpressions had been," he replied, "language itself was deficient, in terms of adequate strength, to express the sense which he entertained of the want of dignity in the House of Commons, as considering their conduct with reference to themselves, and of their want of justice, as considering their conduct with reference to others. To the day of his death he would fight the battles of the people with the House of Commons, when the House of Commons were unjust; but whoever might lead the battles of the government, of this he was convinced, that even had the house justice on their side, Mr Perceval was incapable of being that leader. He had originally deluded the House of Commons by the grossest bigotry ; he had now betrayed them into steps which they must ultimately be compelled to retread, and it was probable that. Unless they were found sufficiently pliable, he would be obliged to advise their termination by a sudden dissolution; and let their existence terminate when it might, it would terminate in disgrace." Mr Perceval did not condescend to notice these personalities, and the debate, as in the former instance, was adjourned, on the motion of Mr Wilberforce, till the following day. Sir T. Turton, Sir J. Newport, Col. Wardle, and Sir S. Romilly, then spoke in favour of the petition. The latter affirmed that the language was humble, and that he had not been able to find any thing insulting or offensive in it; but, as Mr Perceval thought otherwise, he hoped that minister would point out wherein the language was objectionable. He was answered by Mr Williams Wynn, who said, that the petition Was a studied insult throughout. "It were superfluous,*' he continued, "to expose the falsehood of the assertion, that the house has acted against law,&c., because the privileges of the house are part of the law of the land, and coeval with it. It was with these that our ancestors foaght against arbitrary power, and he trusted, that if ever it were necessary they would be exercised again in a similar manner, either against the c row n or the populace. The duty of the ation was, to hand them to their children as they had' them from their fathers."
argued in the same "That house," he said, regarded as the focus all the good and bad e country transpired, and to witness a disposition, i particularly glaring of late, to bring that house into hatred and contempt. As to the abuse of minitiers Dt the opposition, he had been in the habit of hearing such language from his first acquaintance with public life,—from the administration of th down to the present. language, although Indus. culated out of doors, and by artful demagogues, am justifiable; and it would : the opposition in these times well its nature and ten. they employed it. He, blind to public to apply a remedy they were found; low his attachment to be shaken by of abuses, because, its numerous advantages, it I the means of correcting alL l it possible that any rational man deny the blessings of such a tut ion as that which kept this country safe and firm, while the pilof the world were shaken ? while of society in the
other nations of Europe tottered to their very foundation ? Let those, then, who love their country, who love mankind, cling to the maintainors of this invaluable constitution ; let them oppose the spirit manifested in this petition; let them beware of th< se professions of civility, which were only used to cover the daggers that would stab that house to the heart." Such appeals to the house produced their due effect, and only six.and-thirty members were found to vote for receiving this insolent paper, while 128 deckled upon rejecting it. A long memorial, in the form of a petition, praying for reform in parliament, by Major Cartwright, who subscribed himself a freeholder of England, was shortly afterwards presented by Mr Whitbread, and shared the 'ame fate, because it spoke of the decision of the house upon Mr Madocks's motion in the last session as a thing beyond endurance, and called the commital of Sir Francis Burdett an act of flagrant illegality. These phrases, strong as they were, were not intended to offend the house, or to trespass beyond the customary bounds, and they might have passed unnoticed in such a paper. Its prolixity wat a better ground for rejecting it; for, as Mr Perceval observed, if such long petitions from an individual were to be encouraged, they might expect to have others presented lengthened out into folios.
The suit which Sir FrancisBurdett had commenced against the speaker, was followed by similar proceedings against the serjeant-at-arms and the constable of the Tower. Mr Perceval, at the -peaker's suggestion, moved for the appointment of a select committee to consider of the proceedings consequent upon this novel measure, and to examine into precedents. This was opposed by Mr
Whitbread. "TheChanMay 7. cellor of the Exchequer,"
he said, " had gone on step by step, with equal ignorance of what ought to be done, and equal improvidence as to the consequences of what was done. He tirst persuaded the house to commit itself in this contest, without foreseeing the consequences of his own rashnebs, and now that he had hadleisureduring the Easter recess to consider the best means of extricating them from the difficulties which his councils had created, he shewed himself to be as ignorant and improvident as ever. He had been guided by no fixed principle; he did not know what to propose to the house; he had no advice to offer, and, not knowing what to do, he moved that a committee should be appointed to tell him." "A speech of this tenor," Mr Ryder replied, "being only a renewal of that general abuse, in which Mr Whitbread was in the habit of indulging, did not require an answer. Themode recommended was conformable to the practice of the house, which would use its own discretion after the committee had made their report." The committee therefore was appointed. Some of the members who were proposed for it declined the nomination ; Mr Tierney, saying, that if the Chancellor of the Exchequer wanted to grace his committee from their side ot the house, he was mistaken,—an unlucky phrase, for it led Mr Perceval to reply, that he certainly did not wish to disgrace it from any side.
Mr. Davies Giddy brought up the report of the committee. May 11. "There were," he said, "three modes of proceeding. The first was to inhibit the courts of law from proceeding in these actions; but for this course there was
no precedent. The second was, to commit all the persons concerned in bringing or promoting such actions; for the exercise of such a power there were many precedents, but it did not appear expedient to followthem. The only mode remaining, therefore, waa to plead to the actions, and let the parties sued shew to the court, that the acts complained of were done in consequence of the privileges of that house; he moved accordingly, first, that the speaker and the Serjeant might be permitted to appear and plead to the said actions; and, secondly, that the attorney-general should be directed to defend them." These measures, which were ultimately adopted by the house, gave rise to several debates, being opposed by some members from party feelings, which had grown into personal animosity, and by others upon the high constitutional ground, that such a proceeding tended to endanger the privileges of parliament. Mr Williams Wynn resisted the formation of the committee upon this ground, and moved, ineffectually, that the business should be referred to the committee of privileges. At the commencement of these discissions he laid before the public a very able argument upon the jurisdiction of the House of Commons to commit in cases of breach of privilege. The law of parliament, he maintained, was a branch of the unwritten or common law, standing on the same grounds, and to be ascertained by the same rules, as every other part of it. The evidence of that law was to be. learned, as Coke expresses it, out of the rolls of parliament and other records, and by precedents and continued experience. To argue, therefore, from the power or practices of inferior courts was deceitful. The principles on which they rest are not