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been guilty of it has uniformly been a sup- that opinion should also dislike the statement porter of administration, and of all those of it in the petition. That opinion was, majorities which could be supposed to be however, entirely agreeable to the opinion procured by the influence of the minister, which had for many years been entertained and that he had before been in the habit of by a great majority of that house, and of the only libelling those minorities which opposed other house of parliament, and although the wishes of ministers.
the petitioner might have thought his testi. The Chancellor of the Exchequer could mony of much more importance than it not well understand the conclusiwn drawn really was, both with respect to lord Mel. by the hon. gent. from the topic he had last ville and to the speaker of that house, yet stated. If the petitioner had stated gene- he could not see any thing improper or inrally, that he had been in the habit of sup. sulting to the house in his introducing those porting administration, or any set of mini- topics in extenuation of his offence. It was sters, that would certainly have been no- in the recollection of the house, that on the thing to urge in vindication or extenuation day that this business was first brought forof the offence which drew upon him the ward, considerable stress had been laid on displeasure and punishment of the house; the majority having been formed by the but when it was recollected, that it was for decision of the speaker, and therefore the a libel on the house of commons that he libeiling the majority under such circumhad been ordered into custody, it was un- stances, was an aggravated offence, as condoubtedly a topic of extenuation of the of- veying a personal libel on the character of fence to alledge, that so far from being in the the speaker, whose vole made the majority. habit of libelling them, he had always before When this had been relied upon at the time şupported, as much as in him lay, the reso- the libel was complained of, it was not exlutions and decisions of the house of com- traordinary that the petitioner should posi
He must allow, however, that the tively disclaim every idea of reflecting upon language and tone of the petition were not the speaker, and take that opportunity of exactly what would have appeared to him expressing his respect for his character. For the most proper. It was not
, however, his part, il appeared to him that the decision with this petitioner alone, but it appeared of the majority of the house of commons to him a common fault with almost all who should at all times be treated with the greatwere connected with the press, that they, est respect; but certainly it did not appear assumed a loftier stile, and gave themselves to him to be entitled to more respect for something more of importance, than ap- having been obtained by the casting vote of peared naturally to belong to them. As to the speaker than those decisions which are the danger of the times, in which the peti- agreed to, either unanimously, or by very tioner alledges ihat he has supported the large majorities of the house. The only house of commons, in that he was fully borne topics then which were objected to in the out by the high authority of the right hon. petition, were those expressions with re. gent. (Mr. Windham) who had frequently spect to the speaker which appeared very and very forcibly described those dangers in naturally to have been introduced in consethat house; and who, as well as the peti- quence of his having been supposed to have tioner, had often attributed to that admini- libelled the speaker, and his professions of stration of which lord Melville formed a respect for lord Melville's services, which part, the salvation of the country. This were urged in extenuation of the zeal with opinion was not singular: it had been for which he undertook to defend his character. many years the prevailing opinion of both All the rest of the petition was merely the houses of parliament, and of a considerable expression of sorrow and contrition for havportion of the people of this country. If ing offended the house, and this part cerin common with them the petitioner had tainly could not be objected to, felt the importance of the services that had Mr. Windham begged the house would been rendered to the public by lord Mel- observe how small a part of this petition ville, and those with whom he acted, it was was taken up with expressions of sorrow certainly competent to him to state this cir- and contrition in comparison to what had cumstance in his vindication. He had stated been allotted to the other topics. It certhe ground of his partiality to lord Melville tainly could not be supposed that he disato proceed from his opinion of the great ser- greed altogether from the opinions stated in vices he had perforined; it was therefore those topics, and more particularly in that not surprising that those who do not relish one which was complimentary to the speak.
His objection was not to the obser- tions in aggravation, which he now convation itself, but the time and place in which ceived that he had a right to make. He it appeared. It was not the commentary should therefore now state, that gross and and the criticism itself which he found fault enormous as he conceived the libel to be with; they might be very good, but non which he had submitted to the consideration erut hic locus. The petition of a person of the house, it was in his opinion highly under punishment for libelling the house aggravated by the style of defiance which was not the place in which a commentary appeared throughout this petition, and which on the conduct of the speaker ought to be was highly indecent and insulting to the found. It was the complexion and charac- house. He did not exactly know what ter of the performance altogether, that made amendment to move for, but he thought it impossible to agree to the motion, and he that the punishment ought now to be intherefore intended to move an amendment. creased.
Sir William Burroughs rose to order. He Mr. Canning thought the hon. member thought it irregular for a member to make a might have spared all those topics that resecond speech with a view of moving an lated to the libel itself, and have confined amendment.
himself to the petition which was before the The Speaker gave his opinion, that hy the house. If the hon. member who had himrules of the house the right hon. gent. could self brought forward this business, was connot make a second speech to move an amend tent on the night he brought it forward with ment.
the small measure of punishment that was Mr. Grey felt extremely sorry to be obli- mentioned, or rather with the no punishged again to trouble the house on this busi- ment, it was not competent to him now to
He did not know what was the pre- go back and argue that a severe punishment cise nature of the amendment intended to should be inflicted for that offence. The be moved by his rt. hon. friend (Mr. Wind- hon. gent. took great credit to himself for ham) but he thought it was evident that the being so ready to comply with the suggeshouse was now placed in a situation that tion of a light punishment; he should also made it impossible to avoid passing some have given equal credit to the conduct of severer punishment than was at first thought his right hon. friend (Mr. Pitt) on that ocof. If the nature of the composition which casion. Whatever feelings he might have was presented as a petition was considered, had in bringing the business forward, was it would appear to have been written alto- best known to himself; but it was most gether in a strain of defiance and accusa- clear that nothing but a sense of duty to the tion. This was the general tone of it, and house could have governed the conduct of nothing proved it more strongly than the his hon. friend on that occasion. Whatever defence of the right hon. gent. (Mr. Pitt). might be the motives of the apparent lenity Could the house countenance the petition of the very persons who complained of the of a person who placed himself in the situ- libel, it was evident that the motive of his ation of accuser of one of the parties? Was right hon. friend (Mr. Pitt) in suggesting a it not evident that the general object of the more serious punishment was, that he conpetition was to attack those who brought ceived it due to the character and dignity this business before the consideration of the of the house, and that even when he was house? He must confess it gave him very himself in a minority, he felt that the deciuneasy sensations the other night, when he sions of the majority ought to be treated heard an hon. friend of his (Mr. Sheridan) with the highest respect. As to the part of give the term of " milk and water,” to what the petition which contained complimentary he conceived the grossest libel against the expressions towards the speaker, although character of the house that ever was submit- strictly speaking the petitioner was not to be ted to their consideration. It was by no supposed to know that it had been dwelt means to be considered as an animated dis- on as an aggravation of his offence that he cussion of public affairs, but a mere compo- had spoken so disrespectfully of a decision sition of unqualified abuse against the ma- which was determined by the casting vote jority of the house. It was an attack upon of the speaker, yet he did not suppose that their character as judges sitting in a court of any member could so adhere to strict forjustice; it called them intemperate, partial inality, as to censure the petitioner for mereand presumptuous. He, on the former ly answering a charge that had been made night, had left the libel to the consideration against him. Although it might, at first of the house, without making any observa- sight, appear somewhat ludicrous to hear
the petitioner complimenting the private could not give a silent vote; nor was he to character of the speaker, yet if that had be deterred from giving his opinion by the been left out, and the compliment was only indecent threat that had been thrown out by to his situation as presiding over this house, the hon. gent. who had spoken last. That the omission might be complained of with gentieman had stated pretty strongly, that it more reason, and would appear to convey was in the contemplation of his friends to cursomething of a reflection on his private cha- tail and abridge the liberty of the press, and racter. He wished, however, now, that the wished to have it supposed that he and his editors of papers in general, not only those friends were to be responsible for the dewho conducted daily, but those who pub, termination on the other side of the house lished weekly papers, should take notice, to abridge the real liberty of the press. He and receive warning that a great change had saw nothing inconsistent in the conduct of taken place in the system of forbearance his hon. friend, (Mr. Grey) on a former that had hitherto been adhered to. Justice, night with his conduct to-night. He had impartial justice, must be done on both on a former night given way to that disposides. A new æra had now begun, and if sition for lenity which he perceived to have any general clamour should be raised with been then the prevailing sentiment in the respect to the abridgment of the liberty of house; but when he now found this dispothe press, it must be recollected by the sition towards lenity had been abused, and house and the country, on which side of the that the stile of the petition shewed strongly house these prosecutions first commenced, the spirit in which the libel had been writand who it was who began them. As the ten, there was no inconsistency in thinking petitioner had defended, with mistaken zeal, that this lenity had been misplaced, and that the man who had been the victim of the an- some severer punishment should now take ger of that house, was it unfair for him, in place. He confessed that he himself had extenuation, to shew the causes which had used the words stated by the hon. gent. and produced that zeal which drew upon him although he gave his opinion that the parathe displeasure of that house? It was cer- graph alluded to was a very gross libel, yet tainly fair in him to point out the reason he called it milk and water comparatively why he entertained so great a partiality for with others which had not yet been noticed. lord Melville; to state the services which However, he must confess that some bounds that noble lord, and those with whom he ought to be set to the licentiousness of the acted, had rendered to the country; and it press; yet when he considered in whose was not extraordinary, or unnatural, that hands the pruning-knife was to be placed, any member of the community, who felt to lop off its exuberances, he was much strongly that the salvation of the country, afraid they would destroy the pith and vital and the protection that he enjoyed in com- sap of the tree. On this ground he had himon with all his fellow subjects, was owing therto opposed all those measures for reto the salutary laws which were then enact- stricting the freedom of the press; he had ed, to be strongly impressed with gratitude opposed all the increase of duties on those for those services, and to undertake zealous- smaller publications which might at a cheap ly, although imprudently, and perhaps pre- rate disseminate general and useful informasumptuously, to defend a person whom the tion; he had opposed the bill which rehouse had condemned. As to the merits of quired a printer's name to be inserted on lord Melville in those times to which the every hand-bill; but above all, he had oppetition alludes, no resolution of the house posed that infamous act if he might be alof commons could erase that page from the lowed to call any thing infamous that was history of the country, or from the recollec- still in the statute book), which allowed mation of the supporters of the constitution. gistrates and courts to transport persons to He again repeated, that a great change had Botany Bay upon the second conviction for now taken place, and that the house and the a libel, Upon the present occasion he had country must recollect on which side of the himself been applied to by some friends of house it had begun.
the petitioner, and waited on him in conseMr. Sheridan said, that although it was quence. Having read his petition, he enpeculiarly disagreeable to him to mix in any treated him to leave out those passages, and debate, when his partiality even to the ex- struck his pen across them. It appeared, cesss of liberty for the press would interfere however, that after he had seen him, the with the opinion he would otherwise have petitioner took the advice of some other formed, yet, on the present occasion, he persons, and re-inserted those passages. Af
ter having done so, he had, however, the most grave and serious libel. The great decency not to ask him to present his peti- zeal that some gentlemen now shewed to tion. The right hon. gent. (Mr. Pitt) had punish a libel on the majority of the house, considered it as a fair set-off in the petition appeared difficult for him to account for in er to state the former services of lord Meld any other way than he had already done, by ville; if that was any argument, why did supposing they were attached to majorities, not his lordship's defenders in the house or minorities, exactly as they themselves make use of it! When the petitioner chose happened to belong to the one description to state that they sat there as a parliament or the other. Having now found a libel on owing to the exertions of lord Melville and a majority to include themselves, they were his friends, was that language which the ready to vote for increasing the punishhouse could endure? If it was owing to sa- ment. lutary laws, surely it was to the legislature, Mr. Ilhitbrend considered that his hon. and not to one or two individuals, that those friend (Mr. Sheridan) had properly stated laws were owing. It was equally objecti- the grounds from which the disposition to onable in a petition to speak of either the leuity on a former night proceeded. There merits or demerits of any of the parties in were two solutions of it. In the first place, parliament. If a person under punishment his hon. friend (Mr. Grey) had complained for a libel on the character of the house of a libel; the house unanimously agreed should have taken another ground, and in- that it was a gross libel; and, under these ștead of attributing the safety of the state to circumstances, it was not surprising that his lord Melville and his colleagues, had attri- hon. friend (Mr. Grey) should, as usual
, feel buted it solety to the firm stand which the a greater disposition to lenity than the right opposition in parliament had made to all the hon. gent. (Mr. Pitt). If the fact, howfabricated plots and conspiracies which had ever, was, that it was one of the minority of been invented on the part of government, the 8th of April, who both wrote that libel for the purpose of preserving ininisters in and drew up the petition, it was not extrapower and office, such a statement would ordinary that that hon. member should have been equally objectionable. A peti- warmly defend his own productions. The tion ought not to be so framed as to revive set-off' in this case is curious. The editor, those topics of discussion which were not who is punished for libelling the majority of relative to the matter before the house. He the house, tells you, in his vindication, that felt sorry that the petition had been so word- he has very frequently libelled the minority. ed that he could not give it his support. Was it to be endured, that an editor of a Upon the ground he had stated, he should newspaper should tell the house of comfind himself obliged to agree in the vote of mons that he had sat in judgment upon
them his hon. friend.
and their proceedings, and pronounced his Mr. Dent thought the petition contained applause or his censure on the different parno matter that could be adduced in aggra- ties in parliament as he thought fit? This vation of the original libel. It appeared to set-off stated, that lord Melville had been an him a great inconsistency in the hon. mem-old and faithful servant of the crown. It ber, (Mr. Sheridan) to give credit to the had, however, been proved, that for more legislature for the salutary laws it had enact- than 16 years of the time he was in office, ed, and yet give no credit to the admini- he had been an unfaithful servant; and that stration who had brought them forward. the principal object of him and his colleagues
Mr. Sheridan, in explanation, said the was to cling to office as long as they could. hon. gent. had completely misunderstood As to the party heats which prevailed at him. He neither meant to give credit to those times, they were in a great measure those laws as salutary, nor to the govern- gone and obliterated from the page of hisment that introduced those laws.
tory. The right hon. gent. himself (Mr. The Attorney General thought it was a most Pitt) had, if there was any faith in man, proextraordinary speech which the house had posed and recommended his hon, friend just now heard from the hon. gent. (Mr. (Mr. Fox) as a fit person to hold a high ofSheridan). His expression on the other fice in the government of the country; and, night was a remarkable one, and would not therefore, he could not have supposed that easily be forgotten. He had described the he deserved those scandalous libels which
mere milk and water' produc- had been thrown out against his character. tion, when compared with many others, Without wishing for any severity of punishand yet this night he found out that it was a ment to be inflicted on the present occasion,
libel as a
he should be very glad that the hon. baronetsition to it; he thought he should not be alwould see this petition in the same light lowed to pass with impunity. that it appeared to him in, and consent to Lord Marsham thought equal credit was withdraw it for the purpose of preparing due to those who first brought this business another that would be more decent and forward, and those who, when it was brought seemly. The expressions in the first part forward, decided on it according to what of it would be sufficient to obtain the object, was due to the character of the house. He and the remainder had much better be did not think that every printer should be omitted. He then appealed to the hon. allowed to appoint himself a censor of the baronet, whether it would not be better to proceedings of that house. He, however, withdraw his petition ?
did not wish the punishment to proceed any Sir H. Mildmay answered, that he had farther, but should be glad that a more heard nothing in the latter part of the dis- seemly and becoming petition was precussion which altered in any manner the sented to the house, than that which had opinion he had before formed.
been read. Mr. Ryder thought that the topics object- Mr. Whitbread then said, he should move ed to had been very fairly and naturally in that the petition be negatived and returned troduced into the petition, and if the house to the petitioner, in order that another
nsent to have the petition with might be immediately presented which drawn upon these grounds, he thought it would be fitter for the house to receive. would convey a severe reflection and libel The first page of the petition would be fully on the conduct of that government to whom sufficient. the country had been so much indebted. Mr. For appeared to think the previous Although he by no means wished to revive question would be the best way of disposing party animosities, yet he considered that the of it. petitioner had a right, when the question The Speaker thought that the previous came in his way, to state, in extenuation, question could not be put upon the motion the reasons for which he felt so much zeal in its present form. in the cause of lord Melville; and, for his Mr. Whitbread then said, he should negapart, although he was not at all personally tive the question, intending, however, to acquainted with his lordship, he should not vote for the receiving a petition that might hesitate to say, that whatever offences he be unobjectionable immediately after. may have committed, he had rendered great Mr. Wiberforce said he was a friend to the and important services to his country. liberty of the press, and particularly as it
Sir John Newport wished to give an hon. related to subjects of a political nature, member (Mr. Canning) an opportunity of which were more important to be discussed explaining what he meant by saying lord than any other, as far as the interest of the Melville had fallen a victim to the anger of public was concerned; and for that reason That House?
he should be disposed to make greater alMr. Canning did not recollect having used lowance even for excess of liberty in those . the expression : he thought he had said the topics than in others, because they were displeasure of the house, and that even that more likely to lead men to a warmth of phrase he had given with a qualification. expression than any other, and because
Lord De Blaquiere thought the origina llibel they ought to be discussed with greater was much aggravated by the stile of the peti- boldness, and boldness of discussion natution. He did not think that the house should rally lead to excess, upon some occasions. take notice of every 'sentiment that was put He allowed also what had been hinted at alin writing by a blockhead. He could not ready, that wherever any one was accused bring himself to think that a man was worth of misconduct, it was but fair that he should notice, who would not take advice even for call his conduct, previous to that accụsation, his own relief. The hurry of the press was in aid of his case, as it might operate to given in excuse for the original paragraph; soften the rigour of judgment against him but, it should be recollected that the cir- and therefore he should, in a case like the cumstance upon which that writer had present, be among those who were disposed thought fit to comment, took place before to be most liberal; for he wished to allow the recess, and it was not right to admit any | all possible latitude to political discussion. thing which was untrue as an extenuation. He therefore wished to see no attack made He had received good advice, and had not on the liberty of the press, for which reason availed himself of it, but had acted in oppo- he could have wished that this had not been