Page images

3] Mr. Canning's Speech on his Re-election, fc. 217 the evils which had grown out of charges heaped upon the House of Commons, they have also, in a great measure, falsified the charges themselves.

I would appeal to the recollection of every man who now hears me, of any the most careless estimator of public sentiment, or the most indifferent spectator of public events, whether any country, in any two epochs, however distant, of its history, ever presented such a contrast with itself as this country, in November, 1819, and this country in January, 1820 ? What was the situation of the country in November, 1819?-Do I exaggerate when I say, that there was not a man of property who did not tremble for his possessions ? that there was not a man of retired and peaceable habits, who did not tremble for the tranquillity and security of his home? that there was not a man of orderly and religious principles, who did not fear that those principles were about to be cut from under the feet of succeeding generations ? Was there any man who did not apprehend the Crown to be in danger ? Was there any man attached to the other branches of the Constitution, who did not contemplate, with anxiety and dismay, the rapid and, apparently, irresistible diffusion of doctrines, hostile to the very existence of Parliament as at present constituted, and calculated to excite, not hatred and contempt merely, but open and audacious force, especially against the House of Commons ?-What is, in these respects, the situation of the country now ? Is there a man of property who does not feel the tenure by which he holds his possession to have been strengthened ? Is there a man of peace who does not feel his domestic tranquillity to have been secured? Is there a man of moral and religious principles, who does not look forward with better hope to see his children educated in those principles? who does not hail with renewed confidence the revival and re-establishment of that moral and religious sense, which had been attempted to be obliterated from the hearts of mankind ?

Well, Gentlemen, and what has intervened between the two periods ? A calling of that degraded Parliament, a meeting of that scoffed-at and derided House of Commons, a concurrence of those three branches of an imperfect Constitution, not one of which, if we are to believe the Radical Reformers, lived in the hearts, or swayed the feelings, or commanded the respect of the nation ; but which, despised as they were while in a state of separation and inaction, did, by a co-operation of four short weeks, restore order, confidence, a reverence for the laws, and a just sense of their own legitimate authority.

Another event, indeed, has intervened, in itself of a most painful nature, but powerful, in aiding and confirming the impressions which the assembling and the proceedings of Parliament were

[ocr errors]

calculated to produce : I mean the loss which the nation has sustained by the death of a Sovereign, with whose person all that is venerable in Monarchy has been identified in the eyes of successive generations of his subjects ; a Sovereign whose goodness, whose years, whose sorrows and sufferings must have softened the hearts of the most ferocious enemies of kingly power, whose active virtues, and the memory of whose virtues, when it pleased Divine Providence that they should be active no more, have been the guide and guardian of his people through many a weary and many a stormy pilgrimage ; scarce less a guide, and quite as much a guardian, in the cloud of his evening darkness as in the brightness of his meridian day.

That such a loss, and the recollections and reflections naturally arising from it, must have had a tendency to revive and refresh the attachment to Monarchy, and to root' that attachment' deeper in the hearts of the people, might easily be shown by reasoning : but a feeling truer than all reasoning anticipates the result, and renders the process of argument unnecessary. So far, therefore, has this great calamity brought with it its own compensation, and conspired to the restoration of peace throughout the country, with the measures adopted by Parliament.

And, Gentlemen, what was the character of those measures ? The best eulogy of them I take to be this : it may be said of them, as has been said of some of the most consummate productions of literary art, that though no man beforehand had exactly anticipated the scope and the details of them, no man, when they were laid before him, did not feel that they were precisely such as he would himself have suggested. So faithfully adapted to the case which they were framed to meet, so correctly adjusted to the degree and nature of the mischief which they were intended to control, that while we all feel that they have done their work, I think none will say there has been any thing in them of excess or supererogation.

We were loudly assured by the Reformers, that the test throughout the country by which those who were ambitious of seats in the new Parliament would be tried was to be, whether they had supported those measures. I have inquired, with as much diligence as was compatible with my duties here, after the proceedings of other elections, and I protest I know no place yet, besides the hustings of Westminster and Southwark, at which that menaced test has been put to any Candidates. To me, indeed, it was not put as a test, but objected as a charge. You know how that charge was answered : and the result is to me a majority of 1300 out of 2000 voters upon the poll.

But, Gentlemen, though this question has not, as was threatened, been the watch-word of popular elections, every other effort has, nevertheless, been industriously employed, to persuade the people that their liberties have been essentially abridged by the regulation of popular meetings. Against that one of the measures passed by Parliament it is that the attacks of the Radical Reformers have been particularly directed. Gentlemen, the first answer to this averment is, that the Act leaves untouched all the constitutional modes of assembly which have been known to the nation since it became free. We are fond of dating our freedom from the Revolution : I should be glad to know, in what period since the Revolution (up to a very late period indeed, which I will specify), in what period of those reigns growing out of the Revo lution I mean, of the first reigns of the House of Brunswick, did it enter into the head of man, that such meetings could be holden, or that the Legislature would tolerate the holding of such meetings, as disgraced this kingdom for some months previous to the last session of Parliament? When, therefore, it is asserted, that such meetings were never before suppressed, the simple answer is, they were never before systematically attempted to be holden.

I verily believe, the first meeting of the kind that was ever attempted and tolerated (I know of none anterior to it), was that called by Lord George Gordon, in St. George's-fields, in the year 1780, which led to the demolition of chapels and dwellinghouses, the breaking of prisons, and the conflagration of London. Was England never free till 1780 ? Did British liberty spring to light from the ashes of the metropolis ? What ! was there no freedom in the reign of George the Second ? None in that of George the First ? None in the reign of Queen Anne or of King William ? Beyond the Revolution I will not go. But I have always heard, that British liberty was established long before the commencement of the late reign; nay, that in the late reign (according to popular politicians) it rather sunk and retrograded; and yet, never till that reign was such an abuse of popular meetings 'dreamt of, much less erected into a right, not to be questioned by Magistrates, and not to be controlled by Parliament.

Do I deny, then, the general right of the people to meet to petition, or to deliberate upon their grievances ? God forbid ! But social right is not a simple, abstract, positive, unqualified term. Rights are in the same individual to be compared with his duties; and rights in one person are to be balanced with the rights of others. Let us take this right of meeting in its most extended construction and most absolute sense. The persons who called the meeting at Manchester tell you, that they had a right to collect together countless multitudes, to discuss the question of Parliamentary Reform: to collect them when they would, and where they would, without consent of Magistrates, or concurrence of inhabitants, or reference to the comfort and convenience of the neighbourhood. May not the peaceable, the industrious inhabitant of Manchester say, on the other hand, “ I have a right to quiet in my house; I have a right to carry on my manufactory, on which not my existence only, and that of my children, but that of my workmen and their numerous families depends. I have a right to be protected in the exercises of this my lawful calling. I have a right to be protected, not against violence and plunder only, against fire and sword, but against the terror of these calamities, and against the risk of these inflictions.; against the intimidation or seduction of my workmen ; against the distraction of that attention, and the interruption of that industry, without which neither they nor I can gain our livelihood. I call upon the laws to afford me that protection, and if the laws in this country cannot afford it, depend upon it, I and my manufactures must emigrate to some country where they can.” Here is a conflict of rights, between which, what is the decision? Which of the two claims is to give way? Can any reasonable being doubt ? Can any honest man hesitate ? Let private justice or public expediency decide, and can the decision by possibility be other than that the peaceable and industrious shall be protected, the turbulent and mischievous put down?

But what similarity is there between tumults such as these and an orderly meeting, recognised by the law for all legitimate purposes of discussion or petition ? God forbid that there should not be modes of assembly, by which every class of this great nation may be brought together, to deliberate on any matters connected with their interest and their freedom. It is, however, an inversion of the natural order of things, it is a disturbance of the settled course of society, to represent discussion as every thing, and the ordinary occupations of life as nothing. To protect the peaceable in their ordinary occupations is as much the province of the laws, as to provide opportunities of discussion for every purpose to which it is necessary and properly applicable. The laws do both : but it is no part of the contrivance of the laws that immense multitudes should wantonly be brought together, month after month and day after day, where the bringing together of a multitude is of itself the source of terror and of danger.

It is no part of the provision of the laws, nor is it in the spirit of them, that such multitudes should be brought together at the will of unauthorised and irresponsible individuals, changing the scene of meeting as may suit their caprice or convenience, and fixing it where they have neither property, nor domicile, nor connexion. The spirit of the law goes directly the other way. It is, if I may so express myself, eminently a spirit of corporation. Counties, parishes, townships, guilds, professions, trades and call


ings, form so many local and political subdivisions into which the "people of England are distributed by the law; and the pervading principle of the whole is that of vicinage or neighbourhood; by which each man is held to act under the view of his neighbours'; to lend his aid to them, to borrow theirs ; to share their councils, their duties, and their burthens, and to bear with them his share of responsibility for the acts of any of the members of the community of which he forms a part.

Observe, I am not speaking here of the reviled and discredited statute law'only, but of that venerable common law to which our Reformers are so fond of appealing on all occasions, against the statute law by which it is modified, explained, or enforced. Guided by the spirit of the one, no less than by the letter of the other, what man is there in this country who cannot point out the portion of society to which he belongs ? If injury is sustained, upon whom is the injured person expressly entitled to come for redress ? Upon the hundred, or the division in which he has sustained the injury. On what principle ? On the principle, that as the individual is amenable to the division of the community to which he specially belongs, so neighbours are answerable for each other. Just laws, to be sure, and admirable equity, if a stranger is to collect a mob which is to set half Manchester on fire, and the burnt half is to come upon the other half for indemnity, while the stranger goes off by the stage unquestioned, to excite the like tumult, and produce the like danger elsewhere.

That such was the nature, such the tendency, nay, that such, in all human probability, might have been the result of meetings, like that of the 16th of August, who can deny? Who that weighs all the particulars of that day, comparing them with the rumors and the threats that preceded it, will dispute that such might have been the result of that very day's meeting, if that meeting, so very legally assembled, had not, by the happy decision of the magistrates, been so very illegally dispersed ?

It is, therefore, not in consonance, but in contradiction to the spirit of the law, that such meetings have been holden. The law prescribes a corporate character. The callers of these meetings have always studiously avoided it. No summons of freeholders none of freemen-none of the inhabitants of particular places or parishes-no acknowledgement of local or political classification, Just so at the beginning of the French Revolution; the first work of the Reformers was to loosen every established political relation, every legal holding of man to man, to destroy every corporation, to dissolve every subsisting class of society, and to reduce the nation into individuals, in order, afterwards, to congregate them into mobs.

« PreviousContinue »