Page images
PDF
EPUB

Tendency of such conduct to destroy con fidence in the English Con stitution.

IX. The minister gained, or thought he was of their representatives, or inquiring into it aft

to gain, an excuse for his rashness erward, unless we can make out ground for a and misconduct; and to purchase this criminal charge against the executive governexcuse was the public money and ment. Let us disclaim these abuses, and return

the public quiet wantonly sacrificed. to the Constitution. There are some effects, which, to combine with I am not one of those who lay down rules as their causes, is almost sufficient to drive men universal and absolute; because I think there is mad! That the pride, the folly, the presump- hardly a political or moral maxim which is unition of a single person shall be able to involve a versally true; but I maintain the general role to whole people in wretchedness and disgrace, is be, that before the public money be voted away, more than philosophy can teach mortal patience the occasion that calls for it should be fairly to endure. Here are the true weapons of the stated, for the consideration of those who are the enemies of our Constitution! Here may we proper guardians of the public money. Had the search for the source of those seditious writings, minister explained his system to Parliament bemeant either to weaken our attachment to the fore he called for money to support it, and ParConstitution, by depreciating its value, or which liament had decided that it was not worth suploudly tell us that we have no Constitution at porting, he would have been saved the mortificaall. We may blame, we may reprobate such tion and disgrace in which his own honor is indoctrines; but while we furnish those who cir- volved, and, by being furnished with a just exculate them with arguments such as these ; cuso to Prussia for withdrawing from the prosewhile the example of this day shows us to what cution of it, have saved that of his Sovereign and degree the fact is true, we must not wonder if his country, which he has irrevocably tarnished. the purposes they are meant to answer be but Is unanimity necessary to his plans ?' He can be too successful. They argue, that a Constitu- sure of it in no manner, unless he explains them tion can not be right where such things are pos- to this House, who are certainly much better sible; much less so when they are practiced judges than he is of the degree of unanimity without punishment. This, sir, is a serious re- with which they are likely to be received. Why, flection to every man who loves the Constitution then, did he not consult us? Because he had of England. Against the vain theories of men, other purposes to answer in the use he meant to who project fundamental alterations upon grounds make of his majority. Had he opened himself to of mere speculative objection, I can easily defend the House at first, and had we declared against it; but when they recur to these facts, and show him, he might have been stopped in the first inme how we may be doomed to all the horrors of stance : had we declared for him, we might have war by the caprice of an individual who will not held him too firmly to his principle to suffer his even condescend to explain his reasons, I can only receding from it as he has done. Either of these fly to this House, and exhort you to rouse from alternatives he dreaded. It was his policy to deyour lethargy of confidence into the active mis- cline our opinions, and to exact our confidence; trust and vigilant control which is your duty and that thus having the means of acting either way, your office. Without recurring to the dust to according to the exigencies of his personal situawhich the minister has been humbled, and the tion, he might come to Parliament and tell us what dirt he has been dragged through, if we ask, for our opinions ought to be; which set of principles what has the peace of the public been disturbed ? would be most expedient to shelter him from inFor what is that man pressed and dragged like quiry, and from punishment. It is for this he a felon to a service that should be honorable ? comes before us with a poor and pitiful excuse, we must be answered, for some three quarters that for want of the unanimity he expected, there of a mile of barren territory on the banks of the was reason to fear, if the war should go to a secDniester! In the name of all we value, give us, ond campaign, that it might be obstructed. Why when such instances are quoted in derogation of not speak out, and own the real fact? He feared our Constitution, some right to answer, that these that a second campaign might occasion the loss are not its principles, but the monstrous abuses of his place. Let him keep but his place, he intruded into its practice. Let it not be said, cares not what else he loses. With other men, that because the executive power, for an ade- reputation and glory are the objects of ambition; quate and evident cause, may adopt measures power and place are coveted but as the means that require expense without consulting Parlia- of these. For the minister, power and place are ment, we are to convert the exception into a sufficient of themselves. With them he is conrule; to reverse the principle; and that it is tent; for them he can calmly sacrifice every now to be assumed, that the people's money proud distinction that ambition covets, and every may be spent for any cause, or for none, without noble prospect to which it points the way! either submitting the exigency to the judgment X. Sir, there is yet an argument which I have people in a useless war, simply that he might re

not sufficiently noticed. It has been ceive Lavinia as his bride.

said, as a ground for his defense, that he concluding re 18 Mr. Fox shows great dexterity in thus retorting was prevented from gaining what he upon Mr. Pitt those charges of weakening the Brit demanded by our opposition ; and, but for this, ish Constitution, which were brought against himself Russia would have complied, and never would and friends so often at this time, in consequence of have hazarded a war. Sir, I believe the direct his admiration of the French Revolution.

contrary, and my belief is as good as their asser

Miscellaneous

marks.

tion, unless they will give us some proof of its cor- swer, “ if the right of inquiry into every part of reetness. Until then, I have a right to ask them, a negotiation they think fit, and of knowing why what if Russia had not complied? Worse and they are to vote the money of their constituents, worse for him! He must have gone on, redoub- be denied the House of Commons.” But there ling his menaces and expenses, the Empress of is something like a reason why no foreign power Russia continuing inflexible as ever, but for the will negotiate with us, and that a much better salutary opposition which preserved him from his reason than a dread of disclosing their secrets, in extremity of shame. I am not contending that the right honorable gentleman's example. I dearmaments are never necessary to enforce nego- clare, therefore, for the genius of our Constitutiations; but it is one, and that not the least, of tion, against the practice of his Majesty's ministhe evils attending the right honorable gentle- ters; I declare that the duties of this House are, man's misconduct, that by keeping up the parade vigilance in preference to secrecy, deliberation of an armament, never meant to be employed, he in preference to dispatch. Sir, I have given my has, in a great measure, deprived us of the use of reasons for supporting the motion for a vote of this method of negotiating, whenever it may be censure on the minister. I will listen to his denecessary to apply it effectually; for if you pro- fense with attention, and I will retract wherever pose to arm in concert with any foreign power, he shall prove me to be wrong. that power will answer, "What security can you give me that you will persevere in that system? You say you can not go to war, unless Mr. Pitt closed the debate with great ability. your people are unanimous.” If you aim to ne- He insisted on the necessity of restraining the amgotiate against a foreign power, that power will bition of Russia, and complained that Mr. Fox say, "I have only to persist—the British minis-“had pushed his arguments, for the purpose of ter may threaten, but he dare not act—he will aggravation, to a degree of refinement beyond not hazard the loss of his place by a war." A all reason.” The vote was then taken, and stood right honorable gentleman (Mr. Dundas], in ex- 244 in his favor, and 116 against him. The cuse for withholding papers, asked what foreign country acquiesced in this decision, though most power would negotiate with an English cabinet, persons condemned his taking a stand on such if their secrets were likely to be developed, and narrow ground as the occupation of Oczakow. exposed to the idle curiosity of a House of Com- Subsequent events have proved that Mr. Pitt's mons? I do not dread such a consequence; but jealousy of the growing power of Russia was if I must be pushed to extremes, if nothing were well founded, and it has long been the settled left me but an option between opposite evils, I policy of the other powers of Europe, at all hazshould have no hesitation in choosing. “Better ards to prevent the Czar from becoming master have no dealings with them at all,” I should an- of Constantinople.

[graphic]

SPEECH

OF MR. FOX IN FAVOR OF MR. GREY'S MOTION FOR PARLIAMENTARY REFORM, DELIVERED IN

THE HOUSE OF COMMONS, MAY 26, 1797.

INTRODUCTION. Mr. Fox had always professed to be in favor of Parliamentary Reform, though he did not agree in the details of any of the schemes which had been hitherto proposed, and he was not, perhaps, fully persuaded that those schemes could be so modified as to accomplish the desired object. But on this occasion he seems to have given bis support to Mr. Grey's motion, with a sincere desire that it might prevail. The country was in a most disastrous state; the French had subdued all their enemies on the Continent, and England was left to maintain the contest single-banded; the pressure of commercial difficalties had rendered it necessary to suspend specie payments by law; great distress prevailed throughout the nation ; there was much angry feeling and despondency both in England and Scotland, and a hostility to the gov. ernment in Ireland, which soon after resulted in open rebellion. Under these circumstances, Mr. Fox felt that the prospects of Great Britain were gloomy in the extreme, and that measures were called for calcalated to inspire the nation with increased confidence and interest in the government. As essential to this end, he urged a reform in Parliament which should give the people their just share in the Constitution; and he took occasion, at the same time, to inveigh against the measures of Mr. Pitt as hurrying on the country to the brink of ruin.

This speech bears internal evidence of having been corrected, to some extent, by Mr. Fox or his friends. While it has all the elasticity of spirit and rapidity of progress which mark his other speeches, it has greater polish and beauty than most of his parliamentary efforts, especially in an admirable passage toward the close, in which he speaks of the energy imparted to the ancient republics by the Spirit of Liberty

ever.

Reform de

the country.

SPEECH, &c. Sir,—Much and often as this question has sion. With the ideas that I entertain, I can not been discussed, and late as the hour is, I feel it listen for a moment to suggestions that are appli. my duty to make some observations, and to de- cable only to other situations and to other times; liver my opinion on a measure of high import- for unless we are resolved pusillanimously to wait ance at all times, but which, at the present pe- the approach of our doom, to lie down and die, riod, is become infinitely more interesting than we must take bold and decisive measures for our

deliverance. We must not be deterred by meanI fear, however, that my conviction on this sub- er apprehensions. We must combine all our

ject is not common to the House. I strength, fortify one another by the communion mounded by the fear that we are not likely to be agreed of our courage; and, by a seasonable exertion

as to the importance of the measure, of national wisdom, patriotism, and vigor, take nor as to the necessity; since, by the manner in measures for the chance of salvation, and encounwhich it has been discussed this night, I foresee ter with unappalled hearts all the enemies, for. that, so far from being unanimous on the propo- eign and internal—all the dangers and calamisition, we shall not be agreed as to the situation ties of every kind which press so heavily upon and circumstances of the country itself, much less us. Such is my view of our present emergency; as to the nature of the measures which, in my and, under this impression, I can not, for a momind, that situation and those circumstances im- ment, listen to the argument of danger arising periously demand. I can not suppress my as- from innovation, since our ruin is inevitable if we tonishment at the tone and manner of gentlemen pursue the course which has brought us to the this day. The arguments that have been used brink of the precipice. would lead the mind to believe that we are in a But before I enter upon the subject of the state of peace and tranquillity, and that we have proposition that has been made to us, Reform not no proyocation to any steps for improving the ben- I must take notice of an insinuation ou partie cfits we enjoy, or retrieving any misfortune that that has, again and again, been flung feeling bich we have incurred. To persons who feel this to out by gentlemen on the other side of desire of ofice. be our situation, every proposition tending to me- the House as to party feelings, in which they af liorate the condition of the country must be sub- fect to deplore the existence of a spirit injurious ject of jealousy and alarm ; and if we really dif- to the welfare of the public. I suspect, by the fer so widely in sentiment as to the state of the frequent repetition of this insinuation, that they country, I see no probability of an agreement in are desirous of making it believed, or that they any measure that is proposed. All that part of understand themselves by the word party feelthe argument against reform which relates to the ings an unprincipled combination of men for the danger of innovation is strangely misplaced by pursuit of office and its emoluments, the eagerthose whoʻthink with me, that, so far from pro- ness after which leads them to act upon feelings curing the mere chance of practical benefits by a of personal enmity, ill-will, and opposition to his reform, it is only by a reform that we can have a Majesty's ministers. If such be their interpretchance of rescuing ourselves from a state of ex-ation of party feelings, I must say that I am uttreme peril and distress. Such is my view of our terly unconscious of any such feeling; and I am situation. I think it is so perilous, so imminent, sure that I can speak with confidence for my that though I do not feel conscious of despair friends, that they are actuated by no motives of an emotion which the heart ought not to admit- so debasing a nature. But if they understand yet it comes near to that state of hazard when by party feelings, that men of honor, who enter. the sentiment of despair, rather than of hope, may tain similar principles, conceive that those prin. be supposed to take possession of the mind. 1 ciples may be more beneficially and successfully feel myself to be the member of a community, in pursued by the force of mutual support, harmony, which the boldest man, without any imputation and confidential connection, then I adopt the inof cowardice, may dread that we are not merely terpretation, and have no scruple in saying that approaching to a state of extreme peril, but of it is an advantage to the country; an advantage absolute dissolution ; and with this conviction to the cause of truth and the Constitution ; an adinpressed upon my mind, gentlemen will not be- vantage to freedom and humanity; an advantheve that I disregard all the general arguments age to whatever honorable object they may be enthat have been used against the motion on the gaged in, that men pursue it with the united force score of the danger of innovation from any disre- of party feeling; that is to say, pursue it with the spect to the honorable members who have urged confidence, zeal, and spirit which the communion them, or to the ingenuity with which they have of just confidence is likely to inspire. And if the been pressed, but because I am firmly persuad- honorable gentlemen apply this description of parcd that they are totally inapplicable to the cir- ty feeling to the pursuit in which we are engaged, cumstances under which we come to the discus- I am equally ready to say, that the disastrous con

dition of the empire ought to animate and invig. * Two or three paragraphs of this speech are omit- orate the union of all those who feel it to be their tud, relating, not to the question of reform, but to old duty to check and arrest a career that threatens us Cuutests between Mr. Fox and Mr. Pitt.

with such inevitable ruin; for, surely, those who

personality.

think that party is a good thing for ordinary occa- | ed; and though in all the discussions that have sions must admit that it is peculiarly so on emer- taken place, I have had occasion to express my gencies like the present. It is peculiarly incum- doubt as to the efficacy of the particular mode, bent upon men who feel the value of united ex. I have never hesitated to say that the principle ertion, to combine all their strength to extricate itself was beneficial; and that though not called the vessel when in danger of being stranded. for with the urgency which some persons, and,

But gentlemen seem to insinuate that this un- among others, the right honorable gentleman, The discussion,

ion of action is directed more against declared to exist, I constantly was of opinion ecor, in org na persons than measures, and that al- that it ought not to be discouraged. Now, howcertain degree or lusions ought not to be made to the ever, that all doubt upon the subject is removed

conduct of particular men. It is not by the pressure of our calamities, and the dreadeasy to analyze this sort of imputation, for it is ful alternative seems to be, whether we shall not easy to disjoin the measure from its author, sink into the most abject thraldom, or continue nor to examine the origin and progress of any in the same course until we are driven into the evil without also inquiring into and scrutinizing horrors of anarchy, I can have no hesitation in the motives and the conduct of the persons who saying, that the plan of recurring to the princi. gave rise to it. How, for instance, is it possible ple of melioration which the Constitution points for us to enter into the discussion of the partic- out, is become a desideratum to the people of ular question now before the House, without a cer- Great Britain. Between the alternatives of base tain mixture of personal allusion? We complain and degraded slavery on the one side, or of tuthat the representation of the people in Parlia- multuous, though, probably, short-lived anarchy ment is defective. How does this complaint on the other, though no man would hesitate to originate ? From the conduct of the majorities make his choice, yet, if there be a course obvions in Parliament. Does not this naturally lead us and practicable, which, without either violence to inquire whether there is not either something or innovation, may lead us back to the vigor we fundamentally erroneous in our mode of election, have lost, to the energy that has been stifled, to or something incidentally vicious in the treatment the independence that has been undermined, and of those majorities? We surely must be per- yet preserve every thing in its place, a moment mitted to inquire whether the fault and calamity ought not to be lost in embracing the chance of which we complain is inherent in the institu- which this fortunate provision of the British systion (in which case nothing personal is to be tem has made for British safety. ascribed to ministers, as it will operate, in a This is my opinion, and it is not an opinion more or less degree, in all the circumstances in merely founded upon theory, but upon No argument which we may find ourselves); or whether it is actual observation of what is passing in England an occasional abuse of an original institution, ap- in the world. I conceive that if we plicable only to these times and to these men, in are not resolved to shut our eyes to France. which case they are peculiarly guilty, while the the instructive lessons of the times, we must be system of representation itself ought to stand ab- convinced of the propriety of seasonable concessolved.

sion. I see nothing in what is called the lamentI put the question in this way, in order to show able example of France, to prove to me that that a certain degree of personality is insepara- timely acquiescence with the desires of the peoble from the discussion, and that gentlemen can ple is more dangerous than obstinate resistance to not with justice ascribe to the bitterness of party their demands; but the situations of Great Britfeelings, what flows out of the principle of free ain and France are so essentially different, there inquiry. Indeed, this is a pregnant example of is so little in common between the character of there being nothing peculiarly hostile to persons England at this day, and the character of France in this subject; it is not a thing now taken up at the commencement of the Revolution, that it for the first time, meditated and conceived in par- is impossible to reason upon them from parity of ticular hostility to the right honorable the Chan. circumstances or of character. It is not neces. cellor of the Exchequer. Be it remembered, sary for me, I am sure, to enter into any analysis Reform early

that he himself has again and again of the essential difference between the character proposed by it. introduced and patronized the same of a people that had been kept for ages in the was supported measure, and that on all the occa- barbarism of servitude, and a people who have

sions on which he has brought it for- enjoyed for so long a time the light of freedom. ward it has invariably received my approbation Bat we have no occasion to go to France for and support. When he brought it forward first, examples; another country, nearer to our hearts, in the year 1782, in a time of war and of severe with which we are better acquainted, opens to public calamity, I gave to the proposition my us a book so legible and clear, that he must be feeble support. Again, when he brought it for blind indeed who is not able to draw from it ward in 1783, at a time when I was in a high warning and instruction ; it holds forth a lesson office in his Majesty's service, I gave it my sup- which is intelligible to dullness itself. Let us port. Again, in 1785, when the right honora- look to Ireland, and see how remarkably the arble gentleman himself was in place, and renewed guments and reasoning of this day tally with the his proposition, it had my countenance and sup- arguments and reasoning that unfortunately preport. I have invariably declared myself a friend vailed in the sister kingdom, and by which the to parliamentary reform, by whomsoever propos- King's ministers were fatally able to overpower

be drawn from the case of

by Mr. Fox.

creasing disaffection by deny ing reform.

the voice of reason and patriotism, and stifle all | The spirit of reform spread over the country; attention to the prayers and applications of the they made humble, earnest, and repeated applipeople.

cations to the Castle? for redress; but there they It is impossible for any coincidence to be more found a fixed determination to resist every claim, Argument froin perfect. We are told that there are and a rooted aversion to every thing that bore the case of alle in England, as it is said there were even the color of reform. They made their ap

in Ireland, a small number of persons plications to all the considerable characters in

desirous of throwing the country into the country, who ha on former occasions distinconfusion, and of alienating the affections of the guished themselves by exertions in the popular people from the established government. Per cause; and of these justly eminent men I desire mit me, Mr. Speaker, in passing to observe, that to speak as I feel, with the utmost respect for the right honorable the Chancellor of the Ex. their talents and virtues. But, unfortunately, chequer did not represent my learned friend (Mr. they were so alarmed by the French Revolution, Erskine] quite correctly, when he stated that my and by the cry which had been so artfully set up learned friend admitted the existence of such men. by ministers, of the danger of insection, that they On the contrary, the argument of my learned could not listen to the complaint. What was the friend was hypothetical; he said, if it be true, consequence? These bodies of men, who found as it is so industriously asserted, that such and it vain to expect it from the government at the such men do exist in the country, then surely in Castle, or from the Parliament, and having no wisdom you ought to prevent their number from where else to recur for redress, joined the socieincreasing, by timely conciliation of the body of ties, which the report accuses of cherishing the moderate men who desire only reform. In this desire of separation from England; and became opinion I perfectly acquiesce with my learned converts to all those notions of extravagant and friend. I believe that the number of persons frantic ambition, which the report lays to their who are discontented with the government of charge, and which threaten consequences so the country, and who desire to overthrow it, is dreadful and alarming that no man can contemvery small indeed. But the right honorable gen- plate them without horror and dismay. tleman (Mr. Pitt) says that the friends of moder- What, then, is the lesson to be derived from ate reform are few, and that no advantage is to this example, but that the comparatively small be gained by conceding to this very small body societies of 1791 became strong and formidable what will not satisfy the violent, which, he con- by the accession of the many who had nothing tends, is the more numerous party; and he vehe- in common with them at the outset? I wish it mently demands to know whom he is to divide, were possible for us to draw the line more accuwhom to separate, and what benefit he is to ob- rately between the small number that the report tain from this surrender? To this I answer, describes to have had mischievous objects origthat if there be two bodies (the rash and the inally in view, and the numerous bodies who moderate), it is wisdom, it is policy, to prevent were made converts by the neglect of their petithe one from falling into the other, by granting tion for constitutional rights. Is it improbable to the moderate what is just and reasonable. If that the original few were not more than ten or the argument of the right honorable gentleman twenty thousand in number? What, then, do I be correct, the necessity for concession is more learn from this? That the impolitic and unjust imperious; it is only by these means that you refusal of government to attend to the applicacan check the spirit of proselytism, and prevent tions of the moderate, made eighty or ninety a conversion that by-and-by will be too formida- thousand proselytes from moderation to violence." ble for you to resist. Mark this, and see how it This is the lesson which the book of Ireland exapplies to the precedent of Ireland. In the re-hibits! Can you refuse your assent to the morport that has been made by the Parliament of al? Will any man argue, that if reform had that kingdom on the present disorders, it is said been conceded to the eighty or ninety thousand that, so long ago as the year 1791, there existed moderate petitioners, you would have this day to some societies in that country which harbored deplore the union of one hundred thousand men, the desire of separation from England, and which bent on objects so extensive, so alarming, so cawished to set up a republican form of govern- lamitous ? I wish to warn you by this example. ment. The report does not state what was the Every argument that you have heard used this precise number of those societies in 1791 ; it de- day was used at Dublin. In the short-sighted clares, however, that the number was small and pride and obstinacy of the government, they insignificant. From small beginnings, however, turned a deaf ear to the supplicant; they have they have increased to the alarming number of now, perhaps, in the open field to brave the asone hundred thousand men in the province of sertor. Unwarned, untutored by example, are Ulster only.

By what means have they so in- you still to go on with the same contemptuous creased, and who are the proselytes that swell and stubborn pride? I by no means think that their numbers to so gigantic a size ? Obviously. Great Britain is at this moment in the same sitthe men who had no such design originally; ob- uation as Ireland. I by no means think that the viously the persons who had no other object in The residence of the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. view in all the petitions which they presented, 3 The societies spoken of were those of the United than Catholic emancipation and reform in Par- Irishmen, which embraced a pretty large part of the liament. This is also admitted by the report. I entire population in some parts of the island.

« PreviousContinue »