Sayfadaki görseller
PDF
ePub

agreed with him that in the present times there was a tone of decency in the daily press which ought not to subject it to any participation in the blame to which the other parts of the press was entitled. But in an act of solemn legislation they ought to look neither to the right nor to the left.

He agreed with his honourable and learned friend that when either in the moral or the physical world any new power made its appearance, it became an object of importance to obtain the aid of that power, and to reduce it to a state of subserviency, instead of opposition to our interests. But as little, when any explosion of nature took place, which seemed to threaten universal desolation, was it the part of sound philosophy to prostrate itself before the for

midable phenomenon, instead of raising, at any risk, a :dyke to stop the progress of the ruin. But how could this

argument as to the danger from the power of the press, be reconciled with some other arguments which they had heard at an earlier period of the debate, and which tended to prove that the freedom of England and the power of its press had fallen off? The fate of our legislation, perhaps, of our empire itself, had been said to be fixed, and our decline had been declared to have been already commenced. Parliament had been warned of their degeneracy from their ancestors ; public opinion had been said to be stifled; the love of freedom and the spirit of patriotism had been lamented as extinct. The argument used to-night by his honourable and learned friend was a decisive refutation of those desponding statements which the house had heard last night. Public opinion was represented by his honourable and learned friend, and truly represented, as possessing now tenfold force at the present, compared with former times. Not only was public opinion advanced, but its power was accumulated, and conveyed by appropriate organs, and made to bear upon Legislation and Government, upon

ܪ

the conduct of individuals, and upon the proceedings of both Houses of Parliament.

He was not so foolish as to regret—he was not so mad as to attempt to arrest—the course of public opinion. But, he was not so feeble, or so fearful, as to surrender the right of legislation, or to abdicate the functions of Parliament, not to public opinion, but in order to conciliate the organs by which public opinion was expressed.

He agreed with his honourable and learned friend, that there was much difficulty in definitions of prospective offences, and that too much solicitude about definition was apt to defeat its purpose, and he would rather leave the offence which it was the object of the bill to punish, to be defined by circumstances and facts, than attempt to describe it too minutely. But it was one thing whether a definition should be introduced in the original act of legislation, and quite another thing whether it should be left out, with the knowledge that there it had once stood. It might be proper, and it would be safe, to refrain from definition in the first instance; but to strike out what had been once inserted, was not to leave the law in the same situation as if it had not been introduced, but to intimate by inference that those things so left out were not considered as crimes.

He did not deny the superiority in many respects of his honourable and learned friend's definition. In point of length, it certainly was extremely superior. If they measured them by words or by sentences, by weight or tale, his honourable and learned friend's amendment was infinitely more voluminous than the clause which he was disposed to displace. He was not sorry that it was so, nor was he supposing it a fault; but it was rather an awkward remedy for what his honourable and learned friend had considered as too complex and too extended. But to prove

66

his disposition to conciliate, he was willing to take all that was in the bill; and, together with that, a part of his honourable and learned friend's amendment. The only part which could be added to the bill from the amendment he would adopt, but he would not agree to disgrace what was in the bill by displacing it. What was the expression in the bill proposed to be amended ? · Any blasphemous libel, or any seditious libel, tending to bring into hatred or contempt the

person

of His Majesty, his heirs or successors, or the Regent, or the Government and Constitution of the United Kingdom, as by law established, or either House of Parliament,” &c. If he adopted his honourable and learned friend's plan of conciliation—if he yielded to that Manichean dread of the power of the press, this definition was to be left out. Though he was sure that the press was supremely attached to the King, and that it had the most affectionate respect for both Houses of Parliament; yet if, in deference to the

power
of the
press,

if from some unaccountable spirit of conciliation, they left out this part of the bill, they would leave out the very best part of it.

He was persuaded that the conductors of the power of the press would guard those sacred depositaries of constitu tional authority with unrivalled zeal; that they would protect their rights with the utmost ability; that they would direct their proceeding with consummate wisdom. But the members of that House had some interest in this duty; they also had “ done the state some service;" they were bound by their oaths to protect the powers entrusted to them; and, highly as he valued the power of the press, he could not consent to surrender the share which Parliament ought to have in the co-partnership. The Legislature performed a part

which was not unknown. Their powers were ascertained, their faculties were measured. They were not en

veloped in clouds; they wielded not a force whose existence could be perceived only by its fearful effects. Their inten. tions were perceived; their words were heard ; their proceedings were published. In a few hours it would be known from one end of the kingdom to the other, that he now discharged his duty at the hazard of owing the little reputation which belonged to him to the mercy which he would not condescend to supplicate. Yet he would not surrender to the guardianship of the press those principles which Parliament was authorised and commanded to take to its peculiar care, and which it could not relinquish without forfeiting its rank and character. He had no objection, however, to include in the bill that part of his honourable and learned friend's amendment which related to instigations to assassination. He was happy that his honourable and learned friend should thus have his share in securing that sober freedom, that temperate ardour of liberty which the bill was calculated to cherish, and which none was more anxious to promote or more capable of teaching others to reverence than his honourable and learned friend.

The amendment was negatived.

MR. BROUGHAM'S MOTION RESPECTING

THE DROITS OF ADMIRALTY.

MAY 5th, 1820.

Mr. BROUGHAM, in a speech distinguished for great eloquence, extensive research, and varied ability and learning of every kind, introduced the following motion :

“ That it is expedient, with a view to the arrangement of His Majesty's civil list, to take into consideration the Droits of the Crown and Admiralty, four and a half per cent. West India Duties, and other funds not usually deemed hitherto to be within the immediate controul of Parliament, and to make such provisions touching the same as may be consistent with the honour and dignity of the Crown, the interests of the subject, and the maintenance of the Constitution."

MR. CANNIXG* began by observing, that if any stranger had entered the House during the last few sentences of the honourable and learned gentleman's speech, without knowing what had been his previous argument, such stranger would have been induced, from his high tone of indignant remonstrance, to imagine that the honourable and learned gentleman had been called upon hy some pressing necessity to make a stand against some new assault of arbitrary power, some sudden encroachment of Ministerial rapacity. He would have conceived, as soon as he learned the subject of debate, that some extraordinary augmentation to the royal income was contemplated; and this, without any regard had to the present state of the country, and utterly inconsistent with the universal and acknowledged practice of the Constitution. That stranger, must, however, have been somewhat surprised at the motion which followed this vehement declamation, for he would see that the motion distinctly recognised that the funds in question had never been deemed as under the controul of Parliament, and had always been dealt with as it was now proposed to deal with them. If this stranger had heard the speech without the motion, he would have thought that all the innovation was on his (Mr. Canning's) side of the House, and that the honourable and learned gentleman was the champion of established usage ; he could not have supposed that no new

« ÖncekiDevam »