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be binding on those who had resisted that measure to the utmost. The noble lord had contended that the measure would be crippled, if not defeated, by taking away the search by night, that it would give the disaffected warning; that when they heard that a magistrate was coming by day with a troop of horse to seize their arms, they would immediately conceal them. But what would be said of this statutory warning, the bill on the table,_ it must be granted, or the whole foundation of the noble lord's new edifice sunk under him, that there were numbers in the various districts actually in arms against the state, and the moment notice was given them by this bill that a magistrate might come and search, would they be so weak, so childish, as not to put their arms out of reach P One argument against the present bill was, that though it gave power to a magistrate to search, it was essentially defective, being destitute of any power by which he could get at the arms he discovered. Our Whig ancestors said, summon those who have arms to give them up, and if it afterwards turns out that they have concealed them, they may fairly be subjected to the severest penalties of the law. This, though only to be justified by necessity, was at least effectual. And why was it then necessary? Was not open rebellion then stalking through the land P Was there not a disputed succession? Did not a foreign foe aid the efforts of the rebels, and threaten invasion ? Yet the noble lord, with the utmost assurance, asserted, that the
precedent of 1715 should now govern the deliberations of parliament. Had we now a disputed succession, an open rebellion, or even the appearance of rebellion ? Where was the general rising that had threatened by ministers and their agents from day to day? That the subject had at all times a right to keep arms of which government could not, under given circumstances, deprive him, he would not maintain; but then a case of necessity must be fully established. And in dealing with so sacred a matter as the people's rights, any one of them must be suspended in the mode least likely to affect the rest, or abridge the other comforts and privileges to which he was entitled. He believed even the noble lord would admit that he had too narrowly stated the subjects right to arms. Not only was an Englishman's house his castle against the unwarranted intrusion of the police, or against the attack of thieves, but it was so in another and a higher sense of the word, as giving him a prerogative to have arms for his defence. He maintained that he had a right to arms for his defence, not merely because he would preach it up to him that he might use them against the lawless measures of bad rulers, but to remind those rulers that the weapons of defence might be turned against them, if they broke the laws, or violated the constitution. If this were dangerous doctrine, he addressed it not to the country, but to its rulers; and he begged them to recollect that, in broaching it, he was only following Judge Blackstone, who twice over i. alco, laid it down in his book, that such was the use of arms, and the privilege of English subjects. so !] These were not times or any man to assert opinions that might be misapprehended or perverted; and he would therefore follow up what he had advanced by adding, that no act of the rulers of the country, in which they were supported by the constituted authorities, could warrant any part of the community to talk of, nay, to dream of, resistance. If the law of the land were to be altered, it could only be altered by parliament; and he would as vehemently and steadfastly, to the last drop of his blood, resist any encroachment by the people upon the legislative right, as he would oppose strenuously and firmly any invasion by the crown or the parliament of the known privileges of the community. These were the doctrines of the British constitution—doctrines as serviceable to good rulers as they were dangerous to evil rulers—calculated to promote and secure the peace and good order of society, and intended, too, as a warning to those who would violate that liberty they ought to preserve. After a keen debate, in which Mr. Canning, Mr. Tierney, and several other members took part, the report was ordered to be received the next day. On the third reading of the bill, Dec. 16th, Mr. Tierney moved as an amendment to omit the words “by night,” which was lost by 158 to 46, after which the bill passed. The Training Bill passed the House of Commons on Dec. 9th,
with the strongest expressions of their sense of its necessity, from members usually opposed to goVernment. Dec. 6. Lord Sidmouth rose in the House of Lords to move the second reading of the bill for the prevention of blasphemous and seditious libels. After the explanation already given of the nature of the bill, he would only observe at present, that whatever measures their lordships might adopt in the present state of the country, they would all prove ineffectual, unless means were taken to check the licentiousness of the press. This was the great source of the evil with which they had to contend, and if after adopting other measures they did not agree to this, the remedy would be incomplete; they would still leave in all its strength that destructive virus, the pernicious effects of which, if allowed to
operate, were certain and irre
mediable. Lord Erskine observed, that the preamble of the bill stated no facts to induce their lordships to entertain such a measure. Had the existing laws been shown to be inefficient? The bill applied to blasphemous and seditious libels, two things so different, that nothing was more absurd than to associate them together, or subject them to the same punishment. With regard to blasÉ. against the Christian reigion, there could be in law no justification for it. The whole world, he was confident, would go along with him in saying that the law ought to be enforced against publications of this nature. But a different question presented itself when new laws were called for... These were unnecessary,<the crown-officers had ample means to put down blasphemy. Yet all that they had done was to prosecute a few parodies, and Paine’s “Age of Reason.” If they were unsuccessful, they had themselves to blame, for it was because they either departed from the regular course of law, or selected wrong objects for prosecution. A seditious libel was nothing like a blasphemous libel. As to the latter, . were agreed, and no jury could mistake it; but what the noble lords on the other side might call a seditious libel, might by many good and wise men be thought right and justifiable. It was proposed to seize the book charged as libellous upon averdict being obtained against the publisher: but this proceeding, which might be very unjust in itself, would be more or less so under the particular circumstances of the case. Were a verdict given in July, the publication must remain long in a state of sequestration before the court could be moved for an arrest of judgment, though the decision of the court might be in favour of the plaintiff. But though injustice would be done in some cases by seizing, in others that o would have no effect.
effect of the prosecution would often be to produce an extraordinary sale; so that after the verdict there would be nothing to seize; the whole edition would be out of print. There was another circumstance which their lordships ought to take into consideration: many booksellers had very extensive warehouses ; it
might happen that, after a first verdict, a few copies of a second libel, might be sold, of the verdict against which the dealer might not be aware. Many difficulties and cases of hardship must occur under such laws, and it was impossible to foresee to what mischievous consequences they might lead. Their lordships would reflect on the consequences which might arise from bringing the conduct of the government and parliamentbefore juries under quite new circumstances. Let care be taken lest encouragement be given to libel by the very laws framed to prevent it. The people were accused of cherishing plans of innovation, but, instead of measures of severity of the laws, it would be better to look to some reforms which would satisfy the moderate, and compel those who were the partisans of wild schemes to relinquish them. To put down blasphemy and sedition, all that was necessary was the execution of
the existing laws. Lord Harrowbu contended that the objections of the noble lord had no serious weight. He asked whether fine and imprisonment were sufficient punishments for libel at a time when such extraordinary pains were taken to circulate blasphemy and sedition through every corner of the country? When the labourer could not drink his cup of tea or coffee without at the same time partaking of the poison? Was it too much that a different punishment should be inflicted when the of fence was aggravated by repetition ? and what punishment but transportation and banishment - remained remained to be applied? They who supported these laws were sincere friends to the liberty of the press; it was because they loved it that they wished to remedy the evils caused by its misdirection. The Marquis of Lansdowne of. fered some considerations against the bill, which he regarded as entirely needless, and in particular reprobated the application of such a punishment as transportation to an offence which might be committed by men in all classes of society, frequently too, by men of the most exemplary and praiseworthy characters in other respects, and who, by their talents and virtues might be capable of making ample atonement to society for any injuries they might inflict through the press. Lord Ellenborough could not but think that some new regulations were necessary to curb the licentiousness of the press, considering the alterations in the state of society within the last twenty years. He particularly alluded to the progressive increase of education. He believed that where the power of reading and writing had been given without a strong foundation of morality, it had been enlisted into the cause of blasphemous and seditious libellers, and thus become an instrument of real mischief. Lord Holland said, that of all the hideous cases which had ever come within his observation, he had never witnessed one more obnoxious than that under consideration. As to the grounds of it, all that could be collected from the speech of the noble Vol. LXI.
viscount and from the preamble of the bill was, that it was expedient to provide more effectually for the suppression of blasphemous and seditious libels; but was that enough to justify an alteration in the laws? Was there no other reason for at once destroying the liberty of the press 2 The principal ground for this extraordinary measure was the great increase of such libels. Of this he could form no direct judgment, but he was satisfied that these disgusting publications added nothing to the dangers of the country. If any danger did result to the religion of the people from such publications, it was wholly to be attributed to the conduct of his majesty's government, connected with those evil designs towards liberty which had been since the meeting of that House so clearly developed. He submitted, however, that the people of England were a religious people, and he would be party to no man, whether king, prince, or demagogue, who would allege that they could be made proselytes to infidelity, or that any additional laws were necesto the maintenance of their faith. Another important branch of the subject was, how the laws in existence had been inforced. If blasphemous publications had been widely and numerously circulated, where were the prosecutions? What course had been taken to suppress them? It had been said that juries would not do their duty in cases of blasphemous publication; it was a strange perversion of intellect, that a person, at the moment he was recommending additional re[L] straints straints upon the crime of libel, should himself be pronouncing the grossest of libels upon one of the most sacred institutions of the country. It was not less strange, that while it was urged that juries would not convict as the punishment at present stood, they would be more likely to do so if that punishment were increased. The bill also extended the punishment of transportation to crimes in their own nature indefinite, and liable to different construction in different courts of justice. There also existed in it an anomaly directly contrary to the principles of crimes and punishments; that of making the master criminally responsible for the act of his servant. But then it was said that this punishment was at the discretion of the court, —this was indeed a monstrous proposition, — he would never consent to have the constitution and liberties of the country at the discretion of any man, however elevated or however virtuous. The bill also increased the punishment of a crime which he had already described as indefinite. This was a solecism in law, because, according to the practice of the courts there was no malus animus at all. He also found in this measure a new word in legislation,—the word “banished.” He did not know, nor had he ever heard of banishment as any part of the laws of this £ountry, nor could imagine why it was now introduced. He now ealled upon the House to look at the practical effect of this measure arising out of the difficulty of the definition of a libel. There was scarcely any man in the two
Houses of Parliament for the last 150 years who might not have been in a situation to be tried under this act. In speaking of men who had been considered as men of great talent and high station in this country, let them take in my lord Somers, during the years from 1679 to 1683, a time of great oppression in the courts of justice, and when the judges were extremely subservient to the administration in power. During that time, what would have been the effect of such a measure as this? Would not many passages of his speeches, ...' by integrity and sound worth, have been pronounced libels, and punished accordingly? From the time of lord Somers down to that of Mr. Burke, taking the acts of their public life, might not many men have written or spoke some opinion which would come within the definition of libel? Let them see also what would be the effect upon literary men, both with respect to seditious and blasphemous publications. What would have become of Milton? what would have become of Dryden, if those against whom his pen had been so effectively wielded, had come into power? What too would have become of Pope and Addison, and above all, of sir Richard Steele, the author of the Christian Hero—the eloquent advocate of Christianity. Could he find security; would not Christianity itself be deprived of its warmest friend, if he were sent to Botany-bay ? Look to the effect of this law upon men who had in the change of parties lost the protection of power. Would they not, amidst the animosities of