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enthusiasm, still less by intimidation ; but conviction moet be wrought in the mind and conscience of the nation. And this was done. Parliament was soon prevailed upon to attempt the mitigation of the worst evils which had been brought to light; and in little more than twenty years, the slave-trade was utterly condemned and prohibited. A good cause prevailed, - not by violence and passion, not by dem. onstrations of popular force, but by reason, earnestnes and the best feelings of mankind.
At no former period had liberty of opinion made advance Progress of so signal, as during the first thirty years of this public opinion,
reign. Never had the voice of the people beer 1760-1792.
heard so often, and so loudly, in the inner council: of the state. Public opinion was beginning to supply the defects of a narrow representation. But evil days were now approaching, when liberties so lately won were about to be suspended. Wild and fanatical democracy, on the one hand transgressing the bounds of rational liberty ; and a too sensi tive apprehension of its dangers, on the other, were introducing a period of reaction, unfavorable to popular rights. In 1792, the deepening shadows of the French revolution
had inspired the great body of the people with publications, sentiments of grave reprobation ; while a small, 1792.
but noisy and turbulent, party, in advocating universal suffrage and annual parliaments, were proclaiming their admiration of French principles, and sympathy with the Jacobins of Paris. Currency was given to their opinions in democratic tracts, handbills, and newspapers, conceived in the spirit of sedition. Some of these papers were the work of authors expressing, as at other times, their own individual sentiments : but many were disseminated, at a low price, by democratic associations, in correspondence with France.*
i Clarkson's Hist. of the Slave Trade, i. 288, &c.; Wilberforce's Life, i. 139-173, &c.
2 Ann. Reg., 1792, p. 365; Hist. of the Two Acts, Introd., xxxvii.; Adolphus' Hist., v. 67; Tomline's Life of Pitt, iii. 272.
One of the most popular and dangerous of these publications was Paine's second part of the “ Rights of Man."
Instead of singling out any obnoxious work for a separate prosecution, the government issued, on the 21st of May, 1792, a proclamation warning the people tion,
May 21st, against wicked and seditious writingy, industriously 1742. dispersed amongst them, - commanding magistrates to discover the authors, printers, and promulgators of such writings, and sheriffs and others to take care to prevent tumults and disorders. This proclamation, having been laid before Parliament, was strongly denounced by Mr. Grey, Mr. Fox, and other members of the opposition, who alleged that it was calculated to excite groundless jealousies and alarms, the government already having sufficient powers, under the law, to repress license or disaffection.
Both Houses, however, concurred in an address to the king, approving of the objects of the proclamation, and expressing indignation at any attempts to weaken the sentiments of the people in favor of the established form of government.
Thomas Paine was soon afterwards brought to trial. He was defended by Mr. Erskine, whom neither the displeasure of the king and the Prince of Wales, nor the solicitations of his friends, nor public clam- 18th, 1792. ors, had deterred from performing his duty as an advocate.3 To vindicate such a book, on its own merits, was not to be attempted; but Mr. Erskine contended that, according to the laws of England, a writer is at liberty to address the reason of the nation upon the constitution and government, and is criminal only if he seeks to excite them to disobey the law, or calumniates living magistrates. He maintained “that opinion is free, and that conduct alone is amenable to the
i See also supra, p. 44. 2 Parl. Hist., xxix. 1476 - 1534; Tomline's Life of Pitt, iii. 347; Lord Malmesbury's Corr., ii. 441. There had been similar proclamations in the eigns of Queen Anne and George I. 8 St. Tr., xxvi. 715; Lord Campbell's Lives of the Chancellors, vi. 455
law.” He himself condemned Mr. Paine's opinions; but his client was not to be punished because the jury disapproved of them as opinions, unless their character and intention were criminal. And lie showed from the writings of Locke, Milton, Burke, Paley, and other speculative writers, to what an extent abstract opinions upon our constitution had been expressed, without being objected to as libellous. Paine was very properly found guilty : but the general principles expounded by his advocate, to which his contemporaries turned a deaf ear, have long been accepted as the basis on which liberty of opinion is established.
Meanwhile, the fears of democracy, of the press, and of Alarm of the speculative opinions, were further aggravated by government the progress of events in France and the extravtracy.
agance of English democrats. Several societies, which had been formed for other objects,
now avowed their sympathy and fellowship with associations, the revolutionary party in France, addressed the National Convention, corresponded with political clubs and public men in Paris, and imitated the sentiments, the language, and the cant then in vogue across the channel.” Of these the most conspicuous were the “Revolution So. ciety," the “ Society for Constitutional Information," and the
" London Corresponding Society." The Revolution Society. tion Society had been formed long since, to commemorate the English revolution of 1688, and not that of France, a century later. It met annually on the 5th of November, when its principal toasts were the memory
of King William, trial by jury, and the liberty of the a wis press. On the 4th of Nov., 1788, the centenary of the
revolution had been commemorated throughout the country sunray
by men of all parties ; and the Revolution Society had been attended by a secretary of state and other distinguished persons: But the excitement of the times quickened it with a
i St. Tr., xxii. 357. 2 Ann. Reg , 1792, part ii. 128-170, 344. 8 History of the Two Acts, Inirod. xxxv.
new life ; and historical sentiment was lost in political agitation. The example of France almost effaced the memory of William. The Society for Constitutional In
Society for formation had been formed in 1780, to instruct the people in their political rights, and to forward the mation. cause of parliamentary reform. Among its early members were the Duke of Richmond, Mr. Fox, Mr. Pitt himself, and Mr. Sheridan. These soon left the society ; but Mr. Wyvill, Major Cartwright, Mr. Horne Tooke, and a few more zealous politicians, continued to support it, advocating universal suffrage and distributing obscure tracts. It was scarcely known to the public: its funds were low; and it was only saved from a natural death by the French revolution.
The London Corresponding Society, - composed chiefly of working men, — was founded in the midst of the excitement caused by events in France. It responding sought to remedy all the grievances of society, real or imaginary, to correct all political abuses, and particularly to obtain universal suffrage and annual parliaments. These objects were to be secured by the joint action of affiliated societies throughout the country. The scheme embraced a wide correspondence, not only with other political associations in England, but with the National Convention of France and the Jacobins of Paris. The leaders were obscure, and, for the most part, illiterate men; and the proceedings of the society were more conspicuous for extravagance and folly than for violence. Arguments for iniversal suffrage were combined with abstract speculations
| Abstract of the History and Proceedings of the Revolution Society, 1789; Sermon by Dr. Price, with Appendix, 1789; “ The Correspondence of the Revolution Society in London," &c., 1792; Ann. Reg., 1792, part i. 165, 311, 366; part ii. 135; App. to Chron., 128, et seq.; Adolphus' Hist., iv. 513, v. 211.
2 Stephen's Life of Horne Tooke, i. 435; ii. 144; Hist. of the Two Acts, Introd. xxxvii. Adolphus' Hist., v. 212; Lord Stanhope's Life of Pitt, ii.
And conventional phrases, borrowed from France, - wholly foreign to the sentiments of Englishmen and the genius of English liberty. Their members were citizens,” the king was " chief magistrate.” 1
These societies, animated by a common sentiment, engaged in active correspondence; and published numerous resolutions and addresses of a democratic, and sometimes of a seditious character. Their wild and visionary schemes, - however captivating to a lower class of poli ticians, served only to discredit and endanger liberty. They were repudiated by the “ Society of the Friends of the People,” ? and by all the earnest but temperate reformers of that time: they shocked the sober, alarmed the timid, and provoked - if they did not justify - the severities of the government.
In ordinary times, the insignificance of these societies would have excited contempt rather than alarm; but as clubs and demagogues, originally not more formidable, had obtained a terrible ascendency in France, they aroused apprehensions out of proportion to their real danger. In presence of a political earthquake, without a parallel in the history of the world, every symptom of revolution was too readily magnified.
There is no longer room for doubt that the alarm of Exaggerated this period was exaggerated and excessive. Evi
dence was not forthcoming to prove it just and well founded. The societies, however mischievous, had a small following: they were not encouraged by any men of influence: the middle classes repudiated them: society at large condemned them. None of the causes which had precipitated the revolution in France were in existence here. The evils of an absolute government had long been
1 Ann. Reg., 1792, p. 366; 1793, p. 165; App. to Chron., 75, 1794, P 129; Adolphus' Hist., v. 212; Tomline's Life of Pitt, iii. 272, 321; Lord J. Russell's Life of Fox, ii. 284; Belsham's Hist., viii. 495, 499.
? See supra, Vol. I. 319; Lord J. Russell's Life of Fox, ii. 293.