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corrected. We had no lettres de cachet, nor Bastille: no privileged aristocracy: no impassable gulf between nobles and the commonalty: no ostracism of opinion. We had a free constitution, of which Englishmen were proud; a settled society, with just gradations of rank, bound together by all the ties of a well-ordered commonwealth; and our liberties, long since secured, were still growing with the greatness and enlightenment of the people. In France there was no bond between the government and its subjects but authority : in England, power rested on the broad basis of liberty. So stanch was the loyalty of the country, that where one person was tainted with sedition, thousands were prepared to defend the law and constitution with their lives. The people, as zealous in the cause of good order as their rulers, were proof against the seductions of a few pitiful democrats. Instead of sympathizing with the French revolution, they were shocked at its bloody excesses, and recoiled with horror from its social and religious extrave ayances. The core of English society was sound. Who that had lately witnessed the affectionate loyalty of the whole people, on the recovery of the king froin his amico' tion, could suspect them of republicanism? 23,
Yet their very loyalty was now adverse to the public liberties. It showed itself in dread and hatred of democracy. Repression and severity were partes, 1792. 227popular, and sure of cordial support. The influential classes, more alarmed than the government, eagerly fomented the prevailing spirit of reaction. They had long been jealous of the growing influence of the press and popular opinion. Their own power had been disturbed by the political agitation of the last thirty years, and was further threatened by parliamentary reform. But the time bad now come for recovering their ascendency. The democratic spirit of the people was betraying itself; and must be crushed out, in the cause of order. The dangers of parliamentary reform were illustrated by clamors for uni
versal suffrage, annual parliaments, and the rights of man; and reformers of all degrees were to be scouted as revolutionary.
The calm and lofty spirit of Mr. Pitt was little prone to apprehension. He had discountenanced Mr. Burke's early reprobation of the French revolution : he had recently declared his confidence in the peace and prosperity of his country; and had been slow to foresee the political dangers of events in France. But he now yielded to the pressure of Mr. Burke and an increasing party in Parliament; and while he quieted their apprehensions, he secured for himself a vast addition of moral and material support. Enlarging his own party, and breaking up the opposition, he at the same time won public confidence.
It was a crisis of unexampled difficulty, - needing the utmost vigilance and firmness. Ministers, charged with the maintenance of order, could not neglect any security which the peril of the timne demanded. They were secure of support in punishing sedition and treason: the guilty few would meet with no sympathy among a loyal people. But, counselled by their new chancellor and convert, Lord Loughborough, and the law officers of the crown, the government gare too ready a credence to the reports of their agents ; and invested the doings of a small knot of democrats – chiefly workingmen - with the dignity of a wide-spread conspiracy to overturn the constitution. Ruling over a free state, they learned to dread the people, in the spirit of tyrants. Instead of relying upon the sober judgment of the country, they appealed to its fears; and in repressing seditious practices, they were prepared to sacrifice liberty of opinion. Their policy, dictated by the circumstances of a time of strange and untried danger, was approved by the prevailing sentiment of their contemporaries: but has not been justified, - in an age of greater freedom, — by the maturer judgment of posterity.
The next step taken by the government was calculated to
excite a panic. On the 1st of December, 1792, a proclamation was issued, stating that so dangerous a spirit of tumult and disorder had been excited by evil- tion, Dec. disposed persons, acting in concert with persons in foreign parts, that it was necessary to call out and embody the militia. And Parliament, which then stood proroguerl until the 3d of January, was directed to meet on the 13th of December.
The king's speech, on the opening of Parliament, repeate the statements of the proclamation; and adverted
King's to designs, in concert with persons in foreign sprech. Dec.
13th, 1792. countries, to attempt “the destruction of our happy constitution, and the subversion of all order and govern ment.”! These statements were warmly combated by Mr Fox, who termed them “an intolerable calumny upon the people of Great Britain," and argued that the executive government were about to assume control, not only over the acts of the people, but over their very thoughts. Instead of silencing discussion, he counselled a forwardness to redress every grievance. Other speakers also protested against the exaggerated views of the state of the country which the administration had encouraged. They exhorted ministers to have confidence in the loyalty and sound judgment of the people; and, instead of foinenting apprehensions, to set an example of calmness and sobriety. But in both Houses addresses were voted, giving the sanction of Parliament to the sentiments expressed from the throne. The majority did not hesitate to permit popular privileges to be sacrificed to the prevailing panic.
But as yet no evidence of the alleged dangers had been produced; and on the 28th of February, Mr. Mr. Sheri
dan's motion, Sheridan proposed an inquiry, in a committee of
Feb. 28th, the whole House. He denied the existence of
1 Comm. Journ., xlviii. 4; Parl. Hist., xxx. 6; Fox's Speeches, iv. 445. 2 In the Commons by a majority of 290 to 50. : Parl. Hist., xxx. 1-80. Ann. Reg., 1793, p. 244-249.
ditious practices; and imputed to the government a desire to create a panic, in order to inflame the public mind against France, with which war was now declared, and to divert attention from parliamentary reform. The debate elicited no further evidence of sedition ; but the motion was negatived without a division.'
Meanwhile, prosecutions of the press abounded, especially against publishers of Paine's works. Seditious speaking was also vigilantly repressed. A few examples will illustrato
the rigorous administration of the laws. John Frost, March, Frost, a respectable attorney, who had been asso
ciated with the Duke of Richmond and Mr. Pitt, a few years before, in promoting parliamentary reform, was prosecuted for seditious words spoken in conversation, after dinner, at a coffee-house. His words, reprehensible in themselves, were not aggravated by evidence of malice or seditious intent. They could scarcely be termed advised speaking; yet was he found guilty, and sentenced to six months' imprisonment, to stand in the pillory at Charing Cross, and to Mr. Winter be struck off the roll of attorneys. Mr. Winterbotham, 1.13. botham, a Baptist minister, was tried for uttering seditious words in two sermons.
The evidence brought against him was distinctly contradicted by several witnesses ; and in the second case, so weak was the evidence for the crown, and so conclusive his defence, that the judge directed an acquittal; yet in both cases the jury returned verdicts of guilty. The luckless minister was sentenced to four years' imprisonment, to pay two fines of 1001., and to give security
for his good behavior. Thomas Briellat wa
tried for the use of seditious words in conversaBriellat, 1793.
tions at a public-house and in a butcher's shop. 1 Parl. Hist., xxx. 523.
? E. g., Daniel Isaac Eaton, Daniel Holt and others; State Tr., xxii. 574 - 822; Ibid., xxiii. 214, &c. The Attorney-General stated, on the 13th December, 1792, that he had on his file 200 informations for seditious libels. — Adolphus' Hist., v. 524. See also Currie's Lite, i. 185; Roscoe's Life, i. 124; Holcroft's Mem., ii. 151.
8 St. Tr., xxii. 522. 4 lbid., 823, 875.
Here again the evidence for the prosecution was contradicted by witnesses for the defence; but no credit being given to the latter, the jury returned a verdict of guilty; and Briellat was sentenced to twelve months' imprisonment, and to pay a fine of 1001.2
The trial of Dr. Hudson, for seditious words spoken at the London Coffee-House, affords another illustration
Dr. Hudson, of the alarmed and watchful spirit of the people. Dec. 9th, Dr. Hudson had addressed toasts and sentiments to his friend Mr. Pigott, who was dining with him in the same box. Other guests in the coffee-house overheard them, and interfered with threats and violence. Both the friends were given in charge to a constable: but Dr. Hudson was alone brought to trial. He was found guilty, and sentenced to two years' imprisonment, and to pay a fine of 2001.8
Nor were such prosecutions confined to the higher tribunals. The magistrates, invited to vigilance by the king's proclamation, and fully sharing the general Quarter alarm, were satisfied with scant evidence of sedi. tion; and if they erred in their zeal, were sure of being upbeld by higher authorities. And thus every incautious disputant was at the mercy of panic-stricken witnesses, officious constables, and country justices.
Another agency was evoked by the spirit of the times, dangerous to the liberty of the press, and to the voluntary security of domestic life. Voluntary societies were repressing established in London and throughout the country, for the purpose of aiding the executive government in the
1 St. Tr., xxii. 910. 2 The bill of indictment against Pigott was rejected by the grand jury. 8 St. Tr., xxii. 1019.
4 A reoman in his cups being exhorted by a constable, as drunk as himself, to keep the peace in the king's name, muttered, “D— you and the king too:" for which the loyal quarter sessions of Kent sentenced liim to a year's imprisonment. A complaint being made of this sentence to Lord Chancellor Loughborough, he said "that to save the country from revolution, the authority of all tribunals, high and low, must be upheld.” — Lord Campbells Lives of the Chancellors, vi. 265.