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of the cordial acclamations with which the king had generally been received, he was now assailed with groans and hisses, and cries of " Give us bread,” — “No Pitt," — " No war,". “ No famine." His state carriage was pelted, and one missile, apparently from an air-gun, passed through the window. In all his dominions, there was no man of higher courage than the king himself. He bore these attacks upon bis person with unflinching firmness; and proceeded to deliver his speech from the throne, without a trace of agitation. On his return to St. James's, these outrages were renewed, the glass panels and windows of the carriage were broken to pieces; and after the king had alighted, the carriage itself was nearly demolished by the mob. The king, in passing from St. James's to Buckingham House in his private carriage, was again beset by the tumultuous crowd ; and was only rescued from further molestation by the timely arrival of some horseguards, who had just been dismissed from duty.” These disgraceful outrages, reprobated by good men of all
classes, were made the occasion of further eneroachments upon the political privileges of the people.
Both Houses immediately concurred in an address to his Majesty, expressing their abhorrence of the late events. Oct. 31st,
This was succeeded by two proclamations,
offering rewards for the apprehension of the authors and abettors of these outrages ; and the other advert
ing to recent meetings near the metropolis, followed by the attack upon the king; and calling upon the magistrates and all good subjects to aid in preventing such meetings, and in apprehending persons who should deliver inflammatory speeches or distribute seditious papers. Both Treasonable these proclamations were laid before Parliament,
and Lord Grenville introduced into the House of Bill, Nov. 4th. Nov. 6th. Lords a bill founded upon them, for the “preser
1 "When a stone was thrown at one of his glasses in returning home, the king said, “That is a stone, - you see the difference from a bullet.'"Lord Colchester's Diary, i. 3.
2 Ann. Reg., 176, p. 9; History of the Two Acts, 1796, +-21; Lord Colchester's Diary, i. 2.
Proclama. tions and addresses.
vation of his Majesty's person and government against treasonable practices and attempts."
This bill introduced a new law of treason, at variance with the principles of the existing law, the operation of which had gravely dissatisfied the government in the recent state trials. The proof of overt acts of treason was now to be dispensed with; and any person compassing and devising the death, bodily harm, or restraint of the king, or his deposition, or the levying of war upon him, in order to compel him to change his measures or counsels, or who should express such designs by any printing, writing, preaching, or malicious and advised speaking, should suffer the penalties of high treason. Any person who by writing, printing, preaching, or speaking should incite the people to hatred or contempt of his Majesty, or the established government and constitution of the realm,
} would be liable to the penalties of a high misdemeanor; and on a second conviction, to banishment or transportation. The act was to remain in force during the life of the king, and till the end of the next session after his decease.
It was at once perceived that the measure was an alarming encroaching upon freedom of opinion. Its opponents saw in it a statutory probibition to discuss parliamentary reform. The most flagrant abuses of the government and constitution were henceforth to be sacred from exposure. To speak of them at all would excite hatred and contempt; and silence was therefore to be imposed by law. Nor were the arguments by which this measure was supported such as to qualify its obnoxious provisions. So grave a statesman as Lord Grenville claimed credit for it as being copied from acts passed in the reigns of Queen Elizabeth and Charles II.,
approved times," as his Lordship ventured to affirm.? Dr. Horsley, Bishop of Rochester, " did not know what the mass of the people in any country had to do with the laws,
1 The provision concerning preaching and advised speaking was after wards omitted.
2 Parl. Hist., xxxii. 245; Lord Colchester's Diary, i. 5.
but to obey them." This constitutional maxim he repeated on another day, and was so impressed with its excellence that he exclaimed, “ My Lords, it is a maxim which I ever will maintain ; — I will maintain it to the death, I will maintain it under the axe of the guillotine." ! And notwithstand. ing the obloquy which this sentiment occasioned, it was, in truth, the principle and essence of the bill which he was supporting.
Within a week the bill was passed through all its stages, Nov. 13th,
there being only seven dissentient Peers ; and sent
to the House of Commons.? But before it reached that House, the Commons had been
occupied by the discussion of another measure Mercings Bill, equally alarming. On the 10th November, the
king's proclamations were considered, when Mr. Pitt founded upon them a bill to prevent seditious meetings. Following the same reasoning as these proclamations, he attributed the outrages upon his Majesty, on the opening of Parliament, to seditious meetings, by which the disaffection of the people had been inflamed. He proposed that no meeting of more than fifty persons (except county and borough meetings duly called) should be held, for considering petitions or addresses for alteration of matters in church or state, or for discussing any grievance, without previous notice to a magistrate, who should attend to prevent any proposition or discourse tending to bring into hatred or contempt the sovereign, or the government and constitution. The magistrate would be empowered to apprehend any person making such proposition or discourse. To resist him would be felony, punishable with death. If he deemed the proceed. ings tumultuous he might disperse the meeting; and was indemnified if any one was killed in its dispersion. To restrain debating societies and political lectures, he proposed to introduce provisions for the licensing and supervision of lecture-rooms by magistrates.
i Parl. Hist., xxxii. 268. His explanations in no degree modified the extreme danger of this outrageous doctrine. He admitted that where there were laws bearing upon the particular interests of certain persons or bodies of men, such persons might meet and discuss them. In no other cases had the people anything to do with the laws, i. e., they had no right to an opinion upon any question of public policy! See supra, Vol. I. 411.
3 Ibid., xxxii. 244-272; Lord Colchester's Diary, i. 5, 6.
When this measure had been propounded, Mr. Fox's indignation burst forth. That the outrage upon the king had been caused by public meetings, he denounced as a flimsy pretext; and denied that there was any ground for such a measure. “Say at once,” he exclaimed, “ that a free constitution is no longer suited to us; say at once, in a manly manner, that on a review of the state of the world, a free constitution is not fit for you ; conduct yourselves at once as the senators of Denmark did, — lay down your freedom, and acknowledge and accept of despotism. But do not mock the understandings and the feelings of mankind, by telling the world that you are free.”
He showed that the bill revived the very principles of the Licensing Acts. They had sought to restrain the printing of opinions of which the government disapproved: this proposed to check the free utterance of opinions upon public affairs. Instead of leaving discussion free, and reserving the powers of the law for the punishment of offences, it was again proposed, after an interval of a hundred years, to license the thoughts of men, and to let none go forth without the official dicatur. With the views of a statesman in advance of his age, he argued, “ We have seen and heard of revolutions in other states. Were they owing to the freedom of popular opinions ? Were they owing to the facility of popular meetings ? No, sir, they were owing to the reverse of these ; and therefore, I say, if we wish to avoid the danger of such revolutions, we should put ourselves in a state as different from them as possible.” Forty-two members only could be found to resist the introduction of this bill.?
1 Ayes, 244; Noes, 42; Parl. Hist., xxxii. 272-300; Lord Colchester's Diary, i. 6.
Each succeeding stage of the bill occasioned renewed discusNov. 27th,
sions upon its principles. But when its details
were about to be considered in committee, Mr. Fox, Mr. Erskine, Mr. Grey, Mr. Lambton, Mr. Whitbread, and the other opponents of the measure, rose from their seats and withdrew from the House. Mr. Sheridan alone remained, not, as he said, to propose any amendments to the bill. --for none but the omission of every clause would make it acceptable--but merely to watch its progress through the
committee. The seceders returned on the third reading, and renewed their opposition to the bill; but it was passed by a vast majority.* Meanwhile, the Treasonable Practices Bill, having been
brought from the Lords, had also encountered a Practices Bill resolute opposition. The irritation of debate promons, Nov. voked expressions on both sides tending to increase
the public excitement. Mr. Fox said that it “ ministers were determined, by means of the corrupt influence they possessed in the two Houses of Parliament, to pass the bills, in direct opposition to the declared sense of a great majority of the nation; and should they be put in force with all their rigorous provisions, if his opinion were asked by the people, as to their obedience, he should tell them that it was no longer a question of moral obligation and duty, but of prudence. He expressed this strong opinion advisedly, and repeated and justified it again and again, with the encouragement of Mr. Sheridan, Mr. Grey, Mr. Whitbread, and other earnest opponents of the bills. On the other side, this menace was met by a statement of Mr.
1 Parl. Hist., xxxii. 300-364, 387-422.
6 Parl. Hist., xxxii. 383, 385, 386, 392, 451-460; Lurd Colchester's Diary, i. 9. Nov. 24th: "Grey to-night explained his position of resistance to be theoretical, which in the preceding nigbt he had stated to be practically applicable to the present occasion.” – Ibid., i. 10. And see Lord Malmesbury's Diary, iii. 247.