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suppressed by name; and all other societies were declared unlawful of which the members were required to take
any oath not required by law, or which had any members or committees not known to the society at large, and not entered in their books, or which were composed of distinct divisions or branches. The measure did not stop here. Debating clubs and reading-rooms not licensed were to be treated as disorderly houses. All printing-presses and type-founderies were to be registered. Printers were to print their names on every book or paper, and register the names of their employers. Restraints were even imposed upon the lending of books and newspapers for hire. This rigorous measure encountered little resistance. Repression had been fully accepted as the policy of the state ; and the Opposition had retired from a hopeless contest with power. Nor for societies conducted on such principles, and with such objects, could there be any defence. The provisions concerning the press introduced new rigors in the execution of the law, which at another time would have been resisted : but a portion of the press had, by outrages on decency and order, disconcerted the stanchest friends of free discussion.'
The series of repressive measures was now complete. Repressive
We cannot review them without sadness. Liberty had suffered from the license and excesses of
one party, and the fears and arbitrary temper of the other. The government and large classes of the people had been brought into painful conflict. The severities of rulers, and the sullen exasperation of the people, had shaken that niutual confidence which is the first attribute of a free state. The popular constitution of England was suspended. Yet was it a period of trial and transition, in which public liberty, repressed for a time, suffered no permanent injury. Subdued in one age, it was to arise with new vigor in another.
i Reports of Committees on Sealed Papers, 1799; Parl. Hist., xxxiv. 579, 1000; Debates, Ibid., 984, &c.; 39 Geo. III. c. 79.
measures completed, 1799.
Political agitation, in its accustomed forms of public meetings and association, was now checked for several Administrayears, and freedom of discussion in the press libel laws. continued to be restrained by merciless persecu
1799-1811. tion. But the activity of the press was not abated. It was often at issue with the government ; and the records of our courts present too many examples of the license of the one, and the rigors of the other. Who can read without pain the trials of Mr. Gilbert Wakefield
nd his publishers, in 1799 ? On one side we Gilbert see an eminent scholar dissuading the people, in an inflammatory pamphlet, from repelling an invasion of our shores : on the other, we find publishers held criminally responsible for the publication of a libel, though ignorant of its contents; and the misguided author punished with two years' imprisonment in Dorchester jail,2 — a punishment which proved little short of a sentence of death.8 Who can peruse without indignation the trial of the conductors of the “ Courier,” in the same year, for a libel upon the Emperor of Russia," in which the pusillanimous doctrine was laid down from the Bench, that public writers were to
1 In Scotland, “as a body to be deferred to, no public existed.". Cockburn's Mem., 88. See also Ibid., 282, 302, 376.
2 St. Tr., xxvii. 679; Erskine's Speeches, v. 213; Lord Campbell's Chancellors, vi. 517.
3 £5000 was subscribed for him, but he died a fortnight after his release. Mr. Fox, writing March 1st, 1799, to Mr. Gilbert Wakefield, says:
“ The liberty of the press I consider as virtually destroyed by the proceedings against Johnson and Jordan; and what has happened to you I cannot but lament, therefore, the more, as the sufferings ot' a man whom I esteem, in a cause that is no more." – Fox Vem., iv. 337. — And again on June 9th:— " Nothing could exceed the concern I felt at the extreme reverity (for such it appears to me) of the sentence pronounced against you." - 16., 339.
4 This libel was as follows: :-“ The Emperor of Russia is rendering himself obnoxious to his subjects by various acts of tyranny, and ridiculous in the eyes of Europe by his inconsistency. He has now passed an edict pro. hibiting the exportation of timber, deals, &c. In consequence of this illtimod law, upwards of one hundred sail of vessels are likely to return to this kingdom without freight."
The First Consul and the English press, 1802.
be punished, not for their guilt, but from fear of the dis-
principles of freedom, and independence of foreign
invaded, it has ever formed the basis of our laws. When the First Consul, during the peace of Amiens, demanded that liberty of the press in England should be placed under restraints not recognized by the constitution, he was thus answered by the British government :" His Majesty neither can nor will, in consequence of any representation or menace from a foreign power, make any concession which may be in the smallest degree dangerous to the liberty of the press, as secured by the constitution of this country. This liberty is justly dear to every British subject; the constitution admits of no previous restraints upon publications of any description; but there exist judicatures wholly independent of the executive, capable of taking cognizance of such publications as the law deems to be criminal; and which are bound to inflict the punishment the delinquents may deserve. These judicatures may investigate and punish not only libels against the government and magistracy of this kingdom, but, as has been repeatedly experienced, of publications defamatory of those in whose hands the administration of foreign governments is placed. Our government neither has nor wants any other protection than what the laws of the country afford ; and though they are willing and ready to give to every foreign government all the protection against offences of this nature, which the principle of their laws and constitution will admit, they never can consent to new-model their laws, or to change
1 Lord Kenyon said: – “When these papers went to Russia and held up this great sovereign as being a tyrant and ridiculous over Europe, it might tend to his calling for satisfaction as for a national affront, if it passed unreprobated by our government and in our courts of justice.” Trial of Vint, Ross, and Perry: St. Tr., xxvii. 627; Starkie's Law of Libel, ii.
Trial of Jean
their constitution, to gratify the wishes of any foreign power.” 1
But without any departure from the law of England, the libeller of a foreign power could be arraigned ; 2 and this correspondence was followed by the mem- Peltier. Feb. orable trial of Jean Peltier. Mr. Mackintosh, in his eloquent and masterly defence of the defendant," dreaded this prosecution “ as the first of a long series of conflicts be tween the greatest power in the world and the only free press remaining in Europe;" and maintained by admirable arguments and illustrations, the impolicy of restraining the free discussion of questions of foreign policy and the character and conduct of foreign princes, as affecting the interest of this country. The genius of bis advocate did not save Peltier from a verdict of guilty ; but as hostilities with France were soon renewed, he was not called up for judgment. Meanwhile the First Consul had continued to express his irritation at the English newspapers, between which and the newspapers of France a warm controversy was raging ; and finding that they could not be repressed by law, he desired that the government should at least restrain those newspapers which were supposed to be under its influence. But here again he was met by explanations concerning the independence of English editors, which he found it difficult to comprehend; & and no sooner was war declared, than all the newspapers joined in a chorus of vituperation against
1 Lord Hawkesbury to Mr. Merry, Aug. 28th, 1802; Parl. Hist., xxxvi. 1273.
2 R. r. D'Eon, 1764; Starkie's Law of Libel, ii. 216; R. v. Lord George Gordon, 1787; State Tra, xxii. 175; Vint, Ross, and Perry, 1790, supra, p. 175.
3 Letter from M. Otto to Lord Hawkesbury, July 25th, 1802; Parl. Hist., Xxxvi. 1267.
* The Attorner-General (Spencer Perceval) spoke of it as “one of the tnost splendid displavs of eloquence he ever had occasion to hear;" and Lord Ellenborough termed it " eloquence almost unparalleled."
6 St. Tr., xxviii. 529. 8 Lord Whitworth to Lord Hawkesbury, Jan. 27th, and Feb. 21st, 1803. VOL. II.
Napoleon Bonaparte, without any fears of the attorney.
names familiar in our own time. William Cob
bett, having outraged the republican feelings of trials, 1804.
America by his loyalty, now provoked the loyal sentiments of England by his radicalism. His strong good sense, his vigorous English style, and the bold independence of his opinions, soon obtained for his “ Political Register" a wide popularity. But the unmeasured terms in which he assailed the conduct and measures of the government exposed him to frequent prosecutions. In 1804, he suffered for the publication of two letters from an Irish judge, ridiculing Lord Hardwicke, Lord Redesdale, and the Irish executive.' Ridicule being held to be no less an offence than graver obloquy, Cobbett was fined; and Mr. Justice Johnson, the author of the libels, retired from the bench with a pension.? In 1809, another libel brought upon Mr. Cobbett a severer
punishment. Some soldiers in a regiment of mili
tia having been flogged, under a guard of the legion, 1809.
German legion, Cobbett seized the occasion for inveighing at once against foreign mercenaries and military flogging. He was indicted for a libel upon the German legion; and being found guilty, was sentenced to two years' imprisonment, a fine of 10001., and to give security for 30001. to keep the peace for seven years. The printer of the Register, and two persons who had sold it, were also punished for the publication of this libel. The extreme severity of Cobbett's sentence excited a general sympathy in his favor, and indignation at the administration of the libel laws.8
His libel on the German
1 There was far more of ridicule than invective. Lord Hardwicke was termed " a very eminent sheepfeeder from Cambridgeshire ” with “ a wooden head;" and Lord Redesdale “a very able and strong-built Chancery pleader from Lincoln's Inn."
St. Tr., xxix. 1, 54, 422, 437; Hans. Deb., 1st Ser., v. 119. 8 Sydney Smith, in a letter to Lady Holland, Feb. 11th, 1810, said: