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plice. That it bad not been consummated, was due to the very agency which hostile critics sought to condemn. But if ministers escaped censure, — the iniquity of the spy-system was illustrated in its most revolting aspects.
Again, in 1833, complaint was made that the police had been concerned in equivocal practices, too much resembling the treachery of spies; but a parlia- police. mentary inquiry elicited little more than the misconduct of a single policeman, who was dismissed from the force. And the organization of a well-qualified body of detective police has at once facilitated the prevention and discovery of crime, and averted the worst evils incident to the employment of spies.
Akin to the use of spies, to watch and betray the acts of men, is the intrusion of government into the con
Opening fidence of private letters intrusted to the Post- letters. office. The state having assumed a monopoly in the transmission of letters on behalf of the people, its agents could not pry into their secrets without a flagrant breach of trust, which scarcely any necessity could justify. For the detection of crimes dangerous to the state or society, a power of opening letters was, indeed, reserved to the secretary of state. But for many years, ministers or their subordinate officers appear to have had no scruples in obtaining information, through the Post-office, not only of plots and conspiracies, but of the opinions and projects of their political opponents. Curiosity more often prompted this vexatious intrusion, than motives of public policy.
The political correspondence of the reign of George III. affords conclusive evidence, that the practice of opening the letters of public men at the Post-office was known to be general. We find statesmen of all parties alluding to the practice, without reserve or hesitation, and intrusting their
1 Petition of F. Young and others; Commons' Rep., 1833; Hans. Deb 3d Ser., xviii. 1359; XX. 404, 834.
letters to private hands whenever their communications were confidential
Traces of this discreditable practice, so far as it ministered to idle or malignant curiosity, have disappeared since the early part of the present century. From that period, the general correspondence of the country, through the Postoffice, has been inviolable. But for purposes of police and diplomacy, - to thwart conspiracies at home, or hostile combinations abroad, the Secretary of state has continued, until our own time, to issue warrants for opening the letters of persons suspected of crimes, or of designs injurious to the
state. This power, sanctioned by long usage and Mazzini and by many statutes, had been continually exercised 14th, 1814. for two centuries. But it had passed without ob
i From a great number of examples, the following may be selected:
Lord Hardwicke, writing in 1762 to Lord Rockingham of the Duke of Devonshire's spirited letter to the Duke of Newcastle, said: -" Which his grace judged very rightly in sending by the common post, and trusting to their curiosity." — Rockingham Mem., i. 157.
Mr. Hans Stanley, writing to Mr. Grenville, Oct. 14th, 1765, says: “ Though this letter contains nothing of consequence, I chuse to send it by a private hand, observing that all my correspondence is opened in a very awkward and bungling manner, which I intimate in case you should chuse to write anything which you would not have publiek.” — Grenville Papers, iii. 99. Again, Mr. Whately, writing to Mr. Grenville, June 4th, 1768, says:—“I may have some things to say which I would not tell the postmaster, and for that reason have chosen this manner of conveyance." Ibid., iv. 299. Lord Temple, writing to Mr. Beresford, Oct. 23d, 1783, says :
- “ The shameful liberties taken with my letters, both sent and received (for even the speaker's letter to me had been opened), make me cautious on politics." - Beresford Correspondence, i. 243.
Mr. Pitt, writing to Lady Chatham, Nov. 11th, 1783, said: “I am afraid it will not be easy for me, by the post, to be anything else than a fashionable correspondent, for I believe the fashion which prevails, of openng almost every letter that is sent, makes it almost impossible to write anything worth reading." -- Lori Stanhope's Life of Pitt, i. 136.
Lord Melville, writing to Mr. Pitt, April 30, 1804, said:—"I shall continue to address you through Alexander Hope's conveyance, as I remember our friend Bathurst very strongly hinted to me, last year, to beware of the Post-office, when you and I had occasion to correspond on critical points, or in critical times." — Ibid., iv. 145; see also Currie's Life, ii. 160; Stephens' Mem. of Horue Tooke, ii. 118; Court and Cab. of Geo. III., iü. 265, &c.
servation until 1814, when a petition was presented to the House of Commons from four persons, of whom the notorious Joseph Mazzini was one, - complaining that their letters had been detained at the Post-office, broken open, and read. Sir James Graham, the secretary of state, denied that the letters of three of these persons had been opened; but arowed that the letters of one of them had been detained and opened by his warrant, issued under the authority of a statute.? Never had any arowal from a minister encountered so general a tumult of disapprobation. Even Lord Sidmouth's spysystem had escaped more lightly. The public were ignorant of the law, though renewed seven years before, — and wholly unconscious of the practice which it sanctioned. Having believed in the security of the Post-office, they now dreaded the betrayal of all secrecy and confidence. A general system of espionage being suspected, was condemned with just indignation.
Five-and-twenty years earlier, a minister, — secure of a parliamentary majority, — having haughtily de- Parliamenfended his own conduct, would have been content tary inquiries. to refuse further inquiry and brave public opinion. And in this instance, inquiry was at first successfully resisted ; 8 but a few days later, Sir James Graham adopted a course, at once significant of the times, and of his own confidence in the integrity and good faith with which he had discharged a hateful duty. He proposed the appointment of a secret committee, to investigate the law in regard to the opening of letters, and the mode in which it had been exercised.* A similar committee was also appointed in the House of Lords. These committees were constituted of the most eminent and impartial men to be found in Parliament; and their inquiries, while eliciting startling revelations as to the practice, entirely vindicated the personal conduct of Sir James Graham. It appeared that foreign letters had, in early times, been constantly searched to detect correspondence with Rome and other foreign powers: that by orders of both Houses, during the Long Parliament, foreign mails had been searched; and that Cromwell's Postage Act expressly authorized the opening of letters, in order to discover and prevent dangerous and wicked designs against the peace and welfare of the commonwealth.” Charles II. had interdicted, by proclamation, the opening of any letters, except by warrant from the secretary of state. By an act of the 9th Anne, the secretary of state first received statutory power to issue warrants for the opening of letters; and this authority had been continued by several later statutes for the regulation of the Post-office. In 1783, a similar power had been intrusted to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. In 1722, several letters of Bishop Atterbury having been opened, copies were produced in evidence against him, on the bill of pains and penalties. During the rebellion of 1745, and at other periods of public danger, letters had been extensively opened. Nor were warrants restricted to the detection of crimes or practices dangerous to the state. They had been constantly issued for the discovery of forgery and other offences, on the application of the parties concerned in the apprehension of offenders. Since the commencement of this century, they had not exceeded an annual average of eight. They had been issued by successive secretaries of state, of every party, and except in periods of unusual disturbance, in about the same annual numbers. The public and private correspondence of the country, both foreign and domestic, practically enjoyed complete security. A power so rarely exercised could not have materially advanced the ends of justice. At the same time, if it were wholly withdrawn, the Post
i Hans. Deb., 3d Ser., lxxv. 892.
8 June 24th, 1844; Mr. Duncombe's motion for a committee — Ayes, 162; Noes, 206. – Hans. Deb., 3d Ser., lxxv. 1264.
4 July 2d, as an amendment to another motion of Mr. Duncombe; Haus. Deb., 3d Ser., lxxvi. 212.
6 Ibid., 296.
office would become the privileged medium of criminal correspondence. No amendment of the law was recommended ; 1 and the secretary of state retains his accustomed authority. But no one can doubt that, if used at all, it will be reserved for extreme occasions, when the safety of the state demands the utmost vigilance of its guardians.
Nothing has served so much to raise, in other states, the estimation of British liberty, as the protection Protection of which our law's afford to foreigners. Our earlier foreigners. history, indeed, discloses many popular jealousies of strangers settling in this country. But to foreign merchants, special consideration was shown by Magna Charta ; and whatever the policy of the state, or the feelings of the people, at later periods, aliens have generally enjoyed the same personal liberty as British subjects, and complete protection from the jealousies and vengeance of foreign powers. It has been a proud distinction for England to afford an inviolable asylum to men of every rank and condition, seeking refuge on her shores, from persecution and danger in their own lands. England was a sanctuary to the Flemish refugees driven forth by the cruelties of Alva; to the Protestant refugees who fled from the persecutions of Louis XIV.; and to the Catholic nobles and priests who sought refuge from the bloody guillotine of revolutionary France. All exiles from their
own country, whether they fled from despotism or depemocracy, whether they were kings discrowned, or humble
citizens in danger, — have looked to England as their home. Such refugees were safe from the dangers which they had escaped. No solicitation or menace from their own government could disturb their right of asylum ; and they were equally free from molestation by the municipal laws of Eng. land. The crown indeed had claimed the right of ordering aliens to withdraw from the realm ; but this prerogative had not been exercised since the reign of Elizabeth. From
1 Reports of Secret Committees of Lords and Commons.