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Windham, “ that ministers were determined to exert a rigor beyond the law, as exercised in ordinary times and under ordinary circumstances.” 1
After repeated discussions in both Houses, the bills were eventually passed. During their progress, how- The hills ever, large classes of the people, whose liberties passed.
Opposition were threatened, had loudly remonstrated against out of doors. them. The higher classes generally supported the government, in these and all other repressive measures.
In their terror of democracy, they had unconsciously ceased to respect the time-honored doctrines of constitutional liberty.. They saw only the dangers of popular license; and scarcely heeded the privileges which their ancestors had prized. But on the other side were ranged many eminent men, who still fearlessly asserted the rights of the people, and were supported by numerous popular demonstrations.
On the 10th November, the Whig Club held an extraordinary meeting, which was attended by the first
The Whig noblemen and gentlemen of that party. It was there Club. agreed, that before the right of discussion and meeting had been abrogated, the utmost exertions should be used to oppose these dangerous measures. Resolutions were accordingly passed, expressing abhorrence of the attack upon the king, and deploring that it should have been made the pretext for bills striking at the liberty of the press, the freedom of public discussion, and the right to petition Parliament for redress of grievances; and advising that meetings should be imme liately held and petitions presented against measures which nfringed the rights of the people. The London Correspond .ng Society published an address to the nation, indignantly deny ing that the excesses of an aggrieved and uninformed populace could be charged upon them, or the late meeting at Copen hagen House, — professing the strictest legality in pursuit of parliamentary reform, and denouncing the minister as i Parl. Hist., xxxii. 386.
2 36 Geo. III. c. 7, 8. 8 Hist. of the Two Acts, 120.
seeking pretences “ to make fresh invasion upon our liberties, and establish despotism on the ruins of popular associa
in Palace Yard.
The same society assembled a prodigious meeting at Meeting at
Copenhagen House, which agreed to an address, Copenhagen
petition, and remonstrance to the king, and petitions
to both Houses of Parliament, denouncing these “ tremendous bills, which threatened to overthrow the constitutional throne of the house of Brunswick, and to establish the despotism of the exiled Stuarts."? A few days
afterwards, a great meeting was held in Palace Meeting
Yard, with Mr. Fox in the chair, which voted an
address to the king and a petition to the House of Commons against the bills. Mr. Fox there denounced the bills as a daring attempt upon your liberties, — an attempt to subvert the constitution of England. The Bill of Rights is proposed to be finally repealed, that you shall be deprived of the right of petitioning." And the people were urged by the Duke of Bedford to petition while that right remained to them. Numerous meetings were also held in London, Edinburgh,
Glasgow, York, and in various parts of the counmeetings.
try, to petition against the bills. And other meetings were held at the Crown and Anchor, andelse where, in support of ministers, which declared their belief that the seditious excesses of the people demanded these stringent measures, as a protection to society.“
The debates upon the Treason and Sedition Bills had been Mr. Reves's enlivened by an episode, in which the opposition pamphlet. found the means of retaliating upon the government and its supporters. A pamphlet, of ultra-monarchical 1 Hist, of the Two Acts, 39.
2 Ibid., 125-134. 3 Ibid., 232-236-239; Adolph. Hist., vi. 370; Lord Colchester's Diary, i. 7. This meeting had been convened to assemble in Westminster Hall; but as the Courts were sitting, it adjourned to Palace Yard.
4 Hist. of the Two Acts, 135, 165, 244, 306-361, 389–392, 486, et seq.. Belsham's Hist x. 10-23.
principles, was published, entitled “Thoughts on the English Government.” One passage represented the king as the ancient stock of the constitution, — and the Lords and Commons as merely branches, which might be “lopped off” without any fatal injury to the constitution itself.
It was a speculative essay which, at any other time, would merely have excited a smile; but it was discovered to be the work of Mr. Reeves, chairman of the "Society for protecting lib. erty and property from Republicans and Levellers," — better known as the “ Crown and Anchor Association.” 1 The work was published in a cheap form, and extensively circulated amongst the numerous societies of which Mr. Reeves was the moving spirit ; and its sentiments were in accordance with those which had been urged by the more indiscreet supporters of repressive measures. Hence the opposition were provoked to take notice of it. Having often condemned the governient for repressing speculative opinions, it would have been more consistent with their principles to answer than to punish the pamphleteer; but the opportunity was too tempting to be lost. The author was obnoxious, and had committed himself: ministers could scarcely venture to defend his doctrines; and thus a diversion favorable to the minority was at last feasible. Mr. Sheridan, desirous, he said, of setting a good example, did not wish the author to be prosecuted: but proposed that he should be reprimanded at the bar, and his book burned in New Palace Yard by the common hangman. Ministers, however, preferred a prosecution, to another case of privilege. The attorney-general vas therefore directed to prosecute Mr. Reeves; and, on his rial, the jury, while they condemned his doctrines, acquitted the author.
1 Mr. Reeves was the author of the learned " History of the Law of England,” well known to posterity, by whom his pamphlet would have been forgotten but for these proceedings.
2 Parl. Hist., xxxii. 608, 627, 651, 662. In the Lords, notice was also taken of the pamphlet, but no proceedings taken against it; Ibid., 681. St. Tr., xxvi. 529; Lord Colchester's Diary, i. 8.
Mr. Fox's motion to repeal Trea.
In 1797, Mr. Fox moved for the repeal of the Treason
and Sedition Acts, in a speech abounding in politi
cal wisdom. The truth of many of his sentiments son and Sedi. has since received remarkable confirmation. “In tion Acts, May 14th, proportion as opinions are open," he said, “they 1797.
are innocent and harmless. Opinions become dangerous to a state only when persecution makes it necessary for the people to communicate their ideas under the bond of secrecy." And, again, with reference to the restraint imposed upon public meetings: “What a mockery," h exclaimed, “to tell the people that they shall have a right to applaud, a right to rejoice, a right to meet when they are bappy ; but not a right to condemn, not a right to deplore their misfortunes, not a right to suggest a remedy!” And it was finely said by him, “ Liberty is order: liberty is strength," — words which would serve as a motto for the British constitution. His motion, however, found no more than fifty-two supporters. During this period of excitement, the regulation of news
papers often occupied the attention of the legislaRegulation of
ture. The stamp and advertisement duties were
increased : more stringent provisions made against unstamped publications; and securities taken for insuring the responsibility of printers. By all these laws it was sought to restrain the multiplication of cheap political papers among the poorer classes; and to subject the press, generally, to a more effectual control. But more serious matters were still engaging the attention of government. The London Corresponding Society and other similar
societies continued their baneful activity. Their Corresponding societies, rancor against the government knew no bounds. 1795-1799.
Mr. Pitt and his colleagues were denounced as tyrants and enemies of the human race. Hitherto their pro
i Parl. Hist., xxxiii. 613.
? 29 Geo. III. c. 50; 34 Geo. III. c. 72; 37 Geo. III. c. 90; 38 Geo. IIL c. 78; Parl. Hist., xxxiii. 1415, 1482.
ceedings had been generally open: they had courted publicity, paraded their numbers, and prided themselves upon their appeals to the people. But the acts of 1795 having restrained their popular meetings, and put a check upon their speeches and printed addresses, they resorted to a new organization, in evasion of the law. Secrecy was now the scheme of their association. Secret societies, committees, and officers were multiplied throughout the country, by whom an active correspondence was maintained: the members were bound together by oaths: inflammatory papers were clandestinely printed and circulated : seditious handbills secretly posted on the walls. Association degenerated into conspiracy. Their designs were congenial to the darkness in which they were planned. A general convention was projected ; and societies of United Englishmen and United Scotsmen established an intercourse with the United Irishmen. Correspondence with France continued; but it no longer related to the rights of men and national fraternity. It was undertaken in concert with the United Irishmen, who were encouraging a French invasion. In this basest of all treasons some of the English societies were concerned. They were further compromised by seditious attempts to foment discontents in the army and navy, and by the recent mutiny in the fleet.? But whatever their plots or crimes, their secrecy alone made them dangerous. They were tracked to their hiding-places by the agents of the government; and in 1799, when the rebellion had broken out in Ireland, papers disclosing these proceedings were laid before the House of Commons. A secret committee related, in great detail, the bistory of these societies; and Mr. Pitt brought in a bill to repress
thein. It was not sought to punish the authors of past excesses ; but to prevent future mischiefs. The societies
Correspondof United Englishmen, Scotsmen, and Irishmen, ing Societies and the London Corresponding Society, were 19th, 1799.
1 Infra, p. 498.
? An Act had been passed in 1997 to punish this particular crime, 37 Geo. III. c. 70.