Page images

can you do? You cannot conquer, you cannot gain, but you can address. In a just and necessary war, to maintain the rights or honor of my country, I would strip the shirt from my back in its behalf. But, in such a war as this, unjust in its principle, impracticable in its means, and ruinous in its consequences, I would not contribute a single effort, nor a single shilling.

My Lords, I have submitted to you with the freedom and truth which I think my duty, my sentiments on your present awful situation. I have laid before you the ruin of your power, the disgrace of your reputation, the pollution of your discipline, the contamination of your morals, the complication of calamities, foreign and domestic, that overwhelm your sinking country. Your dearest interests, your own liberties, the Constitution itself, totter to the foundation. All this disgraceful danger, this multitude of misery, is the monstrous offspring of this unnatural war. We have been deceived and deluded too long. Let us now stop short. This is the crisis, it be the only crisis, may of time and situation, to give us a possibility of escape from the fatal effects of our delusions. But if, in an obstinate and infatuated perseverance in folly, we meanly echo back the peremptory words this day presented to us, words expressing an unalterable determination to persist in the measures against America, -nothing can save this devoted country from complete and final ruin. We madly rush into multiplied miseries, and plunge into "confusion worse confounded."

46. AMERICA UNCONQUERABLE. — Earl of Chatham, November 18, 1777, on the Address of Thanks to the King. THIS, my Lords, is a perilous and tremendous moment. It is no time for adulation. The smoothness of flattery cannot save us, in this rugged and awful crisis. It is now necessary to instruct the Throne, in the language of TRUTH. We must, if possible, dispel the delusion and darkness which envelop it; and display, in its full danger and genuine colors, the ruin which is brought to our doors. Can Ministers still presume to expect support in their infatuation? Can Parliament be so dead to its dignity and duty as to be thus deluded into the loss of the one, and the violation of the other; as to give an unlimited support to measures which have heaped disgrace and misfortune upon us; measures which have reduced this late flourishing empire to ruin and contempt? But yesterday, and England might have stood against the world: now, none so poor to do her reverence! France, my Lords, has insulted you. She has encouraged and sustained America; and, whether America be wrong or right, the dignity of this country ought to spurn at the officious insult of French interference. Can even our Ministers sustain a more humiliating disgrace? Do they dare to resent it? Do they presume even to hint a vindication of their honor, and the dignity of the State, by requiring the dismissal of the plenipotentiaries of America? The People, whom they affected to call contemptible rebels, but whose growing power has

[ocr errors]

at last obtained the name of enemies, the People with whom they have engaged this country in war, and against whom they now command our implicit support in every measure of desperate hostility, - this People, despised as rebels, or acknowledged as enemies, are abetted against you, supplied with every military store,, their interests consulted, and their Ambassadors entertained, by your inveterate enemy.

and our Ministers dare not interpose with dignity or effect!

My Lords, this ruinous and ignominious situation, where we cannot act with success nor suffer with honor, calls upon us to remonstrate in the strongest and loudest language of truth, to rescue the ear of Majesty from the delusions which surround it. You cannot, I venture to say it, you CANNOT conquer America. What is your present situation there? We do not know the worst; but we know that in three campaigns we have done nothing, and suffered much. You may swell every expense, and strain every effort, still more extravagantly; accumulate every assistance you can beg or borrow; traffic and barter with every little pitiful German Prince, that sells and sends his subjects to the shambles of a foreign country: your efforts are forever vain and impotent, doubly so from this mercenary aid on which you rely; for it irritates to an incurable resentment the minds of your enemies, to overrun them with the sordid sons of rapine and of plunder, devoting them and their possessions to the rapacity of hireling cruelty! If I were an American, as I am an Englishman, while a foreign troop was landed in my country, I never would lay down my arms! - never! never! never!

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

47. ON FREQUENT EXECUTIONS, 1777.-Sir W. Meredith.

WHETHER hanging ever did, or can, answer any good purpose, I doubt but the cruel exhibition of every execution-day is a proof that hanging carries no terror with it. The multiplicity of our hanging laws has produced these two things: frequency of condemnation, and frequent pardons. If we look to the executions themselves, what examples do they give? The thief dies either hardened or penitent. All that admiration and contempt of death with which heroes and martyrs inspire good men in a good cause, the abandoned villain feels, in seeing a desperado like himself meet death with intrepidity. The penitent thief, on the other hand, often makes the sober villain think, that by robbery, forgery or murder, he can relieve all his wants; and, if he be brought to justice, the punishment will be short and trifling, and the reward eternal.

When a member of Parliament brings in a new hanging law, he begins with mentioning some injury that may be done to private property, for which a man is not yet liable to be hanged; and then proposes the gallows as the specific and infallible means of cure and prevention. One Mary Jones was executed, whose case I shall just

mention. She was very young, and most remarkably handsome. She went to a linen-draper's shop, took some coarse linen off the counter, and slipped it under her cloak; the shopman saw her, and she laid it down for this she was hanged. Her defence was (I have the trial in my pocket), "that she had lived in credit and wanted for nothing, till a press-gang came and stole her husband from her; but, since then, she had no bed to lie on; nothing to give her children to eat; and they were almost naked: and perhaps she might have done something wrong, for she hardly knew what she did." The parish officers testified the truth of this story: but it seems there had been a good deal of shop-lifting about Ludgate; an example was thought necessary; and this woman was hanged for the comfort and satisfaction of some shopkeepers in Ludgate-street!

And for what cause was God's creation robbed of this its noblest work? It was for no injury; but for a mere attempt to clothe two naked children by unlawful means! Compare this with what the State did, and with what the law did! The State bereaved the woman of her husband, and the children of a father, who was all their support; the law deprived the woman of her life, and the children of their remaining parent, exposing them to every danger, insult, and merciless treatment, that destitute and helpless orphans can suffer. Take all the circumstances together, I do not believe that a fouler murder was ever committed against the law than the murder of this woman by the law! Some who hear me are perhaps blaming the judges, the jury, and the hangman; but neither judge, jury nor hangman, are to blame; they are but ministerial agents: the true hangman is the member of Parliament. Here, here are the guilty; he who frames the bloody law is answerable for the bloody deed, for all the injustice, all the wretchedness, all the sin, that proceed from it!

[ocr errors]


Mr. Beaufoy.

To calumniate innovation, and to decry it, is preposterous. Have there never been any innovations on the Constitution? Can it be forgotten, for one moment, that all the advantages, civil and political, which we enjoy at this hour, are in reality the immediate and fortunate effects of innovation? It is by innovations that the English Constitution has grown and flourished. It is by innovations that the House of Commons has risen to importance. It was at different eras that the counties and towns were empowered to elect representatives. Even the office of Speaker was an innovation; for it was not heard of till the time of Richard the Second. What was more, the freedom of speech, now so highly valued, was an innovation; for there were times when no member dared to avow his sentiments, and when his head must have answered for the boldness of his tongue. To argue against innovations, is to argue against improvements of every kind. When the followers of Wickliffe maintained the cause of humanity and reasor.

against absurdity and superstition, "No innovation," was the cry; and the fires of persecution blazed over the Kingdom. "Let there be no innovation," is ever the maxim of the ignorant, the interested, and the worthless. It is the favorite tenet of the servile advocate of tyranny. It is the motto which Bigotry has inscribed on her banners. It is the barrier that opposes every improvement, political, civil, and religious. To reprobate all innovations on the Constitution, is to suppose that it is perfect. But perfection was not its attribute either in the Saxon or Norman times. It is not its attribute at the present moment. Alterations are perpetually necessary in every Constitution; for the Government should be accommodated to the times, to the circumstances, to the wants of a People, which are ever changing.


MR. SPEAKER, it behoves the piety as well as the wisdom of Parlia ment to disappoint these endeavors to make religion itself an engine of sedition. Sir, the very worst mischief that can be done to religion is to pervert it to the purposes of faction. Heaven and hell are not more distant than the benevolent.spirit of the Gospel and the malig nant spirit of party: The most impious wars ever made were those called holy wars. He who hates another man for not being a Christian is himself not a Christian. Toleration is the basis of all public quiet. It is a charter of freedom given to the mind, more valuable, I think, than that which secures our persons and estates. Indeed, they are inseparably connected; for, where the mind is not free, where the conscience is enthralled, there is no freedom. I repeat it; persecution is as impious as it is cruel and unwise. It not only opposes every precept of the New Testament, but it invades the prerogative of God Himself. It is a usurpation of the attributes which belong exclusively to the Most High. It is a vain endeavor to ascend into His Throne, to wield His sceptre, and to hurl His thunderbolts.

And then its own history proves how useless it is. Truth is immortal; the sword cannot pierce it, fire cannot consume it, prisons cannot incarcerate it, famine cannot starve it; all the violence of men, stirred up by the power and subtlety of hell, cannot put it to death. In the person of its martyrs it bids defiance to the will of the tyrant who persecutes it, and with the martyr's last breath predicts its own full and final triumphs. The Pagan persecuted the Christian, but yet Christianity lives. The Roman Catholic persecuted the Protestant, but yet Protestantism lives. The Protestant persecuted the Roman Catholic, but yet Catholicism lives. The Church of England persecuted the Nonconformists, and yet Nonconformity lives. Nonconformists persecuted Episcopalians, yet Episcopacy lives. When persecution is carried to its extreme length of extirpating heretics, Truth may be extinguished in one place, but it will break out in another. If opinions cannot be put down by argument, they cannot by power. Truth gains

the victory in the end, not only by its own evidences, but by the suffer ings of its confessors. Therefore, Sir, if we have a mind to establish peace among the People, we must allow men to judge freely in matters of religion, and to embrace that opinion they think right, without any hope of temporal reward, without any fear of temporal punishment.

50. AMERICA'S OBLIGATIONS TO ENGLAND, 1765. — Col. Barré, in reply to Charler Townshend, a member of the Ministry.

THE honorable member has asked: "And now will these Americans, children planted by our care, nourished up by our indulgence, and protected by our arms, will they grudge to contribute their mite?" They planted by your care! No, your oppressions planted them in America! They fled from your tyranny to a then uncultivated and inhospitable country, where they exposed themselves to almost all the hardships to which human nature is liable; and, among others, to the cruelties of a savage foe the most subtle, and I will take upon me to say the most formidable, of any People upon the face of God's earth; and yet, actuated by principles of true English liberty, our American brethren met all hardships with pleasure, compared with those they suffered in their own country from the hands of those that should

have been their friends.

They nourished up by your indulgence! - They grew by your neglect of them! As soon as you began to care about them, that care was exercised in sending persons to rule them, in one department and another, who were, perhaps, the deputies of deputies to some menbers of this House, sent to spy out their liberties, to misrepresent their actions, and to prey upon them; men whose behavior, on many occasions, has caused the blood of those sons of liberty to recoil within them; men promoted to the highest seats of justice, some who, to my knowledge, were glad, by going to a foreign country, to escape being brought to the bar of a court of justice in their own.


They protected by your arms! - They have nobly taken up arms in your defence! have exerted a valor, amidst their constant and laborious industry, for the defence of a country whose frontier was drenched in blood, while its interior parts yielded all its little savings to your emolument. And, believe me, remember I this day told you so, - that same spirit of freedom which actuated that People at first will accompany them still; but prudence forbids me to explain myself further. God knows I do not at this time speak from motives of party heat. What I deliver are the genuine sentiments of my heart. However superior to me, in general knowledge and expe rience, the respectable body of this House may be, yet I claim to know more of America than most of you, having seen and been conversant in that country. The People, I believe, are as truly loyal as any subjects the King has; but they are a People jealous of their liberties, and who will vindicate them to the last drop of their blood, if they should ever be violated.

« PreviousContinue »