« PreviousContinue »
CHAP. VIII. Meeting of parliament-petition of Mr. Wilkes--charges against him, at the instance of ministers-expelled the house re-chosen—declared ineligible during the present parliament
-chosen a third time -election again declared void-a competitor set up-Mr. Wilkes returned by a great majority - Mr. Lutterel declared by parliament duly elected.-Violent debates, and national ferment. -- Revival against the Americans of trials within the realm for treasons committed beyond seas.-Debt on the civil lift. -- Affairs of the East India company-Hyder Ally-war in the Carnatic. -Europe--gallant resistance of Corsica against the Frenchat last overpowered.-America-discontent increases from the new mode of trial.-Extreme dissatisfaction in England -the chief topic the Middlesex election.- Johnson's False Alarm.-Junius -object and character of that extraordinary work.-Petitions-remonstrance of the city of London.Meeting of parliament---lords Chatham and Camden oppose ministry-resignation of the duke of Grafton. The session commenced:on the 8th of November ; CHA P.
his majesty recommended from the throne * the consideration of our commercial interests, and re. 1768.
Meeting of gretted the interruption on the continent of the gen parliament. neral tranquillity; but stated the assurances which he had received, that Britain would not be affected by the foreign disturbances. He mentioned the commotions in America, particularly submitted the affairs of that part of his dominions to the wifdom of parliament, and inculcated the necessity of internal harmony and union. To the proposed
* See State Papers, 1768.
CHA P. addresses, great opposition was made ; ministers were
rica, and with gross inattention to external affairs.
The first particular subject which occupied their
Η Α Ρ.
During this session, Wilkes engrossed a great por. Ç tion of parliamentary attention. This celebrated agitator had uniformly proposed * by political bustlę .1? to acquire notoriety and wealth. He succeeded in becoming conspicuous, but had not hitherto attained opulence: to ministers (as we have seen) he had in vain applied for pecuniary assistance; but though they refused him the required fupply, they left and promoted one means of acquisition, in his extensive popularity. In the generous hearts of Englishmen, distress is a never-failing passport to pity and 'protection. If the suffering arise from real or apparent oppression, the spirit of freedom enhances the de. fire of benignant vindication; and especially, if the alleged persecution issue from the executive government. But as the affections of the multitude are more ardent than their judgment is discriminating, their regards are more frequently bestowed upon noisy demagogues, than wise and beneficent patriots. Whoever proposes popularity as his chief object, well knows that he must keep alive the public attention. Wilkes and his supporters were thoroughly skilled in the machinery of political notoriety, and spent a great part of the recess in holding meetings, clubs, and parties ; framing resolutions, remonstrances, and pamphlets. Leit the curiosity of the people should be diminished, or the zeal of his supporters cooled, Wilkes deemed Petition of it expedient to present a petition to the house of " commons. This paper recapitulated all his alleged grievances, from his first apprehension in April .
* This he himself declared to Mr. Gibbon, before the publication of the North Briton. Gibbon's Miscellaneous Works, yol.i. p. 100, note.
Mr. Wilkes. VUI.
CHAP. 1763, to his commitment in 1768: the only new
matter that it contained was an assertion, that lord Mansfield had illegally and tyrannically altered the records; and that Philip Carteret Webb esq. secretary to the treasury, had bribed the petitioner's ser
vants with the public money, to steal the Essay on Proceedings Woman, to be made a ground of prosecution. The respecting
former statements of the petition, being a narrative of proceedings already determined by the law of the country, the house passed over; on the two last
allegations a difcuffion commenced on the 21st of 1769.
January 1769, which lasted till the 3d of February. On the charge against lord Mansfield it was resolved, that the orders made by the lord chief justice of the king's bench, for the amendment of the informations established in the said court against Mr. Wilkes, were according to law and equity, and the practice of the court; and also, that the complaint was frivolous, groundless, and prejudicial to the administration of public justice : on the second head it was resolved, that the charge against Mr. Webb was not proved. The preface to lord Weymouth's letter, of which Mr. Wilkes acknowledged himself author and publisher, next came under consideration ; it was voted to be a false, scandalous, and seditious libel, tending to the subversion of all order and legal government; and a proposition was immediately made, that Mr. Wilkes should be expelled the house. In supporting this motion, ministers and their adherents spoke and acted as parties eagerly interested in carrying a propofition, not as judges investigating the conduct of one of their peers, that they mighi deliver a fair and impartial sentence.
The charge was accumulative and indefinite; it con- CH A Pa tained a recitation of his former offences and expulfion, and also of conduct which was then under. 5769. going the animadversion of the courts of law, fully competent to condemnation or acquittal *. Their speeches † chiefly expatiated on these subjects, and contained the irrelevant exaggerations of passion, much more than the statements and proofs of juftice. The opposers of this sentence contended, that the libel on lord Weymouth, a peer of the realm, was the only specific ground of the motion ; that his privileges as a lord, were not cognizable by the commons; and that any offence against him as a British fubject, belonged to the laws of the land. For the other libels, he had been already expelled, and the house had punished him for an attack upon the legislature. Should he be twice chastised for the fame offence? “ By the present proposition (they faid) we are to blend the executive and judicial powers of the state with the legislative, and to extend our jurisdiction, that we may take upon ourselves the odium of trying and punishing in a summary manner an offence which does not affect us, but is subject to the investigation of the laws. In the exercise of this assumed power, we are to form an accumulative and complicated charge, which no other courts, nor eren we, have ever admitted in other instances. We are to mingle new crimes with old, and to try a man twice for the same misdemeanour. We are to transfer the censures of a
* See Journal of the House of Commons, Feb. 3d, 1769.
+ See Parliamentary Debates on the expulsion of Wilkes ; February 3d, 1769.