« PreviousContinue »
next meeting, which was (o be held by adjournment in the ensuing Easter week.
As this petition served in a great measure as the groundwork for those that succeeded from other counties and towns, we (hall enter the more particularly into its de. tail.-.— They begin by stating the following m tters as facts—That the nation had for several years been engaged in a most expensive and unlouunate war j that many of our valuable colonies, having declared themselves independent, had formed a strict confederacy with our most dangerous and inveterate .enemies; and that the consequence of those tombined misfortunes had been, a large addition to the national debt, a heavy accumulation of taxes, with a rapid decline of the trade, manufactures, and land-rents of the kingdom.—- 1 bey then declare, that, alarmed at the diminished resources and growing burthens of this country, and convinced, that rigid frugality is now indispensably necessary in every department of the state, they observed with grief, that notwithstanding the calamities, and impoverished condition of the nation, much public money had been improvidently iquandered; that many individuals enjoy sinecure places, efficient places with exorbitant emoluments, and pensions, unmerited by public service, to a large, and still increasing amount; whence the crown has acquired a great unconstitutional influence, which, if not timely checked, may soon prove fatal to the liberties of this country.
They further declare, that conceiving the true end of every legitimate government to be, not the
emolument of any individual, but the welfare of the community; and considering, that by the constitution, the custody of the national purse is entrusted in a peculiar manner to that house; they beg leave to represent, that until effectual measures be taken to redress those oppressive grievances, the grant of any additional sum of money, beyond the produce of the present taxes, would be injurious to the rights and property of the people, and derogatory from the honour and dignity of parliament. —They, therefore, appealing to the justice <f the Commons, most earnestly request, that before any new burthens are laid upon this country, effectual measures might be taken by that house, to enquire into and correct the gross abuses in the expenditure of public money; to reduce all exorbitant emolument;; to rescind and abolish all sinecure places, and unmerited pensions; and to appropriate the produce to the necessities of the state.
The clergy upon this occasion disproved a charge, which had been often laid, and, perhaps, not always without some foundation, against them; as if they were more peculiarly disposed to be obsequious to power, and to support all measures, of whatever government, and whatever nature, which did not immediately affect their own particular rights or privileges, than any other order of the community. Although the meeting was in the seat of the metropolitan see, and immediately under the eye of provincial authority and government, not only a considerable number of that body attended, and zealoufly promoted the resolutions and petition;
mion ; but no less than fourteen
been nude on the 7th and 15 th of
The example of York and Middlesex was soon followed by the county palatine of Chester. And in a prettv c'ole succession of time, by the counties of Herts, Sussex, Huntingdon, Suiry, Cumberland,
Bedford, Essex, Somerset, Gloucester, Wilts, Dorset, Devon, Norfolk, Berks, Bucks, Nottingham, Kent, Northumberland, Suffolk, Hereford, Cambridge, and Derby, nearly, if not entirely, in the order in which they are placed, Hants had agreed upon a petition, on the fame day with Middlesex. The Welsh counties of Denbigh, Flint, and Biecknock, likewise petitioned, as did the cities of London, Westminster, York, Bristol, Gloucester, and Hereford, with the towns of Nottingham, Reading, Cambridge, Bridgewater, and Newcastle upon Tyne. The county of Northampton declined petitioning, but voted resolutions, and instructions to their representatives, upon the fame ground, and including the purport of the petitions, as a previous measure.
It must not be supposed, that in all these counties and towns, the spirit was alike, or that the lame unanimity prevailed. In many, the weight of property appeared two motions of clearly and strongly for the petireform, wheh had tions. In others it was more doubtful. But there were few, in which any direct or successful opposition was made to the measure. So that, explicitly or tacitly, it might be considered as freeing tolerably well with the seuse of those places. \
The measure of forming committees, and entering in o associations, was a great stumbling-block in some of the counties. Many who were heartily disposed to concur in rellrdining the supposed dangerous influence of the crown, in procuring a reform of the public expenditure, and in restoring the independency of parliament, by cutting off the mean'- of corruption, were, however, apprehensive [1+ of
of evil, and even of danger from these measures. Associations and committees had produced such recent effects in America, and even in Ireland, that the very terms were become suspicious. The friends of government dexterously applied the odium or terror attending these words to all the purposes of which they were capable; and 1 many, who would not venture directly to encounter the popular rage for reformation, or openly to avow that they were the friends of public extravagance' or corruption, covered their opposition by quarrelling with these obnoxious incorporations. The counties of Suffolk, Northumberland, Hereford, and Derby, where the opposite parties were pretty equally balanced, accordingly appointed no committees. In Kent, where the popular side was prevalent, a moderating scheme was proposed. To this the friends of government, along with those who wished for redress, but who were enemies to committees, and did not approve of strong language, jointly adhered,' and so far acted as one party. By this means, two petitions for ledress were presented from that county j and while a committee was formed, and the scheme of association was fully adopted by the majority, a • very numerous and considerable party, either condemned or opposed both measures.
The members of administration, and men in office, were not wholly deficient in their endeavours to prevent the county meetings. But they were generally overborne by the torren'. Nothing could more clearly demonstrate the impetuosity of the spirit which then prevailed, than that the noble lord at the head
of the admiralty, and at the head likewise, personally, of a great body of his numerous friends, could not prevent the measures of a petition and a committee, from being carried in his own native and favourite county; in which he had exerted himself with his known ability in this sort of affairs, and with all the influence of the many great offices he had held for so many years, to form a secure and settled interest. All direct opposition being fruitless, endeavour* were used to obtain protests j but though one or two persons of great property and consequence took the lead in this measure, it was not attended with a success at all equal to expectation. Some protests were signed in the counties of Herts, Huntingdon, Norfolk, Sussex, and Surry. These protests did not oppose (that indeed could scarcely be done) the prayer of the petitions; but the protestors were of opinion, that the whole ought to be left to the discretion of parliament, in whose public spirit and integrity they thought it improper to express, particularly at that time, any sort of distrust.
The petition from the Feb gth> county of York was the first presented, and was introduced in the House of Commons by Sir George Saville; who, notwithstanding the pressure of a heavy cold and hoarseness, accompanied it with a speech of considerable length. Under these disadvantages, the novelty and importance of the subject, and perhaps still more, the character of that eminent and revered patriot, produced so profound an attention, silence, and stillness in every part of the house, as served in a great measure measure to remedy the occasional
He observed, that he had the honour to represent a very extensive, a very populous, a very mercantile, manufacturing, and a very rich county. That, in such a county, it could not be imagined, but that many private interests might be made objects of parliamentary bounty or i'uppoit, if either the represented, or representatives, like some others, were more attentive to such matters, than to the great concerns of the nation. He had, however, no private petition to present, or bill 10 bring in; although in such a country as Yorkihire there could be no lack of proper objects of improvement, of new bridges, mads, and havens, which might well deserve the consideration of the legislature. He brought a petition, which had swallowed up the consideration of all private objects, and superceded all private petitions. A petition subscribed by eight thousand freeholders and upwards. The people had heard, that a regard to private interest, in that house, was a great enemy to the discharge of public duty. They tec! severely the pressure of heavy taxes, and are at the fame time told, that the money, which they can so ill spare, is wasted profusely, not only without its producing any good, but that it is applied to the production of many bad effects.
These things, he said, were represented calmly, and with moderation. Nothing was said of the conduct of ministers; it might have been good, or it might have been bad, for ought that appeared in the petition. Never lurely were petitioners to parliament, upon any
great public grievance, more cool
and dispassionate. They confine themselves, said he, to one object,. the expenditure of the public money. But though they made no strictures on the past management of ministers, he* could not in candour but acknowledge, that it was pretty plainly hinted or implied, that those who had hitherto managed our public affairs so badly, as to afford ground for the present complaint, were not fitting to be longer entrusted with the management of such important concerns.
He called upon the minister to speak out like a man, and to declare, whether he meant to countenance and support the •petition or not. Such an open and manly declaration of his intentions would save them much time and trouble, and would better become a man of his quality and power, than any mean arts of ministerial juggling and craft. He made no threats; that petition was not presented by men with swords and muskets. It was a legal, a constitutional petition. The request of the petitioners was so just and reasonable, that they could not but expect it would be gianted; but should it be refused—there he would leave a blank; that blank, let the consciences, let the feelings, let the reason of ministers supply. Partial expedients—mock enquiries, would not satisfy. The universality of the sentiments on this subject, he said, was no contemptible proof of their justness. He wished that house to consider from whom that petition comes. It was first moved in a meeting of six hun* dred gent.emen, and upwards; in the hall where that petition was conceived, there was more property perty than within the walls of that Bouse.—He then threw down, with some vehemence, upon the table, a lift of the gentlemen's names, and continued—But they are not to abandon their petition, whatever may be its fate in this house; there is a committee appointed to correspond on the subject of the petition with 1 he committees of other counties.—He concluded by likewise throwing on the table a list os the names of the committee.
The minister seemed to (hew some degree of vexation and resentment in his answer. He said, that the honourable gentleman needed not to have taken so much pains to convince the house, that the petition ought to be received; nor to have expati.ted on lo obvious a truth, as that no man, or set of men, would dare to reject it. No man in his fenses, who fat in that house, could be ignorant, that the right of petitioning belonged to all British subjects.—He had been called upon to declare, whether he would oppose or forward the object of the petition. The petition was now before the house; it had been read; and it ihould have his consent to lie on the table .for some time, as was usual in such cases, for the perusal of the members. The house, he doubted not, would take it into their serious consideration; and a'ter erquirin<* into the facts alledged, after examining the merits of the cause, they would freely and impartially d-cide, according to the best of their judgment j and in such a manner, as to consult the good of the petitioners, without losing sight of that of the country in general. A petition properly introduced, would always, he hoped, in that
house, meet with a fair and candid attention.
With respect to the threats, which, he said, had been broadly hinted by the honourable gentleman, he hoped they could have no influence in that house, nor at all affect the minds of the judges, whether on one way or the other. He had been threatened with unknown but severe consequences, if he should so much as delay granting the expected redress, until an enquiry should be made into the existence, nature, and extent of the alledged grievances. Upon that, he mull observe, that the petition must suffer no small diminution of its supposed value, justness, and importance, from its being accompanied by a prohibition of all enquiry intu the validity of the facts 0.1 wh'ch it was - pretended to be founded. At lealt suspicions were thrown out, that any enquiry which might be undertaken, would be with sinister and partial views, How far that was fair and candid, how far such suppositions, in a cafe of that kind, were parliamentary, he submitted to the judgment of the house.— He concluded by informing the house, that they must not consider his proceeding in raising the- necessary supplies as any disrespect to the petition. The petition was neither formally nor virtually negatived, ahhough the consideration of it was not preferred to all other business. The supplies had been voted, and it would be necessary, without much longer delay, to enter on the subject of <waji and means.
Mr. Fox took up the minister's speech, with that fervour, animation, energy, and severity, with