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WHEREAs doubts and controversies have arisen at various times, concerning the right of jurors to try the whole matter laid in indictments and informations for seditious and other libels: And whereas trial by juries would be of none or imperfect effect if the jurors were not held to be competent to try the whole matter aforesaid; For settling and clearing such doubts and controversies, and for securing to the subject the effectual and complete benefit of trial by juries in such indictments and informations : BE it enacted, &c. That jurors duly impannelled and sworn to try the issue between the king and the defendant, upon any indictment or information for a seditious libel, or a libel under any other denomination or description, shall be held and reputed competent to all intents and purposes, in law and in right, to try every part of the matter laid or charged in said indictment or information, comprehending the criminal intention of the defendant, and the evil tendency of the libel charged, as well as the mere fact of the publication thereof, and the application by innuendo of blanks, initial letters, pictures, and other devices; any opinion, question, ambiguity or doubt to the contrary notwithstanding.
On the second reading of a Bill for the repeal of the Marriage Act.*
This act [the marriage act] stands upon two principles; one, that the power of marrying without consent of parents should not take place till twenty-one years of age; the other, that all marriages should be public. The proposition of the honourable mover goes to the first ; and undoubtedly his motives are fair and honourable ; and even in that measure, by which he would take away paternal power, he is influenced to it by filial piety, and he is led into it by a natural and to him inevitable but real mistake, that the ordinary race of mankind advance as fast towards maturity of judgment and understanding as he does. The question is not now, whether the law ought to acknowledge and protect such a state of life as minority; nor whether the continuance, which is fixed for that state, be not improperly prolonged in the law of England. Neither of these in general are questioned. The only question is, whether matrimony is to be taken out of the general rule, and whether the minors of both sexes, without the consent of their parents, ought to have a capacity of contracting the matrimonial, whilst they have not the capacity of contracting any other engagement. Now it appears to me very clear, that they ought not. It is a great mistake to think, that mere animal propagation is the sole end of matrimony. Matrimony is instituted not only for the propagation of men, but for their nutrition, their education, their establishment; and for the answering of all the purposes of a rational and moral being; and it is not the duty of the community to consider alone of how many, but how useful citizens it shall be composed. It is most certain, that men are well qualified for propagation, long before they are sufficiently qualified even by bodily strength, much less by mental prudence, and by acquired skill in trades and professions, for the maintenance of a family. Therefore, to enable and authorize any man to introduce citizens into the commonwealth before a rational security can be
* This bill was brought into the house of commons by Mr. Fox, June 1, 1781; ań rejected, on the second reading, without a division.
given that he may provide for them, and educate them as citizens ought to be provided for and educated, is totally incongruous with the whole order of society. Nay, it is fundamentally unjust; for a man that breeds a family without competent means of maintenance, incumbers other men with his children, and disables them so far from maintaining their own. The improvident marriage of one man becomes a tax upon the orderly and regular marriage of all the rest. Therefore those laws are wisely constituted, that give a man the use of all his faculties at one time; that they may be mutually subservient, aiding and assisting to each other: that the time of his completing his bodily strength, the time of mental discretion, the time of his having learned his trade, and the time at which he has the disposition of his fortune, should be likewise the time in which he is permitted to introduce citizens into the state, and to charge the community with their maintenance. To give a man a family during his apprenticeship, whilst his very labour belongs to another; to give him a family when you do not give him a fortune to maintain it; to give him a family before he can contract any one of those engagements, without which no business can be carried on, would be to burden the state with families without any security for their maintenance. When parents themselves marry their children, they become in some sort security to prevent the ill consequences. You have this security in parental consent; the state takes its security in the knowledge of human nature. Parents ordinarily consider little the passion of their children, and their present gratification. Don’t fear the power of a father; it is kind to passion to give it time to cool. But their censures sometimes inake me smile; sometimes, for I am very infirm, make me angry; stepe bilem, stepe jocum moveml. It gives me pain to differ on this occasion from many, if not most of those whom I honour and esteem. To suffer the grave animadversion and censorial rebuke of the honourable gentleman who made the motion; of him whose good nature and good sense the house look upon with a particular partiality; whose approbation would have been one of the highest objects of my ambition; this hurts me. It is said, the marriage act is aristocratic. I am accused, I am told abroad, of being a man of aristocratic principles. If by aristocracy they mean the peers, I have no vulgar admiration, nor any vulgar antipathy towards them; I hold their order in cold and decent respect. I hold them to be of an absolute necessity in the constitution, but I think they are only good when kept within their proper bounds. I trust, whenever there has been a dispute between these houses, the part I have taken has not been equivocal. If by the aristocracy, which indeed comes nearer to the point, they mean an adherence to the rich and powerful against the or and weak, this would indeed be a very extraordinary part. have incurred the odium of gentlemen in this house for not paying sufficient regard to men of ample property. . When, indeed the smallest rights of the poorest people in the kingdom are in question, I would set my face against any act of pride and power countenanced by the highest that are in it; and if it should come to the last extremity and to a contest of blood —God forbid! God forbid!—my part is taken; I would take my fate with the poor, and low, and feeble. But if these people came to turn their liberty into a cloak for maliciousness, and to seek a privilege of exemption, not from power, but from the rules of morality and virtuous discipline, then I would join my hand to make them feel the force, which a few, united in a good cause, have over a multitude of the profligate and feroCIOuS. I wish the nature of the ground of repeal were considered with a little attention. It is said the act tends to accumulate, to keep up the power of great families; and to add wealth to wealth. It may be that it does so. It is impossible that any principle of law or government useful to the community should be established without an advantage to those who have the greatest stake in the country. Even some vices arise from it. The same laws which secure property encourage avarice; and the fences made about honest acquisition are the strong bars which secure the hoards of the miser. The dignities of magistracy are encouragements to ambition, with all the black train of villanies, which attend that wicked passion. But still we must have laws to secure property; and still we must have ranks and distinctions, and magistracy in the state, notwithstanding their manifest tendency to encourage avarice and ambition. By affirming the parental authority throughout the state, parents in high rank will generally aim at, and will sometimes have the means too, of preserving their minor children from any but wealthy or splendid matches. But this authority preserves from a thousand misfortunes, which embitter every part of every man's domestic life, and tear to pieces the dearest ties in human society. I am no peer, nor like to be—but am in middle life, in the mass of citizens—yet I should feel for a son, who married a [... woman, or a daughter, who married a dishonourale and prostituted man, as much as any peer in the realm.
You are afraid of the avaricious principle of fathers. But observe that the avaricious principle is here mitigated very considerably. It is avarice by proxy ; it is avarice not working by itself or for itself, but through the medium of parental affection, meaning to procure good to its offspring. But the contest is not between love and avarice.
While you would guard against the possible operation of this species of benevolent avarice, the avarice of the father, you let loose another species of avarice, that of the fortunehunter, unmitigated, unqualified. To show the motives, who has heard of a man running away with a woman not worth sixpence? Do not call this by the name of the sweet and best passion—love. It is robbery, not a jot better than any other.
Would you suffer the sworn enemy of his family, his life and his honour, possibly the shame and scandal and blot of human society, to debauch from his care and protection the dearest pledge that he has on earth, the sole comfort of his declining years, almost in infantine imbecility; and with it to carry into the hands of his enemy and the disgrace of nature, the dear-earned substance of a careful and laborious life? Think of the daughter of an honest virtuous parent, allied to vice and infamy Think of the hopeful son tied for life by the meretricious arts of the refuse of mercenary and promiscuous lewdness. Have mercy on the youth of both sexes; protect them from their ignorance and inexperience; protect one part of life by the wisdom of another; protect them by the wisdom of laws and the care of nature,