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LORD MANSFIELD'S SPEECH,
IN THE HOUSE OF LORDS, MAY 8TH, 1770, ON A BILL TO DEPRIVE PEERS OF THE REALM OF CERTAIN PRIVILEGES.
THIS speech has been very justly admired as among the most chaste, polished, and elegant productions of Lord Mansfield's eloquence. It was delivered in an animated discussion which took place on a bill introduced into the house of lords on the 8th of May, 1770, to annul the privilege whịch protected against legal process the servants and property of peers of the realm. The bill, sợ congenial with the spirit of English jurisprudence, whose greatest boast is the equal and exact distribution of justice, was finally passed,
WHEN I consider the importance of this bill to your lordships, I am not surprised it has taken so much of your consideration. It is a bill, indeed, of no common magnitude ; it is no less than to take away from two thirds of the legislative body of this great kingdom certain privileges and immunities, of which they have been long possessed. Perhaps there is no situation that the human mind can be placed in, that is so difficult, and so trying, as where it is made a judge in its own cause. There is something implanted in the breast of man so attached to itself, so tenacious of privileges once obtained, that, in such a situation, either to discuss with impartiality, or decide with jus.
tice, has ever been held as the summit of all human virtue. The bill now in question puts your lordships in this very predicament; and I doubt not but the wisdom of your decision will convince the world, that, where self-interest and justice are in opposite scales, the latter will ever preponderate with your lordships.
Privileges have been granted to legislators in all ages and in all countries. The practice is founded in wisdom; and, indeed, it is peculiarly essential to the constitution of this country, that the members of both houses should be free in their persons in cases of civil suits. For, there may come a time when the safety and welfare of this whole empire may depend upon their attendance in parliament. God forbid that I should advise any measure that would in future endanger the state ; but the bill before your lordships has, I am confident, no such tendency, for it ex. pressly secures the persons of members of either house in all civil suits. This being the case, I confess
, when I see many noble lords, for whose judgment ! have the greatest respect, standing up to oppose which is calculated merely to facilitate the recovery of just and legal debts, I am astonished and amazed
. They, I doubt not, oppose the bill upon publick principles. I would not wish to insinuate that pri vate interest has the least weight in their determi
. nation. This bill has been frequently proposed, and as fre
. quently miscarried; but it was always lost in the lower house. Little did I think, when it had passed the commons, that it possibly could have met with such opposition here. Shall it be said that lords, the grand council of the nation, the highest judicial and legislative body of the realm, endeavour to evade by privilege, those very laws which you en, force on your fellow subjects ? Forbid it justice. am sure, were the noble lords as well acquainted as I am with but half the difficulties and delays that are every day occasioned in the courts of justice, under
pretence of privilege, they would not, nay, they could not, oppose this bill.
I have waited with patience to hear what arguments might be urged against the bill; but I have waited in vain. The truth is, there is no argument that can weigh against it. The justice, and expediency, of this bill is such as renders it self evident. It is a proposition of that nature that can neither be weaken. ed by argument, nor entangled with sophistry. Much, indeed, has been said by some noble lords on the wisdom of our ancestors, and how differently they thought from us. They not only decreed, that privilege should prevent all civil suits from proceeding during the sitting of parliament, but likewise granted protection to the very servants of members. I shall say nothing on the wisdom of our ancestors; it might perhaps appear invidious, and is not necessary in the present case. I shall only say, that the noble lords that flatter themselves with the weight of that reflection, should remember, that, as circumstances alter, things themselves should alter. Formerly it was not so fashionable either for masters or servants to run in debt as it is at present; nor formerly were merchants or manufacturers members of parliament, as at present. The case now is very different. Both merchants and manufacturers are, with great propriety, elected members of the lower house. Commerce having thus got into the legislative body of the kingdom, privilege must be done away. We all know that the very soul and essence of trade are regular payments: and sad experience teaches us, that there are men, who will not make their regular payments without the compulsive power of the laws. The law then ought to be equally open to all; any exemption to particular men, or particular ranks of men, is, in a free commercial country, a solecism of the grossest nature. But I will not trouble your lordships with arguments for that which is sufficiently evident without any. I shall only say a few words to some noble lords, who foresee much inconveniency from the persons of their servants being liable to be
arrested. One noble lord observes, that the coacha man of a peer may be arrested while he is driving his master to the house, and consequently he will not be able to attend his duty in parliament. If this was actually to happen, there are so many methods by which the member might still get to the house, I can hardly think the noble lord to be serious in his objection. Another noble lord said, that by this bill one might lose their most valuable and honest servants. This I hold to be a contradiction in terms : for be neither can be a valuable servant, nor an honest man, who gets into debt, which he neither is able nor willing
till compelled by law. If my servant, by unforeseen accidents, has got in debt, and I still wish to retain him, I certainly would pay the debt. But upon no principle of liberal legislation whatever, can my servant have a title to set his creditors at defiance; while, for forty shillings only, the honest tradesman may be torn from his family and locked up in gaol. It is monstrous injustice ! I fatter myself, however, the determination of this day will entirely put an end to all such partial proceedings for the future, by passing into a law the bill now under your lordships' consideration.
I now come to speak upon what, indeed, I would have gladly avoided, had I not been particularly pointed at for the part I have taken in this bill. It has been said by a noble lord on my left hand, that I likewise am running the race of popularity. If the noble lord means, by popularity, that applause bestowed by after ages on good and virtuous actions I have long been struggling in that race, to what purpose all-trying time can alone determine; but, if the noble lord means that mushroom popularity which is raised without merit; and lost without a crime, he is much mistaken in his opinion. I defy the noble lord to point out a single action in my life where the popularity of the times ever had the smallest influence on my determinations. I thank God I have a more permanent and steady rule for my conduct—the dictates of my own breast. Those that haye foregone
that pleasing adviser, and given up their mind to be the slave of every popular impulse, I sincerely pity; I pity them still more, if their vanity leads them to mistake the shouts of a mob for the trumpet of their fame. Experience might inform them that many, who have been saluted with the huzzas of a crowd one day, have received their execrations the next; and many who, by the popularity of their times, have been held up as spotless patriots, have nevertheless appeared upon the historian's page, when truth has triumphed over delusion, the assassins of liberty. Why, then, the noble lord can think I am ambitious of present popularity, that echo of folly and shadow of renown, I am at a loss to determine. Besides, I do not know that the bill now before your lordships will be popular; it depends much upon the caprice of the day. It may not be popular to compel people to pay their debts; and in that case the present must be an unpopular bill. It may not be popular neither to take away any of the privileges of parliament; for I very well remember, and many of your lordships may
remember, that not long ago the popular cry was for the extension of privilege ; and so far did they carry it at that time, that it was said that privilege protected members from criminal actions ; nay, such
power of popular prejudices over weak minds, that the very decisions of some of the courts were tinctured with that doctrine. It was undoubtedly an abominable doctrine. I thought so then, and think so still; but nevertheless it was a popular doctrine, and came immediately from those who were called the friends of liberty, how deservedly time will show. True liberty, in my opinion, can only exist when justice is equally administered to all, to the king, and to the beggar. Where is the justice, then, or where is the law, that protects a member of parlidment more than any other man from the punishment due to his crimes? The laws of this country allow of no place nor no employment to be a sanctuary for crimes; and, where I have the honour to sit as judge,