« PreviousContinue »
neither royal favour nor popular applause shall ever protect the guilty.
I have now only to beg pardon for having employed so much of your lordships' time ; and I am very sorry a bill, fraught with so good consequences, has not met with an abler advocate ; but I doubt not your lordships' determination will convince the world that a bill, calculated to contribute so much to the equal distribution of justice as the present, requires, with your lordships, but very little support.
LORD CHESTERFIELD'S FIRST SPEECH
ON THE GIN ACT, FEBRUARY 2I$T, 1743, AFTER THE SE
COND READING OF THE BILL.
THE act of parliament of 1736, by which no person was permitted to sell spirituous liquors in less quantity than two gallons, without a license, for which 501. were to be paid, having proved, from the difficulties attend. ing its execution, ineffectual in checking the progress of drunkenness among the common people, a new bill was introduced into the house of commons and car. ried, laying a small duty on spirits per gallon, at the still head, and reducing also the price of licenses to twenty shillings.
During the debate on the bill, in the house of lords, the Earl of Chesterfield delivered two speeches, both of which we preserve. Leaving his powers of reasoning for more weighty discussions, he here employs to expose and to decry the silly tendency of the measure the pleasantry of wit, and the sportiveness of good humoured irony. These speeches have very great merit. They will be read with avidity by those who relish the sprightly sallies of genius, or who are emulous of a style of eloquence which though it may not always convince, will never fail to delight.
THE bill now under our consideration appears to me to deserve a much closer regard than seems to
have been paid to it in the other house, through which it was hurried with the utmost precipitation, and where it passed almost without the formality of a de. bate. Nor can I think that earnestness, with which some lords seem inclined to press it forward here, consistent with the importance of the consequences which may with great reason be expected from it.
It has been urged, that where so great a number have formed expectations of a national benefit from any bill, so much deference, at least, is due to their judgment, as that the bill should be considered in a committee. This, my lords, I admit to be in other cases a just and reasonable demand ; and will readily allow that the proposal, not only of a considerable number, but even of any single lord, ought to be fully examined, and regularly debated, according to the usual forms of this house. But in the present case, my lords, and in all cases like the present, this demand is improper, because it is useless; and it is useless, because we can do now all that we can do hereafter in a committee. For the bill before us is a money bill, which, according to the present opi. nion of the commons, we have no right to amend, and which, therefore, we have no need of considering in a committee, since the event of all our deliberations must be, that we are either to reject or pass
it in its present state. For I suppose no lord will think this a proper time to enter into a controversy with the commons, for the revival of those privileges to which I believe we have a right; and such a controversy, the least attempt to amend a money bill will certainly produce.
To desire, therefore, my lords, that this bill may be considered in a committee, is only to desire that it may gain one step without opposition; that it may proceed through the forms of the house by stealth, and that the consideration of it may be delayed, till the exigencies of the government shall be so great, as not to allow time for raising the supplies by any other method.
By this artifice, gross as it is, the patrons of this wonderful bill hope to obstruct a plain and open detection of its tendency. They hope, my lords, that the bill shall operate in the same manner with the liquor which it is intended to bring into more general use; and that, as those who drink spirits are drunk before they are well aware that they are drinking, the effects of this law shall be perceived before we know that we have made it. Their intent is, to give us a dram of policy, which is to be swallowed before it is tasted, and which, when once it is swallowed, will turn our heads.
But, my lords, I hope we shall be so cautious as to examine the draught which these state empiricks have thought proper to offer us; and I am confident that a very little examination will convince us of the pernicious qualities of their new preparation, and show that it can have no other effect than that of poisoning the publick
The law before us, my lords, seems to be the effect of that practice of which it is intended likewise to be the cause, and to be dictated by the liquor of which it so effectually promotes the use; for surely it never before was conceived, by any man intrusted with the administration of publick affairs, to raise taxes by the destruction of the people.
Nothing, my lords, but the destruction of all the most laborious and useful part of the nation, can be expected from the license which is now proposed to be given, not only to drunkenness, but to drunkenness of the most detestable and dangerous kind; to the abuse not only of intoxicating, but of poisonous liquors.
Nothing, my lords, is more absurd than to assert, that the use of spirits will be hindered by the bill now before us, or indeed that it will not be in a very great degree promoted by it. For what produces all kind of wickedness, but the prospect of impunity on one part, or the solicitation of opportunity on the other? Either of these have too frequently been sufficient to overpower the sense of morality, and even of
religion; and what is not to be feared from them, when they shall unite their force, and operate together, when temptations shall be increased, and terrour taken away:
It is allowed, by those who have hitherto disputed on either side of this question, that the people appear obstinately enamoured of this new liquor; it is allow. ed on both parts, that this liquor corrupts the mind, and enervates the body, and destroys vigour and vir. tue, at the same time that it makes those who drink it too idle and too feeble for work; and, while it impoverishes them by the present expense, disables them from retrieving its ill consequences by subsequent industry.
It might be imagined, my lords, that those who had thus far agreed would not easily find any occasions of dispute; nor would any man, unacquainted with the motives by which parliamentary debates are too often influenced, suspect that after the pernicious qualities of this liquor, and the general inclination among people to the immoderate use of it; had been gene. rally admitted, it could be afterwards inquired, whether it ought to be made more common; whether this universal thirst for poison ought to be encouraged by the legislature, and whether a new statute ought to be made, to secure drunkards in the gratification of their appetites.
To pretend, my lords, that the design of this bill is to prevent or diminish the use of spirits, is to trample upon common sense, and to violate the rules of decency as well as of reason. For when did any man heat, that a commodity was prohibited by licensing its sale ; or that to offer and refuse is the same action ?
It is indeed pleaded, that it will be made dearer by the tax which is proposed, and that the increase of the price will diminish the number of the purchasers; but it is at the same time expected that this tax shall supply the expense of a war on the continent. It'is asserted, therefore, that the consumption of spirits will be hindered; and yet that it will be such as may
be expected to furnish, from a very small tax, a revenue