Page images



ON the 22d of January, 1770, the Marquis of Rock ingham moved, "That a day be fixed to take into consideration the state of the nation," which then, was singularly agitated by the dissensions of party at home, and by the alarming aspects of disaffection that began to be displayed in the American colonies. This motion he prefaced with a speech of great length, in which he insisted that the unhappy posture of affairs, and the universal discontents of the people did not arise from any immediate or temporary cause; but had grown by degrees and were deeply implanted. From the accession of his present majesty, he contended that there had been a total change of the old system of English government, and a new maxim adopted fatal to their liberties, namely, "that the royal prerogative was alone sufficient to support government to whatever hands the administration of it might be committed.”

Imputing all the bad measures of his majesty's reign to the obstinate adherence to this principle, he entered into a minute examination of those measures, tracing their connexion with the principle, and pointing out their direct agency in producing the critical condition of the country.

He concluded by recommending to their lordships to appoint an early day for the discussion of his motion, when he trusted the situation of the country

would be fairly and thoroughly canvassed in all its relations, foreign, provincial, and domestick.

The Duke of Grafton, the minister, instantly arose and declared, that so far from opposing the motion he would second it, and was prepared to meet the noble lord upon the momentous question whenever the house thought proper. For the present, he meant only to exculpate himself from some severe reflections which he thought were directed particularly and personally against himself. After repelling these he went however, with hasty steps over the ground which had been previously travelled by lord Rockingham, and vindicated with his usual candour and ability, the measures that were so acrimoniously and indecently arraigned.

Lord Chatham followed him in the debate. The speech which he delivered on the occasion we are induced to preserve as a celebrated example of bold, ardent, and impetuous eloquence. Though often commended, we confess that it is not altogether to our taste. There will be found, at least in parts of it, little of that dignity of manner, or moderation of temper which became the leading member of the first deliberative assembly of the world. Its language has more of the violence of passionate invective than the energy of truth, or the sublimity of genuine enthusiasm. Its sentiments, considering especially the em barrassed conjuncture in which his country was placed at the time, are such as surely wisdom would not have dictated, or honest patriotism approved. It exhibits no power of argument, no enlarged views of policy, no splendour of imagery, and none of the embellishments of taste. It has the verba ardentia, and the energy of declamation, and these are its only merits.

It is the vehement harangue of a Tiberius Gracchus to inflame a populace and to excite their noisy acclamations, not an eloquent and well reasoned effort to sway the decisions of a house of lords, or to command the applause of enlightened criticism.



I MEANT to have arisen immediately to second the motion made by the noble lord. The charge which the noble duke seemed to think affected himself particularly, did undoubtedly demand an early answer. It was proper he should speak before me, and I am as ready as any man to applaud the decency and propriety with which he has expressed himself.

I entirely agree with the noble lord, both in the necessity of your lordships concurring with the motion, and in the principles and arguments by which he has very judiciously supported it. I see clearly, that the complexion of our government has been materially altered; and I can trace the origin of the alteration up to a period, which ought to have been an era of happiness and prosperity to this country.

My lords, I shall give you my reasons for concurring with the motion, not methodically, but as they occur to my mind. I may wander, perhaps, from the exact parliamentary debate; but I hope I shall say nothing but what may deserve your attention, and what, if not strictly proper at present, would be fit to be said, when the state of the nation shall come to be considered. My uncertain state of health must plead my excuse. I am now in some pain, and very probably may not be able to attend my duty when I desire it most, in this house. I thank God, my lords, for having thus long preserved, so inconsiderable a being as I am, to take a part upon this great occasion, and to contribute my endeavours, such as they are, to restore, to save, to confirm the constitution.

My lords, I need not look abroad for grievances. The grand capital mischief is fixed at home. It corrupts the very foundation of our political existence, and preys upon the vitals of the state. The constitution has been grossly violated. The constitution at this moment stands violated. Until that wound be healed, until the grievance be redressed, it is in vain to recommend union to parliament; in vain to pro

mote concord among the people. If we mean seriously to unite the nation within itself, we must convince them that their complaints are regarded, that their injuries shall be redressed. On that foundation I would take the lead in recommending peace and harmony to the people. On any other, I would never wish to see them united again. If the breach in the constitution be effectually repaired, the people will of themselves return to a state of tranquillity-if not, may discord prevail forever. I know to what point this doctrine and this language will appear directed. But I feel the principles of an Englishman, and I utter them without apprehension or reserve. The crisis is indeed alarming. So much the more does it require a prudent relaxation on the part of government. If the king's servants will not permit a constitutional question to be decided on, according to the forms, and on the principles of the constitution, it must then be decided in some other manner; and rather than it should be given up, rather than the nation should surrender their birthright to a despotick minister, I hope, my lords, old as I am, I shall see the question brought to issue, and fairly tried between the people and the government. My lord, this is not the language of faction; let it be tried by that criterion, by which alone we can distinguish what is factious from what is not by the principles of the English constitution. I have been bred up in these principles; and know, that when the liberty of the subject is invaded, and all redress denied him, resistance is justified. If I had a doubt upon the matter, I should follow the example set us by the most reverend bench, with whom I believe it is a maxim, when any doubt in point of faith arises, or any question of controversy is started, to appeal at once to the greatest source and evidence of our religion-I mean the Holy Bible. The constitution has its Political Bible, by which, if it be fairly consulted, every political question may, and ought to be determined. Magna Charta, the Petition of Rights and the Bill of Rights, form that code which, I call the Bible of the English Constitu

« PreviousContinue »