|Classicpersuasion.org||Lord Chatham index|
IN REPLY TO LORD MANSFIELD, IN RELATION TO THE CASE OF JOHN WILKES
DELIVERED IN THE HOUSE OF COMMONS.
JANUARY 9, 1770.
This was the first appearance of Lord Chatham in the House of Lords after his illness in 1767. The Duke of Grafton, his former friend and ally, was now minister, and had come out a virtual Tory. The case of John Wilkes agitated the whole kingdom. He had been expelled from the House of Commons for a "seditious libel," in February, 1769, and a new writ was issued for the election of a member from Middlesex. Wilkes was almost unanimously re-elected, and the House of Commons resolved, on the day after his election, that he was incapable of being chosen to that Parliament. Another election was therefore held; he was again chosen, and his election again declared void. A third was ordered, and the ministry now determined to contest it to the utmost. They prevailed upon Colonel Luttrell, son of Lord Irnham, to vacate his seat in the House, and become their candidate; but, with all their influence and bribery, they could obtain only 296 votes, while Wilkes numbered 1143. The latter, of course, was again returned as a member; but the House passed a resolution directing the clerk of the Crown to amend the return, by erasing the name of Mr. Wilkes and inserting that of Colonel Luttrell, who accordingly took his seat, in April, 1769.
There is, at the present day, no difference of opinion as to these proceedings. "All mankind are agreed," says Lord Campbell, in his Lives of the Chancellors, "that the House of Commons acted illegally and unconstitutionally in expelling Mr. Wilkes for a supposed offense, committed before his re-election, and in seating Mr. Luttrell as representative for Middlesex." With Mr. Wilkes as an individual, Lord Chatham had no connection, either personal or political. He had, on the contrary, expressed his detestation of his character and principles, some years before, in the presence of Parliament. But he felt that one of the greatest questions had now arisen which was ever agitated in England, and that the House of Lords ought to enter their protest against this flagrant breach of the Constitution. He, perhaps, considered himself the more bound to come forward, because in his late ministry he had given the Duke of Grafton the place which he now held of First Lord of the Treasury, and had thus opened the way for the advancement of his grace to the station of Prime Minister. At all events, he determined, on the first day of his appearance in Parliament after his late ministry, to express his disapprobation of two measures which had been adopted by his former colleagues, viz., the taxation of America, and the expulsion of Mr. Wilkes. When, therefore, an address to the Throne was moved, January 9th, 1770, he came forward on both these subjects in one of his most celebrated speeches, but which, unfortunately, is very imperfectly preserved.
He commenced with great impressiveness of manner: "At my advanced period of life, my Lords, bowing under the weight of my infirmities, I might, perhaps, have stood excused if I had continued in my retirement, and never taken part again in public affairs. But the alarming state of the country calls upon me to execute the duty which I owe to my God, my sovereign, and my country." He then took a rapid view of the external and internal state of the country. He lamented the measures which had alienated the colonies, and driven them to such excesses. But he still insisted that they should be treated with tenderness. "These excesses," he said, "are the mere eruptions of liberty, which break out upon the skin, and are a sign, if not of perfect health, at least of a vigorous constitution, and must not be repelled too suddenly, lest they should strike to the heart."
He then passed to the case of Mr. Wilkes, and the prevailing discontent throughout the kingdom, in consequence of his expulsion from the House of Commons. The privileges of the House of Peers, he said, however transcendent, stood on the same broad bottom as the rights of the people. It was, therefore, their highest interest, as well as their duty, to watch over and protect the people; for when the people had lost their rights, the peerage would soon become insignificant. He referred, as an illustration, to the case of Spain, where the grandees, from neglecting and slighting the rights of the people, had been enslaved themselves. He concluded with the following remarkable passage: "My Lords, let this example be a lesson to us all. Let us be cautious how we admit an idea, that our rights stand on a footing different from those of the people. Let us be cautious how we invade the liberties of our fellow-subjects, however mean, however remote. For be assured, my Lords, in whatever part of the empire you suffer slavery to be established, whether it be in America, or in Ireland, or here at home, you will find it a disease which spreads by contact, and soon reaches from the extremities to the heart. The man who has lost his own freedom, becomes, from that moment, an instrument in the hands of an ambitious prince to destroy the freedom of others. These reflections, my Lords, are but too applicable to our present situation. The liberty of the subject is invaded, not only in the provinces, but here at home! The English people are loud in their complaints; they demand redress; and, depend upon it, my Lords, that, one way or another, they will have redress. They will never return to a state of tranquillity till they are redressed. Nor ought they. For in my judgment, my Lords, and I speak it boldly, it were better for them to perish in a glorious contention for their rights, than to purchase a slavish tranquillity at the expense of a single iota of the Constitution. Let me entreat your Lordships, then, by all the duties which you owe to your sovereign, to the country, and to yourselves, to perform the office to which you are called by the Constitution, by informing his Majesty truly of the condition of his subjects, and the real cause of their dissatisfaction."
With this view, Lord Chatham concluded his speech by moving an amendment to the address, "That we will, with all convenient speed, take into our most serious consideration the causes of the discontents which prevail in so many parts of your Majesty's dominions, and particularly the late proceedings of the House of Commons touching the incapacity of John Wilkes, Esq., expelled by that House, to be re-elected a member to serve in the present Parliament, thereby refusing, by a resolution of one branch of the Legislature only, to the subject his common right, and depriving the electors of Middlesex of their free choice of a representative."
This amendment was powerfully resisted by Lord Mansfield. Nothing remains, however, of his speech except a meager account of the general course of his argument. He contended "that the amendment violated every form and usage of Parliament, and was a gross attack on the privileges of the House of Commons. That there never was an instance of the Lords inquiring into the proceedings of that House with respect to their own members, much less of their taking upon themselves to censure such proceedings, or of their advising the Crown to take notice of them. 'If, indeed, it be the purpose of the amendment to provoke a quarrel with the House of Commons, I confess,' said his Lordship, 'it will have that effect certainly and immediately. The Lower House will undoubtedly assert their privileges, and give you vote for vote. I leave it, therefore, to your Lordships, to consider the fatal effects which, in such a conjuncture as the present, may arise from an open breach between the two houses of Parliament."
Lord Chatham immediately arose and delivered the following speech in reply.
MY LORDS,--There is one plain maxim, to which I have invariably adhered through life: that in every question in which my liberty or my property were concerned, I should consult and be determined by the dictates of common sense. I confess, my Lords, that I am apt to distrust the refinements of learning, because I have seen the ablest and the most learned men equally liable to deceive themselves and to mislead others. The condition of human nature would be lamentable indeed, if nothing less than the greatest learning and talents, which fall to the share of so small a number of men, were sufficient to direct our judgment and our conduct. But Providence has taken better care of our happiness, and given us, in the simplicity of common sense, a rule for our direction, by which we can never be misled. I confess, my Lords, I had no other guide in drawing up the amendment which I submitted to your consideration; and, before I heard the opinion of the noble Lord who spoke last, I did not conceive that it was even within the limits of possibility for the greatest human genius, the most subtle understanding, or the acutest wit, so strangely to misrepresent my meaning, and to give it an interpretation so entirely foreign from what I intended to express, and from that sense which the very terms of the amendment plainly and distinctly carry with them. If there be the smallest foundation for the censure thrown upon me by that noble Lord: if, either expressly, or by the most distant implication, I have said or insinuated any part of what the noble Lord has charged me with, discard my opinion forever, discard the motion with contempt.
My Lords, I must beg the indulgence of the House. Neither will my health permit me, nor do I pretend to be qualified to follow that learned Lord minutely through the whole of his argument. No man is better acquainted with his abilities and learning, nor has a greater respect for them than I have. I have had the pleasure of sitting with him in the other House, and always listened to him with attention. I have not now lost a word of what he said, nor did I ever. Upon the present question I meet him without fear. The evidence which truth carries with it is superior to all argument; it neither wants the support, nor dreads the opposition of the greatest abilities. If there be a single word in the amendment to justify the interpretation which the noble Lord has been pleased to give it, I am ready to renounce the whole. Let it be read, my Lords; let it speak for itself. [It was read.] In what instance does it interfere with the privileges of the House of Commons? In what respect does it question their jurisdiction, or suppose an authority in this House to arraign the justice of their sentence? I am sure that every Lord who hears me will bear me witness, that I said not one word touching the merits of the Middlesex election. So far from conveying any opinion upon that matter in the amendment, I did not even in discourse deliver my own sentiments upon it. I did not say that the House of Commons had done either right or wrong; but, when his Majesty was pleased to recommend it to us to cultivate unanimity among ourselves, I thought it the duty of this House, as the great hereditary council of the Crown, to state to his Majesty the distracted condition of his dominions, together with the events which had destroyed unanimity among his subjects. But, my Lords, I stated events merely as facts, without the smallest addition either of censure or of opinion. They are facts, my Lords, which I am not only convinced are true, but which I know are indisputably true. For example, my Lords: will any man deny that discontents prevail in many parts of his Majesty's dominions? or that those discontents arise from the proceedings of the House of Commons touching the declared incapacity of Mr. Wilkes? It is impossible. No man can deny a truth so notorious. Or will any man deny that those proceedings refused, by a resolution of one branch of the Legislature only, to the subject his common right? Is it not indisputably true, my Lords, that Mr. Wilkes had a common right, and that he lost it no other way but by a resolution of the House of Commons? My Lords, I have been tender of misrepresenting the House of Commons. I have consulted their journals, and have taken the very words of their own resolution. Do they not tell us in so many words, that Mr. Wilkes having been expelled, was thereby rendered incapable of serving in that Parliament? And is it not their resolution alone which refuses to the subject his common right? The amendment says farther, that the electors of Middlesex are deprived of their free choice of a representative. Is this a false fact, my Lords? Or have I given an unfair representation of it? Will any man presume to affirm that Colonel Luttrell is the free choice of the electors of Middlesex? We all know the contrary. We all know that Mr Wilkes (whom I mention without either praise or censure) was the favorite of the county, and chosen by a very great and acknowledged majority to represent them in Parliament. If the noble Lord dislikes the manner in which these facts are stated, I shall think myself happy in being advised by him how to alter it. I am very little anxious about terms, provided the substance be preserved; and these are facts, my Lords, which I am sure will always retain their weight and importance, in whatever form of language they are described.
Now, my Lords, since I have been forced to enter into the explanation of an amendment, in which nothing less than the genius of penetration could have discovered an obscurity, and having, as I hope, redeemed myself in the opinion of the House, having redeemed my motion from the severe representation given of it by the noble Lord, I must a little longer entreat your Lordships' indulgence. The Constitution of this country has been openly invaded in fact; and I have heard, with horror and astonishment, that very invasion defended upon principle. What is this mysterious power, undefined by law, unknown to the subject, which we must not approach without awe, nor speak of without reverence-- which no man may question, and to which all men must submit? My Lords, I thought the slavish doctrine of passive obedience had long since been exploded; and, when our Kings were obliged to confess that their title to the Crown, and the rule of their government, had no other foundation than the known laws of the land, I never expected to hear a divine right, or a divine infallibility, attributed to any other branch of the Legislature. My Lords, I beg to be understood. No man respects the House of Commons more than I do, or would contend more strenuously than I would to preserve to them their just and legal authority. Within the bounds prescribed by the Constitution, that authority is necessary to the well-being of the people. Beyond that line, every exertion of power is arbitrary, is illegal; it threatens tyranny to the people, and destruction to the state. Power without right is the most odious and detestable object that can be offered to the human imagination. It is not only pernicious to those who are subject to it, but tends to its own destruction. It is what my noble friend [Lord Lyttleton] has truly described it, "Res detestabilis et caduca."2 My Lords, I acknowledge the just power and reverence the constitution of the House of Commons. It is for their own sakes that I would prevent their assuming a power which the Constitution has denied them, lest, by grasping at an authority they have no right to, they should forfeit that which they legally possess. My Lords, I affirm that they have betrayed their constituents, and violated the Constitution. Under pretense of declaring the law, they have made a law, and united in the same persons the office of legislator and of judge!
I shall endeavor to adhere strictly to the noble Lord's doctrine, which is, indeed, impossible to mistake, so far as my memory will permit me to preserve his expressions. He seems fond of the word jurisdiction; and I confess, with the force and effect which he has given it, it is a word of copious meaning and wonderful extent. If his Lordship's doctrine be well founded, we must renounce all those political maxims by which our understandings have hitherto been directed, and even the first elements of learning taught in our schools when we were schoolboys. My Lords, we knew that jurisdiction was nothing more than "jus dicere." We knew that "legem facere" and "legem dicere" [to make law and to declare it] were powers clearly distinguished from each other in the nature of things, and wisely separated by the wisdom of the English Constitution. But now, it seems, we must adopt a new system of thinking! The House of Commons, we are told, have a supreme jurisdiction, and there is no appeal from their sentence; and that wherever they are competent judges, their decision must be received and submitted to, as ipso facto, the law of the land. My Lords, I am a plain man, and have been brought up in a religious reverence for the original simplicity of the laws of England. By what sophistry they have been perverted, by what artifices they have been involved in obscurity, is not for me to explain. The principles, however, of the English laws are still sufficiently clear; they are founded in reason, and are the masterpiece of the human understanding; but it is in the text that I would look for a direction to my judgment, not in the commentaries of modern professors. The noble Lord assures us that he knows not in what code the law of Parliament is to be found; that the House of Commons, when they act as judges, have no law to direct them but their own wisdom; that their decision is law; and if they determine wrong, the subject has no appeal but to Heaven. What then, my Lords? Are all the generous efforts of our ancestors, are all those glorious contentions, by which they meant to secure to themselves, and to transmit to their posterity, a known law, a certain rule of living, reduced to this conclusion, that instead of the arbitrary power of a King, we must submit to the arbitrary power of a House of Commons? If this be true, what benefit do we derive from the exchange? Tyranny, my Lords, is detestable in every shape, but in none so formidable as when it is assumed and exercised by a number of tyrants. But, my Lords, this is not the fact; this is not the Constitution. We have a law of Parliament. We have a code in which every honest man may find it. We have Magna Charta. We have the Statute Book, and the Bill of Rights.
If a case should arise unknown to these great authorities, we have still that plain English reason left, which is the foundation of all our English jurisprudence. That reason tells us, that every judicial court, and every political society, must be vested with those powers and privileges which are necessary for performing the office to which they are appointed. It tells us, also, that no court of justice can have a power inconsistent with, or paramount to the known laws of the land; that the people, when they choose their representatives, never mean to convey to them a power of invading the rights, or trampling on the liberties of those whom they represent. What security would they have for their rights, if once they admitted that a court of judicature might determine every question that came before it, not by any known positive law, but by the vague, indeterminate, arbitrary rule of what the noble Lord is pleased to call the wisdom of the court? With respect to the decision of the courts of justice, I am far from denying them their due weight and authority; yet, placing them in the most respectable view, I still consider them, not as law, but as an evidence of the law. And before they can arrive even at that degree of authority, it must appear that they are founded in and confirmed by reason; that they are supported by precedents taken from good and moderate times; that they do not contradict any positive law; that they are submitted to without reluctance by the people; that they are unquestioned by the Legislature (which is equivalent to a tacit confirmation); and what, in my judgment, is by far the most important, that they do not violate the spirit of the Constitution. My Lords, this is not a vague or loose expression. We all know what the Constitution is. We all know that the first principle of it is, that the subject shall not be governed by the arbitrium of any one man or body of men (less than the whole Legislature), but by certain laws, to which he has virtually given his consent, which are open to him to examine, and not beyond his ability to understand. Now, my Lords, I affirm, and am ready to maintain, that the late decision of the House of Commons upon the Middlesex election is destitute of every one of those properties and conditions which I hold to be essential to the legality of such a decision. (1.) It is not founded in reason; for it carries with it a contradiction, that the representative should perform the office of the constituent body. (2.) It is not supported by a single precedent; for the case of Sir Robert Walpole is but a half precedent, and even that half is imperfect. Incapacity was indeed declared, but his crimes are stated as the ground of the resolution, and his opponent was declared to be not duly elected, even after his incapacity was established. (3.) It contradicts Magna Charta and the Bill of Rights, by which it is provided, that no subject shall be deprived of his freehold, unless by the judgment of his peers, or the law of the land; and that elections of members to serve in Parliament shall be free. (4.) So far is this decision from being submitted to by the people, that they have taken the strongest measures, and adopted the most positive language, to express their discontent. Whether it will be questioned by the Legislature, will depend upon your Lordships' resolution; but that it violates the spirit of the Constitution, will, I think, be disputed by no man who has heard this day's debate, and who wishes well to the freedom of his country. Yet, if we are to believe the noble Lord, this great grievance, this manifest violation of the first principles of the Constitution, will not admit of a remedy. It is not even capable of redress, unless we appeal at once to Heaven! My Lords, I have better hopes of the Constitution, and a firmer confidence in the wisdom and constitutional authority of this House. It is to your ancestors, my Lords, it is to the English barons, that we are indebted for the laws and Constitution we possess. Their virtues were rude and uncultivated, but they were great and sincere. Their understandings were as little polished as their manners, but they had hearts to distinguish right from wrong; they had heads to distinguish truth from falsehood; they understood the rights of humanity, and they had spirit to maintain them.
My Lords, I think that history has not done justice to their conduct, when they obtained from their sovereign that great acknowledgment of national rights contained in Magna Charta: they did not confine it to themselves alone, but delivered it as a common blessing to the whole people. They did not say, these are the rights of the great barons, or these are the rights of the great prelates. No, my Lords, they said, in the simple Latin of the times, ''nullus liber homo" [no free man], and provided as carefully for the meanest subject as for the greatest. These are uncouth words, and sound but poorly in the ears of scholars; neither are they addressed to the criticism of scholars, but to the hearts of free men. These three words, "nullus liber homo," have a meaning which interests us all. They deserve to be remembered--they deserve to be inculcated in our minds--they are worth all the classics. Let us not, then, degenerate from the glorious example of our ancestors. Those iron barons (for so I may call them when compared with the silken barons of modern days) were the guardians of the people; yet their virtues, my Lords, were never engaged in a question of such importance as the present. A breach has been made in the Constitution--the battlements are dismantled--the citadel is open to the first invader--the walls totter--the Constitution is not tenable. What remains, then, but for us to stand foremost in the breach, and repair it, or perish in it?
Great pains have been taken to alarm us with the consequences of a difference between the two houses of Parliament; that the House of Commons will resent our presuming to take notice of their proceedings; that they will resent our daring to advise the Crown, and never forgive us for attempting to save the state. My Lords, I am sensible of the importance and difficulty of this great crisis: at a moment such as this, we are called upon to do our duty, without dreading the resentment of any man. But if apprehensions of this kind are to affect us, let us consider which we ought to respect most, the representative or the collective body of the people. My Lords, five hundred gentlemen are not ten millions; and if we must have a contention, let us take care to have the English nation on our side. If this question be given up, the freeholders of England are reduced to a condition baser than the peasantry of Poland. If they desert their own cause, they deserve to be slaves! My Lords, this is not merely the cold opinion of my understanding, but the glowing expression of what I feel. It is my heart that speaks. I know I speak warmly, my Lords; but this warmth shall neither betray my argument nor my temper. The kingdom is in a flame. As mediators between the King and people, it is our duty to represent to him the true condition and temper of his subjects. It is a duty which no particular respects should hinder us from performing; and whenever his Majesty shall demand our advice, it will then be our duty to inquire more minutely into the causes of the present discontents. Whenever that inquiry shall come on, I pledge myself to the House to prove that, since the first institution of the House of Commons, not a single precedent can be produced to justify their late proceedings. My noble and learned friend (the Lord Chancellor Camden) has pledged himself to the House that he will support that assertion.
My Lords, the character and circumstances of Mr. Wilkes have been very improperly introduced into this question, not only here, but in that court of judicature where his cause was tried--I mean the House of Commons. With one party he was a patriot of the first magnitude; with the other, the vilest incendiary. For my own part, I consider him merely and indifferently as an English subject, possessed of certain rights which the laws have given him, and which the laws alone can take from him. I am neither moved by his private vices nor by his public merits. In his person, though he were the worst of men, I contend for the safety and security of the best. God forbid, my Lords, that there should be a power in this country of measuring the civil rights of the subject by his moral character, or by any other rule but the fixed laws of the land! I believe, my Lords, I shall not be suspected of any personal partiality to this unhappy man. I am not very conversant in pamphlets or newspapers; but, from what I have heard, and from the little I have read, I may venture to affirm, that I have had my share in the compliments which have come from that quarter.3 As for motives of ambition (for I must take to myself a part of the noble Duke's insinuation), I believe, my Lords, there have been times in which I have had the honor of standing in such favor in the closet, that there must have been something extravagantly unreasonable in my wishes if they might not all have been gratified. After neglecting those opportunities, I am now suspected of coming forward, in the decline of life, in the anxious pursuit of wealth and power which it is impossible for me to enjoy. Be it so! There is one ambition, at least, which I ever will acknowledge, which I will not renounce but with my life. It is the ambition of delivering to my posterity those rights of freedom which I have received from my ancestors. I am not now pleading the cause of an individual, but of every freeholder in England. In what manner this House may constitutionally interpose in their defense, and what kind of redress this case will require and admit of, is not at present the subject of our consideration. The amendment, if agreed to, will naturally lead us to such an inquiry. That inquiry may, perhaps, point out the necessity of an act of the Legislature, or it may lead us, perhaps, to desire a conference with the other House; which one noble Lord affirms is the only parliamentary way of proceeding, and which another noble Lord assures us the House of Commons would either not come to, or would break off with indignation. Leaving their Lordships to reconcile that matter between themselves, I shall only say, that before we have inquired, we can not be provided with materials; consequently, we are not at present prepared for a conference.
It is not impossible, my Lords, that the inquiry I speak of may lead us to advise his Majesty to dissolve the present Parliament; nor have I any doubt of our right to give that advice, if we should think it necessary. His Majesty will then determine whether he will yield to the united petitions of the people of England, or maintain the House of Commons in the exercise of a legislative power, which heretofore abolished the House of Lords, and overturned the monarchy. I willingly acquit the present House of Commons of having actually formed so detestable a design; but they can not themselves foresee to what excesses they may be carried hereafter; and, for my own part, I should be sorry to trust to their future moderation. Unlimited power is apt to corrupt the minds of those who possess it; and this I know, my Lords, that where law ends, tyranny begins!
Lord Chatham's motion was rejected; but he was sustained in his views by Lord Camden, who was still Lord Chancellor, and of course a leading member of the Grafton ministry. He came down from the woolsack, and broke forth in the following indignant terms: "I accepted the great seal without conditions; I meant not, therefore, to be trammeled by his Majesty4 --I beg pardon, by his ministers--but I have suffered myself to be so too long. For some time I have beheld with silent indignation the arbitrary measures of the minister. I have often drooped and hung down my head in council, and disapproved by my looks those steps which I knew my avowed opposition could not prevent. I will do so no longer, but openly and boldly speak my sentiments. I now proclaim to the world that I entirely coincide in the opinion expressed by my noble friend--whose presence again reanimates us--respecting this unconstitutional vote of the House of Commons. If, in giving my opinion as a judge, I were to pay any respect to that vote, I should look upon myself as a traitor to my trust, and an enemy to my country. By their violent and tyrannical conduct, ministers have alienated the minds of the people from his Majesty's government--I had almost said from his Majesty's person--insomuch, that if some measures are not devised to appease the clamors so universally prevalent, I know not, my Lords, whether the people, in despair, may not become their own avengers, and take the redress of grievances into their own hands." After such a speech, Lord Camden could not, of course, expect to hold office. He was instantly dismissed. It was a moment of extreme excitement. Lord Shelburne went so far as to say in the House, "After the dismission of the present worthy Lord Chancellor, the seals will go begging; but I hope there will not be found in this kingdom a wretch so base and mean-spirited as to accept them on the conditions on which they must be offered." This speech of Lord Chatham decided the fate of the Duke of Grafton. The moment a leader was found to unite the different sections of the Opposition, the attack was too severe for him to resist. The next speech will show the manner in which he was driven from power.
Lord Mansfield had a difficult part to act on this occasion. He could not but have known that the expulsion of Wilkes was illegal; and this is obvious from the fact that he did not attempt to defend it. He declared that, on this point, "he had never given his opinion, he would not now give it, and he did not know but he might carry it to the grave with him." All he contended was, that "if the Commons had passed an unjustifiable vote, it was a matter between God and their own consciences, and that nobody else had any thing to do with it.'' Lord Chatham rose a second time, and replied, "It plainly appears, from what the noble Lord has said, that he concurs in sentiment with the Opposition; for, if he had concurred with the ministry, he would no doubt have avowed his opinion--that it now equally behooves him to avow it in behalf of the people. He ought to do so as an honest man, an independent man, as a man of courage and resolution. To say, that if the House of Commons has passed an unjustifiable vote, it is a matter between God and their own consciences, and that nobody else has any thing to do with it, is such a strange assertion as I have never before heard, and involves a doctrine subversive of the Constitution. What! If the House of Commons should pass a vote abolishing this House, and surrendering to the Crown all the rights and interests of the people, would it be only a matter between them and their conscience, and would nobody have any thing to do with it? You would have to do with it! I should have to do with it! Every man in the kingdom would have to do with it! Every man would have a right to insist on the repeal of such a treasonable vote, and to bring the authors of it to condign punishment. I would, therefore, call on the noble Lord to declare his opinion, unless he would lie under the imputation of being conscious of the illegality of the vote, and yet of being restrained by some unworthy motive from avowing it to the world." Lord Mansfield replied not."--Gentleman's Magazine for January, 1770.
1. This is the best reported and most eloquent speech of Lord Chatham, except that of November 18th, 1777. It was published at the time from manuscript notes taken by an unknown individual, who is now ascertained with almost absolute certainty to have been the celebrated Sir Philip Francis, considered by so many as the author of Junius's Letters.
2. A thing hateful, and destined to destruction.
3. Lord Chatham here refers, among others, to Junius, who had attacked him about a year before in his first letter. At a later period Junius changed his ground, and published his celebrated eulogium on Lord Chatham.
4. This hasty expression shows, what has since been more fully known, that the King dictated the measures against Wilkes. He entered with all the feelings of a personal enemy into the plan of expelling him from the House, and was at last beaten by the determination of his own subjects.
*Scanned for Classicpersuasion.org from the first edition of Select British Eloquence, edited with notes by Chauncey A. Goodrich (New York: Harper & Brothers, Publishers, 1852)
|Classicpersuasion.org||Lord Chatham index|