« FöregåendeFortsätt »
apprehensions were directed not so much to any insurrec tions, either actually existing, or immediately impending, as to the progress of what are called French opinions, propagated, as it is supposed, with industry, and encouraged with success; and to the mischiefs which might in future time arise from the spirit of disobedience and disorder, which these doctrines are calculated to inspire. This danger, they said, was too notorious to require proof; its reality could better be ascertained by the separate observations of individual members, than by any proceeding which the House could institute in its collective capacity; and upon this ground, therefore, the Address might be safely voted, without any previous inquiry.
"To have laid any ground for approving without examination, was a great point gained for those who wished to applaud the conduct of Administration; but in this instance I fear the foundation has been laid without due regard to the nature of the superstructure which it is intended to support; for, if the danger consist in false but seducing theories, and our apprehensions be concerning what such theories may in process of time produce, to such an evil it is difficult to conceive how any of the measures which have been pursued are in any degree applicable. Opinions must have taken the shape of overt acts, before they can be resisted by the fortifications in the Tower; and the sudden imbodying of the militia, and the drawing the regular troops to the capital, seem to me measures calculated to meet an immediate, not a distant mischief.
Impressed with these ideas, I could no more vote upon this vague reason, than upon those of a more definite nature; since, if in one case the premises wanted proof, in the other, where proof was said to be superfluous, the con
clusion was not just. If the majority of the House thought differently from me, and if this last ground of general apprehension of future evils, (the only one of all that were stated, upon which it could with any colour of reason be pretended that evidence was not both practicable and necessary,) appeared to them to justify the measures of government; then, I say they ought to have declared explicitly the true meaning of their vote, and either to have disclaimed distinctly any belief in those impending tumults and insurrections; which had filled the minds of so many thousands of our fellow-subjects with the most anxious apprehensions; or have commenced an inquiry concerning them, the result of which would have enabled the House to lay before the public a true and authentic state of the nation, to put us upon our guard against real perils, and to dissipate chimerical alarms.
"I am aware, that there were some persons who thought, that to be upon our guard was so much our first interest, in the present posture of affairs, that even to conceal the truth was less mischievous than to diminish the public terror. They dreaded inquiry, lest it should produce light; they felt so strongly the advantage of obscurity in inspiring terror, that they overlooked its other property of causing real peril. They were so alive to the dangers be→ longing to false security, that they were insensible to those arising from groundless alarms.-In this frame of mind they might, for a moment, forget, that integrity and sincerity ought ever to be the characteristic virtues of a British House of Commons; and while they were compelled to admit that the House could not, without inquiry, profess its belief of dangers which (if true) might be substantiated by evidence, they might, nevertheless, be unwilling that the salutary alarm (for such they deemed it) arising from these supposed dangers in the minds of the people, should
should be wholly quieted. What they did not themselves credit, they might wish to be believed by others. Dangers, which they considered as distant, they were not displeased that the public should suppose near, in order to excite more vigorous exertions.
"To these systems of crooked policy and pious fraud, I have always entertained a kind of instinctive and invincible repugnance; and if I had nothing else to advance in defence of my conduct but this feeling, of which I cannot divest myself, I should be far from fearing your displeasure. But are there, in truth, no evils in a false alarm, besides the disgrace attending those who are concerned in propagating it? Is it nothing to destroy peace, harmony, and confidence, among all ranks of citizens? Is it nothing to give a general credit and countenance to suspicions, which every man may point as his worst passions incline him? In such a state, all political animosities are inflamed. We confound the mistaken speculatist with the desperate incendiary. We extend the prejudices which we have conceived against individuals, to the poli tical party, or even to the religious sect of which they are members. In this spirit a judge declared from the bench, in the last century, that poisoning was a Popish trick; and I should not be surprised if bishops were now to preach from the pulpit, that sedition is a Presbyterian or a Unitarian vice. Those who differ from us in their ideas of the constitution, in this paroxysm of alarm we consider as confederated to destroy it. Forbearance and toleration have no place in our minds; for who can tolerate opinions, which, according to what the deluders teach, and rage and fear incline the deluded to believe, attack our lives, our properties, and our religion?
"This situation I thought it my duty, if possible, to avert, by promoting an inquiry. By this measure the guilty,
guilty, if such there are, would have been detected, and the innocent liberated from suspicion.
"My proposal was rejected by a great majority. I defer with all due respect to their opinion, but retain my
"My next motion was for the insertion of the following words in the Address: Trusting that your Ma'jesty will employ every means of negotiation, consistent ' with the honour and safety of this country, to avert the calamities of war.
"My motive in this instance is too obvious to require an explanation; and I think it the less necessary to dwell much on this subject, because with respect to the desirableness of peace at all times, and more particularly in the present, I have reason to believe that your sentiments do not differ from mine. If we look to the country where the cause of war was said principally to originate, the situation of the United Provinces appeared to me to furnish abundance of prudential arguments in favour of peace. If we looked to Ireland, I saw nothing there that would not discourage a wise statesman from putting the connexion between the two kingdoms to an unnecessary hazard. At home, if it be true that there are seeds of discontent, war is the hot-bed in which these seeds will soonest vegetate; and of all wars, in this point of view, that war is most to be dreaded, in the cause of which Kings may be supposed to be more concerned than their subjects.
"I wished, therefore, most earnestly for peace; and experience had taught me, that the voice even of a minority in the House of Commons, might not be wholly without effect, in deterring the King's Ministers from irrational projects of war.. Even upon this occasion, if I had been more supported, I am persuaded our chance of preserv
ing the blessings of peace would be better than it appears to be at present.
"I come now to my third motion: That an humble address be presented to his Majesty, that his Majesty will be graciously pleased to give directions, that a Minister may be sent to Paris, to treat with those persons who exercise provisionally the functions of executive < government in France, touching such points as may be in discussion between his Majesty and his Allies, and the French nation;' which, if I am rightly informed, is that which has been most generally disapproved. It was made upon mature consideration, after much deliberation with myself, and much consultation with others; and notwithstanding the various misrepresentations of my motives in making it, and the misconception in its tendency, which have prepossessed many against it, I cannot repent of an act, which if I had omitted, I should think myself deficient in the duty which I owe to you, and tó my country at large.
"The motives which urged me to make it were the same desire of peace which actuated me in the former motion, if it could be preserved on safe and honorable terms; and if this were impossible, an anxious wish that the grounds of war might be just, clear, and intelligible.
"If we or our ally have suffered injury or insult, or if the independence of Europe be menaced by inordinate and successf nbition, I know no means of preserving peace but by obtaining reparation for the injury, satisfaction for the insult, or security against the design which we apprehend; and I know no means of obtaining any of these objects but by addressing ourselves to the power of whom we complain.