Imagens das páginas
[ocr errors]

the present question, I shall expect to see that negative followed by a motion for the repeal of those laws; nay, in a few sessious, I shall expect to see a bill brought in, for preventing any man's being a member of the other House, but such as have some place or pension under the crown. As an argument for such a bill, it might be said, that his Majesty's most faithful subjects ought to be chosen members of Parliament, and that those gentlemen will always be most faithful to the king, that receive the king's money. I shall grant, my Lords, that such gentlemen will be always the most faithful, and the most obedient to the minister; but for this very reason, I should be for excluding them from Parliament. The king's real interest, however much he may be made by his ministers to mistake it, must always be the same with the people's; but the minister's interest is generally distinct from, and often contrary to both: therefore I shall always be for excluding as much as possible, from Parliament, every man who is under the least inducement to prefer the interest of the minister to that of both king and people: and this I take to be the case of every gentleman, let his estate and family be what they will, that holds a pension at the will of the minister.

Those who say, they depend so much upon the honour, integrity and impartiality of men of family and fortune, seem to think our constitution can never be dissolved as long as we have the shadow of a Parliament. My opinion, my Lords, is so very different, that if ever our constitution be dissolved, if ever an absolute monarchy be established in this kingdom, I am convinced it will be under that shadow. Our constitution consists in the two Houses of Parliament being a check upon the crown, as well as upon one another. If that check should ever be removed, if the crown should, by corrupt means, by places, pensions and bribes, get the absolute direction of our two Houses of Parliament, our constitution will, from that moment be destroyed. There would be no occasion for the crown to proceed any farther. It would be ridiculous to lay aside the forms of Parliament ; for under that shadow our king would be more absolute, and might govern more arbitrarily, than he could do with out it. A gentleman of family and fortune, would not, perhaps, for the sake of a pension, agree to lay aside the forms of government; because, by his venal service there, he earns his infamous pension, and could not expect the contimuance of it, if those forms were laid aside; but a gentle

mau of family and fortune. may, for the sake of a pension, whilst he is in Parliament, approve of the most blundering measures, consent to the most excessive and useless grants, enact the most oppressive laws, pass the most villanous accounts, acquit the most heinous criminals, and condemn the most innocect persons, at the desire of that minister who pays him his pension. And, if a majority of such House of Parliament consisted of such men, would it not be ridiculous in us to talk of our constitution, or to say we had any liberty left?-This misfortune, this terrible condition, we may be reduced to by corruptiou; as brave, as free a people as we, the Romans were reduced to ie by the same means; and to prevent such a horrid catastrophe, is the design of this bill.

If people would at all think, if they would consider the consequences of corruption, there would be no occasion, my Lords, for making laws against it. It would appear so horrible, that no man would allow it to approach him. The corrupted ought to consider, that they do not sell their vote, or their country only: these, perhaps, they may disregard; but they sell likewise themselves: they become the bondslaves of the corrupter, who corrupts them, not for their sakes, but for his own. No man ever corrupted another for the sake of doing him a service. And therefore, if people would but consider, they would always reject the offer with disdain. But this is not to be expected. The histories of all countries, the history even of our own country, shows it is not to be depended on. The proffered bribe, people think, will satisfy the immediate craving of some infamous appetite; and this makes them swallow the alluring bait, though the liberties of their country, the happiness of their posterity, and even their own liberty, evidently depend upon their refusing it. This makes it necessary, in every free state, to contrive, if possible, effectual laws against corruption: and, as the laws we now have for excluding pensioners from the other House, are allowed to be ineffectual, we ought to make a trial, at least, of the remedy now proposed: for though it should prove ineffectual, it will be attended with this advantage, that it will put us upon contriving some other remedy that may be effectual; and the sooner such a remedy is contrived and applied, the less danger we shall be exposed to of falling into that fatal distemper, from which no free state, when it has once be come general, has ever yet recovered.

11.-Lord Mansfield's Speech, in the House of Lords, 1770, on the Bill for the further preventing the delays of Justice, by reason of Privilege of Parliament.


WHEN I consider the importance of this bill to your Lordships, I am not surprised it has taken up 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 long been possessed. Perhaps there is no situation the human mind can be placed in, that is so difficult and so trying, as when it is made a judge in its own cause. There is something implanted in the breast of man so attached to self, so tenacious of privileges once obtained, that, in such a situation, either to discuss with impartiality, or decide with justice, 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 eyer 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 expressly 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 judgments I have a very great respect, standing up to oppose a bill 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 public principles: I would not wish to insinuate, that private interest had the least weight in their determination.

This bill has been frequently proposed, and as frequently 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 you, my 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 enforce on your fellow subjects? Forbid it, justice!—I am sure were the noble Lords as well acquainted as I am with but half the difficulties and delays 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 the bill are such as render it self-evident. It is a proposition of that nature, that can neither be weakened 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; that is not necessary in the present case. I shall only say, that the noble Lords who 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. Formerly, we were got that great commercial nation we are at present; nor formerly were merchants and 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 law. The law then ought to be equally open to all: any exemption of particular men, or particular ranks of men, is, in a free and 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 in

conveniency from the persons of their servants being liable to be arrested. One noble Lord observes, that the coachman 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 were actually to happen, there are so many methods by which the member might still get to the House, that I can hardly think the noble Lord is serious in his objection. Another noble Peer said, That by this bill one might lose their most valuable and honest servants. This I hold to be a contradiction in terms; for he can neither be a valuable servant, nor an honest man, who gets into debt which he is neither able nor willing to pay, 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 a gaol. It is moustrous injustice! I flatter 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 come now 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 that 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 of 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 have foregone that pleasing adviser, and given up the 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 fame. Experience might inform them, that many who have been saluted with the huzzas of a crowd one day, have received

« AnteriorContinuar »