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My lords, when I heard that a convention was concluded, I imagined that the definitive treaty, which is to follow on that convention, would not be referred to commissaries; and that some other name would be invented for these gentlemen's powers. We had enough of commissaries at the treaty of Seville; that treaty, my lords, was in the main little better than a convention, since, as in the other conventions, a great deal was left to the decision of commissaries. None of your lordships are ignorant of the progress these commissaries made in settling the affairs referred to their decision; and that, after some years expensive and fruitless negotiation, they left them in a more perplexed state than they were before. The points left to their decision were not indeed of such importance as those which by this convention seem to be left to plenipotentiaries; but, my lords, can we easily imagine that plenipotentiaries will be more expeditious than commissaries? I am apt to think, my lords, that they will be a great deal more slow, because the points referred to their decision are of a much weightier nature. Therefore, my lords, as we have found already by experience, that an eventual treaty, if I may call it so, has been so detrimental to the nation, I think it would be highly improper for us to approve of our ministry's concluding another, which we have great reason to think is of a still more pernicious nature. My lords, I would not be understood as if I were absolutely for condemning the convention before we know what it is; but I humbly conceive, that there is a great difference betwixt not giving a sanction to a measure, and utterly rejecting it. By our agreeing to the address as amended, we only give the ministry to understand, that we are surprized they should venture on a manner of negotiating that has been already so detrimental to the nation; but we don't at all profess, that we are resolved to disapprove of it, if, contrary to what we apprehend, there should be some peculiar advantages in this negotiation, that may reconcile it to the interests of the kingdom. This, my lords, is the light in which I VOL. I.
view the opposition that is made to the address proposed by the noble duke. And, my lords, by agree. ing to the amendment, we don't go the length that par liaments used to go in former times. Formerly, my lords, when a speech was made from the throne, a particular day was appointed by parliament for taking that speech into consideration, and in the mean time a committee was appointed for enquiring into, and drawing up a state of grievances of the nation. And, my lords, these grievances were presented to the throne before they returned their address of thanks, which was always qualified according to the hopes which the crown gave them of redressing these grievances, My lords, no man who understands the history of England, will say that our forefathers, were either wanting in the duty they owed to the prince, or in their concern for the liberty of the subject. And, my lords, though the liberty of the subject may now seem more secure from the encroachments of the crown than it was formerly, yet the example of our wise ancestors cannot be too closely imitated, especially when we are apprehensive of any of those grievances under which they laboured. For these reasons, my lords, I am for the amendment.
Afterwards Earl of Hardwicke,)
Was born 1690, died 1764. He was brought into parliament for Lewes in Sussex in 1718. In 1736, he was made lord chancellor, which situation he held for twenty years. He is said to have been a great lawyer. If so, a great lawyer may be a very little man. There is in his speech a petiteness, an insignificant subtlety, an affected originality, a trifling formality, which any one, not accustomed to the laborious fooleries and idle distinctions of the law, would be ashamed of. All those of his speeches that I have read are in the same minute style of special-pleading, accompanied with the same apologies for the surprize which must be occasioned by his microscopical discoveries and methodical singularities.
The Chancellor's Speech on a prosecution for a Libel.
THE liberty of the press is what I think ought to be Sacred to every Englishman, and, I dare answer for it, will ever be so to your lordships. But, my lords, though the liberty of the press is in every body's mouth, yet, I am afraid, there is nothing less understood than the nature of that liberty. My lords, I have often desired an opportunity of delivering to your lordships my sentiments with regard to the liberty of the press; and as that expression has been mentioned in this debate, I think I cannot have a fairer opportunity of it than the present: but I hope your lordships, beforehand, will acquit me of my affectation to appear singular upon this occasion. I do assure you, my lords, I shall speak my sentiments, and what occurs to me from the most mature reflection I am able to make upon the nature of our constitution and government.
The liberty of the press, my lords, is by most people, I know, taken for a liberty to publish every indecency of any kind, against the most respectable persons, and the highest characters; and so strongly does this notion prevail, that a libeller is no sooner prosecuted, than a cry is immediately set up, that the liberty of the press is endangered. But, my lords, give me leave to say, that if the liberty of the press consists in defamation, it were much better we were without any such liberty. My notion, my lords is, that the words, the liberty of the press,' are improperly used, to express a right, which is peculiar to the press, of publishing to the world any defamatory matter to the prejudice of superior, inferior, or equal.
My lords, the laws and constitution of England know of no such liberty; for that would be a liberty destructive of all laws, and all constitutions. How these words came to prevail, was, my lords, in my opinion, in this manner: before the art of printing was known in Europe, learning was confined to a very few. At that time, the transcribers and copiers of books were a very considerable body of men, and were under particular regulations by law. When printing was discovered, these restrictions fell of course, and then every man was at liberty to communicate, at an easy expence, his labours and thoughts upon any subject to the whole world. This, my lords, was found so very convenient, that thence arose the words, the liberty of the press.' That this is the natural original of these words, my lords, will appear from considering the nature of our laws with regard to defamatory libels before printing was discovered, compared with what it is now. My lords, before the discovery of printing, very strong statutes were made against defamation, which very statutes are still in force; and no man, my lords, will shew me any one statute upon this head, that was in force before the discovery of printing, which has been since repealed. From this, my lords, I think it evident, that by the expression, the liberty of the press, ean never be understood any liberty which the press acquired, and which was unknown before the discovery of printing. This, I hope, your lordships will find a fair and just way of reasoning; and, indeed, the only way in which we can reason on this subject. If any body, my lords, is of opinion, that authors acquired any new privileges or liberties when printing was discovered, he ought to prove, my lords, either that the old statutes on that subject were repealed, or that new ones were made in its favour; which, I will venture to say, no man can do. It is true, my lords, that in some reigns, very great restraints have been laid upon the press, and very great severities have been inflicted on authors and printers, for publishing that which would now pass current. But
this never proves that the laws relating to defamation were bad laws; it only proves that they were abused by power. I am very sensible, my lords, of how much use the press was at the time of the revolution; but the authors who wrote at that time on the side of liberty, advanced nothing that was not agreeable to the constitu tion; they were warranted by law for what they wrote, and they had the sense of the nation on their side. Be sides, my lords, there is a great difference betwixt an author's writing on a speculative subject, on which he thinks he has something to communicate that may be of service to the world, and an author's falling foul on all men. kind because they are not of his way of thinking. The authors on the side of the revolution, my lords, communicated their sentiments with the greatest deference to the persons and characters of their superiors, unmixed with personal calumnies, or virulent reflections. Therefore, my lords, it is a groundless cry against the government, when a libeller is punished, to compare the conduct of this government to that before the revolution, unless those gentlemen can prove, to the satisfaction of a jury, that they write with as much caution, and with as much decency, as the writers who in the reign of king Charles II. and king James II. wrote on the principles of liberty.
Having said thus much, my lords, I cannot help taking notice of another very common mistake, with regard to the freedom which some gentlemen think themselves entitled to, in censuring the conduct of their superiors. My lords, this is a freedom unknown to our constitution, and subversive of our known statutes; because a great part of our laws are intended for the relief of any person who is injured by another. Any person, my lords, who is injured by another, were this last the greatest subject in the kingdom, has the courts of justice open for his relief, and he has a jury who will do him justice according to the nature of his case, and then the law is satisfied. No man, my lords, is at liberty, by our laws, to carry his