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June 8. 1784.
The order of the day being read for the further consideration of the Westminster election, Mr. Welbore Ellis submitted to the House the following resolution : "That, Thomas Corbett, Esq. bailiff of the city of Westminster, having received a precept from the sheriff of Middlesex for electing two citizens to serve in parliament for the said city, and having taken and finally closed the poll on the 17th day of May last, being the day next before the day of the return of the said writ, he be now directed forth with to make return of his precept, and of members chosen in pursuance thereof."
After Mr. Fox had delivered his sentiments at great length upon the question, Mr. Pitt spoke to the following effect:
Sir,--If the right honourable gentleman's * reason for being so desirous of securing to himself the last hearing in this debate, has been in order that his mad and violent assertions might pass without opportunity of being contradicted, I must acknowledge, indeed, the prudence and policy of his conduct in endeavouring to prevent a reply; but I must rejoice, however, when charges are brought against administration, as gross as they are unfounded, that I have the opportunity of rising to refute the charge, to contradict the assertions, to defy that right honourable gentleman to proof, and to assert with equal hardiness, and I trust, with more than equal truth, that, in no respect, has administration exercised any undue influence - in no respect have they been so profligate as to furnish those means which have been hinted at — in no instances have they suborned witnesses to swear away men's lives — in no respect whatever have they been accessary to those violences, murders, perjuries, and that black catalogue of offences which the right honourable gentleman calls up, by way of auxiliary matter, to embellish his speech, and to assist the House in the decision of that grave, dry, constitutional question, which is all that we have this night to determine. Sir, if the right honourable gentleman has his charge to bring forward, the courts of this country are open to him: I hope, and trust, administration is not so strong as to
* Mr. Fox.
be able to resist any just accusation that he can bring against them. I hope, on the other hand, administration is not so weak as to give way and yield to vehement assertions, utterly unsupported, and evidently malicious : I hope opposition is not so strong ; I hope there is no faction in this country so strong, so bold, so mad with desperation and disappointment, as to throw out great and criminal charges against administration, without having either the intention, or the means, or the shadow of any means, to support the accusations which they venture so roundly to make.
I am not surprised, indeed, if the right honourable gentleman should attempt to represent himself as the marked object of 'ministerial persecution. With respect, Sir, to the cruel hardship he has just complained of, namely, that he has not been allowed to have the last word in the debate, I would only beg leave to remind both him and the House, that so far from having, from his present situation, an indisputable right to the last word, it is contrary, I believe, to a standing order of your House, that he is allowed to speak at all, or even to be present in the House ; for one of your standing orders says, “ That if any thing shall “ come in question touching the return or election of any mem“ber, he is to withdraw during the time the matter is in debate.” Such, then, is the cruel persecution carrying on against the right honourable gentleman, that, instead of being forced to be silent, and to withdraw, he is allowed to speak often ten times a day on the same question; sometimes, Sir, for three hours at a time, filling his speech with every thing that is personal, inflammatory, and invidious. I say, nevertheless, I am not surprised, if he should pretend to be the butt of ministerial persecution, - and if, by striving to excite the public compassion, he should seek to re-instate himself in that popularity which he once enjoyed, but which he so unhappily has forfeited. For it is the best and most ordinary resource of these political apostates, to court, and to offer themselves to persecution for the sake of the popular predilection and pity which usually fall upon persecuted men ; it becomes worth their while to suffer, for a time, political mar
tyrdom, for the sake of the canonization that awaits the suffering martyr; and I make no doubt, the right honourable gentleman has so much penetration, and, at the same time, so much passive virtue about him, that he would be glad not only to seem a poor, injured, persecuted man, but that he would gladly seek an opportunity of even really suffering a little persecution, if it be possible to find such opportunity.
Upon the same ground, Sir, it would unquestionably be my interest, and no less, I am sure, my wish, to abstain from every thing that has even the appearance, much more that is in reality any thing like persecution; but yet, when great constitutional questions are involved, it then becomes a minister to forego every other consideration : and so far, perhaps, to gratify his adversary, as to furnish him with the pretence of being the object of ministerial persecution, stedfastly determining, at all hazards, and contrary, perhaps, to his own convenience, to maintain the true spirit of the constitution.
I wish to meet the right honourable gentleman on the two grounds which he has laid down, and to decide upon the issue of them-first, the propriety and expediency of granting a scrutiny; and, secondly, the legality of it under all the circumstances of the case. And here, Sir, let me first touch a little on the hard. ship which the right honourable gentleman is said to labour under. Now I do insist, that if his single object is (as he says it is) to bring the dispute to the decision of Mr. Grenville's committee, a scrutiny will not delay that decision one moment; nay, it will even forward it : for, suppose the return, according to the motion before the House, to be made immediately, still the petition before Mr. Grenville's committee could not be gone through this year ; it must therefore begin again, de novo, the next, and the latter end of next session would arrive before the question could be decided. On the other hand, let a scrutiny be now instituted, preparatory to the petition, it will be finish, ed, in all human probability, before the beginning of the next Session ; and the petitioner, whoever he may be, will come prepared, having his business cut short by this means, so that the
petition must be finally decided in the early part of the next session; or perhaps the consequence of a scrutiny may be, that there shall come no petition at all.
But the right honourable gentleman wishes even that there might be a new writ, and a new election, rather than a scrutiny; now, let us see how this would expedite the business? Why, Sir, if a new writ were issued while the parliament is sitting, as this would be, all sides are agreed, that the bailiff would have a perfect right to prosecute a scrutiny whenever the poll is over; it being universally allowed, that scrutinies are lawful in the case of elections during the sitting of parliament. If you grant, therefore, the right honourable gentleman this curious wish of his, the consequence will simply be, that after another forty days poll, forty days riot, and forty days confusion, he will find himself just where he is at this moment, except, indeed, that he will then be constrained to own (from the precedent of Vandeput and Trentham, which will become precisely in point) that the high bailiff, if he pleases, will then have an undoubted right to go on with the scrutiny.
Now, to say the truth, the arguments of the right honourable gentleman, if they prove any thing, must necessarily prove what I have just stated; namely, that there must be a new writ: for he tells you, that, after the 18th of May, the bailiff became functus officio ; that all the virtue of his writ expired, and that the high bailiff, after that day, was no longer in this respect, high bailiff, but was turned into a private person, and had no more right to institute a scrutiny than any one of us: and yet, Sir, by the resolution before you, this bailiff is ordered to do an act which no bailiff, Functus officio, can possibly do ; namely, to return the writ. The hand you order to sign the writ is a dead man's hand. Why surely, Sir, if the bailiff, ever since the 18th of May, has been like one of ourselves, you may as well order one of us to make the return as order the high bailiff to do it, So far, therefore, as the hardship of the case is considered, it is clear, that, to let the scrutiny proceed is a mitigation of trouble and expence; since a new writ is the consequence of the honour
able gentleman's argument, and a new writ, as I said before, would, forty days hence, exactly bring us to that point where we are now arrived.
I must beg the House, then, to consider coolly and distinctly what the motion before you tends to : it does not, indeed, command the high bailiff to return Lord Hood and Mr. Fox, as the honourable gentleman first intended, and as his petition prayed; that is now found out to be too monstrous, for that would be no less than to make this House the electors of its own members, usurping at once the office of returning officer, and the right of electing the representatives of the people. That ground, I say, Sir, is shifted; and to what does the resolution now go? It orders the high bailiff to return two members ; it orders this deceased returning officer to come back again to life, in order to make a return of the writ; this officer, I say, Sir, whose exist. ence irrevocably ceased on the 18th of May; for, on the single argument of his perfect nonentity since that day, rests the whole of that conclusion which is so contended for, that he is not in the capacity to prosecute the scrutiny. Now, Sir, the resolution also orders the high bailiff to return those two candidates, who have, in his judgment, the majority of legal votes ; though the bailiff told you yesterday, he could form no judgment who had the legal majority, and though he explained, by substantial evidence, for what reasons it was impossible to form such judgment. Sir, I will not weary the House with entering into all the detail of evidence ; but I ask any man of honour, of candour, and of plain sense, whether the high bailiff of Westminster had not sufficient reason to wish for a scrutiny, in order to satisfy his own judgment and conscience, provided a scrutiny could be legally prosecuted, under all the circumstances of the case? The legality of it is what I shall certainly have to prove.—His evidence, in three words, was this ; that there have polled at this election above 4000 more men than there are legal votes in Westminster, upon any calculation that can be formed; that there have sometimes been 1800 suffered to poll in a day, under the idea that the votes were to be revised at a scrutiny; that he has received