the constitution, (however he might repeatedly have found occasion to differ with him in respect to his measure and opinions in his practice under it,) he defied all his ingenuity to support, upon any analogy of constitutional precedent, or to reconcile to the spirit and genius of the constitution itself. The doctrine advanced by the right honourable gentleman was itself, if any additional reason were necessary, the strongest and most unanswerable for appointing the committee he had moved for, that could possibly be given. If a claim of right was intimated, even though not formally, on the part of the Prince of Wales, to assume the government, it became of the utmost consequence to ascertain, from precedent and history, whether this claim were founded; which, if it were, precluded the House from the possibility of all deliberation on the subject. In the mean time, he maintained, that it would appear, from every precedent, and from every page of our history, that to assert such a right in the Prince of Wales, or any one else, independent of the decision of the two Houses of Parliament, was little less than treason to the constitution of the country.

He said, he did not mean then to enter into the discussion of that great and important point ; because a fit occasion for discussing it would soon afford both the right honourable gentleman and himself an ample opportunity of stating their sentiments upon it. In the mean time, he pledged himself to this assertion - that in the case of the interruption of the personal exercise of the royal authority, without any previous lawful provision having been made for carrying on the government, it belonged to the other branches of the legislature, on the part of the nation at large, the body they represented, to provide, according to their discretion, for the temporary exercise of the royal authority, in the name, and on the behalf, of the sovereign, in such manner as they should think requisite ; and that, unless by their decision, the Prince of Wales had no right (speaking of strict right) to assume the government, more than any other individual subject of the country. What parliament ought to determine on that subject, was a question of discretion. However strong the arguments

might be on that ground in favour of the Prince of Wales, which he would not enter into at present, it did not affect the question of right; because, neither the whole, nor any part of the royal authority, could belong to him in the present circumstances, unless conferred by the Houses of Parliament.

As to the right honourable gentleman's repeated enforcement of the Prince of Wales's claim, he admitted that it was a claim entitled to most serious consideration; and thence must take the liberty of arguing, that it was the more necessary to learn how the House had acted in cases of similar exigency, and what had been the opinion of parliament on such occasions. He would not allow that no precedent analagous to an interruption of the personal exercise of the royal authority could be found, although there might possibly not exist a precedent of an heir apparent in a state of majority, during such an occurrence, and in that case, he contended, that it devolved on the remaining branches of the legislature, on the part of the people of England, to exercise their discretion in providing a substitute.

Mr. Pitt contended, that in the mode in which the right honourable gentleman had treated the subject, a new question presented itself, and that of greater magnitude even than the question which was originally before them, as matter of necessary deliberation. The question now was, the question of their own rights, and it was become a doubt, according to the right honoura able gentleman's opinion, whether that House had, on this important occasion, a deliberative power. He wished, for the present, to wave the discussion of that momentous consideration : but he declared that he would, at a fit opportunity, state his reasons for advising what step parliament ought to take in the present critical situation of the country, contenting himself with giving his contradiction to the right honourable gentleman's bold assertion, and pledging himself to maintain the opposite ground against a doctrine so irreconcileable to the spirit and genius of the constitution. If the report of the committee had not proved the necessity of the motion he had made, the right honourable gentleman had furnished the House with so strong an argument for

inquiry, that if any doubt had existed, that doubt must vanish. Let it not, then, be imputed to him, that he offered the motion with a view to create delay: indeed, the right honourable gentleman had not made any such imputation. In fact, no imputation of that sort could be supported; since no longer time had been spent, after the first day of their meeting, than was absolutely necessary to insure as full an attendance as the solemnity and seriousness of the occasion required; since that time, every day had been spent in ascertaining the state of His Majesty's health, and now the necessity of the case was proved, it behoved them to meet it on the surest grounds. Let them proceed, then, to learn and ascertain their own rights; let every man in that House, and every man in the nation, who might hear any report of what had passed in the House that day, consider, that on their future proceedings depended their own interests and the interest and honour of a sovereign, deservedly the idol of his people. Let the House not, therefore, rashly annihilate and annul the authority of parliament, in which the existence of the constitution was so intimately involved.

Mr. Burke next rose and sarcastically attacked the doctrinė laid down by the chancellor of the exchequer; emphatically calling Mr. Pitt “one of the Prince's competitors," and declaring that, were he to give an elective vote, it should be in favour of that Prince, whose amiable disposition was one of his many recommendations, and not in support of a “ Prince," who had threatened the assertors of the Prince of Wales's right with the penalties of constructive treason.

Mr. Pitt concluded the conversation with remarking, that if the right honourable gentleman, who had condescended to be the advocate and the specimen of moderation, had found any warmth in his manner of speaking before, which led him to think that he had not considered what he said, he was ready to repeat it with all possible coolness, and knew not one word that he would retract. Upon this ground, therefore, was he still ready to maintain that it was little less than treason to the consti

* Mr. Burke.

tution to assert, that the Prince of Wales had a claim to the exercise of the sovereign power during the interruption of the personal authority of His Majesty by infirmity, and in his life-time; and to this asseveration should he adhere, because he considered such a claim as superseding the deliberative power and discretion of the two existing branches of the legislature. And, when he had said the Prince of Wales had no more right to urge such a claim than any other individual subject, he appealed to the House upon the decency with which the right honourable gentleman had charged him with placing himself as the competitor of His Royal Highness. At that period of our history, when the constitution was settled on that foundation on which it now existed, when Mr. Somers and other great men declared, that no person bad a right to the crown independent of the consent of the two Houses, would it have been thought either fair or decent for any member of either House to have pronounced Mr. Somers a personal competitor of William the Third ?

The question was then put and agreed to, and a committee was accordingly appointed, consisting of the following members :

The Chancellor of the Exchequer,
Welbore Ellis, Esq. Ld. Advocate of Scotland,
The Master of the Rolis, Marquis of Graham,
Rt. Hon. F. Montagu, Lord Belgrave,
Attorney General,

Sir Grey Cooper,
Robert Vyner, Esq.

Wm. Wilberforce, Esq.
Rt. Hon. Henry Dundas, Rt. Hon. Wm. Windham,
Thomas Powys, Esq. Philip Yorke, Esq.
Solicitor General,

Earl Gower,
R. B. Sheridan, Esq. Rt. Hon. W. W. Grenville,
Wm. Hussey, Esq.

Rt. Hon. Edmund Burke.

December 12. 1788.' The report being brought up from the committee, who had been appointed to examine precedents in cases of the personal exercise of the royal authority being interrupted by sickness, infirmity, or otherwise,


Mr. Pitt moved, “ That the House should on Tuesday next resolve itself into a Committee of the whole House to take into consideration the state of the Nation."

After Mr. Fox had spoken,

Mr. Pitt rose, and begged leave to remind the House, that they had just received a voluminous report from the committee, appointed to search for precedents, in order that gentlemen might have every information before them, to guide their proceedings under the present arduous and singular situation of the country, that the wisdom of their ancestors, the statutes of the realm, and the records of parliament, could afford; and he had moved to refer that report, together with the examination of His Majesty's physicians, to the committee of the whole House, who were to take the state of the nation into their consideration upon the ensuing Tuesday. 'In that committee the topics touched on by the right honourable gentleman * would necessarily undergo an ample discussion. In their last debate on the subject, there appeared to be a point at issue between the right honourable gentleman and himself: and, from all that the right honourable gentleman had then said, it still appeared to be no less at issue than before. The right honourable gentleman explained, as he thought proper, the meaning of a very essential part of his speech, on the preceding Wednesday. Mr. Pitt said, that he should be sorry to fix on any gentleman a meaning, which he afterwards declared not to have been his meaning. In whatever way, therefore, he had before understood the right honourable gentleman's words relative to the Prince's forbearing to assert his claim, he was willing to take the matter from the right honour. able gentleman's present explanation, and to meet it upon those grounds where he had then, after maturer deliberation, thought fit to place it. The right honourable gentleman now asserted, that the Prince of Wales had a right to exercise the royal authority, under the present circumstances of the country, but that it was as a right not in possession, until the prince could ex.

* Mr. Fox.

« VorigeDoorgaan »