Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub

un address to His Majesty, in substance the same, but differing in its language from the original resolution.

To the proposition thus modified, Mr. Pitt had only to object that it was something premature. He again made a public declaration, that he was unconnected with any party whatever; that he should keep himself reserved, and act with which ever side he thought did right. He would abide by the declaration he had made on a former occasion, that he would take no active part for or against any party, but would be guided solely by the measures that were pursued; and it would be with the utmost reluctance that he should oppose any administration whatever; neither would he do it unless he was convinced they were acting wrong. In reply to what had been said about his responsibility, he declared, he was the last man in the kingdom holding the principles that he repeatedly avowed in that House, and meaning to act up to those principles in every possible situation, who would for a moment attempt to argue, that persons holding offices were not responsible for every part of their public conduct Undoubtedly they were, and he held himself responsible to the very hour of his resignation. At the same time, he trusted, that it would be admitted, the extent of the responsibility was to be determined and governed by the peculiar circumstances of the times. If it should appear hereafter, that he had, on any occasion, within the past six weeks, done what he ought not to have done, or left undone what he ought to have done, or, in fact, neglected to promote the public interest where he could have promoted it, he was ready to admit his culpability.

With respect to the motion before the House, he really thought it too precipitate: there had been scarce time, since His Majesty had given his gracious answer, to form an arrangement. He could wish, as the right honourable gentleman had said, that unanimity would prevail, and that the address would be withdrawn without a division. He would not pledge himself to the House that such an arrangement would positively be made as the former address required, yet he thought an arrangement would take place in the course of a few days; therefore he could wish they would wait for it, and if then they should observe any culpable delay, the motion should have his hearty concurrence and support. He would not pledge himself to abide by the exact words, but he certainly would vote for an address to the throne to know the cause of delay.

The motion was agreed to be withdrawn, but with the notice of its being resumed on an early day. *

May 7. 1783. Mr. Pitt this day brought forward his promised motion respecting the Reform of Parliamentary Representation.

* On the 2d of April it was announced to the House, that a new administration had been formed.

Members of the Cabinet. Duke of Portland......... First Lord of the Treasury. Lord North........ .... Secretary of State for the Home Department. Right Hon. Charles James Fox, Ditto for the Foreign department. Lord John Cavendish.... Chancellor of the Exchequer. Lord Viscount Keppel... First Lord of the Admiralty. Lord Viscount Stormont President of the Council. Earl Carlisle................ Lord Privy Seal.

Not of the Cabinet.
Lord Loughborough..... Lords Commissioners for the Custody of
Sir Wm. Henry Ashurst..

the Great Seal.
Sir Beainont Hotham.....
Lord George Townshend... Master-General of the Ordnance.
Hon. Richard Fitzpatrick... Secretary at War.
Edmund Burke, Esq......... Paymaster of the Forces.
Charles Townshend, Esq... Treasurer of the Navy.
James Wallace, Esq......... Attorney-General.
John Lee, Esq..... .... Solicitor-General.
Rich. Brinsley Sheridan, Esq. Secretaries to the Treasury.
Richard Burke, Esq.........

}
Earl of Mansfield........... Speaker of the House of Lords.
Earl of Northington......... Lord Lieutenant of Ireland.
William Wyndham, Esq... Secretary to do.

In order to secure a full attendance of members on this important question, the House had been previously calledover; and now, after the various petitions that had been presented in favour of the measure had been read,

Mr. Pitt rose to open the business. He declared that in his life he had never felt more embarrassment, or more anxiety than he felt at that moment, when, for his country's good, he found himself obliged to discover, and lay before the House, the imperfections of that constitution to which every Englishman ought to look up with reverential awe; a constitution which, while it con. tinued such as it was framed by our ancestors, was truly called the production of the most consummate wisdom: raised by that constitution to greatness and to glory, England had been at once the ervy and the pride of the world; Europe was taught by experience that liberty was the foundation of true greatness ; and that. while England remained under a government perfectly free, she never failed to perform exploits that dazzled the neighbouring nations. To him, he did assure the House, it was interesting, indeed interesting and awful beyond the power of description. He wished, however, the House to view the arduous and very difficult task he had ventured to undertake, in its true light. No man saw that glorious fabric, the constitution of this country, with more admiration, nor with more reverence than himself: he beheld it with wonder, with veneration, and with gratitude: it gave an Englishman such dear and valuable privileges, or he might say, such advantageous and dignified prerogatives, as were not only beyond the reach of the subjects of every other nation, but afforded us a degree of happiness unknown to those who lived under governments of a nature less pregnant with principles of liberty; indeed there was no form of government on the known surface of the globe, that was so nearly allied to perfect freedom. But a melancholy series of events, which had eclipsed the glory of Britain, exhibited a reverse of fortune, which could be accounted for only upon this principle, that, during the last fifteen years, there had been a deviation from the principles of that happy constitution, under which the people of England had so long flourished.

[ocr errors]

Mr. Pitt reminded the House how and upon what reasons the public had begun to look at the state of parliamentary representation ; of the steps they had taken to procure some remedy for the inadequacy which they discovered; the degree of success that their endeavours had met with; and what it was, that particularly occasioned him to rise at that moment, in support of their petitions. He said, to put the House in possession of all these circumstances, he need only advert to the history of a few years recently past; a history which he would touch upon as shortly as possible, because it was not only a most melancholy picture of calamitous and disgraceful events, but because it was so extremely difficult to mention it in any shape, that would not appear invidious and personal. He then stated that the disastrous consequences of the American war, the immense expenditure of the public money, the consequent heavy burthen of taxes, and the pressure of all the collateral difficulties produced by the foregoing circumstances, gradually disgusted the people, and at last provoked them to “ turn their eyes inward on themselves," in order to see if there was not something radically wrong at home, that was the chief cause of all the evils they felt from their misfortunes abroad. Searching for the internal sources of their foreign fatalities, they naturally turned their attention to the constitution under which they lived, and to the practice of it. Upon looking to that House, they found that by length of time, by the origin and progress of undue influence, and from other causes, the spirit of liberty and the powers of check and control upon the crown and the executive government, were greatly lessened and debilitated. Hence clamourssprung up without doors, and hence, as was perfectly natural, in the moment of anxiety to procure an adequate and a fit remedy to a practical grievance, a spirit of speculation went forth, and a variety of schemes, founded in visionary and impracticable ideas of reform, were suddenly produced. It was not for him, he said, with unhallowed hands to touch the venerable pile of the constitution, and deface the fabric; to see it stand in need of repair was sufficiently melancholy: but the more he revered it, the more he wished to secure its duration to the latest posterity, the greater he felt the necessity of guard. ing against its decay. Innovations were at all times dangerous : and should never be attempted, but when necessity called for them. Upon this principle he had given up the idea which he suggested to the House last year; and therefore his object at present was not to innovate, but rather to renew and invigorate the spirit of the constitution, without deviating materially from its present form. When he submitted this subject to the consideration of the House last year, he was told, that the subject ought not to be discussed amidst the din of arms; the objection was not then without its force: but at present it could not be renewed, as we were happily once more in the enjoyment of the blessings of peace. This therefore was a proper time to enter upon the business of a reformation, which every man, who gave himself a moment's time to think, must be satisfied was absolutely necessary.

An Englishman, who should compare the flourishing state of his country some twenty years ago, with the state of humiliation in which he now beholds her, must be convinced, that the ruin which he now deplores, having been brought on by slow degrees, and almost imperceptibly, proceeded from something radically wrong in the constitution. Of the existence of a radical error no one seemed to doubt; nay, almost all were so clearly satisfied of it, that various remedies had been devised by those who wished most heartily to remove it. The House itself had discovered, that a secret influence of the crown was sapping the very found. ation of liberty by corruption: the influence of the crown had been felt within those walls, and had often been found strong enough to stifle the sense of duty, and to over-rule the propositions made to satisfy the wishes and desires of the people; the House of Commons (in former parliaments) had been base enough to feed the influence that enslaved its members: and thus was at one time the parent and the offspring of corruption. This influence, however, had risen to such a height, that men were ashamed any longer to deny its existence, and the House had at length been driven to the necessity of voting that it ought to be

« VorigeDoorgaan »