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history, and in the experience of common life; and whoever ventures rashly to depart from them, let him remember that it will be meted to him in the same measure, and that both God and man will judge him accordingly. These are arguments addressed to your reasons and consciences, not to be shaken in upright minds by any precedent, for no precedents can sanctify injustice; if they could, every human right would long ago have been extinct upon the earth. If the State Trials in bad times are to be searched for precedents, what murders may you not commit; what law of humanity may you not trample upon; what rule of justice may you not violate; and what maxim of wise policy may you not abrogate and confound? If precedents in bad times are to be implicitly followed, why should we have heard any evidence at all? You might have convicted without any evidence, for many have been so convicted, and in this manner murdered, even by acts of Parliament.
In times when the whole habitable earth is in a state of change and fluctuation, when deserts are starting up into civilized empires around you, and when men, no longer slaves to the prejudices of particular countries, much less to the abuses of particular governments, enlist themselves, like the citizens of an enlightened world, into whatever communities their civil liberties may be best protected, it never can be for the advantage of this country to prove, that the strict, unextended letter of her laws, is no security to its inhabitants. On the contrary, when so dangerous a lure is everywhere holding out to emigration, it will be found to be the wisest policy of Great Britain to set up her happy constitution, the strict letter of her guardian laws, and the proud condition of equal freedom, which her highest and her lowest subjects ought equally to enjoy; — it will be her wisest policy to set up these first of human blessings against those charms of change and novelty which the varying condition of the world is hourly displaying, and which may deeply affect the population and prosperity of our country. In times when the subordination to authority is said to be everywhere but too little felt, it will be found to be the wisest policy of Great Britain to instil into the governed an almost superstitious reverence for the strict security of the laws; which, from their equality of principle, beget no jealousies or discontent; which, from their equal administration, can seldom work injustice; and which, fro the reverence growing out of their mildness and antiquity, acquire a stability in the habits and affections of men, far beyond the force of civil obligation; — whereas severe penalties and arbitrary constructions of laws intended for security, lay the foundations of alienation from every human government, and have been the cause of all the calamities that have come, and are coming, upon the earth.
GEORGE CANNING. 1770-1827. 365. From his Speech On ParliAMENTARY REFORM. Dreading, therefore, the danger of total, and seeing the difficulties as well as the unprofitableness of partial alteration, I object to this first step towards a change in the constitution of the House of Commons. There are wild theories abroad. I am not disposed to impute an ill motive to any man who entertains them. I will believe such a man to be as sincere in his conviction of the possibility of realizing his notions of change without risking the tranquillity of the country, as I am sincere in my belief of their impracticability, and of the tremendous danger of attempting to carry them into effect; but for the sake of the world as well as for our own safety, let us be cautious and firm. Other nations, excited by the example of the liberty which this country has long possessed, have attempted to copy our constitution; and some of them have shot beyond it in the fierceness of their pursuit. I grudge not to other nations that share of liberty which they may acquire : in the name of God let them enjoy it! But let us warn them that they lose not the object of their desire by the very eagerness with which they attempt to grasp it. Inheritors and conservators of rational freedom, let us, while others are seeking it in restlessness and trouble, be a steady and shining light to guide their course, not a wandering meteor to bewilder and mislead them.
Let it not be thought that this is an unfriendly or disheartening counsel to those who are either struggling under the pressure of harsh government, or exulting in the novelty of sudden emancipation. It is addressed much rather to those who, though cradled and educated amidst the sober blessings of the British constitution, pant for other schemes of liberty than those which that constitution sanctions other than are compatible with a just equality of civil rights, or with the necessary restraints of social obligation; of some of whom it may be said, in the language which Dryden puts into the mouth of one of the most extravagant of his heroes, that,
“ They would be free as nature first made man,
Ere the base laws of servitude began,
Noble and swelling sentiments ! - but such as cannot be reduced into practice. Grand ideas! — but which must be qualified and adjusted by a compromise between the aspirings of individuals and a due concern for the general tranquillity; must be subdued and chastened by reason and experience, before they can be directed to any useful end! A search after abstract perfection in government may produce, in generous minds, an enterprise and enthusiasm to be recorded by the historian, and to be celebrated by the poet: but such perfection is not an object of reasonable pursuit, because it is not one of possible attainment: and never yet did a passionate struggle after an abso
lutely unattainable object fail to be productive of misery to an individual — of madness and confusion to a people. As the inhabitants of those burning climates which lie beneath a tropical sun sigh for the coolness of the mountain and the grove, so (all history instructs us) do nations which have basked for a time in the torrent blaze of an unmitigated liberty, too often call upon the shades of despotism, even of military despotism, to cover them.
Our lot is happily cast in the temperate zone of freedom : the clime best suited to the development of the moral qualities of the human race; to the cultivation of their faculties, and to the security as well as the improvement of their virtues: a clime not exempt, indeed, from variations of the elements, but variations which purify while they agitate the atmosphere that we breathe. Let us be sensible of the advantages which it is our happiness to enjoy. Let us guard with pious gratitude the flame of genuine liberty, that fire from heaven, of which our constitution is the holy depository; and let us not, for the chance of rendering it more intense and more radiant, impair its purity or hazard its extinction!
366. SPEECH AT PLYMOUTH IN THE YEAR 1823, UPON THE OCCASION
OF BEING PRESENTED WITH THE FREEDOM OF THAT TOWN.
But while we thus control even our feelings by our duty, let it not be said that we cultivate peace, either because we fear, or because we are unprepared, for war; on the contrary, if eight months ago the government did not hesitate to proclaim that the country was prepared for war, if war should be unfortunately necessary, every month of peace that has since passed, has but made us so much the more capable of exertion. The resources created by peace are means of
In cherishing those resources we but accumulate those means. Our present repose is no more a proof of inability to act, than the state of inertness and inactivity in which I have seen those mighty masses that float in the waters above your town, is a proof they are devoid of strength, and incapable of being fitted out for action. You well know, gentlemen, how soon one of those stupendous masses, now reposing on their shadows in perfect stillness,
how soon, upon any call of patriotism, or of necessity, it would assume the likeness of an animated thing, instinct with life and motion; how soon it would ruffle, as it were, its swelling plumage; how quickly it would put forth all its beauty and its bravery, collect its scattered elements of strength, and awaken its dormant thunder. Such as is one of these magnificent machines when springing from inaction into a display of its might, such is England herself, while apparently passive and motionless she silently concentrates the power to be put forth on an adequate occasion. But God forbid that that occasion should arise. After a war sustained for nearly a quarter of a century, — some
times single-handed, and with all Europe arranged at times against her or at her side, – England needs a period of tranquillity, and may enjoy it without fear of misconstruction. Long may we be enabled, gentlemen, to improve the blessings of our present situation, to cultivate the arts of peace, to give to commerce, now reviving, greater extension and new spheres of employment, and to confirm the prosperity now generally diffused throughout this island.
LORD BROUGHAM. 1779-1868.
FROM THE SPEECH ON THE REFORM BILL.
367. Peril OF DENYING Just REFORMS. My Lords, I do not disguise the intense solicitude I feel for the event of this debate, because I know full well that the peace of the country is involved in the issue. I cannot look without dismay at the rejection of this measure. But grievous as may be the consequences of a temporary defeat, temporary it can only be; for its ultimate and even speedy success is certain. Nothing can now stop it. Do not suffer yourselves to be persuaded that, even if the present ministers were driven from the helm, any one could steer you through the troubles which surround you without reform. But our successors would take up the task in circumstances far less auspicious. Under them you would be fain to grant a bill, compared with which, the one we now proffer you is moderate indeed. Hear the parable of the Sybil; for it conveys a wise and wholesome moral. She now appears at your gate, and offers you mildly the volumes, the precious volumes, of wisdom and peace. The price she asks is reasonable; to restore the franchise which, without any bargain, you ought voluntarily to give. You refuse her terms, her moderate terms. She darkens the porch no longer. But soon, for you cannot do without her wares, you call her back. Again she comes, but with diminished treasures. The leaves of the book are in part torn away by lawless hands, in part defaced with characters of blood. But the prophetic Maid has risen in her demands; it is Parliaments by the Year; it is Vote by the Ballot; it is Suffrage by the Million! From this you turn away indignant, and for a second time she departs. Beware of her third coming: for the treasure you must have; and what price she may next demand who shall tell? It may be even the mace which rests upon that woolsack. What may follow if your course of obstinacy is persisted in, I cannot take upon me to predict, nor do I wish to conjecture. But this I know, that as sure as man is mortal, and to err is human, justice deferred enhances the price at which you must purchase safety and peace; nor can you expect to gather in another crop than they did who went before you, if you persevere in their utterly abominable husbandry of sowing injustice and reaping rebellion. * *
You are the highest judicature in this realm. It is a judge's first duty never to pronounce sentence, in the most trifling case, without hearing. Will you make this the exception? Are you really prepared to determine, but not to hear, the mighty cause upon which a nation's hopes and fears hang? You are! Then beware of your decision! Rouse not a peace-loving, bt resolute people. Alienate not from your body the affections of a whole empire. I counsel you to assist with your uttermost effort in preserving the peace, in upholding and perpetuating the constitution. Therefore I pray and exhort you not to reject this measure. By all you hold dear, by all the ties that bind every one of us to our common order and our common country, I solemnly adjure you, I warn you, I implore you, yes, on my bended knees, I supplicate you, reject not this bill.
FROM THE SPEECH FOR THE IMMEDIATE ABOLITION OF SLAVERY IN
THE BRITISH WEST INDIES.
368. SLAVERY OPPOSED TO THE LAW OF NATURE. I trust that at length the time is come when Parliament will no longer bear to be told that slave-owners are the best lawgivers on slavery; no longer allow an appeal from the British public to such communities as those in which the Smiths and the Grimsdalls are persecuted to death for teaching the Gospel to the negroes, and the Mosses holden in affectionate respect for torture and murder; no longer suffer our voice to roll across the Atlantic in empty warnings and fruitless orders. Tell me not of rights; talk not of the property of the planter in his slaves. I deny the right; I acknowledge not the property. The principles, the feelings of our common nature, rise in rebellion against it. Be the appeal made to the understanding, or to the heart, the sentence is the same that rejects it. In vain you tell me of the laws that sanction such a crime! There is a law above all the enactments of human codes, the same throughout the world the same in all times, - such as it was before the daring genius of Columbus pierced the night of ages, and opened to one world the sources of power, wealth, and knowledge, to another, all unutterable woes, - such as it is this day. It is the law written by the finger of God on the heart of man; and by that law, unchangeable and eternal, while men despise fraud, and loath rapine, and abhor blood, they will reject with indignation the wild and guilty fantasy, that man can hold property in man! In vain you appeal to treaties, to covenants between nations : the covenants of the Almighty, whether the Old covenant or the New, denounce such unholy pretensions. To those laws did they of old refer who maintained the African trade. Such treaties did they cite, and not untruly; for by one shameful compact you bartered the glories of Blenheim for the traffic in blood. Yet despite of law and treaty, that infernal traffic is now destroyed, and